Oh, how the mighty fall. I thought I had everything ready. All the details were attended to and I thought I knew exactly how the next several hours would unfold: exactly as I’d planned them. “Which just shows,” as C. S. Lewis said in The Silver Chair, “how little anyone knows what is going to happen to them next.”
We had dinner plans with some friends and I was sure this was going to be the occasion of my entering the ranks of the hyper-organized uber-parents. Three hours prior to departure, the house was clean, the laundry done, and sitting on the edge of the bed were two darling outfits for our two darling daughters. To preserve the clothes in their pristine state, they would remain on the bed, behind a closed door, until moments before leaving. That way they had a fighting chance to get out of the house without encountering “lavable” markers, jelly-smeared hands, or dirt from our potted plants.
The only problem was we still had three hours before departure, and we were in the midst of an energy crisis. Not the Jimmy Carter 1970’s kind with long lines at the gas pump. Just the opposite. This was a crisis of kinetics. Kinder-kinetics, that is – as in kinetic energy of the toddler variety. Think sub-two-foot-tall whirlwinds tearing through our apartment leaving havoc in their wake. Our older daughter was climbing shelves and sliding down furniture, and seeking out anything with the slightest bit of bounce in it that she could jump up-and-down on. Our younger daughter, still just a baby, had made a new discovery: her voice. She was busily testing the outer limits of her decibel production capabilities.
I think she’s going to be a scientist. She performed multiple experiments to achieve reproducibly testable results. She’d yell, then stop for a moment with her eyebrows arched as she considered the sound of high-pitched peels of baby noise ricocheting off the walls. Then, just as the echoes began dying out, she’d smile and nod with approval . . . and issue another ear splitting screech.
Forget cold fusion. Kids can out-produce the T.V.A. for raw energy any day of the week. Which would be great if that power were harnessed for generating kilowatt hours of electricity, but when instead it’s applied to domestic destruction, Daddy needs to find a diversion.
Which meant it was time to experience the great outdoors. I corralled the oldest long enough to slap-dash some socks and shoes on her feet, scooped the youngest into the stroller, and headed out the door. We walked to the university where Mom works. The oldest had a great time running around and the youngest seemed to enjoy the new and greatly expanded scope afforded her vocal exercises.
Which was all fine and well as far as it went, but if you have kids you know how one thing leads to another. Soon there were diapers that needed changing, hungry bellies that needed filling, and before I knew it we were caught-up in the strange time-warp that surrounds kids. It’s the phenomenon of an activity that should require only minutes expanding to consume hours as soon as children get involved, and of finding yourself inexplicably late when you had started out plenty early. Unfortunately it’s a little like frostbite: by the time you feel it, you’ve already been bit.
Mom joined us when she was done with work and joined in the fray of feeding and care-and-maintenance of her offspring. Amidst the herding of progeny she started to get a niggling sense of sands slipping through the hour glass. She paused to check her watch. Too late. The time had already disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle of childcare; the appointed hour for our dinner date was already passed. We were late!
What to do? Head back home for those pristine outfits sitting ready and wrinkle-free on the end of the bed? Or go as we were and salvage our tardy arrival as best we could? We decided to go as-is, afraid that the child-induced black-hole of time would totally suck-up our evening if we tried to re-enter the apartment.
So we went directly to our friends’ house, and the first thing we did when we walked through the door (twenty minutes late), was take our shoes off. It was then, as I pulled off our older daughter’s shoes, that I realized for the first time that in my haste to get out of the apartment earlier in the day I had grabbed two different colored socks. One was purple, the other tennis-ball green. Both were so bright they were almost fluorescent. At least I knew the color-bright laundry detergent really worked.
I looked up to see our friends staring, mesmerized by the dazzlingly neon, and hypnotically contrasting, colors of our daughter’s socks. I tried to explain. The kids each had perfect, entirely matching outfits, I assured them. Only those outfits were at home. Sitting in a darkened room. On the edge of a bed. Behind a closed door. Waiting for our children, who were now here wearing different colored socks. But those waiting outfits were, I emphasized, entirely color coordinated. And wrinkle free.
To no avail. My tale of wardrobe woe sounded even more like a weak excuse at that moment, as I sat on the floor holding a toddler attired in one purple and one green sock, than it does now in the re-telling. Where just hours before I’d felt myself scaling Olympian heights of parental preparedness, standing in rarified air on the very threshold of Super Parenting status, now I felt the cold boot of reality dislodging me from my lofty perch to plummet down through oxygen-thin air back to the Valley of the Mismatched far below.
So close. And yet, so far.
I was reminded of an admonition from Scripture: “It is not for the man who is buckling his armor to boast as though he were taking it off.” (1 Kings 20: 11) Nor for the man with kids in disarray to speak of the fine raiment back at home.
But then I remembered an even more important admonition in Scripture, this one from Jesus Himself, who said: “If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Lk 12: 26)
So I heeded Jesus’ words, let it go, and had a fun evening. Kids aren’t supposed to be game-pieces in a parental contest of one-upmanship anyway. Children were made for hugging, not showing-off. Besides, life is good in the Valley of the Mismatched. There’s dark, rich earth perfect for putting down deep roots and growing strong and tall. We all have our work to do in the places where the Lord has put us. Adam was charged with tending the Garden of Eden. My bailiwick happens to be the Valley of the Mismatched. That’s OK. Where the work takes place isn’t as important as embracing the task we’ve been given — especially when that work is helping God’s creations blossom and find their own places in the world.