My bare foot crunched on a once soggy, now crusted Cheerio on the kitchen floor. Sun glared through the nearby sliding glass door. Masses of small fingerprints melded into a sticky filter around its door handle. How could three sets of miniature hands make so many fingerprints? I bent down to pull the Cheerio off my heel, then took a few sips of stale coffee and wiped the counter with disinfectant.
The phone rang. From somewhere. Digging through piles of paper, I heard a faint ring, then silence. Another ring again and again. There it was, under the third cushion on the couch, with a half-eaten granola bar. Brief silence, then another ring.
It was my husband. Loving, kind and unaware.
“Hey, honey. Don’t forget. Jorge, Carlos, and Alex are coming over for dinner. Tonight. Remember? Honey?”
Breakfast dishes scattered the kitchen counter, milk splashed and sugar stuck to the light pine table. A casserole dish from the night before soaked in the sink. Faint circular indentations marked the linoleum where our oldest son tried out a new hammer.
My eyes moved to the dining room. Papers and books stacked around a half-composed jigsaw puzzle of dolphins frolicking in a pristine sea. No room for dinner.
A speedy check list buzzed through my brain, panic clearing its early morning fog. Clean house, run by grocery store and cook dinner. Shouldn’t take more than eight hours.
My heart skipped as I ran to check out the disaster. Four year old Davy sat on a collapsed, once upper shelf of our built-in bookcase. Brown curls stuck in determined sweat and tears around angelic face. A pile of broken Hummel figurines of chubby Nordic children scattered around him.
“I’m borken (translation, broken),” he cried.
He bellowed, drawing long breaths to bellow more. He might be four but he knew when in doubt, cry loud and hard. A useful diversionary tactic. I sighed and checked him for cuts. My chubby Nordic child was not broken. The Hummels, however, were in shards. I picked him up, brushed him off and hugged him as my heart pounded against his tummy.
First the trash can, then vacuum cleaner, as I set the broken shelf against a wall. Davy went out to play. One more treasure bit the dust. Check.
“What,” I shrieked.
Was it still the first week of summer vacation? What happened to idyllic plans with happy children, crafts, swimming pool and neighborhood ball games? My picture of children as perfect begonias grown in careful, controlled environment morphed into dragon lily. Or Venus fly trap, with me as the fly.
Five year old Tim limped in. Bloody footprints followed him from tile to carpet. “Stoopp!” I ran over to pick him up and tripped on a Hot Wheel race car. Hidden under tiny toe gaped a crimson hole. A quick call to our neighbors and our favorite babysitter arrived to watch Davy and Shannon. I drove Tim to the doctor, his foot wrapped in a faded pink wash cloth.
Two hours later we were home, stitches in place and ready for a nap. Or not. Time to speed dial my clean up efforts. My husband called.
“We might be a little early.”
How hard could this be? Back to the plan. What happened to the plan? Clean house and clean children only as active as my energy managed. Imparting life principles to young hearts in sweetness and light. Principles to form good citizens and worthy opponents.
Did I say worthy opponents? That pooped out. I mean popped out. Back to good citizens. I loved my kids. I loved God. At some point His order would override our mess. Right?
“Momma, play with me,” said Shannon as she cradled her worn baby doll. “I can’t, sweetie. Too much to do. Let’s take Molly for a quick nap.” The door bell rang. “Mom! It’s Chris and Robbie. Can we play?” Sure. Naps were good, but playing outside a close second. Tim wanted to show off his stitches.
I took a short breath and steeled myself for a super-woman push. Disinfectant in my back pocket, vacuum cleaner extended and glass cleaner at my feet. I had weapons for this war.
Summer heat crept through narrow slits around our front door. The cracked tile on one end of the foyer drew my eyes up to a hole in the drywall. A roller blade mishap. Mental note. Find a bigger rug. I picked up a rumpled braid rug to shake it outside. A crawdad fell out. Alive. A mother crawdad. A mother giving birth to tiny crawdads, spilling like Rice Krispies on the floor.
I screamed. The phone rang. It was my husband.
“We’re on our way over.”
I slid down the blue paisley wallpaper and cried. I sobbed and wailed as the boys walked in with their two best friends. Tim looked at the crawdad, then at me.
“Look, you made her cry.”
Tim looked sad. I felt terrible.
“It’s okay. I’m okay. Tim, gather up that momma and her babies. Put them back in the creek. She doesn’t like it here,” I said.
Then I picked up the phone.
“Hey, dinner’s not going to work tonight. I’ll explain later.”
“No problem, I’ll take them out and bring them home for dessert.”
“No, not tonight. A mother crawdad just gave birth on my tile. Tim’s toe is held together with six stitches and all my Hummels are broken.”
Peace settled over me. I thought about the mother crawdad turned upside down in a place outside her home. Out of control, with her babies at stake. I felt like that momma, alone and responsible for my babies in circumstances beyond my control. Where had I believed a lie, that I could make life perfect?
Life, at times, was messy and out of control. I could choose to play the victim. Or I could pull my chin up, draw boundaries, and take charge. I might be upside down throwing out babies like pinballs, but it was my life and my privilege to take care of.
My resources would always fall short. But my resources weren’t what mattered. What mattered were our three children. They were treasures with untapped riches tucked inside those sweaty little bodies. They needed to move. They needed time and space to breathe and grow. Not perfection. Just an imperfect mom with a perfect God.
No wonder Jesus took time to gather children into His arms and bless them. I bet their momma’s were right beside Him, hoping some of that blessing spilled over. After all, we were looking after His treasures, too.
And needing a little encouragement that pint-sized imperfections were never strong enough to mar a diamond in the making.
(Maybe you noticed this is an expanded version of my last blog. I”m learning to “show, not tell” with my writing. Thanks for letting me practice!)