A Lesson in Slowing Down

The past two weeks have been a lesson in slowing down. Like most lessons, this is not one I have openly embraced. In fact, I raged against it forcefully, as I often do, and the universe kept busting my chops until I finally conceded.

It started shortly after our return from a two-week trip to Yellowstone. The vacation was amazing, but after days on the road, all of the Wirgaus came home ready to sit for a minute. But oh no, not us. Not yet.

After reaching our cozy cabin at midnight on a Sunday, I unloaded, laundered and repacked our belongings and shoved us back into that trusty SUV for another excursion by Thursday afternoon. We were headed for Indianapolis and then on to Tennessee. My husband tried to file for divorce but couldn’t figure out the paperwork.

I neglected to tell most of the people in our life that we were leaving again. I knew how spoiled and, frankly, asinine the whole thing sounded. Why, oh why, would I do this? What would compel me to throw my lovelies back into a vehicle for twenty-four hours (round trip) and expect them to come out unscathed?

Loyalty and love. That’s what. And maybe an unquenchable desire to have fun.

Months prior, I had confirmed that our troop would make the journey to Pigeon Forge to surprise a good friend of ours for her 40th birthday. She has been a support in my life since before my first baby was born – and after that little nugget arrived, she stayed. For those of you who don’t have kids, this doesn’t always happen. Not everybody stays.

She still wanted to hang out, even with a crying baby, even when we moved four hours away and two more babies came, and the crying became a heightened chorus of three shockingly loud, warbling voices. When our second came weeks early, drowning me in worry and surging hormones, she showed up at my house with her wife, our two girlfriends, armfuls of Totino’s pizza rolls and the biggest bottle of Jack Daniels my eyes have seen. She urged me into a hoodie and out of the house. When people show up for you, you show up for them. It’s that simple.

I am blessed the world over because I have more than one friend like this, and I believe it’s because we do our best to show up, even if it means one trip over the limit, one that ends in a sobbing two-year old, an exhausted husband, and me on a kid’s travel potty, crouched in the backseat of our SUV as my three barefooted babies wait out the ungodly scene in a farmer’s field under the shade of a single tree.

Because that was the price I paid for my loyalty and need for “fun” – a turning stomach in the middle of Indiana with nowhere to go. This is also why we never travel without a portable toilet.

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Up to then, this tiny travel necessity had never been the recipient of adult deposits, but when you exit the highway and are not positive your body will do what you so desperately need it to do – keep everything neatly tucked away inside until the appropriate moment when cheeks touch porcelain – you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the thirty steps into the gas station bathroom will be one too many. You know that the cute sun dress you chose this morning will be far less appealing when involuntarily covered in your own boiling feces.

And so, through tears, actual tears, you instruct your husband to find a place to pull over and hastily remove himself and the children from the situation. No, this time you may not sit and stare at mom in the “bathroom.” Because this is not a bathroom. This is a backseat. And this is not a toilet. This is a $20 toddler potty with a paper-thin plastic bag draped precariously over the sides. And as you call on the strength of God and your trembling thighs to keep you hovered in exactly the right position over the four inches of salvation, those thighs fail you, and the left side of the potty folds in on itself and you snatch the bag and hold it in place until your mission is complete.

That’s loyalty. That’s love. That’s one McDonald’s breakfast too far. It was time to go home.

But somehow, I still hadn’t learned my lesson. One’s body can only take so many fast-food meals before revolting. One’s children can only stand so many hours in a vehicle before having mini mental breakdowns. One’s husband can only tolerate so much “fun” before figuring out the divorce paperwork. One’s family needs time to rest.

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We returned home that Sunday and my husband immediately left for a conference the next morning. After a long week alone with the kids, I was gearing up for a big “Mommy and Me Camp Out” in my backyard on Saturday. The forecast called for thunderstorms all weekend, and although I had originally planned to reschedule if the weather failed us, I couldn’t not have fun. I couldn’t sit still and just be.

In direct opposition to that little voice in my head screaming “No! Stop!,” I decided to move the party inside. This would be a disaster, but I didn’t want to miss out on potential good times. Mom after mom canceled; they didn’t want to be inside a house with cooped up toddlers either. Messages lit up my phone until I finally gave up and sent the kill shot. Okay, I conceded, we would try a different weekend.

But my oldest really wanted this kid from school to spend the night, and darn it, I wasn’t ready for the fun to be done, so sure. Why not? Little Timmy can sleep over.

We set up tents in the loft and my kids laid out their fake bonfire and s’mores. They grabbed board games and puzzles, positioned their blankets and pillows just so and made sure their guest of honor would have his own cuddly things to snuggle. We were going to have an awesome night, full of fun.

But my lesson had to be learned. The quiet night I had envisioned – playing Yahtzee, story time inside tents illuminated by flashlight, hugging and laughing and family fun – never happened because it wasn’t just our family. I had invited another element into the mix, an element that is not familiar with the Wirgau ways, the ebb and flow of our energies, our nerdy love for jigsaw puzzles and books. And because of this, because of my unquenchable longing to have “fun,” my dreamy vision was replaced by something else, something in direct contrast to anything even resembling “fun.”

By the end of the night, when I had deflated the bounce house, calmed the over-tired cries of my kiddos, and all eight little boy eyelids were closed after hours of coaxing, I understood. Sometimes it needs to just be us. Not one more party. Not even one more person.

Showing up for my friend was worth it, backseat porta-potty and all. A 40th celebration + Dollywood is a solid good time, even through tired eyes. Love trumps tired sometimes.

But this surplus trip was also a warning that I did not heed. We had come off of a dream vacation out west, followed up by a 48-hour trip to Pigeon Forge, and capped it all off with one giant stink bomb of a slumber party. I ignored the weather, and the barrage of texts, and my inner, much wiser, voice. I pushed the fun until it wasn’t fun anymore.

The next morning, I awoke frustrated and empty. I needed to reset. We packed up and went to church as a family. We came home, climbed into the boys’ bunk beds, and took a long nap. We enjoyed a home-cooked Sunday dinner that stayed in our intestines for the appropriate amount of time, then hit up a beach to enjoy the glories of our own little corner of the world.

And we tried the camp out again, with just our kids tucked away in their tents, and by midnight, our bed.

When my eyes cracked open on Monday morning, I looked over to find the baby’s feet peeking out from beneath the red nylon fabric, the only one who’d made it through the “camp out” in his rightful place.

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My middle man rolled over and buried his face into my shoulder, and the buzzy snore of my oldest sang me back to sleep. When my alarm sounded an hour later, instead of waking into anger and exhaustion like I had the day before, this time I felt rested, and sometimes rest trumps fun.

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