Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Good Moms Don't Feel Like This (and other lies we tell ourselves)


In the span of time it took me to shower this past Sunday morning, my children erected a village of paper plates, red Solo cups, strips of paper, and Elmer's glue on our kitchen table.  The village had distinct rooms, walkways, and an elevator system.  By the time my hair was dry, my children had scripted a backstory for the small plastic figurines who populated the scene.

It's the same kitchen table that's marred with scratches from years of use, Sharpie marker scribbles from the four year old, and a piece of Scotch tape that's become one with the tabletop and remains affixed no matter how often I scratch at it with my fingernail.  This particular day the table also was crusted with Play-Doh and a dried white streak that, when in its more viscous state, had probably been yogurt.

My family ate lunch after church around this very table, our plates and cups precariously close to the edges so we didn't crowd and collapse the village which, according to my children, was ready for expansion.


As I chewed my food with my plate nearly on my lap, I had one thought:

I won't miss this.  I really won't miss this -- not a table that looks like this, not the urban sprawl of plastic cups and paper plates, not this mess that spontaneously crops up every single day.

When I'm confronted with these honest thoughts as a mother, it somehow seems wrong.  Shouldn't I be thinking about the benefit of creative expression?  Savoring these brief years of imaginative play?  Shouldn't I be putting my kids before my desire to eat lunch on a clean kitchen table?

But, to be perfectly honest, there are days when I just want a clean table.

Like me, whether you've consciously articulated it or not, perhaps you don't think that good moms should feel like this about their offspring and their kitchen tables.  Good moms shouldn't dislike byproducts of motherhood.  Good moms should be able to take their kids' childhoods in stride. 

These are troubling thoughts, especially when you are feeling this way, and you do dislike the messy kitchen table, and you aren't exactly taking things in stride.  Guilt and shame well up, muffling any inclination to acknowledge these matters, and you don't say a thing.  You just beat yourself up a bit internally.

This is precisely why I'm writing this post.  I'm hardwired to assume that I shouldn't ever think or feel this way.  But sometimes I do.  I don't think I'm alone.

When we wrestle with parenting silently and privately, it's easy to become tangled in the warped thinking that if we don't savor or appreciate every detail of motherhood then we must not sufficiently love our kids.  If we loved them enough, after all, sequential years of noise, mess, and tiredness  wouldn't grate at us.  If we were better at mothering, we wouldn't feel moments of relief when our kids headed off to school.  If we were truly selfless, as mothers ought to be, we'd stop experiencing the desire to have our own lives.

When I dare to harness these thoughts -- lasso them, drag them to the ground, look them squarely in the face, and then describe them in words -- I realize something, and it's a freeing realization:

I love my children.  I also want a clean kitchen table.  These aren't mutually exclusive sentences.  Wanting a clean kitchen table doesn't negate the love I have for my children.

We shouldn't confuse our children with motherhood.  We can love our kids daily without loving all aspects of motherhood daily.

I can consider my children the most important beings in my world besides God and my husband, and still want a break from them.  I can revere motherhood as sacred and holy and fulfilling, while simultaneously recognizing that there's a call on my life that partially will be answered outside the walls of my home, separate from a direct connection with my three children's individual lives.

Fellow moms, today if you want an entire night's sleep, or a small purse instead of a diaper bag, or a lacy bra instead of a breast pump, or an uninterrupted afternoon to read or sleep or walk through Target without nearing the toy department, or a bathroom sink that isn't streaked with globs of semi-gelatinous toothpaste, or a thriving career or ministry that requires you to periodically leave your children so you can invest in yourself and others, you are not alone. 

And you are not a bad mother.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Word of the Year: FREEDOM

Like many people, in January I reinvigorate my decision to live healthily.  This year, for instance, I bought two new sports bras and a BPA-free water bottle at Target, which clearly indicates my hardcore commitment to health and fitness.

I've never been a person who sets specific New Year's resolutions, though, and the practice of selecting "one word" for the year, which I've frequently seen across social media, has always vaguely stressed me out.  Keeping one singular thought in mind for an entire year?  Some days, I'm fortunate to keep a singular thought in mind for an entire minute before I'm distracted by something -- or more likely, three little someones -- and, like a dog who drops a chew toy to chase a squirrel, dragged into quite different thoughts and tasks.

But this year is different.  This year, I have a word, and that word is FREEDOM.  (You must say it like William Wallace does in Braveheart.)


Yes, 2015 is the year of FREEDOM.  As I've prayed and reflected, this is one message that God keeps searing in my heart: that as I walk with Him daily, no matter my circumstances, I can be free

Although I'll experience inconveniences and frustrations, like persistent head colds or challenging afternoons with the kids, I don't need to be rattled.  Although I won't please everyone (nobody ever does), I don't need to worry about what others might think or say about me.  Although I might face a crisis or a persistent problem, I don't walk through it alone.  Although I'll fail, I don't need to measure myself according to my performance, as if it had the final say on my worth.

The reason why I can walk in freedom?  It's surprisingly simple.  It's because I'm loved by God, and perfect love drives out fear and establishes security. 

So, this year, as I encounter inconveniences, frustrations, disapproval, troubles, and failures -- because we'll all face these to some degree -- my desire is to view them through the lens of God's deeper workings in my life, not just the immediate circumstances themselves. 

