Today was the last day of absolutely no place to be. . .probably for the rest of summer!! How did it go by so quickly??? Tiiiiiimmeeee, why you punish meeeeee. . .AGAIN!!! Every time, Time. This is so not cool. So, I decided I was just going to treasure the absolute CRAP out of this day. Which is hard to do because as mamas we usually have a lot to do and lots of moody tiny people that we are doing it with. But truth be told, the reason I am treasuring this day has a lot to do with the fact that as my kids grow older I am realizing more and more that this is the last day in my life that is just like today. THE VERY LAST DAY where they are exactly as they are today. . .they are learning and growing so quickly! Which makes me get all achey inside and full of longing and pride and love and misty-eyed nostalgia. We aren't privileged enough to know when the last time will be for many things, but I sense this autumn coming in my life even in the midst of the hot summer of raising young kiddos. The first leaves of the river birch in our backyard have started to turn yellow, telling me that summer is marching past. I see the little signs in my boys that childhood is marching past, too- all those lanky arms and reading chapter books and showers that have replaced baths. The winks and giggles for jokes that are just between us, in a way that makes me feel like I am looking at a window right into their adult world.
And school, just about to begin.
Like Winnie the Pooh, I see my little Christopher Robins starting to grow. . .they leave me behind to go to "skull" and I feel a little bit like the Silly Old Bear, crying at the bus stop and waiting all day for my beloved friends to come back.
So, today I actually woke up before my kids (not my special talent). We stayed in jammies all morning, baked muffins, colored, played play dough. I got the costumes out and made macaroni and cheese for lunch (way fancy for me) and we went outside and were lazy in the backyard, little boys all draped over the swingset enjoying the breeze in the shade. We collected library books to return and reread our favorites. We got out a game and played about half of it. We read Charlotte's Web. I breathed in their little boy smell cuddled in my arms, and as I read to them about Fern and Avery swinging through the barn into the summer sky, I thought. . .that's what I wish for my boys. That joy, that abandon, that sweet summer of carefree childhood. It was like time stood still in that moment on our trusty faded denim couch, all arms and legs and shoulders and elbows and cheeks all over mine as we imagined ourselves right in that barn with Wilbur.
I still had to do and say all of the normal things I do and say in a day- lots of washing dishes and "put your pants back on" and "don't forget to flush" and "one more bite" and "get off the table" and "let's use our regular voice." There were a few meltdowns and at one point around 1:50 pm I looked at Noah and said, "YOU WILL TAKE A NAP RIGHT NOW." (and I might have added that Mommy was "all done.") But there's a spirit that has grown within me over the past eight years of parenting that has made it easier to take the meltdown moments with grace. In all honesty, about six years ago I would have done anything to escape some days with my kids. If you feel that way, I would not blame you in the LEAST. But here is what I was taught that made all of the difference. WHAT I FEEL is not who I am. If I am in a bad mood, that doesn't make me a bad mom. Moods and feelings are fleeting. They come and go and pass like the wind as long as we don't feed them with our thoughts. Because the next instant after I was ready to hop on the back of the mail truck and ride away from my three kids three and under, someone would hug me with chubby arms and my heart would just about burst. And I would think, "Am I even a good mom? I don't even know. Why can't I get it together?" But, slowly, I learned this: I don't have to feel great all of the time to be a great mom to my kids. I don't have to have it all together. . .as long as we're together, we've got it all.
Even though one moment isa complete shitstorm, the next moment might be the best moment of my life. I don't even know yet, so it helps to embrace the crazy and know that maybe the best moments are yet to come. Moods and feelings come and go, but LOVE. . .that's sticking around. Long after summer is gone and the birch leaves have fallen and the school bus pulls away. Love remains.
"Our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our moods, God's beloved children."- Henri Nouwen
As Phil and I were putting on lotion the other night before bed we were chatting about Vacation Bible School and the story of Elijah that we heard that day.
"You know what story from the Bible I love, Mommy?"
"I like that one about the powerful soldier and the servant girl?! You know that one?"
