There is a restlessness that comes over me this time of year. Like a flea infestation in the dog days of summer. I hear thoughts whispering gently, convincingly, into my consciousness. “This is the year. This is the year you will climb that mountain.”
Most people have these thoughts in January. But let’s face it. In January, I’m too hung over on a disabling combo of unmet Christmas expectations and processed white sugar to even consider making resolutions. Although, I must admit to lying prostrate for hours in the living room watching football because the remote has gone missing again, envisioning myself at Weight Watchers or organizing closets. But, it’s a lot like penguins thinking about flying. It sure would be nice. Not going to happen.
In August, it’s different. As the back-to-school ads crank up and the shops are filled with perfect boxes of crayons and crisp white shirts for boys, I sort of get swept up in the whole concept of a fresh start. This is the year. I’m going to be THAT mom.
You know the one. The one at the bus stop who looks like she just stepped out of the salon. What is that glittering on her ears? Earrings? Egad. I forgot I had pierced ears. Somewhere in July I remember the last one falling off as I wrestled a comatose kid out of a sleeping bag and attempted to convince him to pee in the freezing blackness outside the tent, like a sensible person. During the mad dash through summer, I forgot about jewelry. Sparkly things are distracting. I was focused on not losing one of my dusty, sweaty, popsicle covered offspring in a National Park. Priorities, people.
But as summer excitement winds down, August sings to me. Fall is coming. See that family in the back-to-school Target ad? See them casually flopped in a pile of leaves, all wearing color coordinated outfits , heads thrown back in laughter with amazingly white teeth? That could be your family! What with a little extra effort and some serious dentistry, you could have the year you’ve always dreamed of as a mother! This is your time, woman! You will be organized. Your kids will be well coifed and studious. Your dog will trot obediently behind you to the bus stop. This is the year. You will be THAT mom.
All I need is some sort of organizational tool and I will have preplanned, simmered to perfection meals on the table when my husband walks through the door. I will convince the children that not all food is handed through a window or packaged in the shape of a “bar”. I will stop spending the college fund on coffee at five bucks a crack because I left the filter in the coffee pot to the point of green mold again. I will shop the sales, stock my cupboards like that Proverbs 31 gal, and not laugh hysterically at the thought of cooking one month of meals at a time to “pop out” of the freezer “when life gets busy”. I will not buy food thinking, “How easy will this be to eat with one hand?” We will sit around the table holding hands to say grace before dinner. The children will have to learn. Saying grace is not just for Thanksgiving.
August blows through my soul. This is the year I will do laundry like a sane person. I will say things like “Let me just get a load started before we dig into that book report due in two weeks, sweetie.” I will not wait until every item of clothing we own is piled above the level of the window in the washroom. We will not make jokes about “Mt. Laundry” as we drive to Walmart to buy new undies in a crunch. We will banish the words “triage load” from our vocabulary and the 13 year old will not believe that a maximum capacity washer could be filled with only socks. No way.
This the year I will wash and fold like a monk. We will not leave piles of clothes on the stairs to be jumped over like an Olympic event because our home owners insurance is just not all that great. I promise to not swear like a sailor when I find entire piles of already washed and folded laundry dumped into the hamper by my precious children. I will sympathize with how hard it is for able bodied children to open a drawer. Indeed, I will be so understanding that I will not launch into 45 minute tirades regarding Laura Ingalls Wilder washing clothes in the creek. Even if I have the props and perfect sound effects for wet clothes on stone. Instead, I will smile. And I will pray.
This is the year we will not over schedule. We will commit to a reasonable amount of activities. “No you can’t go to soccer, basketball, Boy Scouts and honors band on the same evening, darling.” I will be mature and not ruled by my parenting insecurity that tells me fourteen sports and Japanese lessons will give my kid the “edge” in life. Instead, I will dig out the chore chart I made in 2004. I will motivate the children will peppy family mottos. “Team Clean is Keen!” This is the year my kids will develop character scrubbing out the toilet and clipping coupons for the family shopping trip. It will happen. Because I have an open square on a chart and hundreds of star shaped stickers.
And when we do head out for “wholesome family activites” we will arrive on time. I will not make the children cry because we are LATE and I have ratcheted up to 120 decibels to get the little pumpkins moving with sufficient urgency toward the minivan. I will not careen into the church parking lot on two wheels shouting loudly, “Hurry up! For crying out loud, how long does it take to eat a granola bar?” This is the year we will walk, like a mother duck with her ducklings, into the building 15 minutes early and graciously greet others. We will not straggle across parking lots with our tutus around one calf and over the other shoulder, sniveling, “Mom, did you even wash this? It smells funny.” We will not.
This is the year. The sun will shine. We will be organized. Backpacks will hang on pegs. We will not request the same permission slip 5 times only to phone desperately on the day of the event to give “verbal permission.” Encouraging notes will be slipped into lunch bags filled with nutritious sandwiches prepared with love. We will go to bed early. We will get up on time. We will discover something called “breakfast“ to be eaten at something called “kitchen table”.
August, how you whisper sweet nothings into my ear. Paint a picture of perfection so beautiful, I am willing to get excited all over again. Because every year, in August, I look at their long brown legs covered with picked over scabs. Wild summer hair bleached by the sun hanging in their faces. How have they grown so much since stepping off the bus in June? So fast, too fast, their childhoods are passing. Ankles poking out of jeans. Shirts grabbing across the shoulders. How can I want anything less than perfection for these hearts of my heart?
I really want to be THAT mom. I hold the advertisements in my lap and sit cross legged in the broken chair at the dusty picnic table. And I pray. And honesty steels across the scene like a sudden frost. I know the truth. My perfection quest is for me, not them. To be the perfect parent would alleviate my guilt-a-thon filled nights. I would be free from desperately wondering, “What if my shortcomings are stunting their growth?” Like a flower, root bound in a tiny pot. What if my disorganized, frenetic parenting style is keeping them from full bloom?
And sitting on the sundrenched patio, I hear God laughing. Not a condemning laugh. A welcoming, pulling, beckoning laugh. The sun is so bright, I close my eyes and feel the warmth on my neck. His call was never to perfection. His call is to love. “Be holy as I am holy.” Moses had to take off his sandals because the ground before him was holy. What can earth do? Molecules of dirt cannot achieve perfection. It was the presence of God. He makes the vessels holy. Holiness is God’s standard of perfection.
Holiness might not be a perfect meal. Arriving on time. Getting the “edge”. Wearing socks that match… or are even clean.
Holiness might be sitting down to eat our 99 cent gas station tacos with grateful hearts. It might be eye contact before talking. Laughing for no good reason. It might be listening with interest to a 55 minute explanation of Ninjago. Or painting her nails even though her room is still messy and might remain that way until 2026. Holiness might be allowing grace to trickle into the hurried moment. “Can I help you find your shoes?” How hard is that to say? How hard is that to do?
I sit and listen as God’s laughter melts into song. He is singing over me. That’s what my Bible says. I allow Zephaniah’s words to erase the Back to School chalkboard of expectations.
The siren call of August must be tempered and tamed. My goal is not to climb the mountain. Just one hill. One day. My call is to love. Love freely. Love here in the confusing, messy moment. Love these kids. Love this day. Teach them that life is not about perfection. It’s about holiness. God’s standard. The goal is more and more of Him. Not just more and more. Childhood is so short. Life is too short to care about a standard achievable only in the world of photo shoots.
This fall, I will love with abandon. And stack the laundry on the stairs because why mess with a system that works.
Hollylu 7 < 8
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