The Catch 22

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I am about to let you in on a shocking secret. Are you sitting down?

Motherhood does not fulfill me.

I’ll let you catch your breath after all that gasping and clutching at your chest.

I know, I know…I’m female. Ergo — motherhood would be my highest calling, right? It would complete me. Fill in the empty spots. Bring me joy that nothing else can come close to achieving.

I’m sure that’s exactly how many women feel the moment their child — born of their body or of their heart — is placed in their arms. That all the questions are answered. The missing pieces fall into place.

I didn’t grow up wanting children. I don’t recall playing much “house” or “teacher”. I loathed baby dolls and wouldn’t even play with Barbies. Instead, my interests were puzzles and books, playing board games — sometimes by myself for hours, moving the positions for up to four players (geeky, I know!). I rarely babysat as a teenager — even for my sister, who was nearly four years younger.

We were 12 years into marriage when my husband got the itch. College was finished, we had completed a 5-year stint as youth pastors, and bought our home. The future was looking secure. He felt it was time.

Not me.

Besides the obvious — I enjoyed my freedom — I had too many nagging worries. I wasn’t sure I wanted children at this point in my life. Would I be a good mother? I regularly reminded my husband to help out more around the house — why would that suddenly improve with the addition of children? In my heart, I knew it was a decision that changed my life far more than it did his.

And I didn’t want to lose myself, to simply become “his wife” and “their mom”. Nameless. Having no identity or purpose other than caring for spouse and offspring.

I still had aspirations. In my youth, I wanted to be a writer. Then a singer. Then a music teacher. Then back to a writer.

Which is my real calling — down to the depths of my soul.

Numerous people urged me to have children. Told me I was missing out on so much. That it was better than anything I could have hoped for. That I’d regret it if I didn’t. That I’d be alone when I was old.

When my firstborn was placed in my arms, I felt the amazement. I was deliriously happy she was here (especially after 18 hours of labor and still ending up with a C-section!). I knew I would never love another creature more than this squirmy, red, screamingly-unhappy-to-be-displaced-from-my-womb being. Her sister’s arrival 20 months later brought about the exact same feelings.

But….not fulfillment.

Because — and let’s be honest here — I felt whole before having children. I didn’t feel anything was missing in my life. Other than the self-discipline to sit down and write a best seller.

And the brutal truth? Motherhood has not been a rosy, glowing story (not that it ever is, right?). At the age of 2, my oldest showed signs of being strong-willed. At the same age, I knew something physically worrisome was going on with the youngest. Her special needs diagnosis only confirmed my worries. And while it gave me a direction to find her help, it hasn’t lessened the difficulties.

My days are filled with chatter, bickering, noise and a struggle of wills. Most days, I am so overwhelmed by 8 pm that I do not want to talk to anyone, think about anything or be touched (which the youngest does all day long, often in a painful manner, due to her sensory issues).

Pursuing friendships takes more energy than I can spare right now. Leaving the kids with a sitter is too problematic due to the health concerns of our youngest. I rarely have two minutes alone in my head (it’s taken me a week to write this post, for example!), struggle with resentment and guilt like every other mom, and am simply too tired to take time for myself.

I have no idea what a social life even looks like at this stage in life.

But — I cannot imagine my life without them. I love and adore my children. They are an amazing gift, and I’m sure the struggles are strengthening and improving me in many ways. It’s a true joy to watch them become who they are meant to be; to be responsible for guiding them into adulthood. I am grateful for that responsibility, and take it seriously for the privilege it is.

Even as I long for more time to sit down with a cup of coffee and write that best seller.

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Amazing

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Two years ago today, life forever changed with the loss of an amazing individual.

He wasn’t amazing by the world’s standards. He wasn’t rich or famous. Not a celebrity or sports figure. He wasn’t a high-powered CEO making deals in Armani suits and a Rolex watch. He didn’t invent or discover anything important enough to make headlines. He didn’t travel the world, play to sell-out crowds or write a novel.

