“Take one day at a time and just breathe. Prayer always helps too.”
–the texted response of a now empty-nested mother of four when I asked,
“How did you do this four kids thing?!”
Yesterday when I slumped my way out of bed, I could hear all the makings of a Day.for.the.Books. Four kids home for Veteran’s Day. And I’d made commitments. That’s it. That’s all it takes lately to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.
I quickly do my most basic of morning routines, go to unplug my phone at my bedside, and then remember: prayer.
I would love to say that a morning prayer is part of my most basic of routines, but I usually sweep that moment up into my forward momentum because pausing to kneel would slow me down. This prayer usually consists of something that sounds like an accidental pocket dial: “[Unintelligible snippets of conversation followed by scary banging of pots and pans that leave you wondering if you’ve just been the only witness to a murder followed by words meant for no one and rounded off with–] oh, shoot! Have you been listening all this time? I’m sorry! [hastily ends the call].”
My prayers this week are bubbles rising from the depths where I’m trying to not drown. Ineffective little plips of air that wouldn’t carry a whisper, let alone a cry for help.
But yesterday I looked at my bed, realized I had no momentum anyway, and said, “Oh, right. I should probably take a moment.” So I knelt to pray.
My thoughts have been flying everywhere this week. It’s a tricky time of year for me with Daylight Savings Time having, once again, brutally and senselessly ended. I have been taking care of myself quite well, so I’m only coming unraveled a little bit considering that I can hear Aunty Flo’s steps coming up the walk. And with four kids who keep deviating from their manufacturer’s settings, I wonder how I ever took care of myself before now. We’re just taking turns pushing each other’s buttons and trying to not go DEFCON 1 on each other.
So I kneel to pray, but my thoughts are splattering around like mud from a spinning tire. If my brain were sending text messages to God, his poor phone would be blowing up with questions like, how would we survive a home invasion? how do I end child sex trafficking? where do all my hairbands go? can I get a pet hummingbird to eat our fruit flies? and so on.
But since my unraveling begins at the rip cord I use when I bail on some of the ridiculous plans I make, I should make sure my parachute is working. This is how I pray.
Step One: Believe everything is all up to me and let it show up in my breath by expanding at the sternum and shoulders before I blast through a routine prayer
Step Two: Remember that I’ve learned something better because if it were all up to me, why would I pray?
Step Three: Breathe like I am setting down a burden and have something to live for by expanding at my true waist (where mom jeans hit)
Step Four: Now that I’ve moved from Survive (Sternum) to Alive (Abdomen), I’ll breathe down into my sides and floor to Thrive (Thides–see what I did there?). This is where breathing and prayer coalesce into a brilliant moment of meditation.*
Step Five: My thoughts pause, and I petition God in prayer: “I’m about to spend a whole day with four kids. Please help me to be with them. Help me stay in the present with them.”
Those weren’t the words I had expected to say. But they’ll do. I pop back up and find I have some momentum after all.
Attending to kids and the morning routine, looking up a tried-and-true muffin recipe only to change up ingredients on the fly, and deliberating between enchiladas and soup so I can use ingredients about to go bad (don’t tell) for dinner to take a friend.
Why I chose to make dinner for a friend on the same day as a scheduled power outage, I will never know. I like to think I’m living life on the edge. “But the edge of what?” you may ask. You’ll soon find out.
I do have a backup plan, though, for cooking without power. My youngest made a solar oven because, as he put it, “I heard you and Dad talking about what we would do in another power outage, and he said you wouldn’t be able to use the stove, so I made you one.”
And at great cost to himself, I might add. He took the two-story home he had made for his two best friends, blankies “Blue” and “Stripy,” and turned the decorated, carpeted, coveted box into a mass of aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and packaging tape. The thing could have carried his blankies to Mars. It also hasn’t even melted a marshmallow while sitting in front of a blazing-hot fire. Perhaps next year when the sun comes out again, the solar oven will finally get to shine.
