As my children have gotten a little older. I’ve found myself wishing for school to start back less and less when they are out for a break. This Christmas was the best yet. It’s been almost a year since someone’s thrown up on a road trip; everyone has pretty fail-proof bladder control, and all three girls get along pretty well.
I remember the days not so long ago when I started counting down the days until school started back while I was still sitting in the school parking lot. It’s been such a blessing to really enjoy spending time with them and being able to do things other than change diapers and say “NO!” one million times a day. But, after a week of rain back in our own house, everyone was starting to get restless. The girls were fighting and the shriek factor was rising—as was my blood pressure.
It was Friday when the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds and the rain stopped. My kids made the mistake of telling my mother that they were bored. Shuggie, as they call her, suggested we take them for a walk. I scoffed. “I’ve tried that before. You won’t make it 20 feet out of the driveway before one of them is crying that they are hungry, somebody has to go to the bathroom, and somebody else wants you to carry them. It doesn’t work.”
She was undaunted. Not that I was surprised. As far as I can tell my mother is fearless in all things. She told them to get dressed; they were going for a walk. I decided to take a walk as well—in the opposite direction, walking as fast as I could with my earbuds shoved in my ears and my music blaring. I walked for about half an hour before circling back to the house to catch up with them. I knew they had headed down to the levee to throw rocks in the river and I figured I could find them there.
I wasn’t surprised to see them leaving our driveway for a second time, but what was a bit surprising was that they were all holding garbage bags. Knowing my Momma like I do, I realized instantly that they were headed back to the river to pick up trash.
I caught up to them a few minutes later and found them doing exactly that. Aubrey and Emma, my eight and six-year-old, were on all fours climbing carefully up and down the rocks tossing their bags ahead of them. Sadie, my four-year-old holding an open trash bag, trailed behind my mother. They were focused on what they were doing, and the whiny, dissatisfied children I’d seen in my living room only half an hour before were nowhere in sight.
Aubrey talked to me as we picked up trash, “Momma! Why are people so nasty? Why would they throw this trash down here? It’s so gross!” Emma squealed every time she found an interesting rock and stuffed them all into her pockets. We filled four bags slam full in less time than it would have taken them to watch one episode of iCarly.
The sun began to disappear behind a thick bank of clouds.
“Alright, girlies! It’s getting really cold, time to go home!” I said.
“But Momma! I just found this arrowhead! I want to look for more!” Aubrey protested. Any rock that is remotely shaped like a triangle is an arrowhead. I gave them a few more minutes and then we walked home.
The girls played in our yard but their restlessness and whining were gone. I could tell they felt satisfied—the way you do when you’ve done something for someone other than yourself—and they were contented by the fleeting sunshine and crisp cold air.
I spent the rest of the weekend thinking about my Momma’s wisdom, in the simple act of getting my kids outside, seeing a need, and then give them the tools to take action and make their community better. I marveled that such a small fragment of time, such a small act, could give them contentment and joy.
Aubrey asked on Saturday after my mother left for Alabama, if we could go back to the rocks and finish cleaning up. As it was raining again and the levee is steep, I told her it would have to wait.
In church on Sunday, my Sunday School class was talking about the peace of God—what does it mean? Is it real? Is it meant for us in this world or the next? Can we have it? What do we do with it? The discussion was interesting but when Gene Stansel spoke, I grabbed a pen and scribbled down his words on my church bulletin. His words rang true and perfectly put into perspective what my Momma had taught my kids with a simple walk.
In his Mississippi drawl, Gene said, “Don’t set out to change the world, just do the next best thing. Everyday.”
I believe I’m going to steal my Momma’s attitude and Gene’s words and make them my own personal motto. Can you imagine the world we would live in if we all did the same?