The Eighty-Fourth Letter: Greasy Linoleum, The Promised Land, & All The Things

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Dear Daughters,

Your dad dropped the metal spatula into the narrow crack between the counter and the refrigerator this evening.

Our normal solution to items falling into this crack—yes, it happens often enough to have a “normal” solution—is to use the tongs or the yardstick to fish the dropped items out. The spatula, however, had fallen on its side with the flat part against the linoleum so that it would not come out without turning it first. And we couldn’t get a grip on it to turn it, which is really just way too long of a story to tell you this:

The whole refrigerator had to get pulled out away from the wall.

I’m pretty sure we haven’t pulled that refrigerator out since I painted the cabinets, and that was before either of you were born.

Oh my goodness was there dirt and grime and grease and general fuzzy-stickiness.

In fact, there were solidified nasty drips of who-knows-what down the side of the refrigerator up to the level of the counter. Because clearly we drop a lot of things down that crack. And the linoleum under the frig had a top layer of dust but an under layer of sticky, greasy, black stuff.

Yuck.

Your dad got out the Pine Sol and began cleaning the side of the frig while I used the vacuum behind it to get the loose stuff up. Then he gave me the soapy bucket of water to begin scrubbing the floor while he dished up dinner for the two of you. Appetizing, I know.

As I scrubbed at that floor, as the water in the soapy bucket turned so dark it could be mistaken for black tea, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be grand if this were enough?”

What I mean is, I like a well-cleaned house.

I like the feeling of a rewarding project accomplished, and I happen to consider a clean bathroom a rewarding project. I like taking the time to, say, prepare a nice meal, organize a junk drawer, sort a closet, get on my hands and knees and scrub the grease off of linoleum, or paint the aforementioned cabinets.

What I mean is, I actually like housekeeping and housetending and doing the tasks of daily life that keep a house tidy and running smoothly.

They are wonderful and rewarding tasks.

And I often wish they felt like enough.

It’s the same with mothering, girls. Mothering is rewarding and beautiful (and tiring and exhausting and infuriating and mind-numbing sometimes, too, but mostly rewarding), especially now that you’re turning into miniature human beings.

I have friends who so rock the mom thing, and so rock the clean-house thing, and so rock the house-decorating-project thing, and so rock the keeping-their-kids-clothes-sorted-by-size thing. I envy that a bit, to be honest.

I want that to be enough, and to find joy and completeness in that, because those are beautiful and fulfilling things. And many of those rockin’ friends really are fulfilled and happy and thoughtful.

But: me.

I remember sitting in my friend’s minivan after I became a mom and feeling so utterly not fulfilled with motherhood and telling her that I keep swinging back and forth between two extremes: one, wanting to be content in this new season—to just get acclimated, stop complaining, accept it for what it is—and, the other extreme, being content to be as Abraham was, which means not being settled, living as a stranger in the promised land, living in tents, not having much except God’s promise of what would be eventually.

I told my friend that I didn’t want to be comfortable, that I wanted it to feel strange, wanted to be the stranger, because I knew that there was more than this to my calling.

More than the greasy green linoleum.

More than the clean house.

Yes, more than mothering.

And, girls, I still believe that, but I can see a little more clearly than I could in those early months of mothering. I’m not so swallowed up by the misery of it all. (That sounds awful, but it was a tough time at first.)

I can see how this—all of this beautiful messy life of house and mothering—doesn’t just live in a tent alongside all the other beautiful messy things I do: the writing and painting and designing and loving and leading and teaching and serving and laughing and encouraging and following up and showing up.

No, the mothering and the wife-ing and the house-making are right inside the tent with me. I can’t be a stranger from them.

That said, tonight, girls, tonight I wished longingly for a life that could focus on one single thing, rather than a million things.

It’s a life that nobody has, not really.

Especially in this culture, where it seems everyone is trying to do all the things and be all the things and post pictures of all the things on social media.

Still, tonight I wished for a life that after the floor got wiped down, the rag hung up, the frig scooted back, I didn’t feel compelled to pick up my laptop and write you a letter, didn’t have a freelance project to work on, didn’t have a chapter of a book to read for homework, didn’t need to read Amos and prep for the Bible study I lead tomorrow, didn’t feel like I needed to touch base with a half-dozen friends and acquaintances going through tough times, didn’t have two art commissions to paint.

I won’t do all those things tonight.

But I could.

Don’t get me wrong: I love those things and I love my full life and I love being called to do the work of the Kingdom and seeing that Kingdom-work all around me in each poem written, each banner handlettered, each text sent, each chapter of the Bible pondered and discussed.

I love it.

But sometimes I just want to put on my PJs and snuggle up next to your dad and watch Madam Secretary.

And ignore all the things.

