In my defense, I was already jumpy, thanks to a $5,000.00 sewer bill and a finicky old house as unpredictable and endearing as my two-year-old daughter – with the laughing and stumbling, leaking and staining, and the undoing of that which was once orderly and fully functional. When my mother pointed out the pool of water growing ominously beneath our refrigerator, I panicked. Mentally, I began calculating the cost of replacing faulty appliances, ripping up moldy linoleum, or patching pipes ready to burst from the influx of water now mysteriously flooding my kitchen. We mopped, but the puddle kept stubbornly refilling. Was it coming from behind the stove? Was there a blockage forcing the water to escape by way of cracks in our baseboards? I piled towels, crouched on all fours to track down the origin of this impending disaster. Where was my husband, it was nearly 5:30 p.m.? “Hand me my cell phone!” I ordered.
“Hello,” said Troy so even keeled, unflappable and unemotional as ever.
“How do you turn off the water?” I barked, irrationally angry that I was dealing with this all by myself.
“Because a small lake is forming on the kitchen floor and I can’t stop it or find where it’s coming from!”
“Just relax, I’ll be home in a second.”
“Fine!” I snapped, mumbling under my breath about how frustrating it is to not be taken seriously.
Five minutes later the doorknob turned. Troy calmly walked in, set down his bag and visually assessed my “I’ve had it up to here" expression, the soaking wet mop, and the layer of towels draped dramatically atop sunny yellow tiles. Without saying a word he stepped over all my misguided attempts at taking ownership of this problem and opened the refrigerator door. I watched him lean down, and to my horror, snap closed the spout of a 2.5-gallon plastic jug of drinking water slowly emptying its contents over leftovers before streaming like a river into the larger body of water below. “You have to shut this,” he smirked. And I looked on, dumbfounded, at the evidence of my totally unnecessary hysteria revealing more about my temperament than I cared to lay claim to. “Ha, Ha!” I responded, “very funny.” Because what else is there to say in the face of such ridiculousness?
I notice this trait in my children and I cringe with guilt as Elijah frets feverishly over strong winds and rolling thunder. As Priscilla stalks the school nurse, bringing home slips of paper from her office near every other day with the words “bug bite,” “stomach ache,” or “scraped” scrawled upon them. What message do I send when I talk like our existence isn’t random but live as if I am sweating and inching my way across a tightrope, like one wrong move, one subtle shift within atmospheric conditions, could send all my hopes and happiness freefalling into a netless abyss. Out of love, I over sympathize, identifying with the anxiousness I should be nipping in the bud – my furrowed brow betraying stabs at bravery. For when the hype and horror of nightly news gets trapped beneath my skin, when sickness makes a tiny body burn, when tomorrow’s demands start disfiguring current joy, I tend to run around in circles like a chicken without its head - all dizzy, directionless, and unproductive.
Too many of my decisions are thoughtless reactions to stimuli neither truthful nor transcendent. So easily and impulsively do I buckle under the stress of negative circumstances. To parent this way, as one pushed helplessly here and there, to and fro like a tumbleweed by the side of a highway, only guarantees my losing out on fleeting opportunities to purposefully root my family in the Faith. “What’s wrong mom?” asks Elijah, his unnervingly perceptive gaze peeling back a layer of confidence, paper-thin. My mouth moves reassuringly but what’s communicated loud and clear is a lukewarm conviction that Christ’s omniscient and omnipotent hand holds this earth, and my cares, firm within it. When my priest states, unwaveringly, that nothing in this world is worth our anxiety, it’s like a balm to my spirit, chapped and raw. Every week I come for this, I soak in the nourishment of hymns, flat out defiant and unyielding to the taunts of greed and death. And although I am weak, forever breaking promises to live as Christ, it is my duty to pass that same assurance on to my children. It is my spiritual obligation and my pathway toward Salvation, to illustrate for them daily how a life with and for Christ is quite different, altogether, than one without Him.
It’s like trying to mop up an ocean: this goal of staying unflustered for Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin, and Mary. The wisest thing for me would be to put down the towels, quit conjuring up the most outlandish, worst-case scenarios, and surrender all my misguided attempts at taking ownership of a challenge impossible without God’s intervention. It’s ok for them to see that I’m not naturally a stoic. It is good to pray together, and often, for the courage to get through any situation. But it is also necessary that I stop, think, and remember who I am, where my hope lies, and how my actions convey more about the Truth than fluffy explanations regarding love, goodness, and Heaven. “I don’t like that face mama,” says four-year-old Ben when I scowl at the mess, at the never-ending pile of laundry. “I don’t either,” I say, once I realize that my meanest stares, my hissy fits, my fuming and agonizing accomplish nothing. One folded shirt at a time, one deep breath before up and declaring that the sky is falling, one brief prayer as I approach my child who is frustrated, frustrating, or frightened; how will the words and my demeanor be different when I yield to God and let Him fill Him my mouth, my soul, the members of my family with His mercy?
“Troy!” I whisper frantically, waving him over to our bedroom. “Do you hear that? Something’s moving in the corner!” I tiptoe behind him ready to bolt if confronted by a bat, a mouse, a raccoon. “What do you think it is, should I get a net?” But he’s already walking toward the scratchy noises. “Is this what you heard?” he whispers back, eyes wide with mock alarm. Slowly he reaches his hand toward our clock radio and turns up the volume so that the sound I am freaking out over (static between stations) plays louder.
“Shut up!” I laugh, tackling him down.
“What would you do without me?” he teases.
It’s a legitimate question, but one not worth wrestling over presently. Not today, while he’s here right in front of me - to delight in, to make me smile, to keep me humble.