Hannah and I have been butting heads more lately. A lot more.
She is bright, witty, and a master of words. She has the leadership skills of Margaret Thatcher combined with the magical entertainment skills of David Copperfield. She has been rounding up groups of kids and leading them like the pied piper since she was four years old. Hannah shimmers like sunshine drops on dew-misted daisies as long as people will follow her lead, as long as the world is comfortably within her control. But she shrivels like petals over a flame the instant she feels her control slipping.
Hannah's world has been shaken too much lately. She struggled the most with moving houses. She struggled the most with changing churches. She feels my stress and Matt's when we silently worry about her sisters' health. And when she cannot control these big things, she craves control over the little things in life all the more.
In the last week Loveway was cancelled due to ice, the kids' computer crashed and lost some of her favorite documents, and Hannah learned that her birthday party would have to be combined with Toby's since his had been cancelled when he came down with strep throat two weeks ago. The weather has been perpetually gloomy, Matt has been perpetually busy, and Hannah has begun lashing out at others. She has been so bossy, so moody, and so irrational that I have had very little patience for her.
Naomi and Emma are growing up and coming into their own personalities, and they have been pushing back against Hannah's leadership now. Fights are breaking out more now as Hannah struggles to maintain her right to lead, while Naomi and Emma assert their right to have their own ideas.
Hannah and I have had talk after talk about her wonderfully strong leadership skills, but how it is too tempting for her to use them for evil. We've talked about how she tends to devalue other people's opinions, feelings, or perspectives. We've talked about her tendency to order others around, or when that fails, masterfully manipulate them into feeling they've done something wrong. Because Hannah is such a strong presence in our family and has often walked all over her siblings, I've pushed back hard on Hannah lately, determined to help her see when she is being wrong or manipulative so that she can learn to control her leadership skills and use them well.
My ears have been scanning her conversations, and I have been quick to jump on her each time I hear her slipping into manipulation. Two days ago I asked the kids to all go into the living room to sort their own clothes out of the several baskets of clean laundry so that they could fold them and put them away. Immediately, Hannah took charge. "OK, Toby, you put your clothes on the red chair, and Elijah, you put your clothes on the couch," she ordered without a second thought.
"Hey!" Emma protested, "I wanted to put my clothes on the red chair!"
"Well, Emma," Hannah rebutted, "you can put your clothes on the love seat. I have it all worked out so that we each have our own spot."
But Emma has decided lately that she too has a brain, and that she just might like to choose things for herself, so she protested further.
"Fine, Emma!" Hannah muttered under her breath, "you can have the dirty red chair if you want to, and Toby can have the nice clean love seat."
I immediately called Hannah out of the room and presented her with the irrefutable facts of her most recent episode of unjust bossiness topped with manipulation whipped cream. She responded by flat-out denying the evidence.
"I never said that!" she protested.
"Yes you did! I heard you with my own ears," I argued back.
"Well, that isn't what I meant," she rerouted, followed with, "Emma didn't want the red chair," "I never called it dirty," and finally topped with the teenage-worthy, "You just don't understand."
Having been through this very scenario a mind-boggling number of times in the last week, my blood boiled here. It is so easy to lose my temper, especially when I lose sight of Hannah's underlying emotional needs that drive this behavior.
But it seems that in the last few days my reasoning, and my pleading, and my pestering with Hannah over this issue has begun to hit home for her. She has begun to acknowledge that she does, in fact, have some unhealthy tendencies towards dictatorship. She has begun to be able see how this looks and feels for other people around her. Most recently, she has come to two terrifying conclusions: that this behavior is actually unfair and hurtful to those she loves, and that it is so ingrained and comes so naturally that she isn't entirely in control of it. This has led to a bit of an identity crisis for Hannah. If she can't be in control of her circumstances, and she can't control everyone around her, who is she? What will happen to her? Will people still like her? What if she can't change herself, will we still love her?
Little Hannah is growing up. Growing up is so messy.
Tonight Hannah wanted to talk. She wanted to tell me that too much has been changing for her. "Even my own mind is changing," she said, "like how I think about other people and about God, like thinking about how Naomi and Emma feel. I worry about them a lot."
So I told her that she wasn't too big to sit on my lap yet, and then my little girl who will be ten in two more days crawled into my lap and cried, mostly I think because growing up is hard, because change is hard, because facing your own demons, admitting that they haunt you, and asking for God's grace to change them is hard.
I shed a couple tears too, because in that moment I felt a little like the world's worst mother for having been so hard on her lately. I had forgotten that Naomi and Emma aren't my only daughters who face challenges in life and who need their mother's love and strength and fight. I had forgotten that after breaking Hannah's identity, I might need to be there to help her ask for God's forgiveness, for the grace to become the considerate, selfless leader God would want her to be, and for the courage to trust his leadership in her changing life.
I tucked the kids into bed tonight again, as Matt worked very late…again. Hannah needed more than one hug, and more than one song. I sang a favorite of hers, and then I sang a version of Psalm 103 that I hadn't sung since she was a baby,
"As a father has compassion on his beloved children
So the Lord shows compassion to us
To those who fear him
And as far as the east is from the west
So far has he taken our sins from us
And as high as the heavens are over the earth
So great is his steadfast love toward us."
"Mom," Hannah said softly in the dark, "you know how sometimes I just get so emotional that I can hardly describe it? Well…I just love you so, so much right now."
"Hannah, with all of those emotions, I think you're going to make a good poet someday," I said, giving her one last hug.
I don't know where she gets it.
Well, maybe I do.