Upside-down gifts

I zip J.J. into fresh pajamas after his bath and pull him into my lap to brush his hair. My mind swirls with tonight’s jobs: Transfer his laundry from the washer to the dryer, don’t forget to pack his special blanket in the morning and his rain boots that are parked by the door, take a sweep under the living room furniture for toys he chucked around yesterday, have him try the fresh berries with his cereal bar for tomorrow’s breakfast.

My brain clicks through all the tasks we do to keep this little guy—and others—healthy, safe, and happy while the space under our roof is theirs too. People see what we do and think we’re the difference makers. But they don’t know how it really works.

When Providence is in something, the whole act is turned on its head. And the upside-down gifts flow. We spend our dollars, but more funds return to us. We donate our days, but we gain more hours. We invest our hearts, but the affection that comes back dwarfs our deposit.

Tomorrow J.J. goes back, and his time with us is done—for now. I pull my gaze away from our guest’s hair and focus on his little face now. He looks right back at me.

“Mama,” he says, grabbing at the brush.

Like any healthy twenty-two month old, he wants to do the job himself. I let him.

But every time he calls me that name, it nicks me in the feelings. And it’s another upside-down gift. I think of the mama who birthed him, her life splintered in ten ways right now, her future already bleeding before it’s even cut, and I know she wishes she could dress him in jammies tonight and detangle his still-wet hair like I get to.

Suddenly I feel selfish that my small giving gets me something big. But I might as well enjoy it, because this is the way of it—with J.J. and in everything that’s first spun in the eternal, then planted in our minds to live out in the temporal.

And so I smile at the upside-down gift perched on my lap and open my hands for more.

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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.