Driving home from tennis, the girls asked, “Can we go to the pool, Mom?”

I answered, “I don’t know. We may be driving to Portland or somewhere else Daddy has applied. We may be packing up and leaving. You’ll probably visit Grandma Shirley and Grandpa Randy for awhile.”

Then the questions came. How long will we be there? When do we leave? Will you be there with us? Do we have to stay in the car a long time again?

My answer was unvarying:

We’ll let you know.

It must be trying. They, too, want to know their future — though measured in days rather than years. They want to anticipate, to plan, to fill the present with expectations of what is to come.

Aren’t Paul and I tired of secretaries and administrators giving us the same old line?

We’ll let you know.

We, too, want to fill the present with plans for the future. We want to anticipate, to guess, to search, to nestle.

At times like these, I am most thankful for children who have the ability to be flexible, who do not feel out of control if they don’t know what’s going to happen that day. They have operated for awhile in utter chaos, living out of boxes, wondering if we’re going to have to move this week or next, wondering if we’re going to live here or there, wondering if Daddy is coming home today or tomorrow, wondering, wondering, wondering about the larger pieces of their parents’ life that is usually set for many families — where we live, where we work, how much money do we make.

With all these supporting factors in chaos, I’m pleasantly surprised at how resilient the girls are.

Yet, they are not immune. Today, in the library, I gave Dagne her card and told her she could pick out a book and a movie. She played on the computer instead and when it was time to go, she couldn’t get a movie, because it would take too much time.

Usually, this would bring about disappointment, not a meltdown. She cried, and cried, and cried — little mascara lines dripping down her face from the leftover makeover her sisters had applied last night.

When I got out of the car to pay a bill, she was still crying. Though she is far too big, I picked her up and carried her in with me, and she draped limply over my body with her face in my neck, tears dripping onto it. After chatting with a friend I saw on the street, it was finally over.

Next, she had gotten a balloon from the tennis coach that was too difficult for any of us to blow up. She brought it to Paul and he finally succeeded in inflating it — too well. Just when it reached its capacity, it blew up. Again, tears and sobs, and shakes and sadness and sorrow.

I thought: “This is so unlike her. She never goes on and on like this.” I hugged her and rocked her and kissed the salty tears away and wondered what could be at the bottom of it.

Duh. Let’s see. Her father has been away for six weeks. Her sister, who generally took care of her, has been gone for two months. She’s boxed up all her toys and they’ve been that way for over a month. We’ve driven 2500 miles in a car without air-conditioning. Mom and Dad spend all their time looking at the computer or in deep discussion about possible futures. We are generally unavailable to focus on little shows or productions she’s made. She asked me to do her hair the other day and I realized that I hadn’t fixed it in so long. I remember combing Elsa’s hair everyday and doing it up in a variety of styles, taking care to dress her and bathe her as well. Dagne has been taking her own showers for years now. She gets none of these extra attentions.

I’m struck by the fact that Dagne has gotten a very different mother than her older sisters did. In fact, they’ve each gotten a different mother, because I’m in a different place everytime they come along.

Such is life.

We do the best we can with what we’ve got. Today, she asked me to hit a balloon with her. With Elsa at that age, I would have spent a half hour. I had hours to spare. I don’t have minutes to spare with Dagne, but I decided to spare three of them anyway. I played a few minutes with her. Perhaps the moments will be more precious since they’re so few.

And we have mealtimes. Meals are sacred. They cannot be touched.

I don’t care that the experts are claiming that more, smaller meals are better for your metabolism. Three sit-down ones are best for families. And when we sit down, the TV is off, the phone rings unanswered, and we talk — sometimes about important things, sometimes about silly things.

If the major parts of our lives are in chaos, then I try to focus on things that can remain the same. Mealtimes. Prayers and kisses and bedtime. Little tucks and tickles that make them feel loved. I don’t have time to play with them. But I can laugh at a joke they made or listen to a story they tell in the car.

I think the main thing I’m going to try to do in these next few weeks is to say, “yes.”

“Mommy, will you come and see my painting upstairs?”

“Will you watch the dance I made up?”

“Will you listen to my song?”

“Will you read me a story?”

If they ask me, I’ll say yes. Though I lament not being able to offer or coordinate a song, or story, or production, I can at least be open to it and welcome it when the opportunity presents itself.

I’ll remember to sing and smile.

When they look back, I hope they remember these moments and not the boxes and driving and wondering.

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