The Best of Both Mothers

With my parents out of town, I went to the farm to feed the animals. I brought my homeschooler’s supplies and my laptop so that we could all get some work done while the four-year-old played outside. There are a hundred acres of woods and fields, a little creek, and some trails. My oldest fed the chicks, let the dogs out to run and threw some hay to the cows and horses, then sat down to do school. I too sat down to discern my next move. Pray? Write? Do a quick little check of what’s going on in the internet?

It was Friday, and I knew there would be a festive tone online, quick-takes to read, and people who’ve had their noses to the grindstone all week long making pleasure calls in one another’s comment boxes.

I flipped open my laptop even as I questioned myself–Are you sure this is the way you want to go? Do you really want to rob yourself of your productivity for the rest of the day? Don’t you want to take advantage of the benefits of being a little dot on a big big landscape–it’s all yours, the sunlight streaming through the window, the stacks of books. On my dad’s bedside table alone there was “Soil: the 1957 Yearbook of Agriculture” and “Explorations in Theology” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Also, three volumes of “Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.” So tempting.

I got online, and truly, there were many updates. Everyone I wanted to read was writing. I told the four-year-old to head on outside and I’d be there in several hours.

But he came back to me, not wanting to go out alone; he looked at me with big brown eyes and said, “Don’t you want to go outside and explore?”

I was exploring already. I was on a virtual safari. There were many vistas yet to behold on my feeds. Don’t you want to explore nature? I was beginning to recognize some of my mother’s lingo coming out of my son’s mouth, verbal propaganda cunningly designed to get the kids out of the house–expansive phrases like “Spring flower adventure” and “summer insect expedition.” I know, let’s keep a wildflower journal!

Well I’m nothing if not my mothers’ daughter (did you say adventure?), and really could not say no to a four-year-old who seemed so very aware that he was asking me to walk away from my sorry occupation to do something wholesome.

We walked down to the creek as the little person pointed the way–“Nature’s down there.” We looked at the phlox and violets growing out of tufts of grass along the creekside. We followed the path around the little grove where my mom and dad planted a tree for my brother when he was declared cured of Leukemia. I can never tell which tree it is anymore because they all look hardy to me. And I believe that was the point of planting an oak, so our longevity could surprise us whenever we happened upon it. My how it’s grown! Years must be passing! How wonderful!

I couldn’t wait to go back inside and compose a blogpost scolding the internet for not going outside too, maybe throw in something about how relationships matter and how having virtual experiences are fine but nothing beats the real thing.

And yet, my desire to return indoors was too big for me to ignore while writing the scolding blogpost. I love shelters. Shelters are good. People have been building shelters for themselves since the beginning of time. Most mammals prefer the indoors, even the dogs wait at the door mouths watering for some small child to leave just enough of a crack that they can sneak in. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to find Uriah the bull snoozing in my parents’ bed some day.

Is it really wrong to prefer couch to trail? This is mammalian behavior 101.

My husband used to tell me about how he’d come home from school and find his mother lying on her side on the couch, with his little brother sitting perched on her hip sucking his thumb. She had trained him by force of habit and positive reinforcement not to move until she woke up. That’s mothering at my speed.

I lay down on the couch with one child in the crook of my arm, and another in the crook of my leg, read two chapters of Bossypants and then all three of us took a nap.

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