"Oh, you mean Namaan?" I said, almost in shock.
"Well you are not going to believe this, but that is going to be our Bible story on Wednesday!"
So, at this point I was pretty impressed because I am going to admit I had never even HEARD this story of Namaan until it popped up as one of our stories in VBS. I'm no O.T. Scholar. The 8-year-old has a major scriptural edge on the 35-year-old, apparently.
"What's your favorite part about that story, Phil?" I asked him, fully expecting that I knew the answer.
My mind had instantly gone to Phil's eczema, and I wondered how he might relate to someone like Namaan. Phil is friendly, outgoing, lovable and kind, yet like Namaan he has this skin condition that shows on the outside all of the time. Eczema can be itchy, it can be painful and sometimes just downright annoying. It takes a lot of time and sometimes can cost a lot of money to manage. It can make him feel different. Having a disease that other people can see, especially when you are a little kid, is no fun. I mean, I have thyroid disease and no one would ever know that. Well, except I just told the whole internet, but otherwise. . .you know, from LOOKING at me, you wouldn't know! An "inside" condition can be easy to hide. A skin disease is something different. I was fully expecting Philip to tell me he loved the part about how Namaan was healed as we have prayed for healing for Philip many times before. I wonder if he had imagined himself jumping in the Jordan River like Namaan and coming out with his skin pure as snow.
But, no, not our Philip.
"Mommy, I really liked that servant girl. Do you know Namaan killed her whole family and made her a slave, but she forgave him and helped him know where to go to be healed? Isn't that amazing??"
Um, no, YOU are amazing. But, yes, that's amazing, too. Of course Phil would admire the person who is kind and forgives. Phil is such a bright-side thinker, he even told me the other day that having asthma and allergies is a good thing, because it just means he "just gets extra love and care." We often talk about kiddos who have far worse illnesses, and I know he extends even more compassion and grace to them knowing just a small part of their struggles. He tells me how sometimes he likes to just admire his two "good" fingers, the ring and middle finger on his left hand, since they are the only ones that usually don't have scars. "Sometimes I like to just gaze at them, Mommy." When he raises his hand at school, he told me that he tries to raise his better hand because he's looked around and noticed that no one else in his class looks just like him.
"They all have smooth skin, Mommy."
"I know, buddy, I know. We'll just keep taking good care of your skin and maybe when you are a grownup you will, too."
"So, when I am a grownup, will you still put my lotion on for me? Or maybe my wife will just put my lotion on for me? If not I guess I could come over here every night and you could do it!" This made us both burst into hysterical giggles, imagining him as an adult coming over to my house so I could carefully apply his regimen of eczema creams.
"Well, honey, when you are a little bigger you can probably do this yourself. And maybe your wife can help you with the, you know, hard-to-reach spots." More hysterical laughter with that mental picture.
We laugh about it together, but the mama bear in me worries, too. Worries about the days he will be teased. Feels bad for the discomfort he is in, since if I had one single spot like has all over it would drive me absolutely up the wall. And of course, there's the part that feels guilty I can't fix it.
Nevertheless, I could hardly wait for Phil to get to Bible stories today so we could share one of his favorite stories together. I was especially looking forward to the part where the kids would color on themselves with markers and then come up to the Jordan River to be "healed". I made sure that I was right over by Phil's group, so that I could be the one to wash his hands free of the marker in our little Jordan River made of plastic and cardboard boxes and pitchers of water from the church kitchen. As the kids came forward, I would look at their nametag as I wiped their hands dry.
"Grace, you've been healed. Daniel, you've been healed. Anna, you've been healed." . . .all down the line. I finally got to my oldest little boy. "Philip, you are healed." I said, as I washed the markers off of him, his small hands cupped in mine. Of course, all of his other little spots were left behind as I wiped his palms dry tenderly. He looked at me with his squinty-eyed smile.
"Not yet, Mommy," he said sweetly, "Not yet."
At the end we closed in a little prayer where I asked all of the kids to hold someone in their hearts who needed healing. We prayed that that person would be healed, and expressed our confidence that if God didn't heal them while they were here on earth that they would be healed and whole again and rejoicing when they went to their heavenly home.
