I have long loved early childhood. From the time I was very little, I have invested much thought and prayer into the mother of young children I feel called to be. Much to the chagrin of pretty much everyone except my husband, I even majored in early childhood in college. (Just an aside: I had enough nursing and anatomy/physiology credits to also be certified to teach health and PE. God had a plan. I grew up to educate children who, when asked to name their school, inform the general public that they attend the Foss Academy for the Athletically Inclined. But I digress.)
I have held tightly to the promise that it's never too late to have a happy childhood. And since mine was not childish or carefree, I've set out very deliberately to create for my children what I think I might have missed and to enjoy it alongside them. Deep in my heart, my fondest wish was to be the very good mother of young children. You might say that I've dedicated my adult life to that task.
Not too long ago, I can't remember where, I read about a woman around my age who said that she was too busy with her grown kids and teenagers to mourn the fact that her babies were growing up and there would soon be no wee ones in her house. I'm not. I'm not too busy. There are still small children in my house and they slow me, still me. I still stay with them at night as they drift off to sleep. I still sit with them at the table as they eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ever so slowly. I bathe them and brush their hair and braid it up before bed. I sit and rock and hold and read. I still thank God for them with every breath, much like I did the day they were born. I have plenty of time in the course of my day to be still and know that these are precious moments that will not be a part of my days in the not too distant future.
In a way, I envy those women who blithely move along to the next stage of life and smile brightly and say, "There! That's finished. Wasn't it grand? Now what's next?" I'm not one of them. Perhaps I'm just not good at transitions. I sobbed at my high school graduation. I remember how reluctantly I traded my wedding gown for my "going away" clothes. I cried so hard when Michael left for college that I had to pull over because I couldn't see to drive. I held more tightly to each newborn than the one before. And this last one? I don't think I put her down at all for the first twelve weeks. My intimate relationships are deep and rooted and meaningful. When I live something, I feel it.
I know it's time.
I know because my environment cries out that it is so. My house is full to overflowing with people. Several of them are more than twice the size they were when we moved in here. Some have left and come back and brought with them more of their own stuff. We are bursting at the seams. It is time to acknowledge that we are in a new season of life and to allow my house to reflect that.
And so. I cocoon. Somehow I know that this is intense, deeply personal business and at the end I will be the same and yet, forever different. I spin a silken thread tightly around my home. My cell phone goes dead. I don't recharge it. I don't touch my laptop. I don't carry the house phone with me. I don't leave for several days. It is time to conquer all those recesses of my home that I neglected while I held babies. It is time to let go.
We need space. We no longer need a co-sleeper. Or the sheets to go with it. We don't need a swing. I begin in the basement.
We don't need three neatly labeled boxes of beautiful thick, pink, cotton clothes -- 0-3 months, 6-9 months, 9-18 months. I carefully save the christening gown, the sweet baptism booties, the first dress Karoline wore to match Katie and Mary Beth. The rest I fold into giveaway bags. Michael takes the baby "things" to the Salvation Army on Friday.The clothes remain until Saturday morning. The Children's Center truck is due to arrive at 8 AM. After I've finished with the clothes, I cannot stay here in this basement on Friday. I've done what I know will be the most difficult task. I also know I'm nearly suffocating. I need to go upstairs and get some air.
I begin in Mike's office. This isn't really my mess or my stuff or even the stuff of children who haven't been carefully supervised. It is just the overflow of two busy adults who pile and stuff a bit too much. He doesn't use this room. It's a lovely room in the middle of the house with a bright window. I put a new sewing machine on the desk. I rearrange shelves, discarding things he no longer needs. I spend an hour or so carefully dusting his youth trophies and 25 years of sports paraphernalia. I think about this post and I know that we can (and should) share this space. I move some baskets in. My yarn, my knitting and sewing books, a few carefully folded lengths of fabric, holding place for a stash to come.
I stitch a few things in that room. And I am happy there. I am no longer knitting in my womb. But I am still creating. And it makes me happy. My arms are ever more often empty, but my hands are increasingly free for other pursuits. Still, a small voice whispers, knitting and sewing are nothing like the co-creation you've done for the last 22 years. I hush the voice. I have no idea where this is going. He is the Creator. He has written a beautiful pattern for my life. All He asks is that I knit according to His plan. Trust the pattern.
