On the Importance of Mud

Sep 11 2013

Yesterday we talked about mud, and, well, being face down in it. Exhausted. Worn out. A little bit done. Because that is life, and that is faith, and that is marriage, and that is motherhood some days.

OK, most days.

Alright; it’s part of every freaking day, but I was shooting for optimism here, so let’s lie a teeny, tiny bit to ourselves and stick with “most days,” OK? Thank you.

Truth is, there are people in this world who are going to exhort you to get out of that mud pit, and get back on the straight and narrow, and take one more step, and do more and doubt less, but I? I am not one of them.

Quite frankly, if I see you face down on life’s path, spread eagle and mumbling, “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t. Not. One. More. Step,” I’m not the one who’s going to jog in place with pep and vigor and cheerfully shout, “Oh, come on. Hop up! YOU CAN DO IT.”

No, I’m sure not. Because, although I’m as certain as the cheerleader that you can take another step, I’m the girl who’s going to see you there, covered in mud and exhaustion, and flop down beside you on my back, look up at the sky and the trees, and say, “Can you even believe it’s possible to be THIS TIRED? This DONE? With All The Things?” And I will shake my head back and forth in that mud in disbelief at this much weariness as I tell the others who stumble upon us, “Carry on! Don’t wait for us. We’re just taking a lengthy break right here. An indefinite break. A break to shame all previous breaks. You know, because we’re stretching out our muscles and stuff.” And then I’ll stage whisper to you, “Or we’re dying,” and you’ll laugh, because you’ll know I’m kidding, but barely.

Lots of people will carry on, hurdling over us at breakneck speeds, and we’ll cheer for them as best we can in our wasted state, thinking good for you and, when we can muster the energy, giving them a half-hearted one-thumb-up. But some other weary souls will collapse beside us, and the group of us will lay there together in the mess and just breathe. And shake our heads. And laugh when we can. And breathe again.

Which is a lot what Love looks like to me these days.

Yep. This is so much what Love looks like to me these days.

And as your comments came in, comments of mamaraderie like,

I’m right there with you in the mud,

and

Move over, friend; I’ll bring a pillow for our heads,

and

God just flopped down with us and started a game of find-the-pictures in the clouds,

and

I think I will lay down in the mud and rest with you all,…

…we anointed each other. With mud matted in our hair and oozing through our clothes; with clouds making pictures of dragons over our heads; in the presence of Love; in the middle of the madness; together on messy, gooey ground, we dipped our fingers into the wet earth and painted each other with symbols of blessing. With Honesty. With Laughter. With Love. With Peace. With Solidarity. With Community.

We anointed each other, friends.

And, YES. Yes, this is Love, exactly. And bear with me a minute, here, because this reminds me of a Jesus story. An important one, I think. Truly critical for those of us in the mud. And remember, if you’re not a Jesusy person, that’s OK. Sometimes I just call Jesus and God by their other name, Love, and then it all makes better sense to me.

Here’s the story:

As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus…

AND THEN CHECK THIS OUT:

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash.” So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.*

We spend so much time asking what’s wrong with us, don’t we? Feeling like we’re not enough. Or too much. Or sitting in the dark. Or otherwise stuck in the mire. And the world seems to spend a lot of effort trying to figure out who’s to blame for, well, everything. And all of that wondering and wandering and finger-pointing and not-enoughing can make us miss the whole point. The truth is, healing comes when we allow Divine Love to enter into the mix of mud and spit and sorrow and people who are stuck in the dark.

Love enters in.

Not in spite of the mess.

But through it.

Because of it.

I love that Jesus chose something so ridiculous, SO MESSY – not pretty, not pristine, not even a little Pinteresty – to heal. Love hocked a loogie in the dirt, friends, and used the things that don’t make sense as agents of sight.

And here’s the thing that I believe to be absolutely true: sitting in the dirt with the mud and the spit smeared on us is enough, and is, in fact, Divine. When we work from this place of enough – this mess of life is enough; I am enough; Love is enough – we are kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves. Because when nothing separates us from the dirt and the spit and the mud, we are, finally, on sacred, holy ground.

IMG_1945-001

……….

