Sunday, November 25, 2012

Parenting: the dream and the reality


There are days when my children seem to feed on my despair.  Like the warning that animals can sense your fear and prey on it, they sneak up behind me unawares and push all the right buttons until I snap.  You would think they'd see it coming; what other response could they have expected?  And yet, they rant and wail and scream with me, and no one is chastened.

Every day, I wake up determined to do it better, to BE better, until the sound of feet pattering into the room at 6:30am on a Saturday precedes the jump on the bed and the elbow to the stomach and the unrelenting demands food, TV, or attention and I groan yet again, hopeless that I will find adequate rest again before they leave for college.

And I know I should be grateful.  And I know they are incredible blessings.  And I realize that many are wishing for such mundane "problems" as a child who simply needs them.  They are truly beautiful, brilliant, endearing, kind ones that without a doubt have my very heart.  They are my very life, in all its complicated chaos, in all the mystery and struggle and messy perfection.  I would give my very life for them in a second...and yet it's the daily and prolonged loss of my own life, who I was, who I wish to be, who I fail to be, that is at the very heart of my frequent despair.

John and I have been on a bit of a "Les Miserables" kick, anticipating the new movie's release on Christmas. So to keep ourselves sane during these trying times of difficult child phases, we sing the song "I dreamed a dream" with the line, "I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I'm living."  And we sing it in jest, knowing that the momentary struggles (although they seem insurmountable in the moment), are just that...temporary, passing.

Our life together, even in these times, is such a gift.  Although I joke with John when he's pressing my buttons, "This is not the way I imagined married life would be," the true side of that is that it is so much better than I could have imagined.  Even when he sends me this truth:

Real life is not a gorgeous Pinterest board or a parenting magazine with all the easy answers.  It's a stumbling day by day journey of many mistakes with just enough light and success thrown in to keep you moving forward.  It is not a competition, as we often make it out to be, and the only thing we stand to "win" is the realization that we are enough, and that with God's help we will make it through.

I'm grateful for many who journey with me on the road, those friends and supporters who are real and vulnerable enough to admit that they don't have all the answers either, but are willing to seek them out with me, one long day at a time.

Inspiration for this week:

Katie Orr's Why I need the neediness of my kids at Inspired to Action

Monday, November 19, 2012

Obligatory thanks

"Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God has done..."

"Give thanks, with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks, because he's given Jesus Christ, his son..."

It's that time of year.  A brief pause in our relentless quest for "more" to stop and acknowledge the many blessings we have.  I know the importance of gratitude and have experienced the change in my perspective that has come through starting my day with writing a gratitude list.  I've cried through Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts and have joined the 30 Days of Thanksgiving bandwagon on Facebook.  I know that I have so very much to be thankful for, and have held onto that in the midst of some (minor) trying times.  But I have to wonder, does it make a difference in the long run?

I think about my children, who are so blissfully unaware of how blessed they are.  They are loved and safe and healthy, as all children should be, and yet, I know this is not the reality for many.  Perhaps they are too sheltered.  As we collect donations for food banks, write letters to our sponsored child through Compassion, and shop for our annual Christmas shoe box project, I have moments when I see that they are not really "getting" it, regardless of how intentional we are trying to be.  There was the major meltdown over the purple hairbrush in the shoebox that Maryn just HAD to have even though she has multiple hair brushes.  When we pass by the homeless on our way to church, it's an opportunity to speak about the gifts we have and how we are to share them with others.  The first time I had this conversation with Brady, he actually laughed and said, "No! Everyone has a home!" and nothing I said could convince him otherwise.  I wish he were right.  Part of me wishes he could continue to live in his utopia where everyone has enough, and yet I know that nothing would change if we lived in ignorance.

Then there are the times that I groan in frustration with their lack of gratitude for what they receive.  I suppose it's part of the egocentricity of childhood, but everything is about them and their demands, and it is impossible to think outside of it.  Wants become confused with needs, and "love" means "give me what I want, because I NEED it NOW."  Snacks are demanded and snatched up with greedy hands and no thanks (although manners are always emphasized).  Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues when one does not get one's way.  Today, I spent my rare free time between school drop off and pick up buying snacks for Brady's class party tomorrow (which I will help with instead of indulging in more "free time"), running errands, cleaning the house, and then preparing a special picnic of snacks for him after school.  After that, we ran on the playground, played board games, watched a movie together, and had a dinner of hot dogs and mac and cheese.  How did this end?  With screaming and tears that I NEVER do ANYTHING for him (i.e. I wouldn't let him play on my phone).  When I asked about the special picnic, he only spat out criticism about how it could have been better.

