Monday, September 26, 2016

When healing hurts

The other day I sliced off a size-able chunk of my thumb with a mandoline.  I was shredding some cabbage for cole slaw and I thought, I don't need to use the holder.  My fingers aren't even close to the blade.

I walked rather sheepishly onto the back porch and called to Joel, who was doing some yard work.

"I need you to take over in here.  My thumb's bleeding pretty bad."

Pretty bad was a bit of an understatement.  Slight gushing would probably be more accurate.  I wrapped a paper towel tight around the wound, and watched as the blood seeped onto the outer layer.

"I'll be back," I said and made my way upstairs.

Through gritted teeth I washed out the cut, replaced the dangling flap of skin and wrapped my thumb with plenty of padding.  I didn't see how the bleeding would stop, though, so I watched it carefully, knowing if it soaked through I would likely be making a trip to the doctor.

But it did stop.  Not entirely, just enough that it never bled through.  A few hours later I changed the bandage.  It bled again as I cleaned it out, but not as long this time, or as much.

It continued like that for days.  Eventually it stopped bleeding when I changed the bandaid, but any time I'd do the dishes or bath the kids, I would bump it, just slightly, and the bleeding would start again.  Which left me with no choice but to delegate all dishes and bathing to Joel for the entirety of the weekend.  Devastating.  But it worked.  It allowed my finger the time it needed to heal, and by Sunday afternoon I could tell something new was growing underneath that dead flap of skin.

On Sunday evening it was like my finger just let go of the old skin.  Like it had done its job, and wasn't needed anymore.  And I was shocked that underneath it all my finger had created its own band aid.  As Finn said, it looked like plastic.  Like a thin sheet of plastic tightly covering the wound, protecting it.  Three days earlier I couldn't have imagined it healing on its own.   I was scared to look at it, terrified to see how bad and painful it had become.  But now it's nearly beautiful in its healing.  It's not back to normal, but I'm starting to see that one day, it might be.

When we first moved here over five years ago I was a bit in shock.  And then I was thrilled.  And then miserable.  Angry.  Miserable again.  I remember asking Joel beforehand, What if it ruins everything?  We're happy now.  Life is good.  What if this move destroys our marriage and our family and our general contentment?

And for that first year or so, it did.  I felt a lot of emotions in that first year, hopeful, terrified, confused, furious, excited.  But I don't remember, even once, feeling content.  Marriage felt hard, parenting felt hard, going to the grocery store or walking down the street felt hard.  I didn't see how it would ever get easier and frankly, had it been fairly simple to abort mission and head on home, I probably would have.

But slowly, slowly the bleeding subsided.  It got less painful by small degrees.  There were moments it almost felt normal.  And then I'd end up with the wrong order from McDonald's or someone would fail to return my smile and the old wound would open up again.  But underneath, all that time, there was healing.

And one day, or over many days, more likely, I let go of the old me.  The me who lived in Pennsylvania for nearly her whole life and who loved things simple and convenient and, most importantly, familiar.

It's starting to feel like fall here.  I still remember my first autumn in Budapest.  I remember the cooling air and the crackling leaves, even the hot coffee, and how I couldn't enjoy any of it because it all made me sorely miss home.  It felt like an ache in my heart, a wound that I just couldn't imagine getting any better.

Fast forward five years... the other night Joel met the kids and I at a playground near the city.  I was wearing a light sweater and jeans, breathing in the touch of fall in the air.  Aiden and Finn were climbing trees, Benji was swinging a long stick with little regard for anything, or anyone, around him.  Joel sat down beside me and we talked about our days and the kids and Finn's quickly approaching birthday.

Eventually we walked to our favorite little pizza place.  The workers, who I used to believe hated us, seemed genuinely happy to see our little family, and knew our order before we could even say it.  We ate outside, under a canopy of green, and my heart felt full.  Content.

Life here is not picture perfect, of course, but five years ago I never would have seen this coming.  Five years ago I would have still been trying to glue down that dead flap of skin, to make it fit and stop the bleeding, even just temporarily.

This move did ruin everything.  For a time.  And then the everything started to heal and now it's even stronger, and even wiser.

Because it knows now when things are hard and you don't even want to peek under the bandaid for fear of just how bad it might be, there is still healing.  It might take time and it definitely won't be easy, but we were designed to heal.

Even when healing seems the most unlikely option.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How to walk away (when your heart wants to stay)

Leaving your baby at school is no joke, people.  I totally thought I'd be one of those cool moms with celebratory first day Facebook photos and a mimosa in my hand by nine.  But as I left school today sobbing like a teenager nursing her first heartbreak, I can fully, 100 percent admit I am not her.

