“Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this…”
“Um, actually, we’re not busy.”
(blank look, followed by incredulity)
“Oh, riiiight, four kids and you’re not busy…HA-HA”, she said in a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-wink-wink way.
“No, really, we’re not. Kind of intentionally so.”
You can see the wheels a-turning, the thoughts going through her mind: Ah, right, she’s a missionary, not quite normalized yet to the way things are here. It all makes sense.
A compassionate smile, “Well, if you aren’t busy now, you will be once the kids are all in sports and music.”
I don’t remember if I just lowered my eyes or mumbled that we didn’t have plans to put them in sports (at least, not in the leagues that swallow up five evenings a week and spit out a few minutes for “family time” if possible). I’m not calling that way of doing life wrong, but life isn’t One Size Fits All, and the breathless hurry isn’t for our family.
We paint outside, impressionist-style. We go on forever-long meanders through the local stream, in all seasons. We play board games. The kids play in the yard with sticks and rocks and they trash their bikes and fill the wagon and dig up my lawn. They pretend out in the fresh air, dressed up as knights or cowboys or gypsies. They get bored and I don’t entertain them. I let that boredom loom like a tsunami wave and watch their imaginations kick in, see them run for higher ground. See them create.
My mom was so frustrated with me. It was about a mile walk home from my elementary school; she knew what time to call to catch me coming through the door. My older brother and sister’s walks home were predictably prompt. But me? I took over an hour sometimes to walk that mile. Because I was outside, see, and there was that one boulder in that big front yard that was shaped like a bench and I liked to lay down on it and feel the sun’s trapped heat seeping into my back. There were flowers (dandelions) to pick and then pick apart. I was living stories as I kicked a rock down the sidewalk. I needed life to go kid’s pace.
My siblings are go-getters; they happily adjusted to life full of sports and musical instruments and two jobs at a time and lawn-mowing on the side. They’re pretty amazing people. If there were a way to harness my sister’s energy, I’m sure it could power a small country. My energy is there, but it doesn’t quite conform to normal ways of living in this U.S. of A. Mine erupts in gardening and canning, beekeeping and sewing, pottery and hanging the laundry out to flap happily in the breeze. It comes out in creative explosions in the house; we all make earrings for a week, or learn to make felt hair barrettes or make matzo bread and throw a full-fledged Passover meal. All of it, spur-of-the-moment, flying-by-the-seat-of-our-collective pants, because I tell you quite seriously, it’s the only way my soul can breathe.
The parallel lines on the calendar always remind me of jail bars. They dice up the days and slice up the time, and the more days that get filled with events, the higher my blood pressure rises. What is this; schedule-a-phobia? It’s why I fit in in Latin America, I can tell you that with a grin. There it’s normal to let the day decide what the day will be; is it a day to spend comforting a bereaved neighbor, a irresistibly balmy day that begs for a bike ride? Oh, that is my kind of living.
So the kids, they got this mama, and God did it for a reason.
We might not cultivate the next Mozart nor the next Michael Jordan, but I think there’s probably parents out there who are doing that, and so the world will not be in want. God sets children in families, particular families for particular purposes. It’s no use trying to be a “good parent” running around like a chicken with its head cut off, if that’s not what God has called you to. One Size Fits Some.
I don’t have it all figured out; I’m a less than ideal mama and I know it. But I can give my children the gifts and blessings in my hands: the curiosity about everything, the love of science, the slow pace of life that allows for hours of exploring outside, the memories of kitchen adventures (and disasters), and most of all, me…my attention, my present presence. I can give what I can give, and I won’t make it all stretch to snapping; I won’t wear our souls thin with haste. I’ll walk a mile an hour if need be, because there’s flowers to look into and all God’s glory spread broadcast.