The “I’ve had it with these kids” tone in her voice was unmistakable. Every mother of a brood of little ones relates. I actually love it when my daughter-in-law calls me to relate my grandchildren’s latest shenanigans and mess-making adventures; I am far enough removed from the situation to see the humor in it — and I don’t have to clean up the messes! I know these years will not last forever, and I live only three blocks from this brood of children that I love so much.

Here’s what I wrote down about one of my daughter-in-law’s calls when she had only two children: She was cleaning up a mess Malachi had made pouring Cream of Wheat on the floor in the pantry when she noticed that Nathan was scattering and eating dirt from plants in the living room. While she went to get him out of the plants, Malachi got water all over the bathroom floor. She put Malachi in his crib and went back to clean up the dirt and Nathan crawled in the water in the bathroom and got himself soppy wet. Malachi started screaming and Heidi found out he had poked a pretzel up his nose. Later she caught Malachi throwing spoons from the silverware drawer into the garbage and suddenly knew why her spoons had been disappearing.

Today, I sit in my empty, quiet home contemplating the load my remarkable daughter-in-law handles with such grace, (nine children now — the oldest on a mission). Her two-year-old recently filled her shoes with sugar from the pantry and scribbled all over herself with permanent black marker. I admit I’m glad I’m the grandma this time around, the one who can sleep through the night. I can enjoy the children and find utter delight in them, but take them home when I run out of steam.

Looking Back

My contemplation is more poignant today because I’ve just been reading my spotty journal from 1975-77. When I read it, I wonder how I managed to write anything at all. I tell of delivering my fourth son just 12 months after the third, and my fifth son 2 ½ years later. But my entries were mostly upbeat and sometimes downright hilarious — they are to me now, at least!

For instance, I listed ways I could tell I had a houseful of babies and little boys: dead grasshoppers in with the paper clips; a perpetual variety of colors and flavors of slobbers on the left shoulder of all my clothes; toys, rocks, crackers and pennies in my bed; clay, gum, jam and peanut butter on carpets and in kids’ hair; tiny teeth marks in the cheese, poke holes, grooves, and fingerprints in the butter, toothbrush stuck in the honey.

One entry in 1976 caught my eye. “This afternoon David filled Benji’s ears with green eye-shadow and Benji smeared gooey chocolate on the velvet-flocked wallpaper. I found the vacuum extenders in the toilet (they told me they had been ‘fishing’ but gave up when they didn’t catch any). I found the oven-racks in the bedroom, and the dishcloths and hot pads laid out in a creative pattern on the piano bench.” I concluded the entry with “The way things go around here I can’t help think what a boring existence childless families must have and how little opportunity to learn patience. (Sometimes I’d like fewer opportunities!)”

The thing that floors me is that those entries feel like things that happened yesterday, not almost forty years ago! The phrase, “Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years,” is my reality. When my sons were little and underfoot every minute, I thought those years would never end. Yet before I could even blink, they were gone and so were the kids!

Why Don’t You Grow Up?

When I still had a houseful of little ones, I found this column by Erma Bombeck and cut it out. Little did I know how quickly I’d be on the other side of it all:

One of these days you’ll shout, “Why don’t you kids grow up and act your age!” And they will. You’ll straighten up the boy’s bedroom, neat and tidy … bumper stickers discarded. … spread tucked and smooth … the toys displayed on the shelves … hangers in the closet … animals caged. And you’ll say out loud, “Now I want it to stay this way.” And it will.

You’ll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn’t been picked to death and a cake with no finger traces in the icing and you’ll say, “Now, here’s a meal fit for company.” And you’ll eat it alone.You’ll say, “I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No pantomimes. Silence. Do you hear me?” And you’ll have it. No more plastic tablecloths stained with spaghetti … no more bedspreads to protect the sofa from damp bottoms … no more gates to stumble over at the top of the stairs … no more playpens to arrange a room around. No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent. No more sand on the sheets or Popeye comics in the bathroom. No more iron-on patches … wet knotted shoestrings, tight boots … finding rubber bands for pony tails. No PTA meetings. No car pools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o’clock at night. Having your own roll of Scotch tape −that stays there! Think about it. No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. No knees to kiss, no 24/7 responsibility. Only a voice crying, “Why don’t you grow up?” And the silence echoing, “We did!” 

The Time to Let Go

In the booklet To Be a Mother: the Agonies and the Ecstasies, Emma Lou Thayne, expresses the same idea eloquently in her essay, “The Letting Go.” She said, “One day they simply are gone! The house they filled is part of their history, the homes they establish then the making of history, as are their departures. And even as their departures were everything we could have hoped for, each time it was hard.”

She concludes, “The lesson I must learn is to have faith, deal in my own strength, and let go. A loving Creator will take care of us all. And send us the peace that passes understanding.”

And so I determine to have faith, find my strength in the assurance of the Lord’s loving care, and let go.  For every loss, a gain, for every stage of mothering there are challenges and joys, agonies and ecstasies. The years do fly swiftly, but for every sunset there is a sunrise.