A couple of weeks ago, as we were preparing The Kid and Little Brother for The Husband’s work trip (read: vacation) to Australia, TK started throwing around a troubling phrase. “Mommy always leaves you,” he would say to me, in discussions over TH’s departure or apropos of nothing, and I was affected in two ways: 1) we still need to work on pronouns (though his occasional use of the second or third person is a bit endearing and can come off like a royal affectation, which in his case I believe is totally warranted–all hail King James!) ; and 2) the thought that he sees things this way broke off a piece of my heart and set in adrift in the sea of guilt that seems to always surround me. In reality, I think he just misunderstood that I was going with TH again, and once I assured him I was staying home, he stopped saying it–especially after I emphatically added, “Mommy doesn’t always leave you! Mommy always comes back.” He finally began repeating the latter sentence: Mommy always comes back.
I’m beginning to understand how much of grace is about just showing up.
This was my prayer in the days leading up to TH’s trip: God, show up. Help me help me help me, and show up. And don’t let me miss you. Eyes to see, ears to hear, and such. My forthcoming period of solo adulting–five days with The Mom’s help but six days following that were all me–hung over my head like a black cloud and, as I told a friend who understands, made me feel as if I were living the experience multiple times before it actually happened. Maybe that’s why it felt like somewhat of a relief once the time did arrive: no more rehearsals, no more prep, just showing up.
I told the women about it at the weekly Bible study I attend, and before you skip the rest of this post in light of that, allow me to reassure you that this ain’t your typical women’s Bible study. It also ain’t the ones I’ve visited throughout my life, which often consisted of about twenty minutes of talking about how a verse made us feel followed by an hour of prayer requests that were really opportunities to talk about ourselves and other people (sort of like my late grandmother’s “Sewing Club,” which would have been more aptly named “Gossip and Bitching Circle”). These are not women who would have clutched their pearls in horror at the thing I told them: that I was afraid to be alone with my children this long. That one of my prayers, besides “Show up” and “Help,” was “Please make me a person my children don’t need to be shielded from.” Instead of disapproving head-shakes, I was met with nods, understanding. Grace. These are people who know just how wonderful and shitty motherhood, and we, can be. They said to call, to come over, to know we weren’t alone. They showed up.
And since then? In this past week of child-infested solitude? People haven’t stopped showing up. My prayers haven’t stopped being answered. It has been an at times rough, but also profoundly beautiful, time with the boys at home, our little triangle punctuated by phone calls and FaceTime with TH as a reminder of what our full shape really is, but the time between those reminders being full of sweetness we wouldn’t have known otherwise: the mornings that kick off with TK lying beside me on the bed, whispering, “Mommy mommy mommy,” and leaning in for kisses. The countless refrains of “Wheels on the Bus” for LB in the car and over the changing table. The post-dinner couch huddles, with two small but growing bodies draped over mine, sponsored by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and wine. The chaotic baths and bedtimes that always end with two boys safe in their beds. My own sleep, sponsored by God and Advil PM. My anxiety, always lapping at my heels like that guilt, has been gloriously muted. Maybe out of necessity, in part–after all, as the only game in town this week, if I leave the ship we’re headed straight for that iceberg–but also in a remarkable display of grace and faithfulness on the part of the One who hears prayers and does something about them, if only we will look. I’ve found it easier to step out of that perpetual anxiety and see it for what it is–a part of me, not an all-encompassing whole, and a redeemable one at that. I’ve been able to cast it aside more readily, and less pharmaceutically, than usual. Which is not to make light of how crippling it can be, but is also to acknowledge how much greater grace can be.
And in all of it, the gifts of grace that are others showing up for us in the midst of our splintered team. Australian friends bringing TH over to their home for dinner and celebrating his arrival. Our friends here–the deacon who sat with me during an entire MRI having the boys and me over so that I could have a glass of wine and real, deep talk with his wife; the college/NY/forever friend who fed us dinner and supplied us with a playground, trains, and wine (recurring theme); the church friend who’s showing up today with her two.
During so much of what is our wonderfully typical square-shaped life with our team of four, I realize I’ve been pitting myself against the kids, against TH, delving into a me-against-them mentality born of a misguided sense of self-preservation. There hasn’t been a lot of “self” this week as much as a bunch of “us.” And I’ve seen how beautiful and life-giving it can be. That I don’t have to run from it to still be me; rather, this is me. Their mom. His wife. It’s so not a bad deal.
I got TH three different-sized jerseys for his birthday, each with a number on it: one for him, two for TK, three for LB. Maybe they’ll wear them on Friday, when I take a quick break to spend a night in a local hotel. I’ll be me there too, reading all the books I haven’t gotten to, drinking wine in my room, and peeing like nobody’s watching BECAUSE THEY WON’T BE. The next morning, though, I’ll wake up, and after a little time on my own, I’ll probably end up checking out early. I’ll point the car toward home, which I think of as the place you always return to; for me, the place where a triangle of males will be waiting to fill back out into a square and find out that Mommy, like grace did for her, always comes back.