"They are the apple of my eye!"
"They are a blessing!"
"They are such good little boys!"
All these phrases are things that I have said about my boys. I do believe these words, but I think a lot of times I say these things and they don't feel true. They don't feel like a blessing when I am up six times a night and haven't had a full nights sleep since before they were born. They don't feel like good boys when I have lost count of the consequences given in the space of an hour. And, to be honest, I'm not sure I even know what the phrase "apple of my eye" really means. But we say these things as mothers because it is what we are supposed to say, right?
Recently, I was away from my boys for three whole weeks. Not just working in another town nearby, but an ocean away. My husband and I were on a scouting trip in France to learn more about what God is calling us to do when we move there as missionaries in a years time. It was a full and busy trip. We were constantly in motion, in the car for days, sleeping in a different bed almost every night. We were grateful that the boys were not with us because hauling around all the gear for two three-year-olds and a two-year-old, not to mention adjusting time zones, trying to have important conversations, being attentive to toddlers needs and emotions whilst trying to discern what God was saying, would have been literally impossible. I get exhausted just thinking about it.
The boys were well taken care of by their grandparents—who deserve a medal of some sort or a knighthood, inquiries are being made—so we had the peace of mind that, although they would miss us, their environment was staying relatively stable. We just moved from Colorado to Texas two months ago—one transition at a time, please! Before we left for Europe, we wrote notes to them for every day we were going to be away, which were accompanied by little gifts or tasks for them to do. I got the idea from a close friend of mine from when she and her husband were spending weeks in the NICU with their third child, leaving older siblings at home to be taken care of by their grandparents. They prepared the gifts in advance and had grandma and grandpa stick them secretly in the mailbox each day. It became a ritual, something to look forward to from Mom and Dad, whilst they were away doing something very important but too difficult for young minds to really understand. We hoped that the effort made on our part helped our boys feel connected to us, in spite of the miles between us.
When we were in Europe and having the countless conversations that needed to be had, there was, in the beginning, moments of relief when we realized that we didn't need to make sure there was a boy being fed, looked after or prevented from running into the street or choking on a baguette. It was like we came up for air a bit and that was a nice change from the general chaos of parenting. But then, as the trip went on, when those realizations came, there was a pang of sadness instead of relief. Many of our conversations led to talking about Reuben, Eli and Silas, and the conversation inevitably ended with us shoving our phones in peoples faces and telling little anecdotes about their personalities. Every time we passed a park, both Tom and I would turn our attention to the height of the slide and the number of swings, and in our minds measure it up to see if it was a place the boys would be happy to play.
With every beautiful experience in the glorious mountains, or rural, cheese-producing farm villages, in the cathedrals and foreign toy shops, we grew in our knowledge that a piece of us was missing. A large and important piece, three hip-high, toe-heads to be exact, who carry our features and foibles. Not only were they missing, but they are the very thing that makes us better and really have the power to show people who we are.
The last week of our trip was spent in England, seeing old friends and visiting churches and families that had been a major part of our lives for the five years we lived and did ministry there. It was amazing to be in places that had been so formational in our lives, marriage and ministries, but in all those five years, we were never parents. Some of the first questions out of the mouths of dear friends was, "Where are the boys?!?" and after two weeks without them, it was all I could do to not burst into tears—which I actually did at the last house we stayed in. My poor friend, who hadn't seen me in person for 6 years, had to dry up my tears first thing. What are good friends for though, right?
I cried several times on the flight home, unintentionally, and generally related to any mention of children in the movies I watched over the 8 hour time period on the plane. I just sat in 24F and cried like a little girl missing her mommy, except this time it was a mom missing her babes.
The life of a mother of three under two is hard, grueling, taxing and even demeaning sometimes, but ultimately, I am raising three little amazing rays of light that, when we are together, I get to shine brighter too. I have never been more convinced that the greatest impact I will ever have on the world will be made through my children. That is not to demean the work I have done or will do in the future, but these kids of mine, into which I pour all my efforts and energy, are the most important work I will ever do and have done already.
So, before when I would say those phrases written above, I knew that was true, but in my heart I was still thinking about the laundry, the poop on the floor, and then sleepless nights and bleeding nipples. But now, I KNOW that I speak truth, with both head and heart, when I say that my kids are really the very best part of me.