a laughter a day

I think nearly everybody comes to the same conclusion as they get older: time goes quickly. When you look back from a far enough distance, everything is foreshortened. The long twelve months of the year 2020. The everlasting nights when you woke up every two hours to feed a baby. The ninth month of pregnancy. Or the days between knowing you get to adopt and then taking that beloved human home for the first night. Grad school. High school even. The never-ending night after you broke up with your first girlfriend or boyfriend. Things lose their length in hindsight. Things in the mirror are closer than they appear.

But we say this about parenting more than anything else. Enjoy every moment. The years fly by. Blink and it’s over. One day they’re babies and the next they’re going off to college. It might all be as true as Moses but that doesn’t help the days that feel everlasting right here, right now, washing out this poopy underwear or biting your tongue because having “helpers” in the kitchen is the misnomer of the year, or maybe the century. 

However fast the years may be going for the mom-turned-grandma, they’re slow for me. And maybe there’s actually an enchanted blink you make sometime and bam, they’re literally in high school a second later. I have not discovered this. In the meantime, the seconds are long and the minutes are long and the days are long. Hindsight shortens but the present lengthens enough to balance it out, apparently. And no matter how delightful or funny or obedient or enjoyable my two babes are for much of the time, there’s still much that’s otherwise. Enjoying every moment sounds helpful and typical and trite and it sounds impossible. It is impossible. So I have learned to set my sights on a different goal.

We don’t enjoy every moment. But we do try to laugh every day. I remember when I was mama to a baby just trying out laughter, him just beginning to understand bubbly joy and the glimmerings of humor. He laughed when we swung him up in the air. He laughed when we played peek-a-boo. He laughed when we jumped up and down or danced around the kitchen or tipped him upside down. And I began to try to find all the ways I could to make him laugh, because they were fleeting. Shaking the Pooh rattle one day was just right and a week later he’d want nothing to do with it. Singing in a silly voice at bedtime was funny for a while, and later it was jumping jacks when I did my exercise, or crawling around on the floor with him, or letting him try to hold a door closed against me. 

But day by day, the laughs stacked up. We moved from silly movements and mimes to running in circles together or tickling his nose with aspen leaves in the fall. We swooped his booted toes into the snow through the winter and tickled his cheeks when he sat in the swing at the park. Now we make silly faces and race our Hotwheels cars around the roads printed on a play mat in his room. We crash old tonka trucks into each other and mimic each other’s silly faces. I tickle his nose with the pompom of his winter hat. He says “hotdog-uh” in a funny voice. A well-timed tickle on his collarbones still doubles him over with giggles, and when I get the hiccups, he says, “Mommy, are you… are you.. Are you hiking up?” and we both begin to laugh. I’m not the only one trying to bring out the giggles anymore. But our laughter is still piling up. One memory at a time. Each day I hunt it down, that moment of joy, of unrestrained mirth. 

I do it because there is freedom in laughter. There is joy in laughter. There is relationship and humor and comfort and restoration and reconciliation. These are the things I want for my babies. I want to have a bond within which we can laugh, over and over and over. I want us to be comfortable with each other. I want to find joy with them, humor with them, restoration, enjoyment, a life-long series of good times together with which we can weather the bad. 

We don’t laugh all day, every day. Sometimes it’s a real struggle. I’m in a mood. He’s in a mood. Baby Girl might even be in a mood. The way she holds a piece of plum or pie or potato out over the floor and prepares to drop it while she stares me dead in the eye would try the patience of a saint. But most days, even with the whining or the food-dropping or the days when I’ve just barely gotten any sleep and we’re running from the grocery store to the play-date and back again for naps – even then we can find a moment to laugh. Maybe it’s the sheer joy of spotting a train when we were playing I Spy. Maybe it’s the nose-wrinkling way Baby Girl grinned when we babbled at her that brings me and the toddler a laugh. Maybe it’s a tickle war or wrestling or crashing the toy cars gleefully over and over until a finger gets pinched. Somehow. An opportunity rises, and if it doesn’t I create one, and if even that feels like a stretch I help him to create one. Laughter matters like that. No matter how quickly the years might just fly by or pass in that one wild blink, no matter that we’ll always be told to enjoy every moment and we’ll never be able to achieve it – no matter. We have laughter, and we have a lot of it.

seeing

Yesterday we moved most of our summer things up to camp. The back of the truck was full of boxes, the baby boy full of rice and stew. The higher we climbed up Rampart Range, the higher the anxiety mounted in my own heart. We unpacked, stowing our favorite mugs in the cabinets, tucking away canned tuna and steel cut oats in a cupboard, setting bread and tortillas on top of the fridge.

