Those quiet moments, stolen for yourself. Sometimes they happen at 3 am when your old body is stiff and remembers that it wasn’t made for in-the-floor sleepovers with your nearly 11 year old daughter. Hips that ache and think perhaps we should have more carpet padding. Eyes that barely open because the contacts in them have dried out while you slept. Once comfortable pants that now seem to be trying to cut you in half. And yet, each time you wake up to shift, you chose not to get up. You decide that maybe you’ll stay a little longer. You do have a comfy bed of your own, with a husband to warm you. “Just one more minute” you bargain with your hips, because you know that soon enough you won’t be invited to these sleepovers just for two.
God, in His infinite wisdom, is proving to me, once again, that He has this all figured out. There’s a reason we aren’t made to have both the benefits of youth and the wisdom of aging at the same time.
As I see all these picture of high school and college graduations, I can’t help but notice the beauty of youth. All of these young people with their broad smiles, fresh faces, and firm bodies. Bodies that, in general, haven’t yet shouldered big burdens, given life to babies, held aging parents, or even fought gravity for very long. Strong, flexible, perky, energetic bodies that feel like they have the world by the tail.
Young and beautiful.
At the same time, I see my reflection in the mirror, and pictures of friends with their graduating children and grandchildren. All beaming with pride. And while the skin is not as fresh and the smiles show the wear of age, there is a deep wisdom- a knowing.
It’s as if while our hair grays, our hearts grow. Our hips expand right along with our expanding compassion. Our stomachs soften, and so do our hearts. It’s perhaps the costs of doing life.
When you experience many blessings and much loss, there will always be marks. Like a sidewalk that swells in the heat and shrinks in the cold, we have cracks and creases to show for our many seasons of life.
I try to imagine those 20 year old bodies with 40 year old wisdom. And God knew better!! He knows that we might never discover our need for Him, as we would be too busy believing ourselves goddesses and kings, superheroes and invincible forces. With the energy to take on the world, and the feeling that we all knew how to improve it, there would be constant unrest.
So in my moments of reflection, thinking how nice it would have been to have “known” back then, I realize this natural order of things is really in our best interest. It keeps us safe from ourselves.
And besides, if my 20 year old self didn’t make all those mistakes (& memories), I wouldn’t have gotten all this wisdom in the first place. It’s best that we earn; too bad we have to earn it the hard way!
Okay, so I’ve decided part of what I want to do in 2016 is discover my own beauty. I had the best revelation a couple of weekends ago. I was in Nashville for work, and I had the pleasure of seeing some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. Friends who, when they knew me, knew a size 6, younger version of me. At this point in my life, I’m a size 14, 195 pound, slightly wrinklier, grayer version of that girl. But I’m also a girl that has more experience, has more cracks in my shell, and has felt more of life, and a girl that has learned more about the love, grace and mercy of God. I braced myself for their impending reaction when they saw me- you know the one. The gasp and look of “I know I should know you but you look too different” sort of thing. It’s the same reaction I have each time I look in the mirror or see myself in pictures. But, time and again, those ladies’ faces lit up, they said how beautiful I looked, how good it was to see me, and I wrapped them in a hug. By midday (ok, I’m slow to catch on), I turned to a friend- a new one, one that has never known any other physical version of me, and said “they don’t see my fat; they only see my heart!” She looked at me, puzzled, and said “Of course they do!”
It was a huge moment for me, and the impact of it has only grown over the next few weeks. In committing to trying to find my beauty in 2016, I truly didn’t anticipate that it could possibly arrive like this. I thought it would be in creating a healthier version of myself. But here, before the end of the first month of the year, I’m beginning to see it. It’s there, in the face I see in the mirror. In the kind eyes that look back at me, the crooked smile that shows my uneven yellowing teeth. In the soft curves of my belly that show my life is filled with abundance and that I find great pleasure in eating. There is beauty there, and it’s a beauty that others see more easily than I do. But I’m discovering it. And I am beginning to claim it and own it. And something wonderful is happening. I have received more compliments on my appearance in the last six weeks than I think I have in a very long time. Or maybe it’s just that I’m truly hearing them for the first time. Whatever it is, I’m just glad that it’s happening!!
