The tinies filled our mantle with letters in childish printing and smudgy footprint butterflies or handprint bouquets in bright poster paint on construction paper. You gave me a gift and a beautiful card. We kissed in our pajamas on the couch but we were late for church, and I missed breakfast and a cup of coffee, there was whining, and I yelled at everybody. So much for that Mother Halo on Mother’s Day.
Between me and a couple of the tinies, I’m pretty sure an entire six row radius at church joined with me in wishing we had just stayed home. After several incidents, one tiny tried to make a break for it, probably to evade my repeated hissing to sit still, and I reached out, quick as a flash, and snatched the back of a t-shirt and frog-marched a kid straight out of church for a time-out. I felt my lips narrow to a line about to break. I was sweaty and embarrassed and frustrated. Then I stood around, feeling sorry for myself, feeling like a terrible mother because the tinies usually love church and today, of all days, of course, well, this.
We taught Sunday School together. You’re so much better at that stuff than I am. So I just read books aloud, and pass out crayons, and I pray. I remember names and I hope that counts for something. We came home for a few more time-outs, and melt-downs, and once everyone was fed their lunch and settled for naps, I snatched up my purse and ran out of the house for my own little time-out. Really, all I wanted, even more than any gift or party is for just one day to pass without anyone needing anything from me. I wanted everyone to pick up their things without being asked and stop bickering, happy mother’s day to me. I curled up in the corner of a crowded restaurant on Mother’s Day, alone, and I read an Oprah Magazine and ate carbs until I felt like a person again.
This season of our life is so full, too full, and I’m not always steady. I know this about myself. I know how hard it is for someone like me – someone who loves order and a slower pace, quiet and beauty – to be the matriarch to a busy houseful of loud confident little people with places to go and thoughts to articulate and so many needs.
I confessed to you that sometimes I get so mad at the Inklings. (Bless you, you didn’t even blink at my craziness.) I feel resentful because C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and all these other writers, real writers, had luxuries like housekeepers and pubs and colleagues, they had creature comforts and every time the Muse arrived, they didn’t have to shush her, plead with her to come back later because, right now, Muse, can’t you see? preschool, supper, diapers, bath times, and everything wonderful in my life needs my attention. I cried in self-pity and I said, “Hell, anyone could have written the Narnia books if they had a housekeeper and sustained silence. I could construct Middle Earth if my greatest concern was my own schedule and interests.”
I felt misplaced today.
I was not proud of myself. I was spoiled and a bit rotten, petulant and thankful for the sanctuary of thoughts and the discipline of silence. Thankful even more for you. Always you. You pull me out of my head, and you help me see with my real eyes, instead of my selfish eyes. Thank you, darling, for always leading me to grace with laughter.
The tinies threw me a homemade party when I came home an hour later. They turned on music, and even though I was tired and hot, I danced in the kitchen to pop songs, and I felt like barking with laughter-crying because all three of them were dancing with me, and their faces were upturned to me, they were having so much fun, and I thought, Oh, my God, I’m it, aren’t I? This is it. I was spinning in our tiny pink kitchen, with a baby on my hip, and this is still my favourite thing in the world to be their mother. It’s different for everyone but motherhood is how God has marked me, this is my thin place between the heaven and earth. I’ve parted ways with the lie of Balance and the illusion of Doing It All. Maybe I wasn’t a great mother this morning, but right now, I’m twirling little girls and breakdancing with a little boy to Katy Perry’s Firework, and I’m singing all the words out loud, and I’m pretty sure I’m the best mother in the world for them.
It’s also our twelfth wedding anniversary today, darling.
I never wanted to get married young, I had other plans. But, then, you. And as the oracle Nora Ephron wrote, when you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. We were babies, we know that now, but we have loved growing up together. We’ve changed well into ourselves, we’ll probably keep it up, I imagine, all this changing, refining, falling in love with each other’s new incarnations.
We decided to clear the air, start over, with a fun family drive. We took our passports and headed for the United States. At the border station, the guard said “What is the purpose of your trip?” and I laughed when you said, straight-faced, “We need to have Sonic for supper.” We drove straight to the Sonic and we splurged by ordering fruit slushes for everyone. Evelynn nearly died of delight. We toasted our anniversary with tater tots and then we went to Wal-Mart. And I had more fun in three hours in the car, with you and our babies, than I think I’ve had in months. The tinies are old enough now to get our jokes, and that one when Anne saw a guy wearing a racoon hat and you pulled the car over and hollered about how you couldn’t wait to see a racoon in a hat made me nearly cry with laughter. Because they were laughing, and it felt like, okay, so we’re okay. We’re it, you and me, Brian. Those babies in wedding clothes from twelve years ago have built this life, and this family, we’re the Mother and the Father, this is their childhood which feels like a lot of pressure sometimes, I’m unequal to the task. But I can do tonight, and I can drive anywhere with you. We’re still laughing, and we’re still yearning for each other, and there is nothing else for us but this, it’s beautiful and it’s tiring but we keep showing up.
Thanks for buying me tater tots tonight, and for kissing me in the minivan.
Now we’re home. I opened the windows and everyone is sleeping. The rain is falling, and I’m probably going to stay up too late because this is my only quiet, my only stillness. This is the season of Writing After: after supper, after bath times, after stories, after kitchen dance parties, after bills are paid, after groceries are put away, after laundry is folded, after madcap craving runs for fast food in another country. I’ll write after those things. I write after it all, because this life is what I’m writing about.
I remember when we were dating in Tulsa. We would walk across the old Mabee Centre parking lot to get to Nordaggio’s Coffeehouse or Walmart. The parking lot was beat up and old, cracked and pebbling. And we’d end up sitting on a curb in the parking lot by the light of a street lamp, listening to night cicadas or cars going by, and we would talk about how no one had ever, could ever, have been in love like we were in love, and we would kiss until we were dizzy before walking back to the dorms, just in time for curfew. I remember once how you said that our walks to Wal-mart were the best dates anyone could ever have.
Twelve years later, you were right. You were right.