“I’m doing the best I can.”
I have repeated this near daily since June, when I took on a new job with more hours – more weekly hours, in fact, than I had worked since having two kids. It’s a good project, and I’m glad to be doing it, but there may have been one or two or ten days that felt like running a race with only one shoe on. Or without socks. Or maybe I had on socks but they were dirty because the laundry piles in this house are everywhere.
Today in the mail, I got this lovely Emily McDowell magnet from a friend.
It was accompanied by a note, written with marker on brown construction paper, “I’m sorry about the icky brown construction paper, but my kid won’t use it so I have to….”
I’m not sure which I appreciate more, the magnet (which I promptly placed on the altar in front of my desk (yes, I have an altar, don’t you?)) or the note (because if using the brown construction paper isn’t a metaphor for motherhood, I don’t know what is).
I do know that I love my friend and that she thought to send this to me and the holiness of the space we humans-doing-the-best-we-can hold for each other.
And for you, in case you need to hear it: “You’re doing a *&^% great job.”
Last night, I erased the past week from our dry erase five-week family calendar and filled in the dates for five weeks from now. I gasped when I wrote October 1 on the board. It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing the last couple of months of being 36, with a birthday in November.
I am amazed and comforted and excited about how my sense of self has continued to grow so much stronger and deeper in the past year.
During #thisis36, I became a full-time freelancer. I broke up with a bad therapist. For the first time ever, I pulled off my shirt in the middle of hot yoga class to move in just my sports bra, something I thought I could never do five years and twenty pounds ago. That is, when I weighed twenty pounds less but wasn’t as fully at home in my body. The image in the mirror has grown older, but I’ve grown kinder towards her. Not that the process has been seamless. There were about two weeks over Christmas when I was aghast and ashamed of a large new wrinkle that seemed to appear overnight. I was thinking about all the ways I could fix it, then suddenly, like a ribbon above my head, appeared “Or…” Or, I could accept it. It is hard to adequately convey in words how that Or shocked my body. The power of acceptance rippled through me and propelled me through a doorway, set me free in a place that I hadn’t been before.
To feel my increasing sense of agency and power makes me happy to be alive. This is 36.
Parenting is hard. You know you’re going to unwittingly do something that messes your kid up, but you’re not sure what it’s going to be. There are many things that I’m not sure I’m doing right, but I know we’re doing our best.
On this Father’s Day Eve, Mike is downstairs dyeing Emma’s hair with kool-aid, something he helps her do every summer, at her request. When you have a dad who helps you dye your hair blue, everything is probably going to turn out pretty ok, don’t you think?
When I was in middle school, I was in a spelling bee. After the bee, my dad gave me a Precious Moments figurine – I collected them – that said “You’re A Winner” on it. He bought it for me before he knew if I had won or not. I had not. Didn’t matter.
Everything is probably going to turn out pretty ok.
And for those of us for whom it is not yet ok, I believe there is always a second chance to be fathered, by fathers who know better now or by friends or pastors or brothers, biological and the ones we meet throughout life. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end yet.
For those for whom Mother’s Day is painful, may today land gently.
For those who are missing a mother or had a mother ill-equipped to raise them, remember that we are all held, always, in a Mother Love that will never let us go.
If it helps, you can also laugh at this by Anne Lamott:
“But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult[…] The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.”
So let’s just hold each other and recognize that there’s many ways of mothering, and that not one of us can mother perfectly, and that’s why we need grace, so much grace, because sometimes it goes wrong, even when we very much wanted it to go right, but there’s always – I really believe this – a second chance to be mothered, by mothers who know better now or by friends or pastors or sisters, biological and the ones we meet throughout life.
Another thought I find comfort in, in light of the transient nature of our life here on earth, from Roberta Bondi: “It has always been the deepest of mysteries to me that my mother has an intimate knowledge of me as a baby and as a child that I myself can never have access to at all. It is as though a fundamental part of me has existence only in my mother’s memory, and when my mother dies this part of me will die too. In the same way, God my mother holds the whole of me forever in God’s ever-present memory, and God will never die.”
Much love, from my mama heart to all of you. xoxo
I’ve written before about how Nine Years Old feels like an important milestone. The realization of this began percolating for me earlier this year, as my oldest daughter prepared to turn nine.
