I am holding something. It is right here. In my hands. I can look at it and touch and turn it. I know what it is. And if I show it to you, you too will agree that this is a steering wheel. Inexplicably as a parent, this is increasingly meaningful to me. As a parent in the age of Internet and social media, this is life, and air. Everything is opinion. Nothing is fact. I need to know what is real.
Sometimes I will spend all day with my kids and I will give every ounce of my physical and mental self and all of it will end with “you’re the worst.”
Why? Because I asked her to put on her water shoes, or I asked him to buckle his seatbelt, or I asked the baby not to floss with the car keys. It doesn’t really matter the exact nature of the alleged crime. I’m left feeling empty.
I’m the worst. I tried so hard. Still, I’m the worst.
So then I go online after bed because the mindlessness of the Internet is a balm on my irritated and tender soul like nothing I’ve known. I read three different things all telling me to put on bikini. Or don’t put it on. Or put it on my daughter. Or don’t. Because bikini wearing for anyone is bad and anti-feminist. Or bikini wearing is pro-feminism.
Almost everything I read is made up of slices of individual frames of reference. Maybe it always was. The Internet is a massive time suck that exists somewhere in this tiny chasm between both total permanence and impermanence. Everything is shaped and adjusted. Nothing lasts. Nothing is longer than 140 characters. Everything can be deleted except when it can’t. It is a giant candy colored existential brain fart. Objective truth seems to either not exist or at the very least is not relevant.
Life begins to feel a bit disorienting. It feels the way those pilots do when they fly into the straight line of the horizon forgetting too easily which blue is air and which is water. We begin to think they are interchangeable until they aren’t. That’s what it feels like when I worship too long at the altar of opinion: my children, the blogosphere. I begin to lose my view of the horizon. I crave fundamentals.
Isn’t it amazing how the universe has a way of sending what you need when you need it?
Enter Sister Gloria Jean.
My son wasn’t feeling well so I took him to the pediatrician. On the way out, the children noticed a car backing up and moved out of the way to avoid it. After the car parked, the driver got out and approached.
“You don’t need to worry. I could never miss children with hair that color. They are beautiful. Just so beautiful. My name is Sister Gloria Jean, and you have just beautiful children.”
She looked older. Not old, not elderly. But older than me, enough extra years on her to know more than I even realize at 37 that I’m missing. She was proud, with her hair curled, and a bright purple dress. In every way she was a complete stranger, yet for a reason I cannot explain the children and I drew closer to her. With no expectations, we leaned in.
“I can tell you are doing a good job. I can see they are alright with each other. That is because of you,” she joyfully exclaimed.Amidst the scorched earth of motherhood, a veritable desert of unsolicited compliments, I greedily absorbed her kindness.
“You must know more, you have years of experience. What is the secret to all of this,” I asked, as if hoping that the universe had sent me some blissful key to parenting in the form of a brightly dressed stranger in a parking lot.
She didn’t answer. Instead she said, “Tell me their names.”
One by one they answered. The little one is Hope, I answered for her.
“Hope! Why you in the Bible baby! But only one thing is more important in the Bible than Hope. That’s Love.”
“That’s your answer. That’s all you need baby. Just love them. Just love each other. Just let them know that no matter what happens, they can always come home to your love.”
And then she bent down and asked if she could give them a hug. My children who correctly so do not normally feel comfortable embracing people who they don’t know, one by one stepped forward to wrap their arms around a complete stranger. Even the baby stepped up. When they were through, I found myself shyly inching forward.
“Of course Mama. You need one too.” Her embrace felt tight and familiar. It felt like kindness.
We climbed into our car. Lips sticky from the lollipops, our arms and hearts heavy with genuine human emotion. I gripped the steering wheel until the whites of my knuckles began to show. Her words were comforting, like the well-worn cotton of your favorite blanket and the cool straight lines of hard and simple truths.
It isn’t that complicated. I just need to love them.
With our sights on the clean and clearly visible lines of the horizon, we headed toward home.