She wants a lot of things, this daughter of mine who is seemingly never satisfied - or not for long, anyway. The new pair of shoes has her enamored for a few days, but soon she wants something else. Yesterday's dessert is quickly forgotten and I hear, "We never get to have treats!" Today's trip to the Crane Estate was filled with beauties and delights, but driving home she began to whine because she wanted to go to a playground.
My first instinct was to unleash my own frustration in the form of a lecture about gratitude, to tell her how frustrating it is to hear her grumpily declaring that her mother never takes her to playgrounds literally moments after walking through beautiful gardens and running joyfully through the salt spray of one of our favorites beaches. Yes, I almost laid it all out for her -- and it wouldn't have been the first time she'd heard me express the importance of gratitude for the things we have, the things we get to do.
But then, in a moment of clarity, I realized I had been feeling a little off all day, too. Like that daughter of mine, I want things, too. And while I spend most of my days fairly content with the little life I lead, on a day like today when it was asked of me, "What do you want for your birthday?" -- well, then I start to think about what I want. And I realize that the answer doesn't lie conveniently in the $10-$20 range of a little birthday gift. What do I want? That could fit into one day of the year and one little budget?
You see, what I want is for the lattice project off the back addition of our house to finally be finished so the back of the house doesn't look so dilapidated. I want us to have the time or the money to finish it. I want to be able to afford to bring in a crew to repair and paint the exterior trim on our house which so badly needs to be done. I want gardens like the ones I walked through at the Crane Estate today.
Cascades of roses, armloads of peonies, and impressive alliums, a well-graded lawn that is actually more grass than dirt and weeds - I want that. In fact, I want a whole estate like the Crane Estate. I'd like very much to live a Downton Abbey sort of life in a grand house.
Come to think of it, Burleigh House would be more than acceptable.
I wouldn't say no to a small household staff, or at least the occasional help with a load of laundry since I'm up to my ears in unwashed items lately. What I want is for the house to be tidy, for the chaos of the children to be mitigated somehow. I want the kitchen renovation we've dreamed of doing to be something we could actually afford so I can stop my seemingly futile efforts of trying to clean the cracking old formica countertops and the black stains along the caulking behind the sink. I dream of soapstone counters, but I'd settle for anything spacious enough for a kid or two to sit on and make pancakes with me on Saturday mornings.
I want a huge porch with rocking chairs and a big swing, to spend summer evenings drinking wine in the evening open air. I want to eat ice cream every couple of days and still somehow lose ten pounds. I want to travel to places like Italy, and New Orleans, and Turkey. I want all these things, and more. And so, when my loving husband asks me what I want for my birthday, I hardly know how to answer because the answer is so impossibly enormous. And unlike my tiny demanding daughter, I have the social acumen to know that brooding about all of these things with a discontented heart isn't exactly admirable.
* * *
I spent the day feeling ever-so-slightly off center because of all this. I want all the things, but I also feel badly for wanting all the things. Unlike my young daughter, whose emotions and big asks in life run wild and unrestrained, I know I have everything to be grateful for. I know that I ought not to have spent my birthday in the margins of a funk, and all because of what? Because my house is messy and in need of renovations? Because my yard is not filled with the gardens of a grand estate? Because my life is ordinary and filled with everyday responsibilities, stresses, worries, and unending tasks that may never be finished?
I prayed for my heart of discontent to be replaced with a heart of gratitude today, on this day when my daughter's free and entirely unselfconscious requests reminded me that my own heart was discontented as well. And we came home from our day's adventures to that messy house, just as we had left it. The lawn was still filled with anthills I can't seem to eradicate. The baby's room was still piled with clean laundry waiting to be folded. This dear old fixer-upper of a house welcomed us home with her dingy trim paint and broken old garage door.
And yet, she is a dear old house indeed, and filled with joy and memories and good things. I prayed for gratitude, and almost immediately my vision grew more clear. I saw one daughter finally get the hang of jumping rope in the afternoon sunlight. My four-year-old brought me a birthday card she drew me, a picture of a rainbow with the word MAMA spelled out above it. The baby wrapped her sweet chubby arms around my neck this evening. Another daughter demanded I let her help me with dinner as much as possible since it was my birthday.
Ordinary little nothings, perhaps, these moments of gratitude. But this afternoon I realized that instead of wanting to chastise my daughter for the wild and expansive things she wants so desperately in life, I can understand her. I, too, know how it is to want the world handed to me exactly as I wish it could be. But I also know the antidote to discontent can sometimes be as simple as a prayer that brings me into the presence of God: "In your presence there is fullness of joy."
I know that God would have us be grateful for all that he's given us, but I also have a secret suspicion that my heavenly Father is neither shocked nor angry that a corner of my heart longs for the grandest of spaces and gardens. Yes, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth," he tells me, and I surely need the reminder. But he also promises a mansion with many rooms, and grand feasts. Perhaps he sees and understands the silly longings of my daughter's heart, and of mine, too.
* * *
Dearest little seven-year-old of mine,
If your Mama sometimes butts heads with you, perhaps it is because we are somewhat alike. There's a burning fire inside of you, to do things, to have things, to go places, to be somebody. I feel those things too sometimes. I know you dream of having the "fanciest" life imaginable, girlie. It's OK to want wonderful and big things in life. I'll try to remember that I'm not so different from you, after all, and to temper my occasional little lectures with a little more understanding.