It is possible that the most important thing I will ever do is teach my children to replace the toilet paper so that the tissue goes over the roll.
Because, I don’t know. You can do a lot of big things in the world, but do you know how great it is to have the toilet paper work the way you expect every time? It’s pretty great. And this is within my skill set, to teach my kids—with kindness and grace—how to do a thing like replacing the toilet paper roll.
Then, no matter where they go in life, every toilet paper holder they are ever in charge of will be a blessing to the people around them. OVER THE ROLL.
I’m still working on it.
Some days, when you are a parent, you teach more than that, and some days it’s just the toilet paper roll. Whatever, it’s fine.
The other day one of my kids was having a hard time getting into bed. It had been a hard few nights in a row, honestly, and the thing I want to do when a person is awake long past bedtime is to say I LOVE YOU, AND RIGHT NOW I WOULD LOVE FOR YOU TO BE IN YOUR BED, YES YOU MAY LAY THERE AWAKE UNTIL MORNING JUST PLEASE STAY PUT OKAY THANKS.
But instead I tried really, really hard to remember what it feels like to be the person whose body is being a little bit uncooperative and irritated and irrational. (It turned out not to be a stretch. I am familiar with that feeling. I have that feeling, like, twice a week, at least.)
So I climbed into a top bunk and laid down next to my fully awake youngling.
I figured feeling not-alone might help.
“You know,” I said, “what happens to me, when I am laying in bed and cannot fall asleep is—sometimes I start to feel scared. Sometimes I start to feel worried. I feel scared about all kinds of things that do not feel scary during the day, and I feel worried about all kinds of things that will probably never happen. I just feel afraid.”
“YES,” my kiddo said. “YES, that is it exactly. Me too.”
When my own mom can’t sleep, she figures God must want her to be awake. There must be someone who needs her prayers.
So she starts praying for people, and for whatever is going on with those people, and for (I imagine) the whole messy ball of earth we’re walking around on.
“We could try that,” I told my girl. “At least then we would feel useful.”
“MAYBE,” she said.
Then I told her about how gratitude and fear cannot live in our brains at the same time. They’re opposites. One fills up all the space and the other can’t find anywhere to hold on, so you only get to have one at a time. You have to choose.
I told her about making a list of as many thankful things as you can think of while you lie there in the dark, awake and alone. (I told her how she’s never really alone.)
“Let’s make YOU a list,” I told her.
“I’ll help, I said. “I think your list would start like this:
“FIRST, I am thankful for my mom, who is charming and funny and also awesome and cool.
“NEXT, I am thankful again for my mom, who makes amazing snacks and is also awesome and fun.
“AND I am thankful for my mom, who always gets me the best library books and is pretty much just all-around awesome.
“THEN I am also thankful for my dad, who is basically as cool as my mom.”
(“I feel like this list would be different if Dad were making it,” she said, but she was laughing by then, which I took as a good sign.)
Together we thought of other things to put on the list, and after a few minutes I climbed down the bunk bed ladder, narrowly avoided breaking my own neck, and told her I would come back to check on her in awhile to see how it was going.
She was asleep before I came back, and I put that on my own list of thankful things.
I worry, sometimes, that I have given my kids all of my most difficult things, like insomnia and middle-of-the-night fears. I feel terrible about this. Couldn’t we have just taught them about the toilet paper roll and called it good?
And then I remember the best good news: that if I did give them my hard things, I know what those things look like. I know the path, I’ve been there before, and I know a thing or two about how to face those boulders in the road. I have tools for getting out of those places, and I can share.
I don’t have to feel sad if my kids have mountains to climb—I can hand them their gear and start up the path next to them.
I can’t make the way easy, because I’m not in charge of the path. I don’t get to pick what their journeys look like. (DARN IT.)
What I get to do is hand them good equipment and walk alongside.
I mean, I don’t have all the tools, and some I’m still figuring out how to use, but what luck, to have a head start on gathering them.
I do wish my kids could live in a world where cotton candy grew on trees. I wish we all could live there. Until we find the secret portal to that magical always-happy place, though—I will be here, teaching them how to spin their own sugar.
And also teaching them the thing about the toilet paper. Priorities, people.