Yesterday the entire family spent the day at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. The kids loved it so much last year that they begged us to go again this fall. We spent the full day eating, walking around and viewing exhibits, eating some more, and generally spending the close time with one another that we constantly crave and don’t get enough of.
At one point, we stopped in the lobby of the J.W. Marriott for some refreshments. (Mommy and Daddy each got a cocktail, and the kids got some pop and nuts.) Maggie snuggled close to me on a couch and admired all of the cards she’d gathered from artists. She wanted to know, “Which one was your favorite?” from both her dad and me. Somewhere between ArtPrize chatter and lemonade, she mentioned a loose tooth. All of a sudden, she popped it out and left a gaping, bloody hole in the side of her smile. She brightly exclaimed, “Now I’ll have a story to tell my class tomorrow!”
As we sat a while longer, I noticed that Maggie had escaped into her head. (I easily recognize this because it is a trait we share.) She was quiet and thoughtful. When I asked her what she was thinking about, I got, “Nothing.” Oh, no…there was quite a bit of something going on inside that nine-year-old shell.
After having visited several more exhibits, we finished the day with Bret’s birthday dinner near the dusk-lit window of a downtown restaurant. The boys got up to use the bathroom, and Maggie and I stayed behind to contemplate the menu. She looked at me with sad eyes and said, “Mom, I am not that excited about tonight now that I know there’s no tooth fairy.” Instant dagger. Through the heart. Cue mommy guilt.
Bret and I were caught in the throws of tooth fairy duty about a month and a half ago. Bret had come clean that morning and honestly answered all of Maggie’s questions about the tooth fairy and her cohort. I remember that it was a tough day–one in which I felt like we had taken a sledge hammer to the ilk of an already-short childhood.
At the window, I simply responded, “I know. I know it’s hard. I wish I could make it better.” What else could I say? I have realized recently–especially after reading Glennon Doyle’s Love Warrior–that pain is an integral part of life. Sometimes it’s best to just be a good listener and acknowledge the pain rather than trying to cover it up with false statements like, “It will be okay,” or, “Look on the bright side.”
Maggie’s disappointment came at a time when I have been cycling through a season of struggling with being a stay at home mom. It’s when I feel like I am failing in multiple departments that I start to doubt whether I am doing what I am supposed to.
I have been trying to be more open with my husband recently, sharing these kinds of thoughts and retreating less to my own shell. So on the way home from our ArtPrize outing, when I was certain the kids were sleeping, I checked in with Bret. I told him that there is a job opening in the schools–a foot in the door to a classroom position–and I wondered whether he thought I should pursue it. Am I doing enough? How do you see me right now? Do you want me to pursue this position? I am feeling insecure. All of these words came tumbling out as we sailed across the dark interstate. He reassured me, as he often does, “You DO work, Tara. You just don’t get paid for it.” He added, “The work you do for our kids and this community is valuable.”
Bret’s words settled me for the night, but it wasn’t till this morning that a flood of direct encouragement came. I had just said goodbye to the kids in the school’s drop-off lane and they were all but out the door when Maggie turned around.
“Mom, we forgot to pray.”
Immediately, Walt came up behind her and bowed his head when I responded, “You’re right. Let’s pray.” I thanked God for the day and for these children and asked that Maggie and Walt be His light at school. Amen.
Once again, I said goodbye to the kids. They turned around, and just as Maggie closed the door, she poked her head back inside and whispered, “Thank you, Mom.”
I don’t know whether Maggie’s gratitude was for the money that the “tooth fairy” had left her last night (she joyfully showed it to me during breakfast), the last-minute prayer, or an acknowledgement of my job (was she really asleep on the long road last night?). No matter.
Thank you, Maggie. And thanks to God for working through her.