The Enchanting Life
After school this afternoon, my girls got “dressed up” and we carried two microphones outside. I sat on the grass, leaned back on my arms, and acted as the “audience” to an impromptu “karaoke” concert. Breathe started, Alight finished. They sang songs they made up on the spot. While they sang, the sun warmed my skin and a breeze rustled the grass, causing it to tickle my bare feet. By the time Breathe began singing her second song, Alight and I laid down on the grass, our heads pillowed by our arms, and stared at the clouds. We pointed out big ones, and the ones that looked like shapes, all the while listening to Breathe sing. Afterward, we switched. Soon, they tired of singing, so we all lay down on the grass and played Cloud Games. We were quiet and listened to the sound of silence. I looked over first at Alight and she had her eyes closed, then at Breathe, who had one arm stretched high above her body, pointing at a particularly fluffy, thick cloud. She was quiet, but I knew that she was making up a story in her mind to match the cloud. I don’t know how long we laid there, because I was in too much of a dream-like fog to care. I wasn’t thinking about how much time we had until I would need to start cooking; I wasn’t thinking about what I needed to do tonight to prepare for tomorrow; I wasn’t thinking about all the recent pain and craziness of my extended family. I wasn’t thinking about anything except what shapes the clouds were making, and how it felt as though the sky were a warm blanket covering the three of us up.
Soon, energy spliced through Alight and she jumped up, wanting to play Tag. So we did. Then, as the heat began to take its toll finally on us, I remembered that they were probably getting hungry and I should act like a grown up by fixing them something to eat. Reality slowly settled back in on us, lifting the dream-like fog under which we had laid for so long. Memories of the excursion we’re going on tomorrow at the zoo with the class I teach filtered in, and I remembered we needed to go grocery shopping for snacks. My phone made a noise, notifying me of an e-mail. It brought sad news seeped with history and memory. Relaxation and fun were replaced with responsibility and life. Normally, this thought would have caused me sadness but, for some reason, it didn’t today. Instead, it carried the phrase: “Today is tomorrow’s enchantment.” I didn’t have time anymore to linger on the phrase, and what it meant; I needed to get things done. But I was comforted and the phrase lingered in the back of my mind the rest of the afternoon.
My tendency to hang out with yesterday’s memories is well documented. It’s just part of Tiffini, a part that I have finally come to accept and own. The thing is, though, the sweetest and most wonderful of my memories are the simplest. I’ve lived most of my adult life thinking I had to work hard to make life sweet. I had to come up with schedules and rack my brain for creative ideas and games to play. I had to seize every opportunity, there was no time to rest. I’ve lived most of my life stressing out my brain cells worrying about whether or not what I was doing was “making the most” of life. I’ve created educational programs, I’ve volunteered myself to death, I’ve focused on as many of the positive things in my life as I could, I never give my brain a break. I am always thinking of what I should do to create worthwhile memories for tomorrow. That’s my whole goal in life: to create a meaningful and rich childhood for my girls, one on which we will all be able to look back on one day and be proud of. And none of that is a bad thing. Goals are worth having, getting out and doing stuff is worth the effort. Time flies and there are so many more important and meaningful ways to spend time with our loved ones than watching the TV. People in the “old days” may have had to work harder, but I am convinced they often lived richer and more meaningful lives. Having to take the time to hang your clothes out to dry may not have always been convenient or easy, but it meant you had to slow down. Having to gather, and then cook, dinner every, single night with nothing but boiling water may not have been easy, but it resulted in having the whole family eat together every night. So, there is something to be said for all my efforts to produce a meaningful and technology-limited life.
When I become enchanted by my memories, when I become swept away by the best ones and manage to lose myself for awhile in dreamland, what I am often struck by is how little we were actually doing. We weren’t climbing Mt. Everest. We weren’t zip lining. We weren’t texting. We weren’t all sitting at a football game looking at our phones as often as we were the field. No. The sweetest of my memories are very simple.
