I thought it was a night like any other night. I was folding the laundry on my bed, listening to my daughter sing her heart out in the shower. Then my throat tightened and I felt panic set in. When did I last wash her hair?
I ran to the bathroom and opened the door so I could yell inside, “Katie, do you need any help washing your hair?”
Her reply brought tears to my eyes, “No, Mama. I’m fine.”
I’ve always tried my best to appreciate every day with my seven children. There has been a motto I’ve lived with in parenting ever since I had my first child:
Make sure they remember joy yesterday, experience joy today, and anticipate joy tomorrow.
I just didn’t know tomorrow would come so soon.
I’m a firm believer in kids playing hard and getting dirty. And my two oldest daughters sure did that. Every day, they were out in the Arizona sunshine–climbing, digging, swinging, and getting very, very dirty. Children have to get dirty. It’s a universal law. And I’m not about to tamper with universal law.
But with dirt, comes baths. I remember when my two oldest daughters, Kelsey and Katie, would take baths together. I would wash their hair, then let them play in the bathtub for awhile. It was our routine. Then they got older. Baths turned into showers, but I was still there to come in and help them wash their hair. Then the hair washing turned into just helping them rinse out the shampoo. Then the rinsing turned into the occasional, “let’s go back in the shower and I’ll help you rinse that one spot on top of your head.”
Then came, “No, Mama. I’m fine.”
Here’s the deal with motherhood: It’s our job to raise independent kids; but no one tells you how to handle it when it really happens.
That night, it happened.
I thought back–When was the last time? When was the last moment I rinsed the shampoo out of her hair? Why didn’t I know it was the last time? If I would have known, I would have done a better job, or made it last longer, or kissed her head, or something. I would have done something!
I couldn’t see the laundry anymore because the tears blurred my vision. But I kept folding. Folding and praying. “God, help me remember how quickly this is going by. Help me appreciate every single day–even the hard ones. Show me the beauty in each moment–even the bad ones.”
I thought of David, pleading with God, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). He was probably having one of his own, “last hair washing” moments, those moments with the brevity and speed of life strikes you and you realize you can’t put on the brakes. He wanted enough wisdom to slow down and appreciate each day as a gift from God because he realized when it’s gone, it’s gone.
The cure isn’t to slow down. That’s impossible. The cure is a heart of wisdom. The wisdom to know that broken dishes, stained clothes, and spilled food are never reasons to lose your temper. The wisdom to know that school assignments can always be done later, after the sun sets and the mud puddles have all dried up. The wisdom to know that every moment is a sacred moment–changing diapers, snuggling on the sofa, swinging at the park, even washing hair. They’re all sacred, if you can just slow down enough to see it.
Years went by. Then came the fateful day. A ball was headed toward the goal, and Katie was determined to keep it out. She dove for it, and we heard it–crack! A quick trip to the emergency room and we found out that Katie had fractured her wrist. That meant six weeks in a cast.
You can’t wash your own hair when your hand is in a cast.
When I realized that, my heart practically jumped for joy–not for the broken wrist (what kind of a sick mom would I be?) but that I got a second chance! I got another shot to slow down and appreciate washing her hair. I got to put on the brakes! I let Katie pick out a brand new shampoo–a sweet-smelling shampoo for brunette hair. We got some towels, she laid down on the kitchen counter with her head in the sink, and I got to wash her hair. Each time I did, we would joke around and laugh about it and enjoy every. single. moment.
To this day, when I smell that shampoo, it takes me right back to our kitchen counter hair washing experience.
But we don’t always get second chances. There will be a last fort with chairs and blankets. There will be a last story before bed. There will be a last outfit put on a Barbie doll. There will be a last swing at the park. We don’t need to know when the last one will be. We just need the heart of wisdom to appreciate each one.
As I wrap up this post, I think God for His mercy. My fingers were flying on the keyboard and I heard my youngest daughter call to me from upstairs, “Mama, would you put my hair in a braid before I go to bed?”
I took a little longer brushing her hair tonight. And I lingered as I put her hair into a single braid down her back. When I kissed her goodnight, it lasted a couple more seconds than usual. Because after seven children and years of thinking I had all the time in the world, I realized something. life will run off with you if you let it. Sometimes, you just have to stop and breathe it in.
Thank you, God, for braids before bedtime. Thank you for messy kitchens and legos on the floor. Thank you for noisy dinner times and late-night conversations, for forts, baby dolls, fingerpaint, and bedtime stories. Thank you for broken wrists and shampoo for brunettes. Thank you for teaching me to number my days. And, God, when I forget, please give me a nudge and number them for me.