We Will Not Be Satisfied


This morning began in a panic. Meaning to get up early enough to pack a husband lunch, a diaper bag of snacks and sippy cups, and - indulgent me! - have a chance to straighten my hair before we had to take daddy to work this morning, I was jerked by my subconsciousness from a pleasant dream into the unprepared morning. Red lighted numbers glared at me from the clock at the window. Not enough time.

Incidentally, I profess it is a gross error - a gross and annoying error - of my internal clock to ignore waking me up when its supposed to and instead wakes me up in a disorienting panic when it's too late. What is the point of keeping that sort of thing around? I ask you.

Morning scramble. I managed a shower thanks to my mother's willigness to keep the kids at home while I take the husband to work. She had the day off. Still, my man and I dart out the door with my hair unbrushed and soggy, no breakfast, and no husband-lunch.

Race home. Overturn children's clothing drawers in a frantic search for something picture-worthy. Curse myself for not having planned this out the night before. Snatch things that strike my senses as being crisp and colorful. Iron a shirt for Wyatt. Curse the fact that Hank owns only one pair of nice-ish jeans.

Try to pull wriggling, unwilling children into clothing and out of jammies. Scrub faces. Brush hair. Change diapers. Threaten. Pant. Insist that Henry is the ONLY child who legitimately can't walk themselves to the car. 60lb Henry-in-carseat over one arm, diaper bag, purse, coats, and bag of sippy cups and snacks in the other, knee scooting the two- and four-year-old out the door.

Turn on kids songs as I pull out of the driveway in an attempt to drown out/cure the wailing from the backseat ("No, Mommy, I will NEVER!"). Glance in the mirror and cringe - my hair still undone, my makeup a sad story that would make anyone weep. 5 minutes to make the 15 minute drive to our appointment. Familiar internal rant about how ludicrous it is that we can NEVER seem to be on time to ANYTHING. And why is this car so freaking MESSY all the dang time?

Park the van. Wrangle three protesting children into one shopping cart, frigid wind biting us through our clothing. I beg them to hurry so we can get inside where its warm. The more I beg, the more they turn into heavy bags of soggy noodles. That whine.

Meet Grandma and Ali inside. Juggle two children and try to get one to smile. No, just smile normal! What is that? I've never seen that face before. Just...just smile like you're happy! What do you mean you don't know how?

Try to choose pictures from a computer (Which do you like better? 23 or 24? 24 or 25?) while children alternate between throwing funions on the floor and stepping on them to make a cool sound, driving cars all over the photographers equipment, and escaping.

Two and a half hours later, the kids have had it. They're bored, tired, hungry and annoyed. I don't blame them. I feel the same way. We decide to treat them to lunch at one of their favorite places: Chic-fil-a! A sure cure for the most exasperating of mornings.

But it's a holiday. The crowd is daunting. So daunting, in fact, that there's a crowd that has formed at the entrance of people just staring blankly out across the packed restaurant, bitterly mumbling things like, "Well, there's nowhere for me to sit. Might as well just not even eat here."

But I'm carrying this rather heavy baby in his rather heavy car seat. Standing around in hopelessness is not an option. I decide to just start moving, see what happens. Progress through the crowd is slow enough that maybe by the time we reach the back of the restaurant, it'll be dinner time and all these people will go home.

Then - a chick-fil-a miracle! Just ahead of us, two tables clear. In our favorite spot, no less! I shamelessly yell for Wyatt to use his small-ness to manipulate through the crowd and throw himself on those tables! I wasn't going to make it - the car-seat was acting as an anchor in a heavy current going the wrong way. It's up to you, Wyatt! Only YOU can save lunch!

He looks at me, uncomprehending. Panic begins at the edges of his eyes.

"NEVERMIND!" I holler, and heft the car seat in front of me, plowing ahead. I throw Henry on one table and my diaper bag on the other. I sit Daphne at one table and Wyatt at the other. I stand between, daring anyone to question my legitimacy. I felt a little like a feral seagull. Mine. Mine!

Mom and Ali arrive. Mom plops Oliver in his car seat next to Hank. "I can't believe you found tables!" she says. Wyatt and I give each other a knowing look.