I looked over at Phil when the prayer was over and I could see he was a little bit emotional. I gave him a big hug.
I kept turning over the words in my mind that Philip said to me at the river.
He chooses hope.
He chooses the bright side.
He chooses faith.
Keep shining that light, buddy.
I love you.
"Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." - Isaiah 58: 8, 9a (NIV)
I was flicking through the camera roll the other day when I realized that my summer pictures mostly fall in the following categories.
1. Noah in his Winnie the Pooh costume.
2. Selfies of me and Josh.
3. The kids playing in the backyard
and 4. Aldi pictures.
Wow. We've been going to Aldi quite frequently, I must admit. Perhaps in their memories this will be the summer of Aldi for my boys. Don Henley, please write a song for me.
You may be wondering, why does Jen go to Aldi so much? Most would guess that it is because I have four kids and they eat a lot of food. That is partially it, but that would be giving me too much credit. Mostly it is because I cannot leave Aldi without forgetting stuff. The forgetting is two-fold. 1. I forget to put things on the list. Really obvious things, like the chicken to go in the chicken soup. and 2. I forget to buy the things that are on my list even though they are right there in front of me and I have a second-grader reading them out loud to me. I do not know why I have such horrible attention to detail when it comes to the grocery list. I have no problem with attention to detail in other areas of my life such as music, friendship, handwriting, throw pillow placement and accessorizing my outfits but the grocery list- FORGET ABOUT IT!
So, I was getting a teeny bit down on myself for being unable to plan and shop for an entire week. I have a friend who plans and shops for a month. A MONTH!!!??? Actually, it's not even the planning that's hard. My meal plan is a no-brainer. Feel free to borrow it. Is it Saturday? Oh, yes! Hot Dogs and Chili after church. Is it Wednesday? SPAGHETTI WEDNESDAY! And don't forget Taco Tuesday! Pizza Friday! Seriously, every week. It's that predictable. I served the tacos on a Monday the other week and blew everyone's MINDS. It's important to set the bar for yourself very, very low so that you can do something normal and blow people's minds. It's a great feeling. For example, I get comments like. . . "WOW!! Mommy, thank you for cleaning the bathroom!!", or, "Honey, you changed the sheets?! You already did that this month." or my favorite, "I really like the way you folded my jammies and matched them up, Mommy. That was very helpful." SEE?? Bar low. Blow their minds with stuff normal people do on a daily basis.
But, back to getting down on myself. That's no way to live, and the people need to eat, so I just decided that I would no longer even pretend like I was going to buy a whole week's worth of groceries. We would just go to Aldi every few days, and that would be that. I don't need to be anyone else. If other people can shop for a week more power to them, but I have a van and it could probably drive itself to Aldi, so why not go there a lot? And. . .guess what. WOW! What freedom. I can handle two days at a time. I can do that. Actually, I can ROCK that! The task is no longer paralyzing because I broke it down into smaller pieces. Just like when I taught Algebra and the kids would look at a hard problem and freeze. . .I'd just give them a step. . .a baby step like "distribute." And step by step, they'd get that big ol' problem done. I just give myself a baby step, like "just get the stuff for Fish Stick Monday and Taco Tuesday" and there you have it, two days of six people fed in the books. Isn't that like thirty six meals? Am I doing the math right? I don't even know. I'm sure I was a great math teacher.
I was admitting to my dear friend Maureen the other day that I have a hard time buying my groceries and have to go to the store every few days. We have been friends for over twenty years so she always knows just what to say. "Jen," she said. "Don't feel bad! That's very European." WHY, YES!!! Yes, it is. Thank you, Maureen, for that beautiful perspective. Now I'm not even ashamed anymore, I am just going to embrace how international I am. I walked into Aldi today to get more milk and bananas and Fruit Loops and felt super fancy.
