Over the weekend I stepped away. On Saturday night Joel and I went out to dinner with a young couple that we've been meeting regularly with for premarital counseling. They'll be graduating in May, and shortly thereafter our two oldest daughters will be the flower girls at their wedding. It was his twenty-third birthday. After dinner, they invited us to continue celebrating at his apartment.
So there Joel and I sat -- in a college apartment with a group of students that we've known for years through the campus ministry that Joel runs. I slung my legs across Joel's lap as we wedged ourselves into an ugly brown armchair. We talked and laughed, eating cake and flipping stations between a March Madness game and a random program on extreme rock climbing.
How was it possible that I felt that I belonged and that I was entirely out of place? These students know me well. I feed a group of them at our house -- sometimes up to 40 of them -- every Friday night. Yet, I primarily see them on my turf. When I'm in my kitchen, stirring the contents of giant crock pots and straining pounds of steaming pasta in colanders. When I'm hoisting a kid on my hip or dismissing myself so I can change a diaper or tuck the girls into bed.
Never when I'm in a college apartment. Never when I'm just Robin, unattached to children. Never when I'm lazily curled up on an armchair with Joel.
After church the next afternoon, Joel hustled me out the door to the local bookstore so I could work on the current chapter I'm writing. For two hours I sat at a corner table -- alone and anonymous. No one knew me. No one needed me. No one talked to me. For all I know, no one even glanced in my direction.
When I settled in the car to return home, my mind was full of the weekend and its uncharacteristic freedoms. My appetite was whetted. It's only a four-minute drive from the bookstore back to my house, even if I catch a red few lights.
I didn't want to go home.
At least, not yet. I wanted to linger in a zone when time was my own. When I could devote an entire afternoon to my own interests and spend an entire evening with a group of friends without anyone being dependent on me. When I could leave the house without frequently glancing at the clock so I don't bypass my allotted hours out. When I could enjoy my freedom without any twinges that I was burdening Joel because he was handling the girls alone.
As soon as I entered the house, Kerrington presented herself, crying. Her nose was running, her shirt was stained, and her arms were outstretched for me to lift her. From the kitchen, Brooke asked me to help her with an impossible craft that involved yarn, paint, and a stapler. Reese appeared, bouncing and talking, recounting a story in unnecessary detail. Everyone was on me at once.
I love them dearly. So dearly.
Yet, there are days when I don't love being so needed.