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DENOUDEN: Mario Kart moments

Every once in a while, God graciously grants me a reality check.

Sometimes these reality checks are hard and unyielding, and sometimes, like my recent Fourth of July holiday, they come in the soft, cherub-faced form of children.

It happened during a game of Mario Kart.

For those who don't know, the typical Mario Kart Wii race allows two people to race against each other. (It actually allows up to four, but I only have two Wii controllers. So, we can only race two at a time.) This was set up as a four-race competition. After four races, the top three places reach the animated podium on the TV screen.

My oldest niece sat on my left and my oldest nephew on my right, cheering on the race between my youngest nephew, seated on the floor at my feet, and me. After I soundly beat the competition more than once -- it is my game, after all -- my 10-year-old nephew, Jake, proclaimed that he was going to "win 100 out of the next 100 races."

We got about halfway through the set of races when my 2-year-old niece wandered into the living room, walked up to me and crawled into my lap. It was unusual, because Cora doesn't typically sit still for more than a minute at a time. But she nestled herself into my left arm, got comfortable, and started singing. By "singing," I mean intoning "ohhhhhhh" at various pitches over and over again.

Naturally, I joined in.

I lost that Mario Kart race, much to the 10-year-old's delight. I really didn't care. Because as I harmonized with my niece's impromptu serenade, punctuated by the giggles, cheers and jeers from the older three still engrossed in the Mario Kart game, I became overwhelmed with love, and joy and gratitude.

My nieces and nephews are full of laughter, energy and mischief. They are sweet and smart and hilarious, and I swear the sun shines brighter when they all laugh together. My nieces and nephews are happy, healthy and safe. They are loved. And in that moment, I thought of the millions of babies in this world who, sadly, aren't any of those things.

My heart aches for those poor children, and in that moment I said a silent prayer of thanks to God that my niece knew she could walk up to me, crawl in my lap, and start singing without fear or worry of reprimand. That my nephews knew they could challenge me to a silly Wii game, that my oldest niece could show me her gymnastics flips on the trampoline.

It sounds melodramatic, I know, but it was a moment for me.

Sometimes, I let myself get too wrapped up in "stuff." I'm something of a perfectionist, and adulthood brought the startling revelation that I may or may not be something of a workaholic. I'm also a worrier. I worry about work. About me. About family, friends, bills. And even though I put in for the vacation time off to spend a few days with siblings and their kids who were staying at my parents' farm, I toyed with the idea of cutting into my vacation time.

Work is crazy. The timing is bad. There's so much I need to get done.

But a recent trip to Texas to see my oldest friend get married reminded me that life is full of little moments that are easy to miss if we're always in a hurry. I didn't regret a minute of that trip. So I took my time off, and I went to the farm.

We spent the time doing the usual things -- fishing, Disney movies, target practice, horseback rides, family games, funny YouTube videos and Mario Kart.

My niece may not remember that song we sang together, and the oldest kids might not consider an unremarkable Wii game as the highlight of their summer trip to South Dakota. But for me, it was profound. And I'll always carry it with me.