Messy Beginnings

Yesterday was Jackie’s first day going to school ever.  She planned on reinventing herself as “Jacqueline” in her third grade class, and had already memorized the names of all the other girls in her class.  She was prepared to make a great first impression.

Then she entered her classroom and promptly puked all over herself, her backpack, and her brand new suede Tie Buck shoes.

I got the call from the office while I was already downtown, dropping Jim off at work.  “Sweet Jackie’s nerves got to be a bit too much for her—would you be able to bring her a change of uniform?”  At first I thought she’d peed her pants.  Wow.  That would have been worse.

So I sped home as fast as I could, knowing that each minute I wasn’t there was another minute she was not spending in her classroom learning new procedures, figuring out how things were to be done, getting to know her classmates and teacher.

When I arrived, she was sitting red-eyed in a director’s chair in the office, drinking a cup of water.  While I helped her clean up in the restroom, she poured out the story.  She’d been nervous as she went to line up with her class to go into the building, and then she’d seen a girl in her line with whom she’d had a tough relationship at her summer theater camp.  This girl had bossed her and made her feel dumb and left out, and she hadn’t fully gotten over it yet.  Seeing her right there in her line, in her class, and realizing that she was going to spend all year with her had pushed her over the edge.  Hence the up-chucking.  She wanted to go home.

I was able to talk with her, explaining that the worst was over, and that if she didn’t go back for the rest of the day, tomorrow would be a much higher hurdle.  There are other kids in your class, I told her, and you can be friends with them.  Maybe this girl will be different in this setting.  I was proud of her—she decided to be brave and go back.  And the happy ending is that she had a phenomenal rest of her day, absolutely loving her teacher and the other kids (and no problems with Miss Bossy Pants).  She even has a Chinese girl in her class, and they had giggled together that they could talk “in code.”

Not the beginning we’d hoped for, but she survived, and even thrived.  I’ve been pondering this since yesterday, thinking about my own launch into what’s next for me now that I’m not homeschooling anymore.  Rather than spending the last few weeks of summer vacation having crazy fun adventures with my kids and spending all kinds of time shopping for school supplies and uniforms, I’ve been laid up with a bad virus-turned-pneumonia.  Recovery has meant doing the bare minimum to make sure they walk into school on Day 1 with what they need, but it also means that I haven’t been able to plan much beyond that.

Because of factors outside of our control, I’m still unsure about whether I’m going to need to work part-time or whether I’ll be able to devote my full time to my writing career.  We had hoped to have some key questions answered by now.  It’s a weird, messy start to this new phase of life.  Not the beginning I’d hoped for.

And that’s the way this life rolls, doesn’t it?  Rarely do things launch cleanly, totally according to plan.  Our grand ideas often bumble along in the dirt before they catch any air beneath their wings.  I read a prayer that says, “I thank Thee that every present joy is so mixed with sadness and unrest as to lead my mind upwards to the contemplation of a more perfect blessedness” (John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer).  That’s what it means to search for grace in the brokenness of this world.  Too often I dwell on what went wrong and miss how brightly grace was shining through the flecks of mud.

This morning after I dropped the kids off, I went home and had a short-lived drill-sergeant talk with myself in my head about how productively I should use this morning (half day for the kids).  Then I stopped.  I listened to what my body and spirit were saying.  I am still coughing frequently and my cracked rib really hurts.  I’m winded going up a short flight of stairs.  I haven’t spent a quiet hour talking to my God and reading His life-giving words in a few days.  I don’t have my immediate future all figured out, and today might not be the day to begin trying to do that.

I listened, and I spent a blissful hour of peace on my front porch.  Then I drove over here to The Red Canoe coffee shop/bookstore and am taking time to write.  I’m keeping my hands upturned and open, giving this messy beginning to God and awaiting the gifts and answers He’ll drop into them at just the right time.