Monday, December 6, 2010
We traded places at a rest stop overlooking miles of untouched land so I could drive, throwing out the sack from our most recent fast-food meal and giving Merlot a chance to use the natural facilities in the course of two minutes. In order to get over the Rocky Mountain passes before the snow and darkness conspired against our journey homeward, we made our stops absolutely efficient.
We chose to swap about an hour after lunch when the kids would normally rest so, presumably, the car would be quiet. I pulled back onto the highway, set the car's cruise control to 80 on our 75 mph course, selected music conducive to nap time, and settled in for my portion of the drive, absorbing the vast expanse of flat land punctuated by massive bluffs in every shade of pink and orange. Josh let the kids know it was rest time, telling them he needed to sleep, too, so he could drive the difficult sections of snowy roads we knew we'd meet later in the day. In the back seat, Ben and Abby grabbed their stuffed animals to settle in, and Ben picked up a quiet activity to occupy his time now that he no longer needs the daily afternoon sleep.
What ensued within minutes, however, was riotous laughter--the kind that only grows more exuberant with each new request for quiet. As much as Josh tried to position himself comfortably, no matter how mellow or melodic the music I chose, regardless of how sternly we insisted it was rest time, the kids simply could not contain their giggles. One would start and the other would join and after an hour passed this way, Josh sat up in his seat, conceding the battle for sleep.
As dire as the exhaustion was, though, we caught the twinkle in each other's eye. Whatever the circumstance, the laughter of our kids reveling in each other's company is impossible to scorn. We couldn't help but enjoy their childishness, even if it was at the expense of much-needed shut-eye.
Not surprisingly, the kids quieted after we gave up our effort to induce slumber. Abby's eyes grew at first stare-y and then drooped ever further until they finally closed. Ben's attention was drawn by the activity in his lap. Josh finally had the quiet--and sleep--he so desperately sought earlier. While he dozed, I drank in the vistas and the music, meditating on the miraculous world outside the car--and within.
It's funny how often parenting teaches this lesson. Thou shalt not get what thou seeks in the moment. But thou shalt often get something better, and eventually, when all seems for nought, thou shalt receive a miracle of grace--and rest.
About a year and a half ago, I wrestled some mighty demons--critical and condemning voices I met at the crossroads where my expectations of who my children should be met the reality of who they were in the moment. And in that meeting of the twains, I had to confront who my children are, who I am, what my role as a mother is, and more importantly, what my role is not. That struggle was a significant impetus for starting this blog, where I would have a space to process and navigate this murky territory of parenthood requiring the absolute surrender of self to what seems an impossible job but that, in reality, is the glorious gift of getting to know a person created wonderfully and fearfully, and shepherding this most precious creation through a world at once wondrous and cruel.
It has been this recognition that Ben and Abby are not my creation, not mine to "make," not mine to control but, rather, mine to love and discipline and forgive--over and over and over--that finally brought freedom from the whispers of doubt and failure that had plagued me. Over the course of this trip, I got to live in this new reality: not fretting about the childish mistakes and misbehaviors of my children, regardless of who was present to witness their imperfection, but accepting it all as an invitation to love more, to forgive more, to trust in Someone outside myself more.
Because I've come to believe, somehow, that my children's behavior isn't always a reflection on me. That he who is forgiven much loves much. That maybe God even set it up this way. That the opportunities I have to love my children through their imperfection actually increase their ability to love those around them. We love because we were first loved, but love based on performance is not love at all. To the contrary, I'm beginning to think the more we know we are loved apart from performance, the more we begin to perform. So we actually had very few frustration-inducing moments during the week, probably because I wasn't trying so very hard to prevent them out of fear that I or they would look bad, wouldn't perform adequately.
Anyway, all these thoughts swirled while I navigated the windy highway up and down the rocky bluffs standing between us and home, the kids' laughter from the previous hour a soundtrack for these reflections on grace and freedom. In the end, their levity, unwelcome at first, amplified my own.
And we all rested after all.