My family had one living area in our three bedroom ranch house. It had a shiny brick bench in front of the fireplace. It was a perfect place for a stage and served as one pretty faithfully for this girl obsessed with her own performance skills. Most of my best moves were done while I happened to be alone in that living room, Amy Grant’s newest cassette on the tape deck and my back to the audience, arms rising at my sides, hands jazz-spread. I only turned around to sing the words at the last possible moment, “Angels Watching Over Me!” belted to the couch full of stuffed animals.
By that point, I was alone in my performances. I was the youngest and my brothers–three and five years my seniors–had long moved on to the more important things that 12-year-olds and 15-year-olds think about. But, long before my solo career, we performed as a trio, late (at least it felt late to me) Saturday nights, with Mickey Mouse Disco on the record player, my parents moving around us for what felt like the entire record: just us dancing and laughing and singing at the top of our lungs. It was 1984 or 1985 and I was five. My brothers were heroes even then, skinny goofballs with dances I’d never seen before (they’d learned them at school, no doubt). I was mesmerized by those boys, but we were still equals in our shared home, raised one at a time onto our father’s shoulders while my mother gasped in fear. And running from one side of that room to the other where a pile of pillows and blankets made for a perfect diving pit.
That’s what I think about when my boys are cozied into their jammies, the baby scooting along the coffee table in his little footies, the preschooler running from the door to the carpet for a knee slide (how does every boy instinctively know how to knee slide from the moment he turns three?).
See, I’m imperfect. And, even more shockingly, my husband is not quite perfection either. And there are days when all I’ve been is the worst version of myself: snappy and frustrated and envious of all the people in the world who have perfect children (it’s only on those days that I think perfect children exist somewhere). I have yelled when I didn’t want to. I’ve cried on the toilet. I’ve eaten an entire bar of dark chocolate during nap time. And I’ve found myself rolling my eyes at the pile of laundry as if it’s the laundry’s fault for existing.
It’s on those days that I absolutely must turn on the music after bellies are fed and teeth are brushed. I know, you’re not supposed to rile your kids up before bed. I know, it’s supposed to be time for quiet and gentle nudging toward sleep. But, sometimes, your husband gets home from work and you stuff pasta into everybody’s bellies and you find yourself sitting on your bed asking God to remind you that your life is the most beautiful of all: That your life is a miracle of grace. That these children came from your body…but before that, they were secrets in the heart of God. That your husband just showed up that night in Ithaca, New York. He just showed up at that random house you visited with your barely-friends before the acapella concert and he walked with you up the road, in the dark, both of you bundled under sweaters in November night. And in that reminder of grace: your body sitting on the bed is filled magically with light, as if you were finally your true self for the first time that day. The boys are whining in the bathroom, getting their teeth brushed by that man you loved first that night in 2002 and now you see him scrubbling their teeth, his eyes older, his jaw stronger and better than before and you know it’s time.
There’s only one thing to do:
Find the Katy Perry Pandora station. Hit play. That’s when August runs from across the room and dives and you dive with him. That’s when Brooksie rides on your husband’s shoulders and you gasp a little and then release your breath and out of your mouth comes all the lies you believed that day: about your worth, about what’s lacking.
And here, right here, this moment, when Usher is singing about the dance floor and the baby is squealing, you recognize the truth. And you spin in it holding your son and you both laugh because all is forgiven; all is new.