It's natural for parents to watch their child and draw conclusions. She is stubborn. He is messy. She loves Spiderman. He loves motorcycles and potato soup. I think I've made similar pronouncements about all three of my girls their entire life, watching them, always watching and trying to discern who this little person is shaping up to be. I've had some surprises lately.
I vaguely remember hearing my oldest daughter Madeleine tell me she would be in her room working on her "Monday Box." I can't keep track of all their many projects from one day to the next, so I didn't pay much attention. There is a whole farm of lopsided creations, empty toilet paper rolls made into gerbils and leaves from the backyard pasted into oak trees, cluttering the shelves, nightstands, and bookcases around our house. So in the moment, the creation of a Monday box didn't even make a blip on my radar. And then I started to hear passing comments like this:
Mom, please make something healthy for our Family Night treat because I picked "Be Healthy" out of my Monday Box this week.
Mom, I'm going to try really hard to be reverent at church today because "Follow the Gospel" is my Monday Box goal.
As the particulars of the Monday Box were explained to me I nodded and said something vague like, "Well good for you honey." But it didn't go away and I keep thinking about it. It's weird isn't, the idea of a seven year old making a Monday Box full of weekly goals. She should be preoccupied with sneaking treats from the pantry and rocking her dolls to sleep. You know, normal after school projects. But, that's not Madeleine. This child of mine is devoted to organization and efficiency. She lives by a rigid schedule, mostly of her own making, and it's rare that I have to remind her to be responsible in the ways of finishing her homework, making her bed, or brushing her teeth. If she had come to me and said, "Mom, I'm going to wake up ten minutes earlier every morning so that I can re-organize my nightstand before school" I wouldn't have blinked. But the Monday Box feels different. It's exactly the sort of thing Madeleine would come up with, yet it's something new.
This is what I think is happening. My daughter is transitioning from the world of imitating the things she sees others do to finding her own, creative ways of expressing herself. I like my nightstand organized, so it's no surprise where Madeleine got that one. Her father is meticulous in his grooming habits, so again, when I find her spending twenty minutes putting lotion on her elbows and in between her toes I think to myself that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. But the Monday Box is all her.
I spent a good chunk of my weekend listening to our church General Conference broadcast. One of the speakers quoted a Christian blog where a mother of five children listed all of the cultural priorities that take precedence over having children. Travel, material possessions, career goals, hobbies...the list goes on and on. It seems there are relatively few priorities lower on the list then having families these days. But this is what I know. These demanding little babies that we bring into the world will take everything from us. At first. They will take away our time, our sleep, our figures, our lifestyle. Small children take no prisoners. But this week motherhood feels different from the other eight years I've been at it. I'm seeing the humanity of the little beast that once smeared her sister's poop on my leather couch. I'm seeing her emerge. She is taking the life skills that we are teaching in our home, cleanliness, health, spirituality, and hard work, and she is re-shaping them into her own little goals and desires. We want them to do all the things we want them to do, but what a great day when they figure out how to do it in their own creative way!
I'm often irritated by the mess, noise, and general chaos of my home life. I complain about the janitorial duties, the lack of appreciation, and the aching eyelids sort of tiredness that comes with the territory. But through my daughters I am changed, my life is changed in a way that means no matter how hard it feels, I will never want to walk back through that doorway. I tell myself that if I didn't have children I would have them, and if I couldn't have them I would pull up a chair next to my nieces and nephews and take a whack at the pinata on their Birthday. Too often my girls feel like the burden in my life, but this curious little project that is Madeleine's Monday Box reminded me that I am witnessing a small human being grow into something good, earnest, and beautiful. I am witnessing something sacred. This is why it is worth it!