You know those people that you can just catch a glimpse of them and your day is better? You may see them in a passing car while you are sitting at a stop light. One smile from them, and your entire mood changes. It’s as if you have been given a gift.
Or, maybe they don’t even see you. You spot them, but they are looking the other way. Still, something in you warms up. You feel better about the world simply being reminded that THEY are in it. Knowing that you share a portion of this life with them.
I have been fortunate to know quite a few of these people in my lifetime. Everywhere we’ve moved to, God has had new gifts for me to meet and discover. It’s as if that is how He is reminding me that He loves me and that I’m not forgotten. And it’s one of my most favorite things.
It happened to me this afternoon- seeing one of those bright spots. And I was amazed at the sense of joy I immediately felt. Expression changing, heart-felt joy. It was incredible.
That got me thinking- I hope I am that for someone else. I want others to see me and feel joyful, glad that I’m in the world- in their world. In the end, I hope that someone will say I was that for them.
I’m trying not to, but I AM FREAKING OUT!! I’m wondering how to hold onto these precious and fleeting moments with my kids. I’m trying to hold tight, two hands. I want to etch these memories in my heart forever, because I know that soon enough there won’t be long days at the ballpark and weeks so full I’m not even sure what day it is. The days when Thad and I have to divide and conquer just to make sure everyone gets to where they are supposed to be, those days are numbered.
I am trying to be fully present in each one. One hundred present, right here so that I can experience every smile, soak up every ounce of joy, and hear every laugh. And in the back of my mind I hear “tick tock Clarice.”
And my mind goes into fast-forward, and suddenly he’s driving a car and she’s a teenager. Boyfriends and curfews and college visits and proms and “Oh my goodness how can this be happening?” The panic sets in because I know there is NOTHING I can do to change it. Nothing I can do to slow down time. So I try to reorient myself in the present moment in order to not waste a precious second mourning what is yet to come. But it’s hard, and it hurts. I’m not sure I am prepared for this.
I wouldn’t want to keep them little forever. I want to work myself out of a job- that’s what I’m supposed to do, right? If I do my job right, one day they’ll leave in order to find lives of their own, create a world that they design, and make memories that become the fabric of who they are. God willing, I’ll get to watch that happen. It will be a whole new level of joy. And the thought of it is lovely and frightening. I have the sense of total elation at the prospect, all while feeling pretty certain I might be sick.
While I want to hold on tight, I realize that this phase of life is a little like squeezing rising dough- my firm grip only causes it to push out between the cracks of my fingers, possibly even breaking down the very nature of what makes it rise. My best bet for enjoying it longer is simply to let it rest in my hands, palms open, hands together, so that I can support it as it grows. And try not to freak out!
Life is full of lessons. Some easy, some hard, many unwelcome. I’m 41 years old, and I’ve had a new one just this morning.
These last eight weeks or so my mother-in-law has been sick and in the hospital out of state. She has required someone be there with her constantly. I have considered it a great privilege to be one of her caregivers over these last couple of months. We’ve had some unbelievably sweet moments and have made memories that will cement our relationship forever. It’s been good.
In the meantime, my village has stepped in and picked up the slack with my kids. I’m grateful that so many people have been willing to open up their hearts and homes and welcome in my children. On a moment’s notice, various friends have pitched in and covered for this absentee parent. It warms my heart and humbles me completely.
Feeling filled up and pleased by how “cared for and safe” my kids feel, I quietly patted their dad and me on the back for managing them so well during this difficult time. And then, I sat down to take a look at the online grade reporting system. Reality check- things aren’t going as well as I thought!
My kids are pretty solid students- all As with a very rare B. They are mostly self-directed when it comes to homework and studying. I consider myself a non-factor in their academics. Well, at least I did until now.
In a span of seven days my seventh grader was showing THREE Fs on assignments. Three in a week! And this is a kid that hasn’t gotten three Fs in the totality of his academic career up to this point! “You only thought your kids were doing okay with all of this,” my inner dialogue torments.
