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.