Full Circle

motherhoodIt doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago (It was) that I sat across the counter from my mother, her elbows propped up on the blue Formica of her kitchen while I laid bare the troubles and worries of my pubescent heart. I can’t remember any one specific conversation, (I’m sure they were all riveting and incredibly important) but I do remember that she was there whenever I needed someone to listen, willing to give me her eyes and her focus and most of all, her time.

I never thought about what that time meant to her. I didn’t think about what she might be sacrificing, what dreams or pursuits she might not be pursuing. I didn’t think about the sleep she wasn’t getting or the books she wasn’t reading or the conversations she wasn’t having.

Of course I didn’t think of those things. My head was too full of teenage boyfriends and friendships and swim meets and SAT scores and all the general injustices that accompany adolescence. My head was too full of my own future to spare anyone else a thought.

But now my future has landed me here. In my own mother’s shoes with a house full of children, the oldest starting high school in just a few months, the next two on the brink of those critical teenage years. Suddenly, I am on the other side of the counter at 11:47 PM when my eyes are screaming for sleep and my husband is drifting off and I haven’t had a conversation with him since 1963 and if I could just say hello . . . But there are still bills to pay and emails to answer and laundry to fold and there’s my daughter on the stairs, still awake because she just needs to talk. (SHE. JUST. NEEDS. TO. TALK. At Midnight. When everyone else is sleeping. And there is an early appointment that means everyone even the three year old needs to be out of bed in six hours. Wearing something besides pajamas.)

So we talk. For however long it takes (FOREVER) and with whatever words are necessary. (Have you tried…? Have you thought about…? Those feelings are real… I understand… I hear you… I hear you… I hear you…)

I channel my mother in those moments. My mother, and God, because heaven knows I don’t have enough patience to handle them on my own. The brutal honest truth is that sometimes I have dig deep – DEEEEEEP – inside myself to find those “Let’s talk about it” words. Because I don’t want to talk about anything. Really I just want to take a shower by myself without anybody knocking on the door and telling me they need their blue jeans dry before the morning and also did I write them that check they asked for because the field trip is tomorrow and they will not be allowed on the bus if they don’t have the check IN THEIR HAND and can I just bring the checkbook to you right now and you can write it for me real quick? Here’s a pen. And a towel so you can dry your hand.

How didn’t I see? How didn’t I realize how tired my mother was?

I didn’t sit down to write a tribute to my mother, though she most certainly deserves one. I didn’t even really sit down to complain, though I’ve managed to do a fair bit of that. I suppose I’m just reflecting on the funny way life brings us full circle, turning us around so we see things from one side, and then the other.

Because, now I see both sides. I know how much my mother’s listening meant to me because I lived it. And I’ve got that knowledge to go on when it absolutely isn’t humanly possible for me to listen/help/comfort one more time. Maybe ever again if I don’t just get some sleep. When I am JUST DONE, I recognize that surely my mother had those moments too. And she survived.

There’s a phrase my mother used to say that never held a shred of meaning for me in the moment.

“If there’s a war in the middle east,” she would say, “you children would find a way to make it my fault.” When that sentiment is echoing around in my brain, (because yes, Mom, my kids do the same thing to me) I wish I could pull my children clean through to my side, fast forward them into adulthood so they could SEE the injustice of being blamed for so many things. (My shoe is lost. My homework is ruined. I don’t like this dinner. My uniform is dirty.) Somehow though, I don’t think the lesson would be quite the same if the learning happened that way– All look, and no live. I don’t really think it would stick.

Instead, we’re left to push through our own experiences, collecting wisdom like tiny grains of sand, hoping one day they might add up to something big enough to hold in our hands. I realize now I shouldn’t be all that surprised if, in a few more years, I recognize that whatever wisdom I’m holding in my hands looks an awful lot like what my mother is holding in hers.

One on One

Tonight, Henry and I went on a date. It was just the two of us, something that hasn’t happened in a long enough time that I can’t remember the last time it DID happen. As we walked hand in hand into Wal-Mart (because where else do you go on a date with a six year old), I said to him, “Henry, this is so fun! I don’t remember the last time it was just the two of us!”

He immediately replied, “I do. It was just after school started. We took Sam and Lucy to their meeting at church and then we went to the store, just you and me.” I realized, in that moment, how important those times are–time with just me and Henry. Or just me and any of the children, for that matter. While that outing to the store just after school started got lost in a sea of other outings and meetings and things to do in MY mind, for Henry, it was memorable enough that months later he was able to recall when, and why it happened. I mean, the kid has a memory like a steel trap, but also it meant  something to him–to spend time with me without five other children dividing my attention.

After we went to the store we stopped by Dairy Queen to get Henry an ice cream cone. It was hilarious watching him try to eat the thing because it’s hard to eat ice cream when you CANNOT STOP TALKING. He talked about everything. He talked about school. About his friends. And my favorite conversation of the night:

“Mom, can you tell me if this is a real job? Cause I think I want it to be my job. A singer?”

“It is a real job, Hen. Is that what you want to do when you grow up?”

“Yeah, I want to play piano, and the drums, and the guitar, and sing. Cause I can pretty much sing the entire song Radioactive, so I could be like that.”

