Two little girls nestled into their father in the pew in front of me, catching my eye as they jostled for position. The littlest one, no more than two years old, bounced on her daddy’s sturdy leg while her older sister, closer to five, curled her chubby fingers around his arm. The littlest one, blonde, wearing leggings and a pullover top, looked like she insisted she dress herself. Her undone back button and slightly mismatched outfit screamed, “I can do it myself”. Her sister’s sundress was a bit more pulled together, her honey-colored hair was gently braided to the side, and I watched as she fiddled with her headband during the sermon.
I wondered how long they would last, while at the same time, smiled silently in solidarity with a dad who could get two wiggly little girls not only to come to church but to sit quietly.
They honestly didn’t make a peep.
Within a few minutes of their arrival, the eldest removed her purple hairband and began running her fingers through her mid-length hair. Fascinated, I watched as she attempted to re-braid, then twist and contort her tresses into one up-sweep after another. When she tired, or when her hairband gave out, she would so tenderly stroke her sibling’s head as she laid on her father’s lap. I found myself wanting to reach out and braid their hair myself, to recall the memories of running my own fingers through my baby girl’s hair as she wiggled and struggled to get free.
Instead, I sat quietly and watched. I wondered what their story was. Where was their mother? Who helped them get where they were? How was their father, sitting so calmly, going to handle their squirminess when it got physical, as most siblings do?
It was their tenderness with each other that stunned me, really. As we sat, part of a bigger collective of people, I closed my eyes and listened; I thought about all that we humans do to each other when we get ‘tired’ of the way we are, or the way we look, or how our neighbor is acting. I thought about the lack of tenderness in our society and the blatant disregard many people have to simply stop, pause, look, and listen to others.
I thought about the common goals we all have, and how I see them in my middle school classroom every day.
The search for wholeness. For identity. For belonging. For authenticity.
When my kids were little, I remember often wondering what would be the measure of a successful day; sometimes, the simplest acts of survival were filled with such satisfaction. Getting up, getting dressed and figuring out how to balance mothering and teaching and marriage were my survival tasks. And on the days when it was good, I tried to set an intention to enjoy it.
And on the days when it wasn’t, I felt alone. I felt as if I must be missing something – that here I was, this educated, white woman living in a safe home in a peaceful state with two healthy babies, a job, and enough money to buy the food we needed, and yet still, my story wasn’t complete. I was now turning 50; this transformation into motherhood, I felt, should have been simpler.
Some people told me I was thinking too hard.
Some told me to relax, not to worry.
But I kept telling myself that someday, I would get there. That all I had was all I needed. That this transformation to the next chapter in my story would take time.
I was impatient. Like the five-year-old in front of me, I twisted and twirled and wrapped myself into all sorts of shapes, hoping that with any luck I’d find the one that stuck. I didn’t realize that what I was right in the middle of was what I needed. I was in the process of shaping wholeness; I just wasn’t seeing it.
Turning 50 has felt like a tipping point this year; mid-life, I can see the horizon in front of me with such an acute clarity. I feel firmly planted in my life. I’m learning to pay attention, to not only listen to my story but to share it, to pay it forward.
Maybe that’s why I reached out to help the little girl in front of me, clumsily attempting to part her hair and twirl it into a messy bun. My whispered offer of assistance denied, I sat back and breathed in. The hidden wholeness I wouldn’t have seen, couldn’t have seen, when my baby was five years old settled around me like a warm shawl. I felt it as the memories radiated through my being, resting so comfortably, so comfortingly, around my heart.
And in that moment, I set an intention to look for signs of transformation around me, to twist myself outside of my comfort zone, to make myself acknowledge the wholeness that I’ve been searching for, and that is right here in this ordinary day.