There comes a point in just about every evening when a switch is flipped within me. A moment when I go from gentle, loving, patient, ever-bearing Mommy to a weary, prickly, cranky woman who wants nothing more than for her child to go the eff to sleep and for a lion’s portion of quiet to reign in my house again for the little time that I have left before my body requires me to sleep before getting up and doing it all over again. In those moments, I have to admit to being largely graceless.
Today, my daughter turns three, I am running on 5 hours of mostly-full-though-still-broken sleep, and her gifts were JUST wrapped a few minutes ago by her Mamaw while I kept her distracted in the living room.
It’s been a nice build up to Bizzy’s birthday. This week, as we have been out and about, she has been spreading sunshine around to others: waving, smiling, saying “Hi, everyone!”, and wishing people “Merry Christmas!” It’s done my heart good as I have tried to concentrate on the moments that make this season wonderful and not let myself be trapped by the expectation, comparisons, and stuff that made me regret it all at the end of last year. Fewer presents and more meaning. Less doing and more being. Fewer obligations and more space for magical moments and divine appointments.
Today, there will be no huge birthday party, no me running around to pick up party platters, birthday cake, and decorate a party space, no leaving my mom to mind and dress and prepare Elizabeth for said party while I go hither, thither, and yon. No running around desperately trying to be a good hostess as well as an attentive Mommy. No cleaning up afterward, trying to figure out where all the leftovers and cake are going to fit in the fridge, especially with Christmas Day foodings in 6 days. Nope!
All of that that is #offthebeam this year (thank you, Jen Hatmaker). As fun as it might have been for Bizzy last year, it was so much stress for me that I was a wreck by the end of the day and I didn’t get to enjoy my daughter’s birthday really at all. This year, we are going back to basic and easy: a relaxed day (that hopefully involves a nap or two for me), a family dinner out at a Chinese buffet that she really likes, presents, and a small cupcake (with a Christmas tree in frosting) for my girl to indulge in.
My little girl is three years old. I am running on five hours’ sleep, and I am so very pleased and proud to be the mother of this wonderful, fabulous, maddening, fierce, spiky, friendly, smart, lovely little person.
Last night, after a trip to the gym, I did the unthinkable: I braved the mall on a Friday night, two weeks before Christmas. In my defense, it wasn’t my fault. I had things that I wanted/needed to return so that I could purchase their replacements as soon as possible. As I speed-walked through the mall, determined to be done as soon as possible, I couldn’t help but be accosted by the realization of just how long it had been since I had traversed the mall on a Friday evening. I was also suddenly inundated by memories. Memories of Friday nights past. Before the Big Change, i.e. before baby.
In Friday nights past, Ben and I would often get out of work and head straight to an early dinner. We liked to hit dinner early so that we could enjoy our meal before the start-of-weekend dinner rush. After dinner, we could make our way over to the mall or to Best Buy (depending on our movie location) to kill time before making our way to the movie theater to catch whatever flick suited our fancy that weekend. We would peruse the DVDs at Best Buy, the shelves of the bookstore, or the racks at Hot Topic at the mall, enjoying our geekery in its myriad forms.
I miss those Fridays, if I am being completely honest. I miss strolling around the mall or the store on my husband’s arm, just meandering with no rush, timetable, or out-of-sight worries to keep me out of the moment. I think that is one of the things that I miss the most right now: being able to consistently stay in the moment, whether it’s a date on the couch with Ben, a conversation on the phone or online, reading a book, or journaling. I love my daughter, make no mistake, but she commands the lion’s portion of my time, attention, and strength.
A friend of mine (and fellow mommy) sent me an article by Wendy Wisner today entitled “The Hardest Thing About Being a New Mom” and something that it said struck to the core and heart of a great many of my feelings.
“Oh, the things they don’t tell you about motherhood. […] I’m talking about your identity. I’m talking about the fact that in one quick instant, you go from being woman, girlfriend, wife, professional, artist, lover, free-thinking-doing-being-person to MOTHER. Just like that. And mother, at least at first, is bigger than all those other things, whether you want it to be or not.
But I wish someone had told me it was normal to feel like the person I’d been before kids had been smashed into sharp little pieces of glass.”
