Leveling the playing field of importance (why wiping butts counts for something too)

Minnesota autumnIt’s November, and darkness narrows the margins of my landscape. It lingers later and later into the morning, and calls again far too early in the afternoon. Much of the color has been blown from the trees and fields. Only the framework of the growing season remains.

Sometimes I think bears have it right. Hibernation is a great idea.

I’m looking in the direction of winter, steeling myself. It has been a challenge to get out with the girls even when the sun is warm and daylight streams through the branches of the oak trees in my yard. But now there will be the need for hats. Mittens. Boots. Blankets. Extra everything just in case of emergency.

There will be long afternoons when everyone is restless. There will be floors to mop. A bathroom to clean, over and over. More art projects to stock for, and another collection of rags covered in glue and feathers to toss in the garbage.

There will be stretches of days when the weather is so inclement that it’s safer for me to keep the girls tucked in at home. There will be wind. Cold. More darkness.  And it will be very easy for me to listen a little bit longingly when I’m at the table with family and friends who are out and about, active in their worlds, doing their work.

I took a walk this weekend with a friend, and had the privilege of listening to her explain her work in the realm of therapy and healing. We kicked along in the leaves and dirt, pushing air through our lungs, needing the exercise in different ways – calm and contemplative for her, world widening and leg stretching for me.

IMG_2194(Let’s be honest. Sometimes the furthest walk I get in a day is to the chicken coop and back. PS. Our chickens finally started laying this week. Phew.)

At one point in the walk, she laughed and said something like “do you really want to hear all of this?” and I couldn’t say yes fast enough, because it was so nice to have the luxury of extended, uninterrupted discourse. But another answer, hidden and a little bit ugly, was there too.

I loved listening because I felt as though I didn’t have as much to say. And I didn’t have as much to say because I felt like what I spent my days doing was not as important.

I tried to laugh this off in some sort of offhanded joke about spending my time wiping bottoms. My friend laughed too, but then she said something I won’t forget any time soon.

She reminded me that there is a huge importance in raising a child who loves others instead of harming them.

That the world can be a dark place unless we know the One who is the light of the world.

That everything a parent, grandparent, caregiver, or extended family member does to further and support a child is necessary and beautiful because it creates a healthy, well-adjusted little person who cares for those around him or her.

It is important work.

I adore being home with my girls, but I’ve also had to push hard against feeling like I’m no longer contributing as well to society, to my church, to my family, or to my friends. That my home is now a place of chaos instead of a welcoming calm. That maybe I shouldn’t go out, see friends, or even take walks because of the potential for all hell to break loose when the girls get tired and hungry.

(This is where I also love being married to someone trained in psychology, because the best way Jason encourages me when I am afraid of something is to make me visualize the worst possible outcome. These days that’s basically a lot of screaming for a fairly short period of time until the problem is solved.)

It’s easy to keep spinning the unspoken fears that live in the back corners of our minds. But the broad and bright reality is that when we actually voice them, testing their truth against the air, we can finally see them as what they are. Fiction. Story. Nothing more.

But maybe what I also needed to hear was external validation. Validation to believe that I what I was doing was just as important as any the work of any doctor, teacher, or architect.

KindnessI’m not trying to get all “motherhood is the highest calling” here. The problem just repeats when any one person claims more importance than anyone else. I just want to believe the truth that raising a family is important, not because I have anything to prove, but because I owe it to my girls.

If I believe that my work is small, I may as well tell my girls that they are insignificant.

If I believe my world to be small, how can I show them how wide and big it actually is?

And if I believe that my worth is small, how can I teach them the steadiness of their value?

These are hard realities. They require action every time an unfounded fear darkens my eyes. But the practice of pushing them back, and the grace that results, is like the fire we continue to build night after night when the cold settles in sharply outside the windows, the crackling amber heat a solid wall against the pressing chill.

It may need to be coaxed day after day, match after match, but coals that are well-tended need only a brief reminder to burst brightly again into flame.





A litany of I’m sorry and thank you’s

sorry-650x650To the gas station clerk about to close when I come busting through the door at 10:02 pm and make a beeline for the milk cooler: I’m sorry, and thank you. Breakfast time is a lot less stressful when there’s no one crying about dry cereal.

To my chickens: Thanks for understanding that half the time I can’t physically get out of the door of my house to let you out of the coop until after 10 am. Please don’t hold it against me. And please start laying eggs soon.

To the friend across the table: yes, I see my daughter chewing on her silverware and putting obscene amounts of butter on her bread. But more importantly, I see you. And I want to talk to you. We may have to remind ourselves to focus five times a minute, but our time together is worth it.

To the person on the phone: I’m sorry it sounds like I have Tourrette’s Syndrome. Wow, really? I think – STOP PUTTING YOUR FINGER IN THE BABY’S EAR – we can do that. I promise I’m listening. I’m just also playing referee.

To my husband: Buddy, someday soon I will be able to wipe the sleep out of my eyes, join you for breakfast every day, and have a real, uninterrupted conversation. It’ll be like a date every morning, except that I might also make the coffee, scramble the eggs, and will more than likely be wearing fleece and stretch pants.

To the grocery store checkout lady: Yes, I’m telling you that before my daughter ate the majority of one banana, the bunch weighed two and half pounds. Thank you for trusting me.

To anyone entering my home: There may be dust lions in the corners, lady bugs on the ceiling, and soap rings on the bathroom sink. I have learned to stop stressing, do what I can, and be patient with the rest. I hope you can too.

To the highway patrolman: Thank you for the warning.

To my Ellis: Thank you for climbing on my back when I do push ups, pinching me in the bum with the salad tongs, destroying every block tower I build with you, and telling me to CALM DOWN. You keep me laughing.

To the people behind us in church: I’m sorry we’re distracting. I’m sorry we’re almost always late, make a fair amount of noise, and rarely stop moving during the service. We love being a part of this community, and we are thankful for your graciousness.

To our parents: I know your time is precious, and the fact that you choose to share it with us so often inevitably means a sacrifice of something else. What you may not know is that your granddaughter thanks her Jesus for you at almost every meal, and we do the same whenever we think of you. PS. We owe you a million cherry pies.

To my classmates, professors, and writing group: A majority of my subject matter now seems to be about babies, mothering, and crap I probably should have known before starting this parenthood journey but am now stuck clumsily learning along the way. Thanks for understanding that sometimes writing has to come from where we’re at.

To my Gabby: You are precious, happy, and full of smiles. I’m sorry your sister is forever lying on your stomach if we nurse because you happen to be an extra inch longer and she fits better in the crook of the arm-chair.

To my Lucy: You are treasured, spirited, and always ready to snuggle. I’m sorry your sister’s squalling is usually what you have to wake up to. If it’s any consolation, it means you get to eat more because that’s the best way to calm you down.

To the UPS guy: I’m sorry I answered the door last week in a princess dress, plastic jewelry, and baseball cap. I hope you had a good laugh later.

To You: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that someone, or something, has made you and I want to apologize for everything in our lives that isn’t perfect. Isn’t straight. Isn’t plumb. Isn’t clean. Isn’t smart. Isn’t fair. Isn’t pretty. Isn’t on our terms of time.

Because even for all that, we are wanted.

For all our messiest messes, we are still full of worth.

For all our self-perceived shortcomings, we are still wonderful.

And for everything we HAVE to do make it through the day, there’s always more to who we ARE. No apologies needed.