“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Our discussion in Bible study last week centered on these verses. How does our affliction serve to help others as they endure similar troubles? How can comfort and affliction exist together in the same moment?
Honestly, this idea of two disparate things coexisting in the same moment is not as foreign to me as it was before having kids. Since becoming a mother I am often many things at one time. I am lonely yet never alone. I am busy and yet never get anything done. If I’m at home I’m thinking about when I can get out. If I’m out I’m thinking about what’s going on at home. I am happy and at my wits’ end at the same time, often… frequently… nearly always.
Recently I took a trip to southern California to see family.
Trips with kids are often two things at one time. They are often good because you get to see people you love and do new and interesting things. And they are often difficult because you are not in your own home, without your own paraphernalia, and without that iron-clad schedule you’ve worked on for years.
This great AND difficult trip was the trip we were having. Then the baby got sick.
It was Monday morning. I had gotten roughly three hours of sleep the night before- not in a row. The baby had been up all night with a low-grade fever. Meanwhile, the other two were already doing their impression of two self-propelling pogo sticks and I was on my own until bedtime. The day had just begun and I was already defeated.
It was one of those moments every mother is familiar with. That moment when you realize at once that you have nothing left and that there is absolutely no one coming to rescue you. You have to dig deep, find the energy, and turn the ship around.
So, I piled the kids in the car and drove the short drive to the LA County Arboretum. A little nature is what we need I thought. It would feed my soul, stretch their bodies and, hopefully, baby could nap.
And, as it turns out, it was just the thing. We went through exotic greenhouses, organic gardens, played along the fountains, the sun warmed our faces, the nature warmed our souls, and the upright stroller nap turned out to be just the thing my poor congested baby needed.
We meandered along the lake, looked around the restored Queen Anne cottage and found the coach house. My children loved the coach house. They ran up and down the ramps and in and out of stables. I was planning on hitting up the little sundrenched café as a special treat for lunch. And then, we’d be right on target for an early nap.
This was my bliss moment.
I found a lovely bench under a giant tree and pulled out my sketchbook. Sunglasses on, I bent over my wonderfully blank page and contemplated the beauty around me.
And then the universe shat on me.
Actually it was a bird. I didn’t see the bird, not at first. I had to hunt for several minutes after the event to find the bird directly above my head by a few dozen feet. Its back was to me. I don’t know what kind of bird it was. It was definitely smug. Is there a smug genus of bird? Cause this was it. It didn’t even have the courtesy to fly away after the deed was done. I guess I should stop blaming the bird. It’s not the bird’s fault. I just happened to be sitting in its toilet.
The poop, with which I was now intimately acquainted, was large and wet, it had three distinct colors and textures: slimy green, runny beige and a thick maroon paste. As experts analyze the path of a bullet through a victim so shall I explain the course of the poop. It fell down sliding over my bent head first, it then fell and hit the inside of the right lens of my sunglasses simultaneously splashing all over my face and completely covering the right frame. It continued its downward progression spraying a fine mist down my chest, across my arms, and finally landing in sudden fierceness on my open sketchbook. It didn’t conveniently fall on one page or the other, but in vicious condemnation fell on both and burrowed down in between the metal rings and down the spine with cruel accuracy.
If you make things like this up, nobody believes you. It has to, literally, fall in your lap.
My immediate response was, I think, one of shock. I remember looking at the other side of bench. So close, so clean. Why?
My children were playing ice cream shop and came up to me.
“What flavor do you want, Mommy?”
“I don’t want…,”
“What flavor, Mommy?”
“Chocolate or vanilla?”
“I just got pooped on, see?! I can’t play ice cream store right now!”
They stared at me blankly for a minute and went back to playing their game.
I got out baby wipes and tried to wipe myself up. I didn’t know where to start. I daubed at my sketch book. The pasty maroon poop edged its way deeper. The metal rings weren’t coming clean. It was irretrievable. I tried to wipe off my arms, but the spatters of poop were already dried and only coming off with persistent scrubbing. I tried to wipe my hair, but I was nowhere near a mirror. In desperation I stopped some other tourists to please, tell me if I’m getting the poop! They helped briefly and left in a hurry with stories about how they, too, had been pooped on once.
And then the baby woke up screaming.
I couldn’t feed him, not with bird poop splattered all over my chest. I couldn’t even pick him up because the spray of poop was all over my arms and shirt still. I realized in despair that it was lunch time. I would have to listen to him cry for the forty-five minutes it would take me to get home and shower. The same forty-five minutes that would effectively throw off the schedule for the rest of the day. But at this point, I had little choice because-
-In life, poop happens.
Was there comfort in the midst of getting pooped on by a smug bird? Maybe. Because I am a mother I had ample baby wipes on hand, a plastic bag for slipping my soiled sketchbook into. And then there was the knowledge that this event would probably someday be a really good story.
And was I not comforted by those who also had experienced the same suffering? The tourists would not stop commiserating about their own bird poop experiences.
And then there is the knowledge that I have survived. A mother knows to not underestimate the value of these lessons. There are many times this week that I will think it could not get any worse and I will stop myself and say, “Now, Barbara. At least you are not ALSO covered with bird poop.”