I have often thought of this season of life like a giant math problem. Which is ironic because I wasn’t very good at math, in fact I was so bad at math I was in 2 math classes because it took me twice as long to learn the subject. However I have thought of life with littles as an A+B=C situation and then have driven myself crazy trying to get to C, whatever that may be.
When the kids were all really little, like 3 of them under 4, the formula was essential to my sanity. It felt something like this: Clean hands + healthy food= healthy kids. Or safe car+ best car seats= safe kids. Or devotionals + church= kids that loved Jesus. In reality it played out like clean hands (ish) + healthy food (sometimes)= stomach bug no matter what. In reality the boundaries just made me feel the illusive sense of control that you never actually have with children. I really believed though if I could just check some boxes life would be neat and clean. It wasn’t that any of it was bad, it was just at some point my kids aged out of the equation. At some point I became so consumed with keeping order that I missed the real beauty in the chaos. The problem with formulas is they have no heart behind them.
I was thinking about this all week as I watched my life from a spectators view. On Monday Colbie busted through the door after finding a lizard, hands caked in mud, telling me the whole story as I cooked dinner. Another day, Claire got off the bus crying when a boy at school looked at her the wrong way (lord help us in puberty). Then there was Briggs telling me he just felt sad sometimes and then 10 minutes later when his heart and head were clear watching him bound out the door laughing as the dog nipped at his heels. Then there was Benji, who was so happy to be the family clown that he jumped on the patio table and did the chicken dance because everyone laughed. All these little moments that add up to family. All these are either small opportunities to love my kids in big ways or are a chance for me to grapple for control as it slips through my hands.
Life is just a beautiful mess, one moment melting into the next and the only formulas that work are in the form of recipes, and even then I often use a lot of freedom when I measure. The formula feels comforting though, like if I could just tweak enough things I could get the perfect product (not in human form of course just life form). Looking back its easy to see how many little moments I missed in an attempt to “manage” chaos.
Ben found Claire’s diary this week, and like any good parent, he took pictures of entries and read them to me. Each page was just filled with moments, things that felt insignificant to me but were her whole world. My responses and lack thereof often changed the whole trajectory of her day. If I was busy then I was short, or worse dismissive, of things that felt sad to her (this resulted in a frowning unicorn because she is still a 9 year old girl) and when I stood in the moment with her and loved her then she was just fine (insert smiling unicorn).
This is so much scarier than the formula because it is unpredictable. Every time I wait at the bus stop I am unsure of what will step off. When I open their door for bedtime I have no clue what kind of mood is waiting in that bed. I am wading into the ocean of their life and prepared to have waves of their emotions and situations crash into me. A formula would be so much easier. It would keep things neat and clean but matters of the heart are rarely neat or clean and my kids need my heart. They need me to see their needs without fear of being able to “manage” them. They need me to really listen, not simply try to solve the problem. They need me to acknowledge their real hurt, no matter how small the offense, and they need comfort. They need me to wade into the ocean with a lifeboat, not stand on the shore reminding them to swim.
I have done a lot of shore standing in the last two years. I hate to throw the covid card out but like my sister in law says, it’s a conversational tax we all pay. The last two years have been so unpredictable that the sight of the frayed edges of my children’s hearts were overwhelming. Any small injury or illness was a reminder that there is no formula for this and the outcome is a question mark. I was still hoping I could formula them into a predictable life. This is all especially ironic considering how often I remind them that the only thing they can control is their own response. Even now though, with covid seemingly in the rearview mirror, I struggle to remind myself that control isn’t the name of the game.
What if this messy, undone, and unglued heart is the best kind of love I can give my kids? What if Easter rolls around this year and I really believe Jesus came for the unkempt version of myself? What if I just held them close when they were upset, smoothed their hair when they were hurt, and reminded myself I can only control my response when they tell me I’m the worst? What if I leave the formula behind for something better… trust in my Savior? What if I unclench my hands and whisper “your will” no matter what waits in the unknown? Life will still feel like a cold splash of water some days. It will still surprise me with both its brutality and its beauty. It will still be wildly alive and sometimes dull. It will always be a beast I was never meant to control.