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.

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Keep on Keeping On

That moment. When you feel so very, very horrible. And all because you have left your middlest child at the rink, waiting for the better part of an hour because you had no way to get in touch with her. And all because you were driving from Point A to Point B to Point C to Point D. And on the way you nearly ran out of gas.

And then. When you finally did arrive and met your crying child at the door of the rink, her friend says to you, eyes raised as she breezes by, “She sure was getting worried.” And you later find out that ‘said’ friend also asked your child, “Does she always forget you like this?”

That moment. When the semi-middlest child tells you that you never give her enough attention, that you always favor the youngest because they’re the baby. That you never listen to her. Oh! That dreadful word never. Never, never, never.

That moment when Oldest tells you that you never (there it is again…) go to the rink to watch his games; or that, at the very least, you are not there as much as he would like. That you never pick out the right kind of jeans, that you don’t buy the right kinds of cereal. That you don’t live up to all his wildest expectations of what a mama should do and say or be.

And you think you might be a fail.

That moment. When your older child takes a compliment you’ve given to a younger child and turns it into a stab in her own back. As if to say. That in complimenting anyone else, it automatically means attacking someone other than them in the process.

That moment when you are trying to tell everyone how well they’ve done, how very proud you are. And no one is listening because it is not about their own very selves, at that very second.

And you feel so very tired.

That moment. When you are worn down and drug out and used up because of life. And because you went to bed late the night before. And all because you were booking a solo ticket south FOR YOURSELF. For the very reason that you dropped a chair on your foot earlier in that same evening. And that incident was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Because you’ve hardly given your own worn-out self any attention lately.

That moment, …THAT MOMENT. When you look at your hands, at your feet; and they look…old. When you look at your body and it seems flabby. When you look at your eyes, and they seem tired.

That, my dear Mama, is the moment you realize. That being a mother is the hardest gig you’ve ever had to do. Harder than anything. Ever. And a secret part of your own self knows this to be true: that the reason God doesn’t let us look forward is because in His great wisdom, He knows a mother’s heart would fail if she knew all that was to come. Yet. In His great mercy, He allows us to look back and see how far we’ve come.

That moment. When a Mama gives herself grace. When she forgives herself, even when her four precious off-spring in their immaturity cannot. And she tells herself:

“Well done, Warrior Mama. You are doing a bang-up job being a Mom. You are doing me proud, Self. I know how hard you work at this. Keep on keeping on, Soldier Mama. There will come a day when this too will pass, and you will forget how hard it was and only remember how awesome you did at the hardest job know to human-kind. Mothering. You are beautiful, wise, full of grace upon grace. And your children will one day rise up and call you blessed. Don’t you ever give up.”

That moment is what keeps me going.

Keep on keeping on, soldiers.

Good Enough Momma…

Photo: I am the OKAYEST!! I AM THE OKAYEST!!

I succumbed to new depths of misery today, in the form of the after-school ski program.  I literally, no word of a lie, pulled Littlest One up three cross-country ski- hills, most of which while holding both her poles and mine.  And the only music to my ears was her incessant wailing, I mean full-out howling, from start to finish.  Sheer. absolute.torture.  I was more stressed out after I skiied than I had been before during the work day.  An afternoon of outdoor entertainment.  All in the name of being a good- no!   That is to say a GREAT- mother.

Makes me wonder what it takes to just be good enough.  What it would take to merely be a good enough mother.   An okay mother, even.

A good enough mother probably wouldn’t stress herself out piggy-backing a screaming Kindergartner around a six kilometer track, now would she?  No.  She is far too sensible for that.  A good enough momma knows that sanity is a precious resource, needing preservation for such time as one might be close to scraping the bottom of the barrel.  Thus, throwing oneself into unnecessary, tortuous after-school programs might be a bit of a drag on the old mental health bank.  And we all need a wholesome reserve for a rainy day.

A good enough momma doesn’t try to kill herself doing crazy hairstyles for school winter carnivals.  She knows that bed head is many a suburban wannabe/preppy kid’s worst nightmare.  Thus, sending a child to school without formally brushing their hair is normal/crazy enough for her, thank you very much.  Or as in my case.  I did the girls hair last night after bath,  when things were fresh and the hoolies were somewhat comatose, and then gave strict warnings this morning to not mess with perfection.  Or else.  Added a few multi-coloured pony-tail holders and a bit of sparkles (that I noticed were never washed out from the weekend, but still came in handy anyway…),  and we were good to go.

A good enough momma will tune out her children’s screaming voices when they reach a certain pitch.  That pitch is predetermined on an individual basis.  I reach my ‘tuning-out plateau’ fairly suddenly, immediately following the first cry or wail of discontent.  Believe me.  After four hooligans, you get to know the difference between cries of despair and those merely of malcontent.  It is not too often that something is drastically wrong.  So when the incessant crying begins, I have disciplined myself to think happy thoughts about monkeys escaping from the zoo whilst the zookeeper is wistfully snoozing in the clubhouse.