I need to drive my son to an activity and then pick up my daughter’s friend for their first bff time outside of school. We need to leave in 30 minutes. I got this.
But only if I skip the exercise and shower I’d planned. No problem. I did some intense yoga yesterday, and it’s raining buckets out there.
About the time we were supposed to be loading into the car, my son informs me he has no plans to leave the house, and my other daughter goes into “you never told me that!” mode. I persuade the son by saying something about Veteran’s Day, but when it’s just me and my older daughter inside, my momentum slams me right into her brick wall, and we have a brief explosion. I don’t remember now how we resolve it, but we do, and I leave the house with four kids, four masks, lots of rain boots, and a plan to continue overdoing it.
We drop off a kid, pick up a kid, borrow my friend’s free downtown parking, and walk into our first stop. And where do I take four kids on this go-go-go morning? An antique shop, of course.
The owner has literally just unlocked the doors when my raucous horde comes tearing into her shop looking for a birthday present for a seven-year-old. My husband’s cousin has plenty of toys, so I thought we would look for something unique. Clearly my brain was on Mars when I made that plan. Or it’s just getting squishy like a marshmallow trying to melt.
The next several minutes become something of an out-of-body experience. I watch myself shepherd four hands-on children as I move purposefully from one themed display to the next and wonder what that woman expects to find for a child whose birthday theme has something to do with Flat Stanley–a heavy-duty bulletin board from a 1950s diner? Paper dolls? It’s hard to say, but she makes a full circle without anyone breaking anything. The woman, however, looks like she’s nearing a breakdown.
I feel myself return to my body as I remember to breathe again, buy a pair of non-antique socks for someone else, and get the heck out of Dodge.
We walk down the street to a store that sells tea, yarn, and gifts. They also keep a cat around, so bringing my animals in reminds the kids “this is how domesticated creatures behave.” I have unknowingly authorized their random licking and incessant yowling.
We find one of those 3-D dinosaur model kits with hundreds of pieces that start out flat and then travel throughout your entire home before ever becoming a dinosaur. Unearthing ancient relics is a gift that keeps on giving.
The stroll downtown is rather nice. I even tell the kids to go ahead and jump in the puddles. Live it up, I say.
I gather everyone into the car, thank my friend for the free parking, and offer to pick up her son, who is also at the aforementioned activity. I suddenly see the image of seven guys on a scooter because of my kids’ favorite comedy group, Studio C. Fortunately, number seven lives close enough he can walk home.
I pick up my son, and he has received, among some valuable time spent with a grandpa-aged U.S. veteran, a number of tools for a survival kit. He demonstrates wisdom beyond his ADHD as he hands over the knife and the fire-starter. God bless America and everything it stands for: having the greatest blessings available to us and gaining the wisdom to use them only for good. And for overmedicating our kids with Ritalin. It has surely saved many lives.
Back to this one-day-at-a-time adventure. Have we concluded our outings for the morning? Not a bit.
I bring the kids to a safe place: the library. Not a cavernous university library where everyone shushes the unsilent, but a tiny community space where children are encouraged to explore their world. It does contain valuables that can be destroyed, I might add, which I know because of $23 and a book we now own whose pages soaked up what looks like a dripped enchilada.
So let’s check out some more books the same day I make enchiladas for my family! Like I said, living on the edge.
I let the kids browse in the PG/G section while a composed, neatly dressed woman updates my address and re-issues lost cards for me and my older son. I promise myself I’ll wear pearls and be just as dignified as her when I teach my class tonight. I take in her whole outfit, her tame hair, and probably begin to smile to myself. In a kind of creepy way. She even has neat handwriting! I’m smitten. I look at the clock and jerk my brain back to reality.
I round up kids to check out their finds. My younger daughter asks if she can have a library card. Why, yes, of course! Despite being taught during distance learning in a pandemic, this tall wonder now reads!
