The Twenty-Ninth Letter: What I Do All Day

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Dear Daughters,

I remember once when we lived in Texas—long before you were born—talking with an acquaintance of ours who stayed at home with her young daughter and, at the time, was expecting her second. I was curious about what sorts of activities she did with her daughter during the day, but then I made the mistake of trying to ask about it. In fact, I worded it in about the worst way possible: “So, what do you do all day?” I asked.

I cringe now, remembering how I felt when I said it, realizing how awful it sounded and knowing I couldn’t take it back or reword it once it was out there, hanging in the air awkwardly.

What do you do all day?

Granted, I didn’t mean the question the way it sounded—I wasn’t accusatory or incredulous but rather seriously curious about what sorts of fun things her daughter enjoyed doing—but the truth is that I had no idea what it meant to stay home and take care of children. I had no idea what it took to keep small human beings from killing themselves, which of course is the minimum required, and certainly no idea what it took to be a good, attentive parent.

I had no idea how hard it was to do even the most basic of tasks while caring for young children. Everything is magnified to the nth degree.

I am now, of course, more than aware. Trust me.

Let me tell you a story.

This morning I decided just before breakfast, around 8 am, that we would go to the food co-op in Lexington and then be back for lunch, because I had a meeting at the bank at 1 pm.

Now, I know enough not to overschedule—one small accomplishment for the day is quite enough, and going to a single store is often that one small accomplishment.

So, we eat breakfast.

Then I get the toddler dressed. Put a ponytail in her hair.

Then I remember that we have company coming in to town tonight so I better strip the bed upstairs and check on the state of that bathroom. I patiently help the toddler up the steps. Stripping the bed involves letting the preschooler help take the pillowcases off. Keeping the toddler off the bed. Keeping the toddler from going down the stairs by herself. Keeping the toddler from getting into my art collages across the hall in the art room. Then I go downstairs holding the toddler’s hand and the sheets in my other arm, dropping a pillowcase, waiting for preschooler to come back up the stairs to get it.

Then I gather up some towels to put in the laundry with the guest sheets, and we all go down the stairs to the basement to get it started. You take turns pretending to crawl on the floor and “hide” under a chair that is inexplicably in the laundry room. I convince you we do not have time to build a tent in the TV room. I check the dryer—before breakfast, your dad had already started a load. It’s still wet in there after one full cycle, so I start the dryer again. The dryer repairman is coming tomorrow.

I start the washing machine with the sheets and towels. We go back up to the main floor, slow step by slow step.

Then I remember that the store I’m going to has glass recycling, which we don’t have in our town, so I load all three bins of recycling into the back of our car. I’m pretty proud of myself for remembering to do this. I figuratively pat myself on the back.

Then the toddler needs a diaper change, which reminds me that it is garbage day and I need to take the stinky bag out to the curb, where the garbage can is already sitting. I remember that the kitchen trash is also full, as is our downstairs bathroom trash. I take all the trash out.

Then I realize I still haven’t gotten myself dressed for the day, so I do so, deciding that short sleeves and flip-flops are adequate because it’s drizzly but will probably warm up by the time we get to the store. And I hate to deal with jackets while we’re at a store. I spritz myself with perfume instead of showering and put some eye makeup on.

I remember that it will need to be a fast lunch before my 1 pm meeting, so I start water boiling on the stove to hardboil some eggs. Both of you love egg salad. I silently applaud myself again for thinking ahead.

Then I get the preschooler dressed, and we have a discussion about what matches and what doesn’t. Let her decide about her hair. Find a matching headband.

Then I pack snacks for the drive down in the car, and add sippy cups of water, and make sure we have a change of clothes for both girls, in case of motion sickness, as has happened before on this drive.

I remember to put the eggs in the pot of boiling water.

I become aware that it is taking a ridiculous amount of time to get ourselves ready for the store. I decide I will write a letter to you about it later today, and so begin to catalog in my mind all the tasks that I’m doing and you’re doing and how funny this might seem tonight as I relive it.

I remember that we need some bulk items at the store, so I take the canisters for flour and sugar and put them out in the car. Go me. I remember to grab the cloth bags. I make a list of items we need to get at the store, so I don’t forget while we’re there.

Then I run back down to the basement to check the dryer—this time, it’s dry—so I empty the dryer and put the wet sheets load in and start it again. Run back upstairs.