The youngest, also a solid student, has more low grades than she has ever had as well. Basic work that she should understand, causing her problems. Concepts that she should have mastered, suddenly too difficult to navigate.
I knew that family stability was important. I’d heard about the studies. I’d heard accounts from families that foster. I knew that it had ramifications for all kinds of things in life- academic success, successful relationships, overall happiness, etc. But until now, I had NO IDEA just how much! I no longer consider myself a non-factor in their academics! Apparently just my presence, just me standing in the kitchen preparing a snack or dinner while they do their homework in the next room, matters. Having mom consistently there, even if it is just so they can ignore me, has an impact.
Now I know that Bs aren’t bad, and clearly in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty insignificant that they’ll both be getting Bs on their report cards. But what I’ve learned through this, what clearly isn’t insignificant, is the power of the family environment in success. It’s unbelievable to me that in just eight weeks, I can see the toll the instability has had. Even surrounding them with people they are familiar with, they enjoy, and whom they trust, wasn’t enough to leave them unscathed. At best, it still wasn’t home. And clearly, it matters.
So this is the time every year when I feel like the carousel of life starts to spin out of control. Field trips, recitals, awards day, field day, baseball games, softball games, etc. Now, we are “those” parents that don’t let our kids get over scheduled with too many sports or activities. Some people will say it’s because we are lazy or selfish, and maybe it is. But, we want life with our kids to be lived as a unit and preferably not in the car over a bag of fast food as we rush to our next event. Do those days still happen? ABSOLUTELY!! But when our kids look back, our hope is they will have more memories of us around the dinner table than they will have of the back of our heads as we took them to their next “thing.”
Even being schedule Nazis, this is just a crazy time of year. So very full and active. And I’m hugely thankful that our kids are able to do so much- grateful they are smart and healthy and able. Glad we have the resources to let them do some of the things their hearts desire.
That said, you should know something. For the next several weeks, if you drive by our house and observe us from the outside, you might think our house is vacant or possibly the owners have died inside and no one has noticed for quite some time. The grass is likely to be taller than desirable. The bushes (and still VERY PRESENT blackberry vines) will be wild and unkept. The flowerbeds will remain more leaves from the fall than clean, precise visions of spring.
And, the inside, well… Let’s just say that I am grateful we don’t have to pass a Health Department review because I am pretty sure they might SHUT US DOWN!! The dust bunnies have matured to full grown adults, but not before they reproduced several litters of offspring. The plea of “dust me” that was written on the furniture is now but a buried, barely visible memory, its lines filled in with new dust.
Our dishwasher could be either in “load or unload” mode, but the chances are good there are dishes in the sink either way. When we have so few minutes at home, the focus tends to be more on putting food in these not-so-little-people, making sure they finish their homework, asking them to shower off half the contents of ball field, and shooing them off to bed to make sure they get at least a little rest before we do it again tomorrow.
As for Thad and me- maybe if we were less lazy, more disciplined, or super heros, we’d make time to do the chores that cry out. But at the end of the day, we both just want to fall into our bed and maybe think of snuggling a minute (because who are we kidding- one or the other of us will be asleep before the covers are even pulled up making even the thought of snuggling a pipe dream) rather than staying up to clean the house.
Just know, in the interest of full disclosure, if you happen to come by and find us at home, don’t be insulted if we don’t answer the door. If you ring the bell and see us try to hide behind the couch or drop to the floor right before your very eyes, don’t take it personally. It’s possible that we are still in our (probably not fresh and clean) pajamas. Or, if we are brave and do come to the door and don’t invite you in, know it is for your own protection. We are simply trying to protect you from our giant Easter Bunny sized dust “bunnies.” While we have nearly made pets of them, they aren’t friendly toward others.
As the carousel spins and sometimes my head right along with it, I try to remember to take a deep breath and think “THIS!” This is the stuff I’m going to want back; these are the moments I’m going to long for. So for now, I am holding on tight and doing my best to just enjoy the ride.