On Saturday morning, that truck comes. I can't even watch as they load my dear boxes. My stomach clenches and my eyes fill with tears. Things. They are only things. The girls who wore those things are safe in my arms. Another mother will be blessed to hold a sweet pink cotton bundle close and nuzzle her cheeks. I descend to the basement.
Here. Here is where I must force myself to cocoon. Here is where ten years of "put this carefully in the craft room" will come back to haunt me. They have tossed at will every single time. It never recovered from the great flooring shuffle. I do pretty well with the rest of the house, but I dislike coming down to the basement and Mike rarely comes down here. So, here is where the disorder has collected. The "craft room" is a jumble of stored clothes, curriculum, craft supplies, and 25 years of family photos. It is a mess.
I am humbled by the mess. Quite literally driven to my knees. But I have spun myself into this small space and here I will stay until I can emerge beautifully.
I have banished all outside interruptions, but I have brought with me the Audible version of this book. Good thing, too, because I will benefit greatly from the message within and, frankly, I will need to hear the narrator say "You are a good mom" as often as she does.
I see the abandoned half-finished projects, the still shrinkwrapped books, the long lingering fabric and lace. Did I miss it? Did I miss the opportunity to do the meaningful things? To be the good mom I want to be? I am nearly crushed by the weight of the money I've spent on these things and the remanants of my poor stewardship.What was I doing when this mess was being made? To be sure some of the time was sadly wasted. It is easy to berate myself for time slipped through my fingers. Cocoons are really rather nasty things.
Determined, I clear out the clutter. I tell myself that life is not black and white. It's not all bad or all good. I fold fabric and recognize that what I have here is the beginning of some new projects. I gather acorn caps and felt and label them and tuck them away for the fall. I make a very large stack of books to sell secondhand. I sort and sweep and remember. I see picture after picture of smiling children. I see, in those color images, time well spent. Time well filled. Their mama always looks tired. I recognize in those pictures that my children were happy--are happy. And I also recognize that it's been a little while now since I felt that tired. It is true that much of my time in the last twenty years, I have been filling well. I have been holding and rocking and nursing and coloring and listening and reading and giving and giving...I have been cherishing childhood. And it is a true that in a household this size, it is darn near impossible for every corner of the house to remain clean and every lesson to be carried out according to plan ,while caring well for babies and toddlers. Messes happen.
The season just passed? The very long season? It was good and full and messy and cluttered. It was bursting-at-the-seams joyful in a way nothing ever will be again. It was also very hard work. Very, very hard work.There were utter failures and big mistakes. And there was a whole lot of good.
This new season? I don't know yet. It's not nearly as cluttered. I have stayed in this cocoon until every corner of my home, every nook and every cranny, has been cleared of the clutter of the last season. Every poor choice, every undisciplined mess has been repurposed. Every single one. I can see my way clear to do the meaningful things. And the blessing is that there are still plenty of children in this house to do them with me.
As I sweep the room for the last time before considering this a job well done, I see a picture that has slid under a bookshelf. It is Mike and me at our wedding rehearsal. I stare long and hard at that girl. But I stare longer at him. He is still every bit as happy as he was that night. Happier, really. Really happier. These days in this cocoon, I have been brutally honest with myself. I've held myself accountable for every transgression. I have humbled myself before God and I have confessed my sins. I look at his image and then back at mine and I realize something very important. Whatever my failings, I have consistently been a good wife. I wonder at the ease with which this recognition comes to me. I am certain that much of it is born of his frequent words of affirmation. I know it is so because he has told me it is so. But why is it so?
Ours is a gracious God. It is only by His grace that I am the wife I am. And it is by His grace that I have this sense of peace about the most important relationship in my life. These children willl grow in the safe home he and I have created together. And then they will fly. Mike and I? We will be us. Always us.
I carefully put away the very last picture, turn out the light, and climb the stairs.
I've cleared out the clutter, made peace with the past. I've learned a very valuable lesson that I'm long going to be pondering in my heart. It's time to fly free.
~ reprinted from the archives. I'm back in the basement today, but it's very different than it was last year. I'll be back tomorrow to share with you the rest of the story.