About a month ago, I walked into the boys' school to drop off Daniel after an appointment. I had Noah on my hip, and Josh and Daniel were running along beside me as I pressed the buzzer, waited for the 'click' and used my hip to swing open the heavy office door. There was a huge lunchtime crowd in the room as I tried to make my way in, and the mom waiting in the seat right by the door reached over and grabbed the handle and started to hold it open for me so I could wiggle through with my crew. Then, she reached her other hand out. . .and put it on my belly.
Then it got even more awkward. . ."OH MY GOODNESS," she gushed in a sing-song voice. "Just looooook at that growing little baby bump!"
So in my head I'm all like, "Oh no she DIDDDDNNN'TTT." I was about to look around and see if she was referring to someone else, but since she was touching me I was pretty sure that she, in fact, diiiiiiiiiidddddd.
Also, I am 99.999999% sure that I am not pregnant, am not planning on becoming pregnant in the near future, and spend a lot of time trying to not look pregnant. I mean, I had on Spanx LEGGINGS that day, for Pete's sake. Not even Spanx under leggings, actual leggings made of the Spanx.
I just sort of scuffled by and pretended I didn't hear her and didn't feel her hand on me. I was so frazzled I failed to click all of the right buttons when signing Daniel in, then I hustled out of the office with head down and tummy sucked in to my van where I proceeded to drive home with all of the spirit of a deflated balloon.
My pity party continued as I dragged my Spanx and two youngest boys into the door, where I first had to look up the phone number of the school and call them to tell them that I never actually managed to sign Daniel in. Then, I called Paul and told him my sad story. "Ridiculous." He said. "You don't look pregnant. What is wrooong with people."
I love my darling husband, and my heart wanted to believe him but my head decided to believe office lady instead. Paul won't let me feel down for long so his new plan was to engage me in abdominal exercise. There is really only one kind of exercise that speaks my language and that is yoga, so Paul offering to do yoga with me was just about the sweetest thing ever, right up there with buying me a cat when we first got married. He's not a cat man, or a yoga man, but he's a good man. So, we've started doing yoga every night after the kids go to bed: Twenty solid minutes of deep breathing and Rodney Yee kicking our abs. Sometimes the kids come downstairs and giggle at us as we rock back and forth on the floor holding our feet like giant babies or our cat comes down and tries to wrap herself around my head, but for the most part they all leave us alone and yoga is our special time.
The only hangup with the abs yoga is that I am pretty sure I no longer have abs, as whatever I may have had before has been completely stretched apart by whole the four giant babies in six years thing. So, I tend to get a teensy bit discouraged. And by teensy, I really mean that I start to mentally beat myself up when Rodney flawlessly positions himself in half boat pose and encourages me to relax my eyes, neck and inner body, his soothing, gentle voice a total contrast to the internal screaming of my abs-or-lack-thereof.
Last week, Paul must have grown tired of hearing me sigh dramatically, so he looked over at me and tried to make me laugh. "Jen!" He said with a big grin on his face. "That's Rodney F@*kingYEE!! OK?"
We started to crack up and as I fell out of my pathetic half boat pose and realized that this was a defining moment.
Paul is funny, but he also serves me some truth.
I am not Rodney F@*king Yee.
There's only one Rodney F@*king Yee.
I'm just Jen, and that's OK.
No more "should-be-able-to"s. Why should I expect myself to be as good as Rodney, when even Rodney himself doesn't? I'm also not whomever else might be on the TV screen or Pinterest feed or Instagram or Facebook at the moment being more awesome than me at having abs.
New mantra for everything: I'm not Rodney F'ing Yee.
Feel free to extend this to any other comparison-based situation in life.
I know I will!
I'm just me. Doing my thing. Taking care of myself and of my health. Celebrating the gift of my body through some not-very-expert-looking yoga moves. Loving my four kids, thanking God for the stretched out belly that helped bring them into this world, and wearing my Spanx leggings so hopefully random strangers stop touching it.
The other night as we dealt with the crazy, beautiful, occasionally maddening mess that is "bath night with four kids", Paul shouted out an observation from the nursery where he was getting Noah in jammies.
"You know, Jen, this time next year we aren't even going to have so many of these things. Diapers? Baby gates? A crib?"
