I was folding a mountain of laundry atop our bed the other day, memories flitting to the surface. Once upon a time six people dwelling at home translated into as many piles of clean clothes, and I often sought the help of our four children to fold.
It took forever.
Occasionally I would leave them to divide and conquer, slipping away to grade math papers or stir the spaghetti sauce or if I was really craving a slice of quiet, I would lock myself in the bathroom, perch on the tub’s edge, and read the next chapter.
Upon my return, one of the boys would likely be wearing his dad’s shirt which hung loosely, reaching his calves, and another would be twirling a pair of gym shorts by the stringed waistband while gazing out the window, lost in thought, as my youngest two played stuffed animals amidst the sock pile.
I would grab the timer and announce: 3 minutes to finish!
That lit a fire. Competitive measures usually did.
These days I have three small piles to form, soon to be two. So I fold neatly and deliver efficiently, except now my husband’s sock is missing, and nothing drives me crazier than a missing something.
So I drop down and skim my arm under the bed, and my hand finds not a soft sock but something cold and smooth.
Our ancient phone and answering machine combo.
I smile and am surprised to notice a lump forming in my throat. This same feeling swelled earlier this week when I ceremoniously stood before my husband and told him I was throwing away my pillbox.
He looked at me and instead of teasing nodded with a spirit of gentleness.
The end of an era, he said wistfully, and I ached just a little.
Back in the laundry folding days, with four young children, I was queen of daily vitamins. Vitamin C and D and Lysine and Elderberry and you get the idea. It took precious time to pull the bottles from the fridge and dole them out amidst wiggly children squealing Did you take yours? and I am not sure!
So one day I purchased six individual pillboxes to carry us through the week. Sunday evening I would stand at the counter and fill them up and tuck them in the refrigerator. Each morning at breakfast, out came the pill boxes, so neat and delightfully timesaving. I was that mother, waging war on potential contagions, making sure our beauties were armed. I felt satisfaction upon seeing those six containers lining our breakfast table amidst bowls, napkins, and spoons. Our nest was full, and even if everything else came unhinged by day’s end, at least everyone had taken their vitamins.
Suddenly (actually eighteen years in the making) Caleb left for college, and overnight (but really twenty-four months later) Jacob did the same, and soon after that my husband’s pillbox disappeared and he decided he didn’t need another one. Before I knew it Marcus was off to college and then Lauren’s pillbox cracked, and I ordered a new one. It is a temporary thing, though, as soon she, too, will be following in her brothers’ footsteps.
So my pillbox bravely soldiered on —serving close to fifteen years of perfect use. It was speckled with tiny stickers, decorated by our children so long ago. I loved it for the memories, the endurance. But the other day it simply gave way and the vitamins scattered everywhere over the kitchen floor and it was sad.
So I stood solemnly over the trash can and bid goodbye to the sweetness of young-mother days. Everything feels diminishing and dull.
I know who God is so I remind myself of his goodness and his gift of life-seasons. I will trust him through this new phase.
But I acknowledge that it hurts a little.
Some people are prone to sulking and I am not one of them. But I really do miss the togetherness of those days. The laundry folding and timers and happy noises and pillboxes all lined up. I miss hearing those four sets of footsteps prancing about the kitchen, the living room, the hallway. I miss our boys’ rough-and-tumble wrestling, pouring over stats and scores and Lego creations. I miss the piano playing and singing, and I miss our daughter twirling around each corner singing while perfecting her ballerina moves, stuffed bear in hand, her big brothers clapping and encouraging their one-and-only-sister. I miss the daily joking round the dinner table, and the stifled laughter at night when everyone was supposed to be sleeping.
I even miss the confusion of so many missing socks. Several times during those early years I asked everyone to dump all socks onto the living room floor as I tried one more time to match them up. So many holes, so many tinged gray, beaten down from sweaty, muddy football practices.
So I ultimately tossed the entire pile into the trashcan with Good riddance! spending a pretty penny to start afresh, and it was good.
Sometimes we need a fresh start, don’t we?
I plug in the answering machine and know perfectly well what’s coming. I have it memorized. Caleb’s five-year-old voice followed by Jacob’s three-year-old voice—a conversation accidentally recorded as they spoke with their Dad one common day on his commute home from work.
We had taken a field trip to the farm that morning, and there was so much to tell! Their voices echoed in the quiet, a time capsule whizzing through space and time, sparkling in the air, pulling me back to days long gone.
Daddy, there were chickens and horses and goats and baby bunnies!
And my husband’s voice so happy, asking questions and delighted by their excited answers.
It was such a good day.
Did I know it then?
Common days are the best.
And then Caleb says to Jon—Daddy guess what? You won’t believe it! Mommy beat the deck of cards! Voice all gravelly, that dear, dear, voice. I had taught him to play solitaire, telling of the delightful rarity in beating the deck without ever rolling.
And then he said: Daddy? Here’s Jacob.
And Jacob’s small, clear voice: Daddy? Why did you shut the door?
Jon had closed their door early that morning so as not to awaken them as he readied for work.
And I hear the sweet little boy, and I remember, all over again, his white-blond hair and brown eyes. A gifted conversationalist, so gentle of spirit. Did I see then who our children would become?
All of those mundane days were filled with glory. God is always at work, building his people, brick by brick. And those people begin as children.
Yes, it was good. Not perfect, but deeply good.
I slip the answering machine back under the bed–the only item I keep there. It is a cord to the past, to another time and place.
I stand up and deliver the few piles of clean clothes to their proper places. As I walk down the hall, I spy my husband’s missing sock on the laundry room floor.
So I pick it up and match it to its partner.
Twenty-eight years ago, we had two piles of laundry, which grew to six, and will soon be two once again.
Day by day, we hold out frail hands, cupping the gift of today, saying yes to whatever God chooses to give or to take. To trust God is to hold all things loosely.
We are now dwelling in shadowlands, with groanings that will soon give way to perfection: no more sinning, no more death, no more sorrows, and no more goodbyes.
Come Lord Jesus, come.
…The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.