I move the eggs off the heat.

Both girls get shoes on; the toddler also gets leggings. The preschooler goes to the bathroom one more time.

It is now 10:15, more than two hours after I decided to go to the store, and we are ready to go.

I usher you out onto the deck in front of me, grab my phone and purse and diaper bag, and pull the locked door shut behind me, tugging hard to hear the latch click… and at that exact moment I realize the keys are still inside the house. I look at the car helplessly, and then raise my hand to shield my eyes so I can see through our glass back door. The keys are hanging right inside the door. On the hook. Where they belong.I push on the door, just to check, but it’s locked. Well-locked.

Sigh.

Your dad is in his executive cabinet meeting, so I try calling your babysitter, who has a spare key to the house, and her phone goes to voicemail twice. I realize for the first time just how cold it is outside, considering none of us is wearing a jacket. It’s in the low forties. It isn’t drizzling, but everything is still wet. I walk us over to our friends’ house, just around the block from us. They have a keypad lock on their back door, and I know we can get inside and be warm there, while we wait to get in touch with someone.

At their house, I take your wet shoes off, give you your car snacks and waters, and go find a charger for my phone, which is compatible with theirs. I plug it in and let you watch Dinosaur Train for a few minutes, mooching their wifi.

I get a call from your sitter and find out that she has the key but can’t get to us because it is the first day of class at the seminary—can we get to her down on campus, about a mile away? Yes, we can.

I pack us all up again, and we walk back to our house, get the double stroller out of the shed, the double-thick outdoor blanket from the back of the car to bundle you up, and head down.

I’m still in short sleeves and flip-flops, pushing seventy pounds of child in a double stroller, but we’re making progress, I think. Everyone I pass is bundled up in a hoody or winter jacket. I make it to campus and get the key, about the same time I admit that there is no longer time to get home, get in the car, and drive to Lexington and still be back for my 1 pm meeting. So instead I promise you a cupcake from a bakery up on Main Street, as a reward for being so good and noncomplaining all morning.

The bakery is closed.

I try to go inside one of my favorite boutiques in order to get us warmed up for a few minutes and the double stroller doesn’t fit through the historic building’s door.

So I truck it home, now having gotten more than a day’s workout in, though still incredibly cold, and by this time, you’re disappointed you aren’t getting a cupcake and also begin whining that you’re cold.

We make it home, and I splurge and let you drink some homemade cocoa while watching more Dinosaur Train. You spill it on your shirt and pants.

I make lunch–egg salad–and then begin the process of getting you ready for quiet time, changing diapers, getting the preschooler’s bedtime friends out of the room as well as her clock that lights up, and getting her a clean outfit. I put her cocoa-covered clothes in the sink and wash them out. Just before laying the toddler down in her crib, I happen to check my phone and see a text from your dad. Are you coming to the bank?

It is 1:05. And I’ve forgotten about the meeting.

It’s only a few miles away, so I holler to round you up, attempting the impossible task of rushing you, and the toddler indicates that she has yet another dirty diaper in need of changing. I change it. We get in the car. We make it there at 1:15.

That is a day in the life, girls. A day in the life.

What do I do all day?

Well, let me tell you…

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

 

The Twenty-Eighth Letter: Bread in the Wilderness

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Dear Daughters,

I was thinking recently about the Israelites in the wilderness, after Moses tells them that God is going to provide bread for them to eat. The next morning, they wake up and there’s this flakey stuff on the ground, and Exodus tells us that they didn’t know what it was. They called it manna, which literally means, “What is it?”

It didn’t look like bread, girls. It was nothing like bread.

We lose the wordplay that emphasizes this part of the story when we call it simply manna today. We hear manna mentioned in sermons and don’t think much of it. But when we say, “God provided manna,” we aren’t saying “God provided sustenance,” we’re saying, “God provided something unrecognizable.”

They called it “What is it?”

Or, you could say, they called it “What the heck?”

Actually, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that calling it manna was a bit like calling it “Are you kidding me, Moses?” A bit like calling it “I don’t know what ya’ll are thinking, but this ain’t no bread.”

This was not the bread that was promised.

