The “I’ve had it with these kids” tone in her voice was unmistakable. Every mother of a brood of little ones relates. I actually love it when my daughter-in-law calls to relate my grandchildren’s latest shenanigans and mess-making adventures; I am far enough removed from the situation to see the humor in it — and I don’t have to clean up the messes! I live only three blocks from this brood of children that I love so much and consequently share so many of the blessings. I can also offer perspective. I know these years will pass swiftly, and soon these busy parents will be looking back on the years when their home was filled with little ones with nostalgia, as I am with my children. In the meantime, I enjoy watching my grandchildren gow and hearing about their escapades.
Here’s what I recorded in my journal about one of my daughter-in-law’s calls when she had only two children: She was cleaning up a mess two-year-old Malachi had made pouring Cream of Wheat on the floor in the pantry when she noticed that Nathan, not quite one, was scattering and eating dirt from plants in the living room. While she went to get him out of the plants, Malachi got water all over the bathroom floor. She put Malachi in his crib and went back to clean up the dirt and Nathan crawled in the water in the bathroom and got himself soppy wet. Malachi started screaming and Heidi found out he had poked a pretzel up his nose. Later she caught Malachi throwing spoons from the silverware drawer into the garbage and suddenly knew why her spoons had been disappearing.
Today, I sit in my empty-nest, quiet home contemplating the load this remarkable daughter-in-law has handled with such grace over the years. She and my oldest son have nine children now. Malachi, the oldest, turned 16 in July. Where did the years go? How can my three oldest grandsons already be taller than I am? In the meantime, the latest mess-makers keep busy doing things to make me laugh. Ellie, who now is the two-year-old in the family, recently filled her shoes with sugar from the pantry and scribbled all over herself with permanent black marker. I admit I’m glad I’m the grandma this time around, the one who only hears about the messes and can sleep through the night. I really get the best of both worlds! I enjoy having children over often and I find utter delight in them, but can take them home when I run out of steam.
My contemplation is more poignant today because I’ve just been reading my spotty journal from 1975-77. When I read it, I wonder how I managed to write anything at all when I was so busy. I tell of delivering my fourth son just 12 months after the third, and my fifth son 2 ½ years later. But my entries were mostly upbeat and sometimes downright hilarious — they are to me now, at least!
For instance, I listed ways I could tell I had a houseful of babies and little boys: dead grasshoppers in with the paper clips; a perpetual variety of colors and flavors of slobbers on the left shoulder of all my clothes; toys, rocks, crackers and pennies in my bed; clay, gum, jam and peanut butter on carpets and in kids’ hair; tiny teeth marks in the cheese; fingerprints in the butter, a toothbrush stuck in the honey.
One entry in 1976 caught my eye. “This afternoon David filled Benji’s ears with green eye-shadow and Benji smeared gooey chocolate on the velvet-flocked wallpaper. I found the vacuum extenders in the toilet. They told me they had been “fishing” but gave up when they didn’t catch any. I found the oven-racks in the bedroom, and the dishcloths and hot pads laid out in a creative pattern on the piano bench.” I concluded the entry with: “The way things go around here I can’t help think what a boring existence childless families must have and how little opportunity to learn patience. (Sometimes I’d like fewer opportunities!)”
The thing that floors me is that those entries feel like things that happened yesterday, not almost forty years ago! The song-phrase, “Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years,” is my reality. When my sons were little and underfoot every minute, I thought those years would never end. Yet before I could even blink, they had flown and so had the kids!
Why Don’t You Grow Up?
When I still had a houseful of little ones, I found this column by Erma Bombeck and cut it out. Little did I know how quickly I’d be on the other side of it all:
One of these days you’ll shout, “Why don’t you kids grow up and act your age!” And they will. You’ll straighten up the boy’s bedroom, neat and tidy … bumper stickers discarded. … spread tucked and smooth … the toys displayed on the shelves … hangers in the closet … animals caged. And you’ll say out loud, “Now I want it to stay this way.” And it will.
You’ll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn’t been picked to death and a cake with no finger traces in the icing and you’ll say, “Now, here’s a meal fit for company.” And you’ll eat it alone. You’ll say, “I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No pantomimes. Silence. Do you hear me?” And you’ll have it. No more plastic tablecloths stained with spaghetti … no more bedspreads to protect the sofa from damp bottoms … no more gates to stumble over at the top of the stairs … no more playpens to arrange a room around. No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent. No more sand on the sheets or Popeye comics in the bathroom. No more iron-on patches … wet knotted shoestrings, tight boots … finding rubber bands for pony tails. No PTA meetings. No car pools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o’clock at night. Having your own roll of Scotch tape −that stays there! Think about it. No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. No knees to kiss, no 24/7 responsibility. Only a voice crying, “Why don’t you grow up?” And the silence echoing, “We did!”
Accepting the Stage of Life We Are In
In the booklet To Be a Mother: the Agonies and the Ecstasies, Emma Lou Thayne expresses the same idea eloquently in her essay, The Letting Go. She said, “One day they simply are gone! The house they filled is part of their history . . . And even as their departures were everything we could have hoped for, each time it was hard.” She concludes, “The lesson I must learn is to have faith, deal in my own strength, and let go. A loving Creator will take care of us all. And send us the peace that passes understanding.”
And so I determine to appreciate the good in the stage of life I’m in now. I have the assurance of the Lord’s loving care of each of us, no matter what age or stage we may be in. For every loss, a gain, for every stage of parenting there are challenges and joys, agonies and ecstasies. For those whose homes are still full of little ones, treasure your days with them! The years do fly swiftly, but for every sunset there is a sunrise.