My children are occupied five feet from my sneakers so I don’t feel bad grabbing my phone for a moment. I am looking for quotes about joy. The name Jim Elliot appears in my search. What did he have to say about joy? “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” Oh, right. I always forget it was him who said that. I grew up in the Christian faith so his name and story are familiar to me, but the sum of my knowledge of Jim Elliot would take less than two minutes to recite. I do not think of him as promoting some kind of "bloom where you’re planted" philosophy. My children are racing Thomas trains down a Little People Car track, a conglomeration of Christmas gifts merging on our rug and I bite my nail, my phone in the other hand, still shocked by the dead, brave man's words. Live to the hilt? Wherever I am? Be all there?
Jim, I don't know how. I've never been all anywhere a day in my life.
The mystery of the origin of my wandering mind was a quick solve. It traces back to my educational biography. I started kindergarten on one side of town, then moved half an hour away to complete 1st and 2nd grade. My math ability was average and falling, but it was my penmanship that was in dire straits (an early memory: a substitute teacher holding up my printing practice page in order to provide the entire class an example of how not to form letters. We don’t write our Sammy Snakes like this, class. April’s Ss are sloppy. I know then I am not smart). I could read though, and I could retell stories, so my second grade teacher recommended I go to the gifted school. Another move. Four grades, three sets of new friends. I remain at the gifted school until some June day in 1996. Then I find myself on the grassy patch in front of the cafeteria. It has been confirmed repeatedly that I am an imposter here (math, always) but I have made dear friends and we embrace and cry on our last day together. The six of us sport matching jelly sandals and our hair has been sprayed yellow and pink and blue. Several of us smell like the inside of a Hot Topic store. It's the last day of school. Three months later I step onto a junior high campus where I know less than five people. The numbers look similar two years later when I walk onto the quad for my first day of high school. This, this high school, is the school choice that upsets me the most.
School taught me this: Life is one of two things, the next thing or packing to get there.
But attending a high school I presumed to hate, ended up being one of the best changes of my life (a fact about which my dad still ribs me). Not two weeks into the new school year, the Tuesday after Labor Day, I meet the father of my children. He is a year older, a cool fourteen, and he calls me on the phone an hour after the final bell rings. Hello, may I speak to April please? “You don't have to say that,” I half breathe, half giggle. “I have my own line.” I twist the swirled cord of my neon blue phone around my fingers, inching toward my bedroom floor in full swoon, certain beyond doubt I actually have the greatest parents in all the land. I've met my husband, and he is so perfect I am beside myself, and I am keenly aware of both of these facts.
He tells me he loves me in a movie theater over Christmas break. I start planning our marriage. He is fully on board. This makes sense to both of us. We’re a little older now after all, (I'm 14 and he's a worldly 15), and other than this relationship, high school hasn’t been terribly exciting. There are plenty of fun moments, to be sure, but it just doesn’t have that time-of-my-life, Saved by the Bell feel I was counting on.
Not to worry. It’s just time to look ahead to the next big thing. Or in my mind, The Next Big Thing—put it in lights, it’s going to be fantastic, next never disappoints! (Until it does.) I use our dial-up internet to begin researching colleges, and I study wedding planning through a very helpful television show, A Wedding Story. Two episodes of A Baby Story always come on after, but first things first.
How could I have known this way of looking at time, this foot in midstep, eyes on the horizon way of living, would pose a threat to the children I wouldn't meet for nearly 20 years? I could not. And because I could not, I continued in this fashion: planning my college years in my head during tenth grade history class. Researching wedding florals in my dorm room with my own wedding more than two years away. I distinctly remember asking my boyfriend for his opinion on wrought iron stair rails when we were juniors in high school. It was helpful to get the green light on this décor choice then, at sixteen, since I was already planning our home. He, this boyfriend, was the very first person to point out my love for the future (The Future). He made it seem like perhaps my affections were a little … extreme, a little abnormal. “You just don’t ever seem content.” That’s how he worded it. Pft! What did he know? I was perfectly content, whatever that meant. I was simply asking if he wanted to live in a Spanish style two-story fifteen years from now.
This went on and on.
I became a mother on November 6, 2013. The mental locomotive of Next that I'd been riding and steering and feeding for 25 years came to a halt. A metal grinding on metal halt.
This baby didn’t much care about where he’d attend preschool, or the theme for his fifth birthday. The future mattered stunningly little to him. He loved now. Now he wanted a bottle, now he needed to be changed, now could be a good or terrible time for a nap, now seems like the perfect time to wake up for the day, he’d like that squeeze packet of bananas right now.
Certainly, motherhood involved planning ahead. I had to think through the day and pack the wipes accordingly. I had to schedule our outings around his naps. Doctor's offices still operated with dates and times a couple weeks out. But for the most part, my life was wrapped up in my son’s life, and his life was this very minute and not much else.
The chunky, nineteen pound six-month-old on my hip didn’t know it, but our world views were at war. I still wanted to talk about two years from now, and what my husband thinks of craftsmen-style architecture for the house we’re buying five years down the road, and with the Christmas lights going up, is it too late to talk about goals for this summer? And Ridley? His future was twenty-seven seconds from now when the timer dinged signaling his bottle was ready.
I do not know if my husband appreciates craftsman-style architecture, He brought up the contentment thing again.
The men in my life seemed to be taking a stand for the present. And it forced me to consider a terrifying element of the future. The moment when my kids will begin reflecting on the way they were parented, on the culture of the home in which they were brought up. My mom? Yeah, I mean she was a good mom. You know cookies and Christmas, and she tried to do fun stuff. But she had this weird thing about, I don’t even really know how to describe it. Like she was always planning ahead. She was really into the future, if that makes sense.
I don't want them to say that about me. I don’t want them to see me living this way. I am in my thirties. This may be the building stage of my life, but it's their childhood.
I have to dismantle the time machine in my head.
Here is where I’d love to put the bow. The thing that ties it all together, that tells the world I am a changed woman, so present in the present, so all there, so hilt living, or whatever. But I am not. No bow here. Only a battle. My husband and I currently have a bet that I won’t be able to not complain about our current house until October. He doesn’t think I can do it. He is used to receiving several texts a day about why moving immediately is of the utmost importance and simply cannot be put off until next year, like we planned. So far I haven’t said a peep. Not one word. Not one single syllable about the tiny kitchen, or dismal storage, or the office furniture crammed in our bedroom because there is not enough space here and where in the world are we supposed to put this third baby when he arrives. I haven’t said a thing.
The house is but one battlefield of mine. I am not practicing contentment. I am fighting for it.
I am fighting to live in the now for the sake of the future. I am fighting for my children, and for the mother I want them to describe someday in that future.
Ridley, Kajsa, and Caleb jumping in my belly, you taught me I am smart. I'm learning how to love you, aren't I? And if anyone wants to hold up my paper, the one about me as a mom, and show the class all the ways I’ve been sloppy, there will be plenty of mistakes to see. But in my own handwriting, with the best penmanship I can manage, it will read clearly:
For the first time ever, I'm all theirs.