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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My Prayers

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Every morning around 3:30 am, my husband wakes up to begin his day.  He walks to a bus stop, and then he takes that bus a mile to the train.  He rides the train for a little over an hour, and from there, he hops on a shuttle for another hour until he arrives at the front door of the hospital he works at.

That’s a lot of miles he covers every day.

But besides the miles, he covers a lot more.

Tonight was my daughter’s Christmas show at school.  I sat in the pew, watching she and her friends sing their little hearts out.  My heart was so overcome with joy and happiness and peace.

These children that she was standing with are so kind.  They are growing in families that respect their innocence and work to protect it.  They are being taught compassion and justice and charity and respect.  They are being taught to pray and to love.  They are being taught to look outwards into the world and to seek out ways to make a difference in it.

But as I sat there watching them, I couldn’t help but think of the children left behind in the neighborhood my husband commutes home from every evening.  They too can come from good families and many are taught to pray and to love.  But they are living in a world that does not respect their innocence.  Or their safety.  Or their very right to grow up in a world where their life is valued.

It’s hard for me.  Every time I feel blessed, I also grieve for the mamas who wish the same for their little girls but who can’t provide it because of circumstance, whatever that may be.

So tonight I am going to go to bed praying prayers of gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon me and my family.  And I’m going to pray in petition for all those mamas who want the same for their children but who find it just out of reach.  And I’ll pray that we find a way to bridge the gap, so that those who have more can lift out a hand to those who have less.

And we can all live in a world where we understand that the innocence of our children is the key to peace in our world.

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Doing Sometime Right

 

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One of my favorite children’s books is The Kissing Hand.  It’s about a little raccoon that has to go to school, and he is upset because he will miss his mom.  To make him feel less alone, the mother raccoon kisses his hand and then closes his fingers around it.  She tells him that when he feels lonely, he can open up his kiss and feel her love.

Of course I practically dissolved when I read this.  Magoo loved the idea, so in the mornings, she gives me her hand to kiss, and then she kisses mine.  Sometimes it’s almost comical as she is trying to get out of the car with her coat and hat and bag, and she’ll practically slap me in the face on her way out.

It’s a cute tradition, but I never knew if it really meant anything to her.

And then we were talking the other morning.  Her sisters and I had missed morning Mass for a few days in a row, and she was saying how she gets lonely when she doesn’t see us walking up to Communion as she sits with her class.

But then she went on.  She told me that on those days, she takes her hand and puts it on her heart so that she can feel my kiss in her heart even when I’m not there.

I don’t remember what I said, but I think there was blubbering involved.

I love these little people with every ounce of my being.  But sometimes when I see that love heading back to me, I get confused.  I start to wonder how I possibly deserve it.

I lose my patience constantly.  Sometimes I zone out with a book or with some knitting.  Sometimes I get burned out.  Sometimes I get cranky.

And yet through it all, they simply want me there.

Parenting is incredibly demanding, and to me, that’s part of what makes it so rewarding.  It’s not a sprint.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  It’s not something you can give up on… ever.

It requires all of us every day year in and year out.  For seven and a half years, Magoo has been with me.  There has not been a single day in those 7.5 years when I have not seen her for at least a little bit.  That’s a lot of me to have around.

And while I might fail frequently, I know I do some things right as well.  And miraculously, it seems as if those things I do right mean a whole lot more to her than the things I do wrong.

To her and to her sisters, I represent security and constancy and comfort and love.

And really, is there any greater gift than being chosen to be that for another human being?

Motherhood teaches us the gift of sacrifice, but it also teaches that for every ounce we give away, we get a pound in return.

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The World You Inherit

To the Children,

As a child, I remember seeing the “Special Report” bulletins show up on my television screen accompanied by their serious sounding music.  My heart would pound a bit as I waited to see what was happening in the world that would disrupt my television show.

Most I’m sure turned out to be pretty inconsequential, at least to my small world.  But I do remember a few that scared me — usually they would involve airplanes, sometimes crashes, sometimes attacks.

