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.

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When Enough is the Right Amount…

I realized something today as I silently watched from that safe distance afforded one when the other is unaware. I watched as my husband tickled our daughter, her infectious giggles urging him to do more of the same. And as I watched, I knew for sure what I’d never known before.

I don’t love my daughter like he does. In fact, I don’t love any of our four children in the same ways he does.

And up until now, this fact has scared me. Has convinced me that I am not a good mother. That I don’t love enough, project enough, relax enough, offer enough or have enough. I therefore am not enough. Or rather, I am not a good enough mother.

(oh, these lies we tell ourselves…)

We mothers are good at playing that comparison game with ourselves pinned up alongside other mothers — holding ‘us’ up to ‘them’, vis-à-vis the standards we see for motherhood all around us. And that alone is enough to stifle a mother’s self-esteem. But when it is our own partner to which we compare and contrast ourselves — and within the elusive Other we see traits so unlike our own. To which we say, “I don’t do what s/he does, so therefore I must not be as good a parent.”

It is one of the hardest pills of self-depreciation to swallow.

My Husband is a wonderful dad. He is relaxed and fun. He is the more likely of us two to sit down and cuddle with the children. He loves watching kid movies. He is the one most apt to let the kids make a mess. He is the one whom is least stressed, least uptight and least tidy. He is patient, calm and easy-going.

Of course, I am the exact opposite. And then some.

I am more likely to do everything but stay calm. I am perfectionist to a fault. I am uptight, fidgety and extremely tidy. I am trying to adopt patience as a possibility, but so far it hasn’t been working out quite like I’d hoped. Forget about easy-going (not happening…).

But as much as I have wanted to be more like him and adopt some of these fine qualities as my own character traits, I am who I am. And I am more than all this.

I am more than the sum of some of my personality parts.

I am a champion for my children. When any one of my four children is scared or suffering or sad or feeling isolated, I am the first one to sense it. A mother’s fifth sense — discernment and understanding: it is mine to own. So that when my children are frustrated, I am innately in-tune with their thoughts and feelings. And if they are under any kind of emotional or physical threat or attack, no matter the degree, I am the one who knowingly runs to their rescue. I am the one who has held them with protective, fierceness: held the growing body with gangly legs of my six-year old who wraps her little arms around my neck through to the manly body of my boy almost 13. I am a mama bear when it comes to my kids.

I am: the most likely to be confrontational if my kid’s well-being is at stake: because I would fight for them. To the death. I go to bat for them on the little and big issues. And you can be assured that if they are hurting, so am I. I will fight to correct that hurt for them. I will do what I have to do.

I am: imperfectly perfect at being the mother my children need. I know my flaws, but I know my strengths as well. And I find my strength in being an advocate, a protector and a warrior as it concerns my children.

I am that iconic grizzly bear mama — and you will certainly hear me roar.

Is my love exactly like that special love they have found in their father? No. Do I love our four children the same ways as does he? Undeniably, no. But I do love them with intensity and with passion. It’s just that I love using a different fact of love than he does. And different is neither bad nor good.

It’s just unique.

My friend commented recently to me that she felt she doesn’t love her children as much as she thinks she should. And I told that while she may think she does not love them like she thinks she should, she still loves them enough.

Because different also doesn’t mean more or less. It just means enough. And enough is just exactly the right amount.

To Thine Own Self Be True…

Post-Mother’s Day 2013 (survived!).    And so here I am reflecting now, on a few of my favorite things.  Mothers and holidays and good old-fashioned truth-telling.   Blog style.   And I got to thinking about motherhood.    About the mothers I know and love, and about how each special mother, from those who are steady and patient to those who are more boisterous and bold: each Mama I know is to her own self, true.

True.

True to her calling.  True to herself.  True to the mama she is and was meant to be.

And truth matters.  Because it is reveals who we really are.  I was confused today by a writer claiming to be  truth-teller.  A beautiful mama whose blog writing I follow.  And what confused me was this.  She has always been characterized by certain behaviors and traits- which she has carefully revealed to her reading audience through selective choice.  She staged it to be this way.   And then, out from nowhere, came something  completely opposite of what she had built herself to be.  Nothing bad, nothing harmful.    Just confusing.  And in and of itself, what was presented was perfectly acceptable behaviour for another woman’s style of mothering.   But because it was HER writing, it was confusing.  Because I always thought she wanted me, the reader, to see her in a certain light.  And now she was completely changing the rules.

And this is what I was really thinking.  If she is who she always said she was, I wish for her to stand by that philosophy.  If not, then she should be whomever she says she is now.  It is confusing for those who have come to know and love you for who you are only for you to then change your authentic self to something else so as to please another group of people.  To gain popularity or favor.    I just wish I could say to her, “To thine own true self remain true.  Whomever that self might be.”