I must be honest: I feel this way sometimes. A lot of sometimes. Like all that I was, who I was, has just been smashed to smithereens and I don’t know just how to see myself as anyone other than “Mommy” anymore. And that, truthfully, is very difficult sometimes, especially since it took me the better part of twenty-some years to find an identity that was just and wholly me, apart from anyone else in my life.
Please, do not mistake me. I love my daughter. Love her to the moon and back. But I do want to be more than just Mommy. I want to be Melissa and all that means along with being a mother. I am not entirely sure just what all that is right now, however. I do not know whether “teacher” is still part of that or not, how long “pastor’s wife” will be part of it, what part writer/blogger has in it.
“I wish someone had told me that I would eventually find all those pieces of myself — that I would sweep up the glass, put it together again. And that the new me would sparkle, bend light, make rainbows.
I wish someone had told me I would come out of it all intact, kick-ass, more resilient than ever — a mother.”
I do not feel like I am to this place just yet. I am still searching through those pieces, figuring out what they are, and how they fit together into the ‘me’ I am now. The mosaic that is me, composed by all these differing pieces, is coming together, maybe slowly, but it is. I have a few of the pieces, I dare say a few of the very important ones, and I will continue to grow and hope to fit some more of the pieces together in the coming year. I dearly hope that I can say, as Ms. Wisner does, that I will sparkle, bend light, make rainbows, and, yes, be more kick-ass and resilient than ever.
Those Friday nights past are bright spots in my memory, as are my Friday nights present. Evenings of pizza and tag and kitty-cat finger puppets and singing before bedtime, of cuddles on the den couch leaned against Ben with my book while he plays “Fallout 4”. And I am hoping that my Friday evenings yet to come will be even brighter as we all grow together.
Author’s Note: Cross-posted from my motherood blog.
Today, not half an hour ago, I was that mom.
I was the mom who walked into the gas station Subway with a crying toddler, who was angry because we were there instead of on a walk.
I was the mom with the toddler trying to stealthily sneak off because she believed that we didn’t need dinner and wanted to leave the Subway.
I was the mom with the toddler throwing her Lambie around because she was angry that I wanted her to stick with me.
I was the mom with the toddler who gave a scream and went prone on the floor in the middle of the checkout line, right when it was time for us to move forward for our turn.
I was the mom who stepped over her prone toddler to pay for the aforementioned sandwiches for dinner.
I was the mom who, but for the grace and integrity of the hoodie that I was grasping, would have had a toddler who planked herself face first into the asphalt.
I was the mom with the toddler who tried to stalk off through the parking lot, proclaiming she was “going walk”.
I was the mom with the red face. I was the mom with tears threatening. I was the mom trying staunchly to disbelieve that there are other people in the world, much less other people occupying the same commercial space as I was in those moments.
I am the mom with cranky tears still threatening and a mug of room temperature vanilla chai that I never got to enjoy.
I am the mom who, at this very moment, is catching her toddler throwing chips and, probably soon her sandwich as well, out of her high chair and onto the floor.
So, in all honesty today, this is for me. If you get something out of it, great. Really, though, this is for me. But thanks for not judging me.
DISCLAIMER: The linked article below is NOT mine but was posted at Stuff Moms Say.
Author’s Note: Edited and revised on 9-14-15.
I think I was just called out by a friend. I don’t think she meant to or even realizes that she did but, yes, I feel like I have just been called out, in a good (very good) way, to vulnerability.
Vulnerability is not easy. It’s the proverbial exposing my belly but I also know that some of the best conversations and growth I have had with friends and family is through being vulnerable and exposing those tender, soft parts of my heart and soul. So, here I am and here it is:
I do not ask for help well. I don’t.