As a result, I always had this idea in the back of my mind that airplanes were dangerous.  I felt solace in the idea that as long as I was on the ground, I would be okay.

These days everything we watch is streamed, so I have more control over which of these Special Reports you see.  And for that I am grateful.

In your cartoon worlds, there is good and bad, and the good always wins out in the end, and the bad… well, it’s not really that bad to begin with.

But when we flip the channel to the real world, things become more cloudy.  The bad is worse than your minds could comprehend, and sometimes it wins.

And while I feared airplanes as a child, there is a whole lot more to face in your world.  It’s hard to find a safe corner here.  It can’t be found in offices or government buildings.  It can’t be found in high schools or in grade schools.  It can’t be found in restaurants, and it can’t be found in churches.

You don’t have any place to go where you can think, surely no one will go here.  Those illusions are gone.

And that’s what I was thinking about as I sent you to your rooms to read while I watched a few minutes of the news.  I was thinking about the light in your eyes and this cold, dark world that wants to turn it into fear.

And it’s not fair.  It’s not fair that you are inheriting a world so much more dangerous than the one I grew up in.  It’s not fair that in addition to tornado drills, you also have to practice lock down drills, and it’s not fair that one of these days you will start to understand what those lock down drills are for.  It’s not fair that you will understand way too early that some people want to kill others solely to destroy what is good and what is innocent.

But the world never promised you fair.

And so as the years progress, and you start to understand what has started to seem like a biweekly occurrence of guns mixing with innocent life, I hope that you are able to rise above where I am.  I hope you are able to embrace love and light and hope.  Feel the fear.  It’s only natural that it is there at times such as these.  But then pack it away and rise above.

Because regardless of the motive or the perpetrator, the real cause of such events is evil.  And the way to defeat evil is to reside in good.

The best hope we have resides in the hearts of those who refuse to fall into the darkness.

You all are our hope.

I just wish we had better to offer you.

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Home

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I love Thanksgiving.  It gives us a year to look back on with gratitude, but it also allows us to look forward into the upcoming season of hope and joy.

So when I picked Magoo up from school yesterday, I was particularly excited.  Not only did I get my kids home with me for four days straight, but I have so very much to be thankful for this year.

As we drove over the river on the way home, I looked over and saw the “Peace of Earth” sign that they display on the bridge every year.  Accompanying the sign were remnants of snow and ice and my memories from a few years back.

It was this time of year when everything changed… for the better.

I was reminded of our life before we moved into this house.  Before, when we lived in a deteriorating neighborhood in a house I wasn’t comfortable in, and we were desperately trying to sell our home to move out and move on.

The last couple of years in that house left an indelible mark on me.  They taught me that things can get really rough.  They taught me what it feels like to have a house but not a home.  They taught me how empty so many things can feel if you have no place that can act as a respite.

But in all that was lacking, I learned what it really means to be blessed.  I learned that as I was a chicken holed up in a  hotel room with my girls because a big evil mouse was in my bedroom at home that all I truly needed could be contained in one small room.

And this morning, I find myself sitting in my living room listening to Christmas music while my kids strew toys everywhere and leap across the floor and across my vision to the sound of the music.

Sometimes life still gets overwhelming.  But thanks to those years when things weren’t so great, I can see the beauty in the chaos now.  I can look past the toys and the clothes, and I can see the love and the peace that this house holds.  I find joy in decorating for holidays and in making beds and in preparing meals because I know that these are the things that make this house a home, and I feel so grateful to be able to give my children the peace that comes from a nest that nurtures.

So this holiday season, say a prayer of thanksgiving for all you have that allows you to make a home for your loved ones.  And then say a prayer for all those without.  This is their season of hardship and trial, and the very least we can do is use our prayers to accompany them on their journey towards hope and peace.

God bless and Happy Thanksgiving.