Instead, he was a husband and father. He raised eight children. He became a grandfather while still raising young kids. He was faithful to his wife. He went to work everyday, missing only in the worst illnesses, and didn’t retire until he was 80. He attended church every Sunday and served where he was needed. (I still have memories of him washing dishes in the kitchen after a church supper.)

He played frisbee, softball, badminton and yard darts with us in good weather. Marbles, Uno, War and puzzles in bad.

He laughed…a lot. Over newspaper comics. Saturday morning cartoons. Police Squad. Abott and Costello. Danny Kaye. The Three Stooges. Dumb blonde jokes.

He missed participating in WWII with his four brothers by one year — and was then told he was too flat-footed for the military. So he served his country in other ways: Being a good citizen. Paying his taxes. Voting conscientiously. Writing carefully-worded editorials on an old typewriter, laboring for a week or more before submitting his Letter To The Editor.

He never pushed any of his children into a particular hobby or career, but cheered them on from the sidelines, attending events and performances as he could. When everyone began to spread out over the map he drove to see them, called and sent cards.

He started his day reading the Bible and praying, and ended it with a crossword puzzle and more Bible reading and praying. I would love to know how many times he read it cover to cover.

He had a smile for everyone, and was always happy to run into someone at the grocery store to chat. He refused to talk badly about even those unkind to him, instead reserving his grumblings for politicians.

The last day of his life, I had the privilege of sitting by his bedside. Alone together for some hours, I read the Psalms aloud. I reminisced about dearly missed people he would be seeing again soon. I promised that we would take care of Mom. I talked about my little ones, who mutually adored him. I asked him to take care of my first child, lost too early to hold. I asked him to forgive me for all the times I was sure I’d disappointed him. I held his hand and told him how much I loved him.

And I thanked him. Thanked him for being a great father. For all his wise counsel. For really listening to me, and knowing me as more than just his seventh kid.

I thanked him for his example of hard work, loyalty and faithfulness. Of being upbeat even when cancer stole his voice and made life so difficult for a brief time.

I thanked him for loving me so well that there was nothing left unsaid between us. So that when the call came in the early hours of the morning, I knew everything was okay between us — even without those extra hours together where he was still a physical presence in the room, but already far beyond my reach.

The world can have its definition of amazing. I’m choosing to aspire to my Dad’s living definition of the word.

I’m quite certain it will last longer.

War and Peace

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Ah, the illusion of control.

When we’re younger, we all have it. We set lofty goals and then try to shove our daily life into some semblance of order to reach those goals. We control our destiny, after all.That’s what the experts tell us. THINK yourself successful. Be positive. Life won’t know what hit it.

But then life hits back. We age. We become parents. We lose parents. We quit jobs. We lose jobs. We have to move. We discover a child has health concerns. We fail at something important for the first time.

Suddenly, destiny is not so controllable. In fact, it feels like life has just declared war!

So we seek other ways of control. Schedules. Routine. Busyness. If we control every minute, then we can control what happens to us.

It might work for awhile. We might have days, weeks, or even months of quiet. But then life decides to hit back. Again.

I am no longer in my 20’s. No longer seeking fortune and fame. I’m a suburban gal with a family, an elderly mother, a mortgage, and another marker in my 40’s looming over me (read: New Wrinkles Daily). Control is nothing but a pretty illusion.

This week alone, I’ve battled yet another unexpected cold, so there goes my work-outs….a sick 5-year-old, so there goes schooling…hitting a deer — which killed the poor deer, did in my psyche and wounded the car…and a myriad of other things that are petty and inconsequential in life’s big picture.

But troublesome, bothersome — and completely outside the scope of any illusion of control.

My life’s one goal has become pretty simple: Peace.

I just want to get up in the morning and find out what it is to enjoy the day. To linger over coffee. Have time to contact a friend. Extend a kindness to someone. Play with my children. See them learn something new. Be creative for the sake of creating. Do something meaningful. Surround myself with music. Feel cherished by those closest to me for who I am, and not what I do. Read a good book. Enjoy a good meal that feeds more than my appetite.

