right side up
I walk in from my sweaty work, the pruning shears heavy in one gloved hand, the bottoms of my bare feet stinging with the heat of the sidewalk, the brick steps. Finally, I couldn’t watch the ruined blooms weigh the branches any longer, nor let them continue leaching away the sweet goodness the tiny, emergent buds need. So I slipped outside, scanning the blue sky, the trace of scrolling cloud, pausing just a moment to watch two lemon-yellow butterflies flutter over the wildflowers by the fence. God goes ahead of us, finding a place for us to rest, and I recognize these wild, fleeting, petal-tending moments as some of mine.
Inside, I find them, tall and taller, spinning their willowly height into and away from each other, dish towels dangling from their hands. As teenagers, they live content, companionably quiet. Where once their tiny round bodies writhed, taut with silent, explosive frustration, now they can speak but often find no need for words with each other. They lift dishes from the dishwasher, carefully swabbing off every drop of water that remains. I watch quietly–just a moment, a careful treasured pause—from the doorway. Sometimes he, sometimes she sits a bowl, a plate on the counter for careful inspection or draws a fork up closer to the eye. They possess a startling acuity I envy, and I have taught them: the dishes should be dry. I could stand this way for such a long time, watching the way their paths sweep across and around each other. For two such structure-loving souls, they hardly ever move in parallel. But then, their lives are woven, not adjacent.
When they work together, they hardly make a sound except the ones natural to the task—the clink of utensils against each other, the thunk of ceramic placed. Only when I join them do they begin to narrate the activity—“Step 1: we put away the clean dishes,” as though they recognize in me a need they simply don’t share or see in me some shadow of a time when I pulled words from their mouths with anguished effort. But I am only thinking how beautiful to move so easily together, to require so little affirmation from each other except the being. To watch them move together—the momentary, patient beat that passes while one reaches in front of the other, the stretch of his hand to touch her ear and the way she stops to let him–is to know how well they love each other, to know they understand cohesively, without complaint or extravagant expectation.
Sometimes I am startled we have arrived here, that without me they have begun to order things as I taught them. All the teaching we do, the striving, and still we moms gasp to discover they’ve learned.
“What a wonderful job you two are doing,” I say, still rooted in the doorway.
“Yes, it is,” Riley says easily, her voice lifting as she grins at me, sliding the bottom dishwasher basket in and away as Adam reaches for the one on top.
“Thanks for doing this. It’s a big help.” And it is. Their easy initiative feels like a gift.
“Oh, you’re welcome,” Riley says, still smiling, waiting while Adam leans in front of her to pour out water that has pooled in the curve of a mug. “It was on the schedule,” she says, gesturing toward the white board on the wall. Every morning she brings me a piece of paper and a pen so that I can draw solid lines around the day. First _______________, then ______________________ now comprises a full list, the day charted from groggy beginning to nestled end. She takes my paper copy and transcribes it on the board, guarding my words, looking for any missing elements, committing the outline to memory. It isn’t that the schedule can’t be changed, but that it exists, that they know there’s a guide to navigate what would otherwise feel like overwhelming, engulfing chaos. Of course. It’s on the schedule. Now it’s my turn to smile, to chuckle.
I could write absolutely anything on that schedule—sing Happy Birthday six times and spin in a circle; eat a piece of cheese; clean the toilet; put your socks away; gather ten pieces of yarn—and they would do it without question or complaint or expectation of reward. It is, after all, the way one of Adam’s teachers helped us transition him years ago from a severely limited diet to the nourishment he needed. Food by food appeared on his daily schedule until he learned to overcome his fear of unusual textures. It occurs to me though, as Riley gestures toward the board, that the schedule is only effective because they admit that they need it and because they know I love them. They trust me to lead them. They know somehow as naturally as they breathe that I would never mock them nor intentionally ask of them anything that would bring them harm. And so, that schedule frees them from anxiety and paralyzing worry.
The Spirit lets the passage rest right in the center of my soul, precious-wrapped in this doorway view of my children and the way they live, content just to follow the direction I’ve given, carefully transcribing and memorizing the words I’ve written, trusting my love, my fuller view of our day. And oh, they teach me. Because sometimes I neglect the Words I have, or writhe to choose a way other than the path lamp-lit for my feet. Sometimes it’s why this or not this or but just not that because. There are parts of His Word I want to ignore, commands I’d like to set aside as eloquent suggestions. But if I had written it for them, these beautiful, treasured souls would neither question nor complain. They could not imagine ignoring a single part of my direction, but only yearn daily for me to give them more.
But you turn things upside down, He breathes, gesturing for me to see.
And so, I stand in the doorway and gather up the gift, that by grace He’s given me these precious two to set things right-side up.