Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It's easy

To my Benji, on your third birthday,

Last night, after an hour of prepping dinner and finally getting it on the table, finally sitting down to eat, you slid off your chair, just a few inches from mine, and squirmed your way under my arm, onto my lap.  I was tired and hungry and your brothers would never have been allowed to do this.  But you're the third and the baby and, well, you're you.  So I let you sit there and attempted to eat around you.

At bedtime you wanted one more book and you spilled your milk down your shirt and you "didn't want to go night-night."  After all that, I knew that when you woke up you wouldn't want to go on the potty and you wouldn't want to get dressed and you wouldn't want to take brothers to school.

We met our friends for coffee this morning where you dumped a bottle of apple juice on your pants and sprinted repeatedly through the wide doorway.  And so I ran and dabbed and consoled between hurried sips of my cooling coffee.

If I attempt to vacuum, which at this point is highly necessary, and also highly unlikely, you'll follow close behind me.  You'll press the power button approximately every five seconds and I'll look at you sternly and say, "Benjamin, stop."  And you'll smile back and allow me another five seconds before you push it again.  Eventually I'll give up and hand it over, which will amuse you for about five seconds before you drop it and move on.  Until I start it again, that is.

You'll be "so hungwy" about every half hour or so, all day long, but you won't like any of the options presented you.  You'll be thirsty, but you won't accept a glass of water.  You'll run around in circles and look at me with panic in your eyes, but you won't just sit on the toilet and go.

And somewhere between the running and tantrums and general mischief, you'll meander to my side, lift your chubby little arms and say, "Mommy, I want to hold ya."  And so I'll pick you up and while I have you so close I'll kiss your soft, rosy cheek and I'll notice your plump, little lips and your long eyelashes and I'll cling to these bits of baby while I can, because I know they will fade too soon.  That they already are.

Later I'll hear you from behind the couch, talking to your toys.  I'll listen closely to your deep voice and the stories your create, a small peek into your increasingly complex little mind.

As I cook dinner I'll feel the warmth of your arms wrapped around my leg, and I'll remember that you find true joy in my presence, and for a second I'll stop being annoyed that I can't get anything done and soak up your unconditional adoration.  Your love that is both soft and fierce, both sweet and unrelenting.

But it won't really hit me until you're finally asleep.  Until your belly rises and falls in an easy pattern as you snuggle up to one of your hard-edged vehicles.  But then it will take my breath away.  The intensity of my frustrations will be crushed, smothered by the intensity of my love.  And your dad and I will look at each other as you snore on your pillow and say, "Well, he had a hard day."  And then we'll smile because it's both ridiculous and true, all at the same time.

It's not always easy with you.  In fact, it's mostly not easy.  It's not easy to get you dressed or out the door.  It's not easy to chase you through parking lots and manage your feisty temper.  It's not easy to feed you, or put you to bed.

But it's so incredibly easy to love you.  So easy.  It's as if I was made to do it.  It's as natural and thoughtless as breathing.

We'll get through these toddler years.  I just know we will.  But I imagine it won't be the last of the tough times.  I imagine it won't always be easy.

But even when the days are hard, the love never is.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Sometimes I sit down at my computer with words and lines already written in my head.  Sometimes it's almost an entire outline, with transitions and all, and I need only to fill in the blanks.  And some days, days like today, I sit down with an ache, and not much more.  I sit down to write, blank, knowing only that I'm searching for a bit of relief and hoping to find it here.  This place where vague feelings tend to take on a life of their own.  Where confusion takes on order and my world makes a little more sense at the end of the page than it did at the beginning.

On our way home from church today I couldn't stop thinking about the mess ahead of me.  Last night's dishes were piled in the sink and overflowing onto the counter.  This morning's plates and cups and crumbs were scattered across the table and floor.  Half of a banana remained chopped and browning on the cutting board.  Pajamas were crumpled in the same spots they slipped over little feet and throw pillows were thrown everywhere.

I was in a mood today anyhow, and the disaster waiting for me at the end of an already stressful morning wasn't helping.  And so Joel took the kids to his classroom, where they love to color and play and experiment, and I went home to clean.

I never want to start cleaning.  It all looks so daunting and I feel overwhelmed just looking at the mess.  But then I turn on some soft music and I light a candle and I begin by picking up a few legos and placing them under the blue lid of our lego tub.  When I've clicked it shut I look up and notice that the pillows really aren't far from the couch, and so I grab them one-by-one and place each carefully in its designated position, where they will stay only until the boys get home.  But the colors all lined up in the right order make me happy and I feel like I can tackle the bright, plastic mess behind the couch.  And so I do.

I make my way like that from the far end of the living room to the kitchen sink, clearing and sweeping and wiping, one small task at a time.  After I've finished the dishes I grab the sponge and wipe clean the kitchen counter.  It's my favorite step.  The final transformation from filthy to sparkling clean.  Early on in our marriage Joel learned not to steal this joy from me.  Wash the dishes: Yes.  Wipe the counters: Definitely, definitely no.

I've been feeling a bit messy inside lately.  Like I can't quite get comfortable in my own skin.  I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night panicky, like I've forgotten something, but I don't know what.  And so I fix my kids' blankets and use the bathroom, since I'm up anyhow, and then I shove down any residual anxiety and go back to sleep.

During the day I tend to lay blame on the people around me.  Joel for working too much or my kids for not listening or anyone else who can occupy me with the question of what's wrong with them so as to never have to ask what's wrong with me?  Because even though I try not to look, when I do get a glance, I feel overwhelmed by the mess inside. And I can't imagine where to start.

My life feels like one giant distraction sometimes.  Kids are yelling and dinner needs cooked.  There are toys to clean up and I haven't seen the bottom of my laundry basket since last summer.  When I get a second to myself I'm scrolling through Facebook or turning on a mindless show before bed.  I can't even watch a commercial or go to the bathroom without finding some way to occupy my mind.  It's like I'm scared to be with myself.

But perhaps the first step is simply setting the mood.  Lighting a candle and turning on some soft music.  Going for a walk where I feel like I can breathe and there's nothing to distract me.  Where I can look around at God's creation and start from a place of knowing that I'm loved.

Then maybe I can begin to sort out what's inside, instead of ignoring it and shoving it down and pretending not to notice it until one normal afternoon it explodes and my husband's looking at me in shock asking, is something else going on, and I truly don't know how to answer.

At this point in life, any self-reflection must be intentional.  There's just no other way.  If I wait to have a moment, the moment will never come.  Someone will always needs me.  Something will always need done.  Just this week I was complaining to Joel that I can only stay on top of things.  If I want to go above and beyond, like deep cleaning the bathroom or matching our socks, then something else has got to give.  The downstairs will look as if a tornado's blown through or it will turn 5:00 before I realize I haven't even thought about dinner.

My whole life could be swept up in my kids and my house and all of the things needing done.  If I let it.  And so I'll try to not let it.  I'll try to walk away from the distractions every now and then and face what's inside.  To go for a walk or sit down and read or lock the door to the bathroom and steal one minute just to think.  And I'll remember that even the most overwhelming messes really aren't that scary when taken a few legos at a time.