When it is emotional support I am in need of, that I can ask for because that can be given at a distance without me having to meet someone’s eyes in what so often feels like my weakness. But when it comes to physical help with the person offering standing there in front of me, that is almost impossible for me to ask for. Most recent example: I had a rough day with my toddler daughter the other day; she and I were at odds all the day long. I was tired; I was frustrated; I was angry. My girl was driving me mad and I had been graceless in response. My husband, bless his heart, asked me point blank if I wanted him to take our daughter for a while so I could have a break. And I couldn’t — could not — make myself say yes. Everything inside me screamed, “Yes! God, yes! I need a break! I need quiet! I need away!” But the words were stuck somewhere far away from my lips and would get nowhere near them. I physically could not force the words out of my mouth. I knew I needed help; moreover, he knew I needed help. But I just could not manage it, could not ask for it. And that is really scary sometimes. Scary that I cannot ask for help. Won’t ask for help. Even when I need it. Especially when I need it. It hurts and I’m sure it hurts the people who try to help me, too.
So why can’t I ask for help with my daughter when I really need it? Bluntly honest? Because I see her as my responsibility. Yes, she is our daughter but I was the one who wanted to stay home with her. I was the one who put my husband in the position of having to be the sole breadwinner with this desire, allowed that weight to settle on his shoulders alone for the first time since we got married seven years prior. So, as I took on the roll of SAHM, I often feel like I need to be there and do my job, regardless of what sort of day I have had. Now, I know what just pushing on in such a vein will do: eventually, I will twitch out of my skin and collapse into a puddle of stressed, exhausted tears, most likely after some sort of blowup with my husband that really had no need to become such a mountain-out-of-a-molehill.
I need time to to care for myself. I need time to recharge and, for me, that requires time alone. “Alone” doesn’t happen with my girl, even though we do have periods of quiet when she is in the mood to do her own thing. But, even so, I am often reticent to call for help because something says, and loudly, “You are her mother! This is your job! You need to do it!”That voice is insistent. It is loud. And it silences me at times when I need t speak. When I need to ask for help.
Now, it isn’t all gloom and doom. I have a great support system, and I get great joy from my daughter, from teaching her, being taught by her, and watching her grow and develop into a little girl. While my difficulty in making full/often use of my support system frustrates me and I despise frustrating others, I am better than I used to be. I am doing better at my self-care and strategies for helping Elizabeth develop more independence.
Asking for help is still hard, very hard sometimes, but I know that it is something I need to do, in whatever way I can manage. Right now, those few ways are: asking the grandparents to take her out to lunch for a few hours, having a friend over to give me an extra set of hands and dose of attention for my energetic girl, or letting her have Daddy-time while I hit the gym for an hour. This is a start.
I know I am not the only one for whom this is true, and it isn’t just mothers either. Many of us, though staunch advocates for others, often have a hard time advocating for ourselves and our own health, care, and soul rest.
Another dear friend of mine commented to me (after reading the first draft of this post): “While I don’t have a daughter to chase after, sometimes having depression and panic attack disorder can feel like I have something to chase around (or be chased by). So, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, people can tell I can lie and tell them that I’m fine. That I don’t need help. Even though I do. And I feel like a hypocrite because if someone else were to do that I’d call them out and insist on trying to help them.”
I appreciate this perspective and his opinion is one that I value very much. Sometimes asking for help for ourselves is one of the hardest things in the world, harder yet to work towards overcoming it. I have made a start, small ways to ask for help when I need it, and I am hoping that it will help me to get one step closer to finding my voice to answer with the specific words, “Yes, I need help.”
Until then, please, keep asking.
Some of you knew about this and some of you didn’t. Two weeks ago, I applied for a position at a local middle school. This was an act that required much prayer, faith, and courage on my part because I didn’t particularly enjoy my previous time in this corporation several years ago. But I felt that I needed to woman up and apply, so I did. They called me for an interview a week later. Amidst lots of prayers and encouragement from friends and family, I interviewed for the position (grades 6-8, tier 3 English/Language Arts intervention) this past Friday, and the principal called back the same day saying that she had called my references (thank you to all those wonderful people, by the by) and wanted to recommend me to the superintendent for the position. I asked for the weekend to be able to speak with my husband about it and if I could give her a call Monday morning. So we took our weekend together and discussed it as we walked about GenCon and prayed about it together. I spent my quiet time/time alone praying and listening with my heart for God’s guidance. Sometimes that guidance comes as a gentle heart nudge, a thumb in my back, an inability to settle with peace on a particular decision, or just a gut feeling that I know I need to go with. Based on our talks, prayers, and that undeniable, unexplainable gut feeling that we have both experienced time and again, Ben and I both agreed that we felt a leading that I should be home with Elizabeth this last year before she heads off to preschool.