Once, I was on a horse for my birthday. I didn’t have shoes on, but I wore a helmet because my sister wasn’t eighteen yet and was therefore required to wear one. I sought permission to run the horse and that horse spanned a huge field in what felt like seconds. I remember the feel of him galloping beneath me, of the wind in my hair, of my heart racing itself out of my chest, of the power that beautiful horse had. It is a sweet memory. Once, a stranger spoke to me on a train. I was in a different country so I tried to be polite and struggled to converse with him in his language. In halting French, I asked him where he was from. The smile that spread across his face as he answered with the oh-so-familiar drawl “Texas” flashes in memory, as does how I laughed when I realized he’d been teasing me all along. When I was broken-hearted, a teacher hugged me and gave me a book to read. For nearly nine years in a row, I slept every year for a week on hard concrete outside so that I could go to Fan Fair, an event held in my hometown that enabled me to meet country music stars. Yet, strangely, only a few of the stars stand out now. What stands out more is how I would talk with the other fans until midnight, mapping out which building we would run to first when the gates opened. I remember setting up a tent in the dark with my mom at a campground, and leaving the car lights on so that we would have light to work with. I remember being in the back seat of a car, reading. One day, at 1:09 pm, when I was 23 years old, I held a newborn baby in my arms and tried to soak in the fact that she was part of me. Three years and a month earlier, when I was 26, another baby was placed in my arms and called mine. Once, I got a package in the mail and when I opened it up, I saw beautiful, bound books that I had written. What I remember the most is sleeping in a chair in my grandparents’ room and going with them to the post office, where I learned how to fill a Coke vending machine. What I remember is playing in the pool with my sister, and both of us pretending to be practicing for the Olympics. I remember an eighth grade young man reading a letter I’d written him as his teacher and telling me that he was going to frame the letter. I remember heart-warming conversations on the phone. I remember not wanting to get out of the car because it meant being away, even just for a few minutes, from someone special. I remember watching a play and feeling like I was in dream. I remember the tenderness that stole my heart when, after an error on the school’s part meant I had to take 7 tests in two days in order to graduate, a beloved teacher handed me his test and I realized all he wanted me to do was write an essay. What I remember the most about speaking is the face of the women who came up to me and said they understood, or the sight of a man sitting in the back of a room with his head bent into his legs, crying. The other day, my daughter wanted to read one of The Baby-Sitter Club books. So I got them all down, all 112 of them, and spent a long time telling her the differences between Mallory and Jessie, Claudia and Stacy, Kristy, Mary Ann and Dawn. She would ask me what a particular book was about, and my heart melted as I excitedly recalled these precious books that were as much my friends as any I ever had during childhood. She eventually settled on “Stacy’s Big Crush” to read and my heart beat a song of intense tenderness…. that was the book I’d read when I, too, had a crush on one of my teachers (a Bible teacher no less!) I remembered hiding my face in pillows in true mortification for poor Stacy who gave her teacher a love letter. I remembered dousing my own love letter with perfume and sending it in the mail to my teacher crush. I remember laughing so hard I cried. I remember very special children I’ve worked with, and who influenced my entire life. I remember walking into the prayer tower at my church, praying and then hearing the Holy Spirit tell me He was there.
In other words… my most precious, most enchanting memories are the simple ones, the ones in which the only thing extraordinary involved was other people. There’s nothing wrong with experiences, there’s nothing wrong with goals. But it’s not the experiences themselves that transform or mold our hearts—it’s the connection we have with others, it’s that moment when someone does or says something that convinces us they truly care about who we are. It’s being understood. It’s being heard. I don’t have to be doing something silly or crazy or even creative with my girls to be creating a rich, and meaningful, life. So we had to go grocery shopping. All that means is that, given the right attitude, I can let them hang on to the edge of the cart and, when we check out, they’ll get a balloon that they inevitably release as soon as we get outside. We’ll stand at the car, in the parking lot, and watch the balloons float to the heavens before finally getting in. All that means is I get to see my oldest five bottles of salt and throw them all into the basket because I said we needed to get some. Grocery shopping means letting them race to the end of the aisle and joke about how slow I’m taking to reach them. Grocery shopping means swearing to Alight ten times that we will not go anywhere NEAR the lobster tank. So I have to fix dinner. Given the right attitude, all that means is that I let them help and deal with a messy kitchen later. What that means is that I get to hear one of them pray every night. And if my youngest is a picky eater again, all that means is that I get to have fun convincing her to eat it, even if that means playing silly games and doing “victory dances” every time she swallows something. The other night in one of the classes I teach, we were going over the Books of the Bible and one little girl said, “Can we do what you did last year for this and each of us get to BE a book?” and another child said, “Yeah, I remember that! We also got to eat locusts.” It reminded me that, even if it doesn’t seem like the kids I teach hear a word I say, chances are, they actually do and I just need to trust God that what’s being taught in the classes is what needs to be taught. And when my kids do something so outrageous that I want to just sigh and give up on life, like flushing their underwear down the toilet, I just take a deep breath and remind myself that when I laugh about it, it’s adding another chapter to the Enchantment Book of tomorrow.
The sweetest part of life is that we get to choose what we make of it. We can become workaholics, striving to achieve more and more, and then reach the end of our lives and realize most of our memories are of the place we worked. Or we can become goal-oriented people who understand that life is meant to be flexible and unpredictable; we can overlook the flower growing in concrete, or we can take an extra minute to marvel at it. Every decision we make today becomes a memory for tomorrow. Every word we say, every act we make, creates an impression on the future. Life is stressful and hard only if we let it be; if we consciously choose to do so, we can make wake up tomorrow taking as many good things as bad from the day before. Tomorrow, when you have that important meeting to go to, or you’re expecting to receive a bad phone call, or the dog pooped on the carpet five times and the kids pretty much ran over you….close your eyes, breathe in, breathe out and repeat until you are able to corral your tongue and remember that the life storybook you’re writing for tomorrow can be an enchanting one. You don’t have to be Super Mom, you don’t have to be promoted. You don’t have to be a size six and it’s okay if dinner is burned. Sometimes spending the whole day in your pajamas is exactly perfect, and sometimes chocolate is necessary to maintain sanity. After all, it’s probably going to be that time you ate half a bag of Hershey’s kisses that’s going to make you smile tomorrow.