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The List

28 Jan

to doEvery morning I wake up, I am confronted with an impossible to-do list riddled with tasks of all varieties.  Some of the things I have on my list have specific times or deadlines by which they need to be accomplished.  Other things on my list include a laundry list of errands and chores that continue to pile one up on another like a precarious set of children’s blocks.  Then there are the “me” things on the list that have been included because I’ve been told so many times that it is important to take care of myself – exercise, reading, meditation, crafts and hobbies …

Every night when I go to bed almost everything on my to-do list from that morning remains in place, ready to be included on the next day’s list.  Typically most of the deadline or scheduled items have been accomplished.  A handful of the errands or chores have been, but they typically have had to be relisted as they have already been undone.  Rarely, if ever, are any of the “me” things on my list accomplished.

As I lay in bed each night I toil in my mind through my list.  I try to analyze my day, and critique my efficiency.  The voices in my head typically chastise me for failing to take life seriously, or failing to have my priorities straight.  Inevitably it is during this quiet time at night, I will suddenly remember some critical “to-do” that somehow failed to make the list.  Many nights this awareness will occur in the midst of a dream, as if some slumbering scepter whispers in my ear.  It will suddenly creep into my consciousness, and in the midst of the early morning hours, in the dark, I will be panicking about how to fix this oversight and keep the world from crashing in.

Like the piles of laundry, stacks of clutter, jam packed bookshelves, my to-do list has become so overwhelming and unwieldy.  I work frantically through the day simultaneously exhausted and desperate to check items off the list while trying to “take time to smell the roses.”  I fall in bed defeated each night in the still and the quiet no longer able to busy myself away from the angry voices in my head.  I gasp … I pray … I yearn for the day that the to-do list is complete, while simultaneously acknowledging I will never achieve this goal.  I will always be three steps behind … Always dropping the ball somewhere … perpetually disappointing someone … excusing myself from those things that bring joy in meaning so that I can tend to the albatross list.

I sit here now with three minutes  remaining before I have to drop off a child … with dishes scattering the counters … two weeks of laundry on my floor … lessons to be planned … homework to be completed … children needing loved and tended to … friendships requiring nurturing … money to be earned … room upon room to be cleaned.  Every corner confronts me with condemnation and I just yearn to hide where my list can’t find me.


I need to speak to my HR rep…

3 Aug

What do you see when you hear the word mom or mother?  I see a tidy, pretty lady with a warm smile – not too toothy – with a natural glow and only enough makeup on to indicate a concern for personal appearance.  My mom image tends to have a petite figure, although she occassionally shows evidence of sampling all the cookies and treats she has made for her family.  She is confident, but not cocky.  She often wears white and she accomplishes each task deftly.  She is adored by her children and admired by society.

I think this has to be at least part of the reason that I wake up in fits of anxiety and discouragement.  There are so many days I feel like the anti-mom.  As mornings begin by stepping over stacks of books, ignoring bathrooms that at times could make a gas station feel proud and sporting a glow that is comprised of some unidentified sticky residue on my face from the night before that was overlooked.  I have to admit my smiles on occassion are sarcastic and the lilting voice I should have is replaced by dispondence.  I tend to favor the body style of the cookie mom, but sadly not with the credit of having baked the calories I consumed.  My frazzled appearance, trembling hands paired and faded rose appearance that only hints at former beauty underscore my uncertainty and lack of confidence.  While blessed to be adored by my children, I am cursed by the unworthy feeling I have each time I see love in their faces.  Each day is a frantic effort to out run my apathy in hopes of accomplishing just one task of value.  Each moment is a challenge to ensure that society does not find me out and vocalize outloud what I know inside, that I have failed at the moming job and generally do not add value to the advancement of the human race.

Are you still reading?  Congratulations on your ability to survive such a measure of self-loathing.  Hopefully you are reading as an interested tourist stunned and amazed by a reality you are completely unfamiliar with.  We ask that you refrain from flash photography as it can upset the moms and lead to irrational and potentially dangerous behavior. 

Some selfish part of me hopes that you read on because you can relate to some of these word.  That maybe I am not the only one in my self-pitied filled world.  Even better, I am hopeful that you perservered because you can relate to this state of mind from previous experience and have a success story to share that will somehow clarify things for me and allow me to either succeed on my terms or redefine the terms.