And sometimes, girls? Sometimes I do.

Love,

Your Momma

The Fifty-Fourth Letter: These Are Not the Best Moments

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Dear Daughters,

While on the road last week, enroute to Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, we stopped at a Panera for dinner in West Virginia. (The two of you are always more happy with a bowl of macaroni and cheese than just about any other quick food options.)

As we waited for our little buzzer to light up and signal that our food was ready, I noticed an elderly couple looking at us from a nearby booth. I’m used to people looking at us when we are out as a family because, well, your dad and I are really tall.

Let me just say as a sidenote that I don’t feel abnormally tall most of the time, but given the number of strangers who comment on it, and the number of people who stare without commenting, and the number of strangers who obviously look down at my feet to see if I am wearing heels, well, I must look pretty tall out there in public, especially when I am with your dad, who is six inches taller than I am. And after bold strangers ask how old the two of you are, they are typically in disbelief at your height as well. Sigh. We’re a tall bunch.

My point is, when these strangers were studying us in Panera, I didn’t pay much attention to it. But then, after our food came, in the chaos of trying to make sure everyone had what they needed and dishing out the bowls of mac and cheese onto the plates so it would cool faster and tearing the top off the squeezey yogurt so you could eat them, the older man spoke to us, and he started off by saying something very strange.

“I really don’t like you,” he said.

Now, that is not normally how one strikes up a conversation with strangers, but I could sense that he was someone who needed to talk, and though his words were awkward, I had this hunch that maybe he was trying to be friendly, not abrasive, so I acknowledged him and encouraged him to continue.

“I seriously don’t like you. You know why?”

I didn’t, but I was sure he was going to tell us.

“I’m old.”

And by that, he meant that we were not old.

He proceeded to remind us, in a rambly sort of way, to enjoy these days when we are young and have young kids because he used to be young too and one day he woke up and he was old. He missed being young. He missed having his family around. He knew we couldn’t imagine it, but trust him, we needed to enjoy being young. We will be old before we know it. And, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving.

His wife came back, we wished him Happy Thanksgiving, and then they left.

My first internal reaction was sadness: I was sad that this man was sad, that even despite his attempt at humor, he was emanating regret.

But then, well, my sadness turned into less-than-compassionate annoyance. Here’s the deal, girls: as a mom of young children, I hear this message all the time.

All. The. Time.

And while I know it sounds ornery, I just need to get something off my chest.

One of my pet peeves is being told by strangers to “enjoy these days,” to appreciate the time I have with my children while they are small, to count my blessings because time goes by so quickly, before I know it my kids will be grown and out of the house. So enjoy it. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Blah blah blah.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t young folks who need to hear this message, who would find it encouraging. But I kind of resent the assumption that I am not already doing this, that I am not already able to live in the moments and appreciate the beauty that is here.

Granted, I will be the first to admit that there have been times when I have not wanted to appreciate the beauty of these days–there have been times when I have wanted to flee (on the worst days) and longed for the minutes to pass more quickly (on the best days).

But right now, in this season, I am doing a good job living alongside you, enjoying the stunning and creative human beings you are, even as you exasperate me and I lose my temper more times than I like to admit. And so, when I am told to appreciate these days, I kind of resent the idea that any stranger feels like she needs to pass on this wisdom of a life well-lived, when implicitly this person is admitting that she did not do a good job of appreciating life when she was young. That really does sound ornery. I guess this is one of my buttons.

I work hard to live a life of gratitude and grace. It’s a daily struggle. And I often fail. But I’m on the path, girls. I’m on the path.

I see the hunt for the sacramental in these ordinary moments as one of my primary callings right now, not just as an example for you of a well-lived life but as an encouragement to others who need to see that hope is possible in the drudgery of the ordinary.

The other thing I resent when someone tells me in a chipper voice (or a somber voice, because, let’s face it, it can go both ways) to appreciate these moments because I will someday wake up and I will be old and have all these regrets–well, what I resent is the suggestion that these moments, here when you are young, are the best moments, the moments I will most miss later. These are not the best moments. And the future moments are not the best moments. All of the moments are the best. All of the moments are moments we are called to live fully, to love fully, to be aware of grace and live sacramentally. All of the moments. All of the seasons. Sometimes it is harder than at other times, and I’ve often suspected, even after talking to older moms, that in the extreme exhaustion of raising small children we have to work the hardest to find grace, but it is still here.

What I want to say to you, girls, today is this: I am living in this moment, right now, alongside you, and I am loving you and appreciating this life we share. I am feeling the late-afternoon sunshine dance across my laptop keys as I type this, and I see how beautiful it is. I am listening to an episode of Daniel Tiger in the background, hearing a deep belly laugh from the eldest, watching the youngest drink her milk with crazy bedhead. I’m sitting beside an empty mug of tea. Our white Christmas lights are glowing on our bare tree. I’ve still got my boots on because we are heading to some friends’ house for dinner, but I took my big earrings off to try to motivate myself to go outside and rake some leaves.

