|photo by Jesse|
Clean plates - blue, purple, pink, and orange - line the counter at dinner time. My husband chops grilled chicken and sprinkles some on each one while I dole out scoops of rice. Four cups filled; two with lids, two without. Four dinners served, and received with varying enthusiasm. Seven minutes later, one wants seconds, one refuses to eat, and one asks if I have any dessert tonight. If so, he'll eat more chicken. Nine minutes after that, four little plates line the counter again. I scrape, rinse, and load them. Scrub the rice pot, wipe the counters, hit the "wash" button, and listen to the satisfying hum of the dishwasher.
In the morning I will unload those little colored plates, and we'll start all over. Over and again.
Parenting feels the same way.
I enforce the same rules, pick up the same toys, give the same hugs, load kids into the van, unload kids from the van, buy groceries, serve groceries, throw away leftover groceries, take out the trash, buy groceries again. The rhythm is comforting at times, confining during others. Either way, I do the same things. Every single day.
When you're building a family, you're always staring at the bricks.
It starts to feel as though the process is the goal. That you're really working for the clean dishes, the stocked fridge, the reset button at the end of the night. Children who don't whine and babies with clean diapers .... as though a fresh, clean, finished product is the end game. I live out the rhythms of my life and I don't often look up from them. People tell me things like, "These days will be over before you know it," and "you're going to miss this one day." It's not that I don't believe them. I just have no framework for it. All I know is what I'm doing, which, honestly, is the same thing I've done for a long, long time.
I'm building a family. Working my heart out at it, truthfully. If my mind wonders anywhere, it's toward the future. Am I building kind, healthy adults? What will our relationship be in fifteen years? I don't know what works yet, and what doesn't. I wonder what my children are learning from my good - and bad - examples, I wonder who they will be. I'm building a family, working towards a future I can't quite see.
But every now and then, I look up and I realize something important: we already are a family.
For all the energy I pour into their future - nutrition that will strengthen their bodies now, food habits that will keep them healthy for life, kindness that will hopefully root in their hearts and grow them into caring adults - for all the hours I spend working toward who my kids will someday be, we are still here, together, right now. I am building a family, yes. But at the same time, we are a family. We are already knit together in this moment. We love one another, we live our lives together, we work toward the common good. This thing I am building, it exists right now, too.
A religious concept comes to mind. The kingdom of God is both already and not yet. It exists, even as we work toward it. Am I irreverent if I apply the same concept to our young families? I am building a legacy, I am cultivating a family culture, I am shaping (to some extent) our collective future. And yet. Here we are. Already together, already working and living and functioning together.
I will keep working. Keep washing those dishes, over and again. Keep restocking, emptying, and restocking the fridge. But on the days when it feels as though I'm working endlessly toward an unreachable goal, I want to stop moving for a moment. I want to look around me and remember: it's already here. We are already a family.