I envy people with “real” jobs.  Jobs with a specific location, a job description, a boss, annual reviews and regular paychecks acknowledging your efforts.  How great would it be to wake up with a specific list of tasks that were expected of you, and to ensure your ability to succeed at your workstation you would find a stack of the tools and resources you would need to accomplish each item.  How exceptional would it be to have a “boss” who identified your priorities for you and whom, in fact, would create your “to-do” list for you.  A boss who is ultimately accountable for the decision to lay one thing aside in order to accomplish a higher prioirty.  Best yet, annual reviews and paychecks.  Each week, month or year receiving either validation or specific crticism on the areas you were responsible for.  How amazing would it be to have a piece of paper that said “I did good” instead of depending on some internal source of confidence that just isn’t there.

I think even better would be if moms were sent out of town for training.  Can you imagine be sent, all expenses paid, to a three day conference in Las Vegas, OK tone it down a bit – Atlanta, to receive manuals and workbooks on how to mom properly.  How revolutionary would it be if there was a right way and a wrong way of moming and your own efforts could be effectively and objectively measured.  “Well Sue, last week your numbers were dipping pretty badly, but I am glad to say after your effort to implement the Strongheiser technique, you have shown a 65% increase in production.”

I want to live in this world.  I want to know what process to use.  I want to know that if I follow the steps and work hard that I can buy Donna Reed clothes.  I want to have my employer provide me with the resources and training to ensure that I can, with enough effort and some late nights at the office, be promoted to June Cleaver.  I want bonus checks for exceeding expectations and I think I could really enjoy an employee cafeteria with a coffee bar.

I think that the worst part of this job is that despite all of the ambiguity in expectations and processes; despite the lack of tangible and objective affirmation; despite the constant feelings of failure and inadequacy, I don’t want to quit.  Maybe that is the worst thing of all, that even though you feel confident that you are far from qualified for the job, you will fight vigourously to ensure that no one steals your position.

Don’t be discourged by my rantings.  If you are among the Mrs. Bradys of the world, don’t allow your lipstick to smudge or your smile to dampen by my shaken spirit.  If you are, like me, restless and afraid – know that the vision in your head is only your reality.  Odds are that the other moms you see each day, you know the ones who have it all together and carry wipies to boot, struggle to understand how you manage to float through each day so easily while they struggle to pack a diaper bag.

Never Let Go…

25 Jul

Change is good.  At least this is what I am told, but what I know to be true for certain is that change at the very least is uncomfortable and frequently painful.  This year (and yes I know that it is only July) has represented such tremendous change and so many challenges, that you can almost feel the breeze as the page in my Book of Life turn.

We have faced the loss or near loss of those we have cared about.  My heart has ached like it never has before.  I have realized how fragile the lives of people, and our children in particular, are.  I have to say I am severely displeased with this realization and it has upset my understanding of the universe.  Like many things our cognitive knowledge of something is so often way easier to deal with than our experiential knowledge.  I have found myself more closely scrutinizing every move, statement and gesture my children make ensuring that I don’t overlook signs of distress or illness.  I find at times I relax and then some episode will violently slap me back into my new, harsher reality and I am more attentive than ever.  ironically this tends to cause my children to be even more unhappy and more distressed.

I have seen what only a few years ago was a consistent and stable financial situation in our family become dire and often frightening.  Years ago I stubbornly said that no matter what the circumstances we would never allow our home to be in jeopardy.  I’ve learned this year just how easy it is to find yourself in circumstances so far beyond your control that no matter how fiercely you dig your nails in, some things will slip away.  I’ve been humbled by being forced to ensure my children’s basic needs are met by filling out endless reams of paperwork assuring strangers that I no longer have the means to care for their needs independently.  I cannot look at any aspect of my day to day life that has been salvaged as the result of a gift, scholarship or financial aid of some sort.  I am confident that there is nothing “immoral” in seeking this help, but it hurts not to be able to go to your own bank account to grant your children’s wishes or even meet their needs.

I have seen every element of my life shaken and turned.  I have seen friends drift away and truths dissolve.  I find myself apprehensive about my abilities and questioning my purpose and even on bad days my value.