I wonder if it will always be so.  Will I one day get a phone call gushing with gratitude for all I sacrificed and offered for their benefit?  I like to daydream about this, and yet, I know it's only a dream.  I never realized the depth of my own mother's love and devotion to me until I became a parent, and even though I greatly cherish it, I don't take the time to tell her often enough.

I guess that's the gift of parenthood.  You pour in all you have, not because you expect anything in return, but because you are so blessed with love for them that it's just impossible not to share.  Unconditional love is not a child's gift to us, but a parent's gift for their child.  This love sees through the temporary pains and struggles and holds onto hope for a beautiful journey ahead for our children, where our happiness is found in their independence.

But if I have one (selfish) wish, it's as Tina Fey wrote in "A Mother's Prayer for Her Daughter" in her hilarious book Bossypants:

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,”she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

May it be so.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A picture that means more than all my words

Sometimes I see more clearly through a picture than in the reality that stands before me.  I took this photo to document a morning that had gone all wrong.  I was running late (yet again), and Maryn kept interrupting my mad dash to get ready, demanding that I put her hair in two ponytails.  I tried to get her to drop it to no avail; unfortunately, I had put her off the previous morning with the promise that I would do ponytails the following day.  I had already discovered after she got dressed that she had grown overnight and her shirt was about two inches too short whenever she dared to move, showing her (adorable, yet not usually up for public view) belly.  Her pants were not the sparkly princess ones she wanted (to her dismay and my relief), but they were also apt to show much of her rear end if she decided to do anything crazy like, say, walk or (heaven forbid) bend over.  But we were LATE and they would just have to do.  But the ponytail thing...sigh.  I am not a hairdresser.  And her hair is unruly like mine.  And she had picked out mismatching elastic bands.  Did I mention I was running late?

But there is no one more persistent than this saucy 4-year-old, so I paused to do her hair, and then quickly gave up as it just looked ridiculous.  I took it back down.  She continued to demand and beg and whine, and against my better judgment, I did the two ponytails to the best of my ability (and now you'll understand why my hair looks exactly the same every day).  I started to try to talk her out of it, but I saw the joy in her eyes and her smile and I stopped myself.  I took a picture, intending to send it to John for a laugh, but when I looked at it, I didn't see the raggedy picture I imagined, but a beautiful and happy girl with so much sparkle.  She was completely content with how she looked and who she was.  She wasn't concerned about how others would view her, but was excited to look just the way she had planned (well, minus the princess pants).  She was full of pride, and instantly I was, too.

The biggest life lessons for me have come in my two small, yet wise ones that have turned my expectations upside down.  Previously, one of the greatest frustrations in my journey has been being confronted with just how little I have control over.  And yet, each day, these beautiful children teach me the gift of surrender, of letting go.  There is so much to be gained by not getting my way, and by opening myself to learning to live in their rhythm.  The more I follow them, the closer I get to that "childlike faith" that draws me further in to the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What counts more than the votes

I was determined not to watch the election coverage, afraid that my nerves couldn't take it.  But here I sit, even though it's too early to call and it seems pointless, a lot of talk and speculation about what we don't yet know.  I've tried all day not to worry, and yet it creeps up from time to time, and I force back panic about what might be.  I know, or I believe, that overall, regardless of what happens, we will be fine.  My faith is not in a president or in our government, but in God.  I trust that God can work through either candidate, and yet...the polarity, the division, the mud-slinging of our country worries me.  It's nothing new, and yet, it seems more damaging, as the arguments and dissention have blocked our government from moving forward over the past four years.  I don't think a different person will solve that problem.  I think it demands a change of heart, of attitude, a spirit of cooperation from WE THE PEOPLE of the United States of America.  My fear and hopelessness rests in my doubt that this will change. 

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

   his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

Maryn has been drawing and handing me multiple rainbow hearts today, and in her love I find faith.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

The excitement and involvement of my students who voted, some for the first time, brings me joy and peace.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

The turnout of so many in support of the right, responsibility, and privilege of voting, and the good spirits and camaraderie of those who waited in long lines with patience and unity, even in their differing political leanings.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

I believe that the Church can be the answer in our hurting, broken world.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope: