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Apr09

“Mommy? I think I need some love.”

It was the fall of 2008 when Lucy was four and Peter was two that I was frantically trying to make use of the two-hour afternoon nap time.  That was the only time of the day where my kids were both otherwise occupied when I could scour the final surfaces of my home before I had company over that night.  The night before, I had already scrubbed four bathrooms, vacuumed the upstairs, main level and basement, swept and mopped the kitchen floors, ran the dishes, cleaned the refrigerator, wiped down the oven and microwave, Windexed the glass backdoor and dusted all the wood furniture in the house.  That afternoon, I just had to Comet the kitchen sink and countertops and I would feel adequately ready to have friends in my house.  My two-hour window was closing and I just knew that Lucy would likely be ready to get out of bed before Peter.  As I desperately wrung my Comet covered sponge under the kitchen faucet willing it to get rinsed quicker I began my Hail Mary.  In those moments, a mother hopes, prays, promises, says the rosary, barters, pleads, bribes, and otherwise commends her spirit into the hands of the Universe to just make her kids stay asleep a little longer so she can finish her tasks uninterrupted.  That’s when I heard a voice in the distance.  Only it wasn’t the Universe.  She hadn’t heard my plea.  It was my daughter, “Mommy?  Can I get up now?”

I ripped off my rubber gloves and threw them on the counter in an attempt to punish the Universe for not accepting my righteous petition and huffed upstairs to let Lucy come out of her room.  I told her I would put a show on for her to watch while I finished cleaning in the kitchen and would get her a snack in just a little bit.  I sat her down on the couch and turned on Curious George for her to watch.  At four years old, she had surpassed an interest in Sesame Street which meant Peter practically missed Big Bird and Elmo entirely.

I rushed back to the kitchen and skipped trying to wriggle wet rubber gloves back on my hands and instead proceeded to douse the countertops in Comet.  [I for one, am a Comet kind of girl.  When I was young and cleaning the bathrooms was my chore, I picketed if my parents ever bought the grocery store version of the same cleaning solution.  It was Comet, or they could clean the bathrooms themselves.  Paying the extra $.59 per canister was apparently worth it, as that remained my chore until I moved out of the house at age 22].  Bending over, I proceeded to apply the elbow grease my mother and grandmother swore got the job done and scrubbed the cracks and crevices of the Formica countertops.  Mid-scrub I heard Lucy call from the living room.  I stood up straight, with both hands on the countertops and my head tilted back chanting to myself “Why me? Why me?” and finally answered her as calmly as I could muster “Yes, Lucy?”

“Mommy?  I think I need some love.”

I looked down at my hands clutched a little too tightly to the blue sponge and thought, “Love.  Love.  Love.  Ok.  I can do that.  Love.  Ok.”  So, I rinsed my hands and went to sit next to her on the couch.  She was still watching the onery monkey and I ran my hands softly on her back…side to side up and down in circles back and forth.  When I thought she had either forgotten her request or I had fooled myself into believing she had gotten enough love, I slowly removed my hand from her back and snuck back into the kitchen to pick up where I left off.  My time was most definitely limited now.  I knew I only had moments before Peter would wake up and between the two of them I would not have a minute to finish.  I started scrubbing again when I heard, “Mommy?”  I responded more quickly this time, “Yes, Lucy?”

“Mommy?  I think I need some more love.”

I sat the sponge down and rinsed my hands again.  Then, I proceeded to sit next to her on the couch and rub her back a second time the same way I had done the first.  And when I thought she had either forgotten her request or I had fooled myself into believing she had gotten enough love, I snuck away to the kitchen and was able to finish rinsing the sink and countertops before Peter woke up.

I was able to reach my goal.  I succeeded in getting my house clean by the time both kids woke up.  Friends came over that night and enjoyed a very clean and hospitable environment and left with plenty of food and fun.

It is difficult for me to find these next words.  I am trying to be kind to myself – to look back on the young mother that I was and extend to her grace and mercy, because she didn’t know any better.  But, really, in my shame I want to grab her by the arms, drag her from the kitchen to the couch, sit her down and say, “This is what matters!  Not a clean countertop, not a clean sink!  Love on this little girl right here, right now, so much that she doesn’t have to ask you twice.  Scoop her up and rock her in your arms for all the times you couldn’t…for all the times you didn’t!”