My eyes got huge. I looked at my oldest, Philip, whom I was currently slathering with lotion in the boys' room.
"Oh my gosh, he's right!" I said to Phil, and started to shake my head.
"Yeah, Mommy!" Phil chimed in. "Or pacis. Or. . .(dun, dun, dun) Elllllmoooooooo?!" He looked at me with a little raise of the eyebrow, expectantly waiting for the tears that always come when I think about the boys growing. I was already lost in thought, trying to process the changes ahead. The baby things are going to be gone before I know it. Didn't we just get those back out?
Temporary, it's all so temporary.
A few nights later, after the kids were tucked into bed and Paul and I were on our usual spots on the basement couch, we started to talk about my return to the full-time-work-outside-the-home world. He brought it up almost apologetically, but there was no apology needed. We agreed when I left the classroom six years ago that this was a temporary arrangement, I would stay home while the kids were small. I just needed the reminder to get back into the right space in my head about it. Another year or so, and life will be so different. Still good, just different.
Temporary, it's all so temporary.
And now that I can see the end of the baby and toddler and preschooler years in sight, I realize how short it all was. My first few years as a stay-at-home mom, I didn't live it like it was temporary. The days with the two babies stretched on for what felt like years, yet the years were flying by so quickly that by the time I finally started writing 2009 on my checks it was time to write 2010. I questioned myself so much at the beginning. . .am I doing this right? Am I a good mom? I worried about everything. . .what if I don't potty train now? What is that diaper rash? Why is he crying? When will he sleep through the night? What should I feed him? I had beautiful moments to be sure, but I definitely worried my way through most of those never-ending days as if they would truly never end.
Then, I received a gift in the form of a blog post. Glennon Melton's post, Don't Carpe Diem, went viral at just the right time in my life, in the middle of winter 2011 with three kids three and under. Isn't it amazing how someone can give you such freedom through a few words they write? In the day I read that blog post (and read it 10 times again and forwarded it to everyone I knew) I realized that I did not have to love every MINUTE of my life to love my life. I didn't have to be good at EVERYTHING to be doing a good job. It was the most liberating thought I could experience. From that moment forward, my perspective of what a "good life" meant shifted. I began experiencing an inner freedom I had never felt before. A freedom from self-judgement, a freedom to be me. Silly, sentimental, clumsy, goofy, outgoing, imperfect, messy ME, living a silly, messy, imperfect, heartfelt life.
With my eyes opened, I began to see the freedom each of my children was calling me to as well. Philip is so trusting. His favorite song for me to sing to him at bedtime is "The Lord is my Light and my Salvation" In the beginning of my parenthood, I was sooooo afraid of messing things up. But, of whom should I be afraid, really? When I fear, it's likely because I've started putting my trust in my own power, in doing things "right" as the key to life. Phil's trust and hope reminds me to put my trust in God's help, not mine. Phil, in simply being Phil, calls me to freedom from fear.
Daniel is so silly and tenderhearted. He has so many of my traits, like loving stuffed animals and puns and popcorn and puppets and crying when others are sad. He is also just as clumsy and absentminded as his mama. He'll be putting on a pair of fresh pajamas to go to school while I'm putting a bag of potato chips in the refrigerator and a stick of butter in the pantry. He always gets the biggest giggle out of himself when he realizes what he has done, and calls me to that freedom to laugh at my mistakes as well.
Josh is so funny. He is the Michael Scott to my Holly. We talk in Yoda voices or play Uno together using a language made mostly of the word "nerp." We go out in public wearing costumes and sing songs to each other through the little "telephone" things at the playground. Every time he looks at me with his big brown eyes squinting with love, gives me that priceless giggle and flashes his dimpled grin, he gives me the freedom to be silly.
And Noah, sweet Noah. He loves and hugs and laughs and grows so fast. He's the icing on the cake. He reminds me daily of the two sides of the coin of life.
One one side. . .it's temporary.
But on the other side. . .it's temporary.