In what feels like a ceremonious walk to the circulation desk, I forget all else and gaze in wonder at my daughter. This is what success feels like. I mean for her. My success doesn’t depend on her. I remember just in time.
Elsewhere another success has taken place. At the information desk, the hippies of yesteryear had gotten bored and offered to lend my son his very own ukulele for a week. Having only a dollar store excuse-for-a-ukulele and a hand-me-down he’d received because he’d broken it, he gladly accepts this wondrous offer.
I break away from my reverie in time to see a black case (is there a gun in there?!) placed into my son’s hands with an admonition to “have fun with this!”
In my mind I dive forward in slow motion to block the hand-off with a “NOOOOOO!” as I take one for the team.
But I am with my children today, so I opt to share in my son’s excitement.
“Mom, they gave me a ukulele!”
“Wow! A knife and a ukulele, and it’s not even noon!” It’s like Halloween never ended, and when this town runs out of candy, they start handing out weapons.
Then my daughter, library card in hand, steps forward. “May I check one out, too? I want that pink one.” Now my smile is a lie because of what I’m actually thinking.
“Oh, you don’t have to give her one too. She’s very tall for her age. Not nearly as responsible as I’ve made her sound. She eats enchiladas while pretending to read just to get free unicorn books. You don’t want to–.” They hand her her own black case anyway.
I grab my younger son’s hand before he sees that they have a ukulele in his favorite color and race out of that danger zone (how you’ve betrayed me!) with five kids and not one, but two of them with what look like rifle cases strapped to their backs. Later I find a checkout paper in my pocket for the ukulele. It reads, “Purchasing this item would have cost you $98.” How comforting.
The day takes a positive turn when we arrive home to my disaster zone, and while I slop together some enchiladas (the power is still on hooray hooray!), our little guest puts herself to work cleaning my house. I’m not kidding. This sweet child sees the mess, analyzes it, turns chaos into order again, and then beams at me proudly when I turn around to see this astounding surprise.
Apparently her mom used to clean houses, and she would go along, and since it helped them finish more quickly, she would also clean. She politely asks if she can work on the living room, and I just nod my head with my mouth still hanging open. I think she and my kids are from different planets. Though I should acknowledge that her bff had peeled a giant butternut squash for me earlier just because it looked fun.
This day goes on. A half hour later I pile three kids in the car (my two oldest opt out of the birthday party), drop off the friend, drop off the dinner, and drive through three towns to the birthday party, where I plan to just drop off my kids and drive to yet another town to *fingers crossed* go to two stores before my kids are the last to be picked up and begin to feel abandoned.
But it turns out that it isn’t that kind of birthday party. The moms arrive and then stay.
Sit. Stay. Both commands I don’t respond well to. But I sit with my thoughts for a moment and ask if I really have to buy groceries, find a specific wood stain, and replace a broken water dispenser for chickens. I relent. The chickens don’t need wood stain or groceries.**
What I mean is I don’t have to do those things today. So I stay, after I leave to run one errand, that is.
I drop some borrowed items off at my in-laws’ home. And who do I find? Three more people who were supposed to be at the birthday party but who thought the ending time was the beginning time.
So we’re four guys in a truck, and I make one last attempt at working this to my advantage. One of these people is a trusted teenager who could maybe help watch my kids while I sneak away on those all-important errands.
But I return to the party and discover it’s already cupcake-licking time (do you know where green poop comes from?), and all six of us pile into the truck, a check engine light comes on, my father-in-law clears it, and I see it as the final sign that I am overdoing it. It’s time to go home and let go of my other plans.
You mean there’s more? Yes, there is always more.
I teach a Bible study class that I invite the community to every Thursday, and though our group is tiny, we are learning a ton. We had missed a couple weeks due to schedule conflicts and, um, only me showing up last week, so I wanted to finally teach about the Mary/Martha moment that we all like to guilt ourselves with as women.
I think I could possibly let hubby take care of dinner while I have a tiny snooze so I can pull off the teaching gig. Somehow I will still show up for everyone.
