Posted in family life, musings

getting through a bad day

Sometimes motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do. Sometimes I wake up already tired, already touched out from a night of nursing a sick baby, already talked out from a friend’s birthday party the day before, wanting to do nothing but bury my head in a pillow (or maybe a book) and isolate myself from the world around me until my equilibrium has sufficiently recovered. As everyone knows, of course, parenting doesn’t typically allow for such unplanned luxuries.

Sometimes every interaction is a battle not to yell or speak harshly. Sometimes the worst part of me wants to scream until everyone feels as awful as I do. Sometimes I can’t even handle the baby sitting on my lap with a book because I’m so sensorily overloaded that my skin crawls at the touch. Sometimes I pray for peace and gentleness and stumble again into anger the next minute.

Sometimes I look at my child and the tears in my own eyes – at my own imperfection, at the horrible way I’m acting – are mirrored in theirs.

Somehow we make it through the day anyway, with lots of apologies along the way. We get outside, if we can, and the calming influence of the outdoors leads to laughter and connection and positive strength. We read our bedtime books and the kids still ask for their “Pookie kisses” of Sandra Boynton inspiration. I tell them what I saw in them that made me proud, and apologize again, and we snuggle to sleep. And at last, the closeness of their bodies to mine can be felt as love by even my chaotic mental processor.

And I remind myself that these bad days are few, and that tomorrow is another opportunity to be compassionate, gentle, self-controlled, loving, present, and joyful with my children – to put in again the hard work of cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, and hopefully do a better job of it. I will fail, and the kids will fail, and I pray that we will in our failures learn both to be humble and to forgive, both to self-advocate when we are overwhelmed and to serve unthanked when we see others overwhelmed, both to grow closer to God who is alone perfect and who gives unending grace and to grow closer to each other even as our sin threatens to tear us apart.

Posted in sqt

seven thoughts on motherhood

Today I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the weekly Seven Quick Takes – head over to read the rest of the posts! And if you have time, catch up on Kelly’s May blog series highlighting different titles of Mary from around the world; it is undeniably worthwhile, simultaneously fascinating, inspiring, and convicting.

  1. I first learned what it was to be a mother from watching my own mother. There’s a theological term kenosis which describes how Jesus emptied Himself out in accordance with His Father’s will out of love for us – and I think the commitment, self-giving, and love my mother shows for her children is a human reflection of that quality. If one of her children is sick, she will offer to help even if she hardly has five minutes available in the day. If one of her children suffers from physical illness or emotional pain, she suffers too, and wakes in the night to pray on their behalf. If one of her children makes a decision that confuses, hurts, or disappoints her, she responds with a genuine desire to understand, constant forgiveness and unconditional love.
  2. I also learned from my mother that mothering is not limited to one’s own children. The posture of provision, nurturance, patience, and love can be extended to almost anyone – and she lives and has lived it in so many ways: with her struggling students as a professor, with other homeschooling families as a mentor and veteran, with kids at church, with her brother and nephews, with anyone who has ever entered the doors of her home, and more.
  3. Motherhood is one of the hardest and best things in my life. Perhaps more than any other experience, it has given me a desire to truly strive for holiness and sainthood, while never failing to expose the weaknesses and sins that make me dependent on the grace of God for that holiness.
  4. In addition to my mother and my own experience of being a mother, the person who has taught me the most about motherhood is (unsurprisingly) Mary herself, Mother of God, Mother of the Church. Ever since Limerick was born I found myself being drawn to her – finding peace in prayers inspired by her, finding comfort in sharing my struggles with her, asking her to lead me closer to her Son. And in every situation where I have turned to her – in labor with Aubade, in the depths of my postpartum depression, in the daily turns of life with young children – she has responded by opening and softening my heart to God, and by increasing my desire for and faith in Him. For Mary, motherhood is about bringing her lost and hurting children to their Savior and Healer through a relationship of love, compassion, hope, and connection.
  5. A mother will never desert you, never give up on you, never stop loving you, and never stop praying for you. She will probably never stop teasing and/or embarrassing you either, of course! But this persistence and constancy is but an echo of God’s maternal love, according to Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, yet I will not forget you!”
  6. If mothers are awesome, grandmothers may be even more so. I have to mention my own mother again here 🙂 because if it weren’t for her wisdom and support as the grandmother of my children, my journey through motherhood would be much more difficult. As it is, my children reap the full benefits of her experience and have a huge amount of extra love poured into them. We watched a documentary this week in which an elephant baby became stuck in deep mud, and her panicked first-time mom was just making things worse attempting to dig her out. Things were looking bad when the elephant grandma noticed the situation, pushed the mom out of the way, and helped the baby out. It just seemed so emblematic of every great grandmotherly relationship! Grandmothers are crucial to passing relational knowledge and experiential wisdom down through the generations.
  7. Here’s an amazing quote – succinct and powerful – from St. Edith Stein to wrap up. “To be a mother is to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development.” (The Significance of Women’s Value in National Life). There you go. That is what we do, fellow moms – that is why we pour ourselves out in all the little and big things of each day with these children we’ve been given, that we might nourish, protect, and bring to development the intrinsic humanity within each of them.