In that message comes a freedom I never knew I needed. The freedom to slow down, the freedom to enjoy the present moment. If we know it will all be over to soon, we worry less, regret less, judge less. In the frame of "temporary", problems that seem so large become but a blip on the screen of an enormous life. Moments that seem so small, however, can expand to fill our minds and hearts and sustain us in the years to come. That feeling of "temporary" makes me want to live more kindly and gently, and calls me to the freedom to be my authentic self in any given moment.
The next moment isn't guaranteed.
So I'm going to accept their little invitations to freedom whenever I can take them.
Freedom from fear.
Freedom from criticism.
The freedom to be silly.
The freedom to be still.
My children have no idea that they have given me this freedom, but hopefully someday they will read this, and someday they will. Thank you, boys. Thank you for being free. Thank you for being you.
When you are interiorly free you call others to freedom, whether you know it or not. Freedom attracts wherever it appears. A free man or a free woman creates a space where others feel safe and want to dwell. Our world is so full of conditions, demands, requirements, and obligations that we often wonder what is expected of us. But when we meet a truly free person, there are no expectations, only an invitation to reach into ourselves and discover there our own freedom.
Where true inner freedom is, there is God. And where God is, there we want to be.
It all derailed so quickly. The morning was sunny, joyful, peaceful. . .the perfect spring day was beginning, my to-do list already well underway. Josh helped me pack lunches, the big boys were woken up with hugs and kisses from their baby brother, Noah. . .I had even remembered to sign the "Go" folders before it was time to "Go" to the bus! WIN!!! This mom was on FIRE! It was THAT KIND OF MORNING. And then. . .it wasn't.
I heard the rumbling upstairs of little first graders who had gone from sleepy to wild and crazy in under the 30 seconds it took me to walk downstairs to my spot at the kitchen sink. I could hear their feet thumping over my head and doors opening and closing, laughter and shrieking traveling from their bedroom all the way to the kitchen. I let it play out, as I always do, waiting for the inevitable tears. Phil popped his head around the corner with a mischievous grin as he came bounding down the stairs, leaving a crying Daniel running behind him screaming, "SIRRRRRRR!!!!!!"
I looked at the clock. 8:02.
I looked at Daniel. In his underpants.
Teeth and hair unbrushed.
Guarantee the bed was unmade, too.
And I Just. Lost. It.
"Daniel Joseph Zink, get upstairs THIS INSTANT!!" I scolded, as I chased him upstairs with my finger pointing.
"But, MOMMY!! I'm SCARED!!" He pleaded. "Please come with me!"
"Daniel, I don't have TIME to come with you, don't you see? You wasted ALL YOUR TIME. You are going to have to get on the bus IN YOUR UNDERPANTS."
(this is not my finest parenting moment, OK?)
"But, MOMMY!! The monsters might get me!"
"Daniel, how many times do I have to tell you, there are NO MONSTERS in your closet!!!??? And you would be DRESSED by now if you hadn't been goofing around with your brother, and you wouldn't even HAVE THIS PROBLEM. See what happens??? You get left behind. You goof around and you get left behind and that is just going to happen to you for the rest of your life. . ." Blah, blah, blah, I can't even remember what I said but it was all mean and crappy and, again, nooooooooot my finest moment.
I stomped downstairs leaving a tearful Daniel on his bed with shirt half-on, feeling angry and righteous and justified.
Then I found the other three boys, saying grace over the gourmet cereal breakfast I had prepared for them.
The exact opposite of how I was just acting.
The exact thing that I very much needed at that instant. How perfectly timed that Grace is, right before a meal. It was just the reminder I needed, and as I turned my head toward the kitchen, I saw the Mary Engelbreit calendar for today.
"The winds of Grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail."
It was time to raise the sail.
Sometimes, we get so lost in a moment or in our feelings that it is easy to forget that we can stop. A little pause might be just what we need to raise the sail and remind us of the truth: Each moment is a new moment, we can always, always start anew. Now, I can't unsay the things I said, but I sure can apologize. I took a breath, and I took a moment to open the sail and let the grace fill it up. Because with grace, comes humility. And with humility, there is no room for anger and self-righteousness, just no room at all.
