“A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder
“These years don’t last forever. When you look back, you’ll see I am right about that.” These words came from my friend and mentor, Dolores, when my small son and I were visiting her one afternoon.
Dolores’ children were grown and living their own lives when I met her. She taught hundreds of young people as an educator, prior to retiring. She was my “go-to” person for advice on how to parent, especially when the waters got deep or murky. I was never shy about asking Dolores for help when needed. She offered those words that day because I related events of the previous week that were particularly frustrating due to multiple power struggles with my three-year-old.
After listening to her advice, I said, “I know. Everyone says that. But honestly there are times when I’m so tired I feel like I could sleep until the middle of next year. I love my son more than anything in this world, but some days I just don’t know how to cope with the challenges, not to mention the exhaustion.” As I spoke those words I felt like anything but a candidate for “Mother of the Year.”
“We have all been there, Honey. Most parents have thought their kids would be small forever and they’d never be able to keep up with the stresses that accompany the joys of childrearing. I always found it best in the tough times to remain calm, pray, and keep a sense of humor. The sweet, funny things are among the biggest blessings in parenting, and in life,” she told me. “And most circumstances have a funny side you know.”
I sighed and thanked her for the wise counsel. I was comforted by knowing at least I wasn’t a bad parent who was losing control. I reasoned that perhaps I could try seeing life’s events with a little more humor. I had no idea I would be called upon to put this new approach into practice a few weeks after our conversation.
One day my son, Gabe, was following me around with continuous chatter and requests. It seemed like every other minute he called, “Mom, Mom?”
His dad was out of town and his grandmother was visiting for the day. Although he loved his grandparents, it was his mother’s attention he wanted that day.
It was a pleasant day filled with activities aimed at keeping a toddler busy. There were no power struggles or tantrums disrupting our time together. Still, about mid-afternoon, I began to feel weary. That’s when Gabe’s grandmother offered a suggestion. “Laura, why don’t you go enjoy a hot bath and relax? Sometimes you just need to do something for you and not feel guilty about it. Explain to Gabe that you’re going to be in the big bathroom for a little bit, but you are still close. He and I can take care of each other for that time.”
I agreed, swept Gabe onto my lap and explained, “Gabriel, Mom is going to take a bath. When I get out of the tub, we’ll help Grammy make dinner. Then we’ll all play later tonight. I’m going into the big bathroom now. I won’t be far away. And I need you to do something for me.”
He nodded his head with such enthusiasm I was encouraged to continue. “Now, for the time I’m in the bathroom, which is just going to be a little while, I need you to stay with Grammy. And you know how you like to call ‘Mom’ when you want me? Well, while in I’m in there I don’t want you calling ‘Mom’ okay?”
He smiled, nodded again, kissed my cheek, wiggled down from my lap, and went happily on his way with his favorite action figure. I smiled, feeling confident he took the instructions quite well. I was overjoyed, guilt-free, and already feeling renewed by the prospect of taking care of me.
I filled the bathtub with warm water and fragrant lavender bubbles. After pouring a steaming cup of herbal tea, I settled into what I thought would be a luscious half-hour without my little one requiring my attention. About ten minutes into my bliss I was marveling at how well my son was behaving. I knew Dolores had been right. A kind and clear explanation, while inwardly praying, was all that was needed.
Then I heard a knock on the bathroom door accompanied by Gabe’s little voice. “Laura, Laura, you still in there?”
I took a deep breath, submerged into the bubbles. Blew out all the air and came up laughing. The little guy literally followed my exact instructions. I could almost hear Dolores giggling.
Just a few short months before I wrote this story, my handsome, thirty-two-year-old son took a bride. He walked into a journey that will include new adventures and challenges. I don’t offer advice to him or his lovely wife other than to, on occasion, work in some words from my mentor and friend. “Keep a sense of humor. The sweet, funny things are among the biggest blessings in life. And almost all circumstances have a funny side.”
Like most mothers I often reflect on the fact that, indeed, the years flew by without me being conscious of how fast time was moving. While my son was growing up, I treasured my few small patches of alone time. But today, in a season where my life has an abundance of alone time, I rejoice when I answer a ringing telephone and hear, “Mom?”
I am posting this piece, originally published on my blog several years ago, to honor my son on his 36th birthday. Happy Birthday Gabriel. This piece can also be found in my latest collection of short stories, “Jesus in Shorts: Twenty-five Short Stories of Life-Changing Jesus Moments.”
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