It was the summer of 1999, and I was a newly minted high school graduate. I had worked a month long stint at a summer camp but still had a couple of months to kill before the dawning of the shiny new college era. Ever so graciously, one of my best friend's fathers agreed to hire me. To work "construction." In a wood shop.
Nothing in my prior life or experience had prepared me for this job, but I was grateful to have it. So, I wore icky jeans or old khakis (ha!) and t-shirts from my elementary school swim team, if the photo below is to be believed, and the closest thing I had to work boots.
(side note. This was clearly before the age of constant cameras in our pockets and making sure we got the picture just right and documenting every moment. I have two photos from this summer experience, and they are both taken on this day, and this photo clearly could have used some cropping guidance. 😂)
Two of my besties were also working there - the boss's daughter and another of our friends. One girl worked all summer and thus got the cushy indoor assignment, while the boss's daughter and myself worked for shorter stints and were sent outdoors, into the heat, into the shop. This company built concrete culverts that aided in road construction (or something like that? I would have to do a hardcore google search and some extensive research to really understand it 😁), and once a large wood frame had been used, it would be sent back to the shop to be dismantled by yours truly (and other much better qualified people).
This involved pulling 2 by 4s off of large sheets of plywood with crowbars. It was hard and tiring work in the Kansas heat, and over the course of the summer, I managed to hit myself in the head with the crowbar at least once - seriously enough that they were concerned that I was concussed. I wasn't. I also jumped on a nail that went all the way into my foot. As you might imagine, I was a star employee.
Most days, I rode with my boss and friends the 40 minutes to the shop. On the way home, we would often stop for Sonic drinks and other treats. I loved the drive home with the air-conditioning on full blast and great conversation and looking forward to another sweet summer evening, because my responsibilities were done for the day, and I was 18 and life was easy once I left the wood shop.
I vividly remember a mind game that I would play with myself on those long days. During the monotony of the morning nail pulling, I would tell myself that in just a few hours, it would be lunch time, and the nail pulling would only be a memory - I would be through it and getting to enjoy lunch with friends. As the afternoon waned on with intensifying heat and longing for a nap, I would do the same thing, and tell myself that soon, the nail pulling would be something to look back on and no longer endured for that day. I would be drinking my Cherry Limeade Cream Slush and chomping on my Cheddar Bites (when will those come to the Arkansas Sonic menus?) before I knew it.
This mind trick did help me pass those long hours that summer, but I was essentially wishing away those moments. I don't think that's all bad, because clearly, construction work is not my calling. I did work hard and offer my best effort, but nothing about it helped me "light up inside" or had me "utilizing my gifts."
Fast forward 17 summers. (Wait a minute - what?!?! How did that happen? Life really does go by quickly.) I am a mother to four, and this summer, they are all home with me almost all of the time. There are many great moments where we are having fun with each other or with friends. We've been to the pool, to the zoo, to the lake, to the movies, and I am enjoying so much of the togetherness.
But, I've got to be honest here, there are still a lot of unenjoyable moments. Having three year old twins means that it is basically a crap shoot whether one or both of them will feel like using their perfectly functional legs to walk inside a building. No problem, kid! It's only 40 billion degrees out here - I would LOVE to carry you in while we both drip sweat and you cling to your puppy/ kitty/blankie/sippy cup and then drop it causing us to both get closer to the simmering concrete and burn off what is left of our faces to pick up this necessity for our grocery trip. Sounds awesome.
You need help getting your swimsuit on, again? Is it really that hard? I'd be glad to drop anything I might be doing and race across the house to assist now that you've finished taking my name in vain loudly for the last full five minutes to get my attention. I know walking to me would be far too difficult.
You and your sister are having a disagreement? Again? Let me figure out exactly what has played out in the last five minutes - actually, the last five years, since we'd probably need to go back that far to see who should take the blame. Actually, scratch that. Just figure it out yourselves and please just be kind to each other for the love of all that is good. PLEASE. BE KIND. NOW.
There are been moments in the past couple of weeks that I have wanted to fast forward to bedtime when that day's whining will be but a memory. I've banked on when Daddy gets home to get a little reprieve. I've wished some of it away. There is this deep mother tension that I wrestle with. In the fall, all my babies will be tucked into a school setting during the days, and I will look fondly back at our summer time and wish I got to see them all more often. I will think of the fun things we could be doing together, while conveniently forgetting the screaming moments in the dentist office when the entire waiting room is focused on our family, and I am wanting to melt into the floor (that was today). The truth is that sometimes I enjoy the idea of them more than the actuality of them.
I know I know I know that the days are long and the years are short. I know that babies don't keep. I know that these are the best days with little people and little problems. And I do feel some of that, because we are moving towards a sweet spot with our family and getting a bit more breathing room than we've had the last couple of years. I am forever grateful. I love each of my children wholeheartedly and feel so privileged to get the time with them that I do.
So, in this summer of 2016, I'm asking God to give me eyes to see all of the good around me. I'm praying for more of his patience and grace as I seek to disciple my children. And I'm desperately trying to not wish it away, because I know that I will blink and 17 more summers will slip by before I even realize it. Those long hours and days in the wood shop don't feel like that long ago.