I was backing out of the garage the other day, my body yanked around to see the view behind me, when I heard it. “What was that, Mommy?” asked the already-anxious-about-loud-noises-in-the-car five year old. And just like that, my careless precision had not just bumped the side view mirror (which I may or may not have done countless times before) but smashed it to pieces of plastic and glass. In my frustrated haste to successfully get all three Little Ones, with shoes and jackets and school bags, into the car, I was careless. Isn’t this the danger then – that these things become too familiar (like backing out of my garage countless times a day) and I get numb to them? I wasn’t paying attention. I was wrapped up in the chaos of our morning routine, tired already with the day looming ominously large in front of us. I called Mark and cried into the phone with him, not because of the broken mirror (though there’s that), but because I knew what this broken mirror was reflecting back to me. In those shards of distorted light, I saw that I needed to slow down and pay attention. I need to take care.
Pay attention to this: the 13 month old who grows like a fairy tale weed right before my eyes. I can’t say he toddles so much any more because it’s more sturdy and sure than any toddle ought to be. He finds ways to play his own games with me, games that tell me to pay attention, to him, right now. He pushes the buttons on the dishwasher and then make those flirty eyes with me. He laughs, throwing his head back exposing that kissable neck, and runs away as fast as he can, daring me to catch him. (Don’t worry, I do.) Or he finds just the right laundry basket, because goodness knows there are plenty around. But he finds the one that has all of the folded clothes inside. And one by one, he takes them all out, making a display on the bedroom floor. And when I push him in the direction of all the unsorted, unfolded, un-everything clothes at his disposal? He lays his body full out on the ground, kicking his feet and offering up his best imitation tantrum. If I’m honest, these baby tantrums turn me to mush, and I love him all the more dearly for his ambition. So, yes, love, I’ll pay attention to you.
And this: see these bodies, unabashedly naked, small but not so tiny anymore. Our bath times have become circus like, as you can imagine, all three kids in a regular ol’ bath tub. The new trick last night was from the Littlest, who stood proudly sticking out his belly and patting it with such pride. And then there’s the lemonade station (please, oh please just pretend yellow, right?) in the corner where the Eldest is brewing and pouring and serving it up to anyone who will answer. The Middlest is lost in her own world, which I can’t believe is even possible in this arrangement, but she is singing and humming and la-la-la-ing to herself, letting herself feel the water. I’m slowing down, taking notice to this, because I know that it’ll be all too soon when everyone needs their own space, their own privacy. Their bodies won’t be mine to marvel at, and we’ll be hustling them towards showers to move along to the next thing.
And there’s the Eldest learning to read; and the Middlest making friends. There is the Littlest pushing furniture around and blowing kisses. There are more arts and crafts projects that I ever could have imagined, and I worry that someday I will be help responsible for the number of trees we’ve used up. There are scraps of paper everywhere. On good days, I pick them up and smile at the experiment of it all. Other days, I grumble over the tedium – scraps, everywhere. I’m paying attention, but maybe to the wrong thing.
Here’s the thing: I don’t usually think of myself as the kind of person who needs to be reminded to slow down. My gears are set pretty low. I’m more of an ambler, a putz-er, a mull-er. But then it happens: the daily grind wears me down. It’s like the game that Grant likes to play, outside at the swing set. He spins the swing around and around, and it lifts higher and higher until he can’t crank it up any more. Then: let it go and watch it fly. The swing spins, uncontrollably, barreling around back down again, with no regard to anything in it’s way. I can unravel carelessly, too. If I’m not paying attention, mirrors break. And sometimes that’s a good thing.
I know that I’m not unique in this. I need to pull back and see the bigger picture. I need to take the long view, and see the panorama. Because without the bigger story, I can’t make sense of the baby tantrums, let alone the big ones. But when my nose is stuck on one particular page, in one scene of the story, it’s easy to get careless and forget to notice. Or worse yet, to notice the things that don’t matter (the unsorted laundry, the uneaten vegetables).
Tonight, Mark is picking up a new side view mirror for my car. And if all goes well, I will have the full view by morning.