I sometimes think we are a little overly zeaous in our efforts to become whole. I don’t know that we will ever be whole. I believe that God calls us to be in process and this means one step at a time, one minute at a time, one day at a time. A faithfulness to living our lives in process is, perhaps even more important than all our efforts to become whole.
~from Gold in Your Memories, Macrina Wiederkehr
Ahh…that time of year again.
The kids’ school year is winding down, their activities are ramping up, and I am left standing in the frenzy of it all going, Wait! What just happened here??
This happens every spring. And every fall. As my kids proudly march forward with time, eagerly looking ahead at what they’ll get to do the next year, and how much they can’t wait until X or Y or Z. And all the time I’m sneaking downstairs and pulling their little onesies or memorable outfits out of storage boxes and sniffing them hoping that last little smell of their babyhood is still there.
Yep. Welcome to motherhood. These are the parts that everyone talks about (Where did the time go? Oh, my gosh, they’ve gotten so BIG!), but no one really TALKS about.
You know what I’m saying? No one talks about the way it can hurt sometimes when you least expect it as your first born, The Oldest One, now a growing “tween” stares blankly at some cartoon nonsense on the TV and in your mind’s eye you see him as a two-year-old infatuated with a show about talking trains. Something he would now not only roll his eyes about, but mock if you were to suggest he watch it.
And your now (very tall, very large-footed) 10-year-old, The Middle One, still sucks up trivial facts as though his mind is a vacuum cleaner, but now instead of you telling him or reading him the facts, he’s giving them to you. He doesn’t need you to read them to him or to explain them at all. Now you’re the one looking puzzled, wondering (and then secretly running off to search Google and see) if what he’s saying could be true–that Albert Einstein really does have an element named after him. (He does.)
Then, there’s the Little One. The only girl. The one who just last fall boarded the school bus smiling and waving to you, so proud to be a kindergartner. And you smiled and waved back even though inside you felt a part of you die. Now she’s a full-blown reader and thanks to her EXTREMELY talented teacher, she shouts out words like “onomatopoeia” and “alliteration” (and she can tell you what they mean). And another part of you dies because she doesn’t need you to read to her at all now, and she sounds like a fourth grader instead of the kindergartner that she still is for the 23 remaining days of school. (Not that anyone’s counting).
And so you sit here, trying not to panic as the clock ticks fervently forward in their lives (and in yours). And you may begin to wonder why you ever wished away their time at home with you.
At least I do. I remember how much I was going to relish the day all three of them were all in school ALL DAY. And how I was going to have time to plan (and make) healthy meals, and I was going to have time to clean the house, and update the checkbook, and decorate to my heart’s content and greet the kids at the door with a warm smile and a fresh batch of baked goods each day…You see where this is going, don’t you? I stop myself just short of donning the pearls, dress, and heels as I smile and push around the vacuum cleaner. (That part even I knew at least wasn’t gonna happen. I mean, who smiles while they’re vacuuming?)
But at the very least, I thought I’d have a lot more things figured out right now. Which was my first mistake. Not because I’m incapable of figuring things out, but because of the time restraints I put on what is ultimately a lifelong process. And all too often, at least in my personal experience, it’s not until the process is complete, that I realize that I’ve finally figured things out. But then a new process begins.
The bigger question right now is probably, Why am I surprised? It’s ridiculous, really, when I take a step back and really look at what I’d expected this year to be:
- We were going to move to a new state. (check)
- My kids were going to be in school all day. (check)
- I would take a few weeks to get the house in order (every closet cleaned, every photo album filled, every old video dubbed to DVD, etc.) and become a gourmet cook and domestic goddess that miraculously loved waking up to begin cooking and cleaning, though I never enjoyed them before. (umm…still a work in progress….)
- I would be a fitness queen! (Well, I DO workout regularly, but since the whole “healthy gourmet meals” thing has been overlooked, I have succeeded at being both stronger and fatter).
- I would launch myself into volunteer opportunities and different committees with the schools and at church and that would, in turn, open doors and point the way for me to my new calling. (Welllllll…I DO volunteer in the schools and at church sometimes, but so far I’m not finding my new calling…except to again remind myself that while I enjoy being in schools, and despite the fact that my B.A. in English Education would allow me to do so, I do not want to be a classroom teacher. )
- I would understand the meaning of life. (Yeah. Another little coinky dink that fit perfectly into my “plan.” Did I mention that I’m turning 40 this year? Because EVERYONE knows that by the age of 40 the meaning of life suddenly all makes sense. Except it doesn’t).
- I would be fulfilled. (hmmm…still waiting…..)
And that’s where I am now. Realizing that perhaps my expectations were a TOUCH too high for what this year would bring.
