I polished silver yesterday. I stood over my sink with yellow rubber gloves up to my elbows and breathed in ammonia and sulfur. Sweat plastered wispy tendrils of hair to my face.
I don’t host dinner parties. I’m not in Downton Abbey. I have three children, three and under, one of whom was grabbing my knees from behind and forcing his head through my imaginary thigh-gap. Yet here I was, spending hours over the sink performing a menial task that didn’t matter. My time would be better spent washing my face, brushing my teeth, or even sipping the cup of coffee that lives in my microwave. The “necessities.” Don’t look now, but my necessities have taken an extended leave of absence to make room for cups of milk, untied shoelaces, days of laundry, and sticky fingers that touch everything.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even doing a very good job with the task at hand. Don’t tell my grandmother (or mother, for that matter) that I had to Google what silver cleaner to use and YouTube how to use it. If they had been here, they would have watched me scrub and polish awfully tarnished pieces and asked why I had waited so long to maintain my heirlooms. I rinsed each delicate set only to reveal angry spots that threatened to set in for the long haul.
I remember as a child watching my mother polish her silver. Every few months she would carry it into our long galley kitchen where light streamed in the windows that ran along one side. Some of the silver she displayed on the buffet, in the bookcase, and on the countertop. Some of it she dredged out from the back of the darkest corner cabinet. All of it deserved cleaning.
We didn’t use it, or at least not that I remember. She probably did when hosting adult parties. I thought it didn’t seem right to work so hard on something that we never used. Her face was always relaxed and pleasant as she focused on the job in front of her. The creases of worry seemed to melt away with the suds and scrubs, just like they did on Friday nights. For me Friday meant Cici’s pizza and a trip to Blockbuster with my Dad and brother. For her Friday ushered in a bubble bath, a glass of wine, and an early, quiet bedtime.
Back in the present moment, I stood over my new sink in a house that we had just moved into. Boxes were still strewn about, waiting to be unpacked. Even more empty boxes sat like dormant volcanoes with piles of packing paper crunched, ready to erupt. And yet it didn’t bother me to ignore them all for the task at hand. Instead, I felt the lines soften on my face as I worked to care for something that I saw as neglected. Right before my eyes the pieces transformed from dull and lifeless to bright and beautiful. My husband called me as he was leaving work.
“I polished the silver today,” I said.
“Did you?” I could tell he wanted to ask more.
“I did. I know it was completely unproductive considering all there is to be done, but it brought me a lot of joy.”
He walked through the door to squealing, happy children and a shelf full of shiny silver.
“It looks great!” he said. “Why did you enjoy it so much?”
I paused. Standing in front of the sink that day I watched purple, slimy suds spiral down the drain. I scrubbed and rinsed and looked for my reflection in the side of teapots and creamers, and I didn’t think of much else. I had one job - to make that stuff shine again - and I did it.
“You know how you enjoy mowing the lawn because it’s somewhat mindless?” I asked. He nodded and I shrugged, “I think I liked it kind of like that.”
Earlier, in the midst of my plunge into ammonia, I had texted my mom a picture of my “finished” pieces. I was proud of my work, and even prouder about the time I had carved out to do it. The tarnish was still there, though. My investment had yielded paltry results. She suggested another method. I took her advice and headed back to Google where Martha Stewart had a video doing just what my mother had prescribed.
Aluminum pan? Check. Baking soda? Check. Boiling water? This seemed too simple, but I had to try. I placed the concoction in my sink and lowered each piece into the bubbly water. Seconds later the room smelled like sulfur and my silver tea set was clean.
Seconds—and not one hair was stuck to my face as a result.
I had spent hours this morning scrubbing and polishing each spot. It took effort to step away from the urgent needs in front of me and embrace something frivolous. The results betrayed my efforts, and I had found myself still looking at a muted reflection in the dull yet precious metal. All that work for nothing when a simple solution was at hand. I had attempted a labor of love for myself with sweat and tears and time when what I really needed was the right ingredients.
I’ve struggled to be mindful for the past year. In the process of growing our family, moving our family, and adjusting to new normals, I have neglected the tender process of caring for my emotions. My body is tired from bringing a third baby into the world. My heart is grieved over the ups and downs of the home-buying process. My mind is numb because of a lack of tending and challenging.
My season right now doesn’t afford me with many chunks of time. My children have all of me, almost all the time. It often feels like nothing is sacred when the pitter-patter of little feet follow me as I select my outfit for the day, apply mascara, and go to the bathroom. Oh how my heart longs for rest and renewal and quiet. But really quiet would be enough. How much time would it take, though, to remove the layers of grime? What will it take to see underneath mother, homemaker, wife, friend, sister, daughter, silver-polisher.
I don’t have time to polish silver every day. I don’t have the resources to retreat from my responsibilities on the regular. When I wake up I pray for grace and strength. My Bible sits open on the kitchen counter so that in the moments I’m stealing away for coffee and a handful of almonds, I make time for truth. I take a deep breath in a minute of quiet to store up patience for a needy child. My phone buzzes and a friend texts “You’ve got this,” and I remind myself how grateful I am for the village that surrounds me. I turn to my babies and gather everyone up for a park playdate because sunshine and friendship is good for them.
Turns out, it’s good for me, too.
Guest post written by Sarah Elizabeth Finch. Sarah Elizabeth is a wife, mama to three lively children, a writer, and type-B to the core. She is passionate about mamas fulfilling their calling in the chaos of life, and loves to cook and dance her way through hers. She writes about marriage, motherhood, community, and following Jesus at www.sarahelizabethfinch.com and on Instagram.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.