Truth-telling time: I am hot mess

I get the call that I have forgotten-yet again– what I am suppose to be doing. This is me: post new-mommy brain, pre-dementia. There must be another label for this forgetfulness that I am so prone to that is more forgiving.

Having missed an appointment at the mechanic’s, I find that Husband, having not gotten me on my cell (phone turned down), has called the school TWICE to find out ‘where in tarnation’ I am. I am, of course, in my classroom (good teacher that I am)… tidying up loose ends, not a care in the world. I get paged twice over the school intercom (while I meanwhile attempt to run out of the classroom and into the room next door to mine, so as to answer his phone call…all while carrying on a conversation with a colleague—all as if my life didn’t depend on the next two minutes). Yes, this is me. Legitimately absent-minded.

This quick-thinking (or so I think) appears like it will work to save the day, but I soon come to realize Hubby has now given up on me and is pursuing alternative means. Read: he has left his own place of work and is now driving QUICKLY towards mine. I clue in pretty quick as well when my VP announces that he’s hung up on me- that it is TIME FOR ME TO VACATE THE PREMISES. I gather the girls, forget my lunch upstairs in the staff room fridge in the process- and thrust myself through the doors and towards my awaiting van. Which happens to now be parked in a small lake which has formed since I last exited the vehicle.

I pull out of the parking lot, turn onto the road and then honk at hubby as he goes by in the opposite direction, a man who appears to be looking a tad confused and a bit dazed at what could possibly be happening with his wife. She seems to have lost ALL her marbles.

We do finally connect- at the garage.  It is not, I’m afraid, the blissful reunion of which fairy-tales are made.

And you would assume, I’m sure, that I would use the five minute drive home in the truck, riding shotgun beside my Handsome Hubby…to apologize profusely and admit my wrongs. You over-estimate me yet again. Instead, you find me creating endless scenarios and reasons for which to cover my puny Behind, making excuses for why I had forgotten the appointment and on and on we go…as well as find me coming up with endless ways in which to complain about all the other things that have gone wrong with my day OF WHICH HUBBY HAS BEEN AN ACCOMPLICE IN MY ILL-ADVENTURES. Read again: it is entirely his fault that my day has now had the bottom fall out from beneath it.

But of course.

And so, I carry this sour mood home with me as I find umpteen more ways in which to complain and find fault with him and everything else in the world. There is no limit to my impatience.

All this, until I find myself standing at the sink with a scowl on my face and more words in which to throw scathingly in his direction… when I find gentle arms wrapped around my waist, kind hands holding me. His hands, holding me- this ball of tension, this ring of fire. And I feel within me the blaze simmer to a smouldering heat of warmth. And I let him hold me that way until I finally feel I can turn to him, tears in my eyes. Shame in my soul.

For what do I deserve- this mess that I am?  What do I deserve.  But more of the same of which I have offered- that, and then some. I receive back nothing but grace.

In talking about her inability to see the good in people- as she wished she could more often do, Doris Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, penned these words with regards to those people she served daily, who were found living as addicts and otherwise broken in spirit and soul:

“If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travellers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in His love.”

When I think of the absolutes of good and evil, I can only believe that God has called us to see in each other the good, while He gently reminds us through the grace that we receive of our own shortcomings. I only know of evil when I feel the warmth of good. I am only reminded of grace when I see within myself my own errors and shortcomings. There would never be a need for grace if I wasn’t in possession of a deficit of kindness somewhere along the line. And so today, I saw within myself the need for grace- because I was offered much. And so freely.

In writing about Doris Day, Philip Yancey (2010) had this to say ( and I paraphrase): It was Dorothy Day’s brutal honesty about herself- her unwed pregnancy, her biting tongue, her quick temper- self-owned flaws that society (no doubt) pointed out in her as wrongs. It was then her own failings that allowed her to show grace to others. Yancey went on to say that grace is there for those who see themselves as broken- not primarily for those who believe that all is well.

Grace abounds in brokenness.

It is the flaws that we own within ourselves that enables grace to shine brightest. I soon feel tears come to the surface as he speaks gently, showering gracious, loving- KIND words over me. Seeing yet again that because I have been shown grace, I can then use this occasion to myself show gracious kindness in return, first to him and then to others. Covering all with grace.

For all is grace, if it is anything at all.

And so, I am then able to cover all that is around me with that grace I now sense, knowing deep within my own soul that there is an abiding sense of Love’s Presence. All is forgotten and I am free to carry on.

Grace-infused.

