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To parent is to learn perseverance

Becoming a parent has taught my husband and me the meaning of perseverance.

Consider:

Recently, Lester took our three children to the mall to buy one of our twin 4-year-old sons a heavier coat.

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He had grand plans.

Our 2-and-a-half-year-old loves carousels, so Lester decided to brave the highway during rush hour just to take her to The Mall in Columbia, which has one.

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In his head, the trip would be fun — our daughter would laugh and smile on the carousel; our boys would ask for ice cream, and he, Awesomely Cool "Sweet Treats on a Random Weeknight" Dad, would oblige.

He'd come home, having hunted and gathered a coat, proud to be the father of three giggly, grateful — and warm — children.

Here's what really happened:

Fights on the way: "Stop kicking my seeeeeaaaat!" "Daddy! He called me a baby!!" "Noooooo! I don't want you to sing that song!"

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Whining while walking around: "I want to go to the merryground!!" "When can we have iiiiice cream?!" "I'm hunnnnngry!"

Our daughter fell asleep briefly in the car and, when the minivan doors opened at the mall, she woke up on the wrong side of the car seat. She was "in rare form," my husband said, demanding to be held like a baby, falling on the floor in spectacular tantrums, screaming so loud that people were stopping to turn and stare.

She's 2, so wanton insubordination and wild hysterics don't surprise us too much. But, Lester said, on this day she took her two-ness to DEFCON 1.

And yet, get a new coat we must. So he persevered.

This kind of scenario doesn't just happen when we've drop-kicked the schedule for an impromptu trip to the shopping mall, and thrown the children all off their routine. This is de rigueur in our house. All the kids are doing it.

Take bedtime stories — that magical and requisite thing all parents are supposed to do, every single solitary day of life, no matter how tired, or how late the night has dragged on, or how fried the nerves.

When I first imagined reading stories at bedtime, I pictured being cozy on the bed, in the glow of the bedside lamp, reading a Caldecott-winning picture book, its pages clean and crisp. One son resting his head on me; the other sitting criss-cross, eyes all-a-wonder. The baby girl, on my lap, smelling faintly of Babyganics.

Here's what really happens just about every night:

"Noooooooooo! I want to sit next to Mommy!"

"I don't WANT to read that book. That book is BORING!"

"How come he gets to pick the book? NO FAIR!"

"Get offffff me! Stop touching me! MOOOOOVE! I can't SEEEEEE!"

Tears. Shoving. Rogue page turning. Escapes from the bed to pull cosmetics off the dresser, poke iPhone buttons and twist deodorant dials until it falls onto the carpet, grinds in, and gets licked off chubby fingers. (Oh, your child has licked deodorant before. Or sucked lotion and called it yogurt. Don't judge.)

Sometimes I push through to the end. Sometimes, the dog-eared, fruit-snack-stained book — probably about Lego superheroes or some such (gag me) — gets put away, to be finished another night.

And yet, read we must. So I persevere.

Every day, we push through. We persist. Perseverance is now our most prominent trait.

I continue to pack sandwiches for their lunch, which come back three days out of five.

We stoically flush toilets that children swear they've flushed.

(Ummm … no. No, you didn't. But thanks for that surprise.)

I steadfastly remind my 2-year-old that "big girls use the potty" only to be told, emphatically, "No! I will never start the potty train!"

At 3:00 this coming morning, it's a good bet I will sleepwalk my way to retrieve a lost lovey, re-tuck a blanket, or hug and kiss away the remnants of a bad dream.

In my head, I will imagine the next night will be better, uninterrupted. But you know, by now, what will really happen.

But love my children, I do. So happily, I persevere.

(And one day, we will learn to keep our imaginations in check.)

Tanika Davis is a former Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 4-year-old sons, a 21/2-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap.

Her column appears monthly.

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