Sound familiar? Even if you haven’t voiced any of that outloud?

As women, our days scream by meeting everyone else’s needs. When the day ends, we’re exhausted, depleted, with nothing left to feed our own souls. And no matter what pithy motivational sayings we read, let’s face it — most of us can’t walk away from our responsibilities, or make a few simple changes and suddenly find life better (Think happy thoughts! Be positive! Just exercise for 10 minutes!).

That’s not realistic.

So we plod on. And life continues to deal out the daily barrage of unexpected. Something dumps in the fridge. The washer breaks. The basement floods. We throw our hands up in the air and ask when it ends…

….while knowing somewhere deep inside us, it doesn’t end.

Life isn’t going to stop. The kids will get older, and new problems will occur. Then the kids are off to college, and you’re an empty-nester facing new challenges. New difficulties.

And still — no real control.

My New Year’s goals weren’t nearly as lofty this year as they have been in past. I could have easily filled two pages with resolutions to lose weight, drink more water, save more money and be a better person — all illusions of control.

So instead, I’m focusing on what — today — will bring me peace.

I can’t control what goes on around me, or the people around me — but I am going to work darn hard to control my reaction to it. To take an honest look at my life — at what I need to bring into it, get out of it, surround myself with or ignore in order to achieve that which, in the long run, is most precious to me.

Now if you’ll excuse me — I have a cup of coffee to linger over.

What To Say — And How to Say It

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Ah….the Most Embarrassing Moments as a Parent list.

Oh, come on — you have one, too. Perhaps it was the time your child announced that Aunt Gertrude was….calorically challenged. Refused to kiss Grandpa. Kicked Uncle Bogart in the shin. Knocked down a display in the grocery store. Or even threw a doozy of a temper tantrum in front of every judgmental adult in your family.

Which earned you a long-suffering sigh, a comment loaded with insinuating undertones, or “the look”. Any and all inferring that your parenting skills were lacking and your child was, ahem, undisciplined.

I have decided I would take all of those together over the “kindly intervention” of well-meaning strangers.

Like the couple that rushed out to assist me when my daughter threw an EF5 tantrum at the house of a complete stranger selling me bookshelves. I shifted her tiny sleeping form to position the shelf, and suddenly the Tazmanian Devil emerged from the vehicle. It took twenty minutes of holding her tightly, as she tried to elude my grasp and grab anything on me that was soft tissue, before the switch was flipped and my sweet child returned.

And the entire time, this couple insisted on talking to me. What causes this? How long does it last? Have you had an official diagnosis? (Eye roll here) Does she do this often?

And talking to her — telling her to stop yelling, here’s a drink, just calm down, sweetie. I’m not sure what part of the aerobic workout performed in front of them, in an attempt to keep her from hurting someone, eluded their understanding. Or my brief explanation of “she has special needs”. Or even “she’ll be fine, just let her be.”

Ugh.

This week, it was the Lady in the Library Bathroom.

We ran in for what I had assumed to be a quick break. I should know by now that such plans are laughable. My daughter, who had been fine the entire day, suddenly began to shriek as if she were being murdered. It took me a few minutes just to find out the cause — painful urination.

Let me also mention that this bathroom is all tile and metal. A pin drop reverberates out to the parking lot. So at her decibel level, everyone within a three-mile area could tell someone in that bathroom WAS NOT HAPPY.

This woman rushed in and demanded to know what was going on. While it was not a polite, “Do you need some help?“, she seemed sincerely concerned. I quickly explained my child had special needs and was having trouble going to the bathroom. And then I continued to attend to her.

But she stuck around, for reasons I don’t understand.

I could hear her shuffling her feet, shifting her purse and books as she continued to listen to the conversation with my sobbing, nearly hysterical daughter. After some time, she apparently realized this was taking longer than she had anticipated — and left.

Cue the sigh of relief from me.

When my youngest finally pulled herself together, we walked out of the bathroom — and practically knocked this gal over.