With each thing I unpacked, the stark reality of our summer at camp took on form. I had known the fridge would be small as but I tucked kefir on the top shelf and then negotiated the almond milk behind it I wondered how I would work with this space. I knew there wasn’t a bookshelf but when I stowed my favorite books behind a charming little end table door, I wondered how I would survive in this literary desert. The windows, larger than I had remembered, were covered in window wells and my heart sank a little more. I had planned for Erik to share our room but when I put him down in the pack’n’play, still unhappy after a bottle of milk, I wondered how much more motherhood I could manage for the day.

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I saw the sun shining through a hedge a few days ago. The sidewalk was shadowy and dark but in the gap between the leaves the sun was bright and gold, all the more beautiful for having trickled through the leaves, maybe. And when the sun slips behind the dark-rising mountains in the evening, the colorful rays of evening shine out the more lovely for being ephemeral.

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Perhaps that is the way with all beautiful things. I must learn to see them. The moments of glory in parenting will only shine the brighter when I am looking for them, when I have walked through the frustrations. The small closet, the narrow cupboards, the welled windows; these will all become worthwhile when I have looked for the ways that camp life is shot through with light. The same moment the sun sets, the stars begin to appear. When the challenges rise like the dusky mountains in the evening, the soft rays of joy may just become more beautiful.

Look for the light, my friends.

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example

Morning nap – first nap of the day. Sit you down and read I tell myself. I leave the breakfast dishes, the scattered letter blocks with baby teeth marks, and I begin my mid-morning with scripture. It’s a slow-forming habit. To ignore the sunshine, the messy floors, the urge to spend quiet hours indulging in youtube – it’s not easy. The rewards come slowly, but they come. So I sit with my Bible again.

I don’t like to have a daily time with God unless I have a plan of some kind. Lately, as I attempt to parent well, I have chosen Proverbs as my starting point. I’m reading through the gospels as well, but I start each study time by reading through the chapter in Proverbs that corresponds with the day of the month.

It is four months in; I love the repetition. Again and again I hear the same warnings against adultery, the same urging to seek wisdom, the same need for a fear of the Lord. And again and again Proverbs says “listen, my son”. Each time I’ve read it I’ve thought, What have my parents taught me that I need to remember and listen to right now? Today, God changed what I heard. What do I want Erik to learn from me, and remember?

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That was not a comfortable question.

I want Erik to learn love. I want him to know the “breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” so that he can love others with that same abundance. So then, that is how I need to live. I am pondering now how I can better love others. I want to be somebody who cares, who remembers somebody’s name, who hears their struggle without condemnation.

My mama was a great one for loving people. She’d invite anyone over for holidays if they didn’t have a place to gather. She’d talk to a stranger in the grocery store or a wrong number on the phone for an hour, just because she cared enough to feel their hurts. I want that heritage to run strongly in Erik, so it will need to run strongly in me. I have heard it said that a mother’s biggest contribution to the world may be those she raises. If that is true, then the only way I can truly magnify that contribution is to lead Erik by my own example.

So, here is to living the large love my mother taught me. Listen well, baby boy.

explore

Erik is crawling. He used to scoot around on his blanket from one end to another, searching out the toys I’d scattered across it for him (although they were only ever an alternative to looking for any charging cords we may have left out.) Now he’s on hands and knees, back and forth from one end of the house to the other and almost as fast as me.

He crawls to the washing machine to watch the bright clothes swishing behind the door. He crawls to the reflective oven door and leans towards himself until he bumps his forehead on the glass. He crawls to the broom and touches the bristles that stick out at odd angles. He crawls to the bedroom and stares at the mirror; opens the door, closes the door, opens, closes. Again.

I love it.

He’s exploring and learning and searching and in all this I get to guide him. We go outside on the warm days and he crawls across the patio from one end to the other, touching the grass and marveling at the texture.

“Grass!” I say, “It will turn bright green in the summer, and you’ll learn to run across it barefoot.”

He picks up dried foliage from last fall.

“Leaves!” I say, “They grow green on the trees in the spring, and then in the fall they turn colors and fall down. We’ll make piles of them and jump into them, and hear them crunch under our feet.” I crumple them in my hand for him, “Crunch!” I say. He crawls back to the other end of the patio.

It is all a marvel to me. He smiles when I help him stand. He stares seriously when we go outside. He grins and giggles when I play crawling games and call him over to me. He is piecing together the world. I am piecing together parenting; stringing together happy moments to balance out the hard ones. We learn together.

That is what most of this life is, after all.

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