We went to the beach for a few days this week. We packed up the car with an absurd quantity of clothes, books, DIAPERS, toys, food, entertainment and drove four hours east to stay in a gigantic house right on the ocean with Mark’s entire family. The beach is my heaven on earth, so I was equal parts wary of traveling with a three-week-old baby + two-and-a-half year old and thrilled to be escaping from my land-locked city for a healthy dose of listening to the sea crash into the shore without end for three days.
I wasn’t prepared for what having two kids would be. When Jack was born, I was under-whelmed, if that can be a word, with stress. He was easy all the way around, didn’t keep me up too much at night, never got sick, sort of allowed me to have a pretty nice life while working from home, writing, and keeping him full-time myself.
When Mae came to live with us, I must have assigned that experience to the “would-be” of her. I must have thought it would feel the same. Or maybe, in my brain-dead existence of pregnancy, I simply failed to consider what it would mean. In any case, I.WAS.NOT.PREPARED.
It is insanity in my house at all times, except when Jack is asleep for his nap… and even sometimes then. Mom, I’m awake–can I have a snack–crying infant–feeding infant–strapping infant to my body–cue sweating–mom, can we go outside?—to the dinosaur park?—to Target?—to the book store?—I don’t want to go to school!–(tears)–crying infant–walking to the park–feeding infant at the park–telling Jack not to steal toys from other children–forgetting bugspray–slapping mosquitos off his face because he’s allergic–forgetting sunscreen–picking up–putting down–running upstairs–running downstairs–running to the car–the market–the bank–the drugstore–crying (me, Jack or Mae.)
That’s usually before 11:30am. Sometimes I have forgotten to brush my teeth. I usually put mascara on, and I often make time to shower (I don’t know if it’s because I feel gross, or if it’s because I just want to be alone for five minutes), and I usually put down at least a half cup of coffee… it’s holy chaos. I had no idea. I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming.
The irony is that I have many friends and family with multiple kids, and I’ve seen their lives, the way the increase in quantity of children directly correlates to the quantity of mess, alcohol consumption and hours paid out to babysitters, but I just didn’t think it would be true for me. I am an optimistic, prideful little thing, and proud of my optimism on top of it, and I simply thought it wouldn’t happen to me.
Well, I was wrong. It did.
Tim Keller described joy as “buoyancy.” I’ll never forget that. A buoy gets pushed under water, then springs right back up. He said that true joy is having the capacity for that response to life. I keep thinking about that with these kids, because as strange as it sounds, I feel it. I have these moments (hours, sometimes) of crazed madness, frustration, even anger. But any time I take one small step back and survey this life we’ve been dealt, I am joyful! Thankful, joyful. They are beautiful, intelligent, wondrous tiny creatures, and they’re teaching me to learn my older ways, and they’re softening me. We are all refining one another. Is this the definition of family?
The beach came through, as it has a habit of doing. This is the divinity of the beach–its ability to restore. We slept with the door open so we could hear the waves all night, so when I was up nursing Mae it was by the light of the moon and the rhythm of the steady ocean tide. I read there, prayed there, wrote slowly, slept in, drank coffee and wine, and walked on the beach. I stepped back, took a serious audit of what is in front of me, and gave thanks.