It seems she felt that since I wasn’t the abuser, my daughter required a lecture. “You need to listen to your Mama,” she warned sternly into the tear-streaked, still-sniffling face of my 5-year-old. “She knows how to take care of you.”

I’m sure she had more expounding to share, but I was so flabbergasted at her need to intrude on our family’s stressful moment that I turned my back and hustled the kids out of the library. Steaming. In fact, I’m quite sure someone suggested that I might need a fire extinguisher as I grabbed my children and fled this “well-meaning” stranger.

We have all seen parents struggling with tired, crying children in various stages of melt-down. In malls. Movies. Grocery stores (especially this one, a huge trigger for my child’s SPD). I have gotten the judgemental looks. Even unkind remarks from grumpy strangers.

Which is not what we or our kids want or need from you.

But if you can smile and ask a frazzled Mom, “Do you need some help?” — you’ll make our century.

We’ll say no, of course. We’ll politely turn you down because a) we know what you’re up against, and b) we’d like you to walk out of the store rather than exit on a stretcher.

But we will appreciate that you asked. That you did not immediately assume we are rotten parents. Or insinuate that our kid is a brat (especially those who cannot help their behavior any more than we can make them behave).

And for that, you’ll have earned our eternal gratitude. For simply being the one person who knew just what to say when we needed it.

Parents!

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While that is usually being shouted (if only mentally) by a fuming teenager, let’s admit it — even as adults, our parents are sometimes…PARENTS!

We spend our childhood adoring them. Our teen years ignoring them. And between the ages of 18 and 22, we start to understand what they have taught us. And how much more we still can learn.

We seek their advice (at times) on weddings, marriage, pregnancy and parenting. We strive to show our excellent decision-making skills, and they continue to see us as 5-year-olds incapable of making excellent decisions.

But one day, something shifts. You suddenly notice the gray hair. The stoop to the shoulders. The lack of speed in getting up and around.

The afternoon naps. A missing appetite. Hearing loss. Or disinterest in things that had once delighted.

Suddenly, your parents are…older. And roles have reversed.

I was convinced my Dad would live to be 100. He worked till he was 80, and then continued to keep himself busy and sharp until cancer showed up — unexpected and very uninvited — and broke our hearts.

Now, I assist my mother in maintaining her independence. I get her to the grocery store. The doctor. Various errands. Chat with her several times a week to make sure she hasn’t run out of something dire. Lecture her on shoveling the sidewalk at 86. Keep her updated on weather and some news, which she struggles to hear on TV. My brother and a neighbor check in on her, as well as friends who are always willing to stop by and help her if a need arises and they can reach her faster. I am beyond grateful for their concern.

I read once that watching our parents age is the equivalent of walking on a road that runs parallel to theirs. We are beside them, but watching them veer ever so slowly away as they age, until they eventually are no longer beside us. We can see them, hear them — but not walk their road with them.

Ours has never been a perfect relationship, but I find that is probably the norm with mothers and daughters. We women like our independence. Yet find it hard to give our children that which we fought our mothers for so fiercely. I can forgive her for still seeing me as I was at 13, even as I sometimes wish I was right back there, under her parental protection — rather than needing to offer her mine.

I walk this path, still beside her — but seeing her journey turn slightly away, every few steps. She drives me bananas over little things that seem so insignificant to everyone else, but clutter up her shrinking world. She can’t understand my life, my interests or my struggles with my youngest’s special needs. She can’t always hear me when I talk, which leads to misunderstandings and frustration for both of us.

So, I watch her with a bit of sadness as we journey on. And hope that she won’t walk away too fast.

There is still much I have to learn.

“Bare”-able Surroundings

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Pssssstttt…..! I have a terrible secret!

(Furtive glance in all directions)

I am surrounded by…(hushed whisper)…clutter!

It is everywhere. Hanging out in drawers. Hiding in the closets. Jumping out of cupboards. Lurking in the basement.

It’s inexplicable. I clean. Dust. Put stuff away. Organize. Pitch. Toss. Donate.

Routinely DE-clutter.

