Years ago, when my baby was learning to sleep through the night and her older brother was starting preschool, when my husband was searching for a post-grad-school job and I was changing mine, I remember thinking "I can't wait for things to get back to normal."
And then my baby was starting preschool. Her brother was starting big-boy school. My husband had landed a temporary job four states away. And I found myself again thinking "I can't wait for things to get back to normal."
And then I was pregnant a third time. My husband got a permanent job in another state even farther away. Everything was changing again. And sure enough, I thought "I can't wait for things to get back to normal."
Of course, "normal" never came.
But that didn't keep me from wishing, all the way until I witnessed my third and last child moving to college. My first child was considering four months in Somalia. And my middle child, home from a summer of backpacking in Europe, was telling me how she could have died on a particularly treacherous peak 9,000 feet up in Switzerland.
"I really can't wait for things to get back to normal," I said to everybody.
"Mom, do you know you say that a lot?" my daughter said.
She had me there. Twenty-seven years of motherhood and family life, and I'm still holding out for some fantasy family illusion -- a week or a month or even a day -- when my children's lives are static and the refrigerator is stocked. Nobody's calling to tell me they're moving to another continent or not going to be home for Thanksgiving for the first time ever. All long-term projects are done and accounted for. Everybody is home for dinner. A batch of chocolate chip cookies -- which I have never made without undercooking or burning -- has emerged, warm from the oven, perfect. And I am as calm and collected as June Cleaver, like Martha Stewart before the fall.
I might as well be wishing for the winds to blow west and the Mississippi River to stop flowing. The healthy, modern family of five does not remain stagnant, nor perfectly coifed, nor even still, for an extended period. Nor should it -- perhaps especially when wild-eyed young adults and 20-somethings are part of the landscape.
"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes," says the sixth-century founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu. "Don't resist them -- that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like."
To be alive is to be in flux. To embrace this flux is to accept the natural order.
When the kids are little, that means being prepared to buy them new sneakers at least once a year until their feet stop growing.
When they're older, that means being prepared for an exponential number of jarring texts, asking for things like money, the car and to move back home next semester, right about the time you've decided to take a nap.
The trick is learning to let it wash over you.
The trick, I realized after my daughter called me on it, is to quit expecting homeostasis on the outside, but instead to find that equilibrium within myself.
The trick is remembering to nap with eyes wide open.
Change, coupled with unpredictability, bordering on instability at times, is the only real normal. And when I'm thinking clearly, I know I wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't have it any other way.
Except for the cookies.
I'd still like to be able to make a batch on demand, perfect, predictable every time.
Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. Her blog is http://debralynnhook.blogspot.com/. Her website is www.debralynnhook.com. E-mails are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.