Some days (or weeks), life just kicks you in the teeth. There's no other way around it. You get bad news from a family member, your husband. You try to treat yourself a little only to have a BAD reaction to the food and go home to find more bad news. You spend half the night up. One kid wets the bed; the other kid wakes at 5:00. The husband is out the door early; the power goes out. It just goes on and on until the little one comes home from school, walks past the linoleum, and pees on the rug. The pee incident was just the exclamation point on my WTF 24-hours.
And the thing was, the previous 24-hours had given me no clue, NONE, that the following 24 were going to be so bad. In fact, I actually thought that things were looking up. I got paid for something I hardly ever collect on. I did our taxes and found out that we actually get back more money than expected. I washed the car without being reminded (something my husband loves). I even swept all the floors and contacted the apartment about our broken-yet-again window. It was a pretty good day.
And so I was just kind of numb after my change of luck. Numb and paranoid. I stared out at the kids wondering if lightning would strike. I clutched the phone, anticipating more bad news. I waited for fire. Well, I did get smoke, but that was just because the cheese ran over the pizza pan, so there were no real flames. It was one of those kind of days.
Of course, moments after I wrote the paragraphs above, tornadoes bore down on Henryville and demolished the little town. One day it was there; the next, not so much. I was reminded of Francesca Battistelli's words, "In the middle of my littleness, I forget how big I'm blessed."
Earlier today before I sat down to continue this, I heard screaming from the front yard. I had just checked outside, and the kids had been fine. But, as I sprinted out the door, I could see they were not fine now. The big one led the little one.
"He hit his head!" the big one sobbed. "There's blood! It's all my fault!"
It wasn't all the big one's fault. The little one had decided to play by himself, tripped over his own two feet, and fell against the side of the brick house.
The big one's unearned guilt and distress highlighted my own problem.
I don't forget how I'm blessed. I know I'm blessed. Very blessed. Overflowing, pouring into my lap blessed.
What I actually forget, and get really agitated over when I'm reminded of it, is how very little control I actually have over life in general and how little of it is actually mine. Remembering my experience with hair dye and styling products to uniformly straighten or curl my hair (just one way all at the same time, please), I always laugh a little when I read Jesus's mandate, "Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black." But it's true. I can't.
The truth is that I just can't protect against everything, perhaps anything. I can't know what will happen. I can't keep the tornadoes from coming, can't make others do what I want, can't keep my children safe every moment of every day.
But I suffer from loss aversion. Like the monkeys that get the two apples and then have one taken away, so that they with one apple are much angrier than the other monkeys that started with only one apple, I forget that the apples I see aren't actually mine. The people I love do not actually belong to me, and I despair of losing them in any way shape or form.
But my children and my husband aren't things. They are human beings with their own minds, hearts, dreams, and takes on things. Who else would claim quitting smoking causes knee pain but my husband, who can now run long enough without gasping to do real damage to his joints? Who but my big one would stuff the cap of the toothpaste upside down between the grate of our bathroom shelf to keep the bottle from falling off? Who but my little one would find a way to turn every holiday into a celebration of weaponry (Thor's hammer this Halloween, the German "cannon ball" (tannenbaum) at Christmas, and Cupid's bow and arrows for Valentine's Day)? I call them all mine, but they are not. We are connected, but I can't hold onto them with any greater efficacy than I can fix my hair.
The only way to stop the racing of my heart, to soften its desperate pounding after the last week, is, in fact, to remember that while my family doesn't belong to me, they belong to the One who holds us all. I may not like to trust in Him, may hate close calls, may despise my lack of control, but I can't do anything about that. What I can remember is that He claims that His thoughts toward us outnumber the grains of the sand, that He knows the number of hairs on our heads, that He who numbers the stars also binds our wounds. I remember how very dearly I loved the children I have taught, babysat, and cared for. I would have risked danger for them, still pray for them even now--some 20 years after I watched them. But I know that as much as I cared for them, what I felt is nothing compared to what I feel as a parent. And I take comfort in the fact that even though I can't control what comes, He can. And in the light of eternity, I'm just the babysitter.