The reality is that each and every time we’ve moved (three times in five years), it takes me a full year (give or take) to unpack my brain and my emotions from that experience. It takes me a full year (give or take) to get all of us set up with our new doctors, dentists, and hair stylists. It takes me a full year (give or take) to realize which of the new people I’ve met, I could actually call and say, “Hey, do you want to get together?” and not worry that they’re going to say, “Uh. Who is this, again?” Add to that the fact that this year I crossed an invisible milestone where I am still a “stay-at-home-mom,” but most of the time the only one here to “mother” is the dog. Stir all that together, and suddenly it feels like more of a recipe for exactly what I’m experiencing now: nostalgia, mixed with a cupful of questions, and stirred together with a dash of wonder and a pinch of doubt.
The realities of this “recipe” and some of the “extra ingredients” I’ve thrown in, though, aren’t all bad.
For instance, in the process of this year we’ve rescued a very loving and intelligent Golden Retriever. And while I’ve never been one to consider my pets my “kids,” he has, like them, made me realize that just when I thought my heart couldn’t possibly grow any larger, he nestled himself right into a cozy available spot and opened a door there to show me that love isn’t always about words and actions. What he’s shown me is how primal and instinctual love is. With him it’s never about what I say, or what I do, but always WHO I AM.
I’ve also started this little bloggy adventure. And I’ve (sort of) kept it going even beyond Lent. And while I’m certainly no writing genius or expert, I’m suddenly realizing that nobody ever expected me to be. Except me. And so like the vision of pearls and heels behind the vacuum, it’s time for me to let that expectation go, too. I don’t really want to write genius material, anyway. I want to write about my journey. So that sometimes, when I feel like I’ve lost my way, I can go back and say, “Oh, maybe I’ve gone farther than I realized.” And I want to share it with others, so that maybe every once in awhile they’ll say, “Huh. I thought I was the only one who ever felt that way…”
And my kids?
Well, it CAN be heartbreaking to think about their childhood and how fast it’s gone. But, the real tragedy would be if I only mourned that loss, and didn’t celebrate who they’ve become.
That’s where the painful memories meet the Joyful Now.
Because while The Oldest One no longer plays with toy trains, he does still play with Legoes. But, as a middle schooler, he is also joining in with the adults from time to time when people come over, and he throws in his own two cents of opinions about whatever topic we’re discussing. He’s also developing a great sense of humor. (Which despite my every effort to take credit for, he assures me comes from his Uncle Jeff.) (He’s probably right.)
And the Middle One? Well, he’s thankfully developed his father’s ability to keep and store information in a concise and neatly organized file cabinet of a brain. My brain holds facts more like a laundry basket. It’s all there… but I have to dig for it. And sometimes I can’t find the mate for the sock I need. Still. It’s nice to be able to sit back and let him teach me all he’s learned. Some of it sounds familiar, like maybe I did know it once upon a time? But much of it is new, too. And though I’m sure I don’t want to be a classroom teacher, part of my reason for wanting to pursue teaching as a career is because I’ve always loved learning. (Well, not algebra, but that’s another story). So, the fact that my son loves sharing his newly found information and the fact that I don’t mind hearing it and learning it (or rediscovering it), makes our time together pretty enjoyable.
Then there’s the Little One. Well, she may know fancy words like onomatopeia and alliteration, but just this morning she needed help getting her shoes on and she flat-out refused to leave the van without her “love note kiss” to her hand. And only yesterday she was crying…big BAWLING sobs…about a stuffed animal she saw on TV that I flat out refused to buy for her. So, I guess she’s not exactly leaving for college just yet. And the fact that I can see how time keeps marching on makes me appreciate all the more every last snuggle and kiss and hug. Because I just never know when she won’t want them any more.
That is how I’m in process right now. Not whole. Not entirely fulfilled. And despite the fact that I love my husband very much, he didn’t “complete me” the way Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger did for each other in Jerry Maguire. For the record, having kids didn’t complete me, either. Neither did getting a dog. And to be fair, expecting any one of them, or all of them collectively to “fulfill” or “complete” me, is a pretty tall order. I mean, I’m pretty sure I don’t “complete” my husband. Or my kids. Or even the dog. And to think that I could (or that they’d want me to) would be a LOT of pressure that I don’t really need. In fact, I’d be as sure to fail at that as I did my “little plan” for this year.
But by God… I am so grateful that they were brought into the process of my life.
And just like that! The nostalgia is gone. So is the self-doubt, and the nagging worry about all that I’d intended to do but didn’t get done.
The memories remain, of course, but without the longing for the past. And suddenly, just like my kids, I’m back once again to looking forward to what the future holds.
But mostly…and this can only come for the wisdom of someone who’s lived almost FORTY YEARS or more…I realize milestones are like the pearls of life.
We can admire them.
We can cherish them.
We can hold them from time to time.
But in order to string them together, we must walk the strands of the journey.
And every part of it– the pearls and strands– is essential to making our life the Crown Jewel it was meant to be.