Ugly Mom

Every morning I wake up, and I pray for patience.

I make my coffee, and I pray for patience.  I kneel in church, and I pray for patience.  I make breakfast and lunch and dinner, I do nap time and showers, I read books and I play with blocks, and all the while I am praying for patience.

I read books about love and kindness and justice in the hopes that they will teach me patience.  I am knee deep in Christian philosophy somehow believing there’s the magic formula for patience in there.  I ask friends and acquaintances and practical strangers where to find the secret to patience.

And some days I can make it through the majority of the day as long as I stay calm and am constantly praying.  There are days I can maintain a relative tone of patience.  It’s a moment by moment type of thing, but I can do it.

But then it ends up being 9:15 at night and she has come down stairs for the five hundredth time for the five hundredth reason, and I can’t find it anymore.  The prayers don’t come.  The words of wisdom I have read leave me.  I find myself yelling at a little girl to just please get back into bed, and that makes her cry which makes me yell more which makes her cry more, and soon we are both a mess, and I’m the only one to blame.

She should have gone to bed.

But I should have known better.

She’s the child.  She’s allowed to create reasons not to sleep.  She’s allowed to keep wanting to see me.  She’s allowed to come to me with any of her troubles, imagined as they may be.

And I’m the one who is supposed to listen.  Who is supposed to care about the box elder bug that is nowhere near her room and that wouldn’t even be able to get in if she would just shut the door and that she wouldn’t have even known about if she would have gone to bed two hours ago like she was supposed to.

But tonight I was the one who upset her.  I’m the one who got so overwhelmed and so under water that I finally blurt out, “You are not allowed to go to preschool tomorrow unless you get into bed.”  I’m the one who finally stormed up the stairs and killed that bug with such force, I’m surprised the house didn’t fall down.

I’m the one who failed.

And tomorrow she’ll wake up and forgive me because that’s what kids do.  And tomorrow I’ll wake up feeling shitty because that’s what moms do.

Maybe tomorrow you could all say a little prayer for me and my missing patience.

I don’t want to end another day feeling like this.

She deserves so much better.

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Staying Open

I’ve been a mom for over seven years now.

There are many things I have cherished.  (A preschooler running into my arms after class, a child confidently reading to me during our nighttime snuggles, being the one to make owies go away.)

There are a few things I’ve learned.  (A good poop joke will end almost any meltdown.  Tired children are wired children.)

But I’ve also learned that there are some hard parts.  And for me, one of the hardest parts is staying open.

I’m not really one to withdraw or go inside myself.  But sometimes the quantity of questions and demands and needs can make me feel like I’m being invaded, like my sanity is being picked apart.  

There are times when I can’t find a reprieve.  When I can’t go and fill up my own bucket.  When I simply don’t have the reserves, or quite honestly, the strenght to stand up to all these needs and demands and stay emotionally open and connected.

I’ll feel myself start to disconnect, start to emotionally hide, start to shut down, and I won’t be able to stop it.

And this sickens me.  Because children need food and shelter and protection, but more than even any of that, they need love and compassion and openness.

But to give them that openness, we have to give them our vulnerability.  Just like we sacrifice sleep and comfort at times, we need to sacrifice peace and psychological safety at other times.

And try as I may, today I just don’t have it in me.

They’ll survive.  We’ll reconnect.  But in the meantime, I can’t help to feel that when I disengage, I leave them emotionally out at sea.  Struggling by themselves.

Sure, it will teach them to swim.  But they are babies, and for as long as possible, I want to be their raft.

 

 

 

 

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You Are Never Alone: A Letter to my Girls

To My Girls,

One day, you will mess up.  But you won’t be alone.  I will be here to help pick up the pieces.

One day you will wander far away and you may not be able to find your way back, but you won’t be alone.  My love can be your compass.

One day the world might convince you that you aren’t enough.  You aren’t good enough or pretty enough or smart enough or… well, just enough.  But you need not believe them.  Just look to me.  I will tell you that you are all you ever need to be.

