Last summer, hugely pregnant with my third child, I took my 1- and 3-year-olds on a walk every afternoon. I’d saunter along behind them, absently resting my hand on my taut belly, hoping to receive some communication in the form of a heel or shoulder blade in my palm. My head ached from the dry Colorado heat, and every joint and ligament protested at being stretched to capacity. I had no delight left in me, so I drank in the delight of my children, filling my own empty reservoir with their joy.
We spent over an hour on a half mile stretch of concrete path that wound behind our neighborhood. The path only extended another half mile beyond that and was barricaded by a chain-link fence, though there were rumors the city planned on extending the path one day.
On these walks, my kids would lie on the sidewalk, watching ants and poking roly-polies until they curled into a ball. They’d pick dandelions by the fist-full and stuff their pockets with ruby red berries I hoped weren’t poisonous. Wild, brown bunnies would dart out of bushes and skitter away as my son and daughter chased them under fences.
For once, I was glad to roam at the rhythm of my children. The first four years of motherhood had been a constant tension: my kids wanted to go slow; I wanted to go fast. They wanted to savor simple pleasures; I wanted the adventurous life I had lived before children. They wanted to play; I wanted to be productive.
But last summer, I finally surrendered. My children won the battle for slow, small and simple.
So now, instead of resenting them for weighing me down, holding me back, and stunting my growth, I’m starting to accept that my children are not a burden. In fact, they are teaching me how to live.
My children are my wonder-catchers. They are my sieve—capturing every small, insignificant, glorious life particle before it can slip away. Like getting eyeglasses for the first time, my children magnify life, bringing every bug, spider web, sparkly rock, quirky person, and familiar place into sharp clarity. We do not go far or fast, but they are teaching me to marvel at the mysteries of a God hidden in plain sight. As a writer and worshiper of God, slowness is a gift, for I am honing the ability to notice and delight.
I’ve had these prophetic words by Madeleine L’Engle scribbled into my prayer journal since my pre-kid years. I never knew their fulfillment would come in the form of motherhood:
“Slow me down, Lord … When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening” (Walking on Water 13).
In my former life, I was a doer. I led, organized, taught, and planned. I lived in other countries, got my masters, traveled alone on 27-hour train rides across China, and spoke other languages. But it turns out God was not impressed. Instead, he wanted to teach me how to be nearsighted again. He wanted to slow me down. Not just so I could see his work in the world, but so I could hear his still, small voice.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is about Elijah crouching on the side of a mountain, waiting for God to speak. God confounds Elijah’s expectations, for his voice does not come in the fire or raging storm, but in a gentle whisper.
My children have coerced me into submission: I cannot be a doer any longer. But, it is through being that I am learning to see and hear the susurrations of the Spirit at work in our small life. I won’t pretend it isn’t an agony for a doer like me, but I’m learning to seek wonder and listen for Spirit whispers.
My children are teaching me not to take myself so seriously. They beg me to abandon adulting to enter into their imaginary worlds. Like the children in the movie, Hook, who are looking for Peter Pan by touching Robin William’s grown-up face, squishing his cheeks and squeezing his chin, they eventually say, “There you are, Peter!” My children believe that buried deep down in my stodgy, serious exterior is the soul of a curious and creative child.
A friend of mine says she believes God gives us children and grandchildren to remind us how to be childlike because somewhere along the lines we forget.
Like the grown children in The Polar Express who eventually stop hearing the magical tinkle of the Christmas sleigh bells, we, too, lose our sense of wonder. We forfeit our capacity for the sacred in favor of the solid secular. And then, we’re surprised when we stop believing in the supernatural. But, one way we stay in the magic is through playing with our children and entering into their whimsical, invented worlds.
There’s a controversy among parenting groups about whether we mothers really need to kneel down on the floor and play with our children. I personally carry a lot of guilt about this and come up with lot of excuses not to play.
Stereotypically, mothers do the book-reading and puzzle-figuring, while dads are the designated wrestlers, floor gyms, and imaginative-players. I believe my children will turn out to be well-rounded, thriving adults even if I do not sit on the floor and play with them. And yet, perhaps play is akin to prayer—in doing it, we don’t actually change the recipient, but we ourselves are transformed. Playing with my children may not change them, but it will most likely change me.
It’s impossible to take yourself too seriously when you are pretending to drink rocks out of plastic tea cups. We can have no illusions of greatness when we are making toy dump trucks talk to a stuffed walrus. It makes sense that God would use children who laugh at knock-knock jokes with no punch line, whirl and twirl in circles for fun, and belt out songs in public to shatter our sense of propriety and bring us back to our childlike selves. We are Peter Pan all grown up, waiting to be found again.
Play teaches us to transcend reality. We can imagine a different life where we are not mother, father, accountant, or banker, but can become queen, king, warrior, or superhero. Perhaps our little sages know something we have forgotten—it is easier to see people as God sees them when we are able to imagine them as they could be rather than as they are. Our children have the gift of reigniting our imaginations and ushering us into the world of possibility.
My children also teach me to let go of perfectionism. Parenthood is the great equalizer—leveling our pristine palaces until we are back on earth’s dusty floor.
Before children, I presented others at least with the illusion of put-togetherness. Now? Food, clothing, occasional baths, cuddles, playdates, church, reading, family time, disciplining, prayer, and talking about Jesus are the essentials. Everything else (like a spotless house, staying fashionable, or even being a calm, intelligent adult) can no longer be a priority. I’m finding freedom in letting go, cutting corners and playing the Grace Card with myself over and over again. I’m learning to see Jesus through the dust cloud of tiny foot washing.
My mother was visiting last week. She had been out on a run and didn’t know the running path was blocked. I no longer bother checking because I just assume the chain-link fence still bars the path. But when she returned, she spoke of another bridge over another stream that I knew nothing of. On my next run, I ran beyond and discovered the barricaded path was now wide open. Suddenly, I could go farther and faster.
One day my slow, fenced path will open up again, and life will allow me to venture beyond the barricade of motherhood.
I will not always chide my children for eating popcorn off the ground at the zoo. One day they will stop delighting in stringing together plastic colored beads or painting a rock to give to Daddy. My pockets will not always be full of stray stickers, folded band aids, and crushed dandelion petals. One day I will not be forced to plead for the life of ants and spiders on the path.
I’m told these days pass quickly, though they feel endless now. But one day, like the suddenly open path, I’ll reclaim the freedom I surrendered during this season with littles. And, I know I’ll miss my tiny teachers who have taught me how to cherish slow, same, and simple.
So for now, I choose not to just endure this agonizingly slow pace of life with littles but to savor it.
I give myself permission to take strolls with my children before the sun dips behind the mountains. I refuse to feel guilty for sitting in a lawn chair in my backyard, watching my children splash each other in the blue plastic pool, and dance naked in the light of the fading day. I am relearning how I see the world, trading my stuffy adult ways for silly play and an absurd amount of time wasting.
Slowness is saving me right now. And, I have my children to thank for that.
Little sticky hands are leading me straight to the smiling face of Jesus, who I imagine has his head thrown back, laughing into the warm summer wind.