Last night Joel and I were talking and he mentioned the phrase "separation anxiety."  It took me a few moments to realize he was not referring to Benjamin.  He was talking about me!

Yes, I suppose you could call it that.  Or you could say I'm having trouble letting go.  But I think it's also this.  I knew at some point I'd have to let go, of each of my children.  I knew I'd have to do it in increments even, a little at a time.  But I thought they would be walking away from me.  I didn't realize, with each separation, I'd be the one walking away from them.

I remember each of my pregnancies with a fondness that I know not all women can muster.  But my pregnancies were rather uneventful.  Minimal morning sickness, no complications.  Somehow pregnancy hormones made me more emotionally stable instead of less (which means Joel has had about two-and-a-half years of peace in our eleven years of marriage).  My biggest pregnancy problem was that my babies didn't want to come out.

But come out they must, and come out they did.  I very distinctly remember the first time I cried after giving birth to Aiden.  Joel and I were flipping through the channels on the small hospital television and we happened to come across a Discovery Channel program on elephants.  The mama elephant was receiving an ultrasound, to check on baby, and meanwhile, on another continent, I sat sobbing on my hospital bed.  I missed being pregnant like crazy.  Even though I was ready (I thought), I missed it.  I missed the kicks and the hiccups and, more than anything, I missed that, without hardly trying, my little baby was the safest, most protected he would ever be.

When we got home a few days later, I laid him in his bassinet, right next to our bed, and for the first time, I walked away.  The feeling that came after was extremely uncomfortable, and I kept sneaking back to check on him.  But I did it.  I took those first few steps.

I walked away later for a few minutes of alone time, while Joel cared for them.  And later still for grandparents and babysitters to step in while we found a moment for us.  I walked away to care for new babies, when those babies were starting to grow.

And finally I walked away and left my heart within the walls of a school.  A building that was not my home.  In hands that were not mine.  And no matter how beautiful those walls, no matter how loving and capable those hands, it was heart wrenching.  Every fiber of my being said, "don't go," and still I walked away.

I imagine that pull never really goes away.  Like when they start driving or go to college or get married or move to a foreign country.  It's not natural, parenthood.  It's not natural that you should pour so much time and love and energy into a small being, only to send them further and further away from you.  Or, more accurately, only to walk further and further away from them.  From the car, from their dorm room, from the church, from the airport.

It's really one of the only relationships where you love and love and give and give, and don't expect anything in return.  In fact, you spend years filling them up with love, not so they'll care for you or love you back (even though they oftentimes do), but so they can know love and take that love into the world, away from you.

Benji made a friend at school the other day, and even after a hard separation, when I saw him walk up to her, wrap his little arms around her waist and hug her tight I thought, that boy knows how to love.  And I realized, if I never left his side, he'd never have a chance to give that love away.  Or, at least, not in the same way that he's learning to love without me.

And so I'll continue to walk away, every morning.  It will get easier, I'm sure.  And then it will get harder.  And then easier again.  But I'm not in this alone.  I'm praying late into the night when I can't sleep and I'm leaning on my husband and I'm feeling the loving embrace of this community of moms, as well as the people I love back home.  I'm coming here when my feelings are too big to stay inside and I am so grateful for it all.

And very soon I'm going to start to enjoy it.  I promise.  It won't always be tears and hard good-bye's.  Soon it will be happy kids skipping off to class, and happy mom skipping off to wherever I want to go!

So give me a minute to feel all this, and then hang tight, because I think the celebration's coming!

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us..."

1 John 4:10

Monday, June 6, 2016

Good enough

I make dinners.  Lunches.  Breakfasts.  I search for socks and swim trunks and homework folders.  I wipe little bums and clean soiled sheets.  The fibers of my shirt hold tears and snot and marker stains.  My hair has been pulled and torn from its roots by little hands searching for comfort.  My arms ache from holding children well past holding age and most days my body is too tired to function past bed time.

When I think there's absolutely nothing left to give, someone wants something else.  And I give it.  When I think I can't possibly make one more dinner, someone's hungry.  And I make it.  When I think I can't walk another step, I pick up my toddler and I walk 50 more.  When I think I can't function without just a little more sleep, I get up.  And I do.

I hold little hands and kiss little faces and wipe little tears.  I laugh and I sing and I dance.  I cry and I yell and I fall on the couch and proclaim "I just can't do it anymore."  And then I get up and I do.  I high five and chase and whisper to each of my children, secretly, "You're my best friend."

