|My favorite picture of my daughter when she was little,
surrounded by memories of places visited or projects
created at our dining room table. The crocheted butterfly
was made by my own mother over 25 years ago.
I cry about three times a year. I don’t cry when I’m sad or angry, and my tears always catch me by surprise. What’s worse, they are often embarrassing, because they pop out in public.
When I worked at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, I would break out into tears at my desk about every six months, mostly from the sheer frustration of trying to work in a government bureaucracy that did not move as fast as I wanted. On those days, Dr. Myron, the state fish veterinarian, who sat in the adjacent cubicle, would slowly stand up, gently peak over our cubicle wall, and gently ask if I was alright. I would always answer with an emphatic yes, and that I would be fine in a few minutes. And I always was. Whenever I cry to this day, I think of that tall, kind man, asking if I was going to be okay.
Today was the first time I cried in a long time, and it happened in of all places, the Sunday church service. There’s nothing like breaking out in tears in a room of 150 people, many of whom have become like family over the years, but many of which are still strangers, and where in both cases, men have no idea what to do, and frantically elbow their wives to do something.
Today was Children’s Sunday, where the kids in our Sunday School presented all the things they had been learning the past few weeks about discipleship. As I watched a three-year-old girl dressed up in a fancy dress not follow her script and instead interrupt the pastor with a very detailed story about what characters were her favorite in a game she played at home, I looked to the parents, sitting in the audience, who were wearing looks of utter mortification. I’m sure they believed their child was ruining the children’s sermon. What I wanted to do, was to stand up over the cubicle wall, and tell them it was going to be alright: that this was a moment they would remember forever, and that every adult in the audience was either 1) remembering with fondness their children at that same age, 2) thanking God it wasn’t their kid talking, if they had kids that same age, or 3) wishing it was their child because they either had lost a child or perhaps couldn’t have children.
And that is when I inexplicably broke out into tears. Because my little girl is now 18, has moved out of our house, and is happily living her own life. But when she was three years old, she sat on steps just like the ones today, wearing a fancy dress, and in the very middle of the Children’s Sermon, stood up, lifted up her skirt, and announced as loud as humanly possible: “I forgot to wear underwear today.” I remember frantically motioning to her from the audience to sit down, and still remember the feeling of being utterly mortified, wishing God would at that moment just swallow me up whole. I believe the situation was rendered by the pastor hastily saying: “Let’s pray,” and all the kids following his lead of sitting down and putting their hands together.
That moment has become a storytelling staple in our house, and it is always told with laughter and fondness. And while I remember that moment vividly, it seems the years that led to that point, and the years after that day, are a blur. As a parent, we are always too busy. Busy with work. Busy with school. Busy with stuff. Stuff. And we very rarely take the chance to sit down and think: this day is never going to roll around again. And pretty soon those days turn into months and the months turn into years, and in a flash, your little girl with the fancy dress is all grown up and gone.
While parents of grown children are always happy for our kids to go out into the world to do their own good work, it is often not until they are gone, that one sits on the sofa and realizes how quiet the house is. And sometimes one wishes they could have just a day or two back of having a little girl, especially one, who one Sunday long ago, interrupted a children’s sermon with a story of her own.