It was Monday. In so many ways. The kids had just gotten over the flu (mostly), and we were grinding rustily back into school work after taking a week off. I had misread the weather forecast on my phone and wound up with two loads of laundry to dry on a foggy day that dripped with 96% humidity. Somewhere in between finding lost math books and explaining the difference between adjectives and adverbs, I had to find places to hang up all that laundry in the house since the clothesline was out of the question. One child abandoned her handwriting assignment and needed to be retrieved, just as soon as I changed a (CRASH) diaper, and rehung the shower curtain rod that fell under the weight of too many wet clothes, and figured out why another child was yelling, and told another which English exercises to do, while the “day” stretched further and further into the evening and the house slowly slipped into disaster.
As I rushed madly toward dinner, the living room looked like a situation for FEMA, and a little voice was whispering, Failure. “Why can’t I keep my house clean? Why can’t I stay organized and on top of things?” I wondered irritably to myself as I surveyed a cluttered morass of school books and toys, the remains of a late lunch still on the table in the kitchen.
Every day is chopped up by a million interruptions, a million little needs, for cups of water and pieces of fruit, for Band-Aids and math help and conflict resolution and more conflict resolution. Nothing ever seems to get DONE. And sometimes I feel weary. I don’t have a heap of shiny accomplishments at the end of most days to gaze at with satisfaction. Only the striving amid “yes, dear, Mommy will take you potty,” and “no, you may not play until after you practice your piano,” and “please calm your voice down,” and “you need to forgive your sister.”
But as I stood there between my late dinner cooking in the kitchen and the messy aftermath of a long school day in the living room, it hit me. If I had no interruptions from the children, no needs but my own food and sleep, I could deep clean my entire house from top to bottom in less than a month. I could organize every drawer and closet in under two months. And that meant that I could, in theory, entirely recover from all kid chaos in less than three months. It could all be wiped away, fresh, and clean, and perfect. But if I messed up on the little things, the tiny needs, the chances over and over and over again to shape my children’s character by patient example and gentle admonition, there would be no three-month recovery. There would be no three-year recovery. There would likely be no recovery at all without miraculous grace. The things that worry me, like laundry, clutter, and making nice food for guests, are sports cars. They can turn on a dime.
But character is a glacier.
If I want to change the direction of my children’s character, it can only be done with a force like gravity, a constant, steady, almost invisible pull. I can’t run frantically after sports cars when I have a glacier to move, and I can’t expect the results to be instantly perceptible, stacked up, and checked off. But over time, over years, the glacier will slowly shift. And the days when I cheerfully change my toddler’s diapers, get my kids back on track (again) with their school work, take time to reteach a chore, clean up another unexpected mess, and mediate another fight over toys, those days are actually Success.