The world will tell you that you are alone and you are weak and you are vulnerable and you will start to feel all of those things.  They might weigh on your soul.  They might steal your laughter.  But look to me, and I will be your laughter and your strength and your companion for as long as you need me to be in any way that I possibly can.

Every single place you look, the world will be trying to define you.  There will be people who want to break you.  There will be people who will try to change you.  There will be standards that are so ridiculously high, no matter how far you gaze, you can’t see the top of them.

To that I say, fuck the standards.

I’ve known you since before you knew this world.  I have loved you since before you took your first breath, and I have wanted you before you were a single cell.

And you will never, ever be alone.  And you will never, ever lose my love.  And there is nothing you could ever tell me that would make me turn away.

One day, hopefully not for many, many decades, we will be parted.  You won’t be able to reach out and grab my hand, you won’t be able to hug me close to you.  But even then, I will be there, surrounding you, caressing you, leading you.  Because the grave doesn’t conquer love.  It’s still there.  All around you.  In those days, I will be as close as a thought, as near as a whisper.

So go out in this world and make it yours.  Live it and experience it and conquer it and love it.  And never fear a fall.  Because when you have love beside you, there is always someone to soften the blow.

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To Heal or to Hurt

I’ve been thinking a lot about brokenness lately.  About the ways in which we all are broken, both big and small.

And to be honest, it’s scary.  Terrifying actually.

The way I see it, we are all walking around with wounds.  If we are lucky, many of them are scabbed up, perhaps all that is left of some is a scar.  But none of us gets off that easily.  We all have our bigger ones.  The ones inflicted by a broken world that can’t leave any of us whole.

But the scary part isn’t the wounds.  The scary part is what we do with them and who we become because of them.

Because we all know those who take their wounds and use them as weapons.  Who take their pain and wrap their little fists around it and hold on to dear life.  Those who jump inside of it and zip it up like a sleeping bag around them.  Those who use it as a shield to keep others away and a club to beat others down.

Perhaps that’s the easy way.  Or perhaps that’s the only way that some people can see through their pain.  Perhaps it can be so blinding and so overwhelming that the light can’t get in.  Perhaps it suffocated the light; snuffing it out like a blanket to a flame so that not even a flicker is left.

And we live in a world that is built around pain like this.  Pain that is turned into violence and hatred and aggression and malice.  Pain that somehow believes it will be alleviated if it inflicts greater wounds on another.  Pain that believes it has to transfer its shame to another to make its own less glaring.

And to think that each day we walk out into a world that is filled with this type of wound honestly makes me shake and quiver.  It makes me fear for my children.  And for myself.  And for us all.

But it also makes me angry.  It makes me angry because wounds don’t necessitate violence, either physical or psychological.  They don’t make us mean or cruel or hateful.

That’s our choice.  Even if we can’t see it.

There is another way.  And I think we can see the other way in the quiet light of souls around us.

Because if we choose, we can take our pain and we can give it to God, and through that, we can make something so beautiful that we know it’s not from us.

We can take our pain and turn it into compassion and empathy and understanding and love.  We can realize that while we cannot heal all of our own pain, we can use it as a salve to treat the very real wounds of others.  It can open our eyes to all the hurt in the world, and it can turn our hearts towards healing and comforting that pain.

But that light, while it burns so brightly, doesn’t often burn loudly.  We see it in quiet eyes of peace, we see it in a gentle touch of friendship, we hear it in gentle words and peaceful spirits.

And sometimes the violence is so loud that it’s hard to see the light and the peace.

This world is ruled by the violence and the hate.  It’s how it has to be.

But it’s not how we have to be, and it’s not how I choose to be.

Some times I get scared to walk out that door into a world that is cold and cruel and filled with so much violence and hate.

But if we stay inside, all of that will win.

And so all we can do is wrap ourselves up, take a deep breath, and refuse to dim our own lights.  We need to let our light shine if for no other reason so as not to let the dark be the only voice.

