Today was a medical day. Emma had to see the pediatrician for an asthma check-up. Next we headed to the hospital to have Naomi's blood drawn for her three month kidney lab work. Then I finally drug my restless, hungry crew of five into CVS to pick up three prescriptions, where I was informed that there would be a twenty minute wait. In between the usual chatter with strangers who couldn't believe that five children were "all mine," Toby spotted a Star Wars themed Nerf dart gun, and began to drool over it.
While I spent the rest of the day making meals, cleaning the kitchen, and running to Aldi after Matt got home, Toby apparently spent the rest of the day dreaming about how much better his life would be with that Star Wars themed Nerf gun in it. This isn't anything new for Toby, he has always been more prone to chase the illusive happiness that he believes will come from things than any of my girls have been. Matt and I have talked with Toby time and again about the dangers of thinking that any material thing in this world could bring him true or lasting happiness. I know that he is only six, and we do indulge him a little. Two years ago Matt special ordered Sidley the Spy Plane off of Ebay just because Toby had been dreaming of it for months. This year I was sure to buy Blue the Velociraptor six weeks before Christmas because Toby wanted it more than anything. It's not that we shun worldly pleasures altogether, but I worry about Toby's heart.
Tonight at bedtime when Toby could speak of nothing else than that Nerf gun, I decided it was time for a talk. I smiled into his eyes and smoothed his hair back from his forehead, "Toby," I said, "do you remember Sidley the Spy Plane? Do you remember how you thought that toy would make you happy forever? And now where is he? He's in a box in the basement, with his tail broken off. And what about Blue the Velociraptor? I thought he was all you ever wanted, but it's only been a few weeks, and you're already worrying about what you need next."
Toby smiled sheepishly up at me, because this talk is familiar to him. "I know," he said, "I still like them. It's just…" he voice slipped away and he shrugged his shoulders up at me with a grin.
"It's just a trap," I reminded him. "You could spend your whole life thinking that the next thing you get will make you happy, but buddy, it will never last for long. The things we buy with money at the store can never make us truly happy, but there are things that bring us deeper joy in this life, and a happiness that lasts. Can you think of some?"
"I know one, " he chimed in quickly. I was a little unsure if he knew what I was talking about, but I was curious to hear his idea. "Hugs," he said confidently, and then leaned over to wrap his arms around me. That was the first time I felt like my words might actually be hitting their mark in his little heart.
The girls were eager to join in the conversation at this point. They were practically jumping over each other to say their ideas first. Together we came up with a list of: sunsets, flowers, exercise, imagining, creating, soccer games, family, friends, helping other people, and making people happy. We talked about how spending our lives trying to catch happiness in things was a bit like chasing the wind: you can't ever quite capture it. We talked about how people who focus on trying to get the next thing to make themselves happy can't focus on the places that real happiness comes from. We talked about how seeking to know God better and live in a way that pleases him might not sound exciting to a six year old boy right now, but how he would realize more as he got older that that brings real peace and joy.
This opened up the floodgates of communication and I was really amazed to hear the girls sharing about their personal prayers and thoughts: what they thought about in their beds at night, what they prayed for, the things they wanted to do better at but were feeling defeated about. Hannah, more than all my children, craves this kind of communication. She talked until Naomi and Emma were literally falling asleep on the floor of the boys' bedroom.
We talked about making time for things that really matter in our lives and how we feel stressed and overwhelmed when we're forced to just make it through the basics of each day. I tried to explain that I feel this way when all I do is make breakfast, clean that up, start laundry, start the homeschooling going, make lunch, clean that up, run to appointments, make dinner, clean that up, and put kids to bed. The girls agreed that that sounded like a bleak existence, and Hannah, bless her heart, concluded, "I guess I never thought about why you get so cranky sometimes. I need to help you more so you can relax and feel better."
Hannah has so many mature thoughts in her little nine-year-old mind. She tells me that she prays a lot when she is alone and that she loves to think about just how amazing this world is and how amazing God is to have designed it all so perfectly. She writes songs and poems in her head, but is afraid to put them down on paper because she fears they're not very good. I told her that sounded like a mix of her mom and her dad, and then we all laughed. She lays in her bed at night and feels guilty for the things she didn't do right that day, like not getting her schoolwork finished, and she commits to doing better the next day. At this point in the conversation she said, with the sweetest little tears in her eyes, "But, I just… I just have a big imagination."
Feeling her pain and wanting to lighten the mood I said, "No! Really? You have a big imagination, Hannah?" which led to rounds of giggles coming from Naomi and Emma, who were apparently not as soundly asleep as I had thought.
Hannah chuckled a litte, and then explained further, "Well, there's Math Marion who's a dinosaur that's covered in plus signs and minus signs and equals signs, and there's also Science Susan and History Harry, and… I just have such a hard time focusing."
I had to assure Hannah that I would have a hard time focusing too with all those characters in my mind.
I thanked Hannah for sharing her heart and her struggles, and I told her that that helped me understand her better now, just the way she could understand my struggles more when I had explained how being too busy affects me. I had to cut the conversation off because it was late, but I told her we could talk more later. "When will that be?" she asked. "We'll just be too busy again tomorrow."
I guess the talk wasn't just good for the kids. It looks like I also need to work on rearranging my priorities to make more room for the things that matter. I'm starting by coming back to writing. It focuses my thoughts, clarifies my priorities, makes me a more intentional parent and a more whole person. Tonight's blog is a step. Tomorrow I need to figure out how to help Hannah tame and harness her imagination, and how to carve out more time to listen to her heart. Tomorrow could be a challenge.