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Mostly Enough

I shouldn’t feel this way.  But I do.

In spite of my best efforts, in spite of all I do, all I say and all I strive to be. In spite of how many braids I plait, clothes I fold, rides I provide, meals I make. In spite of how much I take an interest. In spite of how many emails I have sent concerning them, conversations I have struck up because of them. Tears I have shed over them. In spite of the concerts I have attended. Piano lessons I have paid for. Not to mention hockey and skating lessons, soccer and softball fees. In spite of the board games I have played and bike rides I have participated in. In spite of all the times I have lain in bed at night with them in the dark. In spite of every dose of medication I have administered and days I have taken to be home with them.

In spite of everything.

I still don’t always feel I am doing enough.

So I sat with Husband on a Sunday afternoon on the edge of a bridge, lazily watching a river trout jumping in and out of the water, while minnows swam in a school right underneath our toes. I sat watching the breeze gently rustling the river grass while birds flew gracefully overhead. I sat.  On a perfectly beautiful autumn afternoon in the beauty of nature and the perfection of a gorgeous sunny day. And all I could think in those blissful moments that should have brought me peace and tranquility was how inadequate I felt as a mom.

How “not enough” I was as a parent.

No calling to mind of any of the above list could have really convinced me otherwise in that moment and time. I simply felt that I wasn’t doing enough. Being enough. Showing enough.

Felt I wasn’t enough.

And while it seems I have been succumbing to these feelings more and more lately, I don’t always have a reasons for why I do this to myself.  Why this happens. I know the research. I know what this generation is characterized by- indulgence and lenience. It is an age of tolerance and low expectations.  And I know my own story and personality well- I am an overachiever. A perfectionist. And as usual, somewhere deep in my perfectionist psyche, I am punishing myself for inadequacies that I think are there. That I felt others in my family could see and feel as deeply as could I.

My lack of patience. My quick temper. My exhaustion that affects both my mood and my energy level. My frustration. My intolerance. My tendency to speak without thinking carefully through beforehand. All combining to make me feel shame and despair- and added to that, make me even feel less than “not enough”: more like a complete failure.

Since Sunday, I’ve been thinking about these feelings. Ruminating about them in my head, if not even a bit out loud with Husband and my mom in casual conversation. And coincidentally, I happened to come across this little blurb from Jen Hatmaker’s new book tonight as I scanned her blog. Here’s what she had to say about her beliefs about parenting:

Only our overly-critical, overly-involved generation could possibly engineer such carefully curated childhood environments and still declare ourselves failures. We are loving, capable mothers reading the room all wrong.

Can I tell you my goal for my kids? That childhood was mostly good. People, I declare “mostly good” a raging success. If I was mostly patient and they were mostly obedient, great. If we were mostly nurturing and they were mostly well-adjusted, super. Every childhood needs a percentage of lame, boring, aggravating, and tedious. Good grief, life is not a Nickelodeon set. They need something to gripe about one day.

Mostly good is later remembered as “loved and safe.” I know because I now label my childhood “magical” even though my mom slapped me across the face in 7th grade and never bought me Guess jeans and accidentally left me at church numerous times. Mostly is enough.

You are doing a wonderful job. Parenting is mind-numbingly hard and none of us will be perfect at it and all of us will jack a thousand parts of it, and somehow, against all odds, it will still be enough.

Words like cool water on a parched tongue.

Mostly is enough.

And it’s okay to make a few mistakes along the way. In fact, it’s NORMAL.

Tonight, Daughter and I exchanged a few unpleasant words- mostly from my mouth, not hers. And after we got through most of the ugly, the message that cushioned all that had been said was the fact that we both really did love each other.  A lot. I know I sure do, and she tells me the same still, every night. Sometimes we Two have a funny way of showing it, but through it all, that love is constant in spite of the bad bits that tend to color our relationship. It is there, in spite of everything that makes me feel “not enough”.  Not good enough. And thank heavens for that. Because love remains in spite of the misunderstandings, frustrations, clashes and head-butting that sometimes occurs, I can carry on- with the understanding that love will also carry both me and my family through the good, the bad and the ugly. For love is and always will be a constant in this family: even when the storms roll in.  Even when the bullets fly.  It is and will be the foundation on which our family life is built upon. And although we might fight like it is 1999, we still love each other through it all.  We’ve committed to that.

We love each other. And that love, while imperfect, is never mostly enough.

It’s everything.

On Being Better…

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It’s been a day of unraveling from the core.

