Call me Ishmael. I chase an elusive, white-legged, chubby toddler in an endless loop around the cluttered house. He’ll be the death of me if I can’t get him first. And even then… I was in the shower. A grubby fist poked through the shower curtain. It handed me a cough drop. I took it before the grubby fist could reconsider its offering. The little body connected to the fist ran out of the bathroom, leaving the door open wide. I sighed. I was shivered. I turned off the water and followed the grubby fist into my bedroom. Apparently it had already been through my neatly folded laundry pile on the bed. I pulled the body of the grubby fist out from under my pile of wrinkled t-shirts and plunked it unceremoniously into the pack and play crib that was currently a ball pit. It squealed joyfully and started flinging the balls out into the laundry pile.
So went the day. I’ll spare you the details, but the rest of it involved a hijacked toilet seat, peanut butter, literal lost marbles, a very stiff neck, icicle sword fights, cold spaghetti, an overdose of Curious George, a serious lack of sleep. Finally, though, it was nearly 10 p.m. I was oddly tired.
But I absolutely couldn’t go to bed because my husband was trying to do something to ease the ache in my neck. He had gone across town to buy me ice cream. Just the right kind. Now, you might argue that ice cream doesn’t fix stiff necks – or laundry piles mixed with plastic balls – or lack of sleep – or too much Curious George. And you might be right. Or maybe you just haven’t tried the right kind.
Either way, though, it was getting late and even good ice cream was sounding less appealing than a thorough night’s sleep (even though I had no aspirations of getting such a thing with a hungry month old baby.) I rubbed my sore shoulders as I nursed the baby and dejectedly surveyed the cluttered living room. There was so much I still needed to do before bed if I wanted to maintain my own sanity and/or a path across the floor. Then the phone rang.
I couldn’t turn my head to see my cellphone perched on the back of the sofa. But I reached for it blindly. Was he on his way? “Well…” My husband hesitated on the other end of the phone. “Keys work best at unlocking the outside of the car door when they’re not still in the ignition…” I groaned. It was now after 10 p.m. The store was closed. He was outside waiting for the emergency folks to come. They hoped to be less than 45 minutes. It was bitterly cold. “At least the ice cream’s not melting.” He tried to be upbeat.
I bowed in frustration; feeling the strain of uselessness in my inflamed neck joints. I wished I could help. I wished to could run down to the store with an extra key. But it would have taken me nearly 45 minutes to get all the sleeping kids awake, bundled up, into the car and over to the store. Besides, I realized, I didn’t have an extra key at home. I was helpless.
My husband was officially going to freeze to death buying me ice cream that I hardly wanted. Oh the irony. And here I was, turning into a pumpkin at the stroke of 10 p.m in a sea of chaos. Tired, overwhelmed and useless.
“If only it wasn’t winter,” I thought bitterly. “Than it wouldn’t be so bad.”
“If only my toddler wasn’t such a kleptomaniac…”
“If only the baby slept at normal hours…”
“If only the five year old hadn’t swallowed a quarter and I didn’t have to check for it every time he goes…” (true story. We’re still waiting.)
“If only the kids wouldn’t fight over Every. Single. Lego…”
“If only my house was bigger…”
“If only my neck wasn’t so sore and stiff…”
In the quiet of that moment, a phrase crossed my tired mind.
“The Lord is giving you this good land not because of your righteousness – for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deuteronomy 9:6)
Ooh. Was this getting personal?
I was a stiff-necked people. That much rang true.
I had been given a land full of white-knuckled little giants.
The land was flowing with milk and honey – both flowed around here, all right. Usually off the table. Mixed with Cheerios.
And I was stubbornly looking at this rugged, beautiful promised land as if it could be conquered by my own strength.
Foolish, proud, stiff-necked woman! How many sore shoulders and swallowed quarters would it take to convince me of my insufficiency? “Don’t answer that,” I grimaced in prayer. “I don’t want to know. Just help me, Lord, to be brave as I live in the land full of lego-crazed natives. I don’t know how to survive here. I don’t even know how to keep houseplants alive, yet You’ve brought me to this strange new land. My body feels its limitations. My mind can’t seem to adjust to a new normal. My soul feels hungry. I’m coming up short. I love my family, this wild wild wilderness of motherhood, the adventure. But God, I just don’t know how…
“The land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end.” (Deuteronomy 11:11-12)
It’s a whale of a job, this motherhood thing. It’s not (just) because I’ve recently had a 6th child in 8 years. Motherhood is challenging even with one. No, motherhood is impossible – even with one. Ideal, perfect motherhood is impossible. I could chase it my whole life and never quite grasp it. But I’m not expected to. I’m just supposed to take the step onto the green grass of the new land. And another. And another. And trust God to take of the rain.
And the whales.
And the ice cream. (Which I ate when my husband got home. Because it would have been ungrateful not to.)
In that silent moment, stuck on the couch amidst a sea of chaos, I gave up the chase. And went to bed. For a few minutes anyway.