The Quiet Messenger in Aisle Four
(Disclaimer: I started this post the day before I had a baby, so all references to my pregnancy are purely intentional, but about 10 days late. I’ve been busy…)
The grocery store cart looked like a spaceship. It had seats for two drivers, and jet packs painted on the back plastic.
On land and laminate tile, however, spaceships are ungainly. It is hard to brake quickly when the jets are powered by a five year old behind and a seven year old in front. We’ve scraped past many an end cap as we tried to clear the corners of aisles without taking up the whole intergalactic space.
I’ve utilized these spaceships on a regular basis. Joe, the grandfatherly man in a baseball cap, calls a cheerful hello from behind the deli counter as we scrape obtrusively past. The lady in the bakery smiles appreciatively as the boys ooh and ahh over the decorated cakes on display. But other customers are often less ecstatic about sharing the orbit around the produce section. An older gentleman in spotless white shoes purses his lips and stares as one child pushes up on the hanging scale while another gingerly weighs the sack of grapes. They squabble; a lone grape escapes the gravitational pull of the rest of the bunch and rolls into outer darkness below the produce display.
The five year old smacks at an overgrown watermelon and hollers loudly, “Is the baby in your tummy as big as this?” Another customer glances over with a raised eyebrow, sizing me up along with the unlicensed spaceship drivers. The look speaks loudly. I’m distracted for a moment, (am I as big around as that watermelon?!?) and the cart crashes into the canning jar display. Glass rattles. I hiss at the little spaceship crasher, “No pushing!” He looks crestfallen. “I beeped when it backed up” he mumbles, justifying himself under DOT safety rules for large vehicles. As if those should apply in space.
I grab a piece of ginger and stuff it in a plastic bag. “Don’t tie it!” The seven year old cries out in distress. I look up askance. He reveals a fistful of twist ties. “I’ll tie it closed!” I hold the bag while he tries for a solid minute or maybe a long day on a different planet to twist the wire around the flimsy plastic. The five year old is smacking produce again; an eggplant tumbles to the floor. The two drivers are impatient in neutral; the four year old gets on his knees in the cart to rock the ship loose from its holding pattern, the two year old grabs his wheel to rock the older brother’s sense of possession. He succeeds. I hiss another round of orders (“Stop rocking! Sit! Be quiet! Pick up the eggplant! Don’t pick your nose!). I bend to grab the eggplant. A contraction squeezes my midsection. It feels like I am on the rocket myself, leaving my stomach several hundred feet behind. Finally it catches up. I breathe in deep, knowing from experience this will probably be the norm for the next two weeks until my due date.
The oldest two, blissfully naive to the reasons for my dawdling, are ahead of us now, staring at the lobster tank. “That one looks like Henry!” One teases. Henry swings at him with a venomous four year old fist as our spaceship glides past. “Boys!” I holler across the aisle. They look over, but not at me. “Oooh, ice!” exclaims the five year old when he notices the cold display holding packages of shrimp. He stuffs a piece of ice in his mouth and the others follow suit. They thoughtfully hand a chunk to the two year old on the far side of the cart. My back is turned until I hear another customer address my cart full. “That’s dirty, kids. Don’t eat that!” I turn to see her glance reprovingly at me. “More!” whines Ben, the two year old. “More!”
Of course no one else I know has ever questioned their own sanity in such a moment. What I’m doing is purposeful, powerful – this bearing and raising of children, spastic little olive plants around my sticky table, this training them in the real world everyday to be bold-hearted warriors for grace and grass-fed beef, this twenty-four hour parenting, homeschool-and-home-ec, never missing their naptime or a teachable moment type of heroine-ism I seek to aspire to – but it doesn’t feel powerful at the moment.
It’s too messy to be heroic. Too earthly to be graceful. Too disheveled to be purposeful.