Daniel came down the stairs. Teeth brushed, hair combed, dressed for school. . .and tear stains on his face. Tear stains that were really my fault.
I ached as I knelt down beside him at the table. "Daniel, I am sorry I lost my patience with you. Can you forgive me?"
"It's OK, Mommy. I'm OK." He said, biting his lip and avoiding looking in my direction.
"Daniel, I didn't mean to say those things to you. I love you and I don't want you to be scared to be upstairs alone. I'll help you come up with a win-win. How can I help you?"
"Mommy, can you have someone stay upstairs with me while I get dressed? And not come downstairs even if they are done until I am ready?"
I took a moment to put myself in Daniel's shoes. Although I am not terrified of my closet, there sure are a lot of things I am terrified of. Being criticized. Letting people down. The drain at the bottom of the swimming pool. You know, normal stuff. And I know how much it means to me when someone is there for me and supports me through my fear instead of ridiculing it. (Also, I know that I don't always have the time to sit there with him through his fear because Lord only knows what his little brothers would get into while he put his shirt on.) So, I went over to Philip. My rock. My little right-hand guy.
"Phil, can you stay with Sir while he gets dressed in the morning and not leave him? If he promises not to be crazy?"
"Yeah, I guess, Mommy. I can just read my book until he is done."
"Daniel," I said. "Can you promise not to be too silly while you are getting dressed so it doesn't take so much time?"
"Yes, Mommy," he said, still not quite looking at me.
And he bowed his head to say Grace. And I could feel it washing over us all. It's something we need every day, that Grace. Sometimes I act like it is a one and done. . .as in, hey, I filled up with Grace! I'm set for life! But, unfortunately, I'm just a feeble human. I need grace, and grace, and grace again.
I like to think I have lots of good moments in the day. That just wasn't one of them.
Grace covers that. Thank you, Grace. Help me to remember that you are always there, I just need to take a deep breath and raise the sail.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Colossians 3:12-14
One day while cruising the aisles at Meijer after a particularly long visit to the lobster tank with my little gentlemen, I was approached by a woman wearing an airbrushed trucker hat that said "#1 Nana". She was being trailed by one of her adult sons as she inched her way through the produce section, and her face lit up like a Christmas tree when she saw me. She stopped and asked me about my boys and I smiled as we chatted for a bit.
"I had four boys. . .and two girls!" she said proudly. She grinned at my little guys and introduced me to her son before we parted ways. Truly, there are lovely people everywhere. And, everywhere one goes with little kids in tow. . .there are questions. And comments.
Are they all yours?
Are they all boys?
How old are they?
Are you going to try for a girl?
Are they twins?
My, you certainly are busy!
Wow, you have your hands full!
(and my personal favorite. . .)
You know what causes that, don't you?
If I had a dollar for every time I heard these things, I'd be on Spring Break in Hawaii or Fiji right now! My kids must have gotten used to being a novelty item (sorry kids, I like matching outfits and you are too small to shop for yourselves!) because any time when we are in the elevator at the doctor's office they just start blurting out things to the people around them, unprompted, in anticipation of any future comments or questions and in complete disregard of whether anyone in the elevator was actually wondering.
"There are four of us, no GIRLS, we are all boys!! ALL BOYS!! Can you believe it!!?"
I don't get too annoyed with the questions and comments (exception: the period of time where I was pregnant for like two years straight. By the end of pregnancy #2 I was 'bout done with people telling me I looked like I was going to pop.) People ask the same questions, I give the same answers. Repeat in Target, Meijer and Aldi weekly. Kind of like when I taught high school and I explained the same thing over and over and over to each kid who raised their hand just because they just wanted me to come over to their desk times thirty kids times six class periods. However, as much as I have grown used to it I never really understood WHY. Why do people ask you so many questions when you are pregnant or have young children? Why do strangers touch your belly or ask you if you planned that or ask you if you are breastfeeding or if you are going to try for a girl or if you have a T.V.?
