Have you ever had one of those completely magical, seemingly perfect, carefree days with your kids, the kind that you never want to end and that feel completely utopian in every single way?
Honestly, I really haven't. Don't get me wrong - we've had great times, even idyllic experiences. But, and this is a big BUT, the picture-perfection never lasts all day long. I think it's literally impossible to make it through an entire day without dysfunction, because my house is full of a bunch of sinners. Big sinners and little sinners, old and young. Sinners with perfect pitch and the kind that are tone-deaf (yes, my children are tone-deaf - sad but true).
I've learned to adjust my expectations and expect conflict and frustrations and stress. If I don't expect those things, I know I'll be sorely let down again and again and again.
If I didn't know this already, yesterday shattered the illusion of the perfect day for me once and for all. I don't mean to share this in a woe-is-me kind of way; it's actually not like that at all. It's just reality, and it's actually refreshing, because it reminds me that all of you out there in social-media world who like to create the illusion of perfection in your homes are L-I-A-R-S. (In case you're just finding this out, the whole world knows that your kids are little sinners, too.)
Yesterday was day four of Daddy being out of town, and day (seemingly) 9778 of constant rain. Softball? Cancelled. Tball? Cancelled? Outdoor play options? Nada. Three stir-crazy, full-of-energy kiddos who were bouncing off the walls? Roger that.
I tried my best to give them an outlet for their energy. I took them yesterday morning to an indoor play place, where I paid $31.79 (yes, that is DOLLARS...to PLAY in a germ-infested jungle gym...by my OWN CHOOSING) for them to play for an hour and then have to pack everyone up to leave because my middle child was "tired" and wanted to "go home" and started to have a meltdown. Miraculously, he perked right up after we got home and started building Legos.
I made it through a rainy afternoon solely based on the knowledge that, come 5pm, my babysitter was coming to take over, and I was going out. Alone.
I showered (maybe for the first time since Wednesday - you're welcome, world), got ready, and hit the road faster than Wiley Coyote chasing the Roadrunner. "See ya, don't call me unless someone's bleeding" was pretty much the extent of my instructions.
I had a great night out. Did a little shopping. Met a friend for dinner. We even sat in the restaurant long after we were done with our meal and talked without interruption (I know, right?!). It was such a nice reprieve.
Then I came home.
Here's the part of the story where I encourage you to grab a bowl of popcorn and settle in, 'cause you might be here a while.
I opened the front door (at this point is was close to 10pm), and expected to hear quiet and calm. Instead I heard the TV blaring and my three-year-old talking loudly. #awesome
As I walked into the front entryway, I quickly noticed that my rug was covered in popcorn kernels. Not popped popcorn, but the kernels. #interesting
I ventured ahead into the living room where I found popped popcorn strewn across the room and two kids' cups knocked on their sides and slowly leaking onto my fairly-new rug. The rug that the kids aren't allowed to eat or drink on. #perturbed
I backtracked and made the turn into the kitchen. There I found a half-eaten pizza on the counter, picked completely clean of cheese and pepperoni on top. Basically, I was left with half a slab of bread with tomato sauce on it for leftovers. #yummy
All over the kitchen counter and floor were more popcorn kernels. Hundreds. I'm still finding them today, like tiny little painful surprises to the soles of my feet that keep on coming...and coming...and coming. #ouch
At this point I call the babysitter who was with the three-year-old in another room, and she walked into the kitchen.
"How'd it go tonight" I asked.
"It was a rough one," she said. #understatement
She explained to me that everything had been going well, that the kids had played and eaten and then wanted to watch a movie. She attempted to pop popcorn in our hot-air popcorn machine and overfilled it, cause it to smoke and burn. In an attempt to get that situation under control, the bottle of popcorn kernels accidentally got knocked off the counter and spilled everywhere. Literally, everywhere. As in, this morning, in my bedroom at the other end of the house, the first thing my foot touched when I rolled out of bed was a popcorn kernel. #GoodMorning
She ended up getting the popcorn thing happening, and the kids sat and watched a movie in the living room...on the rug. So that explained that.
Then came, as Oprah likes to call it, the "AHA moment" for me. My sitter explained that, because the kids had been SO well behaved, she gave them a treat. A candy treat, to be more specific. After the movie. Right before bedtime.
They discovered a bag just like this in our kitchen cabinet. They were, in actuality, for my seven-year-old's Earth Day class project next week. However, upon finding the Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers, my three children proceeded to eat every last one of them. The. Entire. (extra-large) Bag. #UhOh #JustALittleTreat
Apparently that's when everything went south (as though that hadn't happened already). The kiddos got amped up due to an enormous sugar high and couldn't calm down for bed. They discovered silly putty and green PlayDoh in the kitchen cabinet, and started running through the house with it, throwing it at each other and being stupid. There was evidence of this stupidity on my walls. And on my floors. And on my new living room rug.
