"Oh mighty dragon and brave knight," I begin, "Brush thy teeth. Fire breath is good. Stinky breath is not." Keagan chases the fierce dragon back down the hall, wielding an imaginary sword in his hand. "And remember to brush your tongue!" I yell after them.
This thing of living in the moment, of cherishing each second, of finding God's expressions of love and blessings throughout my day is not always easy. Sometimes I feel my frustration rising. Goodness, how many times have I asked them to pick up the livingroom? Sigh, I sure wish they would remember to wash their dishes and put them away after they eat. We go through this every single day, three times a day. Oh great. Two poopy diapers to change.
But then I remind myself. Stop. Look. Listen.
Look at that smile spreading ear to ear. Don't squash it. Don't stomp on that spirit.
He emerges from the bathroom, both hands tucked behind his back. "Mom, I can't brush my teeth."
"Oh," I smile. "Did your hands go missing?"
He rolls his eyes, "Nooooo...."
His hands appear with toothbrush and toothpaste in grasp. "All that comes out is bubbles."
I squeeze the tube, and a line of paste squirts onto his toothbrush. I return both to his hands, and he winks, then runs off to peer in the mirror while he scrubs his teeth.
Merika hollers from the back of the house, "Nolyn? Where's the toothpaste? Nolyn?"
I hear Keagan laugh wildly, and I assume he whips out the toothpaste from... wherever he had hidden it. "HA-ha!" he cheers.
Tooth time is an event here. It always involves a huge mess- splatters all over the mirror, toothpaste in someone's hair, smears all over their faces and clothes. The other day, Keagan broke the towel bar- pulled it from the wall with chunks of drywall still attached- when he decided to hang from it monkey-bar style. I considered just letting their teeth rot out of the heads because I honestly didn't want to have to watch over every single one of them as they brushed their teeth. And the arguing- there's almost always a tussle as two or three children cram themselves in a bathroom, each wanting the choicest spot over the sink or right up against the mirror.
All I can think about is the fights I have to settle and the clean-up that follows and... no, today I'm going to find little pockets of joy there. We'll clean it together, whistle while we work (or at least hum) as if we're the
I look at the kitchen- the dishes in the sink, the crumbs on the table. No, I'm not going to allow this to bother me. I'm not going to gripe at them. I simply ask for their help. Nolyn begins scrubbing dishes, and I cheer him on singing, "He's big to know how, big to know how!" as if I'm in the opera. [It's been a family phrase ever since Merika, long ago, told us she was "big to know how" as the scribbled down the letter M.] He tries to hide his smile, but I see it there. I see it peeking out, turning up the edges of his mouth, causing his eyes to squint, his cheeks to plump.
Merika wipes the table and sings the song too. "Big to know how! Big to know how!" They finish, and I surprise them by pulling out playdough, plastic knives, and cookie cutters. Their faces light up, the glee tangible.
Keagan firmly grips the knife, juts out his bottom lip. "Cut. Cut. CUT!" he growls as he presses the knife into the blue squish. At times, I catch him holding his tongue just so as he concentrates on molding a masterpiece.
It's such a simple joy, hours of fun, but I usually groan when they ask to play with it. Why? It's less messy than the legos strewn throughout the house like Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs. I press my finger into bright pink playdough. It squishes underneath my fingernail, and it's cool softness sends me back to my childhood, that house at 805 Riverside, squishing the playdough through various contraptions to make something resembling spaghetti, forming playdough pies and miniature people. I roll it between my palms and it forms a ball. I set it down on the table, press it firmly, pound it with my fist, poke at it with the pad of my finger.
Nanci calls, and I tell her what I'm doing. Enjoying the moment. Following the advice of the book she gave me. Playing with playdough.
"Good," she replies, and I can tell she's smiling on the other end. "I was just about to ask if you had begun to feel God's love again." I tell her how I can see His love letters and blessings salting my day. Salt always brings out the flavor- the juice. It's pouring out right now. God, life is so flavorful, I can taste it even when I'm laying in bed and everyone is asleep.
The book was "such good timing," I tell her. "God's timing," I self-correct. I tell her how I had already resolved to be more aware of God's drops of love raining down on my life, and the book, which she had given me several days after my resolution, had just confirmed that, and made me even more conscious of how possible and how important and how necessary it was.
On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur. -Evelyn Underhill.
Lord, I repent. I've been in such a hurry, rushing through moments, frustration lighting the flame of anxiety causing me to speak rashly instead of gently. I'm been speeding through the little tasks, irritated when things don't flow as I wish or hope or plan.
Make haste, not waste, "they" say. But Lord, I've accelerated through the day, foot pressing the gas to the floor, pedal to the metal, and I don't feel ahead or more accomplished. I feel behind. All that haste seems a waste. What have I accomplished even if I get all the work done and haven't cherished the moments, tightly grasped the opportunities, taken little snapshots with the heart's SLR?
That's why I can hardly recall the first year of Nolyn's life. I was in such agony, masking the pain, avoiding life. It would have been so different if I would have focused on the blessings, big and little, but I was blind. Why did I spend so much time magnifying misery? I resolve never to live like that again. I can't. One simply begins to wither away when living like that. I'm just now learning what it means to be full and overflowing- how it feels. Lord, it feels good. The echos of laughter and love and smiles played in my dreams last night. These are the moments that never lose their sweetness.
