My daughter, Priscilla, would gladly switch places with you if, heaven forbid, a stomach virus tore up your insides leaving you nauseous and raw in a fetal position next to the toilet. At least so she says, head tilted and eyelashes flapping like any good Disney princess, charming her one true love. Not bound by the confines of rationality, her warm and tender sentiments (“You are the bestest mom… more than no one in the whole wide world!”) can disorient the blues out of anyone. Priscilla is fiercely loyal, compassionate, and sweet as a peppermint candy. She is precious, cute as a button, and the absolute worst, most negligent cleaner-upper I have ever laid eyes on.
It takes her thirty-five minutes to hang up a dress, an additional twenty-two to put her shoes away. And the moaning from her bedroom, the pitiful cries of injustice at having to clear the floor of paper dolls, Polly Pockets, and ballerina tutus, is enough to make a loving mother wring her hands in exasperation. Accusations of unfairness have more than once instigated an eye-rolling tirade from yours truly – a self-gratifying breakdown of the chores completed daily by me, without fanfare, acknowledgment, or thanks. Last weekend, having reached my quarterly limit with the clutter and the stuff and the disturbing wads of dust reproducing like rabbits behind the dressers, I broke out the vacuum and trash bags. Trembling at the site of me, a mom on a mission, Priscilla’s whimpering began with the first syllable in the sentence: “No one is going anywhere until this mess is cleaned up;” because it was altogether possible that her house arrest could last a lifetime.
You can imagine my suspicion when seven minutes later Priscilla emerged smiling from her room. “I’m going to play next door with Elizabeth!” she announced.
“You’re finished?” I asked, incredulously.
“H-m-m, h-m-m,” she confirmed, not meeting my eyes, picking nervously at a scab on her skin.
And of course I had to verify such an audacious claim, like when five-year-old Benjamin yells down the stairs, “I’m done! Are you going to check my closet?”
“I am now,” is the standard reply.
At first, I was dumbfounded by the orderly nightstands, visible rugs, and the patchwork quilt pulled bumpily over her pillow. But then suddenly it all made sense, as my gaze focused in the on the bits and pieces of hair ribbons, Strawberry Shortcake accessories, and dirty socks peeking out from beneath her twin sized bed. Upon closer inspection, it became obvious that Priscilla, as a justifiable solution (at least in her mind) to an otherwise insurmountable dilemma, had employed the bulldozer technique of sweeping all the debris into one enormous pile and, in this case, shoving it (not so discreetly) out of sight. She could tell, I suppose, by my “you have got to be kidding me” face, we were not on the same “tidying up” wavelength. I was tired. Priscilla was tired, of the nagging, the frantic searching for missing items, and the undercurrent of disappointment emanating from my pursed lips every time I passed by her doorway. “Come back in here,” I said softly “and let’s fix this problem together.”
Out from her drawers came the too small, too big, and out of season clothing. Out went the toy box and dress-up supplies. Out to the trash went last year’s school papers, the dried up markers and random puzzle pieces, lost and lonely. Out went everything that so easily overwhelmed her, which she wanted but couldn’t manage on her own. What remained were the bare necessities, clearly assigned places for her things, and a space that Priscilla could rest and breathe in. How could she have obeyed me, at the tender age of six, faced with a task most ill defined? After awhile, after a certain amount of junk in anyone’s life is accumulated, the process of cleaning up becomes a lot more complicated, becomes a lot less realistic in the long run.
I’ve had this dream of becoming an author. I’d like to get the field trip permission slips in on time. If I could afford one renovation, I’d rip up the kitchen flooring and put in hardwood. I am curious about the monks protesting in Myanmar. This Christmas, should we travel or stay home? This Thursday should we have pizza or stew? Is it normal that my children argue so much? I have to figure out a way to get some exercise. “What’s that?” “Do what?” “You mean right now?” Of course, I would (if I could)! In fact I talk about it incessantly, the peace that comes from submitting fully to God’s will. It’s just that I’m kind of busy, it’s not so cut and dry, I have goals and responsibilities I need to attend to.
It is often at this point, when the every day details begin crowding out my opportunities for divine illumination, that Christ mercifully and painfully starts to toss out the rubbish, on my behalf. My work is rejected. Our finances become strained by unforeseen car troubles or the laying-off of my husband from his job. An angry and stubborn child rocks my confidence. A series of stupid, humiliating, mistakes makes me question my own capabilities. Yet when the fluff, the broken agendas, the misplaced desires are finally cleared away, wouldn’t you know it…life suddenly becomes a whole lot more simple. What to do next, is not nearly so confusing, so up for grabs, so clouded by a soul-full of earthly stimuli: pray, beg for mercy, feel the unexplainable tranquility of being swallowed up by God, the only Hope I’ve got for getting Home.
My daughter, Priscilla, looks around her, admiringly, at the haven of unfussiness and minimalist beauty. It feels good to watch her sink into that bed – without having to shove off the girly-girl litter, without having to endure my disapproving scowl, without having to waste a moment on sorting through the chaos in an attempt to find exactly what she is looking for. For all that is left are the things of true importance, are the items that I, as the mother who adores her, deemed necessary for this stage of her development, for this moment in her childhood, for right now.