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.