If we raise our candles and our lights together as one, perhaps it will create a flame so strong it will start to melt some of the hate and the fear, and it will start to cauterize some of the wounds.

I don’t know.

I really don’t know.

But I do know I would rather go out fighting for the light than acquiescing to the dark.

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Asking for Help is Hard

I used to teach college English before Magoo was born.  Once she was born, I went to teaching one or two night classes for a couple of semesters before it got to be too much, and I took a hiatus.

I remember how things changed after she was born.  Without any real conscious effort on my part, how I related to my students changed.

I was a young teacher at that point in my life, and I always conducted my courses as such.  I wasn’t overly formal.  I tried to have fun and make jokes.  I would get my students on my side by being friendly and encouraging but relatable.  My philosophy was always that if you can get students to like you, then they’ll work with you rather than against you.  You can reach forward towards a goal together rather than trying to drag them along behind you.

I still had that philosophy after Magoo was born, but I no longer saw myself as being the young, fun teacher.  I started to see myself more as the nurturing type.  I think I started to mother them.  Which was probably ironic as my students were still only a couple of years younger than I was, and a considerable number were considerably older.

I remember laughing at myself one night as I let them all go a few minutes early because of snow starting to fall.  I made them all promise to drive slowly and to exit the campus from the street with the stop light.  I cautioned them about driving too fast and getting tickets.  I told them to get home safely.

Honestly, I think they are lucky that I didn’t make them all text me when they got home so I would know they made the journey safely.

I think I always saw myself as someone who wanted to help people, but once I became a mom, I started seeing myself as someone who wanted to nurture others and make them feel safe and loved and comfortable and welcomed.  I guess you can’t do that the majority of your day with your kids and then just turn it off when your surroundings change.

And I guess that’s how I approach life.  I like helping people.  I like being the person people talk to.  I love making people feel heard and understood and appreciated.  I love making people feel special to me.

And I also like making sure people around me know they have a safety net.  I have a prayer list a mile long of all the people I pray for each day.  I have a mental list of people I want to check in with and check up on.

I guess it all boils down to my belief that one contribution I feel I can make to people is to let them feel heard and to give them a safe place to be heard.  I don’t cook meals well; I can barely offer childcare because of my own full house; I don’t entertain well or solve problems well.

But I can listen.

And so I do.

But every now and then a strange thing happens.  Some times I need to talk.  Sometimes I need to be heard.

And then the alarms start sounding.  The panic rises.  I feel my heart start to pound; my hands start to shake.  I start to feel myself distancing from things.  I gave up smoking many years ago, and so as a substitute I pick up yarn, or I hop in the shower.  The only two things that give me space for my mind to wander.

Sometimes I’ll actually take the bold step of reaching out to someone.  But that just makes matters worse.  The hours of panic that follow that barely make it worth it.

And it all boils down to one thing.

It’s easy to be the listener.  It’s secure.  Sure, sometimes I’ll worry about what to say or how to say it, or I’ll second guess what I did or did not say.  But in the end, it’s a safe place because you are giving and expecting nothing in return.  There’s no debt.  No deficit.  When I am giving, I am fine.

But when I ask to be heard or when I need to be listened to, that’s a whole different story.  Then I am asking another to give, and oftentimes, I have nothing to give in return.  I’m asking someone to tell me that I am worth their time even if they aren’t receiving anything in return.  I am sharing my brokenness and my neediness and my wounds, and I am just doing it all on the hope that they will be gentle.

I think God tries to give us challenges to take us out of our comfort zones, to teach us that we cannot rely solely on ourselves, to use the fire of trials to whittle away at our rough edges and our insecurities.

And sometimes that really sucks.

Growth is good, my friends.  It’s important to learn to trust and be vulnerable.  It’s important to admit you can’t do it on your own.

For all of you.

For me… not so much.

For me, I am perfectly content staying where I am, stagnating if need be, so long as I don’t have to go out on a limb and trust.