*John 9:1-3, 6, 7

On Parenting, Faith and Imperfection

Aug 28 2013

Today we’re going to talk about faith again. And, in fact, we’re going to talk about faith at least, like, two times in the next couple weeks because then this is a SERIES. A series of at least TWO posts, because I’m a mother of five kids and school is starting any day now and that’s all I can commit to right now. But who knows? Maybe it’ll be more than two posts – like, perhaps THREE posts, which is 50% more than two. Also, maybe I’ll actually make dinner tonight! It’s a whole world of possibilities out there; anything can happen, I tell you.

And I know. I know. Believe me, I know. I know some of you (Emily) just hate it when I get all faithy, but some of you (also Emily) stick around anyway because you’re kind and you let me be me even though I’m different than you, and you trust me to let you be you even though you’re different than me. And I love our community for this! It’s one of my very favorite things about us, this freedom to be deeply, authentically who we are in this space. A mosaic of extraordinary beauty.

But I know some of you (Amy) are all YEEHAW! Finally! Talk about faith on purpose already, Beth. Because you get all wordy about Love Pursuing Us and all of us being made in the Very Image of the Divine and being Enough Right Now as we already are and blah, blah, blah, but enough for what? Like, what’s the point here? When do we get to the part about being sinful and Jesus dying for us and redemption and Heaven? And I know it’s disappointing to some of my fellow Christians that the answer to that last question is, essentially, never. That I have no desire to write for conviction or conversion. That I’ve abandoned the Christianese language to the point I no longer use phrases like covered in the Blood, or fellowship of believers, or saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

So what is the point, then? Of this series and of talking about faith at all and of putting this smack dab in the middle of a parenting blog?

The point is to welcome you, to see you, and to love you.

That’s it.

That’s all.

That’s the crux of everything I hope to do with this life.

And I do that, in part, by letting you see me. The real me. In this case, the real me who’s a woman of imperfect faith, trying to raise children to ask questions, to look for answers, to trust Love, and to breathe.

I wrote this essay in May 2012 for Rachel Held Evan’s blog as part of a series on Parenting and Faith. It’s republished here with permission.

……….

Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.

I used to prefer for God to live in a box.

Not a jewelry box. Or a moving box. Or a giant refrigerator box. Or even one of those pet store hamster boxes with breathing holes like the one I bought in 1980 with my best friend Tracy because two seven-year-olds co-owning a hamster is always a good idea.

Nope. My God-box was different.

My God-box was more like a Lunchables box. The kind that’s well-shaped with plastic compartments for neatly stacked crackers and round spheres of pressed meat and contoured for protection against breakage. 

That was, in my mind, the very best, most structured kind of a God-box, and my God deserved the best.

I liked my boxed God very much because He was neat and tidy, and also a He with a capital H. And everything in my life fit into my God-box compartments.

I think that’s normal for a kid raised in the Church, and it isn’t bad or wrong. It just turned out to be, well, a little too easy and preserved for the realities of my life as it unfolded.

I became a mama for the first time in the Fall of 1998 when a foster mom, in the dark of night in a tiny home in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam placed a nine week old baby girl into my shaking arms. It was eleven days shy of my 25th birthday, and my husband and I marveled over Abby’s fingers and toes and the fact that two whole governments were willing to entrust us with her little, perfect life.

I had everything I wanted. A husband I liked nearly all the time. A daughter I adored. A home. And a personal relationship with JesusChristMyLordandSavior.

I was wildly, deliriously happy and fulfilled.

Except when I was terribly unhappy. And except when I was oddly empty. And except when I felt like I was choking in the dark of night as I sat for hours and hours on the hardwood floors outside my baby’s room and my butt grew numb while I wondered why I lacked for peace when I had gratitude and faith.

My confusion and bewilderment felt a lot like drowning or despair which I suspect are two words for the same thing. The wild flailing of arms. The gasps of air at the surface that were too brief to provide real respite. The rather desperate panic at the idea that, perhaps, being a mother wasn’t enough and being a follower of Jesus wasn’t enough, either.

Both ideas terrified me beyond description. How could they not, raised as I was by a loving Christian community to understand that God always fills the empty spaces and that a woman’s satisfaction comes from being a wife and a mother?

