Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


Long Days/Short Years

Picture this.

Two young children and their not-as-young-as-she-used-to-be mother are walking down the aisles of a grocery store.  The mother has made a very bad choice because the children are both tired and hungry, and their “just one little errand before we go home” is heading rapidly downhill.

It’s not pretty.

There is whining that increases in both volume and pitch as they go along.  There is pushing, bumping, and an almost magnetic force drawing little hands toward the stocked shelves.  The mother contributes with tense exclamations… don’t touch that! come here! stop that!… and empty threats… if you don’t hold onto the cart -right now!- I’ll never take you to the store again.

It is, in short, an experience of everything the mother has judged other parents for when her own children were more well-behaved… or better yet, not with her. Judge not and ye shall not be judged?  Too late now.

And she just needs two cans of black beans.  They push on.

Cans in hand they head for the check-out, and the mother makes her final mistake.  The candy aisle.  She doesn’t even realize it until the begging begins and she looks up straight into a bag of sour patch kids.  The mother digs in her heels… oh no, she will not be one of “those parents” who bribe with candy.  Oh no… she has at least that left in her.

The children are not so concerned with their moral superiority.  Whining turns to screaming.  The mother is now physically dragging them toward the finish line when they almost run into a well-dressed woman who is considering the expensive chocolate bars.

“Sorry”, the mother mutters and braces herself for the woman’s disapproval.  It never comes.  Instead, the woman stoops down, somehow balancing in her three-inch heels, and looks into the dirty faces of the monster children.  She smiles tenderly and looks into the strained face of the mother.  “Treasure these moments,” she counsels, “they grow up so quickly.”

Now here’s a little quiz for my readers.

In response to the well-dressed lady’s comment, the mother thinks:

a) Oh, what a nice lady.  I’m so glad that she didn’t glare at me and berate my children.  What kindness.  Oh God, please give me this kind of perspective when I see other struggling parents.

b) Oh, dear lady, she must have grown children.  I wonder if they live far away now.  She’s right, this time is fleeting and some day I’ll wish that I had these moments back.

c) Treasure?  Are you blind?  You have got to be kidding me.  Grow up quickly?  My children have been two and four for like ten years now, and I bet no one bangs on your door when you’re trying to go to the bathroom or screams in your ear when you are talking on the phone well-dressed lady.  Go back to your fancy chocolate bars.

d) all of the above

How would you answer?

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Coming Home

Coming home from a vacation is just weird.  There’s no other word for it.

Well… except for surreal, exciting, sad, comforting, overwhelming, and… you fill in the blanks.

I experienced all this and more as we turned onto our familiar street last night at about ten.  The trip odometer had passed 2,000 miles and we had passed through 9 states… West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.  But now we were back in Pennsylvania.  Same sights, same houses, same potholes.  We passed our neighbor sitting on his porch, we waved, we pulled up beside our house and were greeted by our cats.  As always.

It was as if we had never left.  But we had.  Two weeks away, and our eyes were now accustomed to new sights and unfamiliar places.  The old and familiar felt strange, even surreal.  Yet, at the same time, comforting… weird.

We walked inside.  Our housemates had cleaned the kitchen and it gleamed.  There were tasks–get the girls in bed, empty the cooler, take off the bikes.  Home quickly became a to-do list.  Why do we own this much stuff?  Our room was the aftermath of our two-weeks-previous packing tornado.  The girls room was worse.  A Goodwill trip, perhaps a dumpster, was in order.  I suddenly became nostalgic about living out of suitcases.

It was home.  It was really overwhelming.

Time had passed, things had changed, but the same skirt that I had rejected while packing was still sitting on my bed.  I regarded it as a foreign object–the sights and sounds of the North Carolina mountains seemed more near.  Was it only a week ago that I biked the streets of New Orleans?  And that lovely cabin in Alabama… I could almost still smell the pine trees.  Were all of these places and moments just photographs now?

I threw the skirt off the bed and lay down.

The next morning I had some coffee and caught up with our housemates.  The chickens were doing their chicken-y things outside, the kids were playing and the sun was shining.  It was good to be home.

Eventually I even slowed down enough to remember one of my favorite quotes.

“The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us” (G.K. Chesterton).  Ah… here was a key.

The thing about coming home is that it is work.  Good work.  But it is not only the work of unpacking, laundry and trying to find the darn cellphone charger.  It’s not just the return-to-work or the purging of excess stuff.  Coming home is also the work of figuring out what has changed inside of you, how you have grown, what your experiences of far away places will mean in your close to home places.

And that work, I suspect, is just giving the new things enough space to grow.  Even when you have a lot of unpacking to do.