I sit here on the night before we are to take our puppy, our 15-year-old puppy, in to be euthanized.  Each breath she takes is labored; her heart pounds unsuccessfully and her body and eyes grow weaker each day.  Our family is about to suffer another blow – another change.  Another instance where something that was absolute and forever isn’t.  I know that there are much greater tragedies in the world than the death of an ancient family pet.  But I also know that each new blow that this fragile family endures could be our undoing.

I suppose these are the moments that I am thankful for my faith.  Unlike everything else in my life that is subject to change – change in health, change in finances, change in jobs, change of address – through my faith I have a strength that can remain the same.  This one truth, this one reality is the only thing that ensures that I can accept the dissolution of every other truth and what I accepted as reality.  It is through my confidence that God has a greater day planned – clearly not a day I have planned – that I am able to move forward at all. 

I often look to the book of Job.  I know that most wouldn’t consider this a chipper book, but it is through my reading in this book that I know that I am not intended to understand why there is suffering and sorrow.  I am not sophisticated enough to get why I must endure these painful transitions.  The reassurance in this is that, firstly, God does understand and is on my team and, two, thankfully my lack of understanding is actually normal and appropriate.

I rely on Jeremiah 29:11:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”

In each hardship, each trial, each change and heartache, I know that God is by my side and He will never ever let go of me and that someday – hopefully sooner than later – there will a time when things will once again align themselves giving me rest.  For now, while I wait for this day to come, i will endure.  I will persevere.  I will live in the peace in knowing I don’t have to be in charge of this bit.  I will stand on God’s promises to care for me as if I were all of creation.

I guess in some respects I am suggesting that while most of our life, we feel alone without a net – in a greater and larger – and yes more intangible way – our faith (in whatever way it manifests itself) can serve as the net that we need in order to continue to swing on the trapeze and to let go when we need to.

I know I’m not normally so religiously focused in my writing, but tonight I felt like this is where my chatter should go.  The fact is, every day and everything I do, say and write is ultimately religiously focused – it’s just not normally so overt.  I’ve attached a link to a song that always jives for me when I am loosing sight of the big picture – maybe it will help you make it through your next rough day too.

\”Never Let Go\” by Matt Redman via Youtube

Mother fear…

20 Jul

As I lay in bed in my typical early morning sleepless state, a thought came across my mind.  In all likelihood, I will not be hit for the remainder of my life.  Perhaps this is silliness, and most adult women live with this confidence – especially folks, like me, who have not ever faced abuse at the hand of their husband or their parents.  For me, this morning though was profound, and something that should have been obvious for a while. 

Violence and abuse, in my mind, was a norm and something that a person could and probably should anticipate.  While I had never taken a poll, every person – friend, family, church ladies, neighbors – I had the chance to know well enough had eventually disclosed that they had been abused in some manner or another.  Some abuse had been at the hand of family, and others had been abused by people in the periphery – neighbors, teachers, extended family, babysitters, boyfriends.  The point was, everyone – absolutely everyone, had been a victim.  While it was a given, in my mind, that a female should anticipate being victimized by at least one person, as I grew older I came to realize that many, many males had faced the same situations.  This is a crummy reality to parent in.

From the day my children were born, I have worked vigorously to protect them from harm.  I expect most of us do.  As a new mother, I would hesitate to pass my bitty baby into the hands of those i did not know well, and often even hesitated to share him with those I was close to.  He was, and is, the world to me.  As each child got older and eventually reached a point where they began to step outside of my radius of protection, my anxiety increased.  It was important to me not to be an obsessive and smothering mother, but I viewed the world as dangerous and many of the people as dangerous.  I looked suspiciously at kindly elderly neighbors, overly loving Sunday school teachers, eager extended family, men with dogs, friendly strangers – most everyone was a potential offender.

Each time a child’s behavior or mood seems to swing or there’s behavior that doesn’t make sense to me, my mind immediately look for clues of abuse.  I consider each of the places they have been and what opportunities there have been for someone to hurt them.  Everything from wet beds, poor grades or general sullen moods would cause me to consider the possibility that someone had harmed my person, my gift from God.

There have been days where I would cry at the abuse I knew would eventually come to my beautiful babies.  I knew that their psyche would forever be damaged and their child joy would not return – eventually.  This was a fate that I accepted almost as a certainty for my girls.  If they survived childhood, they would in all likelihood be abused in some manner as a young adult.  I think this hurts most when I consider the joy that would be stolen – a joy that cannot be healed back.