Instead, I found myself as a young mom lost in a wasteland of spiritual and emotional loneliness. Adrift. Isolated. Living in the opposite country from the illusive and idyllic Village where I was sure all of my friends’ children were being raised by content mommies who were far more Godly than me.

And so it was that becoming a mother stripped me down to nothing and left me bare, exposed to my fears and my not-enoughness and my God. It was there, in that empty space, that I slowly began to unpack my Lunchables box, trying to discover whether any pieces of my God-meal matched a more significant, infinite, loving God who could sustain me… whether I could somehow mesh my easy, compartmentalized answers with my difficult, messy questions…. and whether, perhaps, I might find myself in the process.

My box was loaded with things that were striking to me in the way they didn’t fit with my understanding of a loving God. Things I was surprised I’d carried for years and in secret because I thought I would be shunned by the Church if I discarded them. Things that I thought were core to being a follower of Jesus, but which I found out… weren’t. Things like:

  • a Letter of the Law fundamentalism that’s married to mob-mentality politics,
  • “the Lord helps those who help themselves” and “love the sinner and hate the sin” and other trendy sayings that embrace a cringe-worthy sense of entitlement or judgment and, strikingly, aren’t in the Bible,
  •  and the pressure to deliver the Horror of Hell story with enough conviction to scare people toward a merciful God and into Heaven

These and a thousand thousand other things stuck in my throat and became increasingly difficult to swallow. They clogged my faith and made it hard for me to breathe. And so, with the cacophony of “but you must believe these things to raise righteous children” and a great deal of uncertainty ringing in my ears, I let them go.

I let them go for the risky pursuit of an authentic faith. A faith based on the person of Jesus in the Bible. A faith based on Christ as my present, accessible, here-with-me-now teacher. A faith that embodies my desperate longing to see all people treated equally, to follow the deeper Spirit of the Law, to welcome strangers, to reject fear, and to love people with abandon. A faith that’s far scarier and more thrilling than platitudes, easy answers and trendy sayings because it means telling my children that I don’t know everything.

Jesus said a lot of earth-shattering things, but now that I’m a mom, I think this was one of the most radical of all:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8

It seems to me that Jesus’ words are a clear directive.

Ask, Jesus says. SeekKnock.

And then, if I’ve got this right, Jesus follows up a few verses later by saying that God will actually respond. God God, the Lover of us all, will reveal divine things. To me. To you. To, oh, anyone who asks. And God will do it without discretion or conditions. Without caution or prudence. Without making a list first of who has a right to which truth or who will handle the answers the best.

The revolutionary, almost subversive, thing about asking is that it goes beyond making it OK to have secret questions and inner doubts and gives us permission to raise our hands in God’s classroom with a “Pardon me, but I don’t get it.” Or “Really, God? Can you explain further?” Or “I just can’t bring myself to believe what the rest of your class is telling me.”

I suspect – a sneaking suspicion that gets louder as I age – that we’re somehow expected to keep asking. Out loud. And to keep seeking. And to keep knocking. Which has crazy implications on parenting from a Jesus perspective because typically when we don’t know something, we pretend we do. That’s in the Parenting Manual. Or the Being a Grownup Manual. Or the Christianity Manual. Or maybe it’s just being human.

If I am a parent who follows Christ and is honest about all of my not knowings, though, about still being in process, about being an asker and a seeker and a knocker, then I have to change my Christian parenting paradigm. I have to say to my children, instead, “I know only some of God’s heart, but I’m willing to share what I have” and then humbly leave that piece sitting on the counter for them to accept or reject.

But if I do that – if I tell that truth to my children – what will happen to their faith?

The truth, it turns out, can be an extraordinarily painful thing to tell. When I’m truthful, I find myself wading through my doubts, flashing my insecurities in public, and flipping through my dog-eared and coffee-stained questions like they’re well-worn copies of my favorite books.

If I say to my kids, “I don’t know; I’m a seeker just like you,” have I fallen down on the Christian Mama job? Have I led my kids astray by failing to hand them the answers? Have I abdicated my responsibility as a spiritual leader?

I don’t think so. And I’ll tell you why.