At the last major intersection before getting home, the lights from traffic and cars begin to look like a beautiful display of Christmas lights. And it isn’t just because of the watercolor effect of rain on my windshield. I am falling asleep.
I know I would be stupid to get home only to turn around and drive more while feeling this sleepy. But I’m so close! I want to finish the course, endure to the end, make a strong finish, clean my plate–choose your favorite mantra–I am going to make it!
I get home and make the call. No Bible class tonight. I go to bed early while kids watch a movie.
But first we sit down for a chicken enchilada dinner, and my very reluctant eater takes one look and threatens to run away from home over the injustice he was just served. I yawn and say, “You know those survival tools you were given? I put all the safe ones into a bag for you and added a few more things I thought you might like. Just promise to check in occasionally so I know you’re ok.”
He eats an entire half of an enchilada. Booyah. Talk about enduring to the bitter end.
I give more thought to that phrase, though, endure to the end.
I remember a friend from when we lived in Utah. She referred to this scripture in some thoughts she shared in our church service one Sunday. The verse reads, “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
She shared several thoughts, but what I remember is her description of how she used to view enduring to the end: “It sounds like you’re in an endless game of dodgeball, and you have to just put up with life pelting you with problems.”
A few years later when we lived in Colorado, I taught the women’s group at church about enduring to the end. My nursing background told me that induration, which shares its Latin root with endure, refers to a firm area that can develop in damaged soft tissue as it heals. I concluded that enduring to the end could mean that we become more firm in our faith as we lean into our challenges (press forward) and let the Lord help heal us.
But what is the end this phrase refers to? Some declarations, like Paul’s in the New Testament, make the end sound like a finish line in a race, i.e., “I have finished my course.” It makes sense. I like to give myself a finish line, a light at the end of the tunnel, when my current struggles threaten to end me.
Does end have another meaning? As in, “To what end does Elissa write these endless blogs?”
Aha! It means purpose, objective, goal. Something only seems endless if it’s pointless (and my blogs, I might point out, do have a point…eventually).
As I lay in bed wishing I’d been awake enough to at least watch a movie with the kids (I mean, I had prayed to be with my kids, and we’d be side-by-side for a whole 90 minutes I bet). I reflect on the day and ask if I’d really been with my kids. And here’s where the blog post title ties into lyrics from a song.
I’ve always been haunted by a country song (I could have ended the sentence there) called “You’re Gonna Miss This.“
I know I’d heard it before, but one evening in the late summer of 2008, I drove into a blinding sunset on my way to a night shift at the children’s intensive care unit; and because I had grown weary of all my burned CDs, I decided to listen to the radio. Baking hot with pregnancy, I shifted in my seat as the lyrics rolled out:
You’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this…
“Nah,” I thought. “I’m not going to miss this. Because if this is the good stuff, count me out. I don’t get along with pregnancy one little bit, and I know way more than I should about taking care of babies. No picnic on that cakewalk through the park, no matter how you spin it. I’ve signed up for hard time.”
By the end of the song, though, the dazzle of sunlight in teary eyes said otherwise.
But why? Why would I miss this? How could those words make we want to scream in anger and weep with sweet sadness all at once?
I still didn’t quite know the answer ten years later when a future friend, the well-meaning husband of the woman I quoted earlier, said, “You’re gonna miss this” to me as some sort of consolation. He was helping my in-laws with a home project, and he had just witnessed me packing all six of my in-laws’ grandchildren in my car for their (late) ride to school, if they lasted that long.
What I said in response is very different from what I wished I could have said.
I think I smiled as amiably as I could and said, “No, I won’t. But thank you.”
What I wanted to say was, “I would punch you, but the kids are watching, and I just got through telling them we don’t hit.” I probably also knew he was right, which made me even more mad: “Don’t you tell me how to feel! I’m mad, and I just want to be mad for a while” (yes, this proves I went through a country kick the summer of 2002).
