Enough

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Felt guilty lately, Ladies?

Guilt over not working out. Over eating that piece of cake. For not having rock-hard abs. Or not throwing an extravagant birthday party for a three-year-old. For not freaking out that the 5-year-old isn’t in a Harvard-prep school. For working outside the home. For being a stay-at-home mom.

For not volunteering more of our precious free time (if we have it!). For not visiting or calling enough. For our children’s behavior in public.

And let’s face it — we guilt ourselves. Over everything we do or don’t do. For our mistakes, perceived or real. For never being enough daughter, friend, employee, volunteer, wife, mother.

For simply not being…enough.

Recently, someone who is well aware of my life, its craziness, and what is required to take care of everyone around me made a comment implying that I neglected my children. My crime? Spending time on the computer. In fact, I was accused of spending all day on Facebook.

This accusation was beyond laughable. For one, I would LOVE to spend all day on Facebook. Well, I say that now. I’m sure I would tire of it when the need to seal food in canning jars or obsessively straighten the living room for the 18th time that day took over because there are crayons, empty snack plates and children’s books everywhere and that‘s the ONE ROOM that should stay neat.

But just to browse my friends’ walls or look up interesting pages? Sounds like heaven! Instead of trying to read before the kids get up, or in snatches between interruptions every two minutes for breakfast, a snack, lunch, clothing, another snack, a piece of candy, a lost item, requests to play with friends, tattling on those friends, or to referee a fight.

When I do get the chance to spend some time on the computer, my activities probably look neurotic and unfocused. I check Facebook while perusing Craigslist for something I’m seeking, while pulling up recipes for dinner ideas (because I’m bored with cooking right now!), while researching a new article on my youngest daughter’s health issues, then checking back on this gardening topic, while looking up local classes available for my kids, don’t forget planning ideas for upcoming canning days, to firing off a short email to a friend I haven’t chatted with in awhile and probably fears I’m dead, while looking up a new homeschooling lesson, to researching writing opportunities, and maybe actually writing an article.

See why I’d rather spend the day on Facebook?!

My initial response to the comment was anger — and defense. I felt justifiably attacked. I also felt betrayed by someone who knew me better than that. I adore my children, in spite of how difficult motherhood has been.

But then I realized that this was nothing more than guilt being laid at my feet.

When we can’t get someone to do what we want, we try to guilt them into feeling they should. I’m a mom — I’ve pulled this trick before.

“How can you not take care of your toys after we’ve worked to pay for them?”

“Why do you treat your sister like this? We’ve raised you differently.”

“Why do you leave everything for me to clean up — do you think I’m a maid?”

Okay, sometimes guilting kids is the only way to get their attention when they’re on their own planet. But it’s time for the guilt-laying on women — especially this woman — to cease.

I am a full-time mom to two amazing youngsters, one of whom has special needs. She makes daily life difficult in a million small ways. There is often no peace around her, I’m up to my elbows in dirty laundry or I have to sequester her before she does something to someone or herself. She ends up in bed with me nearly every night, meaning I don’t get a lot of uninterrupted sleep. The other day, I had to physically carry her from a neighbor’s house because she refused to leave and locked herself in a bedroom. It took her a half hour just to stop screaming and crying.

I homeschool. My 7-year-old is currently working a year ahead and will be starting third grade this fall. She is the first person I have ever taught to read, and her sister is (hopefully) soon to follow. A failed attempt at a special ed class for the youngest last school year means I am educating her at home, as wel. In spite of her resistance to learning. Which makes lesson planning fun around here (eye roll).

I care for my mother, who lives three hours away, is housebound and is not social. Any change, including my bringing in additional help to keep my sanity, is met with complete and utter resistance. So for now, I’m her wing man.

I just survived my husband’s second hospitalization in 3 ½ years that nearly ended very badly because of unexpected health complications. A long recuperation at home. Major schedule adjustments.

And then there’s just the daily aspects of life in our household. I do the laundry, grocery-shopping, meal planning, cooking, dishes and cleaning. It’s rare that I get a real break from the kids. I mow the lawn and do yardwork because I enjoy it, need the exercise, and am trying to keep my husband from pulling plants instead of weeds.

I will not win a Martha Stewart award. I don’t have time for elegant dining, elaborate cooking or crafts. I am not married to my house. It is mostly clean and happily cluttered. Windows could be washed more often but we can see out of them. We have cats; ergo, we have cat hair. My children think the floor is the best spot for their clothes. And toys. And art supplies. And my kitchen is a perpetual wreck because I love to can, and unexpectedly find the real me buried in those moments when I am creating something new to eat during the winter while hearing satisfying pings as lids seal.

I am not my children’s cruise director. I’m their mother and their teacher. It is my job to raise them to be responsible citizens, compassionate and caring individuals who see and reach beyond themselves, introduce them to faith, give them a healthy work ethic, teach them life skills and manners, and guide them through their formative years. I am not here to monitor every second of their existence or make sure they are never bored. Their creative sides will thank me someday.