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Post Surgery Recovery — For Mom

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So I have been freakishly calm lately.  Calm enough that I know it’s disfunction because calm is just not synonymous with my nature.

I’ve been scheduling 752 appointments for my girls with ENTs and speech pathologists.  I’ve been trying to learn everything I can to figure out the best path for each of them.  I’m thoroughly ignorant on the issues before us, and so becoming a lay expert has been an uphill and thoroughly exhausting battle.

But through it all, I’ve talked calmly about it and have been, as I said, freakishly calm.

I also haven’t been writing.  And I think the two might be related.  See, if I sat down to write, all of those feelings that I have been hiding from would have come out.  They say writing is like opening a wound and then bleeding out over the page.  I think somewhere deep inside I knew if I let that wound out, it would never close.

But I didn’t know that.  I thought I just had nothing to say.  I thought I was taking it all in stride.  I thought the slightly obsessive control over the things I could control was just me evolving.

And then Magoo had her surgery today, and she came out perfectly fine on the other side.  And now I feel like I’m losing it.

I remember when she had surgery as an infant.  It was just a very brief procedure to have her tear duct unclogged.  It was horrible.  Having the nurse take her away screaming and then bringing her back a few minutes later with her eyes open but unconscious and screaming was traumatic for us all.  It’s less traumatic with a seven year old… I thought.

Before the procedure, she sat on the bed and crocheted with her new Care Bear from Grandma and Grandpa.  She laughed at the nurses’ and doctors’ jokes.  She had no questions.  We had already gone over the procedure a few times, so she knew what to expect.  She only looked slightly like she was going to cry as they wheeled her back.

While she was gone, I knitted.  Fiercely.  I wasn’t worried, I told myself.  I just needed to keep busy.  The two Xanax I took would surely do the job.

And then finally it was over and they wheeled her back, and all I wanted to do was crawl into the bed and lay with her.  I wanted to stroke her hair and cry.  I didn’t.

Then we came home, and I just wanted to sit next to her and cuddle her and never leave go.  That’s what we did this evening.  I could barely talk because I would choke up every time.  She was just happy stroking her new Care Bear because the fur really is exceptionally soft.

And now she is in bed.

She said she wanted to sleep with me.  I told her to please crawl into bed with me tonight if she wakes up.  I don’t think she will.  She likes her space.  But secretly I hope to have her by my side tonight.

And now that she is asleep and safe and peaceful, I am sitting down here shaking and I can’t stop the tears from threatening my eyes.

They are telling me the truth – that it wasn’t a freakish calm I was experiencing.  It was a fear so deep that I couldn’t face it.  It wasn’t calm – it was a complete shut down.

I tried my best not to think about her surgery yesterday.  When I did, all that popped into my head was what life would be like without her.  How I couldn’t handle it.  How I couldn’t go on.  How as her mom she needs me, but how as her mom, I need her so much more.

I know it was a routine procedure.  I know every day countless numbers of kids have it done.  But it’s not my kid every day.  It’s not my little Magoo.  It’s not the baby who brought so much light into our lives that it was blinding.

Ever since the day she was born, I thought she was too perfect for this world.  It’s a mother’s delusion, I know.  I didn’t understand how something so perfect could come from me, and as such, I’ve always had this fear in the back of my head that it would all be taken away.  Days like today intensify that fear.

It’s over now, and she is safe and has mostly recovered.  Now I just need a few days to nurse my own wounds.

Being a mom is hard.  There are no bandaids to cover our scars.

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Sadness

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Sometimes I get sad, and I don’t really know why.  I’m not crying or depressed.  Just sad.

Last night I started a new book with Magoo.  One of my absolute favorite things in the world is hearing Magoo read.  She has read with such inflection since she was three.  It’s adorable.

But when we were about to start last night, she got a bit sad, and she told me that sometimes when she reads at school the kids laugh at her.

As I think any mom would, my blood pressure went through the roof, and it took every ounce of will power I had to let her air her feelings without instantly trying to fix them with praise and hugs and every positive word I could think of.