Life is a gift, and gifts are made to be enjoyed and appreciated. Why do some of us set it on a shelf, inactively wasting our days? Why do others spend it intoxicated, time passing in a blur, always having to indulge again and again and again to catch that twinkle of fleeting happiness before the hangover or the come down sets in? Why do some of us spend it complaining, finding discontent in every single second, grumbling at every perceived injustice? I've been in all of those categories and then some.
He crawls up on the counter using a small Igloo cooler as a stepping stool. I warn him gently, "Get down, please." He obeys, but seconds later, he slides his bottom back onto the counter. I remind him, "Remember? I told you to get down. Off the counter, please." He looks down. The cooler has pushed away to a distance he's not comfortable with.
"I stuck," he frowns.
His sister comes to his aid, and he topples a small cup filled to the brim with water, and it splashes on her new shoes and puddles on the tile.
"Keagaaan!" she exclaims, her tone rising, her frown deepening. I immediately recognize she's imitating her mother. She's about to switch into second gear- scolding. I call out her name softly- just above a whisper- as I slowly rise from my spot at the table where I'm watching Nolyn form creatures with the playdough. I walk slowly. I breathe normally. I process the scene in my head. I think it through.
"Good thing it's just water," I smile as I gather him into my arms.
"And tile, not carpet," Merika comments, adjusting her reaction as I attempt to diffuse the situation.
I hug Keagan, kiss his chubby cheek. "I thought that might happen," I tell him. "This is why we have to listen and be really careful." I raise my eyebrows when I say really, making my eyes bug out slightly, and he grins and scrunches his nose and tells me he's sorry. I lower him to the floor and set about soaking up the water as I press towels to the tile with my feet. He watches me carefully, and I wonder if he's thinking that I could burst into an angry monologue at any moment. Is he waiting for that?
Instead I do the twist and shout as I dance across the floor, towel still under my feet wiping the floors as I shake and move. He laughs and dances beside me.
Merika decides to pick up the cleaner and a towel and sets about cleaning the dining chairs and benches. "This is a great day! A fun day," she exclaims jubilantly as she scrubs. "And this is going to be a super clean chair. Someone is going to sit in this chair and think, 'Boy, this is a clean chair.'" She's approaches the task in all seriousness, not missing a nook or cranny. She catches me watching her, and she giggles and hums. She tucks her hair behind her ear but strands still manage to escape. She licks her lips and returns to scrubbing.
It's become an enjoyable task because I made clean-up an enjoyable task. I sang and I danced and she noticed. I've always known they are watching, paying close attention, but I'm even more aware of it now. I see how my attitude can completely change the course of the day, the mood of the moment. I feel pangs of regret knowing I've missed so much, made it so much more difficult on all of us.
It doesn't come easy to me. I work at it. I'm determined to break this vicious circle. I know I must. I don't want these moments to be few and far between. I want them to be constant. They're everywhere, I just have to notice them, accept them, enter into the moment instead of letting it pass me by.
I look at my book. I want to devour it all at once, but I want to savor it. Nanci encourages me to take it slowly. One bite at a time, as that boy with down syndrome used to repeat over and over at lunch time. One bite at a time.
Life is meant to be enjoyed one bite at a time. God never purposed for us to fly through it, missing the flavor. He never meant for us to miss right now because we were too busy trying to savor that moment from long ago when life was "good" and the planets were aligned and everything was just so. He doesn't desire for us to be so focused on tomorrow that we forget to savor the present.
I know you do it- just admit it. You keep thinking of that time in the future, days or weeks or months from now, or maybe it's titled just, "When." You'll be happy, life will be joyful, things will be better when. When you finally get pregnant. When you buy that house. When you sell your house. When you fall in love. When your marriage is mended. When you're finally divorced. When you get your license. When you graduate. When you go back to school. When you get this, do that. When you just get a break.
I don't want to live like that.
I'm finding that, yes, you can still savor moments amidst hardship. Even when you receive news that a friend has died from stage 4 cancer (yesterday) and your bff has miscarried (also yesterday) or one son breaks a bowl and the other spills water and the dishes are piling up in the sink and the livingroom looks like a mob of monkeys swung through and, be-tee-double-you, the baby has strings of snot running out both nostrils and her diaper smells like a garbage dump. Hello, life is one big run-on sentence.
But I've decided, it's time to use punctuation, to put in commas and enjoy the space between the periods. I don't have to speed through the chapters. I shouldn't. One chapter is not better than the next. They all have the ability to be just as delicious if I would just enjoy each line. I tell my children to enjoy their childhood. They think it's going to be so cool to be a teenager. "Enjoy being eight," I tell Merika. "Enjoy being six," I tell Nolyn. No one has to tell Keagan. He enjoys teetering on the edge of three. The baby doesn't even consider it. She just goes at her own pace.
I've got to follow my own advice. Enjoy being twenty-seven. Enjoy being a mother of four. Enjoy being pregnant with number five, even if it's ends prematurely, as it could and has before. I'll enjoy nursing, even when she bites. I'll try to enjoy the moment, even when my nipples are sore from the pregnancy, and I have a list of pressing items awaiting me. It won't last forever.
I wish I would have enjoyed the other stages, the other moments. What if I would have allowed myself to relish in my singleness all those years ago instead of throwing myself into relationship after relationship I knew would not last? What if I would have been content with my state of unattachment and really used it, employed it to its fullest?
We waste it. We spend all this time hoping for and wishing for and praying for and demanding the next stage of life instead of appreciating the here and now where God has planted us. Ungrateful brats, we are. I am.
I resolve to be thankful. Right here. Right now.