We Are Not Monarchs

My daughter tells me over breakfast that certain butterflies die once they give birth. She points to a crayon drawing she’s made: a dead monarch falling down from the sky, little Xs where eyes could be.

Sounds about right, I think as I grind the coffee beans.

The baby is 1 and a half now. She has not yet warmed to sleep. To be honest, she hasn’t quite warmed to wake, either. She is cautious, willful. A born skeptic. In the morning, whether we greet her with smiles or hugs or sing-songy hellos, her response is the same: a furrowed brow and cold stare, as if to say, You people, again?

She is difficult, to put it another way. We’ve entrusted her with only a handful of sitters, and each time, upon arriving home, Ken and I are met with crocodile tears and fists of rage, the poor soul in charge whispering the same apologetic phrase: I don’t think she likes me?

Same, we joke.

Yesterday, I find myself fishing shredded carrots from her ears when Ken comes into the kitchen for breakfast. She’s the messiest baby, Bee says. She’s the everything-est baby, he says.

They’re right. Worst sleeper. Hardest to calm. Funniest quirks. Pickiest. Least predictable. Everything-est. And yet, we like her. She’s got spunk. She keeps things interesting. She makes us laugh, when we remember to.

But I still think of that crayon-drawn butterfly more times than I care to admit.

And so, this season has been hard. I’m reminded that hard does not mean wrong, or bad, or futile. Just hard. I find myself humming old hymns and repeating fragmented scripture all throughout the day, and I wonder if the apostle Paul was driven to “pray without ceasing” because perhaps he harbored a secret toddler in Corinth, particularly of the strong-willed variety?

But I know this: we are not monarchs. We are invited to live, and to do so in abundance.

So, as of late, I’ve been experimenting with such. 

To me, abundance means just that: plenty. Or, as Scout used to say when asked how many blueberries he’d like: A bunch of much! We’re given it all — the good, the hard, the jilting, the joy. All of it. Abundantly.

I don’t think I need to dwell on the hard, nor the jilting. We’re familiar, yes? We feel it in the air, an undercurrent of anger and fear and an anxiety-ridden world. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, the good-and-the-true is what needs her moment in the sun. So today, I’m giving it.

Below, a short list of honorable mentions that have lifted my own little butterfly wings these days:

A traipse in the woods.

The fresh air, of course, is an instant jolt when my soul feels lax. But more than that, for me, has been the simple act of entering a space that I am not responsible for taming. The maple, the mulberries, the mice – they all exist, with or without my participation. I needn’t vacuum the forest floor, needn’t dust the pine needles. For all who find themselves sometimes tiring of domesticity – or at least, the dishes – there is something of a gift in the muddy welcome mat of nature. 

Your Turn: Can you fling open a window or two? Run to the mailbox in your bare feet? Walk to the corner bodega? Take notice of what is already in motion, all around you, being cared for, tended to. See all that exists, with or without your doing. Feel small, and breathe deeply.

The great rearranging.

Our family grew last year, and our square footage did not. One night, Ken rolled up his sleeves and rearranged our home to make the most of our space. We gave up our dining room for a smaller breakfast nook (because long, slow, candlelit dinners aren’t yet conducive to an oatmeal-flinging tot) and moved a sofa and a few wingbacks where our farmhouse table used to sit. Our new-to-us living room now spotlights a cozy hearth for read-alouds, plus plenty of floor space for crawling, cartwheels, and Candyland. The shift has, hands-down, transformed our family rhythm – and didn’t cost a penny.

Your Turn: Can you rearrange a room or two? Stack bunk beds to free up some floor space? Scootch a table onto the deck for al fresco dining? Drag a card table into the garage for a breezy work afternoon? Note: If reconfiguring isn’t an option, try gratitude instead. Sometimes, change arrives by rearranging a small space. Other times, change arrives by rearranging your thoughts about a small space. 

Steeped delights.

As part of the aforementioned great rearranging, we shuffled a spare kid’s dresser into the living room and made our own little tea station. There’s a kettle, a frother, a rack of mugs, all manner of looseleaf paraphernalia, and an open book of Proverbs at the ready. When the day has been long and I’m tempted to land flatly into bed after dinner, I put the kettle on and sit for just a few minutes. Inevitably, a child or two trots in with The Magician’s Nephew or Jack and The Beanstalk. Soon after, a husband comes to chat through our respective days. The tea steeps and our minds quiet and the moon rises and – for an hour or so – we put the day to bed with cinnamon and care.

Your Turn: If not tea, what? A square of dark chocolate on the tongue? Lavender lotion on tiny toes? Tomorrow’s focaccia rising in the oven? What will the fragrance of connection be in your home? What comforting ritual can you offer to settle a stirred soul? Offer it.

Oxygen, heat, and fuel.

I’ve been lighting the good candles, which is perhaps our generation’s version of using the good china? All I know is this: a 1-year-old insomniac feels less unjust with a few wicks dancing on the mantel, and so: morning after morning, I light them one by one. When Ken wakes or the ylang ylang starts to kick his allergies into high gear, we light a fire instead, and the whole energy of the house changes. I check fractions and decimals with embers in my eyes, flames licking at every mistake – both the ones in my mind and the ones on the math page. Time slows, and the heady scent of burning hickory gives us all reason enough to stay home for a little while longer, longer, longer still.

Your Turn: Light the good candles. You know the ones, and you know the why.

Kindness on a sticky note.

Whenever I feel the grumps seeping into my veins, a list is in order. A brain dump onto my trusty steno pad often helps, or even a quick scrawl of necessary groceries on the back of a receipt. There’s something about the waltz of pen-to-page that slows me a moment, no matter how mundane the words. And so, while I don’t remember who in our family birthed this particular brand of list, we have begun taking stock of good deeds: a brother carrying a sister’s library books, a daughter packing a sister’s diaper bag, the baby finding a lost crochet needle (regardless of how involved she happened to be in the losing of it). My own good deed is merely a sticky note covered with the words LAUNDRY LAUNDRY LAUNDRY, but I suppose we all start somewhere, and just a few months in, our wall of kindness is now littered with love.

Your Turn: Can you keep a list of goodness? Random acts of kindness, quotes that warm you, daily gifts you witness? It takes a moment, but it makes one, too.

There is more, I’m sure. There is always more in the way of abundance if we’re somewhere on the path of paying attention. And so: whatever your hard looks like right now, my hope is that you may, against all odds, choose one small thing to enjoy, wherever you are. May it bring a soaring you’ve long forgotten.

May it offer a heart in flight.


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