My kids love a bath. From the time they were babies, we have set aside time for them to lounge in the tub everyday. As our life became fuller, and we had more children, baths turned to showers for the sake of time. Since then, baths have become things of luxury... times of playing... extended, soapy, soaking, solace.
Before church yesterday, the older boys rose early and took quick showers. Mark drove them both to an indoor soccer game they were to referee together. This left me home with the little ones and a bit of extra time. Josiah woke just after I did and grabbed a book he was eager to read. I made coffee and thought that the slower schedule with two kids home might allow some time for them to have a bath.
I went upstairs, started the water and added the things they love best. Lavender soap. Epsom salts. LOTS and lots of bubbles. By the time it was ready, Josiah was too. Having reached the end of his chapter, he called the dog and headed in to have a soak.
I could smell the relaxing scent downstairs by now and loved the pace of the day. As a mom of four, I should know that thinking a morning will go smoothly and well is almost as powerful as a verbal curse.
I could hear Elizabeth beginning to wake up and went in to say good morning. In the darkness, I very nearly tripped on mounds of Legos left strewn about the floor. As I pulled up the shade, the light revealed several worn outfits needing to be taken to the laundry room, dolls suspended in imaginary play, a baby bed turned tiger home and boots thrown here and there.
"I thought I heard the bathtub, momma..." Elizabeth began.
"You did..." I answered. "I thought today we might have time before church for a bath."
Her face lit up and she clambered down from her top bunk. Grabbing a towel, she made a break for the bathroom before I called her name.
"Elizabeth, Josiah is in there now. How about you straighten up this room a minute and you can have a bath too, once he is done."
She looked around. Nobody likes to clean their room. Especially at 8. She checked my face. Were there options? A way around? She put her towel down and started tossing the Legos into their box.
I headed to the closet in search of Sunday clothes. The job was getting done. The morning was going smoothly. I relaxed and thought through our day. Not a bad start. Not a bad start at all.
A few minutes later, Josiah came out of the bathroom red-cheeked and squeaky clean. As he brushed his hair and got dressed for church, Elizabeth made her way to the tub.... running into me in the hall.
"Did you finish straightening up, EB?"
Her eyes darted quickly to the floor.
"No." she whispered.
Coming down to her level, I looked her in the eye.
"It will take you just a few minutes, maybe only 5... and then you can take your bath. Finish this job and then get in. Deal?"
Her shoulders dropped. She sighed.
"Deal." she said and headed back to her room.
I came downstairs, gave Josiah a job, and went to the kitchen to begin Sunday dinner. I prepared to make bread. I got out the roast. It was then that I realized I could hear no cleaning sounds from the bedrooms upstairs. This time my shoulders dropped. Our Sunday Utopia was about to end. How I hate that realization...
I called to Elizabeth upstairs. No answer. I listened again. No cleaning. I had no option but head on up.
The door to the bathroom was closed. My daughter was in the tub. Hoping against hope to find a clean room, I turned and glanced inside.
Dolls stopped in mid-play.
The room was not even somewhat clean.
I want to say that I love these moments because they are teaching times with my kids. This would be a lie. I do not love these opportunities. I love pouring a bath.... I love hearing them laugh... I love the times when I am more fun momma, than detail momma. But the reality of this work is that I have only a short time to teach. The reality of this work is that without the details, without the lessons, without the discipline that was to come, I am not being momma at all. This life must have both.
I opened the bathroom door to find my girl relaxed and at peace in the tub. Laying in water, ears submerged, bubbles everywhere... a smile on her face... she was having fun.
I motioned for her to sit up.
"Did you finish straightening up?" I asked.
"Yes?" she responded quietly.
"Is that the truth?" I countered.
I reached for the shampoo and for the plug to the tub. Tears welled in her eyes.
She rubbed the soap in her hair.
"Elizabeth, I was very clear. You needed to straighten up your room before you got in the tub. It was not a long job... but it needed to be done. Then, you could spend some time playing in the tub before church. I was excited for you to have that time. I planned that for you. "
Her tears spilled over.
"But, I really wanted a bath, right now." she tried...
I splashed water over her long, brown hair, rinsing the shampoo out.
"How did that work out for you?"
"Bad..." she cried.
I held up a towel and she climbed out of the tub. My girl had lost her bath.
We went into her room together. We both looked around.
"Tell me," I began, "what still needed to be done."
"I needed to put away my boots. I needed to put the dolls to bed. I needed to take my laundry down to the laundry room so you can get it washed." The list was not long. But it was undone.
"Elizabeth, why did you leave these things and take a bath? Why didn't you finish first?"
"I didn't want to finish. I wanted to take a bath."
"Did you get the nice, long, relaxing bath you hoped for? I asked.
"No." More tears.
"If you had finished in your room, where would you be right now?"
She was crying now. "In the tub!"
"Elizabeth. Honey. You lost what you wanted by lying to mom and disobeying what I asked you to do. You lost what you wanted. Sometimes, we have to wait for what we want because other things must be done."
I rubbed the towel on her wet head and then headed downstairs to the work I needed to do. As I prepared our Sunday meal, I could hear her crying upstairs. It is a sound I truly hate. As I moved around the kitchen, the weight of this work sat heavily upon my shoulders. Because really, I wanted to leave her in the tub. I wanted to ignore the room and play and laugh and have a peaceful morning...
But, what does that really mean? What does it really mean if I want to overlook her disobedience? Today, my daughter is 8. The day will come when she is 18. My days of teaching and these times of opportunity are more limited than I care to admit. Today, her lie was small. But, if she is not held accountable right now... if she is not corrected in this tiny thing... what does that say and what will she try tomorrow, next week or next month?
Sometimes, I wish it was easier. Sometimes, I wish that I could set aside the big picture and not worry about what she is learning. What they are all learning. Maybe that day will come. But it is not today.
About 10 minutes after I left her upstairs, she called to me and I went back up. She stood in her room, dressed for church, hair brushed out, room very nice and neat. A smile spread across her lips.
"I did it." she said. "I did what you told me to do. Can I come downstairs and help?"
I smiled. I nodded. I relaxed my shoulders and realized we made it through. I know we will visit this lesson again... but for this moment, we are done. And maybe she understands.
There is no end to this momma-work and I cannot set it aside. Even in fatigue and frustration, we need to battle on. Finding the lessons to give our kids is very important work. It is another way to love them, another way to prepare them, another way to get ready for all that is to come.
Blessings on your day.
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