My daughter has grown fond of saying that the only thing she and I have in common is the roundness of our faces. While some people seem to think we have a “mini-me” thing going on, she has always taken pride in her individuality and her uniqueness. Truthfully, while we do have similarities, I’m increasingly aware of our many differences. Parenting is a constant test, a struggle of how much to try to shape our children’s lives and how much to let go and allow them to move into the world in ways that honor their own distinct strengths, challenges, and idiosyncrasies. Like many parents, I pray for strength in the daily journey through adolescence.
This week, we have been battling over two particular issues: the management of time, and the accumulation of stuff. Time management is an area where I think I have some particular strengths: I am planful, manage multiple projects, and have a good sense of when and how to work ahead to accomplish tasks on time and without last minute chaos. My daughter’s muse only springs to life at the 11th hour…literally. No matter how much I strain and struggle to help create a supportive, early-evening homework routine…the work itself doesn’t really get started until 11:00 p.m. It creates great anxiety for me, and yet not for her. I worry nightly it won’t get done. Every morning, she shows me that it’s complete.
The accumulation of stuff is another tenuous issue between us. Don’t get me wrong, I like all my collectible vintage finds, and I am sentimental about items gifted to me. But in the end, for me, it really is just “stuff.” People, relationships, deep connection: these are my life investments where I place value. Objects are not of the same value to me, and I could be very happy living in a space where half (or more) of the stuff we have accumulated vanished into thin air. Stuff neatly displayed I appreciate; stuff laying around on floors or any flat surface tends to get under my skin. Earlier this week, I announced at family dinner that I was going to do a deep clean of the public spaces of the house over the weekend and asked that any surface-lying stuff be removed to bedrooms or other spaces where I could shut my eyes when I walk past and try not to imagine what lies beneath the piles.
My pronouncement that it was spring cleaning time brought much emotion, of the angst-filled adolescent variety. At one point, I declared further conversation off limits. This was simply going to happen, and there was no point of protest. Just move your stuff. That particular evening, night before last, I was frustrated. That particular evening, practically everyone I knew seemed to be frustrated or angry with me, too. Texts, emails, and conversations in all directions conveyed a tone of mean-spiritedness that drove me to throw up my hands and go to bed at a reasonable hour and just let everything smolder on its own so I could (hopefully) approach it with a clear head in the morning.
When I awoke, I did have a clearer head. I realized I had a retreat day planned, and had made an earlier promise to take my daughter to the opening night showing of the Avengers: Age of Ultron. Let’s just say I was looking forward to one much more than the other. But, given the wisdom of a good night’s sleep, I decided to deliberately live into the unfolding of the day and not take up any causes or sides in the debates that were swirling in my head and resonating through my life.
It was late by the time my day and evening came to a close. My retreat had been a joyful time of quiet renewal, reflection, conversations both planned and serendipitous. I met a friend for a drink after work, had pizza with my family, and survived three hours in one of the front rows of a packed full theatre. I came home and plopped myself on the sofa. My daughter did the same on the loveseat across from me. She wanted a blanket, which earlier she had left wadded up on the floor. I had picked it up, and draped it over the back of the couch where I was now sitting. We did a little, “well, come get it, then.” “No, you bring it to me!” and in my late night exasperation, I grabbed the blanket and tossed it over to her. In the process, I knocked over a cut glass bowl serving as a votive candle holder that had been a gift to me several years ago from former co-workers in another state. We both watched as it hit the floor, and shattered into pieces.
Our dialogue changed, “I’m so sorry, Mom…I should have walked over to get the blanket.” “No, it’s my fault, I shouldn’t have tried to throw it.” I reassured her it was OK, “It’s just stuff” and we just needed to clean it up without stepping on any glass. She insisted, “No, we need to get it fixed…or maybe we can find one just like it.” I reminded her it was from 15 years ago in an entirely different state, time, and place. It was OK. I liked it, but it was OK. I picked up every piece, nicked myself twice, and vaccuumed up the tiny fragments that seemed to be everywhere. I left the vacuum out, since tomorrow was cleaning day. I put the shattered pieces in the garbage and washed my hands. She was still on the internet trying to find a replacement when I headed upstairs.
“I’m going to bed,” I said. “Get some rest, don’t worry about it, really. It’s OK, really.” We said I love you’s and exchanged a good-night hug. I went to bed, exhausted.
I woke up this morning later than usual. My spouse was up already, and my daughter’s room door was shut so I figured she went to bed shortly after me. I walked downstairs and heard my spouse say, “What were you both doing last night? Did you start cleaning early?” I started to explain about the glass and walked over to the table to describe the event.
And there it was.
When I tell you that this cut glass votive was shattered, I am serious. I picked up no fewer than 50 pieces of various size and shards There it was, meticulously and artfully pieced back together. Every piece was neatly glued together, the whole round cut-glass globe in perfect form and symmetry, with only a few spaces remaining where specific pieces could not be found.
I held it in my hands. I was in awe.
The entire trash can had been exhumed, the vacuum had been emptied, and every minute piece removed had been carefully reconstructed. I was in awe.
I went to her room, speechless. I finally found words. “I could never, ever have done this. I can’t imagine who could. It was shattered, completely. I threw it out because I truly could never have even imagined anyone fixing it…and somehow, you did.” I looked at her and she smiled, “I know, Mom. I can just see how things come back together again and I wanted to try for you. I’m sorry there are still a few holes…”
I looked at this amazing reconstruction, something that I’ve only seen accomplished by my archaeology colleagues with that kind of precise detail…and not at 3 a.m. using superglue and salad tongs. I saw her vision, strengths and gifts in every precious, retrieved piece of glass and every late-night minute of work. All of this, driven by her inner desire to mend the broken.
I write about brokenness so often as a metaphor for our spiritual lives. God always finds me in my brokenness, shining through the places where I have been shattered and transforming them from ruin to beauty. It took my tween’s gifts and strengths last night to show me the daily miraculous in how so many pieces can come together to recreate a masterpiece that is now so very much more than it ever was before.
This candle bowl is now a precious gift of my life, and one that I shall treasure always. It isn’t just stuff. It the cracks of our brokenness mended by gift of our strengths, held together with glue of love and radiating the vision of the divine.
I have seen my child with newly opened eyes; I have never received a greater gift.