“Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” 1 Peter 4:9 NASB
I went to bed unsettled last Monday night. Mostly this happens these days when I’m scheduled to be at work the next morning and I have a sick child and a spouse unable to work from home. Sick-child Lolo was completely bummed to be missing another day of day camp. She’d already missed out on climbing the rock wall on Monday. How could she also miss Tie Dye Tuesday? Her laments were understandable. She’s an active and athletic extrovert and camp is so her thing.
Meanwhile, the just-done-being-sick-with-a fever-and-cold-over-the-weekend older child, Ivy, had finally calmed down and fallen asleep after what appeared to be an anxiety attack (or was it just a tantrum?) which at its climax involved her shouting out her fears to herself in the basement at ten p.m. The only thing left clanging around in the bottom of our parenting toolbox was some not-so-old-and-rusty bribery. And so we used it. If she finished strong as a camper and went every day for the rest of the week and at least tried the activities we would buy her something. We told her to lay in bed and think about what she wanted. Sure enough, drifting away in a dreamland of material goods, she fell asleep. I know, I know. You want to nominate us for parents of the year don’t you?
So just to recap, on Monday night we had the sore-throat-and-feverish kid longing for camp, and the now-healthy older one melting down because she really really didn’t want to go and couldn’t go and couldn’t do any of it because it was so hard and boring.
Here’s a little context. To accommodate my daughters’ busy social calendar of never wanting to leave our street so they can run around playing with neighborhood friends all summer (and also because I make no money when I have to pay for childcare) I moved most of my part-time working hours to nights and weekends until school starts. Except for last week. The plan for last week, the last full week in July, was that the kids would go to awesome crazy fun (but not free) day camp at church from 9 to 4 Monday through Friday and I would work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 9:30 to 3.
So I went to sleep last Monday night praying to God that he would heal Lolo miraculously overnight so she could go to camp. And not only because then I wouldn’t have to worry about what to do with her while I worked at the front desk of a salon for five hours.
In the morning she wasn’t feeling better. But I knew better than to take her temperature. Because I volunteered at registration the day before I new very well that there was a question on the intake form that read: Has this child been exposed to any contagious diseases or had a fever in the past 24 hours? If we had any hope of getting her to camp on Wednesday, I knew I needed to not take her temperature. Then when I answered “no” I wouldn’t be lying–well, not technically anyway.
So at breakfast Tuesday morning I talked to Ivy the reluctant camper about the prize she would get at the end of the week. She couldn’t think of anything she wanted but I knew better. Shopping–specifically clothes shopping–is her love language. I suggested a new outfit and she concurred. After that, getting her out the door, despite just a bit of grumbling, wasn’t so difficult. So did we parents get punked? Was she playing us that whole time? We still have no idea. I made her lunch, rounded up the iPad and headphones for my sick sidekick and gave her ibuprofen, finished getting myself somewhat presentable enough for work and brought Ivy to church with poor Lolo in tow.
At some point in the time it took to bring Ivy in to meet up with her counselor and small group and kiss her goodbye a construction crew descended on the street just off of the church parking lot. Now last year during camp week they completely took the road apart to put in new sewers and a brand new road so I wasn’t sure what they could be doing. Especially with all these cars coming and going for camper drop-off at a large church this couldn’t be major road work again. There were no orange roadwork signs or caution signs or barricades. But just as I was approaching the road a dump truck was laying down a strip of something wet-looking just off of the parking lot so that I have to drive over the wet strip, whatever it is, to exit. In the middle of the road stood, very casually in an unengaged fashion, an orange-vested construction worker. There was one car in front of me. It drove over the wet strip and was silently directed to proceed down the road by the the worker. So I did the same.
An hour or so later Lolo was at the salon reception desk with me. The desk is tall so no one could see her back in the corner just behind me. She sat silently, totally engrossed in an episode of Barbie Life in the Dream House. She was still hot even on ibuprofen. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw her scratching all over, covered in a rash. The hubs made her a doctor appointment while I left work real quick to take her home.
But I was stopped in my tracks when I got to my car. The driver door was completely splattered with wet tar, even up to the door handle. It looked like I was off-roading in that “bubbling crude” scene in the theme song of The Beverly Hill Billies. The whole area around the wheels appeared to be completely coated in a slick of . . . “Oil that is! Black Gold! Texas Tea!” and it was already on my work clothes. Also I’d just washed my car not 48 hours before. And I only wash my car every two years.
I took Lolo home, kissed her warm face, set her up with cold beverages and fruit and TV for the hour until her dad could get there. Feeling rather defeated and forlorn, I returned to work. After work I went straight to pick up Ivy. I was a little early and would use the time to track down the construction worker, or maybe the crew foreman, who let me unknowingly drive my low-riding little Matrix through a pool of tar that morning. But the road crew had already left. And the whole road was covered in tiny gravel bits. Now this church is not within the city limits, its just in a township, so corners are cut, concessions made, when roads are resurfaced. Apparently, in the seven hours since I’d dropped off my camper they had covered the whole road with that not-so thin layer of tar and then a not-so even layer of little bitty gravel pieces and called it a day. I guess they just make sure the tar is mostly covered and then leave it to the cars to flatten and smooth it out over time. How convenient for them.