So she told me how it made her feel, and then I asked her why she thinks they laugh.  She told me that it’s whenever she reads a word like “poop” or some other word of that sort.

Now I’m not sure how often the word, “poop,” comes up in school reading, but instantly I recognized the problem.  Kids weren’t laughing at her.  They were laughing with her at funny content.  I explained this to her, telling her how it’s just like when we laugh when something funny happens in a book we are reading together.

This was a simple one.  I actually could fix it.  I could explain how no one really is laughing at her.  She might still be embarrassed, but I think she understood the important distinction.

And yet my heart still stayed heavy.  Every day she goes out into a world that doesn’t care so much about her feelings.  At this point, she’s surrounded by friends and teachers who truly care about her, but in the end, the world doesn’t exist to cater to her feelings.

And it shouldn’t.

And we’ve been dealing with some problems with Goosie.  At the point, she doesn’t know a problem exists.  But we do, and we are trying to figure out ways to make it better and help her through it, hoping it will take care of itself in due time.

While the odds are in her favor, sometimes it doesn’t clear up.  Sometimes it becomes a life long issue.

And I look at her.  I see her unbridled excitement.  I see her passion and her joy.  I see how very much that passion has to offer this world, and my heart breaks.  Because I know the world doesn’t look highly upon passion.  It honors reserve and coolness and detachment.  And she lives in a world of fire.

I pray that she maintains that fire even when the world tries to douse it.

I can’t fix the world.

And I think that’s where the sadness comes in.  I’ve always said that I’m not worried about my children’s weaknesses.  They, like us all, can learn to manage them.

No, what breaks my heart is their strengths.  Those little aspects of them that are sent pure from Heaven.  The parts that make them unique, special, perfect.

I always used to listen to people who told me that I can’t protect them from the world.  I have to help them toughen up to cope with this world.

And in some ways that’s true.

But I’m also starting to think that it’s equally important that I help them maintain that purity of spirit and personality.  They are gifts from God, and they need protecting.

I can’t protect them from everything.  I can’t shield them from a world they will spend their entire Earthly lives in.

But I can build them up.  I can celebrate their uniqueness.  I can create a refuge in myself that they can come to when the world gets too cold and the storms blow too strong.

In me, they can find the unconditional love this world will not give them.

I want to keep them mine.  I want to close our doors and let their beautiful little lights shine, unhindered and untainted by the world around us.  But there’s no point to a light shining in a box.  That light is made for the world, and to hide it is just as much of a crime as to stifle it.

So I sit here and walk the line between nurturance and exposure, knowing that the line cannot be perfectly walked and we will often fall too far to one side or another.

And perhaps that’s why I’m sad.  I’m an imperfect mom parenting in an imperfect world.

That’s tough to know sometimes.

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Who We Allow In

I think a lot about who I let into my life.

I think as Christians, we are taught to be open and welcoming and accepting of people’s faults.  We try to see the good in them.

But what about when that doesn’t work?  What about when people are corrosive and abusive?

I’ve never been good at protecting myself from those influences.  I’ve never felt like I deserved to say that I am worth more than that.  That my being and my soul deserved protection from forces looking to turn me away from myself.

But then I did.

It wasn’t myself I was protecting.  I was protecting my family.  I was saying I want more for them.  And I was admitting that we had vulnerabilities that would allow those negative forces to seep in.

And now, partially removed from that decision, I see the moral imperative in it.  I now understand that we are not made of steel.  That we have vulnerabilities and that darkness will try to infiltrate through those vulnerabilities.  And to keep putting ourselves in situations or relationships that exaggerate that vulnerability isn’t being responsible to ourselves or those we most care about.

I’m not advocating the dismissal of all difficult relationships.  I’m most surely not saying that people aren’t worth fighting for.  We need to see the good in people and allow them grace and show them mercy.  We must be Christ in the world for people.

