Wrong turns

One of my baby showers for Charlie included a time for sharing stories and advice. A very soulful, quiet woman, whose daughter was well into high school, looked me steady in the eye and said, “Just savor the beautiful moments. Form pictures in your mind to make sure you soak up how precious it is.” She was a little tearful, so I sensed the weight behind her words. Years of gorgeous memories, possibly some regret, and the obvious keen awareness of how swiftly years pass.

When Charlie was a newborn, particularly while he was nursing, I heeded her advice and often felt completely present. I smelled his downy hair, marveled at his milky puckering lips, gazed into his huge blue eyes, delighted in his latest coo or emerging smiles. I can still close my eyes and transport myself to that time. It runs deep, to my soul.

As the years passed, distractions grew. Miles was born, for starters. It was rare that I completely focused on just him or Charlie. I certainly tried, but when you’re nursing a baby and your three-year-old is peeing on the floor, it can be a wee bit challenging. When Harry was at work I had no help yet constant demands. The times I actually consciously savored special moments were less frequent. They were also typically noisier, busier bits of beauty. Of course, these memories are just as precious to me, but they are definitely less romantic.

Now, as the boys get older, it is changing form again. These moments often have to be intentionally sought. Reading together. Playing a board game. Coloring side by side. Planting seeds. Pretending to be kitty-cats. Building with Legos. It is my undivided attention and presence, when no longer necessary, that typically invites the sacred.

A few weekends ago, Harry was sick so the boys and I headed out without him to our church retreat, which required a ferry ride and a short drive. I had chosen a ferry time that would land us prior to the retreat’s first service at ten and was trying to exit the house with plenty of wiggle room. Weekend ferries can fill up quickly. Harry slept in, so I fed the boys, got Miles dressed, and gathered our gear as quickly as I could. I was not calm. Nor peaceful. I was stressed and rude, barking out orders. After Harry woke up, rather than checking in on him to see how he was feeling, I yelled, “Cut apples! Make coffee!” before running to get in a quick shower. Such a lovely way to set the tone for a retreat, don’t you think?

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Despite arriving at the terminal later than I’d hoped, the attendant confirmed we’d make the desired departure. I cheered in front of her, “Yay, boys! We made it!” We parked in our loading line, ready to board. Remembering from, oh a decade or so ago, that the camp was just a few turns off the ferry, I pulled out my phone to confirm the street names so I wouldn’t need to check later. But, wouldn’t you know, the camp didn’t show up where I had remembered it. A few stunned seconds later, I realized we were at the wrong ferry. The Seattle area has at least four ferries up and down the Sound that end at different islands and the Kitsap Peninsula. We were parked in line for a boat that would drop us off at a wrong city, on a peninsula instead of an island.

I started to cry. It had already been a long three weeks of a cold traveling from one person to the next in our family. I was also crampy. This was my tipping point. We were stuck in our line, surrounded by parked cars. I texted Harry and a friend to confirm I was in the incorrect spot and I wasn’t going crazy, wrong about being wrong. Then we waited. The ferry boarded and we exited the line.

I returned to the same ferry attendant, transformed from cheers to tears, requesting a refund. She kindly assured me we’d make it to our destination, maybe even by ten. Full speed ahead, I drove to the next ferry terminal north of us. Behold! We made it! But, of course, I also missed the turn to the camp and couldn’t find a parking spot. We were late, but not by much, and thankfully I had regained enough perspective at this point to just be glad we were arriving prior to lunch.

After some singing time, kids were excused to their designated activities. True to form, Miles wasn’t comfortable with me leaving him. I sat and played with him a little while, but he wasn’t finding anything that interested him and he was clingy and anxious. Most of the kids were significantly younger than him and the environment wasn’t adequately distracting him. Other kids were on edge, too, but their parents had already left. I knew if I left a screaming Miles, he would be the first domino to fall. Since this wasn’t a situation in which I felt it was crucial for him to get comfortable, I said, “You can stay with me if you’re quiet.” He agreed. The retreat had a couple hours for adults to quietly meditate and pray at stations, including a labyrinth, candle lighting, walking outside, and reading quotes. I wasn’t convinced he’d keep his end of the deal, but I was, somewhat begrugingly, willing to try.

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We walked into the chapel, I found a sunny spot on the floor and Miles plopped into my lap. Letting myself slowly surrender to the change of plans, I started to take it all in. I was surrounded by gorgeous music, surrounded by a sea of people I treasure, surrounded by light. While surrounding my boy. My head on his head, my legs around his legs. Tears streaming down my face, I knew this was one of those sacred times for me. And that Voice, the Quiet Whisper, reminded me to savor. It is fleeting.

We sat together, we even laid down for a bit, and Miles remained quiet. He snuggled with me in my lap, he laid on my belly. Eventually I stood to walk the labyrinth. Meant to provoke thoughts about life’s path, the unexpected twists and turns, my trip through the labyrinth couldn’t have been more fitting. Miles tugged at me, pulling me out of the lines I wanted to stay in. He forced me ways I didn’t want to go. But we held hands, journeyed together, and exited via a much less traveled path.

I desperately needed these reminders to refocus. To seek more times to savor. To not let my determination to get to a destination keep me from missing the view. The beauty of the wrong turn. The comedy of errors. The unexpected.

May I be present. May I be attentive and open enough to not to miss the sacred.

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