Reminder to Self: Don’t Over Complicate It.

It’s hard to stop and simply be with my needy children. Lately I’ve been keenly aware of this struggle. Perhaps it’s because it’s Christmas, and I’ve got a hundred things to get done for my job or around the house, so that I can finally relax. (That’s what I tell them.) But if I’m honest I know that it goes deeper than that. I’ve cultivated a life of frenetic distraction. I’m out of practice with the art of simply being present. And worse, I’ve lost faith in my own capacity to be so still. Just sitting without my phone? Without an agenda? But just “holding space” for my children? I’ve forgotten how to do it. But yesterday as I stood in my kitchen watching water boil in my new electric tea kettle I realized I’ve been making it all so much more complicated than is necessary. A memory came back to me from my childhood that infused me again with confidence in simple companionship. I was thirteen and it was our first 24 hours of living in Scotland. We were renters in a row home in Glasgow. None of the furniture or art was ours, and certainly none of the kitchen appliances. They all belonged to the owner of the home. It was my first time with real jet lag. It was the middle of the night in Scotland, but my body didn’t think so. And being already a very anxious child, I was undone by the unfamiliar surroundings. My siblings were all asleep; I felt totally alone. I walked down to my parents room and cried to my mom.
Mom got out of bed and put on her robe and with total weariness sagging her shoulders muttered, “What do you need Jess?” It was a plea. I could imagine on the inside she was crying, Help me help you because you are by far my most needy child.
I didn’t know. I didn’t have answers. I just needed some simple comfort.
She sighed, tightened her robe and whispered, “Come on.” We trudged down the long wooden staircase, around the corner and down another narrow hall. We didn’t know the house at all. We felt our way in the dark. Into the kitchen (which was where Mom naturally solved all our family problems).
Mom looked around the unfamiliar space. She had barely even entered the kitchen since our arrival the day before. Dad had gone to the store for a few basic things: bread, cereal, milk, butter and eggs, coffee and tea.
She went over to the electric tea kettle. “I’ve never used an electric one” she murmured quietly. It was some awful hour in the middle of the night. Whispering felt right.
I stood next to her, a disheveled, distraught teenager. She filled the kettle, put the lid back on and clicked the red button. Sure enough, it buzzed to life inside. The red button clicked itself off and she poured the steaming water into a mug and dropped in an herbal tea bag. Then she opened the loaf of white bread and made a piece of toast in the toaster. She spread butter on the toast. Then she cut it into four long strips. “Finger toast” Mom’s signature- “you’re not feeling well. Eat this.” –dish,
Then she brought it all to the table and we sat. I ate each buttery “finger” and sipped the tea. I remember Mom sat across from me and didn’t say a word. Just leaned her elbows on the table and held her head in her hands. She let her eyes close, then open, then drowse again. It was the middle of the night. I sipped and nibbled. Every buttery inch soothed me. Every sip warmed up a cold pit in my belly.
There wasn’t any point in talking. We wouldn’t solve my teenage angst. It had to run its course. And I had to learn to find God in the midst of it. I had to struggle.
Mom was exhausted, but I knew she’d sit with me until I finished the tea and toast. Though my teenage woes felt complicated, what I needed from my mom that night was not. I needed something profoundly simple: quiet companionship. Tea, toast and a present mom. I suppose Mom walked me back to bed after my tea and toast. But I don’t remember. It doesn’t really matter. She’d already given me exactly what I needed.

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