I’m a work at home single mom, living in a house with six other family members. Although I try to think of my family, I’ll have to admit, I’m often stuck in my own problems, thought processes, work and so on. After two days with nerve spasms shooting up my neck and a full day of work, today was one of those days.
Last night, I’d been walking around with my hand on the back of my neck, trying to calm the pain, when I walked through my bedroom. My six-year-old daughter stuck her arms up from her bed, wanting a hug.
“Are you alright?” I asked. She nodded into my shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“I dreamed your neck hurt,” she said, pulling back and patting my cheek. Her lip trembled. “I love you, mommy.”
My heart squeezed as I hugged her tight, told her I’d be okay and that I loved her, too. I spent the next few hours thinking how blessed I’ve been, and how wonderful my children are. I promised myself I’d think about them more often, and try not to be so involved in my “own” life…
What’s that misquote about best laid plans – “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? I guess I should have read Robert Burns more recently.
Tonight, while the family sat around the supper table, I silently bemoaned the pain in my body and tiredness in my head. My daughter took a bite. “Ow!” she said, putting her hand up against her neck. “It hurts!”
After another “ouch” or two, I pressed on her teeth to see if maybe one of them was sore. Nothing. I checked her neck and under her jaw for swollen lymph nodes. Nothing. “Okay,” I said, “try chewing on the other side.”
It didn’t help, and she finally put her fork down, looking up at me. “Your neck hurts, too?”
All of a sudden it made sense. She knew I was in pain, and was pretending to be in pain with me. Oh, how sweet. I hugged her. “Yes, but it’s going to be okay.”
“My neck hurts, too.”
I looked down at her. “I know, but it’s alright. It doesn’t hurt to eat.”
Her big green eyes welled up with big fat tears. “It hurts ME to eat.” She threw herself around my arm and sobbed.
You know that feeling, when someone closes their hand around your heart and suddenly squeezes? Or when you have cold water dumped on your head? Pick whatever feeling it is that shocks you out of your thoughts. I’d been so stuck in my own sense of self, my own issues, that I’d done worse than ignore my daughter’s pain. I’d made it about me, and from the look in her eyes, we both knew it.
It woke me up, and I finally did what I should have done from the beginning. I paid attention. “What would make you feel better?”
“Well… stories are for bed time. We can read one tonight, okay? Is there something else that would make you feel better?”
Those intelligent eyes looked back up at me. “A prayer?” Too many more times like this and my heart will burst. We sat there at the table, my arms around her, and said a short prayer, asking God to take the pain away so she could eat. She sat up and took a bite. “Well… it hurts a little…” I showed her how to smush her food with her tongue; it helped, and she was able to finish her supper.
A little later, while I was talking to a friend on the phone, she ran up to me. “Mommy! It doesn’t hurt anymore!”
“It doesn’t hurt?”
“No! See?” She chomped her teeth together. “Now I can eat supper!”
I grinned. “Well, if it doesn’t hurt anymore, you know what you say? You say, ‘Thank God’!”
She grinned back. “Thank you, God!”
Even though I’m fairly new to being a practicing Christian (after all, if practice makes perfect, I have a long way to go before I can drop the “practicing” part), I’m fully convinced that God gives us the lessons we need to grow. Like water for plants, the lessons we learn nourish our characters to make us something more than what we are. Sometimes, those lessons need constant reminders because, for whatever reason, we get lost in day to day living.
It’s only been over the past week or so that I realized, somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen in love with my children. Not just loving them, but loving to watch them grow, learn and react to life. The sad thing is that it’s taken a whole bunch of mistakes, thoughtless acts and selfish choices to finally wake up to the fact that children are more than just extensions of self.
Today, I relearned that lesson.
As it turns out, life really is a work in progress…