But our tables are, admittedly, two tables and not one all-together. Ali somehow secures a booth at the other end of the restaurant. Less trafficked area. Much better locale for hiding her five-week-old away from all the elbows and knees we'd been encountering in our spot of victory. She motions for us to join her. Reluctantly, we abandon our post.

Only this proves to be too much for Wyatt.

He was quite attached to his spot at the first table.

There was a window.

I try to order food while consoling a crying Wyatt (who feels that if you are going to cry, you might as well cry GOOD and LOUD, thank you very much). I'm so agitated I try to walk away without paying. Embarrassed, I take my change and my table number and my wailing child and go back into the crowds.

We are visited by the Cow. In a dress. This improves moods greatly.

The food is good, and my kids seem to be calming. Ah, the wonder of stabilized blood-sugar!

There is ice cream.

Then there is the play area. My children - bless them! - refuse to play until lunch is done. A good practice, but today this threatened to cut their play-time drastically short. I encouraged them to hurry, abandon the last fry, go and climb! Slide! Crawl through, you know, tunnel thingies!

But too soon after disappearing into the joyous fray, Wyatt returns. "Mom," he says. "There is some yucky black stuff on the stair."

Yucky black stuff? It's probably noth -

...

No. It's a largely unsupervised play area. It could be anything.

I followed him back in to inspect.

Sure enough.

Barf.

My mind shuts down in utter panicked horror for exactly .4 milliseconds. Then I grab my children, one under each arm, and run to warn the village!

The management evacuates the play area while they clean and sanitize and (because my imagination begs it) burn things.

We don't wait for hazmat.

We brave the snow-flurrying winds again, and I force the flailing limbs of three defiant children into carseat harnesses, imagining a glorious day when all of my children are old enough to get themselves into the car, buckle themselves, and have intelligent and civilized conversation with each other on the drive home instead of...of...

I again crank on the tunes.

The radio doesn't have much to offer. I left my phone at home, and with it trusty iTunes and Spotify. I flip through channels, attempting to sing along comedically when there is a song I recognized, trying to distract. The back seat begins to calm.

Then - flip! - and on this random station, a man's voice speaks. Deep, resonating. Powerful.

I had never heard Martin Luther King Jr. Speak, before - but there is no doubt in my mind this was him. There is instant electricity there inside my messy, chaotic van. My heart catches in my throat. I let out a slow breath...turned up the volume.

He says, "We cannot walk alone," and in my mind, I was there, walking.

"We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and hotels of the cities." I think of my own weary travels - how easy it has been for me to drive into a city and be allowed a clean bed and a hot breakfast.

"We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: For Whites Only." I think of how my children and I were allowed, just moments before, to eat a meal together in a restaurant. How earlier Wyatt helped himself to a drink from the fountain at a store, and nobody batted an eye.

How - even though today was hectic and demanding - I and my children were allowed to do so many things. So many little, overlook-able things that other children not so long ago would not be permitted.

Ordering an ice cream cone.
Going to the neighborhood public school.
Crossing through a park.


"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Oh, heart! 

Hearing his mighty words - in his own mighty voice! They pound through me, and I am overwhelmed with feeling.

"Mom?" Daphne asks from the back seat. "Okay, Mommy? Matter?"

I look back at her through the rear view mirror, tears streaming down my face, a sob in my throat, and in a broken voice proclaim to my daughter, "I am okay, sweet girl. Mommy's happy. I'm just..." I can't think of the word to describe..."I'm amazed."

I am ashamed to admit that while I remembered that today was a holiday - banks closed, no school, crowded restaurants, my Mom's day off, etc. - I didn't bother to remember.

For the rest of the day, I watch my children. Wondering - what would I have done if they had been born black in the South in 1963? Would I have been strong enough to act on my own dream on behalf of my children?

To change the world?


Hear the man himself here.



2 comments:

The Thompsons said...

Stepper,
I hope you don't mind that I often read your blog. I found your writing wonderful! Today's, however, takes the cake! What a wonderful conclusion to an all to familiar story... You've inspired me to spend some time in my classes today listening to this speech. Thank you for the reminder!

PS- say hello to Bill for me!

Kate said...

So, so, so good!