No, we will not have a lot of extra money this year as a result, but we have always determined that our home will be built on love first and foremost. Standard of living and quality of life are two different things (I even looked up the definitions this morning to be certain before I said that) and we are concentrating on the latter. We may not have a lot of extra money, will have to be frugal and wise with what we do have, and certain things will have to wait a bit longer, but we have a roof over our heads, food on our table, cars that work, and I will be able to give Elizabeth my love and presence for another year as she and I learn from each other and prepare for her to head off into the world all too quickly.
All that being said, I just got off the phone with the principal at the middle school, a former colleague of mine, and told her that I am so thankful to have been able to interview with them and for her faith in me in wanting to recommend me. I do feel led, however, to be home with Elizabeth this year but, if she has any positions open up in a year or so, that I would definitely appreciate her consideration again.
We are trusting God for continued guidance and leading and that He will help us to have a wonderful year together. We are praying for strength and wisdom as Ben teaches and preaches, giving of his time and energy unendingly to and for others and us. It is also my prayer and hope that, at the end of this year, Elizabeth and I will both be ready to go out into the world and face it head-on with all the fierce, fearless courage of roaring lambs.
Thank you all for your prayers, advice, and love. They mean more to me than I can ever say. And thank you for reading.
Author’s Note: This was my first article that I wrote for The Well Written Woman, posted a year ago today. And it only came about because of my wonderful husband!
Last night, the eve of Valentine’s Day, my husband came into the living room and up to me saying, “Elizabeth wanted me to make sure that you got your Valentine. Do you want it?” I looked at him with a rather “huh” look on my face so he repeated himself, tacking “Do you want it now?” to the end. When I still couldn’t think of what to answer, he explained, “She left it on your chair. She’s fourteen months old and has no idea about where to place things.” Complete with that exasperated roll of his eyes that he affects so badly.
Then I got it; he wanted me to open my Valentine from our toddler daughter. I smiled and answered, “Sure, I’d like it. I don’t want to sit on it in the middle of the night.”
So off my husband went, returning with my Valentine in hand. It consisted of an envelope assembled from two stapled pieces of brown construction paper, “Happy Valentine’s Day” written in red crayon across the front. Inside was a pink construction paper card with a red heart on the front, the sweetest poem on the inside, and Elizabeth’s “signature” (Bizzy) on the back, complete with a corner bitten off, as my daughter is wont to do with paper. I started to cry. I mean, really cry. I hugged my husband and he just held me and let me cry for a long while. My heart was so full, though perhaps not for the reason that you would think.
I was not crying because the Valentine was from my daughter, because it really wasn’t. What wrung the tears from my eyes and poured them over my smile was Ben’s heart showing through my first construction paper Valentine. It was his hand that had cut out the heart on the front, his mind and heart that had composed the poem, and his arms that had held our daughter and helped her sign her name to the back of the card. That Valentine might bear Elizabeth’s name but it was a construct of my husband’s loving soul, one that touched me to my core.
While our child is dear and sweet and holds parts of ourselves, Ben and I made the decision together a long time ago that we are a team, we are in this together, and each other comes first. While we love our daughter deeply and fully, we choose to love each other first and best. That may sound horrible to some people but it is a strategy that I have witnessed the success of rather close to home. If we are weak and unloving as a husband and wife, how could we possibly hope to be strong and loving parents to Elizabeth? Ben is my first, and I am his. And I was reminded of that in his little skit and gorgeous Valentine. It was funny, cute, adorable, and amazing. It was created out of love and care for my heart, not because it was something that was expected or had to be done. Ben wanted to remind me that what I do for our Elizabeth and our home is noticed and appreciated, which, for a stay-at-home mom with a toddler, is a great heart-soother. So my most treasured Valentine today is a handmade one on construction paper that bears my daughter’s name, but that is her father’s noble and loving heart on the front of the card. You can’t hide behind her, dear. She’s only two and a half feet tall.