Don’t forget to head over to This Ain’t The Lyceum for the rest of the linkup!

Posted in sqt

{SQT} – first week home

It’s been a long time since I remembered about the Seven Quick Takes link up far enough in advance to write a post for it! This is a good week for it, too, since it was my first week as a (mostly) SAHM…

Also, after writing these I realized that every point on the list can serve as an example of some autism characteristic. I suppose it supports the argument that autism is an integral part of who an autistic person is – informing their strengths, joys, temptations, and weaknesses. Bonus points if you can name the trait that is on display in each quick take 😛 Continue reading “{SQT} – first week home”

Posted in family life, musings

fear of change

After eight years of working in a genomics research center, I’ll be transitioning to being a stay-at-home parent a week from now. Technically I’ll be working eight hours a week, in a sort of consultant role, which will keep me connected to the science – but it will still be a big change. It’s what I’ve been wanting ever since Rondel was born almost four years ago – but as it approaches, I find myself becoming more and more anxious.

I like my job, and I am good at my job. My supervisor respects me and my opinions; the researchers who rely on the services our facility provides respect me and my scientific knowledge and experience. I know what types of problems are most likely to arise, and I have tools and strategies for troubleshooting them. And I know that if I put in time, effort, and energy, I will have a successful outcome.

To be totally honest, I really like having the respect of other professionals whose opinion I value and who do innovative and important research. It gives me self-confidence: I may be a complete wreck if I have to call my doctor to schedule an appointment, but when I sit down with a researcher to discuss their experiment and figure out the best plan for them to take moving forward, I am completely at ease. It also gives me a sense of identity and self-definition: when acquaintances ask what I do, I can tell them about the science and feel that I’m doing something of worth, something that uses my talents and gifts, something beyond just staying at home and cleaning and cooking like any other person could do.

At the heart of my nervousness about the transition, then, I think, is a fear of losing that respect and identity – of becoming part of the crowd, no one in particular, no one with any valuable skills or gifts to offer my community. When I spend time with other moms, I feel so inadequate in the areas they are gifted in: my home is rarely clean, laundry and meals happen on an as-needed basis rather than with planning, small talk eludes me, playdates terrify me, schedules and extra activities overwhelm me, my children are dirty and wild. My mind is usually lost in a book, or an idea, or a project, instead of focusing on the people around me. I say nothing and feel isolated, or I say too much and still never manage to connect with anyone else. I simply don’t have the skills that these other women have, and without them, I’m not sure where I can fit in or belong in the mom world (especially the homeschool mom world… those women are so organized that I give up just at the thought of trying to be like them).

In the workforce, in academia, where everyone is a bit weird and everyone is valued simply for the expertise they offer, I knew where I fit in and I knew how I could flourish.

In this new world, I’m afraid I won’t ever be able to flourish – and that in my lack of flourishing, I will stunt my children’s future as well.

I’m not going to let my fears make a decision for me, when I believe on principle that a self-directed education is ideal for children, and when I observe pragmatically the stress that a classroom environment would add to our family life. I’m going to choose to let my love for my family be the motivating factor here instead!

But I’m still afraid.

Posted in family life, musings

waking in the night: a meditation on love

I lie on the low bed in the darkness, and my baby curls against me, resting her head on my soft chest and stomach (the stomach I resent when I try to dress for adult life but which functions so perfectly as a cozy baby pillow). Our breaths are the only sound, her faster, shallower breaths a counterpoint to my deep and steady rhythm. I slow the pace of my breathing to guide her into sounder sleep, hoping her body will follow mine. She is warm and solid next to me, tangible physicality grounding me in embodied reality and relationship. There are books I wanted to read, projects I wanted to work on, chores I ought to take care of, but I stretch out this moment much longer than necessary. There is such immense privilege in being the one whose presence can calm her fears and dry her tears; there is such wonder in being able to soothe and comfort another when I cannot do so for myself. I recall her newborn months, when I sat in the hospital rocking her, deep into the darkest depression I have yet experienced, and yet somehow able to calm and comfort her anyways.