I’m tired, I’m sore, I forgot my list, my kids aren’t angels, all these strangers think I’m either a teenage mom because I left my heels and makeup at home (like I do everyday), or a poor hapless woman who’s never heard of birth control and is obviously the reason they have to pay taxes for welfare. And now my kids are gonna be sick from bad ice and I will probably spend too much money and feel like a bad wife on top of being a bad mom and maybe I should just buy a package of wonderbread and a big bottle of soda and let the kids drown my misery in high fructose corn syrup comas for the afternoon. “It’s just too hard and I don’t get how to do this!” I whine to the Maker of the Universe.
There was this one time in the Bible, when Elijah, the infamous and hairy prophet, had a similar whiny moment. Elijah had been the pivotal character in a recent showdown of Biblical proportions. At his word, God had sent fire before an audience of the king and every citizen of Israel. At his word and perhaps even his own hand, all the fake and evil prophets had been killed. At his word, rain had finally come to the land after three long years of drought. He’d felt like a hero. Finally, the year of the prophet was coming to Israel. No more eating crow leftovers. No more hiding in fear of his life. No more obscurity. About time.
Except it didn’t work out that way.
He’d thought people would throw him a parade for saving them from the evil prophets’ control. He’d thought they’d give him a medal for ending the drought. But all the notice he got was a middle aged woman turning up her nose at his body odor when he got too close to her bagel stand. That and a text message from the godless queen of Israel warning him she planned to kill him for his heroic antics. Elijah was fed up. Obviously no one would even notice if he just left. He headed out to the desert. Way out.
“You guys want cookies?” I call to my minions. They swarm around the free cookie box at the store, vying to find the one with the fewest crumbs and no broken edges. They hand one to the two year old, who takes a bite and tries to grab the four year old’s cookie instead. “Can I have his cookie since he doesn’t want it?” The five year old asks, simultaneously swiping the two year old’s cookie from his chubby fingers and causing an immediate and loud reaction. I shush and wipe crumbs off drooling lips. The spaceship glides like a graceful dinosaur over my toes. “Ugh,” I groan in pain. “This motherhood-hero thing isn’t working for me today.”
Standing on the steep side of the mountain, Elijah felt the ground shake. He saw chunks of the mountain crumble. He saw the sky ripped by lightning. He covered his ears at the booming thunder. Trees, dust, and rocks around him were whipped into a terrifying whirlwind. Not a pebble would touch the prophet while God still had plans for his life. But Elijah shrank in terror into a cave in the rocks, not daring to feel the strength of his Keeper swirling around him.
But the terrifying storm must have dropped the air pressure and cleared his ears. He blinked in the brightness as the clouds parted and the rain-drenched rocks sparkled. Suddenly, Elijah could hear the great silence after the roaring wind passed. In the stillness, there was a gentle whisper, almost musical. It wasn’t what he expected after the storm. It was a hopeful, clean feeling. Elijah felt his insignificance. But now it was a good smallness. His God had plans. It was enough.
I rev the engines of my laden spaceship and careen into the canned goods aisle. A sprightly woman looks up with a raised eyebrow as I barrel around the corner, but she doesn’t frown. She stops stocking shelves and turns. Her gaze softens as she takes in my spacey crew and round tummy. A slight smile tugs the corner of her mouth and deepens the laugh lines around her eyes. “Oh, Momma, you are blessed.” She murmurs with a familiar pat on my shoulder. “I had eight total, five boys.” She sighs with satisfaction. “We had a wedding over the weekend; all of them standing up there, so tall in their suits…” She looks down at my children. “It’s worth it, Momma. You are doing a great thing. Keep on.”
I smile, thank her, and jet off down the aisle after a little awol astronaut. We continue our trek into the outer regions of the store, but I feel much lighter as we drive. Almost weightless.
Maybe it hasn’t turned out to be the “year of the mommy” and I will mother on in obscurity and sleeplessness.
But the heaviness of the world’s care is off my shoulders.
Even with some other queen breathing disapproval down my back, even without government approval or support, even without public understanding, even without knowing I was doing this whole mother thing right, even with the difficult, thankless days, I will continue.
The strength of God’s power will swirl around me and sometimes I know I will feel buffeted by the winds, but the quietness of His purpose will always come. He is not finished yet.
“You are doing a great thing, Momma. Keep on.”