I see Doug making his way outside to Ali, a blanket and two pillows in hand. I watch from the kitchen window as she twists her feet into the grass, swings to and fro aimless. When he asks if she'd like to read a story with him, she lights up and skips over.
They lie there, just the two of them, discussing what makes a true princess.
Earlier, I gathered the girls to make banana bread.
They took naps beneath the swings, built forts, and Doug made his acclaimed grilled cheese sandwiches as soon as we got home from church. It is time uninterrupted. Time to be content, just the seven of us.
I've come to appreciate Sundays even more this month, since Doug started working late nights and Saturdays again in prep for fall deadlines. When I think this will be our routine through October, I can't imagine holding up steady for the next three months. But we've done it before and we will do it again.
This is the life we decided on, the roles we chose. And many evenings, as the sun gives way to evening, I think of him in his office and wish he were here. He thinks of me too, tries to call, but dinnertime and bedtime are so crazy, I rarely answer the phone. What remains, however, is the fact that we are both working for our family. Just in different locales. It doesn't matter who is working harder, or longer. Marriage is not a contest. It is mutual work, for the same purpose, with the same goals. And I love Doug for being so committed to us.
As I shoulder more of the burden at home, I must make a conscious effort to resist resentment. I've gone to that place where anger swells and I fester in a selfish corner feeling put-upon and alone. I don't want to go there.
I must be disciplined enough to see clearly what we are about, not the dishes and the hours on the clock. Doug and I are building something marvelous together. Something we wouldn't be able to do without each other. We are a dependent team. And together we are nurturing lives, making a family.
Saturday was rough. I'll spare you the list of grievances, but I will allude to lemonade spitting, mud pies in the house, potty language, and the girls ending up in a three-hour time-out until Doug came home. It didn't help that I chose Saturday as the day to wash all the windows on the house (exterior and interior). I had an agenda and they didn't. You can imagine the situation. I wasn't necessarily gentle. And the innocents weren't so innocent. I'm chomping my lip so I won't tell you more, but I will say their acts were egregious and the punishment just.
The girls wrote me apology letters when Doug came home.
Sunday afternoon Sami left me a note that read, "I love you Mom" with a big red heart in the middle. When I thanked her she said, "You know why I gave it to you? Because you're mad most of the days." I sat down with her and we re-evaluated her statement until she realized that yes, I was mad most of the day Saturday. Not all days. But that's what stuck with her. She hadn't simply brushed off my anger.
Seeing things the right way takes time. For them, and for me. I stumble. I bumble. I make mistakes, do things I regret, but going to church on Sunday and having Doug home gives me extra time to reflect, hear God more clearly, and point my feet in a better direction.
Lately I've been feeling the need to go gently, speak gently, do more things gently, as a mother.
This last issue of Seeing the Every Day rang loudly in my ears. I want to share a passage with you:
"Though not always plain to see, it is our responses in ordinary moments that create the mortar that binds us together...
As we see the importance of each exchange and interaction together, we realize the endless opportunities within each day, wherever we are, to build and reinforce the care we have for one another. We recognize that it is in these ordinary interactions that such care is built...
Kindness and gentleness become our natural responses, trust develops hour by hour, and we become more effective teachers and learners as we seek to build our side of the fence."
Our responses determine the climate of a relationship, of a home. And teachers/learners both? That is exactly what we are as parents.
Just turning these gorgeous pages, I feel more calm, more happy about my role at home.
I love the anecdotes from children, the book reviews, the research, the photography, the elevating prose. When I read, I see everything more clearly. And when I put on my apron to make dinner I think, "Alright. Who do I get to spend time with tonight?"
While baking Sunday afternoon, I couldn't believe how anxious the girls were to help. Eliza's hands were glued to my shoulders. They took turns mashing bananas, dumping spices and flour into the batter. We laughed. They were impatient. And at times I had to work to keep things gentle.
But when Mom goes gentle, everyone goes gentle.
And of course, they happily licked the bowl clean.
I've been giving the girls harder jobs lately, telling them I trust them - reassuring them if they don't get it right the first time, they'll get it the next.
Confidence expressed helps anyone do better, try harder. So I let Eliza cut apples with a sharp knife, held her hand beneath mine as I guided her through the crispy center.
And now she has a skill. Some new way she can help.
When we practiced, we talked. Or I should say, she talked. Cutting apples opened the lines of communication without even trying.
"We may begrudge or avoid our daily, repeated situations, yet is it possible that they carry the greater meaning? And have a more profound effect on others? What if there are greater, sometimes hidden, purposes in our most common activities?"
I believe there can be purpose in everything we do at home. If we choose to see it that way. Something I must remember during seasons of long days and little relief.
For Sunday dinner we cut warm slices of banana bread, poured bowls of cold cereal, and watched the Olympics.
As night approached, we waded through a series of meltdowns then put our tired brood to bed. When all was quiet I looked at these photos. At the way Ali is touching Doug's chin with her finger as she begins to smile.
These are the moments, the seemingly inconsequential moments that build relationships.
The value of a day isn't in how many windows I wash, how clean the house is at night, or how many loads of laundry I finish. Completing the task is not the point. Nurturing the person is. And consistently offering a gentle response is how we develop trust, carve out moments to teach, and express love.
Go gently, I say.