Car Trips, Broken Ice, and Laughter

Today we drove about an hour north to go visit my parents. My youngest daughter had a birthday and we were going to celebrate with Grandma and Grandpa. We had seven kids in the car, our oldest three off living their own lives. We were traveling on a small country highway and I was looking outside enjoying the view: farmland, creeks and rivers, pretty little towns. We were driving along and I noticed a pasture covered in puddles which had then frozen over. I suddenly had a memory of living on my grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky, maybe ten years old, stomping around on a cold winter day. I was wearing my old light blue tennis shoes, full of holes but wonderfully comfortable, my old worn out blue jeans, hand-me-downs from my older brother, my pink puffy jacket with decorative flaps on the front and secret inside pockets, an old knit hat and a worn out pair of gloves. I remember stomping through my aunt’s pasture where her ponies lived. The ground was covered in muddy indentations from the ponies’ hooves and each indentation had filled with water from the earlier rains and now had frozen over. I remember the sensation of the thin ice cracking under my feet, my foot bending with the frozen ridges in the ground. Stumbling along as I tried to find more ice to break under my feet. I remembered all this and then felt a pang. My children would not have those country-living memories. They were city kids. And I felt this overwhelming longing to just uproot my family and move to a farm so my kids could know the joy of running through fields in winter, breaking ice under their feet.

We spent the day with my parents and then loaded up the van to drive home again. I love car trips. I love just looking out the window and thinking about whatever random topics pop into my head. I love looking at the houses that we pass, wondering about the people who live there. Watching the sky turn colors until it’s just the stars making tiny dots of light. Seeing the dark hulk of hills looming in the distance. As we drove tonight I thought about all the roads I had traveled on in my life. I remembered driving home from Cap Haitien, Haiti to our little house on the mountainside. Laying on a bench in the back of our truck, watching the moon chase us down the road, marveling that we could never outrun the moonlight. I remember driving on sandy gravelly roads in the bush town of Bethel, Alaska, looking out from the road into pure darkness, no lights to interrupt the horizon, only our little island of a town, floating on the tundra. I remembered driving the Alaska Highway, the vast forests of never-ending trees. And all the other roads, highways in Chile, cross-country road trips out West. I felt melancholy. I couldn’t share these things with my children. I couldn’t give them these experiences.

As we drove along I started tuning in to what was happening in the car. In the very back seat my eleven and nine year old boys had made up their own little game. The eleven year old was singing favorite Disney songs, but he would stop at key words, MadLib style, and then the nine year old would fill in a random word. In the next row up were my two little girls, seven and six. They were giggling and laughing their heads off at the antics of their brothers, sometimes offering a suggestion of a word here and there. Lots of singing. Lots of laughing. In the next row up my four year old and two year old were strapped into their carseats, the thirteen year old sitting next to them, trying to ignore them. The four year old was holding up different shells from a little container of shells that his grandma had given him. He was explaining that if you held up the shell to your ear,  you could hear the ocean. Then he held up a different shell and said, “In this shell you can hear a crab playing rock and roll on his guitar.” He studied the shell thoughtfully for a minute and then pulled out another shell. “In this shell you can hear a turtle biting a fish.” And on it went, each shell with it’s own story. The two year old was fussing and wanted to hold my hand, but his carseat was a bit too far back and so in order to hold his hand I had to bend my body backwards, stretching as far as I could. It was a position I could only maintain for a couple minutes. I would finally feel something snapping in my back and I would pull my hand back and he would instantly start fussing again. My husband started making up a lullaby with silly words for him in an attempt to distract him. And it occurred to me. My kids have these memories. These are good memories. They are worth having. Memories of outings with the family. Memories of singing and laughter. Memories of talking to Mom and Dad about your shells. Memories of being loved.

I am so happy that I don’t have to replicate my own childhood for my children in order for them to have happy, fulfilling memories. They’re writing their own stories, and those stories are good.

Love Tinted Glasses

This evening I felt myself succumbing to a really grumpy mood. I rehashed my day and thought about how bad it had been. Woke up way before the alarm went off, couldn’t go back to sleep. First day of kids going back to school meant an early morning and a bit of craziness getting everyone out the door. Had to take the two year old to a well-child checkup appointment at 9 am. Had to take the two little ones to Walmart for a big shopping. Got home at lunch and had a million things to do, but the baby fell asleep on my lap and clung to me any time I tried to move him so I ended up sitting in a chair with him for two hours. When he finally woke up I only had 45 minutes before I had to get back in the car to pick everyone up from school. Had to take my seven year old to physical therapy after I got the kids home from school. Didn’t get home till it was time to make supper. House was a mess. Kids were making a lot of noise. Aside from feeding people, I hadn’t got any housework done. I was stepping over toys on the floor, kicking dirty clothes out of the way, grabbing the baby as he tried to reach up on the counters and pull everything down. The younger kids all had their skates on and were crashing around the house, running into walls and furniture as they wobbled around. Chaos. I don’t like chaos.

As I sat at the supper table, I suddenly had a perspective shift. All the kids were sitting around the table talking to each other, talking with me and my husband. Everyone was laughing and joking with each other. My kids were fighting over who got to talk to me first about their day. The older kids were teasing the little ones. After the meal everyone gathered in the living room. It was still chaotic, kids running around in circles chasing each other. Every once in a while a child would hand me a book to read out loud. My oldest boy was playing the piano. My husband was working at the fireplace, trying to get our new wood burning stove installed. Still Chaos.

But good chaos. Family hanging out together. People enjoying each other’s company. Kids basking in being at home, being a part of a family, being loved. Warmth, security.

Two ways to look at the day. A failure: house didn’t get cleaned; dishes didn’t get washed; laundry didn’t get done. Or, a complete success. Children were hugged and cuddled; kids were listened too; laughter was shared. It was actually a good day.

Perhaps my perspective shift was simply getting a heavenly glimpse of my life. Seeing things through love-tinted glasses. And that is my New Year’s Resolution, that I would start slapping those glasses on my face every day and start judging my success on how well I loved that day, not how many chores I checked off my list. Love God, love people. It’s going to be a good year.