A few weeks ago, I was driving to a neighboring town to teach at a church music camp with four kids in the back of the van. The camp was every afternoon for a week. None of my kids were getting naps; everyone was crabby–Michael was a holy terror–and every day I spent the drive berating myself for trying to do something I knew was too much before I ever started, and problem-solving how to minimize the effects, now that I was committed.
Suddenly I had a fleeting vision of myself a decade or two from now. If I suddenly found myself dropped back into these days–the triple and quadruple diapering days, the teaching-everyone-self-care days, the making-your-breakfast-for-you days, the must-supervise-you-through-every-task days…if, after so long, I really remembered what it is like now, I think I would shake my head and wonder, How did I do that?
It’s definitely been crazy this summer, and a lot of that is because I definitely overreached. But a big part is also that I refused to take myself away from the kids. If I had abandoned family time, banished the kids to Netflix, holed up on weekends and hired babysitters 3 times a week, I’d be done with my work by now. But I’m becoming keenly aware of how easy it is to go through life skimming the surface, skipping like a rock and only occasionally dipping in for a luxurious swim. I don’t want to have regrets. I want to be present in my own life. I want to have gut-deep, whole-body memories of these days. I think the regret people so often warn us about comes from letting life sweep you by.
This came home to me really hard yesterday afternoon. We went to a Cards game, and had the opportunity to have our picture taken with the World Series trophy. It was kind of an assembly line, of course, and we were corralling four kids wearing red amid thousands of other people wearing red. Somewhere around the fourth inning, I suddenly realized: I didn’t even look at the trophy. Not for one second. I turned to Christian. “Hey, did you actually really look at that trophy?”
He frowned, then shook his head and chuckled ruefully. “Not really.”
That’s not how I want to live my life–seeking photo ops that are completely meaningless because you didn’t interact with the backdrop at all.
This summer, we played board games, worked puzzles, read books, attended story time at the library. We went on field trips: to see snakes and turtles at the biology department, to watch Venus cross the sun, to ride the tractor with Grandpa, to play in forts and fairy houses, to ooh and ahh over Chinese lanterns, to picnic at parks and visit a science center with a cousin.
We lived hard this summer. Is it any wonder we wore ourselves out?
I’m a realist. I know those moments when the memories are so clear that it’s like I’m living them again will be fleeting and far between. And I know I could have taken an easier road. Perhaps I could even have saved myself the meltdown of a couple of weeks ago.
But I don’t regret it. I would rather not have lost it, but it was a good reality check. And we’ve had a really good week and a half since then. Sometimes you need the darkness to highlight the rest.