“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
If I heard it once, I heard it dozens of times: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
My dad smiled when he said it, but he loved to throw those words at me whenever my youngest child behaved in a way that reminded him of me. Anna was born the day before my own December birthday, 29 years apart. We both have dark hair and brown eyes. People pair us up immediately when we enter a room.
That apple-tree remark was more about our spunky natures than our mirror images. Okay, spunky might be camouflage labeling for strong-willed or even, perish the thought, stubborn. Both Anna and her mom (me) are assertive, opinionated, and energizer types that people either love having around or wish for less interaction. We don’t back down easily when we land on a decision or plan, and we don’t mind the verbal battle to convince others of our rightness.
To be fair, Anna acquired graciousness sooner in life than her mother. Since her name actually means grace, this comes from her desire to please God with her life. But in the early years, she could escalate arguments and incite riots with the best of them.
As a toddler, my husband and I have memories of seeing her plant little chubby feet in the direction she intended, never stopping, even while hearing “No” from her parents. I learned to take the wooden spoon, our chosen enforcer if needed, at the first encounter to save time. She would look at the spoon, look at me, and sometimes I might hear a subtle sigh of resignation. More often, she looked at the spoon, looked at me, and went barreling on to the forbidden activity.
“No!” became her auto-response as a preschooler to any question, no matter how much she actually wanted to have the offered choice or item. We might tango over clothes to wear, cereal to eat, or books to read, all before breakfast!
Kindergartner Takes Control
Our real challenge came when I was her kindergarten teacher in a small, church sponsored Christian school. There were seven kindergartners and three part-time preschoolers in our morning class. From the first day, Anna perceived her position as my assistant if not fully in charge as daughter of the teacher. We had clashes almost every day. I was exhausted with the ongoing wrestling of power with the miniature me.
”Students, please take your seats at the table and we will begin our seatwork for today.”
“We don’t want to do that, do we kids?” said Anna. “We want to go out for recess first then do seatwork, Mom. C’mon guys.”
Eighteen of twenty eyes looked expectantly at me. Anna stood up to go toward the door just as if all was settled. Other little bodies started rising to follow her.
After my shock dissipated and my voice returned, I said with forced calmness, “It is not recess time right now. We will do that later. Everyone take a seat.”
Anna left her hand on the doorknob while the other well-behaved children moved toward the table. She looked at me. I looked at her. She then crossed her arms, communicating the challenge: Make me!
“You can either take your seat at the table, Anna, or visit the principal’s office,” I said as privately as possible, although there were no masking sounds anywhere in the small classroom. All the children heard me. What could be more interesting than the teacher verbally dueling it out with her own daughter?
Guess what she chose? Correct, the principal’s office.
There was no perceived threat there in her mind as the young man in that role had known Anna since she was a baby. Before joining the school, our families had been at the same seminary and spent lots of time together. Her view of Mr. McCutchan was as a friend, an adult play-mate who made her laugh, not as a scary authority figure. Not helpful to my plight.
Before the first semester ended, Anna had visited the principal’s office more times than any other student in our K4-6 grade school. A teacher’s reputation is in peril when her own child will not comply with the rules or respect authority. In desperation, my husband went to see our friend.
“Curt, you gotta help us out here. Anna is running the class! Nothing we are trying at home is working. If she gets sent to your office again, please just spank her. We give you permission.”
“Wow, Michael, I don’t know if I can do it. Anna is like one of my own children. I will talk to her.”
After church the next Sunday, our friend spoke to Anna. He told her what her dad said, that if she was sent to his office again, he would have to spank her. She looked at Curt with big brown eyes and just nodded her head. She never tested the promise, thankfully, and turned a corner toward the teacher’s obedient daughter. Most of the time.
The Apple of My Eye
Even though my darling daughter caused me much frustration over the years, I never doubted she would become an amazing young lady. Her heart was sincere and teachable, just surrounded by a determined, independent will. Her dad and I prayed often, for both of us.
Following one rough kindergarten morning, I found a small scrap of paper lying on my pillow when I went to bed that night.
“I am sorry mom for beng bad at scool. I dont no why I do that. (heart) your studt ANNA”
Even though the next day might be more of the same, I believed Anna was going to be a special leader lady one day. She was created strong and at six years old, while in kindergarten, she surrendered just as strongly to Her Savior and has never stepped off the path toward Him.
Anna paraded colorfully through her school years and invested deeply in her friendships and chosen activities. Adults and peers recognized her abilities and did not hesitate to give her responsibility with trust and gratitude. There were a few more clashes with authority in the teen years, but nothing irreparable or long lasting.
I tried my best to train her up, pass along personal life lessons to spare her stepping on the same land mines.
Sometimes she listened, other times she had to make the painful discovery for herself. I received more apologies through the years, and I made my own apologies to her. As she grew wiser under the Lord’s discipleship, she often showed me a better way to behave given our similar personality traits and weaknesses.
We both survived living in the same house. We both learned from God and from each other. Now she is a capable marketing professional and happily married woman. We enjoy a vibrant, never-dull relationship today that blesses me immensely.
Anna is my God-given apple and I am proud to be the tree she fell from.
♡ If you enjoyed this story, I’m sure you’ll love this too → How to Discipline a Child God’s Way