I’ve professed desires to be a myriad of things throughout my youthful 27 years, beginning with the typical wide-eyed young girl in pigtails dreams of a singer/actor/artist/tightrope walker (so maybe the adjective “typical” doesn’t apply to all of the above), to the higher-aspiring careers of lifeguard, Hawaiian hula dancer, Western raft guide or anything that pays me the bare minimum needed to survive in a beachside hut somewhere in the Caribbean, to the sporadically-attractive-based-solely-upon-their-lucrative-nature careers such as a lawyer (the courtroom type…think A Few Good Men…I saw myself in Demi Moore, I won’t lie), architect (okay…so I still think I’d like to become one of those when I grow up…I have visions of crafting designs for a Falling Water 2, ala an extinct volcano somewhere in the Pacific rather than a waterfall in Pennsylvania), or a professional world traveling snowboarder (lucrative only because I will be winning Olympic gold medals and tucking thousands of sweet endorsements under my belt…then again, my snowboarding is far from Olympic-talent level and I’ll admit icy conditions instill the fear of God in me). Suffice it to say, in a much simpler way than my previous details just expounded – I like to create dozens of castle-in-the-air existences and can quite easily imagine myself a happy little camper in each of them (fantasy always holds a certain non-threatening quality at whose edges reality only wears away). Among these thrill-seeking, ever-changing versions of my future life, however, there was always something I claimed I’d never become: a mother.
(Now, let me add a disclaimer here: I have the most amazing mother to ever grace this planet, so my lifelong denial of motherhood for myself has NOTHING to do with my upbringing. If anything, I should be afraid of not living up to my own mother’s epic status and resign myself to the concept of simply handing over any hypothetical and still-unplanned for children I may have into her hands – she knows what she’s doing.)
I’ve been baby-sitting consistently for most of my life, starting when I was 12 and still continuing today, and I’ve had dozens of families and probably hundreds of kids in my care throughout the past 15 years. I love kids. Like, I LOVE them. I’m the girl who would go to her friends’ high school graduation parties and play in the back yard with their little siblings/cousins/friend’s siblings while everyone else poured over yearbooks and cried about missing each other when they went to college. Kids are best things to me, and I love everything about them, from the way they reach for your hand with their tiny fingers or crawl into your lap to watch a movie; from the way they get excited about everything to how trusting they are of every word you say. I find myself wanting to be better around kids; wanting to be the me I know I can be, the me I want the world to see. I want to protect them and comfort them and laugh with them and encourage them to believe they can be and do anything they desire.
So last week, I watched Amanda and Robbie (the world’s two most amazing, beautiful children, for whom I’ve been babysitting consistently the past 8.5 years, beginning when they were 2 and 4) for 6 days and 5 nights, the longest amount of time I’ve watched any kids, while their parents went to Mexico. They have a beautiful house and are almost unbelievably well behaved (a testament to their sweetheart mother’s influence), and I was really excited about staying with them. At ages 12 and 10, they’ve never been easier to entertain and care for, and it was a mini vacation for me, really, as well; a reprieve from my daily existence, allowing me to live somewhere else with the company of 2 housemates and the promise of non-stop activity (I crave frenzy, these days).
It changed my life.
In just 6 days, I managed to cram in an unbelievable amount of “mommy-hood” activities and found myself enjoying every single moment. Now, I’m perfectly aware that part of the thrill was most likely the temporary sense of “playing house,” knowing this was only for a short amount of time and wouldn’t require me to move past the “honeymoon” stage of mommying – but it made me realize, “I could do this” (maybe). Not that I’m in a rush – or that I even have the desire to ever do this (old habits die hard, so they say…) but I realized I COULD, and I actually enjoyed being responsible for these amazing children. I took Robbie to work with me 2 days; I took him to the doctors; I talked to and met multiple of their friends’ parents (including Amanda’s BOYFRIEND’S mom…yes, apparently we have relationships at age 12 these days); I cooked and cleaned and took care of the dog (I woke up excited about the prospect of making them breakfast each morning!) and carted them around in the Xterra and made sure homework was done and even soothed and hugged and comforted through a time of tears that I hadn’t anticipated and that almost broke my heart. I probably was a little on the indulgent side, baking anything they wanted and rarely saying no…but when the kids are so cute and so good, I didn’t want to say no! Saturday night saw six kids running around the house and it was one big sleep over party, and Sunday morning I took 5 of them to church with me – my ducklings, as they weaved through the lobby masses on Missions Conference Sunday and totally blew me away with how well behaved they were during the exceptionally long service. I loved looking behind me and knowing they were all depending on me; that I was responsible for them, and my heart filled to bursting with love for these kids.
How can we ever be enough, ever do enough? How can we awake each morning and not want to believe in all good things, knowing there are children who deserve the world as it was intended to be and who we hate to think we could possibly let down, through our own fallibility and sinful nature? I don’t remember a time when I thought so little of myself as I did during those 6 days…when I constantly had other people in the forefront of my mind, wanting everything I did to be for them. I found myself wanting to fall in love with the world through their eyes…and wondering how mothers don’t go to bed each night with hot tears of love and gratitude and frustration at not being able to bottle up the sunshine to place in jars around their children’s worlds so that no darkness will ever creep in.
They aren’t even mine, and I’m not ready for any to be, at this time in my life. But the way they changed me, and brought me out of myself…it was a gift I hadn’t realized I’d needed to receive, like a flame in the heart of a winter’s freeze.