Sunday, May 12, 2013

Red Light, Green Light

(In honor of Mother's Day, and my daughter Michealah, who just left on her mission this week, I am reposting this lesson she taught me a couple years ago)

Anyone with kids and a minivan knows how torturous red lights can be. Generally speaking, if you are in your van during the hours of 8 am to 7 pm (sometimes later!) you are likely the "taxi driver" and likely late for something.

I have been known to pray for lights to change when particularly strapped for time. My children get into the action by chanting "green, green, green, green!" as we approach each intersection.

This is not to say that I speed, exactly. Although I have "pushed the limit" in the past, I try not to do so anymore. Still, I often wish I could drive with no pesky pauses!

My tendency to despise interruption has been tested repeatedly as a parent. Any mother knows that it is nearly impossible to do anything from reading to visiting the restroom without a little friend or helper appearing. Forget trying to paint something.

Recently, however, I have begun to appreciate the "red lights" in my life. Let me explain.

I first pondered this while nursing a baby. I am ashamed to say that in the beginning, I was frustrated at having to sit down and do nothing else but feed the baby. Some women are blessed to be able to read, etc. while nursing, but I am not physically capable of doing so. Let's just say that my situation requires two hands and total attention. At first I felt annoyed. However, I gradually learned to love and then to anticipate my alone time with each child. We shared quiet moments of gazing at one another. It was as if the whole world stopped spinning for just that sweet time. Of course, it never lasted long as the toddlers always found just the right contraband activity while mom was occupied. But I wouldn't trade that time. I learned the value of a "red light."

Generally speaking, moms are multi-taskers (I help with homework while cooking, I mediate fights while scrubbing toilets). However, when it comes to really meaningful stuff, I have to be focused.

So, last week my oldest daughter, a thoughtful, poetic girl, told me she needed a monologue for her advanced drama class audition. I threw out some ideas that I thought would fit her personality, she googled them. When she found one she liked, she asked me to come watch it with her. I was running around, making dinner, driving people here and there, putting out fires, as is my daily routine. I avoided watching it for a long time, but finally, with rag in hand, STOPPED and watched it (I didn't even sit down, but at least I stood still).

The one she chose was "Emily" from Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Those of you who are familiar are likely nodding just now. I had forgotten the full message, I just remembered that my daughter reminded me of Emily in some way. As I took the time to really watch it (a great performance by Penelope Ann Miller from 1989), I felt haunted. As if Emily could see right through me. A busy fake. But even more, I felt exposed to my beautiful daughter. She knows me better than anyone I think. One of her spiritual gifts is discernment. She can read people, people like me.

There I was, standing with dripping rag in hand, my eyes unwittingly filled with tears. I felt frozen as if I couldn't go back to where I had been before the "red light." I couldn't just "get back to work" because it suddenly seemed so hypocritical or even pointless.

Still, someone had to make dinner. Eleven people ain't gonna feed themselves every day. But I learned something. I realized that sometimes, gazing into each other's eyes really is important. Sometimes those pesky red lights are very, very special. Maybe one day, we'll come to realize that the "red light" moments in our life are actually the ONLY thing that really matters. It is during those pauses in our general pursuit that we find ourselves really "living," perhaps because when we pause, we are actually "loving."

About four years ago I had just had baby number eight. I was still in the newborn stage (baby was 4 weeks old) and I had no desire to go out anywhere much. My wonderful, spontaneous husband came home from work one day and announced that we were going camping. All of us. Even me and the newborn. Hmmm. Talk about a "red light." I couldn't imagine anything more time consuming, difficult and crazy with a baby. However, he had been to southern Utah with his work and wanted to share the beauty of that place with us. I really really really didn't want to go. Camping in tents, outside with a nursing newborn did not sound appealing. In any any way. He assured me that he would take care of all the food. This was the ONLY reason I agreed.

I watched as he single-handedly bought, prepared and packed all the gear and food. We loaded everyone up and headed south.

I don't need to go into any more detail, but let me just say that that experience has proven to be the single most memorable/successful family trip we've ever had. For years afterwords it was all the little children talked about. They loved it, they adored it. They drew pictures of us in the "desert" and shared it with teachers, friends, strangers. When asked about favorite destinations, they never say "Disneyland, New York, Washington D. C., Mexico" (the other places we've been), instead they always answer, "camping in the desert!"

As I pondered this lesson this week, I was reminded that so often in the gospel there are ironies. When we "lose" ourself, we "find" ourself, the "greatest" is the "least," etc. I have realized that often what I perceive to be "red lights" are actually "green lights."

Instead of waiting impatiently for the lights in my life to turn ("We got the loan!,""I graduated!,""I've lost 20 pounds!"), I have realized that I am missing it. I am missing all the beauty and joy of life, tapping my foot, engine revving in the fast lane.

I resolve this week to do some gazing. I want to ponder. I want to appreciate. I want to enjoy. I want to savor. I want to stop, sit, listen. I am grateful once again to my priceless children who teach me everyday to be a better person.

As I have been driving this week, whenever I come to a red light, it is an opportunity. I turn, I look at them, we smile, we giggle, we sing, I tickle toes. I tell stories. I ask questions. I listen. I love. I live.

Our Town
written by Thornton Wilder
Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I'm dead. You're a grandmother, Mama! Wally's dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it - don't you remember? But, just for a moment now we're all together. Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's really look at one another!...I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back -- up the hill -- to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food... And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?

38 ¶ Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.



Happy Mother's Day!


Lisa said...

I stumbled upon your blog years ago at a time of great need in my life. I had moved to a new place and was adjusting to 2 children. Now I've moved and moved again and had another baby and life is happier. I used to read your blog out of desperation to gain a proper perspective about motherhood, now I read it to learn from the lessons you share- the difference being I've lost the desperation! I appreciated your message today and I hope to be better about observing the "red light" moments with a changed attitude!

Stacey Keller Thompson said...

Hi Lisa! I'm grateful you have gleaned something helpful or meaningful from this blog. That is really the whole point! I hope to offer love, understanding and support for the vital role we play as mothers. Thanks for reading and best wishes!