Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why Being a Mom Matters (in a post-election world)

I was talking with a friend the other day who was feeling caught between busy mom life and a desire to do more.  To be more than just a mom.  But between the demands of little ones and a husband with long work hours, being "more than Mom" feels nearly impossible sometimes.

"I know being a mom is the most important job, but it doesn't always feel like it."

I honestly didn't know what to say because that same feeling resonated deep within me.  And so we came up with some small ways to incorporate the more into daily mom life, but we both knew it wasn't what we were looking for.  We were looking for an answer to this question: Why does being a mom matter?

Of course we both know the cliche answers, but a few nights later as I lay crying in bed, those answers just didn't help.  I was upset with Joel, but not for anything he did.  I felt jealous of him.  Really jealous.  I was angry that he had so much going on in his life.  A job he loves, a band, a marathon.  People telling him he's doing well at all of the above.  

"But you're a great mom.  You said it yourself just the other day."

Not even kidding.  I did.  After nine years of raising little ones I am well past the point of thinking I have to be a perfect mom to be a great mom.  (And I've realized it's okay to say it out loud.)

"I know I did, but what does that even matter?"

It's not a question he could answer of course (try as he might).  It's one I needed to answer for myself.

Because I have put in nine years of sweat and tears, nine years of moving and working from early morning to late night, nine years of diapers and meals and playing trains on the floor.  I have directed nearly every ounce of my energy into my family, and now that I have more than the minute I'm in the bathroom with the door locked to reflect on my life I'm wondering, why does is matter anyhow?

And let me tell you, I struggled to find an answer.  Really struggled.  To be honest, I couldn't come up with one satisfying answer, not one good reason why.  Until this morning.

I set my alarm for 4 am (10 pm, US time) and Joel and I slowly sat up in bed.  He brought over his laptop and we searched for a live stream of the election coverage.  I'm sure I don't need to describe the shocking events that unfolded from there.

At one point I decided to go back to sleep and thought, as I drifted off, I could very well wake up to a Trump presidency.  And I did.

As much as I tried to stop it, I couldn't turn off the stream of hateful discourse that ran rampant these past few months.  I couldn't stop thinking, what will I tell my kids?  That the same person who said these terrible things is now our president?

Of course I felt a little scared about what might happen, about our country's future, but much more so I felt heartbroken.  This morning I woke up and got my kids ready for school and went about my life as usual.  Nothing had changed.  But I couldn't stop thinking about minority people in America, people with disabilities, people from other countries, looking for a better life for themselves and their children.  How they might feel this morning like they're walking into a more hostile America, or at the very least a more apathetic one.

Later, in the car, Finn asked who the new president was.  I had told them earlier, but apparently it was too early to register.

"What?"  My feisty little guy exclaimed.  "But I don't like that guy AT ALL!"

I was a little taken aback by his reaction.  We had spoken very little about the election.  Not intentionally, just lack of obvious opportunities (since we read our news instead of watching it).  They knew we weren't voting for Trump, but I had no idea he felt so passionately about the matter.

"I know, buddy.  I don't like him much either, but that's how elections work.  Remember how you used to vote for things in Kindergarten?  And even if you liked your vote very much, the most votes always won."

"Well I don't like it."

"You don't have to.  But he's still president.  The best thing we can do is pray that he will be a kind and fair leader.  And what's really important is that we keep being kind and loving ourselves."

As soon as I said it something clicked in me.  It's exactly the answer I had been looking for.  I was so busy thinking big, wanting to do something bigger, something more obviously important, when I really needed to think smaller.

Sure, there are people who need to do big things in big arenas, but I felt more convinced this morning than ever that I am doing the most important thing I could possibly be doing.  I'm raising three little, impressionable people to be kind and loving.  I'm raising them to not just accept people who are different, but to embrace them.  I'm raising them to use their words to build others up, not to tear them down.

