As Gordon, the kids and I were walking home last evening from a dusk family stroll, a minivan pulled up to us and stopped. When the window rolled down, the streetlamp illuminated the face of a woman I know from church. Her hair was pulled back into what might have been a ponytail or a bun, and she had no makeup on. She was smiling strangely, a little wildly, and before we could enter into and emerge out of small talk, she said, “I just have to drive around like this when Kevin is in school — just throw them in the car and get them settled down.”
When she rolled down the back windows, I could see the outlines of four little car seats containing bobbing, blond-white heads. For four children under the age of six, they were surprisingly quiet. “It helps prepare me for the bedtime routine,” she added, as though she needed a priest for confession, as though she felt she was doing something awful and knew — just KNEW! — she would get caught. She sheepishly held up a Starbucks cup.
I threw up my hands in a gesture of solidarity. “Godspeed,” I said. “It’s definitely ‘that time’ of night.”
“YES!” she said, as though given permission to exhale. “And when Kevin is away, I just have to drive.” What more was there to say? Her husband was taking a night course in Dallas on Wednesday nights, leaving everything with the kids up to her. Drive on, sister.
We bade her good luck and strolled back to our house where we tag-teamed baths, pajamas, stories, tooth-brushing, prayers, tuck-ins, re-tuck-ins, and the final re-re-tuck-in. I don’t know how single moms do the bedtime routine alone, let alone with four babies. I began thinking about the strategy of strapping kids in a car and lulling them into just enough sedation to make bedtime manageable, and what an effective method it is for chaos management.
Our desire to control chaos begins early. Drew and I have a new routine before nap time or bed time: he hides underneath his covers so I can “find” him, pull back the sheets dramatically, and begin tickling his ribs, knees, and feet. The sequence must be very precise. After the covers are pulled back, Drew is allowed to “escape” off the far side of the bed. Then Drew pauses and, in minute detail, reminds me of the “rules” for the tickling soon to follow: 1. He will stick his arm out across the expanse of the bed “yike dis”, then 2. I will reach out, take hold of the offered arm, and pull. 3. I will pull him towards me and commence tickling his ribs, knees, feet, and neck — in that particular order. None must be left out. None must be switched around or substituted for any of the others.
Once he has explained the rules to me, it is my job to execute. If any steps are omitted, embellished, or rearranged in any way, Drew reserves the right to initiate the entire sequence from the beginning. If I follow protocol, Drew lets himself go with merry abandon, wallowing in the delightful recklessness of the Tickle Monster.
While some would argue the element of surprise is 87% of the effectiveness of a tickle session, Drew enjoys the other 13% just fine, thank you very much. It’s chaos, that 13%; wild, unmitigated chaos, really living on the edge. He’s only doing what comes naturally to all of us when we feel caught in a maelstrom, when suffocation or survival are the only two options. In grasping for air, we break things into categories, put things in places, make up toothless rules, keep things at arm’s length. It’s a survival mode but it probably shouldn’t be a way of living.
Whenever I face a day’s worth of tantrums, laundry, grime wiping, snot wiping, emailing, editing, writing, spouse debriefing, sheet changing, diaper changing, bathing, eating, cleaning, planning, singing, and problem-solving, it sometimes feels like the world is looking me square in the face and saying, “You think you can handle me? Go ahead. Make my day.” When I face off with my responsibilities morning by morning, I have to decide if I will tackle them with faith or manipulate them from fear. When chaos seems to be the only possible lifestyle, it takes a lot of courage not to succumb to survival-mode thinking. It takes a lot of faith to say, “I don’t know how I’m going to have the strength to get everything done, but I do not have the option to despair.” It takes a lot of faith not to swat at my life angrily to BEHAVE. For a type-A perfectionist like myself, the holiest thing I might do all day is simply shrug, and say, “Oh well, that’s OK, I did my best.”
Chaos reminds me I was never in control to begin with. Chaos gently eases me into humility. Chaos forces the point about who or what is running my life. Chaos might even be worth a night trolling the neighborhood in a minivan if it means turning over the keys to God in a fuller, more complete way.
So yes, I’m cautiously willing to embrace chaos, the other 87% of uncharted life. I just want a guarantee that I won’t suffocate.
Wait a sec. There I go again…
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