Tonight was quite a night at the Zink house. When the school year begins, we move into High Intensity Parenting and it always takes me a few weeks to catch up. Or do I ever catch up? Maybe in June, right? ;) In the summer, I thrive as all of the parenting activities are spread out over the course of a leisurely day. Do a chore here, brush some teeth here, make your bed whenever. Usually if all of the "things" are done by the time I start making dinner and we've had some fun in between, I feel like we have totally rocked that day. But August-May, LOOK OUT. All parenting must be concentrated into super intense periods of time. Meteorologist Jen Zink reporting: There's a warning out for the "Getting Ready for School Tornado" M-F from 7-8:30 am, and then from 4-8 pm daily, be on the lookout for "Scattered Shitstorms."
Tonight the radar was mostly red from 5:45 pm onward. The end result was me wearing my apron for four hours straight before I finally made it to the sink to wash the spaghetti Wednesday aftermath, and the in-between was the best of times and the worst of times. THE MESS. Both literally and figuratively. But magic happened there. And that magic is the reason why I am sitting at my computer typing instead of curled up in the fetal position crying.
Sometimes I pray for things to be easy. "Let today be an easy day after school." I pray. "Why does the morning have to be like this?" I plead. But in this week of hectic, wiggly mornings and tearful yet exuberant evenings I have become aware. . .the crazy is the gift. The mess is where the magic happens. We have plenty of fun and peaceful and easy times to be sure, but the HARD parts are where we do the real work of life. I hate conflict, I avoid it at all costs. But conflict, and how we deal with it, is where we LEARN and GROW in this family. It is the biggest blessing we could have. I would love an easy morning, but an easy morning doesn't help me teach Daniel about time management. It doesn't help Phil to learn how to rise above challenges. It doesn't give me an opportunity to ask Josh for forgiveness for (gasp) HELPING HIM SET THE TABLE and give him the opportunity to extend it (update: I am half-forgiven for the table setting). It doesn't give us a huge belly laugh from Noah singing "Take it Easy" by the Eagles in the most crazy and least "easy" voice imaginable. It doesn't teach me to extend grace for spilled milk. It doesn't let me lead my family by example by admitting my own shortcomings if I oversleep or forget to run the dishwasher. Some days I would love to just hide in the kitchen and pretend to be making toast while I check my phone and the dining room explodes with little boy laughter about potty humor over their bowls of Bran Flakes and Cheerios. If I did that, though, I'd miss the chance to answer the million questions that pop up at breakfast about God and science and friendship and bullying and books and nutritional content of cereals.
By the time my kiddos get on the bus, I feel like have already taught a dozen lessons, a gift of the little obstacles of daily life. After they get off the bus at 4pm, the lessons begin anew. Someone might be crying in my arms from the moment they step into our front yard. Someone might pinch his brother, and then end up in a teary puddle explaining his feelings. Someone (ahem- his name starts with a D) might go completely boneless on the kitchen floor because of the possibility of writing out his spelling words. There's a highly volatile mix of little boy pent-up energy and I've been holding-it-all-together-exhaustion which can have my house fluctuating from joyful play to tears in the blink of an eye. In addition, meals have to be fed and cleaned, baths and showers given, teeth brushed, homework done, stories read. . .whew!! Tonight before dinner, Phil started crying because everyone was "ruining his pretend!! He was just trying to include them but they were RUINING IT!!!" Then at dinner, we were gifted with a two year old who decided not to take a nap today. He was crying so loudly about something related to his spaghetti that Phil started crying again because he "couldn't take one more second and just needed to be ALONE for a minute!" Josh was despondently poking at a meatball because spaghetti night is his least favorite, and Daniel had entered into his defense mechanism for all uncomfortable situations: clown mode Paul and I looked at each other in the same unspoken way that perhaps seasoned firefighters might as we just busted straight into that fiery mess. I prayed for wisdom. For patience for us. For a teachable moment in the whole thing.
So, as Paul gave some baths I got right into the thick of it with our oldest. It turns out Phil just isn't "feeling like himself." We talked about what that meant and what he might do about those feelings. Daniel was eavesdropping and started to chime in about his feelings, too. We talked about how Daniel was like Ferdinand the Bull in the story, with the flowers and the butterflies and all. Josh went downstairs to play, where I later found him asleep with a Lego clutched in his hand. Paul got the over-tired Noah to sleep with some Best Nest and a cup of milk, and I spent some time with my buddy Phil talking about what was going on inside that little noggin of his as he cried big giant tears and I wiped them with a Kleenex that Daniel brought us.
"Mommy, I just don't feel like me, I can't explain it." Phil said.
"Well, sweetie, I'm here. I'm here to listen."
"I feel like I just want to be by myself!!" he wailed. "I just want to go in my bed and not even brush my teeth and read a book."
"I totally understand! When I have a hard day reading one of my favorite books always really helps me. But, like, I always brush my teeth first. That's important." (seriously, kid has another cavity. gotta get that part in) ;)
"What books do you like to read, Mommy?"
"Well, one of my favorite books is called "I'm Proud of You" It's by my friend Tim. Do you know he was real life friends with Mister Rogers?"
"Really?" Phil's eyes got big and I could see that Daniel was listening intently from two beds away.
"Yes, real friends! They hung out and emailed and talked on the phone and everything!"
"Wow!" Phil said, as he waited for me to go on.
"So, Tim had a brother. His brother's name was Steve and they were really close, just like you and Daniel. But when his brother Steve was a grown-up, like your Daddy's age, he found out he had cancer. And later he died. And Tim was really sad just like you would be if you lost Daniel. But his friend Mister Rogers helped him through that sad time. And do you know what he said to him???"
"Anything mentionable is manageable. So if you can talk to Mommy about how you feel, I can help you with it, OK? You don't have to feel your feelings alone. If you tell me, I can try to help you."
So we sat together for a while, Phil and I. He totally stopped crying because once you start thinking about someone else's pain it's pretty hard to stay focused on your own. His mind was all wrapped up in Tim and Steve. He never did find the right words for his feelings, but we brushed teeth and read Stellaluna and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Tub People. By halfway through the first story he started to melt right into my arms on our comfy denim couch.
"Do you feel more like yourself, honey?" I asked, as we wrapped up Mike's adventures with Mary Ann in Popperville.
"Yes, mommy. Yes I do. That helped." And I started to melt, too. His little ash blonde head all cuddled under my chin, his big eyelashes, his even bigger heart.
See where the magic was in that mess? I would have missed that. If there wouldn't have been a hot mess of tears and conflict and boogers and spaghetti and silliness, I would have missed it all. The mess conspired for that moment. It was so worth the spaghetti-crusted dishes in my sink. As much as I love the easy days, the fun days, the no-strife days, the pizza nights, the lazy walks, the playground trips. . . I need these messy times, too. The crazy school mornings, the rollercoaster evenings. . .they teach us. They mold us. They're a gift to our family, even if they are about as fun and glamorous as a savings bond that you can't cash for years and years. But the investment is being made. And for that, I'm grateful.