These are the silly details of a life that make me smile.

These are the details of the life we share.

These are the details of a life of gratitude.

I will not wake up surprised to be old one day.

I will not wake up surprised that you are old enough to read these letters one day.

Sure, the time is going quickly, quicker than I can even believe sometimes, but the moments, well, they’re the same every day. They’re full of promise. They’re full of grace.

Love,

Your Momma

The Forty-Third Letter: I’m H-A-P-P-Y

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Dear Daughters,

The baby girl has begun announcing in the morning that she’s happy.

It always sounds out of the blue: we get you out of your crib, we change your diaper, try to tame the bedhead, and then you snuggle with one of us and announce, “I’m happy.”

I think it’s because you’ve heard us say, “She woke up happy today.” But it might also be because your grandma taught you a song that goes like this: “I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m H-A-P-P-Y.” And then it ends with a shout: “HAPPY!”

It’s sung to the tune of “The B-I-B-L-E,” and honestly, it’s kind of annoying.

But we sing it. A lot.

And now you tell us every morning that you are happy, which, I’ll confess, is really sweet.

This morning, I was writing a newsy e-mail to some friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I was listing the various things I’ve been up to, the various things we’ve been up to as a family. When it’s all typed out, you know what? It sounds pretty impressive, like I do lots of cool stuff. I’m doing this copyediting and that writing, I’ve been making art about this and that, I’ve read this book and that book, and am involved in this activity here and that activity at church, and we went on this trip and that trip, and I’ve been running a lot. Literally and figuratively. Ha. The list of All The Things We Do was so long.

And then, I’ll confess, I wanted to write this:

And yet, somehow, it feels like all I ever do is hang laundry and wash dishes.

Because that’s the truth. That’s what it feels like.

Many days, the drudgery of the days outweighs the beauty of the days.

If I let it.

But there is so much beauty here. I can’t say that enough.

I have to say it in these letters, I have to say it to you, for you to read someday, because I doubt I’ll remember it.

I have a hard time remembering it from day to day.

There is beauty here, if I look for it. And I am happy.

A friend of mine has three children, the oldest heading into kindergarten. I had you girls at about the same time she had her youngest two. We were pregnant at the same time both times. Sometimes I look at her–she takes all three children to the grocery store at the same time! she has driven all three children by herself to places in other states!–and I think, how does that woman do it? How does she ever leave her house? How does she remain sane?

And then I see friends who have children and work outside the home full time, and they appear put-together and organized–showered and everything!–and we have conversations suggesting they get a lot more accomplished than I do in a given day, and I just don’t know how they do it.

I don’t know how they do it.

Sometimes I look at my friends without children, or those who aren’t married, and think they are living the life. Such freedom! Such motivation! Such achievers! They are changing the world, making a difference I can point to.

I know, I know. You can’t ever know what it’s like to be someone else. And it’s so ridiculous to try.

Here’s another clothespin, by the way. I’m standing here in 90-degree weather, dripping with sweat, hanging up a heavy, wet T-shirt on the line.

Another mom-of-three friend of mine has a chronic illness. She inspires me every time I talk to her. But last week, she told me how amazing I was. Me! I forget why. I think maybe I told her about trying to write a poem a day for the month of June. She’s in my writing group. She told me she was amazed at everything I was able to get done.

Me. She told me this.

My college roommate once told me she thought I was “living the life.” This woman has a decidedly amazing job and lives downtown in a major city. How can I compare with that? I was making zucchini bread when we were talking on the phone, and I was telling her about my Artists Way class, and the art I was making,, and that’s when she said it.

Say what?

What I do is not amazing, I wanted to say.

I am not living the life, I wanted to say.

All I do is hang laundry and wash dishes, remember?

But GIRLS. That of course isn’t true.

Your mom is amazing.

Our life is amazing.

There is such beauty here.

I’m H-A-P-P-Y.

I get to make art and read books. I get to write and sneak your watercolors when you aren’t watching. I get to make a cup of tea (or three) and do my freelance work in my pajamas if I want to. I get to snuggle with you and get the icepack out when you fall once again and bonk your head on the little desk in the living room. I get to teach you to say, “May I please have one minute?” instead of “NO!” when I tell you it is time for quiet time. I get to answer your incredible questions–how does a giraffe sleep? what holds our bodies together?–and let you listen to my heart with your pretend stethoscope.

And, well, I get to hang laundry. A lot of laundry.

But I’m happy.

And pretty tan from all that time in the sun.

Love,

Your Momma