As Michael gears up for the year with a new job and a new schedule, the luxury of our summer days all together has drawn to a close. Michael is gone “full time” now, blessed with the chance to pursue two great opportunities in the realm of his career and his education. This means that Gabriel and I–and our ever-bigger son-in-the-womb– are now home together “full time.” There have been some tough times in these first two weeks Michael being gone, many involving Gabriel’s new tendency to want to micro-manage every element of his environment, and the emotional outbursts that result if something–or someone doesn’t follow his directions. The other part of the story is that he just isn’t napping anymore, which causes exhaustion for both him and me and the need for quiet activities to fill the long afternoon hours.
But this post won’t be about all that, as much as I’ve been analyzing it and debating how to best and most appropriately respond to it. I began this blog as a way to remember to smile, to focus on the positive in the midst of the exhausting, draining first months of motherhood. To take note of those moments that peek through the shadows like sunshine spilling through the tree branches that canopy our courtyard, and to realize their beauty.
This afternoon Gabriel and I trotted outside with a bucket of water, some sidewalk chalk, and two large paintbrushes. We would be “water painting”– literally, painting with water on any available outdoor surface, and watching to see what would happen when we painted the chalk with water. It is an ideal warm-weather activity for toddlers–simple to set up, no mess inside the house, and excitingly large scale. I was sitting down doodling with the chalk for a while (and trying to stay off my feet for a bit as the midwives suggested), but Gabriel wanted to start right in with the painting. He brushed a couple times at the sidewalk doodles, and then called himself Painting Man and jumped over to paint one of our courtyard trees. He called me to join in the fun– “Mommy will come?” As nice as it was to sit for a while, I was happy to join in. We dipped and brushed for quite some time, darkening the entire side of the tree with our water
One of my earliest memories–my mother claims I couldn’t have been more than two or three when it transpired– is that of making wet hand prints on the brick-red siding of my neighbor’s house, running back and forth from her inflatable pool to the wall of the house, enjoying the freedom of making my mark somewhere exciting and new.
I had found the idea for “water painting” with Gabriel in a book, but it was already there, waiting for a quiet moment to emerge from my memories. How many other small childhood joys might I unearth from within me to share with my son on these long nap-less afternoons? And how to discover them? Sitting with my planner, filling in which activities to do when, seems too grown-up, too professional, too gridded, too sterile. Thinking about childhood is too distant, too detached; I must become the child that, in a way, I am, but often do not allow myself to be. Recently I have spent the first moments of any quiet prayer times simply allowing myself to be God’s child. I am your child, Lord. It is a reality, a statement of fact, that I must make a concerted effort to be and to know on a level that is more than merely intellectual. Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3).
So often I fail to turn from my to-do lists, my worries, and my strategies of control, and in failing to turn from these, fail to become a child. So often this failure has made my little Gabriel seem a stranger to me, a mysterious puzzle who frustrates and exhausts me. Yet... whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me (Mt 18:5). Any failure to receive my son in appropriate charity–this is a failure to receive Christ himself.
It’s funny how things link together so neatly. A moment when I finally allow myself to receive my son–to turn, to become like a child, and engage in simple play alongside him, when I could have instead stayed seated out of tiredness or distraction–becomes a moment when I receive my own childhood clearly and suddenly. I am your child, Lord. Such moments as these are when I begin to live this reality more humbly and truly, and stumble ever so slowly towards becoming the child I must be in order to be the mother I am called to be.