Tears of regret stream down my face as I remember that moment.  What I wouldn’t give to have a do-over.  And…in the same breath, I also believe in redemption.  I know that because of that moment, I have been more aware of my daughter’s need for love.  I have listened more closely, been more attentive, picked up on the nuances of her needs more acutely than if I had not failed in that moment so terribly.  She has never made a direct request like that since.  And for that, I am deeply grieved.  But, because of my mistake, I have grown a strong attunement to her heart’s needs, and I believe she still asks me in many ways to give her more love.  Every time I pause to scratch her back or give her a squeeze, or snuggle with her in the morning to wake her up, or sit extra close to her on the couch when we watch movies, or insist on having my arm around her when we sit in a booth at a restaurant, or hold her hand anytime we are out walking, I get my do-over.

What actions or goals or values get in the way of you being able to give others more love?  Is it your to do list, or your image, your busyness, or external pressures?  Is it all the ‘shoulds’?  We’d love to hear specifics from you in the comments below.

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4 Comments

  1. Laura

    Well said!

    I have been accused of being a nut case about cleaning all my life. There are many times I can’t help but look back and ask myself, was what I just cleaned really all that important? Probably not. I’m now the same way with our business. I have a hard time figuring out a balance with it all. As a business who deals with the public every day and serves food as well as drinks, it is in fact important if we want to stay in business. But what I ask myself every day is when is it too much? Is it even possible to clean too much as a restaurant/bar? I don’t think so, but again how long can I keep up? Time will tell.

    Thanks for sharing!
    xxooxxoo

    1. Krista Law
      Krista Law

      Laura
      After reflecting on this particular incident I have since come to realize that cleaning is important. It brings order, a sense of accomplishment and some modicum of control. It becomes problematic only when it clashes with other values. The cleaning I did that day was not therapeutic. It was driven by a value that what others think about my house trumps building a stronger relationship with my daughter by meeting her emotional needs. I didn’t know then, but I know now, that I value moments where a child lets you into their hearts far more than a clean house or other’s opinions. But having a clean and ordered house is also very important too, as is having a clean restaurant. I bet it would be a struggle to determine whether the value of a clean (and how clean are we talking?) restaurant or the value of your personal care, rest and sanity would be the trump card when it comes to servicing paying customers. The book “Starting with Why” by Simon Sinek has helped me to understand what my values are and how they get prioritized. His aim is specifically for leaders and business. I think it would be an excellent book for you as an entrepreneur to clarify your goals and how both values can be honored to meet those goals for the long-run so you don’t burn out too soon. Thanks for your comments and engaging this material and your own story with us!

  2. Summer K.

    Krista,
    Oh how I love the details of your life in that account. I have lived that moment so many times in my daughters’ lives but without them asking for my attention. I think they gave up on me at a very young age. As I now redirect my goals to be more helpful and attentive during their study and homework time I unfortunately have discovered that it is too late. Is it too late? They have surpassed my level of knowledge and I cannot help them with math. My biggest contribution is that I’m really good at word searches. I exaggerate, but only a little.
    As there will always be regret for my priorities as a very young mother, I am comforted when my girls always choose to be home above all other invitations. On the weekends, when all their friends are out and about, they want to be in our house of order, our house of faith, our house of love, our home. I have to give myself a little credit that the reason they love being home is because of the priorities I made as a young, inexperienced and trying-to-be-the-best mother. I can only imagine Lucy feels the same, that she loves to be at home. Mom’s aren’t perfect. But we can only keep trying. Thank you for sharing your story. It brought back lots of memories for me. SO much love to you. xoxo

    1. Krista Law
      Krista Law

      Summer,
      I smile and am encouraged that your girls still want to be with you in your house of order, of faith, of love. My greatest hope is that my kids will want to be with me as they age. That we will enjoy our time together. That our relationship won’t be about ‘have-to’s’ and ‘shoulds’ but about pleasure and delight.
      I also hope that you give yourself more than a little credit. You are hands down the coolest person I have ever known. And the word “cool” doesn’t even really describe how wonderful I think you are. But several of the ways I express myself creatively, I learned from my time with you in high school. Those are formative years, and you came along at just the right time. You had a way to be unique in the midst of so many sames. I saw that in you and wanted it for myself. I learned a lot of creativity from the way you are in the world. I think your children are blessed to have a mom as delightful as you!
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us on this blog. Much love right back to you!

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