Between holding my breath, chewing on my prayers and shoving my hopes heavenward this last two months, I’m surprised I a. haven’t passed out, b. have lips left and c. haven’t sprained my grip on reality beyond all reason and expectation of repair.
I've unclenched my anxieties a little, enough to allow the tease of a breeze and the humidity of desire to sneak in and play. My heart has been pummeled as well, grief and gratitude tangled up together, seeping into the lonely, thirsty corners and giving weight to my decisions. It’s been a terrible, incredible month.
A significant thump from the beginning was reading Michelle’s post on fatherhood, as a birthday present for her hubby Erik. Michelle and I had a quick flurry of texts one day about what I’d recommend and avoid in writing about fatherhood, and I certainly wasn't expecting to be quoted. I knew that Michelle would be sensitively aware of all the painful wounds that many carry regarding fathers – as it was, her post touched me deeply. Truth told, it didn't touch me but rubbed the stubborn, stony edges of my heart against reality, and knocked some callouses and doubts from my eyes.
Because lately I've been worrying (okay, I’m pretty much always worrying) because I’m not doing any of the big things I see other Dads do for their sons – the camps away, the fishing trips, the building of furniture or landscaping of gardens – and am, therefore and obviously (at least according to the bitter vicious oil I sometimes swallow in buckets), failing my boyos. Yet again. But it was in reading the words of Stefan and Ben which made me stop and think about what the boys have recently mentioned seeing me do. They are tiny, practically insignificant moments, at least on first consideration, which will do much more for them than a once-off spectacle of parenting bravado and opulence.
Friday afternoon of my first week home after resigning from work, Wong flew inside saying “But if you've finished work, Mum,” (no hi, no how are you, nothing but this sentence, as soon as he belted through the door after school) “you’re not getting paid, are you? So how are we going to pay for stuff? I better find a job, so we can pay rent and, you know, eat!” My chest ached like I’d been double punched the night before, and I couldn't quite smile or cry. Because Wong was planning forward of his accord, working out how to contribute, how to help me go to university and not have to go back to work instead. My twelve year old son wasn't thinking about school or friends or what holds the moon up, but where he could find work to help support his family, because “you've worked to support us, and we need to support you too Mum.” Learning that lesson from what I've done, and to see it reflected back to me – that’s an example of being a good parent all the way to the final outcome, right there.
Then the next bright Saturday morning, Hatro told me that he wants to have a big family. A family that holidays together “…with their uncle and aunt and cousins and Grandmama” – he’s already thinking about it, wanting our family to be together, to make a family of his own. His life is laid out before him, and he loves it all. “I think all the Laurels are nice, Mum, but I’m not thinking of anyone special. I’ll do that when I get back from my mission.” School, mission, uni, marriage, family, and gospel – it’s as unarguable and obvious to him as his blue eyes. But I can’t take credit for it.
Then, about a month ago, my heart was ambushed at our ward’s youth baptism evenings. Thirty-two youth went (not all of them, not by a good chunk!) and two of those attending youth were my boys. I went through to do initiatories, and it literally rocked me to my toes – I was in the house of the Lord, and so were my boys. We were there, inside, serving and worshipping and worthy, all at the same time. We hadn’t been in a temple together since we were sealed together, nearly ten years ago. Ten years, again at night, when Wong was perched on my hip, Hatro seriously gazing at the camera as he held George’s hand, us all dressed in white in the frigid Melbourne winter air.
I tried to shrug the occasion off with a casual “Wow, that’s wonderful, Sel, now focus!” but couldn't. I felt warmth and celebration cascade over my shoulders and carry my heart above my head. No, I felt, toes curling amazed against the carpet, it is AMAZING. It is WONDROUS. It is worth making a deal about! YOU have done this, gotten your boys here, through everything. It could have gone so many ways, but you are here, and so is Hatro, and so is Wong and THAT is worth celebrating. I cried, right there in the initiatory spaces, my heart getting an incredibly gentle wash and tumble in the grace and mercy of the Lord.
Hatro and Wong tumbled from the temple doors into my arms that night, and joked and bickered and laughed all the way home. We stopped for hot chips from Nando's for dinner, and they both thanked me repeatedly (mouths full, hearts grateful) for the treat. In the chomping half-silence as we continued on home, it became clearer and more wondrous. They are watching and learning from me, in ways I haven’t even considered. Remember when I had to prompt them “Ta?” as babies? Think about everything they've had to learn to this point to thank you for hot fried potatoes, Sel, let alone to process and become to do it of their own choice. They’re watching, and they love you. You’re doing alright!
So I won’t take any credit for my sons being themselves, but I will take some of the credit for helping them get to where they are. Because being a parent is incredibly hard work, particularly if you’re trying to do a halfway decent job of it. And having acknowledgement or encouragement or even a crumb of commendation is a welcome and deserved trophy; usually tossed into the furnace to feed the next effort, but a glowing source of heat and comfort nonetheless. Even – actually, ESPECIALLY - if that trophy is from and for yourself.