Circumstances, I suspect, are often just the vehicle through which God works His attributes into our character, or how He roots our issues out of our hearts.

We can trust the process of growth, knowing that He who walks beside us is powerful, faithful, and loving.  We can be free.
 
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Monday, January 12, 2015

Just Take It Bird By Bird

Early this morning I met two of the four classes that I'll teach this semester.  (Technically, it's called the "spring" semester, but that nomenclature fools nobody when January temperatures hover in the 20's.)

After introducing myself and taking roll, I always distribute copies of the syllabus.  These documents outline what content will be covered and what assignments will be due each class from now until early May, those days ahead when it really will be spring.

Even though technicalities are plotted in advance -- what pages to read when, what papers and projects to submit -- we have no idea what lies ahead during these next few months.  Who will these students turn out to be, these faces I saw and names I called for the first time today?  What stories will be told, what insights will be shared, and what goals will be met?

The syllabus is full, but the slate is still blank.  There's great promise ahead.  There's also great amounts of work ahead.  This past weekend I confessed to my husband, "Somehow I feel like my life is ending when the semester is starting."  I know how much coaching and emailing and grading will be required from me.

Just yesterday as I skimmed Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird looking for one writing quote to read to my rhetoric class, I stumbled upon the book's namesake passage:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day.  We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.  Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.

I've reflected on this passage many times since my first reading of this book, and its simple wisdom struck a chord yet again.  Bird by bird is a good way to live.

Bird by bird.  Just take it bird by bird, buddy.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

In Sickness and in Health (and in Sickness Again)


My winter break from teaching has been surprisingly symmetrical.  I spent the first portion of break terribly sick and unable to complete the holiday preparations that I wanted to complete.  After a brief surge of good health right around Christmas, I find myself once again terribly sick and unable to complete the semester preparations that I need to complete -- at least, not with a great deal of mental clarity.

Last night while coughing through the dark stretches of night, I vacillated between extremes: convincing myself that I probably need to be hospitalized, and telling myself to suck it up because it's just a bad cold, not like I've been stranded in a raft on the open sea for weeks, captured, and then tortured as a prisoner of war.

Not surprisingly, neither of these lines of reasoning are very productive at two in the morning.

In good news, based on how my abs feel, I'm pretty sure that my consistent coughing is substituting for some killer core workouts.  Plus, when my husband came home with a shopping bag and said, "I've got a little something for you," I was almost just as happy to see him pull out two bottles of NyQuil as I would have been to see chocolate.  (Note that I said almost.  I can't really taste food, but I'd still eat chocolate.  If only they could get NyQuil to taste like chocolate... actually, that would still be disgusting.  Getting Nyquil to not have any taste would be a victory.) 

I digress.  It's the meds speaking now.

Come 8:00 a.m. Monday morning, I'll be standing in front of my first class and distributing photocopies of the syllabus that's still in draft form today.  My hair will be fixed and I'll be wearing professional clothes, lipstick, and mascara instead of my current daily uniform that's comprised of long sleeved tee shirts, yoga pants, and slippers.

I'll get there.  Whether in sickness or in health, I'll get there.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Cue that moment when you realize you've made a bad decision.

Our typical family schedule began again this morning.  My two older daughters waited for the school bus to arrive in the warmth of our home while drawing pictures with their fingertips in the condensation that formed on the inside of our screen door's glass panel.  I drove my youngest daughter to her morning preschool class before heading to campus and scouting out the rooms where I'll teach this upcoming semester.

This is my habit every semester.  I visit each classroom, check the equipment, count the desks to make sure there's enough seating, and pray for my incoming students.

In the final classroom, I noticed that one high window had been left ajar -- probably for the duration of the winter break.  The room was freezing.  Being a woman of action, I pushed a desk over to the window, climbed onto the seat, stepped onto the desktop, stepped up to the lower window ledge, and then stretched to close the upper window.  It was just beyond my reach.

From this position, it only took a second to realize that trying to close this window myself wasn't the best idea.  The ledge was narrow and my footing was unstable.  I scrambled to gain traction as I felt myself tipping backward and desperately grabbed the metal grill across the bottom of the window.  The grill ripped from the wall and smacked me in the face as I landed on the desk and crashed onto the floor.

It wasn't one of my finer moments.  (My one consolation -- besides the fact that I had no audience -- is that I'm only sporting a minor lump and bruise on my chin where the grate hit me.  It could have been much worse.)

Sometimes it takes a bad decision to bring a dose of caution and wisdom into your life.

Like most everyone, I've made some bad decisions over the years.  Some have been small, like the unfortunately short haircut and stark highlights I got at a discounted rate at a beauty school before my college graduation (please don't ever convince yourself that this would be a good idea), and some have been large, leaving long-term ramifications.

But it's in these moments that I've learned.  As much as I regretted that haircut (and all pictures taken of me in its six-month aftermath) and as much as I wish I could go back and revise several critical decisions, these lapses of good judgment, well-intentioned mistakes, and outright failures have matured me.

For example, I now know not to climb to precious heights while balancing on a narrow ledge to close a window that's well out of my reach.  See how mature I've become?

It's a new year.  While I hope we seek wisdom and make smart decisions all year long, let's not beat ourselves up and be afraid of the bad ones.  We just might grow the most in the places where we experience a little pain.

Image compliments of jmcclurken (flickr.com)

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