Then something finally happened to give me my light bulb moment. Joshy, Noah and I joined a local group that merges the gap between senior citizens and the younger generations. At our first event, Josh was in my lap eating a popsicle and I was sitting next to a sweet man named Bill. Bill was in a wheelchair and was occasionally nodding off, but I came to mingle and I wanted so badly to strike up a conversation. As I fumbled for words I realized- WOW. My conversation skills are really rusty! I mean, I can handle sorority rush or teacher small talk or moms at the park conversation with the best of them. . .What's your major, what dorm do you live in, I like that diaper bag, your kid is so cute, what nice weather we are having, so good to get the kids outside, etc. . .but this was a different ball game. Um, I like your wheelchair? That sounds pretty, uhhhhhh. . . lame. And I ran through other question scenarios in my mind- like what if I asked him about his family and his wife is dead? Oh, no! Or what if he was never married? He lives in a nursing home, so he doesn't have a job, or pets. . .oh, man! I kept ending up at mental dead ends, and at that moment I realized why people make so much conversation with me about my kiddos. . .they are a bridge. A bring-along conversation starter if you will. A total visual, like a Neil Diamond t-shirt or a Donald Duck tattoo. I needed a BRIDGE! What would I say to Bill? How would I get to know him? I searched his arms desperately. WHY DOESN'T HE HAVE ANY TATS???!!! So, I started by asking him if he had always lived in the area. That was a good start. Conversation kind of flowed from there (he nodded off a few more times, but I think he was into it, too.) And it felt great.
And that was the day I got it. I really understood every past grocery store conversation, even the half-hour one with the guy in line at the 10th street Kroger that spanned everything from his thoughts on little league baseball to his government conspiracy theories. People are just looking for a bridge. Maybe they are just a little bit lonely. If you are like me and you are in the more-kids-in-the-cart than groceries phase, you are going to get the questions, too. But, I would guess that most of the time it is not because people are looking to judge or be nosy about our sex life or truly want to know our future reproductive plans as it sometimes feels, but simply because. . .they want someone to talk to. And we're there, with our shopping cart or our minivan or our pew full of little bridges. They probably aren't asking us if the baby is a boy or a girl because they need this vital information, or telling our daughter she is pretty because they are trying to objectify her, or asking the kids what they are eating because they are trying to judge our parenting. . .they are just trying to say some things to make a little bridge. Even if it's a super-awkward bridge, like the "You know what causes that, don't you?" bridge.
Shortly after I met "#1 Nana", I was in an elevator with Josh and Noah when a lovely octogenarian dressed impeccably in head-to-toe yellow struck up a conversation. I came to learn that she was a mother of five. . .all boys! How about that?! There were 50 years between us but a lot in common, too (besides our mutual love for pantsuits and the color yellow). As I stepped out of the elevator with her I had a vision of myself. I am sure it will feel like I blinked my eyes and I will be the lady with the full heart and empty hands, pushing the cart more for support than the need to fill it with children and cereal and chicken nuggets. Wow, I sure hope people smile and talk to me. No one will know anything about me just by looking at me, unless I get some tats or a Neil Diamond t-shirt. I'll still be a mom of four boys, but I'll need to get that airbrushed on something because I am sure by then they won't fit in my cart. Seeing how quickly time passes keeps me grounded and keeps me open and keeps me humble. I am trying not to rush by.
So, when I see an elderly man at Aldi with a hat on commemorating a military activity, I am always sure to go out of my way to thank him for his service. If someone has a shirt on that says "proud grandma" you had better believe that I am going to ask her about her grandkids. And when someone asks me about my cart full of squirmy boys, I try to stop and chat with them and be as gracious as I can until someone squirms right out of the cart and I have to go. And if they ask me if "I know what causes that", I laugh politely. And the best part is that they have no idea it is even my polite laugh, because they haven't even heard my real laugh which is like ten times louder/more annoying and they're happy because they think they are SUPER funny. WIN! And I'm happy, because I've been building a little bridge, to make the world a little less lonely- mine and theirs and ours. One shopping trip and elevator ride and polite chuckle at a time.