I get to be the one to teach them that people with disabilities are people too, with so much to offer the world, not a joke to be made.  I get to be the one to teach them that women are to be treated with respect, not degraded with "locker room talk;" that immigrants and refugees are to be helped, not hindered; that we respond to our enemies with love, not hatefulness and a thirst for revenge.

Aside from voting, there was little I could do to control this election, and even less I can do to control the future.  But what I can do... I can love my little guys.  I can love them with extra long hugs and warm meals and books at bedtime.  I can love them with quiet prayers and bible stories.  I can love them in hundreds of little ways, and I can hope beyond hope that they take that love into the world.  That they use it to love others, in hundreds of little ways.

And right now, on the day after election day, that is the very biggest, most important thing I can think to do.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A few words on coffee

I feel like National Coffee Day sneaks up on me every year.  Before I can prepare adequate words of adoration it's here and it's gone and I'm left silent.  Shouldn't Facebook give us some kind of warning?  "National Coffee Day is in one week"... "Tomorrow is National Coffee Day"...

I imagine coffee is feeling a bit used by me.  I drink it often and I mention it from time to time, but I rarely, if ever, take the time to express my true feelings.  It's not that I don't want to, or that the feelings aren't real, but some emotions run too deep to be put to words.  Some loves are too intense for mere sentences, haphazardly thrown together.

But try I must, and try I will.  I don't want to look back with regret, wishing I had said something while I had the chance.

Because, coffee, my life wouldn't be the same without you.  You make everything better.  Really, you do.  Don't believe me?  Have you ever seen me first thing in the morning?  Ever tried to talk to me?  It's not a pretty picture.  There's a good reason my husband's gone by the time I wake, why my children cower in their room until they hear the clink of my spoon against the porcelain mug.

You change me.  From the inside out.  Confusion and fury give way to sweet love in your warm embrace and I'm left different.  New.  This morning Finn came quietly down the stairs, which, without you, would just be too much for me to handle.  But with the heat of you in my hand I called to him endearingly, asked him to come for a snuggle.  He checked first, to make sure it was safe, but when he saw you snug in my palm he came running and I held him close.  Until I needed another sip and then I gently nudged him on his way.

Those first 30 minutes every morning are devoted to you.  If that's not proof enough of my deep affection, I don't know what is.  I wake up early to spend that time with you.  Earlier than I have to.  Can you even believe that?

And you don't just make me sweeter, you make me stronger.  You give me the kick I need to peel myself off the couch and engage in the various morning activities that, without you, would be too difficult to even consider.  Packing lunches.  Making breakfasts.  Clothes and teeth brushing and the occasional shower.  Of course you also make me a bit jumpy, and I can be just a little forceful as I attempt to shoo my children from the house.  But don't worry coffee.  I won't hold it against you.  No loves are perfect.  Ours is close, though.  Ours is very, very close.

By about 10 I'm starting to miss you and so I'll search and find you, no matter where I am.  Nothing can keep us apart.  Sad, dreary mornings turn warm and comforting in your presence, as if you can somehow change the very world around me.

I've heard some people say they don't like you, coffee.  I try to keep my mouth shut, but it hurts.  They just don't know you.  Not like I do.  If they really took the time to get acquainted, a cup of tea would dull in comparison.  But not everyone's as devoted to you as I am.  Not everyone sees what I see and we have to be alright with that.  I know, it's hard to trust these "tea drinkers," but some of them are okay, some I even like, so I guess we just have to let it go.  To each their own (even when they're wrong).

I guess what I'm trying to say is, thank you coffee.  For all you do for me, and indirectly for my husband and children and anyone else who might cross my path before noon.  You're one of the most beautiful things in the world to me (I have to say one of because people might find it weird if I think you're more beautiful than my children, which I am NOT saying I do).

So here's to many, many more happy mornings together.  And if you don't hear from me again for a while, all you have to do is look at my face when I first see you and you'll know, ours is a love meant to last.  

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.