So to retrieve my child I had to drive my tar-coated car on this street with freshly dumped, mostly-loose gravel. By the time I parked at church my poor car had been successfully tarred and graveled. Think glitter on glue, sprinkles on frosting, leaves on Linus’ wet sucker. I was too tired to be anything but modestly angry. I surveyed the damage, took a bunch of pictures to document it and wandered into the building to notify the church secretary. I’ve been a church secretary. I know their secret powers. I also know a lot of people tell them things just because they need to say it. I told her nicely that just in case anyone asks, yes, cars have been damaged by the negligent construction crew that was out there today. After that it still wasn’t 4 o’clock so I called the Kalamazoo County Road Commission. They of course didn’t pick up. So I left them a crotchety message with my name and phone number. They have yet to call me back.
When I reunited with Ivy she was all smiles and said she’d climbed almost to the top of the rock wall and had gone down the big inflated waterslide. “I knew I could do it if I tried,” she said, “Part of me was saying do it, and part of me was saying don’t do it, but I did it anyway.” I was so proud of her that despite its disasters the day had–in the words of Harry (in Dumb and Dumber)–TOTALLY redeemed itself with her bravery and her victorious smile. The tar was hardening up on the car, but my heart was warm and melty.
After mostly-unknowingly sending Lolo to camp Wednesday with Strep (yes I made the appointment for after camp) she had two doses of amoxicillin in her by Thursday morning and she rocked her short camp week. She would have been at the doctor Tuesday but we canceled the appointment because she lied and said her throat didn’t hurt anymore–she wanted to go to camp so badly. We should have disciplined her for lying, but I think we were just so relieved to have an eager camper that we let it slide.
As for my little Matrix, when I drive at high speeds the tar melts enough for the gravel bits to ping off. Every time the car heats up the tar melts a little, either from the engine running or from the morning sun shining into the garage. Every day since last Tuesday a steady stream of ebony, stalactite-y drips form and hang there suspended in gooey globby viscous strings, eventually dropping to the garage floor in black snakey blobs. I’ve quit trying to keep up with it. I’ll let it do it’s thing and clean it up in a month. As the hubs says, “It’s the gift that keeps on givin’.”* It’s a wonder no one has stepped in it and tracked it all over the house yet.
So during all that Monday-through-Wednesday madness I was occasionally thinking about the upcoming dessert party we’d planned to host on our patio on Sunday night. I was tempted to cancel it. Maybe I wasn’t going to be up for it. Now, you should know that I hadn’t invited friends or neighbors over in two years–ironically, about the same amount of time it had been since I’d washed my car. When we initially planned the event about a month ago Ivy said, “So we’re having a party? That’s so weird!” Yeah, this hospitality drought needed to end. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to have people over, it was more that I felt called to it as a matter of obedience. Saint Peter said to practice hospitality. It’s a pretty straight and simple direction. There’s no getting around it. You can’t weasel your way out of making it a cultural thing or something open to symbolic interpretation. So since this was a matter of obedience to God, an extension of my love for Jesus, probably a prompting of the Holy Spirit, it seemed like the plans needed to stay.
And anyway, maybe the complete exhaustion and frustration of the week’s beginning meant that our get-together was going to go really well. So we were hopeful, but trying not to be too be hopeful.
The weekend weather looked promising and it seemed like we were going to have a good turn out. We strung christmas lights on the balcony and stairs around the patio. The hubs and I each made two desserts and they turned out well. I borrowed the Keurig machine from work so we could offer coffee. We set up the badminton net and rounded up chalk and bubbles and bouncy balls for the toddlers. We set up camping chairs and put beer and Capri Suns on ice. I totally forgot to make ice for the iced tea (Apparently you aren’t supposed to eat party bag ice?) but we just rolled with it. The whole process, the setting up, the working together to prep for our guests was really quite fun–good old-fashioned family teamwork.
So seven p.m. on Sunday came and our low-key event was pleasant and bigger than us, just as I’d hoped it would be. All but one family could come and almost everyone stayed until the end, which was just about when the bugs showed up anyway. That 2.5 hours was saturated with life and color and neighborly moments. Bill, who’s in his 50’s and whose house faces ours, got a kick out of having a PBR which he hadn’t had since he used to steal it from his dad’s fridge. He also finally met Joel, who has lived in the house next to us for four years. We got to pay it forward and introduce the newest neighbors on our street to everyone, which our backyard neighbors did for us when we first moved in. And we figured out that three families have boys going into Young Fives or kindergarten this fall. It turns out that hosting a party where people smile and relax and make connections is incredibly satisfying. Huh.
Somehow we didn’t even get upset when uninvited, friends-of-guests middle schoolers came and crashed the party. Even though they were huddled up in the hallway when the party was obviously outside and the hubs had to send them back out. Even though one of them broke Lolo’s badminton racket. Something overrode our disgruntled impulse to send them home and I’m glad it did. When Jesus said to love our neighbor, he meant the awkward and rude tween set too, even if it does feel like they want to make doormats out of us. Sometimes love feels like that, looks like that.
So I sensed this post coming together while washing the sticky after-party floors yesterday and remembered a line from Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, which I read almost two decades ago. She wrote something about when things are very hard its because something beautiful was trying to get itself born. So I put down the mop and picked up my phone and Googled “Anne Lamott something beautiful trying to get born” and found it right away. My PMS-y self almost got a little teary because it spoke such truth about the week as a whole:
“It turned out this man worked for the Dalai Lama. And he said–gently–that they believe when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born–and this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”
*referring to the quote by Eddie in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation