We were inching our way through a long, noontime McDonald’s drive-through line when I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a pair of kids’ tennis shoes and socks on the pavement next to the line of cars a few spots back.
Kids! I chuckled to myself with a smile.
But something made me look again.
When I peered into the rear view mirror what caught my eye this time were two little, bare feet sticking up over the back of a car seat.
I turned my head to investigate further, and sure enough, there was the two-year-old, her bare feet propped up on the seat in front of her, wiggling her toes as she lounged next to an open window…while fifty bucks worth of pink princess tennis shoes baked in the sun on the McDonald’s tarmac.
Kids! I said to myself again, this time with less chuckle.
At least I was able to retrieve that pair. There was another time I wasn’t so lucky. We were at a dead standstill in a long line of cars stuck in a construction zone at a busy intersection. As I sat there eyeing red tail lights stretching endlessly before me, out of the corner of my eye I caught a strange sight in my side view mirror. Something large and pink and blinking red whizzed out the back passenger window of the car.
Then as I looked, another one streaked by in a blur of flashing sparkles. I turned around to see another two-year-old (a different one, but related to the first) smiling as she looked out the open car window, with her bare feet wriggling in the blissful joy of being recently freed from tennis shoe confinement.
And another pair of princess tennis shoes had suffered cruel and wanton defenestration. This pair was never to be reunited with the feet the had shod so valiantly for too short a time: the shoes had sailed clear over the orange hazard cones and yellow tape cordoning off the construction zone to disappear into a pit that was about five feet deep where the road had been torn up.
For a moment I actually contemplated going after them—but the pit was too deep, and the road was too busy. And just then the flag-man waved us forward, and the whole line of cars surged forward impatiently.
Those shoes are probably still buried beneath the streets of St. Paul, MN, encased in concrete. An archeologist will dig them up some day, and a thousand years from now school children will be reading about how in the 21st century primitive man buried shoes under their roads as part of a superstitious ceremony to ward off traffic congestion. (“Notice the high degree of ornamentation on the shoes,” the text book will say, “they are sparkly, pink, loaded with sequins, and they light up. That’s how we know they weren’t intended to actually be worn, but were used only for ceremonial purposes—that and the fact that we found them buried under five feet of concrete.”)
As you can see, we have shoe issues in our family. We once had a shoe go missing on Easter Sunday in the space of time that it took to walk fifteen feet from our front door to our van parked at the curb. We had just taken pictures of the kids in their new Easter clothes, including pretty white shoes that went with the girls’ new dresses, and immediately after the photos we walked out of the door to traverse directly from door to car, where all children immediately took their seats to be buckled in.
There was no detour, side tracking, or even lollygagging. But somehow, in the process of buckling the kids in, we discovered that one daughter was missing one of her new shoes. Impossible! A shoe can’t go missing in three minutes and fifteen feet!
But impossible or no, that shoe has never been seen again. We turned the house upside down, searched every nook and cranny of the car, and scoured the yard. To no avail. Apparently it was sucked into the same vortex that maliciously consumes just one sock from pairs in the wash (and why does it have to be just one sock? That is so taunting. If it were the whole pair, I’d probably never even notice them missing, but that one sock left behind just mocks me.).
Well, one wild morning when the wind was roaring outside and rattling our windowpanes, I was trying to get everyone out the door for an early doctor’s appointment, and my progeny’s desire to feel the green grass in their wriggling toes came to seriously hamper operations. And it was one of those doctors where if you are too late you lose your appointment. Plus we had Kids of the Kingdom after the doctor, so we really had to get in and out.
I’d laid out the kids’ clothes the night before. I woke the kids early, immediately shepherded them to the breakfast table and got some food into their bellies. Then I started an assembly line: I’d take one child, scrub them clean with a wet wash cloth, put their clothes on, comb their hair, then give them a toothbrush, and send them on their way with instructions to brush vigorously while I started on the next child.
The kids were popping off the assembly line in good time, dressed and ready to go, but then they began resisting the assembly process—specifically, they refused to stay assembled once released from the end of the production line.
I’d send one scampering off with a toothbrush and get to work on the next, only to hear shrieks of dastardly delight as the recently released child shed their raiment and ran off to the farthest reaches of the house while waving their toothbrush in the air in clothes-free triumph. Then as soon as I’d go to chase that one down, the one I left behind would seize their opportunity to break free from the binding constraints of clothing.
I was going back and forth between kids like a Daddy badminton birdie—and they were enjoying the game! Our early start was rapidly evaporating.
“I’ll tell you what, guys,” I told my scattering band of clothes-shedding offspring, “once I get you dressed, you can go out onto the porch, OK?”
That did the trick. I started the assembly line again, but this time sent each one out onto the porch when they were all ready. When there was no one left to dress, I followed them out with the diaper bag slung over my shoulder.
