Last night before dinner I stole a few minutes while the quiche was cooking to cut up melon for tomorrow’s breakfast. The evening news hummed along on the radio, and the boys played peacefully on the porch. I savored the clean slice of chef’s knife into cantaloupe.
For one of those rare moments, everything around me rested calm and content.
But little ones can hear the sound of silence; it’s the most seductive siren they know. Sure enough I turned back to my cutting board to find the smallest helper had shoved over a chair from the table and was ready to help.
“What you doing, Mama?” he asked, bouncing where he stood.
“Cutting melon. Do you want to eat some?”
“No. I want to hold it,” he insisted, pointing at the half melon waiting on the counter.
“Really? You can try to hold it if you want, but it’s big – be careful.”
(Always with our warnings. As if we could rescue them from falls and spills and snares by words alone.)
He lunged for the melon’s slick surface, its round face bigger than his own head. His chubby hands grasped the sides firmly, and I watched his arm muscles start to quiver slightly as he raised it an inch off the counter.
“Ooo,” he marveled. “It’s heavy!”
“But I am strong.”
. . .
A professor from grad school used to remind us that the measure of maturity was the extent to which one could live with ambiguity. Why do I still find myself stuck marveling in adulthood how often I have to hold paradox in trembling tension? It grates at me not to resolve the unresolvable.
Maturity means growing into the space where the world does not make sense and yet we agree to live there. Because it can still be good. Because there is no other option. Because we are always asked to carry more than we think we can.
A friend who taught kindergarten once told me a story about how he helped his young students understand that they could feel multiple emotions at the same time. They might complain to him that they were tired, but he would remind them that they were also strong.
I loved this idea. I tucked it away in the back of my mind – remember this when you have kids - and along the way of raising our young boys, these dichotomies became part of our family parlance.
You might be tired, but you’re also strong.
You might be sad, but you’re also brave.
You might be mad, but you can also be calm.
And that night at the kitchen counter, marveling at his own small strength, my toddler made the connection for himself. He held the tension in his hands and realized it was nothing to resolve.
It was simply something to hold.
. . .
So many people I know are carrying something heavy these days. Kids who are sick or parents who are dying. Unemployment or overwork. Relationship anxieties or financial stress.
Maybe it’s just the nature of living in this broken world as fragile humans. But sometimes what we’re asked to carry feels overwhelming.
Given that context, my current woes seem eye-roll-worthy by comparison. Morning sickness that drags for months, exhaustion that feels never-ending. I know it means a healthy baby, and I never take that truth for granted. But my younger brothers can attest that I am a notorious wimp when it comes to pain: I whine about the slightest discomfort and will never be described in an obituary as saintly in long suffering.
So nausea and vomiting that feels like a three month stomach-flu-meets-hangover? Not my easiest burden to bear.
Even when I try to keep the complaining to a minimum, the litany is always circling through my head. Please God, make it stop; please let me feel better today; please let me be near the end.
In my mind, the body becomes the burden.
But this body has borne my babies, birthed my babies, nursed my babies, too. This body has brought forth life, even as I’ve had to lay it down in a thousand small deaths. This body has allowed me to do some of the best work I’ve been blessed to do.
So while this body may feel heavy now – while it may be a burden when I’m lurching for the toilet or dragging myself out of bed (or shuddering to remember how much bigger I’ll get by pregnancy’s end) – this body is also strong.
Pregnancy’s paradoxes remind me of what a two-year-old already remembers.
That we are each asked to shoulder the weight. But we are also strengthened for the carrying.
. . .
What weighs heavy in your life these days? Where are you also strong?