It’s a Sunday after church and we’re stuffing Nutella-ed plates and oatmeal-ed bowls into the dishwasher while also fixing lunch. Except one of us is already done and inviting the neighbors over.
“Can they come in?” she asks.
“Your sister has to finish her lunch first.”
“Mom!” the lunching one chimes in—and the way they say this one-syllable title for me you’d think I was wearing dirty underwear for a hat. “It’s raining! You can’t send them back out! You are always so rude to our friends!”
The next morning, I went grocery shopping as I do every Monday. I came home to two daughters and their two friends cleaning the house in hope that I would take them to the mall that day instead of on Thursday as planned. I brushed off annoyance that my agenda was thwarted and instead indulged in feeling glad for their sweet (if not purely-motivated) idea and their hard work. “Oh, and we washed the dog,” said Lolo, “she rolled in a dead frog.”
Then in the mall, right there in the vast tile-and-kiosked expanse between H&M and Journeys, a question was launched at me like a water balloon from behind. “Can we go to the pretzel place? Allie and Jumana brought money.”
I had specifically said I wasn’t buying snacks and was more than ready to head home. The thing about kids is that they don’t realize the effects of their existence. Even at ages nine and eleven they don’t know the joy or the burden that comes with them. This is the genius of childhood. They are unaware of their power to sap resources of all kinds, of their need to be managed but also of the uninhibited hope they radiate into the grown-up world.
Bless their little shopping hearts, these daughters of mine had no idea that it was tiring just herding them through the mall, taking responsibility of my peers’ children, driving them at high speeds across town in my car. They don’t yet see the mental weight of leadership. They only see decisions made on their behalf and react accordingly. “No,” I said.
“Mom!” And it’s all very hard because at this age they are criticizing my parenting, my character, even personal attributes about me that I can’t change. I don’t know why I’m not a sweet cute extrovert like your friends’ moms. I’m just me. But your friends’ moms didn’t agree to take four tween girls to the mall, did they? No.
“Then why did you even bring us here?” I am asked. What I hear in that question are the Israelites in Numbers 21:5, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt? . . . we detest this miserable food.” I was Moses in the mall wilderness of what seemed like a 40-year tween summer.
Late in the afternoon when dinner was in process and I was re-sheeting the beds, someone had a meltdown which maybe wasn’t unrelated to getting new shoes and a new picture day shirt as well as eight dollars’ worth of snacks from the pretzel place (repaid with her own money). I don’t remember what it was about, but there was stomping and mattress punching, and it sure sounded like Numbers 11:4 which reads, “The rabble among them had a strong craving.”
As I write this post, the children are dying their hair for the second time this summer. They promised to not get color on the walls again and will use old clothes and towels and wash the bowls they use right away.
I’m overhearing that there is color on a bath mat. Someone says she’s coming downstairs for a snack while reaching for the pet stain remover. There is some tension and curtly-delivered commentary drifting down from the second floor. They’re expecting THE E-MAIL to show up any minute revealing what teacher they have and their class-specific school supply list. I have a hunch, in my Mosaic mother wisdom, that the office won’t send it until 5 p.m.
Five minutes later someone’s hair isn’t turning out like they’d imagined, our guest seems upset and is headed for the door. I ask what’s happening.
“Mom, you don’t have to barge in! We’re working it out!”
I bet Moses heard a lot of that one too, just maybe not from people with magenta hair.