Maybe none of us can completely accomplish that for ourselves; maybe consolation and peace are gifts we can give to others better than we can create them for ourselves, and which we must in turn receive from others if we are to experience them fully. My baby cries out for me to come to her and restore her to peace, to console her in the loneliness of the night; we grow, and become independent, and pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency and strength, and we stifle our own cries in the darkness. Maybe we have cried too many times into an unresponsive void, and have decided we don’t want to risk adding the pain of rejection and worthlessness to the burden we already bear. We forsake the openness and vulnerability of our infancy, protecting our hearts – and closing the door to the fullness of comfort and peace that only comes through the love and presence of another.

I come to my babies in the night, though I may be exhausted or frustrated, because I know the pain of crying when no one hears, and I don’t want that pain to be theirs. I lift them in my arms, my little ones wakeful and sad for reasons beyond their ability to explain. And in the teary eyes wiped on my shoulder, the little head laid against my chest, the arms wrapped around my neck, I receive gifts just as powerful as any I give: love, meaning, and worth. They remind me of my own need for love and connection even as they show my my own power as a giver of that love and connection. However weary I may be, all the sleepless nights, all the hours pacing and rocking and snuggling, all the worry and time and energy spent, are nothing compared to what I have received simply be being their mother.

Posted in musings, poems, quotes

success

It’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t have a clear picture of what your success would be.

In the academic sphere where I work, success is measured as the achievement of either a PhD and a professorship or a competitive job in the biotech industry. And here I am with a bachelors and seven years of experience as nothing more than a technician, without even a good salary to show for it. Does that make me a failure?

When well-meaning adults see talents they admire in children, they often forecast futures of greatness related to those talents – so a musical parent might overpraise her musically inclined children but ignore the athletic achievements of her other child. One of my friend’s moms always said that she thought I could find a cure for breast cancer. But I’m not pursuing that path, and will probably never have a scientific breakthrough to my name – does that make me a failure?

Many of the moms I admire online and in person, advocates of respectful parenting and unschooling, both Christians and not, emphasize the difficulty of raising children with freedom and dignity when both parents are working outside the home. And I’m caught between my desire for their best and the exercise of my own skills and gifts. I’ve worked their whole lives, so far – does that make me a failure?

I still don’t know what success looks like for me, or what it will look like for my children, but I found a poem this week that gives, I think, a good foundational definition to build on.

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted in family life, musings

a bedtime routine

Lights turn off for bedtime. The small flashlight flickers on but it’s not enough to play by, not enough to hide the scary shadows of a child’s imagination. I don’t stop to argue, don’t invite the protests, tonight. The baby is fed and warm in her daddy’s arms so I linger with the big boys, so tough and independent in the bright daytime light, all full of fears and doubts and unnamed dreads in the dark. I lie down on the bottom bunk and feel the lithe warm body of a little boy press against my back, strong and wiry and small and vulnerable in the drowsiness of just-before-sleep.

Softly, in the dark, I hear the gentle murmur of a snore, and I peek over my shoulder to see him lying there asleep, empty sippy cup tucked in against his elbow, Grandma’s handmade quilt pulled up over his belly, legs poking out the side with the knees up and the feet tucked under my hip. I sneak out of the room. I am eager to have some time with my own thoughts, to create, to be, without any demands or expectations on my time.

But there is still the food from dinner to be put away; the dishes are done but the food, too hot before, was waiting until after the bedtime rush, and as I scoop the leftovers into Tupperware, mindlessly, inefficiently, trying to read a book at the same time, I hear the baby crying, waking up for a last feed before settling into the deep sleep of nighttime.

I pick her up, lay her next to me on the bed, and she curls into me, little hands reaching for me, little feet tucking themselves into the curve of my belly, little mouth open and eager, little tear-stained eyes sleep-heavy and drooping closed. Her frantic energy lessens, breathing calmed, until at last I roll her back over to her crib. For a moment her whole body drapes across mine and I feel that soft cheek pressed up against me, the total trust and relentless love of an infant for their mother, and I’m the mother, and it hardly seems real, scarcely seems believable, like the whole crazy world is just too beautiful to be possible.

Most nights I stay here, worn out myself, caught up in the sweet beauty of the love a mother receives from sleepy children in need of snuggles and presence, unable to stop watching a baby or a toddler or a preschooler still and peaceful at long last, barely daring to breathe lest it all fall apart, amazed that such a life could be mine. But tonight I pull myself up. There are words to write, pictures to curate, cookies and milk to be eaten, and thoughts to be wrung out from ethereal unformed space to concrete actuality on the screen of my computer.