Woke up before the crack of dawn and then watched the sun rise an hour and a half later, all blush pink and orangey-red tones. A rising bulb of glowing fire emerging from a gently waking earth.

We Six drive to a teacher’s conference in Charlottetown (where Husband and I will spend the next two days in session, while my exhausted mother, who has not slept a solid seven-hour stretch since May, literally- will watch our four children by day). We teachers Two will take the baton in passing at the supper time hour, when all eight of our worlds collide- converting our hats from professional ones to the more intimate personal. And those world colliding?  That would be Husband’s, mine, the Fantastic Four, my mother’s and my dad’s. Should be rather interesting. But right now, I am thinking ahead to when we all plan to go in for a family swim at the university’s Cari Complex later on this evening. This, something Daughter and I have planned, to be an annual event. And I am still unaware of the intervening variables that will come into play later on today making this dream dissolve as if a curl of smoke in mid air.  A disappointment and contribution to the unravelling, no doubt.

The events which complicate: our two Oldest will have already swam at this same pool in the afternoon with their childhood buddies- children who moved into town recently due to their father’s work-related move, a visit rendering our plans to swim as a happy family null and void. By no fault of the children’s nor the hospitable family, I might add. It’s just the way things happen.

That’s how it goes.

We eat supper and linger over my sister-in-law’s apple tarts, a delicacy with flaky golden crust that melts in your mouth. I wish I had room to savour more, but as it is, I cannot find an inch in my stomach for Son’s spicy gingerbread with whipped cream which he has made with my mother just this afternoon. I won’t mention in detail the chocolate-chip pumpkin muffin I scarfed down prior to supper- a lone remainder from Sister’s generous offerings that just begged to be ingested. The food offerings at my Mother’s house make me weak in the knees. There is always lots to choose from and all are absolutely delicious possibilities.  She is the best baker I have ever known- part of the delight in visiting is the absolute joy it is to sit at her table.

So with all this goodness and light behind us, it is difficult to reason at what point the unraveling truly began. Perhaps it was in my own mind as I tried to figure out who would go with whom and when- not an easy task when involving four children with varying options and interests. Perhaps it began even earlier than this, at the break of the day when I was caught up in a reverie and happened to mention to Husband the absolute pleasure it would be to take a Mediterranean cruise next year in celebration of our 20th anniversary- to which I later reasoned would be an absolute impossibility considering the circumstance of our crazy life right now, at this given point in time. A realization which brought my hopes and dreams crashing back down to realistic playing fields. So there you go. Perhaps the unraveling was due to these- perhaps to something else far deeper.

Was it disappointment? Stress? Worry? Fear? Anxiety?

At any rate, the Two Youngest, Husband and I all swam together, while the two others sat, waited, fumed and wiled away the time. And then as we the swimmers froze in the dressing room under intermittent showers, we finally emerged only to realize that no one had known to take a token from the front desk, leaving us in our van stuck inside the parking lot behind the exit gate. Stuck with some Cranky passengers, I might add (one of which was me- I will not lie). And then, after inserting the toonie and then walking back to the complex to retrieve the two attendees, I found myself walking the parking lot just to escape the van and all its commotion.  So needless to say, it was a time.  And we also came to discover that toonies which are invalid in parking meters sometimes go missing.  An annoyance. But thank goodness, we were still able to find that the gate would rise in spite of this grave consequence, allowing us to all finally end the day.

It was a very quiet, contemplative ride back to my Mother’s house. Might I add, emotions were also very close to the surface.

And that is how I found myself, upon arriving home, making an error of the most grave proportions- one that I immediately regretted but could not undo. And for which I mourned that hasty decision to act in the moment: rashly, harshly and impudently.  In the words of Paul, why do we do what we don’t want to do?  And the good that we want seems to only elude us?

Sometimes a mother will find herself saying sorry only to realize that the word ‘sorry’ is not enough to undo a wrong that only time, and patience and love can heal. But that same mother can beat herself up continuously- over and over again, for all that she has done and all that it means in the larger context.  She can punish herself severely.  And she can tell herself that she is undeserving, unfit, unloving, incapable and incompetent. And she can believe those words.

Until a little girl comes to her after work and tells her about her day and reaches up to sit on that same mother’s lap once again. Showing her that even her very children can lead the way to love when all other doors have been slammed shut. Even a child can mend an unsteady bridge that has been badly damaged.

I hold that Little Girl tightly to me tonight even as I promise myself: I will be better next time.

When we know better, we live better.

And through it all, we will come to be better.