I like to think that I am open about my weaknesses.  After all, I post them on the internet day in and day out for anyone to read.

But that’s me taking my weaknesses and trying to use them to help others.

To take my own weaknesses and ask others to help me find healing?

Ha!

So I guess, God, if you are reading this, I would just like to say that you have a tough case with me.  You want to teach me to be vulnerable and open and as gentle with myself and my soul as I try to be with others.  It’s a noble task.  I’m a hard case.

But I kind of hope you win on this one.

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Admitting Defeat

Things seem so complicated sometimes.  So many plans and responsibilities.  So many reveries and dreams and memories.  So much behind and so much ahead.

Sometimes it gets to be too much for me.  My brain reaches capacity and it sort of shuts off.  I guess that’s probably not a good thing.

But sometimes it feels really good.

In times like these, I seek out the lovely things in life.

I like warm blankets and tea.  I like yarn, and I like to make things for people I care about. I like talking to friends and trusting people.

That’s always a hard one for me.  I don’t find it easy to trust, and trusting too much causes most of my problems.  But when things get to be too much, I get too sick of trying to figure out who to trust, trying to figure out the rules of the game, trying to maneuver in a social world that sometimes just seems too savvy for my skills.

I just want to sit down, lay it all out, and live in kindness.

I used to love the word, beautiful.  I loved the grandeur of it.  I loved the passion it invoked.  I loved its spark.

But these days, I find myself seeking out loveliness rather than beauty.  To me, what is lovely is just as true and honest and pure as that which is beautiful.  But it’s also simple and peaceful and unassuming.  Loveliness doesn’t seek; it doesn’t boast; it doesn’t shine.  Rather, it resides.

When my world gets dark and cloudy, all I really want are the lovely things.  And to seek them out, I just have to stop trying to function in a world that all too often doesn’t make sense.  I can shrink things.  I can narrow my focus.  I can stop trying to fit in a world I don’t fit into.

I can just lay it out and lay it down and admit defeat.

I’m not big enough for this world.  I’m not smart enough or savvy enough or jaded enough.  I’m simply me.  And all I want is to breathe.

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Messes

I’ve never been good at cleaning up without making a bigger mess first.

Case in point.  This is my living room right now.

IMG_5381

Yesterday we decided it was time to take down the Christmas decorations.  In order to do this, I decided I needed to first finish cleaning out our playroom closet which I’m happy to announce is was one of the last organizational disasters left in our home.

Our closet is now clean.

The rest of the playroom, however, is a nightmare.

I’ve always believed that the best way to clean everything up is to drag it and dump it all out.  Make a big old pile and sort through, item by item.  It’s time consuming.  I would argue that it wastes time; after all, I’m dumping out stuff that was already pretty much organized.

But in the end I know that it’s all clean and perfect and perfectly clean.

The problem is that I do that with life too.  I go along with everything being fine.  I feel happy and content, and then I will notice an area that could be cleaned up a little bit.  I peek in to take a look, and five minutes later, all of my internal cubbies and baskets and bins have been emptied out into a great big pile in the middle of my psyche.

It’s as messy as it sounds.

So I sit there, feeling my pile, and I wonder how I’m going to get it put back to where it all belongs.  Sometimes it’s easy.  I take it step by step.  I rebuild my life.

Othertimes, however, the mound feels awfully high, and I can’t see the top.  I don’t know how to dig in and every time I try pieces come tumbling down on me, making it hard to catch a breath.

So I scream out in prayer, “how?” “why?” “what if?”  And I scream and I scream and I scream.  I still haven’t really learned yet that when we scream, we’re so deafened by our own noise that we can’t hear any answers.

And so I sit here with a heavy heart and a cluttered mind, and I look at my kids.

They make me laugh sometimes.  I tell them to eat their spinach, and they get mad at me.  They think they win if they can get away with not eating it.  They don’t know its purpose.  They mope when they have to go to bed.  They cry at punishments.  They simply don’t understand the why of it all.  And so it feels unfair.

