My little family of five, plus Maggie-the-dog, stayed at my mom’s house this past weekend. We moved our bags of laundry, noise machines for sleeping, bedtime books and favorite sleep mates, along with what felt like the contents of our entire fridge and pantry to her house for not even 48 hours. (Yes, it is amazing how much we pack, and it is basically the same as if we were staying for a week). My mom was headed out of town; she sleeps in peace knowing that her house, and her dog, are in good hands. This forces our hands in some ways: the pause button is set on the never ending house projects, the guilt for sitting a moment in the sunshine is assuaged. Being in someone else’s space in this way imposes rest.
We are standing still. We have planted our feet down into warm plastic pools, into soil with earthen vegetables stretching high, into grass that tickles the ankles, and creeks that numb them. I see this summer as I remember my childhood summers: dramatic in its expanse, a respite from the grind, daily or otherwise. It’s easy to feel a bit wistful as friends discuss plans: to the beach, the lake, the mountains – anywhere but here! It’s tempting to feel as though everyone is going to some grand party, and my invitation is lost in the mail. But then I remember what is true: here is exactly where I want to be. Sometimes the best parties are the ordinary ones, impromptu ones with no awkward cocktail hour making small talk with people I don’t know. Ones that require no proper footwear, and take place in my own back yard. Sometimes it is fun to live out those larger-than-life dreams, but I’m learning the splendor of smallness, of what is right beneath my nose.
I had one of these ordinary parties this weekend: a moment where I knew that I was invited to this moment in its fullness. It was time to pack up our station wagon and head home, for no other reason than we weren’t needed at my mom’s anymore. The bigger Little Ones were snoozing in the early afternoon heat, worn out from the endless frolic in cold hose water under the watchful sun. Mark carries the Littlest, who has just discovered that his arms are useful for reaching and those little hands are perfect for grabbing. Together we quietly wake the sleeping babes. I open the blinds, let the shifting sunlight flood back into the bedroom. Mark sets the Littlest in bed with his siblings. This, our family of five, with arms wrapping each other up, legs tangled with legs – the Middlest climbs over Mark’s shoulders, the Eldest fights off the pinch of the Littlest on his nose. Again, for a minute, all these bodies connected, touching, the same blood running through us all – I see this reminder of how it all began. For a moment it all felt too much: the ordinary wrapped up with the altogether extraordinary. My chest felt too tight, my brain unable to compute. This is the party that I will never say no to.
And just as fast as that moment began, it ended. Someone needs to go to the bathroom, the Littlest cries to be held. The dog barks to go out, and we move forward loading the car with our bags and pillows. But in that bedroom time stood still long enough for me to know what was happening.
There is a quote I’ve seen, especially through graduation cards and toasts: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” I’ve always thought that this was referring to the big, the grand. I thought that it was talking about those moments that are rare, once-in-a-lifetime: standing at edge of the Grand Canyon, saying “I do” with the rest of your life, holding a child for the first time. And yes, of course those are breathtaking moments. But I think more than that it is talking about those small moments, like the one I had in the bedroom, that are ordinary. These moments probably happen everyday, if I’m wise enough to notice them. It is these moments of breathtaking: not the Grand Canyon, but the grass in my backyard, the daisies growing in the garden. Not the big wedding, but the teamwork of washing dishes – you rinse, I’ll dry. Not the birth of that child, but the silly song he made up at bath time, and how at dinner he tells you that he loves you. I am convinced it is these moments that will be the measure of my life.
Sometimes that feels too hard, too big, too much pressure. If what I’m saying is true – that these ordinary moments of this regular day really are the building blocks of something much greater – then every moment becomes almost too much to bear. And I think that is where the grace is. Because these moments are given to us countless times a day. If I missed one this morning, it’s okay, because I just need to be ready for my invitation to the party this afternoon. This afternoon, I’m turning the music up loud, and we are going to party.