It works like a charm.

Good enough mommas do many things the same as great mommas.  They just don’t kill themselves and their off spring in the process.  ( I realize that great mommas don’t do the latter either, which means we have more in common than we think we do…)  Okay mommas who are good enough realize that life is short, time is precious and children are not as fragile as they might have their parents believe.  Good enough mommas are willing to make sacrifices so as to keep their own fragile sense of self-worth intact.  And maybe, just maybe that might mean flying south even when one’s brood of four is heading north to Souris for hockey provincials.

Did I just say that?

Yes, I’ve said it.  I am considering taking a solo trip south for March Break, sans children and husband.  I am no longer good enough, I am just plain bad.  I’ve heard from the Peanut Gallery, and consensus is they don’t want Momma to go.  Husband on the other hand can’t wait to have the rule of the roost all to himself.  So what’s an okay momma to do?

Do what every other good enough momma does when the going gets tough.

Get going.

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!”

Joy in the middle…

Do something with your days of which you can be proud.  Even today.  Start right now.  For it is never too late to begin making moments count.   Make your one life meaningful, and make it worth the breath it took to get you through the day.  Do something worthwhile.  Do this for yourself.  Do this for the greater good of others.  And in doing something worthwhile, it will leave you unafraid.  Unashamed.  When people ask questions about who and what you are, about the meaning for living your life, you won’t be afraid to answer.  You won’t be afraid you haven’t got an answer.  And even more importantly, do something of which you can be proud for it is your own legacy you are building.  Care enough to have high standards for yourself.  Care enough to believe in yourself.  Care enough to want to make a difference for others.  Care enough.  Because at the end of the day, no one else can do the living and the caring in your life but you.  It’s all on your shoulders.

No pressure.

We had dessert (strawberry shortcake with whipped cream) with a gentleman this evening that has parked his camper three down from ours.  A charming seventy-nine year old widower, he was full of stories of the people in his life up until the point that I asked him about his career in the military.  “I don’t talk about those days,” he said. “I didn’t do anything I was proud of.”

Hmmm…that stopped me in my tracks.  I haven’t met too many military chaps who can’t weave a yarn or two about life ‘way back when’.  And certainly, most are proud of their accomplishments.  It got me thinking about my own life.  What am I proud of?  Or rather, not so proud of?

There are a lot of moments in my life that I am not proud of.  Many more than should be.  I am careless with my words, thoughtless with actions and uncontrolled in my emotions, by times.  To be fair, I am working on these shortcomings, but change does not come easy.   As a mother, I have often felt that I am a poor example of a mother.  I do not live up to the stereotypes that are imbedded in my head.  I am not a comfortable fit for the role of mothering as I perceive that role in my head.  And so, I see the worst in myself.   I am not naturally patient, I don’t particularly enjoy spending large chunks of time with young children, I find being silly a drain on my energy and I have a very short temper.  In short, I am certainly not the ideal.  In talking with my sister the other day, I expressed this very thought, and she assured me that there were as many different ways of being a mother as there are mothers themselves.

So, I guess I might be doing okay.  The jury’s still out on that one.

To say I am not proud of my life as a whole would be a misrepresentation.  More accurately, I feel  I haven’t done anything of great worth.  I read the eloquent words of others who write nobly of being parents to children with life-threatening illness, or words they penned of their own struggles and how they deal with long-term illness.  Others write of their love of being mothers and ream off endless treatises on how to be better mothers than they already appear to be.  If I could be but a particle of those highly touted examples found in these essays, I would have it all under control.

Still others write inspirational words to uplift and motivate devoted readers who follow their writing regardless of their philosophical differences or placements in life.  It must be something to write words that carry that kind of weight.

Inspiring.  Makes me want to try to write like that.

The words these writers I so admire weave into thoughtful prose and heart-wrenching  essays are often difficult, awe-inspiring and challenging for the reader to read.  But their words are read because they are worthwhile.  They are important words.  They lift the reader to another place, a higher place than they were before they read, so as to help them to understand.  Their’s are words of which one could be proud, for they speak of lives lived well in spite of circumstance, material possessions or choice in the matter.

When I read their words, I often shamefully think, “What do I have to be proud of?  Why bother writing such useless, boring essays on my uninteresting life?”  I am like this gentleman whom has intrigued me by  refusing to share stories of his life: he and I- we have done nothing that we’re truly proud of.

