This morning, sitting in a wicker chair in my friend’s living room with a cup of coffee in my hand, I saw love.
For the past several nights, I’ve stayed with my friends Nate and Susannah Reed in Lawrence. Their children, Harry and Scarlett, call me Uncle Jay and they want to “battle” me every time I’m here. Which is really just a type of wrestling in which they jump on top of me and throw them off. Normally, I might be inclined to let the kids win, but in this case I never want them to think they can best me. That way, maybe, they’ll keep wanting to try for a very long time.
The chaos of the early morning, in those rushed moments between the previous night’s sleep and the start of the school day, is what caught my attention. And when it did, I realized I’ve seen it for the past several days, even if I didn’t notice it right away for what it was.
Each of these mornings, Nate wakes up the children to get them ready for the day. Like most households, it’s a little hectic. And probably not made better by my presence, because the kids want to talk to me and show me things and otherwise delay the inevitable trip to school. Despite the back and forth, the trips upstairs and downstairs to check on the progress of Harry’s bath and Scarlett’s level of wakefulness, there’s a deliberate precision that all comes together beautifully.
And the love, I saw that in a bowl of cereal, delivered to the dining room table at just the right moment.
Between the rushed steps and children half dressed with wild hair and unbrushed teeth, there’s an effort underneath it all to make sure the morning, though it might not seem like it, goes off in an orderly, timely and precise fashion.
I was sitting, like I said, on this chair drinking my coffee, aware of all the goings on, but not taking it all in for what it really was. Then, just as Harry descended the stairs from his room, mostly dressed, Nate emerged from the kitchen with a bowl full of cereal, wet with milk, and a spoon dangling from the side. Without a seeming thought, he placed it on the table, at Harry’s normal eating place, not more than a second before Harry took his seat.
This bright and exceedingly interesting boy likely doesn’t notice, nor think much about it. But every day, the same scenario plays out. He sits down at the table and there is breakfast waiting for him. The cereal, if it’s cold, isn’t yet soggy. If it’s hot oatmeal, as it was the day before, it’s the perfect temperature for eating. There’s nothing for Harry to do, except what he does every day. The same scene played out for Scarlett a few moments later – because today Harry had to be to school an hour early to attend choir practice.
To these kids, it’s breakfast, and part of the routine that begins so many mornings. But when I saw it, I realized it was love in its truest form. And to Nate and Susannah, this whole ritual might not feel a whole lot less like love and something more like the necessary steps to keep the day on track, or an effort to keep a measure of sanity in the stress of everyday life. Or as Nate joked, to keep his mug off the cover of “Bad Parenting Monthly.”
But it’s love.
Then I started thinking a little more. Susannah sets out clothes the night before, based on the next morning’s weather prediction. Over protests, they make sure the kids get to bed at a decent time, so they have enough sleep for tomorrow. The book bags are ready to go, filled with everything needed for the day, including a homemade lunch that’s healthier, tastier and cheaper than what the school provides.
Once the school day is finished, the kids rush into the house. Nate’s still at work, but the ther day Susannah was home. They told her all about their day, with excitement and enthusiasm. Amid all the bustling, they sidled up next to her, each to a side, and put their arms around her for a moment, before running off to whatever the afternoon held.
I remember those days, when my children were young and the mornings filled with the stress of getting so many people prepared for the day ahead. I’m not sure I did it anywhere close to the precision that I’ve seen here. But it’s a common exercise in America – this hour or so in the morning that is filled with so much to do, so much routine, so much chaos and trouble, yet, required day after day despite all the unexpected side journeys that life throws at us – which might be as dire as an illness or as absurd as a misplaced toy. We do it each day, and then drop off our kids at school before running off to work ourselves. Sure, there are strained voices and panicked glances at the wall clock and sighs of frustration that today we won’t pull it all together in time.
But we do it, and each day we do shows our kids that we love them. Even if it’s just cereal.