This general state of helplessness remained solid up until about a year ago when one friend told me that she had never been hit, raped, molested, assaulted, cut or punched.  What was a casual conversation while waiting for children, was a life changing, reality altering moment for me.  For the first time it occurred to me that there is such thing as body never being touched by hurting hands.

Today I still get teary at the possibility that someone would take a part of my child away forever, but now I anchor myself to the reality, that it doesn’t have to be that way.

And this mornings epiphany?  What a blessing to know, no matter what road we have traveled on, we don’t forever have to be tied to the things or days of the past.  That there is always hope.  That there is such thing as real love that doesn’t hurt.  This not only makes my own day (and future) sun-shinier, but assures me that there is kindness and gentleness waiting for my kids too.

While we do swing through the air – completely vulnerable – with our hands firmly grasping our little ones (even if they may be physically quite large) – each moment we know we are soon to release their little hands in the hopes that the hands that will reach back for them are firm, steady and ready to receive them.  I think this has been the hardest part of being a mom (and probably a dad) is knowing eventually you have to let go.

Monsters in the closet…Boogeyman under the bed

11 Jul

Most of us when we were little went through at least one phase of being terrified of what was hiding in the corners of our room…what was creaking through the house…what was sneaking around our home.  In fifth grade I remember being delighted that our new house had a big street light right outside my bedroom window.  It gently lit the creepy corners and washed out craggy shadows.  Generally as time goes by, whether it’s because our imaginations become less active or we mature, we stop hiding from imaginary monsters.  We think we’re done with them and then we become mothers.

There have been some periods in my parenting journey where I have had restful sleep.  More often, however, I have had fitful periods of quasi-rest.  I think perhaps the discomfort of pregnancy and the sleeplessness of infants were designed to prepare me for the mental fatigue I was going to face going forward.

Like most moms, or maybe it’s just many, I would wake with a start and fear would rush over me that something horrible might have happened to my baby – I would quickly check on them, feeling for breath, laying my head horizontal to their chest to watch for the rising and falling of each breath.  Typically I would watch for several minutes to confirm that there was a steady rhythm and all was well.  This was just the beginning.  Most days now I do not check their breathing, although I do confess that there are nights that I will walk in and check on each one of them.  I will cock my head and watch for the rising and falling of teenagers chest, just to make sure he’s still breathing.

It seems to me these days, that I am right back to the early days of childhood, and I lay fearfully in my bedroom not so much seeing the monsters and boogeyman, but hearing their voices.  No longer do they threaten to eat me, kidnap me or drag me to a terrifying monsterland.  No, typically the voices tend to threaten me with failure – the worst kind of failure – failure as a parent.  I am afraid that my children are unhappy and I have not cared for them well enough and spoken to them lovingly enough.  I am afraid that they are ill-equipped and that I haven’t been disciplined enough to teach them properly.  I am afraid that they are unhealthy and that I haven’t been careful enough with nutrition and doctor’s visits.  I am afraid that others have hurt them and I have not been attentive enough nor protective enough.  I worry that my own shortcomings have deprived them of opportunities.

Many nights I wake-up with calendars of missed dates on my mind reminding me of the commitment I forgot.  Sometimes I have balance sheets and adding machines running in my head as I panic over financial shortages and how I am going to meet their needs.  I hear recordings of educational experts, videos of doctors and professionals outlining the simple steps I needed to follow, but fail to do, to ensure my children’s successful future.  I recall promises unintentionally broken.  Many nights are like a giant preschool star chart where my name is neatly printed next to columns along with several other people’s – Stars line each row and are in each column – with the obvious exception of mine that remains blank with frowney faces in their place.

Unlike my fears when they were babies, they cannot be easily abated.  I cannot simply rest my hand on their chest, stir them gently to watch them roll over or, most desperately, gather them in my arms to feel them.  Each fear is intangible – it’s like steam – solid enough that you can feel it there, but untrappable.

The intensity of these fears has the same depth as my childhood imaginary monsters.  But try as I might there is no light to turn on, no outdoor street lamp to illuminate the room to show me the illusion and let me see reality.  Just as the laundry hanging on the chair held an essence of truth about the presence of the shape mistaken for a troll, each of these thoughts and fears in my mind have some root in reality.  For this reason it is so hard to decide just how wrong I am and without an illuminating truth I can remain indefinitely in the darkness with my monsters.