Or haven’t we?  Is not all the schema of life important?  For there needs be some of us whom act as scene extras or there would not be a realistic element to the film.  There needs be an audience or there would not be reason for the entertainment.  There needs be average, every-day people for we are the gauge by which the extraordinary measure their worth.  There needs be the mundane or there would never be a moment of normalcy to this world.  There must be a level by which we measure what is both extraordinarily wonderful and unbelievably horrible in this world.  And that is us. The middle men and women.  The people who are living out their lives ‘outside the fishbowl’.  We live without scrutiny.

But this I know: all of life matters.  Especially the lives of those in the middle.  But still.  Knowing is not always enough.  There is inside some of us a deep desire to matter to more than just a few.  We want our lives to COUNT in a larger way.   And count they will when we first strive to matter to the ones that matter most to us.  We must focus on that circle that forms our intimate bonds of friendship and other relationships.  And at the end of the day, it is once again perspective that brings my heart and thoughts towards home.  For home is where the heart is.  And the heart if the wellspring of life.

This I also know for sure.  I matter; even from my place here in the middle ground.  I matter to God, to my family and to my friends.  And you matter for all the same reasons.

And that is something we can both be proud of.

Mother’s Day Joy…

I wake up before 6:00 a.m. to a child stealing my pillow and a husband snoring.  Happy Mother’s Day, 2012.

I crawl out of bed to ready for the day of festivities…birthday present openings and birthday breakfast for the ten-year old, phone calls, church, dinner out, visits with family, church again, lesson planning for tomorrow, various other odds and ends…phew.  It is only sunrise, and the day stretches out before me like a rubber band, ready to snap under the slightest pressure.

We start the day off with one child emotionally put-out that we did not include him on morning still-in-bed birthday song singing, as is our custom here at the Gard household.  We are already negotiating and making deals, and the sun is just coming up over the horizon.  Upon quickly smoothing things out, our happy troop heads downstairs to open gifts with the Birthday Girl.

As soon as the gifts are opened, Little One immediately tries to steal and manhandle the biggest of the gifts, while the rest of the family watches with awe her ability to so easily get her own way.  Man-i-pu-la-tor.  And we will see more where this came from before darkness brings another day to a close.  Mark. My.Words.  Or my name’s not Lori Gard.  We schedule in time slots with ‘the gift’, and again, a near blow-out is avoided.

We’ll save that glorious event for breakfast.

While I am in the shower, Husband slips out to Tim Horton’s to pick up three breakfast sandwiches, two coffees and a box of Timbits.  Being that only three of us like egg on a biscuit, you would think that three little inoffensive sandwiches would go unnoticed.  But no.  The three sandwiches become the center of an all-out brawl.  While some are vying for the sandwich, others are fighting for those same children’s right NOT to get a bite.  We have one that leaves the table for the entire breakfast, and another that gets a stern talking to.  I divide my sandwich in half.

So far, so lovely.

After breakfast, we manage to get ready for church in record time and arrive for the first time all year before the service has begun.  This, in itself, is a Mother’s Day gift for the record books.   We settle in for a busy morning at church, and after things finish up for the morning, our entire family heads off to the busiest little restaurant in West Prince- the Chinese restaurant.  Things start off with a bit of a bang as our own family comes in last, and thus Hubby and I are secluded to the end of the table with the ten grandchildren and no other grown-ups.  We can hear adult conversation off in the distance, as the table is by necessity a mile long so as to fit the various Gard family members that must eat around it.  And we can see adults.  But we cannot converse.  I stare at an Oriental picture on the wall in hopes of getting inspiration, and it does come.   In the form of nature’s calling.

I head off to the restroom hoping to clear my head and avoid the confusion of our dining arrangements in the process.  As I near a completion of my visit to the Ladies Room, I go to grab some toilet paper from the dispenser, and the whole rig comes off the wall and lands on my head.  I am still without paper, so I secure the unit, and try again.  The machine falls once more and lands again on my head.  So, while I prop it up with my injured head, I manage to secure the paper needed to finish the job, all the while nervously looking under the next stall to make sure there are no recognizable shoes on that side.  Lucky for me, I was flying solo.

This day is going from crazy to insane.

I wrap things up, and get out of there, again in record time.  If anything, Mother’s Day 2012 has been about setting new personal bests in the area of speediness.  For that, I can give myself a big pat on the back.

And so it goes.   Or so it went, rather.  For now I am staring at a computer monitor trying to think happy thoughts about Mother’s Day and how much it means to all us poor mamas out there just trying to survive the madness.  It is definitely a “extraordinary” day.  That’s for sure.

So as Mother’s Day nears a close, I don’t know about all you other mamas, but it is rather a relief for this one.  So many expectations and so much pressure.  Not sure I can handle more than one day of special treatment for mothers per year…it might just do me in.  But whether I like it or not, next Sunday is a-comin’, and it is bound to be a doozy.  It’s my birthday, and I can only imagine what craziness, insanity and downright funniness might arise.  One can only imagine.  I’ll keep you posted.