A double stroller rolls in front of me through the cool of a spring day. Two girls in dresses walk beside the stroller, each clutching a handful of asters and purple vetch. “I don’t know why,” says 4-year-old Agnes to herself. “I just don’t know WHY God keeps making so many beautiful days!” She puts one chubby hand out with the palm up as she says this.
“He must like them too,” I say. Then the girls skip forward because the creek with the good minnow hole is just ahead.
The girls have made six puppets. They are an assortment of animals on paper, taped to large popsicle sticks. They’re labeled: “Mr. Fox” “Mrs. Fox” “Mr. Dog” “Mrs. Cat” etc. After supper, we tilt the coffee table on its end and crouch behind it to do a puppet show for “the men”: Daddy and toddler Henry. The show is called Pride and Prejudice and Puppets. Darcy and Elizabeth are the Foxes, and Mrs. Bennet is a cow. Bingley is an eager looking puppy. “The men” clap loudly.
The blackberries have come in on the back hill and along the road. I strap on my husband’s overalls and put Henry in his little matching pair. He follows me all over the hill in the heat, occasionally hollering to be gotten out of a bramble. The girls join with long pants and plastic bowls. We make cobbler the first day and intend on making jam the second day but eat too many blackberries. We pick two ticks off the children that night and everybody has chiggers. We make plans to go back next week when the real crop comes in.
Every night my last job of the day, the very last, after teeth are brushed and jammies are on and the last song is sung and everyone has gone potty: I must kiss them goodnight on the stairs. Justin leads them up with their water cups in hand, and I have to kiss each of them through the bars of the staircase. It is tradition. One, two, three, four, five, six kisses for Norah. One, two, three, four kisses for Agnes. Henry is last, and he bends down to get his kisses through the treads of the floating staircase. One, I have to get under and stoop for that. He clambers up one more step and pokes his face down again, and I have to back up and stoop a little less. Up one more, I have to reach forward. Last kiss, and I am on my tiptoes for that one. He laughs each time, as if it is the first time.
But some time it will be the last time. And that is the thing about motherhood no one will ever reconcile me to.
Agnes is learning to read, just like her sister did two years ago. Has it possibly been two years? How could it have been anything like two years? But it has.
Every afternoon, I make tea, break off two pieces of 72% chocolate, and settle with her on the couch. She is absolutely alight with joy every time she finishes sounding out a word and looks up to tell me what it is: “Top!” “Little!” “Read!” She thinks it’s a small miracle every time, and so do I. This little one needed something to be good at, she needed a competence—ever since her first toddler days of tripping over her own feet, of never having the right thing to say, of crying often with undiagnosed ear infections and being bossed by her big sister. She needed to discover the joy of doing something poorly and then well, of being interested in it and mastering it. And reading has been that thing.
And this is so much more than a word on a page. She’s discovering the world that was opened to me on my own father’s lap. Word is the world opening in her eyes; word is only the single thing that has brought the most joy and meaning to my life (and her father’s); Jesus our Lord is word made flesh; and her eating and breathing and sleeping, all the unconscious things she does blindly, inherits simply by being born, are all by the word of his power. I expect her mind will expand to gulp more of this world by learning the written word. It will make new paths for the word to show Himself to her.
This is my prayer, with each sweet moment of shared tea and chocolate.
They say the years are short and the days are long in motherhood. Lately, the days seem short too. I come to the end of each one and count the elements of it. Meals: there were three. Math and reading lessons, school meetings: one each. Hugs: how many? I don’t remember. Jokes: I think there were about five. Five is quite few for a whole day. Workouts: there was one. Bathroom cleans: one each. Children’s books read: forty thousand. Actually no, it was about fifteen. Texts sent: twelve. Emails: four. Conversations with husband: none uninterrupted, but about three altogether. Appointments added to calendar: Five.
Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.
I don’t mind a good check. At the end of the day, I don’t regret them. I only regret if we didn’t put the kids to bed with our pleasure, our blessing on their heads. I want only for them to know that in all the doing, there were moments for talking just to each other. And that they felt our delight, in them, in each other, in God. In the end, I want an Eden moment out of each day. I want the day to end in right relationship.
And of course it’s nice if all the ticks get picked off before bed.
Church was still hard in 2021, I want to remember that, looking back. That’s the sort of thing we usually minimize in the future, when we’re busy casting a dusky haze of sweetness over the Times That Are Past. I look forward to casting that rosy hue over today. In fact, from where I’m sitting, I’d feel very lucky to ever get to a point when church “used to be” hard. And how else will I be able to cast that rosy glow backward? At this point, the main dream I have is to sit through a service without missing any full outline points in 2022.
But who can say?
Two-year-old Henry sits in my lap. He slips his palms up and wraps them lightly around the base of my neck. He uses his palms to urge my head around towards him, so he can lift his face up for a kiss. His palms are smooth now—they used to have more traction, when he was a baby. Every baby’s palms are slightly sticky to the touch, even when perfectly clean; it’s how they get those little cheerios up into their mouths.
But after they stop being sticky, they will never be sticky like that again.
After he stops laying his hands on my neck like that, he’ll never do it again. And that is the thing about motherhood no one will ever reconcile me to.
Agnes and Norah are wearing dresses with tulle skirts that sweep the floor. Their backs are covered in lace. They have ribbons at their waists. I put their hair into little buns, just to see. I ask them to stand by the window with their backs to me.
The afternoon light highlights their shoulders and arms and the crowns of their heads. I won’t see them like this again, even when they wear these dresses in my friend’s wedding. I’ll never see them just like this again. And that is the thing about motherhood no one will ever reconcile me to.
I have a game I play with the girls in the car. It’s very silly.
“Girls,” I tell them, “I need you to promise me something. It’s very serious. Whatever you do—no matter what—don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER… learn to drive a car!”
They laugh and laugh and I start again.
“Ok girls, listen. Whatever you do—no matter what—don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER, EVER, EVER… get a job!”
“…learn to read!”
“…learn to cook!”
“…go to college!”
And so on. Anything that I absolutely expect them to do over the course of natural, healthy growth into adulthood, I warn them not to do it. And they laugh, and laugh, and laugh. And they realize: we will do these things. And I also realize it. And that is the thing about motherhood no one will ever reconcile me to.
The girls also have a game. They tell me: “Mom, I have some news. I’m getting married, and I’m going to marry…a skunk!”
“…a wasp nest!”
“…the ice cream bars!”
And we laugh. And they’re still young.
Not forever, but today. And when they stop being this kind of young, they’ll be another kind of young. And when not that kind of young, another kind of young. And when they’re grown, I pray another kind of youngness for them, the youngness of being filled with the Holy Spirit and bearing fruit in season. And perhaps their father and I can be young as well, even when we are dead we can keep being young, and then if the Lord wills perhaps all of us can be young together, for all of time, still a different kind of young, and the best kind of young there is—not fragile, passing youth, not childhood, but another kind of childhood that fades not, because it is in the household that doesn’t change by violence or by season.
In that youngness, the first youngness—their first youngness that I was witness to and ministered to and was superintendent of—that youngness will fade in memory to be only a kind of suggestion of the unbreakable innocence that was to come. But I will always know I was able to be part of the first youngness, for them. And if he gives grace, they’ll always know me—even when I’m a fellow heir with them of the beloved son’s kingdom—they’ll still know me as their mother of the first childhood.
And that is the thing about motherhood I could be reconciled to.