As summer approaches, the days lengthen, the temperatures warm, and a vague dread settles into the pit of my stomach. No, it isn’t that I am against sunshine, capri pants or backyard barbeques. Summer is, in many ways, my favorite season. As a homeschooler, I look forward to the days of just being mom, of nagging my kids to hang their swimsuits to dry rather than nagging them to finish their math homework. My kids and I camp out on the beach of a Taylor Lake and bask in our laziness. But as we while away the afternoon, a dark cloud is on the horizon. The feeling of impending doom grows more pronounced as the week draws to an end. Wednesday afternoon rolls into Thursday evening and I officially panic. The weekend is looming and my husband and I are without a babysitter.
For nine months out of the year, we live in a veritable childcare paradise, as Jim’s students provide us with scores of potential babysitters. I am always amazed at not only their willingness to exchange a Friday night with friends for interminable games of Monopoly and hours of Tom and Jerry but also the cheerfulness with which they submit to their fate. I sometimes feel ashamed at the relief with which I walk through door, practically sprinting to the car only to look back at some sweet young woman who seems perfectly happy to have four kids simultaneously begging for her attention. I love my kids—I wouldn’t know how to face life without them—but let’s face it, we all have our limits. Limited amounts of patience. Limited amounts of attention. Limited amounts of tolerance for noise. But I find myself thinking, is there something wrong with me that I long to escape their presence, if just for a few hours? And why does the babysitter look so at ease? Goodness knows it’s not the money. Sometimes my kids decide to pour salt into the wound of my guilt by begging me not to leave, crying in outrage that I would dare to leave them even for one night. Fortunately, I have caught on to this manipulation. Once my daughter, Maggie, seemed on the verge of swooning from despair as Jim and I left. I had promised the kids a special video, so we drove the few blocks to the library and returned with the promised film. Not wanting to be spotted, I snuck onto the porch in order to deposit the DVD in the mailbox and make a run for it. I happened to look in the window to see Maggie in the throes of a giggle fit. So much for swooning.
Too often I think that despite my overwhelming desire to get time away with my husband, it is I who has the hard time leaving the kids with a sitter. It isn’t that I fear for their safety or well-being. Jim’s students are always highly qualified and trustworthy. We usually return to a quiet house with the only sound being the dishwasher running and soft snoring emanating from the bunk beds. What I find difficult is the idea of the kids being happy with someone else taking care of them, someone who is more fun and energetic than I am. Someone who makes crafts and let’s them have a big brownie even if they don’t finish all their green beans. I am not really jealous of the affection they have for Miss Babysitter. However, the realization that my kids love me just because I am their mom and not because I am amusing or even nice some of the time is rather humbling. I certainly want my kids to love me, but I must confess to wishing sometimes it was a little less unconditional and a little more works-based. I want to be deserving of their seemingly blind devotion.
It’s a bit like our relationship with God. He doesn’t love us because of anything we do to merit His devotion. He loves us because we are family, for better or worse. The difference, of course, is that our kids don’t choose us and have no say in the matter of who they get as parents. God as our Father, chooses us to be in relationship with Him and the work is all His. Though it should be a comfort to know that my connections with my kids and with my Heavenly Father aren’t contingent on my earning their love, it is certainly a blow to pride. I suppose this is one of those instances when it is my kids and not I leading the way. In their unconditional acceptance of me, I see a glimpse of the eternal. Settling back into my sandy lawn chair, I take a long sip of Diet Coke, relax and let the dread recede. Maybe we don’t need a babysitter tonight after all.