At the end of the day

Today I have something very special to offer here. I wrote this post just over six months ago, on August 20, 2009 (the events described had occurred the day before). I didn't end up sharing it at the time ... I don't remember why. It was written in the midst of what was a very hard time for me. My husband had begun his school year and was writing his dissertation; I saw very little of him. I was surprised when I stumbled across this post recently, and so grateful for it in the midst of a very different time of busyness. My baby approaches a year old in just two days; and beginning with mine tomorrow, we'll celebrate four birthdays in the next six weeks. Easter and other celebrations will fall during this time, as well. I find myself once again feeling stretched. How strengthening this voice from the past -- my own! -- is to me today. It feels like a gift that I sent to myself across the months.

I'm so happy to be able to offer this post to you today, just as it was written. How funny to see that many things have changed since then -- details great and small -- and yet how I can conjure those moments of folding the towels that night.

Wednesday, August 19

The baby wakes me at 7:20 to nurse; my husband has already left for the day. I was up too late the night before, and try to coax her to fall back to sleep. She won't have any of it, and the older two are already stirring.

I get up, and make a breakfast of eggs, toast, watermelon. I change Fiona's diaper, brush my teeth, and help Elisabeth and James get into their swimming suits. We leave at 9:25. Too early for our 9:50 swimming lesson, but chairs for parents are a scarce commodity at the pool.

We're early; we have to wait for them to open the doors. It's the last session of the summer, and the 9:00 classes didn't fill, so ours is the first class of the morning.

I have to laugh at the mad rush of parents to those 12 precious plastic chairs. I'm able to snag one today, and I'm grateful, because it's uncomfortable to sit with the baby at the awkward round picnic tables.

My children make their way to their classes. I watch Elisabeth practicing her kickboard across the deep end of the pool. Her legs and feet are so relaxed. She's a good swimmer, like me. I feel so satisfied and grateful as I watch her working hard. I look over to the shallow end and see James dunking under the water repeatedly. It took all summer, but he's found his confidence this week. The sun is sparkling on the water. This is summer.

A grandmother pulls her chair up beside me. She saw a bumper sticker on my car that sparks a long, interesting conversation. After their classes end, my children happily join their friends in the shallow end of the pool to play for a while. They both find their way back to me at about the same time.

On our way out, we run into a family we haven't seen in a couple of years. Their oldest son is Elisabeth's age, and they are also homeschooling. The mother and I have a long conversation about life, faith, gratitude. We exchange contact information, amazed at our chance meeting.

While we're changing in the dressing room, some friends are on their way in for the last lessons of the morning. My friend shows me the dress that she made for her three-year-old, her own pattern. I'm so impressed. Creativity abounds.

We come home and have last night's leftovers for lunch. Diapers are changed, swimming suits and towels are thrown into the wash, Fiona goes down for a nap. Wednesdays are my teaching day. I hurry around the house, straightening up for my students. I find myself taking joy in sweeping today, although I'm so tired and would love to lay down with the baby.

I have a full afternoon of teaching. I hadn't seen two of my students for a few weeks because of vacations. It's fun to catch up with them -- the thoughts and perspectives of preteens are enormously refreshing. I don't have help this afternoon and my kids are really wild, but surprisingly cooperative when I ask them to go play.

My husband arrives home a little bit before my last student. I'm surprised to see him, but glad when he offers to take the kids with him to the grocery store to pick up some dinner. It's already a bit late, and I hadn't started anything.

We eat dinner together as a family. It's not an idyllic meal, but there is a sense of gratitude for it -- we have so few family meals right now.

After dinner, we struggle to get the three children to sleep. It's past their bedtime and they're overtired. When they're finally down, my husband & his laptop retreat to a corner of the house to do more dissertation work, and I sit down with a movie and my knitting.

By the time the movie is over, it's almost midnight. I finish packing the swimming bag for the morning. The towels were already ready -- they were yesterday's, already dry and folded. The suits are hanging on pegs by the front door. I add a change of clothes for both children, tuck the sunscreen and goggles back into their respective pockets. As I fold the now-clean towels from today and set them aside for Friday morning, I realize that Friday is our last day of swimming lessons for the summer. It makes me a little bit wistful, knowing that I'm folding the last towels of the season. It occurs to me, as I take my vitamins, brush my teeth, and turn out the lights, that packing the swimming bag is love. It seems so simple, so obvious. But it's really love. It's one of the many small and not-so-small things that I do every day, out of love.

My life is both lonely and very full; it's both average and extraordinary. Yesterday's drudgery might be today's blessing -- or, perhaps, the other way around. It can be so easy to lose sight of these everyday blessings in the midst of hard work, a crying baby, arguing children, chaos, boredom, exhaustion, distractions. We want every day to offer an epiphany, a moment of catharsis, or peace, or contentment. But some days don't seem to offer anything at all.

Here's the secret: it's not easy. It will never be easy. It's much easier to fall into the trap of sleepwalking through these ordinary days, not realizing that, like each tree in a forest or pearl on a necklace, each one is both part of the whole, and a unique treasure of its own.

A wise friend of mine remarked recently, "The way you spend your days is the way you spend your life."

Here's to spending each day mindfully, living fully, loving with our whole hearts.