Before I had children, I was sure how I would raise them. I would love them with a firm, but steady hand. I would create an orderly household, rich in love and tranquillity.
That sounded pretty good in theory. Then the first child arrived.
Our first daughter was a delightful pixie, miniature in stature, but strong in will. It was clear very early on that this child would have her way in all things.
One day when she was not quite two, I ran the water for her bath. She danced around the room, helping me to remove her shirt, her shorts, her underwear. But when we got to her socks, she drew the line.
She was going to wear her socks into the tub.
No, she wasn't.
With the battle lines firmly drawn, we engaged in combat. I grabbed her and pulled off a sock. She threw herself onto the floor, flipped over, and ran.
I headed her off at the door; she ran back for the discarded sock.
I tackled her and managed to slip the other sock off her foot. She retaliated with an ear-piercing scream.
My victory was at hand when the phone rang. Jen saw her chance. She wiggled out of my arms and ran for her room.
I answered the phone with a voice full of all the exasperation of a mother thwarted.
It was my mom.
"What on earth is wrong?" she asked.
"Jen and I are at war. She wants to where her socks into the tub."
I heard the smile spread across her face. "She does?"
"Yes, I had finally gotten them off her and was about to put her in the tub when you called." I glanced over to her room just as she came back out into the hall. She had on her socks.
"Honey, can I give you a piece of advice?"
I did not want her advice. Still she continued.
"You and Jen are going to have a long life together. You are going to teach her to stay away from fire, to look both ways when crossing the road, and not to go with strangers. You are going to fight about boyfriends and grades and staying out late. Do you really want to fight about socks?"
"But mom, if I can't win an argument about socks, how will I ever win one about boys?"
"Ah, but that's the point," she said. "You have to decide what is worth fighting for. If you make everything a battle now, she will repay you by making everything a battle later. But if she learns that when you say no, it must be important, she will learn that your advice is worth listening to."
Jen wore her socks into the tub that night. She delighted in the way they bubbled up with water when she submerged them. She took them off and poured water on her head. She put them back on and savored their squishy softness. She probably learned a lot that night about the cause and effect of water on fabric.
I learned something, too, a lesson that I would remember throughout our children's lives: Choose your battles. Know what's important and don't squabble about the petty stuff. See the situation from your child's point of view.
I have been rewarded over and over for the lesson of that day. My children have grown up to be creative and unconventional thinkers. They are also firmly independent and a little headstrong. I got my household rich in love, but rather than tranquillity, my husband and I oversee a form of controlled chaos. We have lived through far worse experiments than wet socks, seen our share of successes and failures, and received the daily reward of watching our children become all they could be.
An excerpt from The Quotable Mom edited by Kate Rowinski