The Gift of Ordinary Time

But the conversation I witnessed the other day, when one young man explained to another young man the fine art of getting noticed by girls, must remain within my four walls, lest my dear son who blushes furiously at the mere whisper of the word “girl,” turn red to the roots of his carefully tousled hair. It’s a shame too, because the son who doesn’t blush, but twinkles mischievously, was offering such sage advice.

Who are these boys who are bigger than me and look so eerily like the teenage boy who captured my heart a million years ago and yesterday? I grew up without brothers (unless you count the Wheaton boys whom I borrowed as often as I could). I always imagined myself growing up to be a cross between the mother in Little Women and the one in Little House on the Prairie. Instead, things look rather like Jo’s Boys, a home and school full of boys, with a couple of girls thrown in to keep things civilized. It’s a very full house and a very full life and sometimes I forget how precious it is.

Fifteen years ago, I had cancer. My only prayer was that I would live long enough to raise my 2-year-old. When does one consider a child raised? He is 17 now, studying for the SAT, filling out player profiles for college coaches, spouting statistics of every university on the East Coast. When he leaves home, is he raised? I find I want to watch his whole life unfold. I want to be there for all of it.

The medical experts told me I’d have no more children. I had six more and haven’t stopped hoping for another. And in the busyness of life with them, I’ve all but forgotten those desperate prayers of long ago. I’ve taken for granted the days and even the years of watching my children grow up. After all, it’s what we do: we have babies and we grow old while they grow up.

And we bemoan the gray hairs and the thickening waistlines. We join the chorus that groans over the challenge of parenting adolescents. We sigh as we sort and wash and fold and put away the fourth load of laundry for the day. We take it all for granted and we forget that every day, every gray hair, every adolescent mood swing, every grass-stained T-shirt is a gift.

Mothers who have cancer stay awake at night, wondering how to write it all down. How do you anticipate every event, every concern, and leave a letter for your child that will share with them your heart at that time? How do you put into words the way your chest squeezes tears from your eyes every time you think about leaving them without your irreplaceable care? How do you tell them that they’ve made your life complete just by being born? And how do you convey how much you hope and pray for them? How do you leave a legacy of love that will sustain a child in his mother’s absence?

Fortunately, most of us don’t have to write it all down. We just get up in the morning, after a good night’s sleep, and go about our business as usual. We get exasperated at the messes and impatient with the imperfections. Life goes on and we move from toddler tantrums to tutorials on flirting. Our legacy is woven into the fabric of daily life. On a sunny fall afternoon, we laugh at the antics of our little boys and we giggle over the blushing teenager and it all seems very ordinary.

But it’s not. It’s golden. It’s precious and priceless and so very beautiful. I have a friend who is writing those midnight letters. And she’s reminded me of the ones I composed all those years ago. So, while my golden-haired boy gives teenage advice to the miracle child born the year after cancer, tears fill my eyes and I am so thankful again for the great gift of ordinary time.

Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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