Sunday, May 1, 2016

In The Desert

+-Parenting older vs younger childrenShe can tie her shoes now. She's lost four teeth, makes her own snacks, and has better handwriting than many adults I know. No one can make her baby sister laugh like she does. I look at her sleeping, long limbs stretched out across a twin bed, and try to remember how small she used to be, like the baby I have now. And even though I know it was just as hard back then, I also know that it was long ago.

This is an interesting place where I am – at the beginning again with a new child, but knowing all too well how quickly I'll be five years down the road. So I keep asking myself why I still get so irritated. Why do I let the little things add up? Why do I allow the baby's mood to determine how my days go? Why do I still get weary even though I love them so much? The answer, I'm aware, is simply that I'm living in humanity. Perspective goes a long way, but it doesn't make the living any lighter.

When we first decided to move to Arizona, I was convinced that I would hate it. I had never been in a desert environment, and having grown up in a wet climate with lush green all around, I assumed I'd feel completely out of place in all the dust and heat that awaited me. A desert had always held negative connotations for me, like isolation and bleakness.

Surprisingly, I ended up loving the desert. It holds its own beauty not found anywhere else on earth, and there's something about its solitude that can give a sense of freedom. I can understand why U2 named my favorite album (The Joshua Tree) after a desert plant. In an interview Bono said, “Spending time in Africa and seeing people in the pits of poverty, I still saw a very strong spirit in the people, a richness of spirit I didn't see when I came home… I saw the spoiled child of the Western world. I started thinking, 'They may have a physical desert, but we've got other kinds of deserts.' And that's what attracted me to the desert as a symbol of some sort.”

Metaphorically speaking, we've all lived in many deserts. All too often I've walked paths in which I've had to reach really hard for that richness of spirit, and sometimes I just couldn't pull it off. I know deep down that there's beauty to be found, even there, but that doesn't mean I can always see it. Even in the dry path I'm walking now, with the scorching sun at my back, a cactus blooms. And I may miss it if I'm too focused on the rest.

And if I'm being completely honest, I've been missing it a lot lately.

My third child teaches me daily about the importance of letting go of expectations. It has been a recurring theme for me throughout her little life thus far – reality not matching up with my ideas for how things should go down. Babies are like that anyway, you know – always thwarting your well-intentioned plans (like naps and leisure time). This third go-round for me has revealed just how much of my hangups in life have to do with holding tight to what's comfortable and safe, of how much my joy in life is dependent on everything it shouldn't depend on. I'm still living in the expectation of what should be, not what it truly is.

Those unreasonable expectations hold disappointment on the other side. When I convince myself of how my day will go. When I make a choice, believing I already know the outcome. When I fold the laundry and expect all the socks to match up. (I'm a silly creature – you'd think I'd have learned by now.)

I believe we're meant to crave the unknown wild, but instead I run from it, afraid of what I might find there. I'd rather it all work out. I'd rather have control. I'd rather not feel so small. Or so I think.

Spend just one night camping underneath a starry desert sky, and the smallness you feel is unlike any other. It envelops you...embraces you. It can be an amazingly freeing feeling to realize how tiny you are in the vastness of the universe – but only if you don't allow it to overwhelm you first.

If only I could remember my oldest every time I look at my youngest, and think about how soon she'll fill up that bed instead of being overwhelmed by her smallness. If only I could always see that the worn-out-cranky-kid-chasing days will soon give way when the sun sets just up ahead. If only I could stop caring about lost socks. If only I could fill up on that richness of spirit instead of running on fumes and frustration.

After all, I can't spend too much time in the desert if I haven't quenched my thirst.