All of this Forever Summer

Dear Sherah,

Last week I looked up from re-reading your letter and said to Pete, “Can you believe it’s FEBRUARY in North America right now?”

“It’s February here too,” he said.

I shook my head. “No, no it’s not. It’s Wednesday.”

This is the way my life in the invincible summer of Indonesia passes: in weeks. Not in months, not in seasons, but in weeks. The sun rises at six and sets at six, every day. Everywhere I look it’s green, green, green, always and forever green; green as far as the eye can see, which isn’t very far, on account of all the green in the way. 

If there’s anything I miss about winter (and this is a stretch, to name one), it’s exactly what you wrote about. I miss the challenge of winter. I miss, as you put it, finding a rhythm and a way to navigate it. Not for the sake of winter itself, but for the reminder of how life works. You know how there’s an eternity in the middle of every winter? A moment when you absolutely know it will never, ever be warm again? I don’t miss that. But I miss reentering the linear timeline of the year, when the smell of mud hits your face and you realize that, even if there’s still a frost or two ahead, spring is coming.

Last week I started hosting a makeshift preschool for Anders and about seven of his MAF friends, every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 to 11:30 for the rest of the school year. The kids get dropped off and we do learning activities, singing, stories, circle time, snacks, and free play. Then at 11:30 I buckle them all in the van and drive the loop around our little town to drop them off. 

Maybe that sounds like a lot of work, but right now it’s one of the ways I’m trying to navigate parenting a four-year-old only child who needs a lot of social interaction, on an island without a lot of places to go or things to do. So even though early childhood education isn’t exactly “my thing”, this is what I’m doing, for now. And if you are cramming tiny fingers into gloves to go meet the cold as a way of coping with the cold, then you understand. 

Because, Sherah? This little age is testing everything inside of me. Four is better than three, but I still don’t smell the mud yet. The constant care, the constant interaction, the discipline. Earlier today he was watching an animal alphabet DVD while I was trying to answer emails, and a chameleon came on for the letter C. He said, “Mommy, watch this.”

“I’m watching,” I said, looking up from my computer to watch.

“MOMMY, WATCH!” he said, holding my head in both of his hands to force it in the direction of the TV.

“I’m watching,” I said. (Eyes have not left the television screen.)

“Watch, watch, watch. You don’t want to miss this,” he begged. (Now he’s holding my head with one hand and using the pointer finger and thumb of his other hand to pry my open eye open even further.) 

“OH-EM-GEE, Anders. I’m WATCHING,” I said. (Yes, sometimes I sound like a millennial teenager when I parent.)

“Did you see that? Did you see that?” (Now he’s jumping on the couch, pointing at the chameleon that just changed colors.)

Cute, right? Aggravating, but cute. Then fifteen minutes later he’s throwing a fit in time out because I couldn’t find a YouTube video that explained the digestive system of chameleons, and it’s like AHH!!! This is never, ever going to end! I’m in that eternity within the timeline of motherhood. It will never,ever be quiet or still or peaceful again. The productive hours of my day will forever be hovering around three. My whole life is going to be caring for someone who insists on taking his shorts off all the time and who throws fits over chameleon digestion. 

Here’s what I know. I know I will miss Anders the way he is at this age. That’s why I take pictures and write down the adorable things he says, and that’s why I always stop what I’m doing when he says, “Mommy, let’s snuggle.” That’s why I kiss him about a hundred times a day, trying to suck all of that plump youth out of his cheeks and onto my lips for safe keeping. 

But I also know that I will not miss this stage of parenting. I just won’t. It’s both more challenging and more boring (and rewarding, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging or less boring) than any of the other seasons of life I’ve done, including the one where I worked two jobs while carrying eighteen credit hours and planning a wedding. For me and my personality and my particular blend of strengths and weaknesses, these are just not my most favorite years. “It’s a season,” I keep telling myself. But all of this forever, unchanging green outside isn’t helping to remind me, which is why I’m grateful for your perspective. 

For me, right now, Preschool is a way of leaning into the curve, of truly exhausting the season, of making the most of it, of running into it instead of running from it. And not for the sake of some future me who will nostalgically wish for this or that, but for present-tense me who chose this, and who now wants to do it well. 

Last night at our small group meeting, we listened to a sermon from Tim Doering, a pastor from a church in Pennsylvania who travels out to Indonesia to minister to our team. It’s about hope. I’m sure you’d love the whole thing if you have a chance to listen, especially in light of our last couple of letters, but the memorable phrase that ties it all together is: “Don’t cope, hope.” Now the term “hoping mechanism” keeps coming into my mind. Plopping an iPad into my son’s hands for a few spare moments of silence: that’s a coping mechanism. That’s fine. But stuffing your kid into snow pants for a cold walk in a place where you can breathe deep? That’s a hoping mechanism. That’s saying, There’s something important and worthwhile happening here, in this day, in this week, in this season, and I’m not going to miss it. 

Even if I have to pry my eye open with my thumb and pointer finger. 

Less coping, more hoping,