And so, upon reflection, I have decided to highlight the many faces of authentic  mothering that I have known.  And admire each for remaining true to whomever they believe they should be.  As a mother.

There are some mothers in my friendship circle who have always known they wanted to be a mother.  From their earliest memories of being themselves a child, they knew in their heart they would one day love a child of their very own.  These mothers are natural nurturers.  From a little girl, they could find in a crowd that one person who needed a little extra love and attention.  And they could make that person feel accepted and included.  They were natural empathizers, knowing just what to say and what to do to make those around them feel loved and cherished.  These mamas are often put on a pedestal.  But really, they are just doing what comes naturally and easy to them.  They appear effortless in their mothering.  And it looks easy because it is: when you love something, it isn’t work.  It’s a joy.

There are other mothers whom I have known, who have grown into mothering.  It was a learning process.  They always wanted children but just weren’t quite sure what to do with the lil’ creatures when they arrived.  “You have to do WHAT with these baby wipes, and WHEN…?”  I can hear them incredulously muttering to their Hubbies.  And that, having been said during pre-natal classes only after having been stunned into reality from the grueling labour and delivery video.  These moms, love their hearts!, did their best to muddle their way through in the dark.  Finding their niche with every passing year.    Getting their groove back with every passing milestone.  And doing a bang-up job at this gig we call mothering in spite of their lack of experience.

There are some moms who were surprised with becoming a mother.  Perhaps it was the timing that threw them off-guard.  Perhaps the circumstances.  Perhaps it was a combination of the two.  And some of these moms, if they were to be brutally honest, would say they don’t love the act of mothering.   And that becoming a mother isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  But these moms, they love their children.  And they are committed to seeing their children through childhood into their adult years.  Committed to giving their offspring what they have- out of a heart of sacrifice and a heart of devotion.  They are warrior mamas.  They are soldiers.  And these Mamas are giving out of a heart of love as much as are those whom we might hold to a idealized stereotype.  It just feels a little different.  And that’s okay.

There are some Moms in this circle of friendship who are screamers.  Hollerers.  They love to yell.   They love to raise their voices in exclamation.  They might have once been a drill sergeant.   And they epitomize the mother attributed to in the infamous  Mom Song.  They might even have mailed in contributing lines for that piece which was sung by an amazing soprano singer (who might herself be a hollerer-mom.  I can just tell.)  These moms operate on one decibel, and it may or may not break the sound barrier.  But they fiercely love their children.  And they just might be the first of all moms to have the quick-wittedness inside them to impulsively jump in front of a bus so as to save someone or something.  Even if that might merely be their child’s cherished teddy-bear (incidentally, which is worth more than its weight in gold to their precious, screaming toddler.)

Some Moms are reckless.  They love to live life on the edge.  They live life large and loud and free.  Others are quiet and introverted.  Blink, and you might miss them in a crowd.  Some mothers love to do crafts.  They are the reason we have Pinterest.  Others hate the darn things (their motto: crafts=pinsanity).  Some moms are amazing cooks.  Some can’t even boil water.  Some mothers love to be alone, away from the prying hands of little children.  Other mothers long for hands held close and warm embraces.  Moms come in every shape and size, in every color and variety.

And you couldn’t find the same prototype twice.  They come custom-designed.

Some mothers, to the naked eye, just seem perfect.  And when you size yourself up next to them, you feel you can never add up to as much.   They just know how to ‘mother’ with such ease and grace.  They are models of what the stereotypical mother might be, were she truly a reality. And they give other mothers a source of inspiration and motivation of purpose.  Other moms seem to care less about perfection.  They would rather you and the rest of the world, know as much.   Because they love being the black sheep of the mothering crowd.   They thrive on being ‘good-enough’.  Anything more would be a little too much cotton candy for their liking, thank you very much.  But these moms- they still show up for their kids, in spite of the image they often portray.  And they are much better than their “good enough’ projection seems to indicate.

Excluding my own mother, and trying my best to be impartial!  I have to say.  Amongst the circle of mother-friends and acquaintances whom I know and love, there is not one mother I can say is the perfect prototype.  Not one I would hold up to the light and declare, “This one!  She is the true ideal!”  And neither would I want to.  Because every mother is best in her own right.  Every mother is perfectly suited to the mothering she was designed to do.  Because mothering is an art.  It is not an ideal.  It is a calling, not a job.  It is a life-long pursuit, not a milestone marker.  And it is mostly an act of the heart and the soul, not so much an act of physical reflex.

And all of us who call ourselves mothers need not compare ourselves to one another.  Because it is the variety that provides beauty and color.   And if not for the wide array of mothering prototypes, our children would not have the custom-designed Mama that was specifically chosen for them.  The travesty lies in trying to be someone we are not.  In believing we are not good enough.  In thinking we need to be more like one type of mama and less like another.  It is in our diversity that we find excellence in design.  In our weaknesses, we find we are made whole.  And each Mama must be the mother she was called to be.  For that is being a mother at one’s very best. That is being authentic.  That is being true.

