My nephew came for a few days with his wife and two daughters, the oldest two years, nine months and the youngest twelve months. All of life was represented in the microcosm of the young. It’s life in small bursts. Hungry? Fuss until you get the food you want. Thirsty? Point and make unintelligible sounds to communicate. Some of Mommy’s Starbuck’s Iced Decaf Low-fat Mocha Latte looks really good, so I’ll let you know even if I can’t say the words, I must have that. I will have that.
“It’s really mostly milk with just a little coffee,” Mommy reassures Great Grandma.
And if it looks like Mommy’s and has a little coffee flavor, then I’m happy, says the little one. Well, she doesn’t say it, but the shine in her eyes and the look of satisfaction as she slurps through the sippy cup communicates she’s gotten what she wants.
The look of concern on Great Grandma’s face also communicates. It’s saying she’s not entirely convinced it’s as harmless or as nurturing as milk.
“She’ll certainly grow up liking coffee, won’t she?” Aunt Vicky says. “You have to cultivate a taste for it. I don’t think either of my brothers did, but my sister did. I still can’t stand the flavor.”
The life microcosm doesn’t stop there; that milk-slash-coffee tasted so good that now the little ones are chasing each other through the house, in a circle through the dining room into the kitchen, through the office and back into the dining room and around and around they go, the older splatting her feet as hard as she can on the kitchen vinyl and on the hardwoods. Just so she can hear the sounds her feet make. The little one takes a step or two with help, but she must be after her sister and so she crawls as fast as those little hands and knees will take her.
That chase doesn’t satisfy for long. The pint-sized engine driving these toddlers burns up fuel quickly and they collapse on the rug with dolls and coloring books and an ipad game. Then someone starts to smell and Mommy is up and changing diapers. There’s some fussing and struggling against interrupted play and autonomy, but once fresh and dry, the fussing stops and play resumes.
And so the cycle continues; rest, play, cry over a owie, eat, sleep, fuss, diaper change, run in circles, drink, play, cry, share a toy, want up, fuss, want down, snack, play, drink, run in circles, eat, cry, sleep, shyly hide face in Daddy’s shoulder, run in circles, want up, eat, want down, drink, play, cry, sleep and around and around and around it goes. Frustration, joy, freedom, anger, desire, peace, control, submit, want, need, give, take, love.
The busyness building strength in hands and legs, teaching colors and sounds and language and letters, the meaning of NO and the consequence of ignoring NO; testing boundaries and limits; learning how much you’re loved even as you learn how to push buttons so that you get what you want.
We age and those cycles lengthen out as our engines propel us for longer periods of time, but has anything really changed? The emotions may be masked or buried or ignored but they’re the same. The need may look more sophisticated or sublimated, but it’s still need. Those basic instincts survive in one form or another.
The aging continues, time passes and before the end, our engines have once again shortened so that we need food and drink and rest and play in shorter segments until finally the little-engine-that-could will stop, our journey in this world will end.
Mother’s engine is winding down. Some days she wakes with plans to work in the garden, mend a torn shirt; redo the elastic on the pajama pants that keep falling down. And when her day of eating and resting, watching TV and taking trips to the bathroom is finished and she’s slowly heading to bed, she says,
“I meant to put water in the bird bath today. Tomorrow I’ll work on those pajamas.”
And when we talk about the coming end, we don’t worry, we’re not very fearful of the stop to the engine. Of course there’s some anxiety to the unknown but we talk about the transition to the new engine. The engine of the soul that lives after the body’s engine has run out of fuel and its replaceable parts are no longer available. The new engine that will take flight out into eternity, that will take us to our Maker. The childlike anticipation and enthusiasm have not died, they live on. There’s a new life coming!