Yet, it returns. Almost as if the clutter is….(gasp!)…procreating! (Okay, now I’m blushing…)

Outgrown or damaged clothing. Mismatched dishes that were once part of a set. Books that have been read and will never be re-read….or books no one had any intention of reading in the first place. Paper — which seem to sneak in and suddenly appear as an avalanche of dead trees. Toys that are no longer loved or were never that popular in the first place. Or loved to death. Ahem.

Tired of the battle, I declared war on January 1st.

I have been spending the month looking at everything in my house with a very critical eye….

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If I haven’t used it in the past year….why? Out it goes!

If I haven’t worn it in the past year, does it even still fit? Do I wear that color any more? That style? Out it goes!

If it’s broken or worn out, it must be fixed — or gone. No more mismatched anything unless it’s a beloved old plate that falls into the ‘beautiful’ category.

I have decluttered one child’s closet of 2 heaping laundry baskets of outgrown clothing. Thrown away another bag of stained and worn items. Gave a 33-gallon bag of a different size to a neighbor. Took a trunk load of everything else to a charity. And just tossed a lot of unwanted stuff.

And yet, I know the clutter still lurks.

I am starting to take a much harder look at things. What do I want to do with my time? Does this item fit into that picture? Do we really need it, or can it be borrowed (such as library books or movies) elsewhere and not stored here longterm?

Am I holding on to that for sentimental reasons, or because I, like Erma Bombeck, think that the day after I throw away something unused for 20 years — I will need it?

If I had to move, what would I take with me?

Then…why am I holding on to the rest of it?

When we moved into our first home 12 years ago, I remember how clean, white and empty everything appeared. Full of promise. Bare — and absolutely beautiful in that uncluttered state.

Which is what I’m looking for in my current decluttering frenzy.

Far less — which has a beauty all its own.

The 15-Year Plan

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I spent today pouring over this book.

Not just because it’s January. Or that our high today was 6 degrees with a ridiculous windchill around
-35 (some 20-year record for the Midwest). Not just because I love the outdoors; camping and going for walks; or greatly miss the sound of Mother Nature when penned up inside with two unruly hooligans who have Cabin Fever. As do I.

While all of those reasons apply, I read that book cover to cover because — let’s face it, people! — I need more.

Not more stuff. More activity. Or even more money (although that’s a nice dream, too).

I need to have a goal. A dream. A big item on my Bucket List. Something to look forward to — even thought it’s down the road when the kids are grown — that is all mine.

Something to research. Plan. Save for. Something to meticulously prepare for that does not involve laundry, meal-preparation, endless snack-making, or worrying about bathroom functions.

For anyone else but me.

I know I’m in the “hard years” right now. Young children that need to be educated and taught all sorts of manners and social graces. Even as they resist my attempts to do so. My bed being constantly invaded by blanket hogs even when my spouse is out of town (my youngest is classic at sleeping sideways on the bed, for pete’s sake). Bills to be paid. A house to be maintained. Navigating one child through SPD and ODD, and all that it means for her and our family. My 80-something Mom to assist. Laundry. Meals. Snacks. Bathroom functions. You get the picture.

There have been some days in the past year when my funk was deep enough that I wasn’t sure it was prudent to get out of bed. And I wouldn’t have, if it hadn’t been for those two hooligans to feed.

But at some point, I realized — I need to do this. I need to hike the Appalachian Trail someday.

By myself. Solo. Deliciously…delightfully…alone.

I can’t even imagine the wondrous, uninterrupted conversations that will take place in my currently oft-interrupted, constantly-demanded-upon, sleep-fuzzed, argument-tired brain. The sweet sound of birds uninterrupted by arguing siblings that will turn on me as one entity if I intervene. Feeling rain on my face and not hearing anyone else complain that they’re getting wet. Pitching a tent that only I get to sleep in. Not being asked for something to eat. Again. And then five minutes later.

I have nothing to prove to anyone. I just want to do it.

And working toward it may just help me survive these hard years of laundry, meals, snacks and bathroom functions.

At least, that’s the 15-year plan.