Today, my kids met a dog.
It was the friendliest little beauty, a young, blue-eyed shepherd with a terrific coat of salt and pepper mixed with brown. He was laying underfoot of his young owners – a terrific duo, adorably lunching together, devices in tow, their smiles giving off a palpable sense that they were on the launchpad of life. I didn’t even notice the dog – he was so chill, relaxed and obedient under the table… right until one of my children yelled “Puppy!”
It was the 82nd time in the space of 10 minutes that my kids had escaped the lunch table, either as acrobats, rock slingers or gingerbread sprinters, but this time they all ran towards the dog, potato chips in various states between their mouths and hands.
And what a great dog he was… he gladly greeted them, though not wildly so. He wasn’t meek, per se, just the perfect blend of friendly and calm with sincere affections minus the wiggly hips that send kids flying backwards through outer space. So when I found out he was only 9 or 10 months old, I fell in love with him.
“Therapy dog. We’re trying to socialize him as much as possible.”
Now I was totally in love with his owners. I caught myself wondering if I could hire them to harness my offspring and create noble service beings out of them.
“What an affectionate and calm two-year-old you have there!” strangers would beam.
“Why yes, he’s trained to comfort my anxiety. Works wonders really.”
“And that little one over there, she’s so funny, always cracking appropriate jokes while remaining in her seat.”
“Yes, yes, we keep her around in place of anti-depressants.”
Just then big sister would arrive from the restaurant with a tray full of drinks and a smile.
“Stella, Jon Powell, place your napkins in your laps. Here’s your hand sanitizer. And mom, I brought honey for your tea.”
At this point the onlookers, speechless, awkwardly excuse themselves. I’m not at all embarrassed by the attention, I’m busy nourishing myself one quiet bite at a time, noticing the complex flavors in my grain bowl and taking the time to journal the ingredients into Evernote.
Cue the record scratch.
My daydream came to an abrupt halt on the way back to the car as I grounded the seven-year-old for taking off towards the road, but not before dolling out bonus attention-getting spankings to the two and three-year-old who broke free from my hands to chase their big sister into the street.
Not to mention… NO ONE ATE THEIR LUNCH. I take that back, I shoveled in a few bites, but I don’t remember much about how it tasted – I was busy apologizing to the owners of the dog with the belly full of Zapps potato chips. So by the time I buckled my kids’ whiny butts into the car seats and they asked for ice cream, I might have let out the scream of a raging cow.
There were ridiculous amounts of failures and frustrations that added up to the bad movie that was this day, but events like a two-year-old with a poop diaper weaving laps through the racks of a 200-sq foot ballet store to the whiny rhythm of a seven-year-old (who doesn’t take ballet) singing that she NEEEEEDS a prima ballerina costume while I was stuck in a poorly-ventilated dressing room peeling leotards off a naked three year old is just such motherhood cliche that I won’t waste the space to share. The internet is full of these anecdotes… everyone gets it… this shiz ain’t easy.
But on a day like today, when I’m particularly weary, I catch myself being honest. So honest that I scare myself.
It’s not that I have really bad kids. Or abnormally active kids. It’s just that I am a mom. And seven-plus years into this gig, it still surprises me that complete trampling of my needs as a person – things like civility and quiet – still have the power to knock the wind out of me. Shockingly so.
What happens to the hope that I start out with in the morning? What happens to the reserves of love that I know have got to be in there somewhere? What happens to the God that I know and love whose grace is supposed to be sufficient but has left me kneeling on the side of my van just off of Main Street Daphne, Alabama wondering if today is going to be that day that I can’t hold it together?
It’s hard not to fall into the pit and begin to throw the party of “oh no no no no no silly me, my job from here until literal Kingdom Come is to plug the dam of my family one tired finger, one un-pedicured toe, one boo-boo kiss, one martyrous sleepless night and ipad grounding at a time until I collapse from exhaustion… exhaustion that’s sometimes physical, but mostly mentally and emotionally so.
On days like this, the rotten, real truth is that it’s hard to see the fun in this whole arrangement.
And then that damn dog and his perfect parents reminded me of something…
My kids were not born to meet my needs. His grace is.
Of course I know this in the sense that I’m not trying to put tiaras on my toddlers or hot house the next Hanna Mon-tanning bed. But where the rubber meets the road, every single day, these little people were not put here to make make my life easy. It’s not going to be easy… if it were easy, I wouldn’t need grace. Or rather, it wouldn’t be real to me.
And while we’re comparing kids to our therapy dog… in all of his wonderful blue-eyed obedience, our friend the therapy dog was trained in a matter of months, to serve a single purpose.
My children are being trained, with my help, to find and chase their purpose. And that could take a lifetime.
It’s why they were born unhinged, ready to push every boundary, explore every avenue, look at the world through their unique eyes so that they could become the very creatures that can someday contribute, shape and change the world. And it’s my job… as freaking exhausting, confusing, confounding, dumbfounding, defiling, demoralizing and dimwitting as it can be… to find the goods to pour into them so that they can rise to the occasion of their lives. To point them over and over again to the power that will be perfect in their weakness. Ideally, if I do it modeling grace and consistency, they will have enough left over to pour into other lives around them.
His power is made perfect in my weakness.
Every day I have to accept – in between questions about His sense of humor and the occasional tequila drink – that God gave me, woefully inadequate me, my kids to raise because He believes that I’m the right person to raise them. And even on the days that it’s so hard to believe that I’m remotely qualified for this gig, it’s not one that I’m allowed to outsource.
So, today, I cope by comparing the training of therapy dogs to the raising of my children. These are the dumb analogies that speak to me and pull me off of my knees and successfully back into traffic so I can get them home safely, squirt them with hoses and bribe them with popsicles. I didn’t promise the profound. And I did quote scripture.
But tomorrow, who knows. After all it is only day 7 of summer.