It was 12 noon, and Gil was still napping. Lena and I had been moving from activity to activity: reading books, doing puzzles, coloring pictures, baking pumpkin bread to finish up cans of pumpkin before we move, etc. Now we were drawing hearts and polka dots in her notebook, and I could tell things were deteriorating.
“Why don’t you try some polka dots now, Lena?”
“Nooooo… I caaaaan’t. I just want to watch you do it.”
“It’s easy. Just like this.” I tapped the marker up and down on the page a few times, and then handed it to her.
She banged it angrily up and down, mashing the marker tip into the paper.
“OK,” I said, blowing out hard through my nose, “I think this is enough. Let’s put this away and take a break. Do you want to read some books?”
The last thing I wanted to do was read picture books out loud. I desperately wanted to walk away, look at my phone, read a novel, anything.
“Noooo!!!” she said, “I want to color. I want you to do the polka dots!”
This was going nowhere, so I stood up and began to walk away. “When you have a good attitude, we can do something else. We’re going to take a break for now.”
Behind me, her frustration escalated, and then the frustration gave way to tears. I heard her get down from her chair and walk through the house. She walked into her dark bedroom, and then I froze when I heard her calling out through her tears:
“But where’s the rocking chair? I want to sit in the rocking chair! Where is iiiiiitt?”
Stunned, I raced into the room and picked her up in my arms.
“The movers took the rocking chair, Lena, remember? They’re taking it to our new house in San Diego. You like to sit in that chair when you’re upset, don’t you? It’s ok, I’m sorry. Come snuggle with me.”
We climbed into my bed, with her resting on my chest as I stroked her back. As her sobs subsided, I felt close to tears myself.
In her moment of need, she had forgotten that everything in our house was gone. Automatically, she had gone to a quiet place where she could sort out her emotions and take her own self-initiated time out. That peaceful place, I realized, had meant so much to her. The disorientation and despair had been clear in her voice.
How much more is she thinking and feeling inside? Since the movers came and went, both Lena and Gil have been cheerful, seemingly unfazed by our empty house and their altered surroundings. But so many objects of comfort — like the rocking chair — have been removed forever from this home, the only home they’ve ever consciously known.
Lena’s disorientation and sadness made me realize I’m not the only one who is going through a lot of emotional transition these days. These are big days for our family. There are so many goodbyes: the obvious ones to friends and church, and the more subtle ones to the quirky front door lock and the location of our clothes and the ability to navigate our bedrooms in the dark. It’s disorienting for all of us. Lena is just the first one to shed tears.
I know we’re not the only ones facing transition this summer. How many of you, staring at your computer or phone screen around the world, are also awaiting giant changes? There are new homes to be purchased, babies to be born, marriages to be made, books to be published, jobs to be finished, jobs to be started, and babies to be made.
At summer’s end, we’ll all be different people. You might be anticipating a lot of joy, or a lot of work, or a lot of goodbyes. The months ahead might be terrifying. Or wonderful. Or gut-wrenching. Or a relief. Or a trial.
So here’s to being aware. That’s a start. We’ll miss the rocking chair, and we’ll miss the ability to just curl up and be at home, and we’ll miss the old familiarity.
Hopefully this awareness will help us take better care of our husbands, our children, and ourselves. Especially after seeing Lena’s distress, I want to be more compassionate, patient, and sensitive. May we be rocks instead of adversaries (*cough*), a steady presence that our children and husbands can rely on as everything else changes.
And may we be careful to take care of ourselves, too, by being aware of our own limits. I want to be candid about my emotions, communicate clearly with my family, and take time outs for self-preservation when needed. May we be bold to seek closure, seek solitude, and seek rest.
For example, I have identified one thing I know I need to do to find closure to our time in Sicily. In our little town, I see so many familiar faces each day as I push the kids in the stroller to the playground, fish shop, gelateria, market, and panificio. I don’t want to just disappear one day. I love all those smiles, I love hearing “buon giorno!”, I love that sense of belonging that they give me. Before we go, I want to go to the owners of those shops and to our neighbors, give them a picture of our family, explain that we are moving, and say goodbye. (And I want to subtly pay back the man in the general store for the ten million chocolate bars he gave Lena over the last three years.) I know I’ll regret it if I don’t.
Ultimately, I want to draw strength from the Source. My own reserves are so shallow! So much has already changed, but there is so much more to come! I’m holding onto these words of promise:
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.