Kindergarten is hard. At our elementary school it’s seven long, jam-packed hours. That time is filled with phonics and P.E. and art projects and math games and the fascinating (to me) navigation of six-year-old social dynamics. By the time my six-year-old gets home, she is spent.

But it’s not time for bed yet, of course.

After a brief rest (read: eating a popsicle while watching Jake & the Neverland Pirates), it’s time to plow through reading homework and start dinner. And, of course, there’s plenty of time for nagging helpful reminders to empty her backpack and put her freezer pack in the freezer, as well as irrational innocent requests to pretty please, can we make a craft tonight?

And if it’s dance class night? Or church night? Or a night when grandparents or Smitty come over for dinner? Well, then we’re cramming all of the above into an even smaller window so we can eat fast or clean up a bit or both.

Given this situation you probably won’t be surprised to know that whining and arguing and general talking back is at an all-time high in our house. And when you add that business to a perpetually tired and often cranky pregnant mama? Well, let’s just say I snap more than a turtle and reach my boiling point way faster than the spaghetti water ever does.

Everyone in our house has been even more tired than usual this week (thanks to cooler weather, a busy calendar and an unexpected-but-welcome showing that meant a whole lot of last-minute, frantic cleaning), so it was no surprise that last night ended in tears.

After yelling at her to finish her dinner (and quit trying to tell me the ravioli hurt her tummy, because REALLY.) and then rushing her through bathtime in an effort to get her to bed early (for her sake…and mine), I wrapped a towel around her head to dry her hair a bit.

And she promptly burst into tears, shouting, “You sound like YOU DON’T LOVE ME!”

Um, what?

From her child’s perspective she saw an angry mama who didn’t care about her latest bug bite and forced her to eat food she didn’t like and yelled at her when she left shampoo in her hair. Obviously, this short-tempered lady couldn’t love her!

As I told Mark later, we all have crazy thoughts and it’s way healthier for her and for her relationship with me when she says them out loud. But it took all my emotional strength to resist rolling my eyes at her dramatics, look her in the face and remind her that while yes, our actions (and words) show our love, my love for her is non-negotiable, never-changing and deeper than she can possibly understand.

I assured her that I loved her more than any person on earth except her daddy (“Even your PARENTS? Whoaaaaa….”), and that nothing would ever, ever change that. I agreed with her that my actions – and hers – that evening had not shown that love, and we both promised to work harder to make our outsides match our insides. We prayed, we hugged, and I tucked her in bed.

She was out like a light in just a few minutes, while I curled up on the couch with some cookies and my DVR. I looked at my editorial calendar and had to chuckle at the prompt to write about parenting.

Last night’s episode wasn’t any more dramatic or traumatic than many other bedtime – or other time – scenes at our house. Meltdowns and misunderstandings seem to be more common than sweet snuggles and cute craft projects – even though we have our share of snuggles and crafts around here.

It seems like something is missing when people talk about how the days are long but the years are short. Sure, that’s true. But you know what I’m learning? The hard times are persistent and plenty, and the sweet spots might just be few and far between. And – here’s the kicker – THAT’S OKAY.

When we think about starting a family, most of us imagine sweet (sleeping) babies, chubby (clean) toddler hands, fun family vacations, magical movie nights and those cute Christmas card photos.

We don’t dream of colic and leaking diapers and tantrums in the middle of Target. We don’t fantasize about flat tires and missed flights, nightmares of the evil witch and fights over the popcorn bowl, or the bribery and maneuvering it takes to get one – JUST ONE – good photo out of dozens (hundreds?) for the dang Christmas card.

We don’t wish for another losing season of baseball, a health scare (or worse), lost shoes and jackets that fit fine JUST THREE WEEKS AGO! Nobody dreams of forgotten lines in the school play, broken hearts, teenage or toddler rebellion or general messy parenting opportunities.

And yet, I’d venture to say that those hard things? The ones we never dream about and would never wish for? They happen far more often than the sweet moments we think of as part and parcel of this parenting thing.

Parenting really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s better . . . and worse and harder and more beautiful than we could ever, in our wildest dreams, imagine.

How is parenting different than you thought it would be?

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