Parenting through the relentless days of summer exhausts me. I can tell from the moment the two little ones get up if it will be a good day or a bad one. Whether they climb into bed with me and kiss my cheek, or yell for me disconsolately from their room. If they will accept the toast and peanut butter I make while I brew coffee, or cry alligator tears because they desperately want cheez-its for breakfast instead.
I’d like to say I don’t get caught in the rut of conforming to their first instincts to whine and fight or share cheerfully. Instead I mindlessly follow their lead, snapping quickly with irritation to their emergence on the wrong side of the bed.
Yet, I feel so strangely disconnected from my emotions as we march inexorable through the last weeks of summer. Torn equally between longing for quiet days and back-to-school, and weepiness that my baby starts real-big-kid-school this year. I wipe sweat from my brow as we walk to the park, and I cannot even figure out what I’m feeling. Or how to think deeply about hard things.
The wall I have watched myself erect brick-by-brick somehow manages to keep my own heart and head from properly connecting. The protection I seek perhaps isn’t worth the price. Yes, my heart will be unbroken by the pain of loss and rejection and failure; but it will also remain unmoved by the things that sit close to the heart of God. And I’m not sure which side of the fence I fall on: whether or not I’m willing to hazard destroying the wall and facing the risk of pain in order to live, to feel, to be moved.
I’ve made this decision before, to take down the wall, to care for those who might break my heart with loss or failure; only to build it back up again in the midst of the flurry of life. Living unarmored takes remembering fiercely. Choosing daily not to brick and mortar myself in.
Today, I think. Today I will live fully and freely. I will engage my children without too much irritation at the ways they batter my walls. I wont allow irritation to sneak in, to steal joy. But how do I do this? How do I cultivate and keep a heart and attitude that leans gentle and kind rather than cynical and hard?
Loss lingers in the corners of our neighborhood. We feel it sharp in piles of furniture and trash in a front yard. Evicted again, I think. And we feel it insistent in kids who move away, who leave and we wonder if our paths will ever cross again. We watch the UHaul pull up for one of our favorite families and closest neighbors. They carry boxes and furniture and garbage bags and pile the truck high. We bring cards and snacks for the road and my eyes fill with tears, for which they tease me relentlessly. Caden wipes my tears with grubby hands, and I play with his hair and tell one of the boys the things I see in him. The gifts I am certain he does not yet recognize in himself. I drape them heavy over his shoulders like a mantel, hopeful that the promise God gives him will ring in his head and heart even halfway across the nation.
The two older brothers are staying behind and one of them moves his stuff into our back room for a season. Because of course.
We have the kind of neighborhood day that aches with goodbyes while brimming with promise. Because the breeze cools while the sun warms, and both kids play quiet while I read on the front porch. Adam decides he cannot ignore any longer the overgrown craziness of the abandoned house next door, and he sets out with a lawnmower and some sort of machete-type-thing. In no time, neighbors from all up and down the street join him. They pull weeds and pick up the trash and scrape the sidewalk with a shovel until it practically shines with glittering shards of glass uncovered by vines and old Fanta cans. They laugh and talk and we order pizza. One of our favorite teenagers walks down and helps too, telling us over pizza that he decided to leave two months early for the military and ships out Monday. We will miss him: I say it with tears brimming for the second time that day. And he laughs at me, but the loss and transience sits heavy for me, even on a day like today that reminds me all of the reasons I love living where we do.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away at our friend’s house, she texts me and says her neighbors fought all night. The whole street, the whole block even, in an all-ought brawl. Until someone calls the police and tells them there is a gun because that’s the only way to get them to come quick. Shirts rip and tempers flare and generations who choose fight-over-flight keep making the same choice.
Like my friend Shannan says: some days nothing we do seems to be enough. No matter how many weeds we pull, more grow stubborn in their place. Choices ingrained in grooves that run deep. Deeper than it feels like even our prayers and hope can penetrate.
Most days though, it feels like a coin toss.
Heads, we win, and the sun shines bright over shiny streets and big bowls of spaghetti. Fried green tomatoes from our garden in a tin pie plate. I pop one in my mouth, unaware he has only just pulled them from the stovetop. My tongue scorched, I gulp lemonade and then eat another one.
Tails, we lose, and the fighting looks like a scene from a movie. Maybe Anchorman: that escalated quickly. Our boys choose numb and tell friends they need some space from us. His words cut deeper than I want them to, and I cobble together more bricks to protect my bruising heart.
A coin toss, I think, works far better in determining a football game than it does a life.
So I must untie my emotions from the circumstances, both in parenting and in our lives here in the hood. And anchor them instead in the Truths of a Savior writing a story that’s not yet finished. To remind ourselves that failure and hurt like megaphones shout and point us to Him. That the places I find myself bruised and battered are the very spaces he treats most tenderly.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. - Hosea 2:14