| Musings |

All that Glitters?

I don’t have an important job or say enough Tehillim. I can’t host so many guests at once, and I’m an introvert, and I probably don’t smile enough

It's early morning and the house is finally quiet, with the kids off to school and the baby asleep. I’m stripping the beds when a flash of blue on my daughter’s pillowcase stops me. I pause and take a closer look. Sniff, scratch. Ah, paint. Of course.

I smile to myself thinking of her recently discovered love of painting, a passion displayed in the paint on her clothing and her face that have become par for the course. And now the color has made its way to her bedsheets, too. Of course it has, I realize. It was on her cheek last night when she went to sleep.

As I load the drum and stuff it to capacity, I contemplate how an artist leaves her mark.

And then there’s boring old me, I think. I don’t have a signature fingerprint that lets the world know I was here. What’s on my pillowcase at the end of each day, permanent enough to still wait for me every morning?

I turn to tackle the kitchen, my mind churning with thoughts of paint and children and love and motherhood. There’s so much still to do, no time for thinking now — but I want to know, really, what do I put into the world and leave in it each day? What would one find on my hands and my face, and naturally, my pillowcase?

Do I do anything noteworthy other than cleaning and cooking and laundry and planning and shopping and feeding, and a little bit of middos work along the way?

But that’s a lot to say for myself, I think, as I clear the bowls and empty their soggy contents into the trash. That’s a lot of work, and it’s an expression of your dedication. It’s true, I concede; the mundane nature of motherhood is anything but. I know it’s eternal work. I do.

“But I’m not a teacher,” argues the voice that’s always there, the one that fights every day to try to leave a fingerprint. “And I don’t even want to be one. I don’t have an important job or say enough Tehillim. I can’t host so many guests at once, and I’m an introvert, and I probably don’t smile enough. And besides everything else, I manage to mess up even just within the walls of this house!”

The kitchen is clean now, and I survey it with satisfaction, but there’s still a niggling feeling of inadequacy. So what if I have a clean kitchen? Is that all I’ve got to say for myself?

I move along to the hamper, sorting the darks and the whites as I sort the same within my mind. The darks want me to believe there’s no purpose in small, humble efforts. No paint will show up anyway. It’ll take more than just being average to make a difference.

The whites wholeheartedly disagree, promising me that even the slightest bit of paint will show and will last.  I sigh. I feel an emptiness, a search for something more, something with a bit more pizazz. A glittery shade of something bold, maybe; something different and unique and utterly amazing. But the pressure of finding it and producing it is weighing me down. I’m almost ready to resign myself to forever feeling insignificant.

And that’s when I hear a small voice reminding me it doesn’t work that way. My daughter doesn’t choose to leave her mark of paint; it naturally finds its way to whatever she touches, trailing her wherever she goes. It’s a result of her being so invested in her painting that she simply isn’t worried about containing it, or even producing it.

I don’t need to know what my specific Fingerprint of Paint looks like. The paint showing up everywhere is the process, not the goal. Especially because my paint is the paint of motherhood.

And indeed, you will find the stains on my pillowcase (even if you won’t find my head resting there as often as I’d like). You’ll find it in the dark of the night as I wonder what will be with each of my children, and with me, who has intertwined myself so deeply with their existence that I’m not very sure I’m separate at all. You’ll find it on my face as I work and fail and work some more to reflect what my children need to see displayed there. You’ll find it on my hands as I hold them and release them, as I change their diapers and turn pages and cut their nails and wrestle them into pajamas. You’ll see remnants of it on the couch, long after bedtime, as I sit, tired and drained, still thinking of all I could have done better, bigger, how I should have been and need to be perfect.

As I switch the last load of the morning from washer to dryer, I see the stain remover has done its job. The pillowcase is clean now, but it’s left a new mark on my heart. It’s the kind I hope is permanent. Because in it lies the impression of the ordinary in the extraordinary, my measly efforts in a world of grandiose gestures. I hope I’ll always be able to remind myself that it’s in those little, sometimes barely detectable, splatters of paint left behind that my purpose reveals itself.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 893)

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