So it’s not fair to lay guilt on someone who wants to (gasp!) have a little bit of a life beyond taking care of everyone else around me.

I’m going to take time to connect with people on a daily basis, whether in person or via a computer keyboard. I need to converse with more than just a 5- and 7-year-old, or insanity is the least of my problems!

I am going to continue to seek out answers and ideas to help my youngest through her health struggles. I’m the only one doing it, and I’m not going to apologize for second-guessing doctors and doing my own reading. Thank God I did, or I’d still think she “just had a virus”.

I’m going to continue to educate myself on a variety of topics, so that I don’t become stagnant and stodgy at 46. Life is about learning. If I’m done learning, I can hang it up.

And I’m going to write, regardless of what anyone else thinks I should do with my precious time. I’m not sure where it’s written that motherhood means having dreams of any kind is sacriligious. That we’re supposed to give every waking moment to our children. That everyone else’s needs and wants are to be put before ours. That we are to care for everyone around us constantly — and then care for ourselves, too, because no one else does.

Ladies — drop the guilt. Do what you have to do — and then do something for yourself. Have that extra piece of cake. Call that friend and spend a half hour on the phone. Say no. Say yes. Go after your dreams again, even as a little one clings to your leg and you’re trying to get melted crayon out of the carpet for the tenth time that week.

I have a need to write. To read. To learn. To seek. It’s who I am. Whether I ever achieve anything beyond my blog and a small freelance career remains to be seen. But I’m at least doing that — and I’m not interested in satisfying anyone else’s idea of what my life should be.

No more guilt. I am enough.

And so are you.

Girl, Interrupted (CONSTANTLY!)

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I often wonder how pioneer mothers got anything done.

‘Ma! Junior is looking out my side of the wagon!’

‘Am not! Ma — she’s touching me with her rag doll!’

‘Can I have a bread and jam snack? Can I cut a piece of smoked ham? Can I open a jar of pickles?  Can I have a cookie? Can I eat that pie?”

‘But I don’t want to milk the cow….I’m thirsty NOW!’

Am I the only modern mother/wife that rarely has two minutes alone in her head before some sort of chaos erupts — or I’m needed yet again?

Before children, my free mornings allowed me time to journal, plan my day and do some writing. I’d get a work out of some type in several times a week. Yes, I worked. But in my free time, I read voraciously. Tinkered with writing. Planned for the future. Looked forward to life.

Enjoyed some solitude. (I no longer know what that word means — and just for the record, it’s taken me a week to write this due to continual interruptions!)

Now — if I’m lucky — I migh have a half hour to myself in the mornings before someone realizes Mom is sitting down, quietly enjoying the peace and a cup of coffee.

And needs me.

Some mornings might be relatively quiet with the youngest (and I can usually tell within a few minutes of her rising what kind of day it will be). Interruptions might only be at 5-10 minute intervals. (Can I have breakfast? Would you pour me another glass of milk? I want a different breakfast. I need the TV channel changed. Can I make a craft?)

Then, there are the days where I envision life bearing down on me like the giant, rolling rock in Indana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Where any plans I made can be chucked, because no one is going to allow me to get them done.

Many of the distractions are due to sibling rivalry, made more difficult with my youngest’s special needs and her refusal to care if she loses privileges. (She’s touching me. She’s on my side of the couch. She’s in my way. She won’t leave me alone. She’s playing with my toy. But i WANT that toy! She’s stupid! She’s hitting me!!….well, you get the idea.)

But the mental distractions are also overwheming. After all, I have girls. Girls that need to talk. And talk. And talk. Constantly.

A few days ago, I was outside picking dandelions to make syrup, and my oldest decided to weed the nearby fruit bed. The dialogue with herself, the weeds, me (at intervals) and a passing butterfly were almost comedic. Except that she couldn’t stop talking. For even a few seconds. I’m not even sure she was taking the time to breathe.

We only get a few hours (on good days) with the youngest before moodiness and difficulty move in. She can’t leave her sister alone. She needs to argue with me over simple things (wear a jacket — it’s cold. Put your shoes on. Don’t leave the fridge open.) She makes messes and refuses to clean them up. She tells me what she wants for lunch, and then refuses to eat it because something is off half an inch on her plate.

And if I’m honest, the interruptions are not just limited to the children in my life.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and profess my selfish desires. I don’t need jewelry, cars or expensive vacations to make me happy, people!

I just want to know what it’s like to get up for periods of time — perhaps once a month — and not be everyone’s go-to person for the day.

To be allowed to move at my pace. To think about what I’d like to do that day, and not take anyone else into consideration.

To not talk to anyone, except myself and God (who is probably tired of my complaining!).

To have hours of time to sit and write. To find that creative place inside of myself that has been interrupted into hiding out of sheer survival.

To not be responsible for another human being’s meals, clothing, lessons, entertainment, happiness and safety.

To just be me. Alone in my head.

Uninterrupted.

But for now, I’ll — oh, never mind. Duty calls…..

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.