July 22, 2015
There is a piece of underwear in my living room, and it has been there for upwards of two weeks. It’s a little boy’s underwear, with Avengers characters all over it, and it doesn’t belong to any of my kids. I have no idea who it belongs to. A little over a week ago, I was walking through my formerly well-kept house, and I spotted the underwear in a basket with family photo albums, and I thought, “Huh.” And then I kept walking. In addition to the normal business of keeping five kids alive, fed, and relatively happy, Todd and I were planning a retreat for his staff, I was trying to get everything ready for the kids to start school when we got back, and I had been babysitting and hosting playdates practically every day for two weeks straight, so the underwear presented several problems:
- I had no idea which of the many children who’d been in our home the underwear belonged to;
- I had no concept of how it came to be sitting in a basket of family photo albums in our living room; and
- My mind was being pulled in so many directions that the question of what to do with a stray piece of little boy’s underwear was simply not a decision I could make.
After a few days I took it with me while running errands in the van and asked a couple friends if they recognized it, but they didn’t. Todd asked why I didn’t just throw it away, and I said that this underwear had become a kind of hilarious mystery, as well as something of a metaphor for my life, because let me tell you: prior to having five kids there is no way on God’s green earth I would have left a piece of unclaimed underwear just lying around. A couple days after toting the underwear around town with me I found it back in the basket, because Todd was cleaning out the van in anticipation of our retreat and he thought it would be funny to return it to its “spot.” (It WAS funny. I burst out laughing when I saw it there again. Because seriously: Whose underwear is it??? Friends who are reading this–are any of your boys missing a pair of Avengers underwear? Would any of you be willing to claim it after seeing an entire paragraph devoted to the subject??)
But that is life right now, isn’t it? Underwear and messes, literal and figurative, weaving their way through our days.
Take, for instance, the following story: I thought it might be fun to take all five kids in the pool one morning, so I did. It was only borderline chaotic while we were in the water, but I succeeded in keeping the baby and the toddler alive, so it was basically a win. When I needed to get those two out, I asked the other three (all decently strong swimmers) to wait on the steps of the pool for a few minutes, figuring that if by some fluke one of them was in distress, one could help while the other came to get me. I ran inside, laid a soaking wet baby on the ground next to me while I changed the toddler, turned on Netflix for the toddler, ran the baby to the other side of the house to change him, glancing furtively through the window to make sure the older three were alright. I changed the baby and set him in the deep corner of the couch by the toddler, a place he had sat many times before. I knew it wasn’t foolproof, but he usually lasted a few minutes in that spot before starting to wiggle, and I only needed a few moments to strip off my wet suit and throw some dry clothes on. Of course, at the very moment my suit came off, I heard my toddler come screaming through the house, saying over and over that the baby fell. I darted back out to the living room wearing practically nothing, my toddler screaming behind me, my baby screaming ahead of me, and three big kids sitting impatiently alone out in the pool. I found my baby on the floor between the couch and the ottoman, quickly scooped him up, and he was fine. As soon as he was fine my toddler was fine. As soon as both of them were fine, I got dressed and then I was fine too. And as soon as I was fine I went outside and gave the big kids permission to start swimming again. And everything was fine, except for the part where my mind was frantically trying to grasp onto some evidence that it’s okay for me to be in charge of this many children.
Or this story: Our girl had a really rough morning last week, and I responded with lots of frustration. In the ongoing drama of dealing (poorly) with what was happening, I was also putting dinner in the crock pot and making a double recipe of cornbread, but near the end of the cornbread recipe I discovered that the brand-new, unopened container of sour cream I had bought–the secret ingredient in the cornbread recipe I love–had curdled. After some hurried Googling of the subject, resulting in a wide array of unhelpful answers, I decided I didn’t want to risk poisoning the rather large number of people I was going to be offering the bread to, so I tossed the sour cream out and gave up on it for the time being. For some reason, in choosing to stop making the bread I also chose to unplug the KitchenAid mixer I was using (maybe as a dramatic display of my vexation for a nonexistent audience?), except that I didn’t unplug the mixer, I unplugged the crock pot full of that night’s dinner, a fact I didn’t discover until a couple hours later. Then, with the explosive interactions of the morning still ringing in my ears, the accouterments of a half-made batch of cornbread on the counter, and a crock pot full of not-cooking food, I went to pick up my fussing baby, who had been playing in his exer-saucer. “Oh crap,” I said as I lifted him out. It seems the bananas we had introduced to him the day before, that he had eagerly eaten, had done something surprising to his digestive system, and there was wet sticky poo all down both of his legs, all over his feet, and he had been repeatedly stomping in the the pool of poo that had accumulated underneath him in the exer-saucer. Rushing him out of the room to change him, I discovered that it was too big a job for mere baby wipes, so I whisked him into the kitchen, only to realize that due to the cornbread prep (uncompleted) and the dinner prep (uncooked), there were too many dishes in and around the sink for me to fit the baby tub in. So there I was, holding a naked, poo-covered baby in one arm while using the other arm to clear a space as quickly as possible, and I felt serenely at peace with everything that was happening. Except exactly the opposite.
The baby is not the only child in our home providing good poo stories: Todd was changing our toddler’s diaper, and somehow, through the way the diaper came off, he saw evidence of poo but no actual poo, which meant he had to go searching for it. SEARCHING FOR ANOTHER PERSON’S POO. Maybe that’s the title I’ll give our parenting memoir. He eventually found it, and is there any greater success in life than finding the poo you’re searching for? (THE POO YOU’RE SEARCHING FOR. That’ll be a self-help book.)
Don’t worry, the poo stories don’t stop there: Our girl has poor personal hygiene habits, habits that are surprisingly difficult to break, so it’s not unusual for me to have to call her into the bathroom to have her finish dealing with something. This time when I called her, she came in and said “What?? I wiped!” but then she saw the unflushed poo in the toilet, and the used toilet paper that was not in the toilet, but on the floor…She threw the t.p. in and flushed without question, which came as a bit of a relief, since earlier that morning, when I asked her to put some markers away, she informed me that cleaning the house is my job, not hers. Totes adorbs.
What’s that you say? You want more poo stories? Well, I’m fresh out. FOR NOW.
I was reading a devotional book my mom gave me (Savor by Shauna Niequist) and it included a much-beloved verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” I am weak in so many ways. I fail to love my kids, my husband, my family and friends and strangers the way I ought to. I lose my patience, I am self-centered, I am insecure. I am not in God’s word the way I want to be, and am only grabbing snippets of truth and wisdom from others these days. But even in that, God’s grace prevails.
I pray often that our home would be a place of physical and emotional safety for all who come into it. I pray that God would use our family to bless others. In the midst of tantrums and chores and babies falling off couches and underwear and poo here, there and everywhere, I can lose sight of those loftier goals. But I have also prayed so many times for grace to cover my mistakes and shortcomings. And even though our girl has had a rough summer, and even though I have made many mistakes in how I’ve responded to her, she told me yesterday that she is hoping to come over for frequent playdates after she goes home, and she has said she loves us many times in the last couple days. That is God’s grace and goodness, and nothing more. Life is messy, but God redeems the mess. Hallelujah for that.