But sometimes we also have to know our limitations.  And we have to hold people responsible.  Sometimes staying in a relationship is merely enabling poor behavior for the sake of something that isn’t really benefiting anyone in the first place.

So hold your loved ones close.  Fight for them with everything you have.  Grant them the mercy you hope God will grant you.  But also remember that your soul and those of the ones closest to you are your number one priority.

And sometimes you just have to learn that the most loving thing you can do is walk away.

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Beauty

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And then we come to the child’s greatest defense.

After 24 hours of yelling and crying and being an overall stink, they stand in the middle of the room on the ottoman, swaying their hips back and forth, singing in toddlerspeak “raining drops keeping falling down me head.”  Then they giggle, throw themselves at you, and whisper, “cuddle me please.”

And that’s where they have it.  That is why they have the upper hand.  That is why we give all that we have and then we wake up and give it all again and will continue to do so until they one day get out of bed and say they need to fly.

Because children are the best of us.  They are the parts that are pure and holy and innocent.  They show us a glimpse of what we all maybe could have been if only.  They are joy.

So when your kid makes a mess today and hits her sister and spills milk all over the dog and draws a self portrait on the wall, just remember that tomorrow will come and then you will see the beauty in this crazy life once more.

They say non parents are happier than parents.  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  But what I do know is that no other gift can bring the joy that a child can.  Messes and all.

 

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The Other Days

And some days I completely lose it.

Some days, I decide at the last minute to go to morning Mass.  I do this because Magoo likes it.  I do this because I believe it’s important for the little two to learn to be respectful and reverent during those times.  I do it to pray for my family and ask God to bless us all.  And I do it to find peace.

But some days when I go to that Mass, Mae spends half the time screaming about poop.  Then she takes off around church and gets what seems to be about a quarter of a mile away before I catch her because it looks inappropriate for a two year old to run screaming through church, but it looks much worse for a 37 year old to do so.

And then we go to the grocery store.  I do this to feel on top of things.  So I can get what we need early in the day so I don’t have to worry about it.  But the little two spend the whole time asking over and over and over again if they can ride the horse.  And I tell them that they cannot because they did not behave in church.  Apparently this does not register in their cute little ear canals because they just ask again.

And then we get home, and I cave in and put them in front of the television (you might see smoke coming out of their ears from their brains that were fried from too much television) so that I can sit in the kitchen in peace and have a cup of coffee.  During this brain frying, I put on an inspirational podcast about making my home environment conducive for peace and spirituality.  I bark whenever anyone comes in the room.

And then I finally get up from coffee and I mad clean my house.  I do this to make myself feel better.  But I quickly realize that cleaning a house that isn’t too dirty doesn’t actually make it look any different, and as such, I feel no better.  I ignore the bathroom which is the one room that really could use some cleaning.

So it’s time for lunch.  And I make my kids orange chicken thinking they will thank me for this.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think those screams and tears were coming from joy.  I could never be sure because I couldn’t make out words through the gnashing of teeth.  At least the dog is enjoying it as I am sure she is currently standing on my kitchen table eating out of their long since abandoned bowls.

All I know is that instead of eating their lunch, they are now following me around telling me that their heads are too cold and that they really want to clean the ottoman instead of eating their chicken.

And I want to be graceful and kind.  I want to show them mercy.  I want to sit down and give them the hugs that they probably need.  It’s when we act the least loving, after all, that we need the most love.

And I know I will do those things in about thirty seconds after I hit post, but right now, I just want to take a moment to say that I don’t want to.

I am tired.  And I just don’t want to be the bigger person.  I don’t want to turn the other cheek.  I don’t want to give until it hurts.  I don’t want to dry tears that were spawned from anger at me.  I don’t want to start to prepare a dinner no one will want.  I don’t want to clean a floor they will just mess up again.

I just don’t want to.

But I will because I am Mom and that’s what moms do.  Even when we don’t want to.  Even when we really, really don’t want to.

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