And on the 60-inch flat-screen TV that they broke when they threw a big ball of Silly Putty through the living room and it smashed into the television. #YouCan'tMakeThisStuffUp
Yes, that's right, ladies and gentlemen. They broke our flatscreen. #Cuss #CussAgain
After all of this went down, the sitter somehow got my older two gremlins to bed, and then she attempted to get Foster to bed. He refused. And so, I guess, that is how I found him watching TV when I returned home at 10pm.
To give my sitter credit, she had been so busy corralling the troops that she hadn't had time to clean up a single thing. To give my kids some credit, my sitter thought it was a good idea to give them an entire bag of gummy worms moments before bed and then expected them to calmly and quietly go to sleep without a fight. #NotGonnaHappen
I got #3 tucked into bed and started the clean-up process. And what a process it was! Sweeping. Vacuuming. Peeling Silly Putty and PlayDoh out of my rug, and off my floors, and off my walls, and off of kitchen cutting boards (I don't even know, people, for realz). Cleaning up liquid spills and popcorn kernels and actual popcorn and cold pizza. Just what every mom wants to do at the end of a night out, am I right? #I'mWrong
I started out feeling surprised upon arriving at home. Then I grew frustrated. Then annoyed. Then angry.
And then I laughed. #FeelFreeToLaughWithMe
And I realized in that moment, as I sat down in my favorite armchair and surveyed my now-cleaned-up-but still-slightly-playdoh-green house, that life is all about expectations and reality.
I had expected to come home to a quiet, clean house after a long week of single parenting, and I didn't get what I expected (me thinks it wasn't the evening my babysitter expected either - hehehe). My expectations can make or break virtually any situation that comes my way, and I'm guessing yours can, too.
Take, for instance, last Sunday morning. I had to leave early in the morning to go and lead worship, and my husband was at home with the kids. His job that morning wasn't easy by any means. Our home was on the market, and so, along with feeding and dressing the kids and himself for church and getting out the door on time, he had to leave the house in spit-spot condition, impeccably clean and ready for the two showings we had scheduled while we were out. I gave him a detailed list of instructions, and he assured me that he could handle it and that I should "chill." When we arrived back home after church I walked onto our front porch to open the front door only to find a bag of trash and an empty Target shopping basket (don't ask) sitting in front of our door. The door with the lockbox where the realtors entered with their clients.
This was not quite what I had in mind when I asked him to have the house ready to show before he left for church.
At first I was irritated. Beyond irritated, actually. But then I realized that, really, he had done a great job on the rest of the house. Not perfect, but really good. The problem was that my expectation was perfection. And that's not reality, especially for a dad of three kids who's juggling a million balls all before church on a Sunday morning. I was disappointed by his lack of perfection, which was unreasonable to expect, and I responded out of my disappointment. At first I didn't respond well, if I'm being honest. #SorryBoo
When we hold others (or ourselves, for that matter) to the impossible standard of perfection, we will be disappointed over and over again. When we want life to fall into place in a picture-perfect way and we expect nothing less than that, we are bound for frustration and disillusionment.
The worst is part, I think, is that when life isn't idyllic or people let us down or we fail ourselves, we project that imperfection onto God Himself. I've done it before, and so have you.
When our circumstances are dire and we see no light at the end of the tunnel and we're disappointed because we expected God to change our situations and save us from the pain and misery, it's easy to decide that God is a fraud. That He's not who He says He is. That He doesn't care.
When people mistreat us and let us down and wound us to our cores, it's easy to decide that no one is worth trusting.
When we let ourselves down and give in to sin and darkness even though we know better, it's easy to decide that we are ourselves the definition of failure and that we deserve for Shame to name and define us.
If our expectations are perfection, or even just basic goodness, we will be let down time and again.
Because humankind is a hot mess.
However. The grace of God covers all of our imperfections, and His perfection is the best gap-filler.
When life disappoints us, He is perfect and in control.
When people disappoint us, He is our friend and Father and picks up the slack.
When we disappoint ourselves and loathe our own reflections, He shows us our new faces and our new names, found in the person of Jesus Christ.
We must expect the world to fail us, and we must cling to the truth that God never will.
"This God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him. For who is God but the Lord? And who is a rock except our God?" - Psalm 18:30-31
If we do this, our expectations will no longer be rooted in fanciful illusions, but instead rooted in He who never changes and never fails. Disappointment will be no more because He is always good, and, as it says in Psalm 52, we can fully and evermore "trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever."
I know I can trust Him. As for my children, or my babysitter...well, the jury's still out on that. For now, when I decide to go out on the town, I'll just have to be creative.