And inside, I sometimes have to laugh.  If only they would trust me.  If only they would believe that very small parts of this world do make sense, and if they allow me to guide them, I will walk them straight into those small, tiny, sensical pockets.  After all, there are a few instances where I know what I’m talking about.  Where I know better.

But they don’t trust me.  Not in that way.  They have their wills, as do we all, and they do their darnedest to try to express them.

And if I look at that and I take the lesson that is handed to me on a platter, I would learn that it’s the same way with me.  I don’t understand it all.  I don’t understand the whys or the hows or the how comes.  I don’t know how I get into my messes or how to get myself out.  I don’t know why I have to experience them.  I simply don’t know.

And if only I would trust rather than scream out in consternation, perhaps my answers would come a little bit more easily.  At the very least I would avoid the pain of screaming until my bloody lungs hurt.

But I’m a slow learner.  I probably always will be.  Let’s pretend it’s part of my charm.

All I know is that when I’m at my quietest, there are two things that I know to be true.

Sometimes we have to learn to let it be.

And it matters who we take on our journey.

God bless, my friends.  Don’t make the same mistakes I do.

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In Search of Gentleness

I look outside onto the ice covered streets.  I can almost feel the harsh air brushing my cheeks.  I feel my feet slip in the snow, and I seek out gentleness.

I turn on the news and I see hatred and violence.  I hear all the yelling and pick up on almost zero listening.  I see the effects of a broken world screaming forth from my screen, and I long for gentleness.

And I look inside, and I feel the bruises, and I see the tentative scabs barely holding on.  I feel the world rushing at me and sense very little within myself to ward it off, and my soul absolutely craves gentleness.

I always approached the world head on.  I would leap with abandon, run in with eyes closed, insist on being a part of the fire.

I fought and I protected and I refused to cower in fear.

And now all I want is a cup of chamomile tea, soft lighting, a warm blanket, and some yarn.

I close my eyes, and I dream of soft landings, of open arms, of quiet words.  I dream of listening and receiving and banishing the need to the heard.

I can’t create peace, and so instead, I seek gentleness.

Every year, I choose a word to guide me.  A mantra of sorts.  Something to direct me when I feel directionless.

And for 2016, I choose gentleness.  Both toward myself and toward the world.  Because when we don’t know exactly where to turn, gentleness usually won’t guide us astray.

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The Beauty and Bravery of Vulnerability

I’ve had people tell me that I am brave before.

The theory is that because I take my pain and write about it and send it out into the world in the hopes that it will help another, I possess this trait that is called courage.

To that, my friends, I must laugh.

Because I am not brave.  Not at all.

Because the thing of it is that sharing truth can be hard.  Right at this very moment, you might be reading this and thinking all sorts of unflattering things about me.  You might be tearing me to pieces.  But I don’t know that, and I will never know…  Well, not unless you are one to post cruel comments to bloggers.  Then I might get an idea.

But in all earnestness, this is not bravery.  Because pretty words can hide pain.  They can hide fear.  They take the darkness in us and dress it up and pretend that it is a gift rather than what it really is… our brokenness.

When I sit down and open up my computer, I get to pretend that my pain is pretty.  And I get to try to convince you of it too.  And since writing isn’t particularly difficult for me, I can sometimes achieve this.

In reality, the brave ones are all the other ones out there.  The ones who take their pain, in all its broken, unsightly glory, and hand it over to another person.  Those who take out their heart, put it on a ruddy old plate, and set it in front of another.  Another who can see in their eyes.  Another whose reactions they can gauge.  Another whose opinion could crush.

We live in a world that is so ridiculously messed up that we believe that the strong ones are the ones with courage.  That the people who take on the world themselves are the victors.  We believe that self-sufficiency is a sign of success.

I remember reading the story of Genesis as a child.  What I remember is that as soon as they took a bite of the apple, they saw their nakedness and were ashamed.

And that right there says it all.  The first sign of our fall and our brokenness as a people is that we became ashamed of ourselves as we are.  We insisted on hiding.  We separated our true natures from not only God but from each other.

