They are dancing. Arms and legs, still limber and growing, are flailing. They move unencumbered by any fear of others, in the way only children can. They are giggling; throwing their heads back as their laughter weaves its way above the music. They are lost to this moment. And I am found.
It is all I want. In my large bucket of wants, of wishes, it is what rises to the surface, again and again. My children are home. They are happy and free. They are healthy. And, they are actually enjoying this life together.
It was when I was 16. I opened a square box on Christmas morning, anxiously. Carefully, I unwrapped a detailed crystal bell. It was beautiful, and much too fine to go in my messy room. “It’s for later,” my Grandpa said. “To remember us by. I want you to have beautiful things when I am gone.” “Thank you,” I choked, around the rock in my throat, as I hurried to wrap it back up, to place it back in its thick box. To make it safer again and prolong the inevitable. It had not occurred to me that my Grandpa would die and I would be left here without the safety net of his love. I no longer wanted that bell. What good are fine things without fine people?
So it stayed. Hidden in its box, on a shelf of my closet. Through the next summer when the diagnosis came. Through the months of treatment that followed, and ultimately, failed.
It was years before my heart had built a scab thick enough to see the bell without breaking completely. It is only now that I am a Mommy that I appreciate that kind of foresight. Only now that I understand being loved longer than a lifetime.
My children are dancing. It is not always so. There are arguments and name calling, selfishness, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings almost every day. But there is love. There are hugs and kisses, tickles, generosity, and forgiveness. We are a family. As we forge our paths, we do it together. Our family is the place where all of our puzzling pieces fit. As the Mommy, I am always quick to correct division. To not just say, “Get along”, but to make sure they know how to love.
It is a lot of work, this business of raising five whole people. But it won’t be like this forever. Neither will I. So I’m giving my children this gift that will last longer than me. This buffer between them and alone. Not fine china or crystal, but a family that is also the most faithful of friends. Siblings to waltz through this life with. Because I want them to have beautiful things, even when I’m gone.
Two days ago, I failed. I still haven’t forgiven myself. It was definitely one of those drowning in the mommy muck, with no vine to pull yourself out by, kind of days. A whole day of feeling unkind.
I had spent two full days the week before painting my dining room. Turning drab beige and wall murals into the perfect shade of Totem Taupe. Replacing my just-moved-in-need-something-on-the-wall decorations with ones that are intentional. Lavishing my dining room with the attention I so rarely give to only one room of my house, or anything. And then, it happened.
“Mo-om! Calliope’s drawing on the walls with markers!” Now, if that sentence did not make your blood pressure instantly go up, then you, well, then you are a better person than I am. I jumped from my chair as if it were on fire. In 30 seconds, my little Picasso had drawn a three-piece mural, on two walls, in dark brown marker. And I did it, I yelled, “NO, NO!” Then I walked away, partly to get cleaning supplies, partly to calm down. Because, at that point, Mommy needed a time-out.
I washed the wall desperately. And God bless whoever invented semi-gloss paint, the marker came off. Too easily, because I was still angry. Only now I was angry at myself for yelling at a two-year old, and I felt ashamed of myself. I forced myself to calm down, then made things right with my daughter. She bounced back quicker than the wall had. But I have not. I hate yelling. Hate the thought of raising my voice at children, especially my children. I despise how two words can come out, loudly, and charge the air with hurt. And, worse, how you cannot un-yell.
See, it’s been building. The slow burn of all the stresses in my life piling up. I’ve been feeling like I am juggling plates over concrete. And the people around me don’t think to catch any of the plates. Or even to throw a pad of rubber at my feet, to lessen the pressure. They either point out which patterns on the plates they dislike, or comment on how full my hands are. I have to keep them going. They are up, up, then falling towards me again. Catch and release.
But, this morning, something changed. I woke up early in the 5 o’clock hour. And before the stresses of the day could mount their attack, I saw it. Felt it. The gentle light from the still rising sun. It’s my favorite. The inexplicable calm, the white glow of dawn. Not the angry, yellow-orange burning of midday. The peace of fresh mercy when a day has just begun.
I realized that I’ve forgotten to have fun this week. Fun! Fun is my signature color. And, I’d forgotten it. I have no interest in a house filled with beautiful things, if the halls do not echo with laughter. I want my children to enjoy our days together, to smile when they remember me. To share private jokes and have joy with memories. I want to be a joyful mom. So that it what I choose.
Sometimes it takes courage to put the plates down. But this is my day, I alone get to choose what goes in it. Today, all I need to hold are my children’s hands as I lead them, laughing, to fun.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a 9 year old waiting for me to beat him at Farkle….
So, this is it. Today is the last day anyone will consider you an infant. And, since you are the last child that I will bear, this is also the last day I will ever have an infant of my own. Tomorrow you will turn one. One. Such a simple three letter word to sum up 365 days of getting to know you. I, of course, have many thoughts on this. My Mommy heart feels even now the familiar tug-of-war that comes with watching your children grow. The happy/sad way of looking into the rear view mirror of how little you used to be, while going forward towards who you are becoming.
So, let me say, it is an honor to be your Mommy. You continue to be one of my greatest joys. I love you. I love spending time with you. I love every minute of watching your personality and preferences emerge from the cocoon of “baby”. You are lovely. You make everyday better, just by being in it. While we are both still figuring out who you are, and while you have the absolute freedom to change who that is at any time, I will tell you what I have found out about you so far.
You are joyful. You bring joy wherever you go. At home, at the grocery store, at church, at the park, everywhere. People are always smiling when they see you. Strangers talk to me about you at every outing. Your siblings quarrel over who gets to hold you next. You awake happy and smiling every morning, and I swear the pink/yellow/blue ribbons of dawn cannot compete with the light you bring to our home.
You are amazing. You have the best dimples in the known world. You have the discernment to dislike peas. You relish every bite of sweet potatoes. You believe there is no bad way to cook a white potato. Your eyes sparkle. You are sweet. You like to pat my back when I hold you. You love cuddles. You wave things away when you don’t want them, like housewives do a fly. You only cry in earnest. You love to play in water. You laugh when people tell you no. You wave like a small-town princess on the best float in the parade.
Your first words were Mama and Hi. You wave and say hi more times in a day than I knew was possible. You love baby dolls. You dance when you hear music. You clap when people applaud for you. You enjoy no part of getting dressed. Or having your diaper changed. You love road trips. You talk louder in the car than you do outside or in the house. You love soft things, especially blankets and stuffed animals. You love to stand up. You think sneezes are funny. You fake cough to get attention, and it always works. You are wonderful.
But even more than all these things, I know that you are loved. You are the perfect finale to our family. You have made us complete, whole. You are exactly who we needed. Holding you for the first time felt like finding what I didn’t know was lost. Like the last piece of a beautiful puzzle being finally placed in it’s center. Like coming home.
Tomorrow we will celebrate the day that you came into our arms and lives, and the 364 days that followed. We will have cake in spite of the controversy of sugar. We will give you presents that mean more to us, probably, than to you. And we will spend time being what you have made us better at, being a family. But for today, just let me hold you, while you are still a baby….