As it turns out, taking three small children to Chuck E Cheese on a Saturday night during tax return season is a very bad idea.
Oh, the hoot I had when I came home late from work this weekend to ask my in-laws how the day had gone with the boys. Never in a million years would I have ever imagined they would be ambitious enough to bring the kids to that epicenter of anarchy on their own, but they are apparently auditioning for the Craziest Grandparents award. A very prestigious honor in some circles, I've heard.
They survived the police officer directing traffic in and out of the overflowing parking lot, the line rivaling the queue for the twirling teapots ride at Disney World, and even managed to find a place for them all to sit down to wait for their mediocre pizza to arrive. The boys actually ate their food (a little bit at least), but I'm pretty sure there wasn't much conversation happening since the decibel level of all the squealing children and the hollering parents was likely deafening. There was game playing and ticket winning and they even managed to keep track of all three kids for the entire time they were there. That's more than I can say about the time I took the kids to the Children's Museum so they've got me beat.
With armfuls of tickets in tow, they trotted the boys up to the prize counter so they could pick out whatever random crap they would like to take home with them. Rather than stand there for five hours and count the tickets and endure the agony of trying to barter with their grand-baby about how he can't have the enormous stuffed unicorn because it costs 750,000 tickets and he only has 200, they went the smart route and just had each kid pick something out of a single area and paid cash. I loved how my father-in-law described the reaction of the tween girls that he gave all the tickets to. Have you ever seen a grown man impersonate a gaggle of preteen girls? Priceless.
The kids were understandably exhausted and crabby when I woke them up early for church Sunday morning. Truth be told, I was in a pretty similar state. After church, I threw Nutrition Caution to the wind and decided to forget that they had dined on lukewarm pizza dough covered in mystery meat and overly processed cheese the night before and brought them to Culver's after church to dine on gluten-coated chicken parts cooked in piping hot liquid fat with a side of crinkle cut simple starch sticks dunked in tomato flavored sugar.
They act like I've just given them a pony every time I announce around mealtime, "Let's go to Culver's!!!"
While we enjoyed our incredibly nutritious lunch, I chatted with the big boys about what they had learned at church that morning. I shared about how in "Big Church" we had reflected on how Christ is the cornerstone that every spiritual house is built upon and that each of us is a very unique living stone that he has chosen to use to build that house. Micah shared how he hid behind a chair and flew in a rocket-ship with his friend and informed me that he did NOT want to color, but wanted to be Batman instead.
Isaiah told me about how they had talked about Peter and how he stepped out of the boat to walk on the water toward Jesus. He discussed how Peter was walking toward Jesus just fine until he looked away and then he started to sink and then Jesus had to rescue him. When I asked him what that can teach us he responded, "That we need to trust Jesus!" Solid, kid. We spoke for a few more minutes about this particular Bible story. We discussed how Peter showed great faith by even getting out of the boat in the first place even when it must have been so scary, how we can do what seems impossible when we trust in Christ, and how we stumble and start to drown when we take our eyes off of him and begin to doubt.
There was some serious theology being tossed around over those chicken tenders and fries, friends.
As the kids (ok, and me too) were enjoying their frozen custard dessert - because you CAN'T go to Culver's and not get dessert - something amazing happened. The family that had been sitting in the booth next to us got up and started to leave the restaurant. The older woman in the group approached our table and leaned in to say something to me.
Here we go, I thought. She's going to tell me she had three boys too and she knows how crazy it can be. Or maybe Isaiah's constant turning around and standing up in the booth had bothered her and now she is going to let me have it. Maybe I have a booger hanging out of my nose and she just doesn't have the heart to let me go on sitting there in public without letting me know.
"My dear," she began, "I heard you discussing with your sons what they learned in church today and I just wanted to commend you. So often nowadays we just go to church and go home without giving it a second thought and many never discuss these things in public. But we need to be bold and speak up more often. Thank you for encouraging your children to learn about their Savior and for showing them that we should never be afraid to praise Him no matter where we are."
Then she gave my shoulder a little squeeze, smiled at my children, and went on her way.
I had tears in my eyes as I turned my gaze back to the boys and registered that Micah was sucking the last bit of his root beer out of his cup like an infant with his bottle, Isaiah was using his tongue like an iguana to scrape out every drop of chocolate custard from his dish, and Thomas had melted custard and strawberries running all the way down his arm and he was using it to finger paint on the table.
But I didn't care.
I was doing something RIGHT with these kids. As I sit here and type these words, I am debating between serving them chocolate cake or cereal for dinner and the middle boy is sitting on his big brother's head and attempting to muster up a fart, but that encounter reminded me that when it comes to the truly important things, the eternal things....I'm on the right track. I certainly don't get it right every single time and I think claiming "most of the time" might even be a stretch. I lose my temper, let my patience wear thin all too quickly, and often rush through bedtime prayers because Downton Abbey will be on in precisely two minutes.
In spite of my imperfection and struggles, I am a good mom. And my kids are starting to really get it. Praise God for coming up so big where I fall so painfully short.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go give Micah a Time Out for biting his brother's hand in an attempt to steal the neon green Angry Birds slap bracelet Isaiah got from Chuck E Cheese. While I'm up I should probably preheat the oven for the frozen pizza I'm making for dinner.