Those of us who grew up steeped in scripture and in church tradition hear the word “bread,” and we hear all the connections and metaphor we’re meant to hear—not just Jesus as the bread of life, but the last supper and communion and the bread and grape juice, the loaves of bread that multiplied to feed five thousand families, the breaking of bread that opens the eyes of the disciples in Emmaus to see that the risen Jesus is among them, Elijah promising the widow that her flour will never run out.

There’s a lot of bread in scripture. A lot of provision in scripture. A lot of promise in scripture.

But this flakey stuff the Israelites find all over the ground?

It doesn’t look like bread.

It doesn’t look like what was promised.

I was thinking about all of this on a grumpy day a few weeks ago. It was one of those days I didn’t particularly feel like being a mom.

Are you kidding me, Moses?

I didn’t feel like reheating my tea in the microwave again, eating my lukewarm egg on cold toast, choosing between leaving the bathroom door unlatched to let you come toddling in or closing the door and listening to you knock, knock, knock, Momma, Momma, Momma

This ain’t no bread.

I didn’t feel like the incessant chatter requiring my constant response that is conversation with young children—in the car, at the dinner table, whispered in bed at 5 am.

What the heck?

I didn’t feel like giving up my quiet time in the afternoon to a crying toddler, didn’t feel like playing playdough or getting bundled up to go outside or coloring in coloring books, didn’t feel like letting you “help” make the cookies.

This is not the bread that was promised.

Yes, that’s what I was thinking. This is not the bread that was promised.

And what I meant was: This is not fun.

This is not what I want provision to look like.

This is not the bread I want to eat in this season.

I want to go and bake my own bread, thank you very much. I want cinnamon rolls and French toast and bagels and a sub from a central Pennsylvania pizza place.

So there. Honesty for you.

Sometimes, this is not the bread I want to eat, and so I am not very grateful.

Sometimes it feels like all I’m doing is scraping the flakey stuff off the grass every morning and pretending it’s nourishment.

I figure that’s okay. I’m in good company. Forty years later, it was still nourishing the Israelites, this not-what-I-thought-was-bread stuff, this are-you-kidding-with-me stuff.

Because, of course, it was the Israelites who had it wrong. They didn’t recognize it, but it was exactly what was promised.

It was bread.

It was provision.

It was hope.

It got them through the desert.

But I can guarantee you one thing—they sure were tired of it by the end.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The First Letter to My Daughters

Daughters,

There’s a small framed photograph in the hallway outside the downstairs bathroom, just above the thermostat.

From the wood paneling in the background, I’m pretty sure it was snapped in the late eighties in our apartment in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where my dad finished up his BA at Messiah College. This one is a color copy of the original, slightly grainy and dark. In the image, my great-grandmother is flanked by my mom and my grandma, and my brother and I are standing in front of them. Four generations of women. I’m probably about seven years old.

I pause and look at this photograph a few times a week. I can remember my great-grandmother’s passing a handful of years after this photo was taken, perhaps the first funeral I attended, and I remember my grandmother’s passing, just a few years ago.

What strikes me about this image is that my mom is now older than my grandma was in this photo.

I am grateful for the good relationship I have with my mom. We text and FaceTime and talk on the phone regularly. She’s come to stay with us after your births, though missing each of them by only a few hours. She’s called me for recipes, I’ve called her for garden advice.

This may seem strange, but I realized something recently: As good as our relationship was and is and will continue to be, I just don’t remember my mom as she was in this picture. In her thirties. Before the divorce. Just having finished her RN degree. With a big perm.

I am in my thirties.

The interesting thing about aging is that I don’t remember people as they were in old photographs; I can only remember them as they are now. I see snapshots and think that I remember moments, but I don’t really know the people as they were. I can’t hear their laughter or see the way pants puckered or smell the perm. I don’t remember what worried them or what they watched on TV. It’s as if my mom was always the mom she is now.

I love my mom in her sixties. She’s amazing. And way more fashionable than she was when this photo was taken, by the way.

But what was she like in her thirties?

That’s what this blog is about, I suppose. Trying to offer a small piece of who I am so that you will know and you will remember. Trying to help you know the me I was when you arrived on the scene, the me I was when I was learning what it meant to be a mother, the me you’ll hopefully still be able to find in the me of my sixties. Or seventies. The me who struggled a lot and cried a lot, but also loved a lot and cultivated a life of community and courage and compassion around her daughters.

Basically, I want you to know me.

Welcome to my world, girls.

Your Momma