“Into the van!” I announced, and they all came running after me as I opened the screen door and headed to the van. I slid the van door open and then scooped the kids into their seats as they piled in, buckling them up and doling out kisses on the forehead as I worked my way from back to front. When everyone was in and secured in their designated places, I got into my own seat and said: “Alright, let’s rock and roll!”
I hit play on Dragon Tunes (that’s how we rock it pre-school style), and we all started jamming out to The Silly Song as I backed out of the driveway. I checked the clock—five minutes until our appointment, which meant that if we hit the lights reasonably well, we should be walking up to the reception counter at the doctor’s office about ten minutes late. Which is practically on time. Yes! We were going to make it!
I breathed a sigh of relief and kicked back to enjoy the lilting strains of The Silly Song: “It may sound silly but it sure is fun, just like honey rollin’ round your tongue, keeps you laughing and forever young, singing a silly song . . .”
“Stephanie doesn’t have any shoes!” the four-year-old yelled.
“What!?!” I asked, just as we reached the stop sign at the end of our street. I turned around, and there were Stephanie’s feet, bouncing in time to The Silly Song, stockings but no shoes.
“Where are your shoes?” I asked her, looking around the floor of the van.
No shoes were in sight.
“I don’t know,” Stephanie answered, in a voice that suggested, What, am I my shoes’ keepers? For the record: yes, you are.
“Well where did you leave them? Did you take them off here in the car or back at home?”
I sat there at the stop sign and thought. If I turned back to look for the shoes, I might find them right away. But it was also possible that they were partying down with the one missing Easter shoe right now in the black hole of disappeared footwear. In which case I could end up spending inordinate time searching for shoes that might never be seen by human eyes again, and miss all of our appointments. Could we go without shoes? To the doctor? And then Kids of the Kingdom?
Grrrr, I grumbled to myself as I turned the wheel, taking us in circle to head back down our street. We had to go back. And we hadn’t even made it out of our subdivision!
I wondered if I should I go straight for the back-up shoes piled in the closet? Nah, not a good idea. It might take longer to disentangle two usable shoes from the pile on the closet floor than it would to find the missing shoes—or even to make a new pair from scratch, starting with a live cow.
Was there any chance of keeping this doctor’s visit now? If I tried to make it still, by the time I got all the kids out at the doctor’s office, got to the check-in window, waited while they looked at the doctor’s schedule for availability before coming back to tell me I’d have to reschedule, and then took the time to make a new appointment and finally get everyone back out and into the car again, I could end up missing both the doctor’s appointment and the Kids of the Kingdom.
All this early morning hassle just be to miss two appointments! Double grrr!
And then as I looked back down our block, I saw something that shook me right out of my whole frame of reference. There was our house down the street, but it was dwarfed into miniature by an enormous sky overhead, full of gigantic clouds towering like mountains reaching miles into the sky above, shifting our house into the scale of a tiny dollhouse in comparison.
I don’t know what it was. Maybe I was so struck with the enormity of the sky because I usually don’t look up. Or maybe when the sky’s a clear blue it looks so flat, with nothing in it to give you a sense of perspective of its unbelievable dimensions, its incredible depth.
Maybe I could see it now because my house was there as a reference point, so tiny below its vastness. Or maybe it was just some anomalous atmospheric conditions opening up a glimpse into how much is really there, cracking a window into the magnitude of the universe.
Whatever it was, I saw that little house, which so often contains the entirety of my all-consuming world, for what it is: a tiny spec in a cosmos whose immensity boggles the mind.
And surprisingly, seeing that sight, being jolted right out of my typical vantage point on life and the world, gave me a tremendous feeling of . . . peace.
It wasn’t at all the sense that my world or my worries are insignificant or unimportant. They aren’t. What I do (raising young children, hopefully helping them grow into men and women of God that God intends them to be) is important—really important. And there are challenges and problems in this work, as there are in any serious work of real importance. It wasn’t even that I make mountains out of molehills, or that my problems are nothing compared to what others face. Both are certainly true at times, but still there are real challenges and problems in my calling, and the work is all-consuming, as any work worthy of us always will be.
It was more a moment of reassurance: that yes, even given all the problems and challenges, it will still be alright.
Another blast of wind buffeted our car, but the message I got as I looked at those big clouds roiling above that little house was that though the storms of life will inevitably thunder around us, a hand large and mighty enough to stretch forth that sky and spin that towering array of cloud and storm was large and mighty enough for the little world of my home and family and calling to fit comfortably in its palm. It wasn’t, as Father George Rutler pointed out in his lecture series Crisis in Culture, that “everything is going to be alright,” but rather “that no matter what happens, things will work out, because God has a plan . . . Our Lord is in charge . . .”
As Jesus said in the Gospel of John: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” Jn 16, 33.
And that is very reassuring. It frees us all, whatever our calling, to go out and face our storms, let the chips fall where they may, and shake our world like the thunder itself by giving the best living witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we can muster.
Copyright 2014, Jake Frost