And we can’t ultimately fix that.  We can’t create a world where we walk around without our shields.  It’s not a safe enough world for that, and even if it were, we aren’t whole enough for that.

But we can try to open ourselves to the close ones, to the inner circle.  We can try to put down our armor of smiles and happy nods and closed mouths.  We can take a moment and remember that the single most courageous thing anyone can do in this world is let another see them for who they truly are.  For even the briefest of moments.

I’m not brave.  I’m not courageous.  I’d say I’m the farthest from it.

Because I can’t even say the word vulnerable out loud.  I cringe as I write it.

But really, that’s where beauty is.  That’s where truth is.  And that’s where holiness is.

I’m not brave enough to go there yet.

But there are those of you out there who are, and there are those of you out there who are doing your very best to get there.

And I applaud you.  And I commend you.  And I look up to you.

You are an inspiration to us all.

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Our Scars Don’t Define Us

I have a scar on my chin.  When I was very small, I was jumping on the living couch, and I fell into our wooden coffee table.  My top teeth went through my bottom lip the wrong way, and the scar I have is the reminder of the stitches that patched me back together.

It took my husband two years to notice the scar.  It’s hidden, and it’s light.  Kids notice it almost immediately, but I would venture to say that most adults don’t know that I have it.

It’s just sitting there, inconspicuously reminding me not to jump on couches.  I don’t think I have jumped on a single couch ever since.

I think we all have physical scars somewhere on our bodies – reminders of broken limbs or bad falls, car crashes, or child births.  They remind us of where we have been.  But for the most part, I don’t think we let them define who we are.

After all, it would be silly to say I have a scar with a face attached.  It’s the other way around.  I have a face that happens to have a scar.  And if anything, it gives it character.  It tells me of where I have been, the roads I have traveled, and the tables I have taken dents out of.

But possibly even more widespread than physical scars are emotional scars.  The remnants of relationships endured, mistakes made, opinions suffered through.

Our emotional scars are often the result of encounters with other people rather than foreign objects.  These scars often remind us of the battles we have fought.  Ones we have won, ones we have lost.

And more than anything, they often tell us of other’s estimations of our worth.  They tell us of how others deemed they could treat us.  They remind us of another’s opinion of us.  How they felt they could use us or abuse us or toss us away with the trash.

The problem with emotional scars is that we all too often let them define us.

We let the harsh words of a critical person define us.

We let the hatred of groups determine our worth.

We let the disrespect tell us who we are.

The problem with this, obviously, is that we are giving our self and our self worth to those who least deserve it.  We are giving ourselves to the most dangerous among us.  Years or even decades after severing ties, we still feel the pull towards those who want to bring us down, who want to tell us we are less than, who want to take away our worth.

But I am here to tell us all that we are worth more than that.  We are not the sum of all the negative opinions others have formed of us.  We are more than a one-dimensional object that others may want to make us out to be.

We are full and round and complex.  We are wonderful and terrible.  We are strengths and weaknesses.  We are mistakes and victories.

Our scars live with us.  But they don’t necessarily have to haunt us.  We can use them as reminders of where we have been and who we have been and how very much we have overcome.

Our scars make us human, and as such, they make us beautiful.

Just be careful not to listen to them too closely.

When the urge comes on, close your eyes, imagine light.  Imagine all the love that you pour out into the world.  Imagine all the love that flows back to you, even when you cannot feel it.

Embrace your complexity.  Embrace your heartbreaks.  But embrace them as part of your whole.

And then open your eyes and then go into the world and spread your pain and your beauty around.  Use it to fuel your compassion and your empathy.  Use it to help others in need, to pull others up, to make the world a less dangerous place.

Without scars, we can’t grow.  But if we stay stuck in them, we can never move forward.

We are a sum of it all, and when we learn to embrace it all, the pain can dissipate and compassion can win.

We don’t get through life without some scars.  The trick is to love ourselves and the world through them.

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