Dear reader, I haven’t forgotten you. You’re going to make it to the end of this post (country song version: you’re gonna make it). I promise I am about to tie it all together.
So now those words have haunted me, especially as I watch the time fly at ever increasing speed. My younger two wearing all the hand-me-downs from their older counterparts, and I can hardly keep up with whose laundry is whose now because “she can’t already be big enough for her sister’s favorite fox jammies!” But thinking I’ll look back and miss this isn’t what I’m really afraid of.
I’m afraid that I’m missing it right now. That life is happening right before me, and I’m too overwhelmed, too distracted, too impervious to soak any of it in.
Today I didn’t feel so afraid.
I ask myself what made the difference. I’m doing well on all my self-care, but even then, the number of perfect storm components I had unleashed on myself were staggering. By all accounts, Elissa would normally have spun herself into a spitting fury of incomprehensible shame-and-blame games that defied all logic, stormed off to her room, and then returned to make apologies. Again.
So what made this a day for the books? Maybe it wasn’t just the insanity I’d committed to. I thought of all the moments when I was with my children. With them in their excitement, in their frustration, in their sense of accomplishment, joy, satisfaction, and discovery. I was with them, and time can’t take that away. It is theirs forever.
Prayer. Prayer made the difference. And not just some rote performance to prove that I am adhering to the tenets of my religion and thereby qualifying myself for blessings. That is a great place to start because we all need good habits, daily strengthening, and the opportunity to prove that God rewards effort. But could it be more?
Another friend (a mother of six!!) has become an influential voice in my life. She thinks of prayer as a time to be with God. It sounded so true when she said it, but I couldn’t think of how to practice that.
When I received the advice to just breathe and pray, it reminded me of a talk by Russel M. Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was addressed to the priesthood holders in the Church, but it is applicable to everyone. Here is the part that most caught my attention:
“Too many people consider repentance as punishment—something to be avoided except in the most serious circumstances. But this feeling of being penalized is engendered by Satan. He tries to block us from looking to Jesus Christ, who stands with open arms, hoping and willing to heal, forgive, cleanse, strengthen, purify, and sanctify us.
The word for repentance in the Greek New Testament is metanoeo. The prefix meta- means “change.” The suffix -noeo is related to Greek words that mean “mind,” “knowledge,” “spirit,” and “breath.”
Thus, when Jesus asks you and me to “repent,” He is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our [spouses], teach our children, and even care for our bodies.”
Bingo. I repent by changing the way I breathe when I pray. If I want to be with God in prayer, I start with how I breathe. How I draw life into my body shapes my communion with God, and it shapes my life one breath at a time. I let his will rest upon me and learn what to ask for, what to offer.
I draw not only physical life, but eternal life, into my soul when I pray like this because that is what God promises me. That is why he asks me to choose his path, repent, and endure to the end. Then I can live out my purpose, and right now my purpose is to be in my life. Right now. I won’t have to later ask if I missed it because I’ll know I was fully there. And when I wasn’t fully there, I trust God will restore what I lost. That is what daily repentance, or true prayer, brings me. A perfect, a complete, fulfillment of my ever-expanding potential.
As I drift off in my deep thinking, my husband comes to tell me that the power never did go out. The outage has been rescheduled for December 1st. So the real question is, who wants me to bring them dinner that night? I’m feeling adventurous.
*SAT, pronounced sat. It’s my new therapy for moms at home whose house-leaving spouse and/or kids come back home, and upon seeing the woman of the home in the same place they left her rocking her baby, ask if she just sat there all day long. Now she can breathe through that “If-I-Weren’t-So-Exhausted-I-Would-Punch-You moment,” close her eyes, and nod her head slowly in agreement. And from a mom who rarely sits, I give you permission to look back at those moments and say, “I’m glad I SAT that one out.”
**This is an editor’s humor coming out in me. I love reading this sort of sentence: “I spent the day cooking, eating, and playing with my dog” because it proves that other people play with their food, not just my older son.