we shouldn't have gone. that's it in a nutshell. we attempted something we just shouldn't have tried. as an experienced mother of five, i should have realized that going to MOA on MEA weekend would spell disaster for this MOM. but we went anyway. after all, we have been in minneapolis for over 81 days and i thought it was high time to explore this particular slice of midwestern americana. i thought with a day off of school this was the perfect chance to visit the mega mall of minneapolis -- the mall of america -- i thought wrong.
MEA stands for minnesota education association. and MEA break is the time when teachers all over the state attend enrichment conferences and their students with a long weekend available, visit things like their grandmothers or their cabins or, in our case, the mall.
this year, i am pretty certain there was no grandma in the state of minnesota who got a visit from her grandchildren and all the cabins in this part of the country must have been left empty. how do i know this? i know this because every single person in minnesota was at the mall of america on friday afternoon. i am sure of it. i mean absolutely every student and their entire family entourage was walking the 4, 200,000 square feet of this behemoth building of retail wonder.
a mall with 530 stores and 40 million visitors annually is daunting on an average day. but friday it was downright nightmarish. it took me three times circling the structure to figure out how to get into the parking area. and the phrase "parking area" is rather ridiculous at that. there was no parking area. there was no parking. we ended up stalking a couple of teenaged boys in their mom's silver mini van and waiting for them to pull out of a space. with every single parking spot full, i should have known better than to attempt this madness with four children and a stroller. but we had traveled over several highways. we had sat in traffic. i had coerced the oldest boy into coming along. and, most of all, we are still viewing our time here in minnesota as a grand adventure. this was just another great chapter in our family's grand adventure, right?
we stood in this minnesota mecca of shopping. every store imaginable at our fingertips. roller coasters and wild rides, exciting and loud, filling the center of it all. but it wasn't enough. the oldest boy didn't want to be there. so he was miserable. oldest girl did want to come, but with too much homework and a volleyball tournament this weekend, was forced to stay home and work. she was miserable. tiny girl was tired. sort of miserable. and the middle two had decided that they weren't in the mood to get along on this day, thus, miserable too. our MEA day was turning quickly into a Miserable Embarrassing Adventure. after some grumbling about what we'd do and some ugly sibling bickering while we were doing it, this mom had had enough and decided it was time for the mcnatt family to go MIA at MOA. in other words, we left. after a snippy exchange between two of them, i announced, "okay, that's it, kids, it's time to go home." we had driven almost an hour (with traffic) and spent less than 30 minutes in this mall of mega misery.
i didn't say much. they knew i wasn't happy with them though. it was a quiet ride home. you know the type, when everyone just feels kind of slouchy about what has unfortunately taken place. that was us as we traveled back on the highway and headed west for home. at one point, emily called me and asked how things were going. "well, we are actually on our way home," i told her. "what? you can't be. you must have just gotten there." i gave her a quick summary of the bickering and grumbling and the general ugliness and told her we would see her soon.
lousy day, huh? you must be wondering why in the world i am sharing such a non-stellar mcnatt moment. i would be wondering that too. except this...
except that when we got home and walked into the house my oldest daughter was waiting for us -- standing there with hands on her teenage hips and severe expression on her face. as the younger four wandered sheepishly into the house, older sister unleashed upon them. "i cannot believe you guys acted like that for mom!" she began. "this is ridiculous. don't you know mom was trying to plan something fun for your day off? don't you know she works hard to make things good for us?" she continued on and on, ranting and raving like a seasoned woman of wrath.
i pretended to be busy with my purse and a few papers on the counter.
"all of you, right now, in the family room!" emily ordered. "we are having a sibling meeting and we are getting some things straight here!" they kind of stared at her, unmoving, but mouths open. "NOW!" she commanded with a quivering finger of rage pointed in the direction of the other room.
all five of them filed out. i stayed in the kitchen wiping at a sticky spot on the stove and sort of smiling. this was great. without even asking i had reinforcement. the calvary had come. the closer had shown up. someone else was going to give the much needed lecture and highlight the much needed lesson. i poured myself a glass of tea and sat kind of listening, but mostly loving what was taking place in the next room. it was nice to have someone else shoulder this burden for just a moment. and, i have to be honest with you, it was nice watching my oldest girl step up to the plate and hit a home run helping out her mama. it isn't her job to discipline her siblings...heavens no. we never expect that. but this kind of peer interaction was priceless -- her sibling sense of righteous anger, absolutely appropriate.
in the midst of this meeting, she pulled out a bible verse which she has had taped to the dashboard of her car recently. with a passion nothing short of fire and brimstone, she read it out loud to her two brothers and two sisters. "don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. and the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 timothy 2:23-26). my girl was not messing around.
when they were finished talking about the error of their attitudes, i heard them closing in prayer. i'm not sure if one prayed or several of them prayed. i couldn't hear that well and i didn't want to go closer and dare interrupt the beautiful thing happening in our family room. instead i just bowed my own head and thanked God for this little exchange unfolding in the room down the hall.
a few minutes later, finished and smiling, they came back into the kitchen. "we're sorry, mom" they all kind of said at once and then rockstar emily pulled us all close and announced, "group hug everyone!" and we did. we hugged and i kissed them all on the tops of their repentant heads and we healed. just like that. we healed from our day of Miserable Embarrassing Adventure. we healed from our MEA day.
before i end this piece though, i have to tell you, it doesn't always go like this. there isn't always an older sister waiting to restore order. sometimes we have ugly moments and we head to our own corners and sulk and pout and continue to feel rotten. we don't fix. we don't repair. somedays we have awful attitudes and we just don't address them. we choose to ignore and hide away pretending this is just the way it goes in the world of family. we forget about forgiveness.
but today was different. a milestone. a benchmark. an ugly moment turned beautiful and a day worth sharing.
within minutes they all scattered to the far parts of our house and yard. i stayed in the kitchen, still sipping my tea. still smiling.
MEA day, indeed. Mama Encouraged (once) Again day. thank you, emily. thank you, Lord.