Nine was when I began to experience anxiety. It was also the first year I remember feeling shame. A couple of kids in my class informed me that I was chubby. The kidney reflux that I had been battling since I was born flared up again, requiring several hospitalizations. The physical pain of the disorder was exceeded by the terrifying humiliation of the procedures to try to correct it. During this time, the bubbly, outgoing kid I had been grew quieter. I found myself unable to think of what to say to people my age. I was shy. By the time I was 13, the shame was so pervasive, it was hard to know where it left off and I began.
Last night, Emma joined a local basketball league and attended her first practice.
When I was around eleven, I tried out for basketball at my small private school. I didn’t make the team. I proceeded to try out for softball. I didn’t make the team. Nevertheless, I persisted, and tried out for cheerleading. I didn’t make the team.
When Emma asked if she could join the basketball league – anyone who wants can be on the team – I felt the tenderness of pre-teen Christa. My heart leapt at the chance for Emma to have what I didn’t have.
It brought to my mind two things: first, the amazing capacity of this life to give us do-overs.
I wish my parents had been paying closer attention to my desire to play sports. I would have never been an all-star, but I think with the right help, I could have made a team, or at the least played on a city league. I think that would have given me more confidence around my peers.
As pastors, my parents devoted countless hours to the church. They have both told me as I’ve grown up that they wish they would have spent more time focusing on our family and what we needed as kids and less time at church. They’ve apologized for that.
I know one day, I will have to apologize to my kids for something I wish I had done differently.
As I parent, I am so thankful to have the ability to call my parents up and talk with them about raising babies. There is such kind grace in being able to cry and laugh with your own parents. The laughing part is important. We laugh together at how hard and absurd parenting can be, and it makes the heaviness of knowing I will make mistakes at parenting – the one thing I most want to get right, just like my parents wanted to get it right! – more bearable.
I am thankful for do-overs. That, as parents and children and people, we get to keep loving each other until we get it right.
Second, thinking about trying out for the basketball team reminded me of my lifelong quest for coolness.
I’m smart. During middle school and high school, I took special summer classes just for fun. I graduated high school and college with a high GPA.
But what I wanted to be was COOL.
I wanted to be like the girls who played sports and were effortlessly pretty and always knew the right thing to say. I wanted to fit in. I wanted people to like me.
I married my husband because he is cool. He’s the coolest person I’ve ever met. But he’s the kind of cool you can talk to. It’s cool beyond cool, because he couldn’t care less if he’s cool or not. He is himself.
And that’s cool.
It’s been in recent years that I feel I’ve “achieved” coolness in a way that no one can ever take it from me. Which is kinda funny, because in recent years I’ve become an in-my-30s mother of two who drives a minivan. (Not just drives a minivan. I love my minivan.)
For me, coolness means I feel comfortable with my self. I’m at ease with my self. This has a direct relationship with my shedding of shame in recent years. It doesn’t mean that shame doesn’t ever show up. Sometimes, still, when I make a mistake or am anxious for whatever reason, a voice whispers to me, “Should I be ashamed of my self?”
The difference is that now the answer comes, always, “No. A thousand times, no.”
I hope we’ve given Emma what she needs in order to grow up feeling cool. To grow up feeling like she is alright, just as she is. Or maybe peace with one’s self is only found on the other side of a struggle. Maybe that is part of being human.
The weight of all of this sits with me. It is in my heart. Sometimes I sit in meditation, with outstretched hands, and I actually feel the heaviness in the skin of my palms. I don’t have any other answer but to be with it. With the weight of humanity. Of imperfections and failure and anxiety and shame and do-overs and coolness. To love the hell out of all of it.
Rumi wrote, “Through love all pain will turn to medicine.”
In the past few months, I’ve been dealing with age-related angst in a serious way for the first time.
“When did that start looking like that?!”
“Is this supposed to be happening so soon?”
I’ve found renewed solidarity and humor in Nora Ephron’s book I Feel Bad About My Neck.
Strangely, though, I would say my self esteem is higher now than it’s ever been (we humans are messy and full of contradictions), even higher than just five years ago when I would have considered my self pretty evolved in terms of self acceptance. Today I realized perhaps that’s because five years ago I was working at a yoga studio in Southern California.
Life tip: if you want to feel good about your self, don’t hang out with people who are habitually on juice cleanses.