I tear up at assemblies and class presentations because I'm so proud.  I tear up when I see them playing by themselves, or watch them struggle to read because I'm so scared.  I tear up when someone understands because I'm so relieved.

I wander the hallway at night, between rooms, tucking little feet under covers, stroking messy hair, smiling.  Always smiling.  Even after the hardest days.  Smiling because I feel in this quiet moment, each night, what it means to be mom.

It's work, yes.  Hard work, even.  But it's holy work.

It's a joy, even when it's a burden.   It's a privilege, even when it's a hardship.  It's grace, even when it's brought me to my knees.  Especially when it's brought me to my knees.

I've spent years trying to explain to people what I do all day.  When Aiden was a baby I'd say things like I feed him and I change his diapers and I pick him up when he cries.  And I'm sure they were thinking, and then...  But somehow that was it.  It was exhausting and exhilarating and fulfilling and unbelievably lonely, but I couldn't explain why.  These days I say things like, I go to play groups and take walks, I grocery shop and do laundry.  And I'm sure people think, and then...  But somehow that's it.  It doesn't sound like much.  But it feels like so much.  It feels like everything.

It's mundane and draining and sweet and lovely.  And it can't be explained, not fully.  But not because it's boring or meaningless.  Because it's full of more meaning than even I can understand right now, from my spot directly in the middle of it.  Because sometimes the most sacred things can't be talked about.  Sometimes the most beautiful things just can't be explained.

This morning Finn was feeling down and so I pulled him in for a good hug, and when I glanced up at our reflection in the window, I noticed Finn's small, satisfied smile.  I noticed his closed eyes and his arms wrapped tightly around my waist.  And I thought, I did that.  I don't know if good enough exists, or if I'll ever feel like I've attained it, but I know that I'm good enough for him.  Even with all my flaws, I'm enough for these three gorgeous children.  My love changes them.

And maybe that's the fascinating thing about motherhood.  That it's a small, beautiful reflection of a love much greater than this.  That even though it's laced with imperfections, it's also a piece of heaven.  A sacred glimpse into something more.

It's snot and tears and dirt-crusted fingernails.  It's smiles and laughter and chocolate-covered faces.

It's good and it's hard and it's everything in between, but it's always, irrevocably, unconditionally covered in love.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Just another day in the life

Some days I feel like a failure.  I look back at the end of the day on all I didn't accomplish, all the times that sweet and loving gave way to harsh and impatient, all the moments I felt on the brink of insanity doing such simple tasks as getting out of the car, walking down a hallway, trying to hold a 2-minute conversation with an actual, real-life grown up, and I feel like a mess.  Like I'm doing everything wrong.

But today, as I rushed around the house like a mad-woman, and as I piled my family into the car and set off for school, late again, I started to realize the truth.  I'm not a mess.  I'm not a failure.  I'm a superhero.

I mean, there are people (ahem, Joel) who get up, take a shower by themselves, make one breakfast (for themselves), put on their own shoes and their own coats and walk out the the door!  Walk straight out the door.  Can you even imagine such a thing?  (I mean, sure, he wakes up at 5:00 to accomplish this feat and, you know, pour every ounce of energy into his job, but whatever.  I'm the superhero today.)

This morning I woke up to a toddler's face just inches from mine and a puddle of urine in my bed.  Once I got him changed and the sheets in the washing machine, I dressed, fed and played referee to three rambunctious young boys, one of whom is most definitely not a morning person, while simultaneously packing lunches, signing reading logs and showering.  You heard me right.  Somewhere in the middle of all that chaos, I actually showered.

I somehow safely ushered three kids from the parking lot to the classrooms, and with Benjamin under one arm and my bag on the other I made it back to the car in less than 30 minutes.  Every single conversation from the time I reach the school lobby ends in my toddler running straight into oncoming traffic and me sprinting across the parking lot to catch him.

In fact, much of my day contains these unreal moments of heroic strength and speed.  I mean, I don't want to brag, but I can run from the living room to the bathroom, where my super-sonic hearing has detected a toddler pulling up his underwear pre-wiping, in less than a second.  Olympic sprinters couldn't compete with a mom attempting to prevent poop-stained underwear.  

I can casually balance a large three-year-old on one hip while cooking, cleaning, drinking coffee, eating meals and using the toilet.  I can outrun a speeding balance bike.  Out-climb the swiftest monkey.  And outsmart the most clever and stubborn of all humans... the toddler.

