That Look

That Look    We’ve had some beautiful summer days recently, and we’ve done some beautiful summer things. The other day, the girls and I joined the little one’s Sunday school class at a local park for playtime and popsicles, and then we ran by the drug store to pick up a prescription. The grocery store right across the parking lot carries good produce, so we stopped in to get some fruit for smoothies before heading next door to the new Lebanese bistro to split a shawarma wrap. Then it was home for naptime for Little Bit and mango banana shakes for the big girl and me. Our beautiful day was capped off by a picnic in the state park near our house.

Reading back over the day’s events, I think, “That sounds perfect. Whose life is that anyway?”

Because, in reality, our serendipitous day looked more like this…

The minute she woke up, the two-year-old didn’t want to cooperate. At all. She didn’t want breakfast. Then she did want breakfast, but she didn’t want what I gave her, so she groaned through the whole meal. She put her underwear on backwards and her shoes on the wrong feet, because she “liked it better that way”. She whined and carried on and threw her stuffed monkey across the room. Then she cried because her monkey wasn’t next to her.

Meanwhile, the twelve-year–old talked non-stop. I kept waiting for her to pass out, because I couldn’t imagine how she was getting any oxygen in between words. It took her forty-five minutes to eat the hotdog she had made herself for breakfast (yes, I said hotdog), because she had to tell me about every dream she’d had and about the blue tailed skink on the deck and about why she wants to learn Spanish. (I’m guessing that it’s so she can have more words to say.)

By the time we got everybody clothed and in their right minds (mostly), and out the door, we were running an hour behind schedule. When we got to the playground, there were no parking spaces left. I did a seven-point turn in the skinny driveway, narrowly avoided hitting a fence, and finally found a spot along the street.

The toddler ignored her friends, heading straight for the popsicles, and within seconds was as yellow and sticky as a bee that fell into honey. As all young children on a sugar high know, the only logical thing to do next was yell and run in crazy circles through puddles. Once her sandals were thoroughly coated it was time to swing. Each arc took her higher until her feet were in the perfect position to gift me with two muddy little prints on my new shirt.

Grumbling and trying to blot with my hands, I looked across to the other side of the playground, where my pre-teen was directing kid traffic like a crossing guard. No one had asked her to do this, and the tone she was using was, um… authoritative. Ok, she was being bossy.

Time to go, I decided. Waving a harried goodbye to the other moms, I herded my sweaty, sticky, whiny kids to the car so we could make it to the drug store before lunch.

The toddler loves this particular store, because they have carts shaped like little cars just her size. She climbed in and enthusiastically beeped the horn on the plastic steering wheel all the way from the front doors to the pharmacy in the back.

For the first time that morning I took a deep breath and felt a bit of peace. We were in air conditioning, and the girls were chattering happily. Then, as soon as I turned my back on them to pay, I heard the older one say, “Ew! Stop that! That’s gross!” Reluctantly I swiveled my head to find the little one carefully cleaning the steering wheel… with her tongue. Nice.

Once again waving a harried goodbye, I fled the store with my slightly less sticky but much whinier children.

At the grocery store, the pre-teen wanted me to buy an extremely expensive, unripe mini-papaya simply because it was “cute”. I told her no. She and her sister both huffed dramatic sighs and put on their best martyr faces. You know, the kind that says, “My mother never gets me anything I want.”
I could feel my blood sugar dropping, and I could tell by looking at my kids that they were getting hungry enough to have a meltdown. We needed lunch.

The new bistro next door was a bit pricy, but we were desperate, and I was not in the mood for fast food hamburgers. As soon as I walked in with my writhing, slightly smelly kids, I knew this was a place that catered to business lunches, not toddlers with no volume control. But we were ushered to a table so quickly, I had no time to rethink my choice. We ordered the first thing that looked good and settled in to wait.

We waited. And waited. And waited…

The little one did not wait quietly. She whined. She climbed on the table. She slipped under the table and laid on the floor. She sang the alphabet song at the top of her lungs. She had to go potty twice and told everyone as we passed by their booths exactly what she had accomplished in the bathroom.

Finally the owner came to our table, apologizing profusely that our order had been misplaced and offering a free dessert of choice to the kids. (I’m sure he was hoping that the promise of free cookies would silence the curly-headed foghorn sprawled across the bench seat.) Our food came quickly then, and we ate like starved wolves.

We got home an hour and a half late for the toddler’s nap. After cleaning the melted remains of a chocolate chip cookie off her hiney (don’t ask me how it got there), I tucked her in. A split entrée hadn’t been quite enough, so I pulled out makings for a smoothie. Now where was the top half of the blender? Oh, yes. Under the pile of dirty dishes I had been too tired to finish the night before.

A little over an hour later we left for the picnic, still tired and grumpy.  Mike and I knew we needed to have our game faces on. After all, this wasn’t just any picnic. This was the kickoff for another round of training for a fresh crop of new missionaries, and we were going to be presented as experts on the needs of their children. But it’s hard to be an expert on somebody else’s kids when your own are going ballistic – one over the bees that were swarming our plates and the other over wanting another cookie.

There was thunder. There were dogs running around. There were kids (not just ours) having fits. It was chaos.

So when the two-year-old needed to go potty, I welcomed the chance to walk away from the crowd to the relative peace of the bathhouse. Another mom was there waiting for her two small boys to stop their wiggle dance long enough to use the toilet, and we struck up a conversation. (Adult interaction!)

The younger of her sons would be in my daughter’s preschool class, and she tried in her lisping way to tell him all about it while I ducked into a stall. Apparently, though, he wasn’t interested, because he dropped to his hands and knees and scooted under my door just as I perched on the commode. Apologizing for her pint-sized peeper, my new friend gathered up her sweaty, whiny children and waved a harried goodbye as she guided them quickly to the door.

I saw mirrored in her eyes the look mine had held all day.

The one that says, “I’m doing my best, really.”

That panicked look of apology, frustration, and self-doubt that seems to be the constant companion of so many young moms.

So here is what I would say to her. To my other mom friends who are doing their best on this journey that has no roadmap. To myself.

Give yourself grace. Your dishes don’t need to be done for God to love you. Your house doesn’t need to be clean for him to call you beautiful. Your kids can be testing the limits and eating hotdogs for breakfast, and he still delights in you. Your family doesn’t need to be perfect for you to laugh. (In fact, the imperfections can sometimes bring the best laughter!)

If your kids know deep down that you love them and that they can trust God, all the other stuff is peripheral. They’re gonna be ok. You’re gonna be ok.

    We’re gonna be ok.

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