Jack’s cast came off a few weeks ago.
How deceptively simple that sentence sounds. Allow me to reword it for accuracy purposes. Ahem: A hospital tech wielded a loud, motorized saw to hack off my 3 year old’s stinky orange cast. Jack screamed and writhed while I held him down and simultaneously parented my two other children who were 3 feet away. They took one look at the tech, her fierce saw and Jack’s screaming face, and were terrified into angelic obedience. (Maybe I should always carry around a loud machine to ensure perfectly-behaved children…If you see me with a vacuum cleaner in my purse, you’ll know why.)
I’d been waiting four weeks for this child’s leg to heal, to get that stinking cast off. Four weeks of carrying around a 33 lb. 3 year-old and a 22 lb. non-walking 16 month-old. Convinced my life would be easier as soon as all three of my children were walking, I had long-ago circled this date on my calendar. I talked about it to anybody who asked about Jack’s leg, mentioned the word cast or even looked in my general direction. I told whoever would listen of the light at the end of my tunnel. May 2nd…May second…May my second child walk again!
May 2nd came, and in we went to the pediatric orthopedist. There was screaming, whining and Daniel Tiger. There was a dropped lollipop embedded in hospital waiting room carpet, which I immediately scooped up and threw into the trash. There were subsequent tears and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. There were wipes to remove the sticky from the fingers. There was a motorized saw to remove the cast from the leg (and hopefully not to accidentally remove the leg from the body). And then it was done. Suddenly, the cast was gone and we were free to go home. I picked up the sticky crayons, paper, wipes and remaining evidence of three miniature people waiting in an exam room for an hour. I was ready for the simplicity and ease I so vividly foresaw for us after this glorious day. I was ready for a manicure.
We walked fifteen minutes to the car in 95 degree heat. (A mild spring day in Fresno.) My ogre-like double stroller was especially cumbersome at 3:15pm, smack-dab in the middle of nap time. The kids were sleepy and deliriously requested unreasonable things like going to John’s Incredible Pizza immediately or that I buy them actual jet packs for flying. (“Can’t we just go to Target and see if they have jet packs?”) And then I noticed the weirdest thing. The cast was off, but there was still whining. There was still screaming. Jack still couldn’t walk.
I loaded the big kids in their car seats, reached down for Carter to find that after our fifteen minute walk, only one of his feet still had a shoe on it. The other was likely hurled from the stroller while I was busy daydreaming of manicures. At this point I was spent and wouldn’t have gone back for the shoe even if had magically transformed into gold and I could sell it to send all three kids to college.
We were all sweaty and exhausted. I sighed, reveling in the fact that as long as these babes were buckled into their seats, the 20-minute drive home wouldn’t involve much parenting. I could sit in my driver’s seat, blasting the A/C and Tay Swift while we enjoyed the ride home. Then Jack declared a potty emergency. And as I unbuckled his seatbelt I realized: There is no light at the end of this tunnel. This is parenting. It will never, ever be easy or simple or perfect. So why do I keep setting little parenting finish lines? “It’ll be easier when they are potty-trained…When everyone is in school…When they can make their own food and I’m not preparing 12 meals a day…”
Funny how I keep setting my hopes on all these arbitrary finish lines and milestones, as if that’s when parenting will suddenly become easy. The finish lines come and go, but the “easy” never comes. Time after time I realize that I’m setting my hopes on the wrong finish lines. There’s only one thing in the world that doesn’t change or disappoint, and it actually isn’t “in the world.” It’s weird to know something so fundamentally in my head and watch my heart repeatedly stake its hope in other things.
After Jack’s cast came off, and to celebrate my 30th birthday, David rented us a beach house. OH, how I anticipated this trip. In the midst of scream-filled grocery trips, unending laundry piles and a newly potty-trained young man who aims about as well as 50 Cent, looking forward to this trip pulled me through some gnarly parenting days. And then the day finally came. We left our kids with their saintly grandparents and joined our friends for a whole weekend of board games, wine tasting, shared meals, dancing and great company. But do you know what I did? I looked so forward to this trip that I put all my hope in it. I fixed my eyes on it. While the trip itself did not disappoint, (seriously, it was the best vacation ever,) it did end. The week after we came home I was in a funk because I staked my hope in something as fleeting as a vacation.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Has there ever been a more relevant Bible verse for the all-consuming, failure-ridden job of parenting? We need not lose heart in parenting if we only have one finish line, unchanging and perfect. If my finish line is the checkout line at Target and I get projectile-puked on while perusing the sunglasses, well, I’ve failed and now I also smell like puke. But if my finish line is at the end of my race, with eyes fixed on Jesus, then NBD to that projectiled popcorn and slurpee. Jesus works anxiety-miracles in my heart and Tide works laundry miracles in my washing machine, and my race will go on. Eyes on Jesus, y’all.
I have no idea what it’s like to parent teens or adults, but I already lose sleep over what my fearless, fun-seeking 3 year old boy will be like at 16. Kris Jenner once said, “Little kids, little problems; Big kids, big problems.” (I hope we can still be friends after I’ve quoted Keeping Up with the Kardashians…but if that’s a deal-breaker, you can just pretend I heard it on NPR while some snappy jazz music faded in and out.) The woman has a point. Parenting starts out hard and just gets harder. There is not an “easy” part of parenting. Ever.
Infant sleep-training failures, toddler-puke at Target failures, your adult kid marrying the guy who interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs; whatever parenting stage we’re in, it will NEVER be easy. It will always be hard, we will always fail; but how much more so if we fix our eyes on the here and now? Fellow parents: let’s do ourselves a favor and stop erecting miniature finish lines. Let’s not grow weary and lose heart. Let’s parent our kids with eternity at the forefront of our minds, lest we allow the puke that covers us at Target to define our races.
And now for the vanishing cast shot:
Ta-da! Here’s to hoping we never, ever have to see an orthopedist again.