My Five-Year-Old Character Builder

Picture it. We’re sitting in church–in worship. Everyone else is wading into the presence of God. They’re wading deep now, and I’ve just noticed that my five-year-old has left his chair. Now he’s motioning to me for something. I shake my head slowly and calmly, and I’m careful not to upset him. No, I didn’t pack any granola bars.

Now give me back my purse. 

I’ve decided to stop with the whole granola bar sham. I just fed him before we left. I do feed my children! He doesn’t eat them because he’s hungry, anyway; he eats them because I don’t feed him junk at home. He won’t eat just one, he’ll eat them all. He’ll eat the ones I packed for his brother and sisters, and I’ll let him. I’ll let him because their guilt-inducing “I knew you loved him more!” stares are significantly less annoying that his in-public tantrums. So, no, no more granola bars. You can lie down under the chair and color, and that’s it.

(I wouldn’t make him go under the chair, but he likes it ’cause it’s a fort.)

About ten minutes later, he’s no longer under my chair. He’s under a chair…but it’s five rows back. I shoot an apologetic look to the man who’s been waiting for me to notice. Sorry, I was trying to worship.

I put my head between my legs, and I shoot my son the look. He army crawls back to our row. No, I don’t have any granola bars. I have crayons!

At this point one of two things happens: either I win, or he keeps trying to win.

Now, let me explain: I have five strong-willed children. The first four are strong-willed as depicted in most of those “how to handle a strong-willed child” books. They’re fun. And it’s funny that I used to think they were difficult. Not ha ha funny…but still. My fifth child is a gift from God meant to crush me beyond recognition. He’s my twin (he says so). He’s amazing.

That being said, he usually tries to win. He’s rarely satisfied with the crayons, and I’m sent searching for plan B. I might threaten him with consequence: “Sit still or you’re losing five tickets…six…seven.” I might give him a choice between or b. I might try to stall him. But there’s a point when humiliation becomes inevitable. He’s getting loud. We can’t stay here. Head down. Deep breath in. Scoop the kid and start mall-walking…now. 

We head for the restroom. If it’s a bad fit we go outside for a walk. But this is Missouri, and apparently it’s icy in the winter and blazing in the summer, so we usually head for the restroom.

“Put me down! Put me down! Let me go!” 

I’m dying.

Once in private I can talk him down. I usually convince him to return and sit nicely until it’s time for his class to start. During the process of our discussion, though, others come and go. I smile. I greet the ones I know. I try to act unphased, but I’m not fooling anyone. Then it happens…not every time, mind you, but enough times that it warrants a blog post (at least once a month for the last five months). I reach my wrist to my forehead to wipe the exhaustion-induced layer of sweat; some sweet face smiles at me from the mirror as I’m leaning hard against the cold restroom wall. She says, “Oh, I know you! Aren’t you Sarah? I’ve read your book!”

I quickly rehearse the last thirty seconds in my mind. I wonder just how bad I look(ed). I smile and reach out my hand to shake hers. And I die a little bit more.

Here’s the ironic part: Very few people have read my books. Let me clarify that number: VERY. FEW. But my tiny audience is primarily made up of Christian-roots/Hebrew roots Torah keepers, and my small church is a popular hub. This is the only place on the planet where I’m likely to be recognized by a stranger. I’m a writer because I like  not being seen. It’s a big jump from those days in my twenties when I wanted to be an actress. But I’m here now…all comfy in my sweats with my hair in a messy bun.

Somewhere in my life I got the idea that people wanted me to be perfect–that they expected me to be. I don’t expect others to be perfect (I just assume they are). My assumptions about others expectations have led me to a form of hiding. I don’t hide when I write (I don’t tell it all, but I feel much more comfortable being “real” when I’m behind my computer). In person, though, I still want to present an above par, semi well-adjusted mother who is not handicapped by the fact that she is single. This is especially true when I’m meeting a stranger who already knows who I am.

As I was pondering this today, I had to smile. The Father knows me; He knows me so well. He brought me here because He knows me so well. He continually provides me with opportunities to embrace His holiness. He’s relentless, actually. He does want me to be perfect, but His idea of perfection has nothing to do with my hair, my clothes, the disposition of my children, or the dryness of my forehead. The kind of perfection He’s seeking is void of me and completely chock-full of Him. He’s just breaking me down and building me back in His image. Don’t mind us. He does this in public because I need to let go…to stop the stupid striving that was never from Him to begin with. So the next time you’re privileged to witness the Father refining someone else, especially through their children, say a little prayer for them…and feel free to introduce yourself (even if that someone is me).


4 thoughts on “My Five-Year-Old Character Builder”

  1. Hello—I have read your books!! And I did have a dream we met……:)! Stay strong momma! One day they will be grown and we will be able to freely listen and worship —and then I am sure I will get a very big craving for a granola bar!


  2. Finally…a post! And it was exactly what I needed to hear today. My son made a public mistake a few days ago and I’ve been feeling embarrassed and worried that it reflects on me as a mother. My focus has been so wrong. Keep writing…keep being honest…there are so many of us moms out there that can’t articulate the way you do and need to keep having the truth pushed in our face. Blessings!


  3. Sara, I so admire your strength. You are an awesome woman of God and an awesome mother. You are every mother’s dream of a beautiful daughter! I love you and pray for you and yours.


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