A couple nights ago, Kai-Kai came into our bedroom after Scott and I had both settled in for pre-bedtime reading. She took one look at me ensconced on my pillows with Entertainment Weekly (my favorite guilty read thanks to expiring airline miles), and knew I would be in no mood to chat.
"Hi Mom," she said with a smile, "Do you want me to rub your feet?"
I looked at her, disbelieving, but sat up a little and said, "Sure!"
She grabbed the Peppermint Cooling Foot Rescue Treatment off my dresser (cream I bought for myself in hopes someone would make just such an offer) and settled down. I stuck my left foot out from the covers, put down the magazine, and became all ears.
Getting my feet rubbed was a good swap for listening to a 13 year old when I've completely run out of steam and ability to be a nurturing mom anymore, which unfortunately seems to be the rule rather than the exception to my life.
I wish I was the sort of mom who has endless reserves and waits with bated breath for the moment her child finally wants to confide in her. But I wake up at 5:15 a.m., so I'm tired by 9 p.m.
I also spend my entire work life listening to others.
Using up all my emotional energy is an occupational hazard with ministry. My first four years with InterVarsity, when I lived in New York City, I basically had enough emotional energy to create healthy relationships with my housemates (who also happened to be my boss and his family) and to make one good friend. As someone who was studying interracial friendships for her dissertation, in part because I thought I was good at friendship when I chose that topic, those 4 years were sorely disillusioning.
The 2 years after that, when I went to part-time ministry and full-time dissertation writing, to my surprise, I found I had boundless energy for friendships and community building again. Spending 8-10 hours/day with my computer and books took zero emotional energy. I made more and better friends in those 2 years than I had in the 4 years previous.
Perhaps that should have been telling and I should have switched careers then and there, but I actually love ministry and the awesome folks I've met through being a campus chaplain these past 21 years.
When we moved to Boston, I switched from undergraduate to graduate student ministry, hoping that I would use more of my mind and less of my heart. I wanted to keep more of my heart for myself, especially in light of marriage and new parenthood.
Grad/faculty ministry has indeed taken more of my mind, but it still takes a lot of heart, and adding 2 more kids takes even more heart.
Which leaves me at 8:30 on a weekday night just wanting to read Entertainment Weekly and learn about movie stars I'll never meet, TV shows I'll never watch, and movies I'll add to my Netflix queue but never get around to playing (case in point: I have 117 titles in my DVD queue and 151 in my instant queue).
But Kai-Kai's a really smart and emotionally intelligent girl. She's learned that if she wants to connect with me, the positive way to do so is to offer physical affection that's purely for my benefit. I've written on "The Chinese Problem with Hugs," but I don't have any problem with full body massages or foot rubs. So periodically she gives me an offer she knows I can't refuse.
Kai-Kai rubbed my feet, my calves and then even worked on my arms, chatting the whole time. Because I enjoyed both being rubbed and enveloped in zingy peppermint, I didn't nod along, waiting for her to stop talking. I just lay there semi-comatose and let her words wash over me while her hands massaged my tired limbs. She didn't really want me to talk back much anyway.
It was a good deal for both of us.