To each one, be true.

To each mother: be true.  True to yourself.  To your family.  True to your world.  True to your Maker.  And true to the mother you were designed to be.  It is only in embracing who we truly are that we can then accept others for who they were designed to be as well.   And a mother does it right, most of the time, when she is authentically herself (allowing for a few mishaps here and there!).  She does it right when she is true.  That is, when she is truly the kind of mother she was meant to be.

When a body needs a mother…

Sometimes. A body just needs to knowTo feel.  A mother’s love.  To know that she is there.  That she’s within arm’s length, when storylines get dark, ominous, sinister.  That she is only a whisper away.   When the plot thickens to a portentous climax.  When the theatrics prove a bit too much to take.  One needs a comforting hand, a steady shoulder to lean on.  A warm body to touch.  A mother to cling to.

When the world just seems too much to take in.  A mother slows life down with her soothing hand, her gentle touch.

The brazen ones say they can do things on their own.  That they are strong.  Tough.  Independent.  That they’re too old for this silliness.  That they are enough in and of their own strength.  But one forgets sometimes.   A body needs a mother.

Even if.  Only sometimes.

It often takes a crisis to remember all the reasons why this is so.   Takes a sudden jolt to bring one’s world to a frightening halt.  The clutches of a vicious rattle in the chest.  And suddenly, hospital corridors summon.  Prescriptions take up the empty cupboard space.  The covers on the bed are adjusted a hundred times, and medicine vials are filled and emptied.  Filled and emptied.  Machines whir vapour mist into the lungs, freeing the soul to inhale.  Exhale.  Breathe.  And the mother becomes the doctor and the nurse.

A mother’s love, a balm that heals.

It takes a wind storm, cutting off connections to the real world.  When the lights flicker, then dim.  Dark replacing light.  Even then.  A body can need a mother.  Sometimes even a boy who is old enough to not need a mother, brave enough to do things on his own.  Even he sometimes needs his mother.  To walk together through dark passage ways where no one wants to walk alone.  To play a slow game of chess to pass the time.  A boy needs a mother.  To chat about the day’s events and share a cuppa hot steaming broth.

A mother’s presence fills the void.

It takes growing pains, sharp knife-like throbs in strong, young legs.  That only a mother can ease with equally strong, knowing hands.  Erasing the pain so slumber finds its way at last.  It takes a mother to hold close the fearful, the wounded, the lonely, the discouraged, the heart-sick, the restless.  A mother knows just when is right to talk, when is right to listen.

And yet.  A mother can only do so much.  Only as much as the day allows.  As much as she is able.  And when she is unable?   Sometimes even capable, competent she, even a mother needs a mother.  One who can bear her load and lessen the toll that comes with mothering.   To lend an ear, a shoulder, a helping hand.  A mother needs a mother.   And when mothers receive, they are then able to give back threefold.  For a mother’s returns are always more than her acquisitions.

A body always needs a mother.  Even when that body is a mother herself.

Confessions of a Good Enough Mama…

Here it is- confessions of a good enough mother.  Because slacker is such a strong word.

I admit it.  I use nearly-rotten bananas in smoothies and quickly hide the skins in the compost container.  Just so the kids don’t see what grossness they are actually drinking.

I also own up to the fact that when playing hide and seek, I will use the time I count slowly to twenty, as well as the time I painstakingly pretend to look for the kidlets, to do various household chores and other odds and ends.  Or I use it to just breathe steady and remember that bedtime is almost here.

Yes, I do skip pages when reading at bedtime.  This tactic is on its last legs as Littlest One is herself now reading.  It was such a lovely trick.

Sometimes I forget to pick my children up from their after-school activities;  and I have left a child behind.  Occasionally.  Don’t judge me because I am absent-minded.

I have been known to stealthily finish piano homework with my children while the lesson is in progress.  Just so we can get the sticker and call it a wrap.

Our kids sometimes eat cereal as their main meal.

Pretty well every one of my children wears socks with holes in them.  Then again, so do I.

I take my kids to the pool primarily so I can sit in the hot tub.

I am reading this, that or the other while they are on the ice, or playing at the park or when I should be putting them to bed.  I try to time looking up when they are skating by.

I am perpetually late for everything.  E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

I brush my two youngest darling daughters hair as soon as they get to school.  Thank goodness I teach Littlest One or her hair would never get brushed.

And I buy fries at the rink every Wednesday, just because.  Easy-peasie.

Am I a slacker?  Or is this the new normal?

I have to say.  Being mediocre makes me a better mama.  Because there is more to life than perfection.  And mediocre helps me to remember this.

“I’m smart enough.  I’m good enough.  And dog-gone it…the kids love me!”