Every now and then, I pause and hover. Before the lights go up, before the moaning and the groaning start in, before we begin our daily journey, our ripping and shredding of hearts, our growing and pruning, our banter and loving so strong it hurts, before all that I have to pause. Over eyelids and lips pursed in a sleep kiss, over hair fanning across the pillow, and stillness that takes my breath away. It’s because for a second I am transported back to early days when your little bird eyes searched my face, rolled back in your heads as the milk came in and you drank with lavish pleasure. It’s because the sleep face is the baby face of yesterday before the grown-up, growing up. It’s the face of contentment and innocence before the hurts and comparisons and strivings to be accepted settle in. I need to see what you were, sometimes, to better see where we’re going on this quest for adulthood, independence, whateverness, and to ground me again in motherhood.
I paused this morning over you, my son, taken aback for second as I waited to see you breath. And your body shook when I brushed the quilt from your face and you sighed and my heart flipflopped. Pounding out a love song to my waking boy.
The heart flipflop. You brought it again as you climbed out of the car to walk to school. You, my oldest, my mini-woman, my little girl going through the Rites of Passage… braces, the popular crowd stuff… who doesn’t want to play with little brother anymore, who doesn’t know what she wants half the time, you say, “I wish I lived in Africa so I wouldn’t have to go to school.”
Child, I don’t think you know what you are saying. And I’m sure you are speaking for effect, not out of any great desire to see it come to fruition. But I’ve read Beatrice’s Goat with you about the dear Ugandan girl who wants so desperately to go to school but her family doesn’t have the funds for the uniform or the books… at least until they receive a Heifer International goat and that changes everything. You have read the letters from Prossy in Uganda, our sponsored child, your African sister, and you’ve seen her joy at learning. And goodness knows I’ve talked your ear off about “those less fortunate.” Maybe my words have just become gibberish in your ears.
Is it typical tween behavior… this incessant focus on “me?” Or have I somehow fostered it, an unwanted consequence of the life of privilege your father and I have provided? Am I even being fair? Because it may be that your heart beats stronger for others than your peers. I can’t tell.
But privilege you have. That is true. And blessing and we can hardly compare ourselves with others, and yet, the comparisons are there, constantly. The “why can’t I have” and “why can’t I do” comparisons that point out where someone has it better than you, despite your 100 other ways of having it better than them in the first place.
It breaks my heart, this discontent.
You, son, get in the car after school and run through your laundry list of people you want to play with this afternoon and when I say no because we have homework and people working in the kitchen, you slump ugly and accuse me of never letting you have a play date and of always letting sister have sleep overs. I hit the brakes. “Always” is a lie here. And if sister were here she would complain that you always get play dates and she never does. This discontent, it is the work of the Devil.
There is clearly evil walking Africa. War lords, poverty, tribal unrest, insufficient supplies, food, work, housing, peace. My newsfeeds daily point to the want, to the poorest parts of Africa, to stories of children left behind because of AIDS, war, poverty, handicaps, because it is just too much to feed another mouth.
There is evil walking America too. It’s in the discontent. It’s looking over the fence and saying, “Things are better there.” It’s refusing to see what you have and seeking something more instead. It’s bitter complaint rather than lavish praise and gratitude.
And here, my dear children, Mommy bows down too. I’m just as guilty as you. I understand your wanting. Something “new” will certainly “fill the void.” But there is no void, not really. All we really need we have.
The other day, your uncle prayed for our comfort to be restored, for our kitchen to be restored to its previous state. It curled my toenails a little. Discomfort is God’s pruning. And perhaps it is necessary to shape us better, cleaner, brighter and for that we should be thankful.
Of course, you’re going to have to come to this realization on your own. Mommy’s preaching will only reach so far; experience will be the better teacher.
But I look back at where we were… at sleeping in bliss, milk coma rapture, joy at every flower, butterfly, goose, doggie, book… contentment found in a clean diaper, a full belly, a warm hug… and I am grateful for those memories. There were times of contentment, there will be times again. I love you deeply and will walk this road with you, will weather the pruning beside you, and will cheer you on toward the goal. Find the things to relish, children. The world is full of them!