(Found this saved in my drafts - I shelved it there, declaring it "not quite perfect," and promptly forgot about it. I should have published it, so I am now. It's not Advent anymore - we're barreling through Lent - but the sentiments still ring true for me.)
"Today, I will be calm and patient," I breathed to myself, watching my perfect little one sleep in the crook of my arm. The article promised I'd be unflappable, as long as I believed the truth I said aloud. Calm and patient, all day long. I was awake before Betsy for the first time in ages - I had time to set an intention for the day, for crying out loud. Perhaps that was the problem - I didn't say it loudly enough.
Today has not been calm, and I have not been patient. We are four weeks into a 7- week kitchen remodel, which means we are currently cooking and eating out of our upstairs bathroom. Betsy thinks it's awesome. Done with your sweet potatoes? Just toss 'em in the tub. I'm slightly less enthused with the prospect of living off a dorm-sized fridge and toaster over until Christmas.
Today, I've cleaned pee off the floor, poop out of the tub, and thrice sopped up the contents of a sippy cup that has never before leaked a drop. We missed an appointment because my keys went missing amidst the construction craziness. I found them three hours later, in the pocket of a coat that was shoved under a trunk in the playroom. Are you kidding me?
The cleaning lady cancelled. The water from the tap tasted funny and so I was thirsty. Betsy is getting her first two molars. All I want for Christmas is a goddamned break.
I prayed at the beginning of this season that I wouldn't treat Advent as something to be gotten through, wishing away the days until Christmas. And yet our kitchen is slated to be functional by December 23rd, and all I can do is count the days until we are no longer living like nomads. Because then it will be better.
Isn't that always how it works? That's how I think about things, anyway. Our days will be better once our kitchen isn't in our scary, not-fit-for-company bathroom. Motherhood will be better once this tooth breaks through, once Betsy can walk, once she can talk, once everyone gets just a tiny bit more sleep. Our marriage will be better once we learn to communicate, once we get a vacation, once we finish this pint of ice cream. Once once once once once. These things come, their arrival is heralded, life changes -- but hard things are still hard.
These days, life is feeling an awful lot like Betsy's favorite bear hunt. "Oh-oh! A hot mess! A swirling, twirling hot mess! We can't go under it, we can't go over it. We've got to go through it!" Oh oh, indeed.
Life looks so very little like I thought it would sometimes.
I took the top picture right before Betsy's nap. It's been a doozy of a day, and the only thing I could think of to cheer myself up was putting her in elf pajamas. It worked, for a few minutes. And when I look back on today, that's what I'll remember. I'll remember her rosy cheeks in these days before Christmas. I'll remember that missing our appointment prompted me to pull out the art supplies, and that Betsy got to paint for the first time. (She did more gnawing on the paintbrush than anything else, but I treasure her first masterpiece just the same). We used up every sticker in the house and I smile just thinking about her little face twisted in concentration, trying to unstick the star from her finger and affix it to the paper instead. She works so very hard sometimes.
What you don't see in that picture is that she has cried every time I've put her down today and my back is sore from hauling all 24 pounds of her around. The picture doesn't show you that I snapped at her minutes later for unplugging my iPhone and throwing the white noise machine on the floor. It doesn't show you that I'm not confident in setting boundaries right now, that toddlerhood is testing my limits and that Betsy has feelings big enough for the two of us, feelings that make me almost as uncomfortable as they make her. The picture just shows us smiling. It's how I want to remember this. It's how I think it's supposed to be.
It was almost three by the time I ate lunch - an Amy's frozen burrito bowl, hastily consumed over the sink of the kitchen-bathroom-trainwreck, trying not to drop any on the sleeping head tucked just beneath my chin. I sat down in the rocking chair and my morning's intention came roaring back. Calm and patient? More like anything but. "I wish I could tattoo BREATHE on my inner arm," I thought. I wasn't sure how much clearly I could remind myself. I looked down at my wrist, where moments before I'd flicked off an errant star sticker and thought of Thomas Merton's great prayer.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton // Thoughts in Solitude // Abbey of Gethsemani
I was not calm today, and I certainly was not patient. But I wanted to be. That has to count for something.