Our steps are directed by the Lord;
He strengthens those in whose way he delights.
If they stumble, they shall not fall headlong,
For the Lord holds them by the hand.--Psalm 37:24-25
If I took the time to list our morning schedule line by line, it would resemble a German train table. Each step and transition is precision-timed with very little (i.e. zero) margin for error. If we leave a water bottle on the kitchen counter, by the time we realize it at the front door, it's too late to turn around and go back for it. If someone has something in their shoe, they have to wait until they get to their classroom to remove it. If shoelaces come undone, stopping to tie them is a luxury we can't afford. My daughter and I scouted out the "Super Top Secret Back Way" across the campus of her elementary school; negotiating the crowds on the sidewalks and main thoroughfares costs too many precious seconds in the race to get her to the classroom before the second bell.
My pick-your-battles mindset tells me that all of this is okay as long as both kids do make it in before the bell. When I get report cards and there are only one or two tardies for the term, I want to do a little victory dance. The objective measure of our time management skills--the lack of tardies on report cards--can never accurately capture the pressure of "We're late! Hurry up!" that dogs our mornings, but at least at this point in our lives, it's the objective measure that matters to me.
Don't get me wrong, I want the subjective measure of good time management, too. I've written elsewhere about how it makes me feel to be running late; I hate starting the day in chaos. I've tried waking everyone up ten, twenty, thirty minutes earlier, but those extra minutes evaporate somewhere along the way, and we still end up racing the clock. I've tried streamlining routines, setting out clothes the night before, planning grab-and-go breakfasts, signing folders and putting away homework and leaving backpacks ready by the front door before bed. We still go flying to the car with our hair on fire at the precise moment the first bell is ringing ten blocks away.
This morning we approached the crosswalk by the elementary school in our usual frenzied state, and as often happens, the crossing guard held traffic for us even though we were way back on the sidewalk when the people in front of us cleared the intersection. "Run!" I said to my daughter and picked up the pace, pulling her along behind me until we both stepped onto the curb on the other side. From over my shoulder I could hear her protesting, and I glanced back to see her scowling.
"Why did you start running like that?" she said. "I almost tripped!"
"I had you! I wasn't going to let you fall. That's why I hold your hand, sweet girl."
She shook her head and kept walking, clearly unconvinced. By the time we did our Sign-Kiss-Go routine (we walk together to the stop sign near the entrance closest to her classroom, stop for a kiss goodbye, then she walks the rest of the way into school by herself), she was back in good spirits, and I watched her ponytail swing back and forth as she bounced up the sidewalk and out of sight. Then I turned around and ran back to the car to start the race to get her brother to his school on time.
My children are not trusting creatures by nature. That's not new since the divorce; it's part of their personalities. For a long time it offended me, and even though I know better than to take it personally, I still find it so frustrating. I have asked each of them on more than one occasion to name a time when they truly didn't have what they needed. Yes, they might have to wait for some things, make compromises where needs conflict, or contend with my procrastination, but when push came to shove, have they EVER known me to not come through for them? They usually look at the ground and shuffle their feet while they mumble, "No," because of course I have never violated their trust in any major way (other than divorcing their father, which...let's just leave that alone for now). I stand still looking at them for a moment, dismayed at the distance between us and torn between wanting them to apologize for doubting me and wishing more than anything I could fix the places in their hearts and minds that create such doubt in the first place. Those standoffs almost always end with me pulling them into a hug and holding them close for as long as they can stand it.
In many ways, I am too trusting. I trust people to be honest, like the mechanic who told me I needed a $450 repair for my car. A new coworker overheard me talking about the problem and how much the guy quoted to fix it and said, "No, no, no way. That's not right. That's a $25 part, and I know someone who will install it for you for free. Call that guy back and tell him to stop the repair, and I'll get you a ride over to pick up your car. Don't let him do you like that." I went and picked up my car and had one of the most awkward exchanges ever with the mechanic. I didn't want to believe he would try to screw me over, except I could tell from the look on his face he knew he'd been caught.
My father and other friends tease me for being gullible, and I admit I give them plenty of material. I am impossibly earnest and wide open about most things. I recognize now how many times that led to trouble in the past, and I'm learning to be more cautious. I'm figuring out that safe people will respect whatever boundaries I feel like I need in any given situation. If someone doesn't understand why I need to maintain a certain distance, that's usually proof of why it needs to be there.
But when it comes to the deepest places in my heart and mind, I'm not so different from my children. Cheryl Strayed, writing as Dear Sugar, pointed out to a woman grieving the loss of her baby that everyone around her whose lives were going on as normal lived on Planet Earth, while she was stuck on Planet My Baby Died (language NSFW). Something clicked when I read that piece, and I started a mental list of the various planets I've been stuck on in my life. Most recently there's Planet My Marriage Ended, Planet I Had to Move, and Planet What the Hell is Happening to My Career. Like the woman from the Dear Sugar letter, I have also been a resident of Planet My Baby Died as well as Planet I Can't Have Another Baby. Stretching further back, I've inhabited Planet My Brother Died and Planet My Stepfather Sucks and Planet My Parents Divorced (which is one reason I feel such tenderness for my children right now) and Planet People I Loved Died Way Too Soon. That's a lot of places to get stuck; a lot of reasons to look up at my Creator with a scowl, demanding "Why did you do that? I could have tripped!"
Instead, like Cheryl Strayed urges in response to the woman on Planet My Baby Died, I have to reach. Reach for the Lord's hands even when it feels like I'm being dragged along in spite of my protests. Reach for those hands even when they hold me in place while things clear up ahead instead of letting me barge forward into the fray. Reach for the hands that hold me, that guide and protect me, that get me where I need to be, even in the midst of chaos and disruption.
His hands are always there: experienced, prepared, and capable enough to keep me from falling headlong. There's no Planet Anything that can take me beyond their grasp, no distance so far they can't pull me back to Planet Earth and all the love that waits for me here. I just have to reach and hold on for dear life. He's got me. He won't let me fall. That's why He holds my hands.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.