Be still my ever lovin Mama heart.

The point of the story is that time spent with your children, one on one, is the best time ever. I’ve found that when my vision starts to get cloudy and I find myself worrying more about one particular child, or not getting along with one or the other, if I can get them away from the crowd, from the busyness of everyday life–if I can look them in the eye and ask them questions and listen with undivided attention, things get better. Someone told me once when you feel like pushing your kids away, that’s the time to hold them closer.

And also, when you listen, children say the most amazing, revealing, incredibly adorable and hilarious things.

Take this final conversation. You’ll love it, I promise.

First, a twenty second back story: Henry’s best friend is the daughter of one of my dearest friends. They have been talking about marriage since age 3. I’m not even kidding. They are open and honest and completely matter of fact when they discuss their plans. Okay. Now the conversation:

“So Henry, talk to me about Aislynne. Did you guys ever see each other during the school year?”

“We waved in the hallway every time we saw each other, but that’s pretty much it.”

“Maybe you’ll be in the same class this year. That would be fun.”

“Yeah, but sometimes I get a little worried cause Aislynne is five months older than me and maybe she’ll grow up and marry someone else before I have the chance.”

OH. MY. WORD. (Seriously, my heart got all twitchy AGAIN just writing about what he said.)

I assured Henry that five months was hardly enough of an age gap to make a difference and if he and Aislynne were meant to be, he didn’t need to worry. And then my heart turned to mush and I wanted to scoop him into my arms and squeeze him right there in the Dairy Queen parking lot. Except, there was the whole chocolate ice cream cone thing, and that might have gotten messy.

My profound thought of the day? Talk to your kids. And also eat ice cream.

To be Forgiven and to Forgive Ourselves

ImageMy family watched General Conference today. The big kids sprawled across my bed drawing pictures and coloring geometric designs; Henry and Ivy played on the floor, while Jack escaped out of the room multiple times, only to be found five minutes later in the laundry room, helping himself to fistfuls of cat litter, or dog food.

Mostly, (minus the cat litter) it was a good day. We felt spiritually uplifted and encouraged. We all got along. Except for the one moment when we didn’t. I’m not sure what it was. A lethal combination of too much noise at once combined with too many children calling my name and asking for help or whining about having to help pick up the shoes that were all over the floor. None of those were particularly good reasons for me to do so, but I snapped anyway. For about 5 minutes, I unloaded my dishwasher with such force, I’m sure my children were expecting forks and knives to go careening across the counter. I slammed doors and tossed plates and shoved drawers into place. And then I turned around and I yelled at my family, told them I was tired of the whining and the yelling (ironic as I stood there… yelling.) and the ignoring and the refusing to do what I’ve asked them to do. I was tired of cooking meals that no one liked and washing clothes that I didn’t wear and picking up messes that I didn’t’ make. When I was finished, they all looked at me like lost (and contrite) little sheep and skulked off to some corner of the house to lick their wounds.

And me? I retreated outside where I could stew in my own awareness of how ridiculously stupid my little outburst had been. Slowly, the big kids came to find me.

Sam was first. “You okay, Mom?” he asked. Lucy quickly followed.

She gave me a hug and said, “Mom, I think your meals are awesome.”

It was an amazing thing, really, to sit there and feel the love radiating from these wonderful, incredible, spectacular children. They wanted so desperately to make me happy… to give me the gift of their forgiveness.

And that is what this post is really about.

I am not, by any stretch, a perfect mother. Today I behaved like a selfish ninny. But the wonderful, glorious truth is that I’m not expected to be perfect. Clearly, my children didn’t expect it today. They were more than willing, when I took them into my arms and asked them to forgive me for yelling (and acting like a selfish ninny), to forgive me in an instant.

Another lesson was driven home even further when I tucked Ivy into bed later that night. I lay my head on her pillow, our cheeks side by side, and said, “Ivy doll, I love you.” The remainder of our conversation went something like this.

Ivy: “Mom, I don’t love you.”

Me: You don’t? Well why not?

Ivy: Well, everyone was just so loud.

Of course. She heard me yell today too.

Me: Ivy, I yelled today, didn’t I? I’m sorry if my yelling made you sad.

She reached over and wrapped her arms around my neck. “Oh mom,” she said. “I do love you.”

As I reflect on that experience I am struck first with how much of an impact our words, as parents, have on our children. They hear us. They internalize our words, our tone. They watch our actions and even when we don’t know it, when we might not realize they are watching, they are. And they are learning from us, from how we choose to be.

At the same time, when we are wiling to say those simple words–I’m sorry–they are so willing to forgive, to open their tiny hearts and make everything right with the world once more.

I don’t know why we hesitate so much to say it. Because we’re the parents and parents are never wrong. Because we can’t show weakness to our children and they have to know who’s in charge. Because so many times, pride wins.

But I believe I’m sorry is a gift. If we allow ourselves to say it, then we’re allowing ourselves to believe it too, aren’t we? We are freeing ourselves from the burden of having to be perfect. We are admitting that we can make mistakes and still be okay. God loves us that way, you know.

I think when the scriptures tell us to become like little children it is because God knows that our kids love us that way too.