Most days I kick myself for the moments I lose my patience.  But what about all of the many moments I don't?  What about the times where I scream silently in my head, paste on a fake old smile and answer, "What do you need, sweetheart?"  What about the hundreds of times a day Benjamin wants to "hold me" and instead of throwing myself on the ground in frustration I stretch out my arms and I hold him?  What about the countless hours I've spent preparing meals that were sneered at and cried over, and not once did I so much as throw a pea?

I field incoming requests from the second I wake up in the morning ("Mommy, I'm hungry... I need my swim stuff... I don't have any socks.") to the moment I lay down my head at night ("Mommy, I need a drink... I want tucked in... Something's bothering me.").   I respond to these requests quickly and efficiently and with only the necessary grumbling (particularly when they come before my coffee).

And at the end of the day I look at the three small humans who have leeched every bit of energy from me that day, and I think about how deeply and sincerely I love them.  After all that.  I don't look at their sleeping bodies and think, "Well crap, guess I have to deal with that tomorrow."  I think instead, "How could I possibly love them more?"

Weird, huh?

So I guess we're doing something right, tired mamas of the world.  Even on the days it feels like we're doing everything wrong.  I've heard people say that being a mom is the hardest job in the world.  I don't know about that, but I'll tell you this.  It is hard.  It is really, really hard, but we're doing it.  We're doing it with a good bit of coffee and a whole lot of grace, but we're doing it.

And that's the most heroic part of all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It's easy

To my Benji, on your third birthday,

Last night, after an hour of prepping dinner and finally getting it on the table, finally sitting down to eat, you slid off your chair, just a few inches from mine, and squirmed your way under my arm, onto my lap.  I was tired and hungry and your brothers would never have been allowed to do this.  But you're the third and the baby and, well, you're you.  So I let you sit there and attempted to eat around you.

At bedtime you wanted one more book and you spilled your milk down your shirt and you "didn't want to go night-night."  After all that, I knew that when you woke up you wouldn't want to go on the potty and you wouldn't want to get dressed and you wouldn't want to take brothers to school.

We met our friends for coffee this morning where you dumped a bottle of apple juice on your pants and sprinted repeatedly through the wide doorway.  And so I ran and dabbed and consoled between hurried sips of my cooling coffee.

If I attempt to vacuum, which at this point is highly necessary, and also highly unlikely, you'll follow close behind me.  You'll press the power button approximately every five seconds and I'll look at you sternly and say, "Benjamin, stop."  And you'll smile back and allow me another five seconds before you push it again.  Eventually I'll give up and hand it over, which will amuse you for about five seconds before you drop it and move on.  Until I start it again, that is.

You'll be "so hungwy" about every half hour or so, all day long, but you won't like any of the options presented you.  You'll be thirsty, but you won't accept a glass of water.  You'll run around in circles and look at me with panic in your eyes, but you won't just sit on the toilet and go.

And somewhere between the running and tantrums and general mischief, you'll meander to my side, lift your chubby little arms and say, "Mommy, I want to hold ya."  And so I'll pick you up and while I have you so close I'll kiss your soft, rosy cheek and I'll notice your plump, little lips and your long eyelashes and I'll cling to these bits of baby while I can, because I know they will fade too soon.  That they already are.

Later I'll hear you from behind the couch, talking to your toys.  I'll listen closely to your deep voice and the stories your create, a small peek into your increasingly complex little mind.

As I cook dinner I'll feel the warmth of your arms wrapped around my leg, and I'll remember that you find true joy in my presence, and for a second I'll stop being annoyed that I can't get anything done and soak up your unconditional adoration.  Your love that is both soft and fierce, both sweet and unrelenting.

But it won't really hit me until you're finally asleep.  Until your belly rises and falls in an easy pattern as you snuggle up to one of your hard-edged vehicles.  But then it will take my breath away.  The intensity of my frustrations will be crushed, smothered by the intensity of my love.  And your dad and I will look at each other as you snore on your pillow and say, "Well, he had a hard day."  And then we'll smile because it's both ridiculous and true, all at the same time.

It's not always easy with you.  In fact, it's mostly not easy.  It's not easy to get you dressed or out the door.  It's not easy to chase you through parking lots and manage your feisty temper.  It's not easy to feed you, or put you to bed.

But it's so incredibly easy to love you.  So easy.  It's as if I was made to do it.  It's as natural and thoughtless as breathing.

We'll get through these toddler years.  I just know we will.  But I imagine it won't be the last of the tough times.  I imagine it won't always be easy.

But even when the days are hard, the love never is.