My 33rd birthday was last month. April 20th; 4/20. It’s a really interesting birthday to have. I share it with at least three friends, plus Mother Angelica and Hitler. In addition to being known as everyone’s favorite day to smoke pot, it’s also the day of the Columbine massacre in 1999 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. And among all those noteworthy 4/20s is mine, a Sunday in 1980.
Thirty-three feels like a really important year. I’ve been waiting for this moment since about 1997, when I first heard David Wilcox sing in “Glory,” “in the big, boring middle of this long book of life, after the twist has been told, if you don’t die in glory at the age of Christ, then your story is just getting old.”
But I’ve never been the kind of person who aspired to great, world-rocking achievements. I’ve never had glory as a goal. I never even wanted the more mundane glories, like being popular or athletic or the prom queen or whatever. (Good thing since I wouldn’t have had a hope of being any of those things.)
In fact, about the only thing I have always known I wanted to do, ever since I was a little girl with little siblings and lots of naked dolls, was have babies.
Mothering has its own form of glory. Take tonight, for instance. Around 8 o’clock, while Poppy was getting ready for bed, I ran my hand through Ace’s hair and said offhandedly, “You need a hair cut.”
“Yeah,” he said. Then, more urgently, “YEAH! I need a hair cut!”
And sure, it was bed time, but I’ve cut this kid’s hair before. Twice! I’m practically a beautician. I could give him a little trim. It wouldn’t take but a few minutes. And the boy was starting to look like one of the Monkees. So why not? He was willing; I was able; let’s go!
I got out the scissors, stripped him to his diaper, and put him in a chair in the middle of the kitchen. Poppy emerged wearing her pajamas and holding her tooth brush to ask what I was doing.
“I’m cutting your brother’s hair,” I told her confidently. She looked intrigued and more than a little excited by the assurance that bedtime would be delayed.
“Don’t hurt my brain hair, Mommy,” Ace said. I promised I wouldn’t.
But things started to go off the rails rather quickly. Ace didn’t like the feeling of hair trimmings falling onto his chest. Then he attempted to swat the hairs away, hitting himself with increasing desperation. Then his hands became coated with hair, and then he began gagging on hair.
While these efforts kept his attention, I busied myself by combing strands into my waiting fingers and snipping the ends off, unsure of how much to cut but doing my best to make at least one pass around his entire head.
I had to stop and try to pull hairs out of Ace’s mouth with my fingers. When he said he still had hair in his mouth, I just gave him a juice. This kept him still for a moment more, but then he was climbing on the chair, then spinning on the chair, then planking on the chair. Poppy saw I was losing my audience, and she jumped in, unbidden, to catch her brother’s attention and keep him in place.
That’s my girl; a true older sister, just like her Mommy.
But even Poppy’s standup routine wasn’t enough to keep Ace still for much longer. And somehow the hair cut was taking a lot more time than I anticipated. But I was in it now! Wide swaths were cut, while the back still hung down, choppy and mullety. Eventually, I found myself chasing Ace around the kitchen, pinning him against the refrigerator or between my knees, and hacking off whatever bits I could grab.
This all culminated with me rolling up my pants legs and getting into the bath tub with Ace. I wet his hair and mussed it into little spikes and cut the ends off all the spikes I could see until they were roughly the same length. Most of them. And Poppy busied herself collecting the tufts of hair off the floor and from the bath water, declaring that she was making “the biggest hair ball ever” and that it was like “a cat coughed up a giant hair ball, and I got it!” I yelled for Ace to hold still. I yelled for Poppy to get out of the way. The hair cut was over not when it was complete but when I had finally had enough yelling and chasing and cringing.
And while Ace dumped cupfuls of water over the side of the tub as I labored not to snip off his ears, I thought about David Wilcox and “Glory.” Wilcox, of course, comes to his epiphany by the end of the song: “If you don’t die in glory at the age of Christ, then your story is still coming true.”
This is my story coming true. The yelling, the chasing, the cringing. The two-year-old whose now-dry hair kind of looks like someone attacked it with a weed whacker. The five-year-old who impressed me with her instinct to keep her brother’s mood light just when my instinct was starting to consider strapping him to the chair with a bungee cord.
To me, the best kind of glory is quietly revealed when people influence each other’s lives for the better. I’m not saying I’m a glorious mother (remember the yelling and the bungee cord?). I’m saying there are moments of giving and of taking in motherhood, and in all the subtle little interactions of my life, that on the balance make where I am at this moment feel more meaningful than I can imagine any other moment feeling, no matter how high the pedestal, no matter how bright the marquee.
And that feels like glory.
So here’s to 33. Here’s to David Wilcox. I hope this is only the beginning of “the big, boring middle” of a very long book of life.