My sister-in-law, Kim, has been wandering around our faith community lately asking hard questions about the way the Church loves and harms people through acceptance or exclusion. About our collective fears. About the ways we engage in conversations. She’s letting her questions fall out all over the place, raw and beautiful in their authenticity. And she’s making people uncomfortable – or giddy – with her inability to accept the class’s answer and her insistence on raising her hand over and over and over.

Kim said two things that struck me as inordinately true during her questioning process. The first is her belief that the way we engage our conversations may be more important than our conclusions, for if we abandon love, kindness, forbearance and gentleness in favor of fear, self-righteousness and anger, what have we gained with a mere conclusion? And the second thing she said is I wonder if we Christians trust Jesus to be enough?

I wonder if we Christians trust Jesus to be enough. 

As a mama who cares about my kids’ relationships with God, I have to ask myself… am I engaging in spiritual conversations with them with love and kindness? Or am I fearful and angry about their doubts and conclusions? Do I actually believe that God will answer my kids’ questions with true discoveries and open doors? Or am I trying to rapidly solve their theological dilemmas by assuring them that God has already gifted me with all the answers and so they needn’t bother God by asking themselves?

I had a conversation recently with my father about whether we’re obligated as Christians to be aspirational.

“Are we,” I asked, “supposed to hold ourselves up as an example of the Godly life? Because I’m afraid I lack what it takes for others – my children, my friends, my family – to want to aspire to be like me and, therefore, like God.”

You see, I have a lot of inadequacies in the aspirational areas, but the main one is I know too little, and I admit it too often. I confess to cleaning my toilets and my children with embarrassing irregularity. I make people wear shoes in my house because I’m not sure what they might step in, and I should probably make people wear shoes in my theology for the same reason. I parent less-than-perfect children in less-than-perfect ways, and I actually prefer it that way.

“This is no way to be an example to others,” I told my dad, “no way to point the way to Christ, despite the relief I feel in living this life. Some days, I don’t strive to be the best Jesus-follower I can be. Some days, it’s all I can do to breathe.”

But my dad said the most amazing thing to me in response.

My former-Marine father who likes things to be orderly; my Christian missionary father who stashed emergency-reference copies of Dr. Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child throughout my childhood home; my traditional-interpretation-of-Scripture father who wonders where I get my wild and crazy theological ideas; that father of mine said,

“What if the root word of aspiration isn’t only to aspire to? What if the root word of aspiration is also to aspirate? To expel or dislodge the things that make people choke? To tell a truth that is so wild and so free that it helps people learn to breathe? What if you’re called to be that kind of aspiration?”

And I thought, Oh! If this life is about helping people breathe, I can do that.

Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.

I used to prefer for God to live in a box. Neat and tidy. Quiet and nice.

Now my life is full of questions. It’s messier and louder, more disruptive and fulfilling, than I imagined.

And I?

I can finally breathe.

……….

In the next part of this faith series ( <— See? It’s a series, I tell you!)I plan to ask you some questions about faith — whatever faith or nonfaith background you claim — because one of the things I think we lack on the internet are good places to have open, loving interfaith conversations without agendas, you know? Wouldn’t that be incredibly refreshing? I know I would LOVE that. So plan on it. For now, though, I’d love your thoughts on this — this piece specifically or this series idea in general. Does this resonate with you? Or freak you out? Or what?

……….

 

This Is My Body, Sacred and Scarred

Aug 26 2013

We were at the lake this summer when I saw her, the woman with my body wearing a bikini, her thighs round and her stomach rounder, both decorated with long lines chasing each other up her skin, identical to my own stretch marks which go on into infinity. I stopped and I admit I stared, although I hoped she didn’t notice because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say or make her understand that I meant it, which was, “Good for you, mama” and, “I wonder if you know how beautiful you are?” And then she was off, into the water, playing with her kids, splashing in the sunshine, living her life with her scars on the outside like the playing and the living were more important than the flaws. I loved her in that moment for being brave and being herself and teaching me to love myself a little better.

To be clear, you won’t catch me in a bikini. Ever. Not because I think bikinis are bad or that only women with certain body types are entitled to wear them. If you want to wear a bikini, friend, I will go all Mama Bear on anyone who says you can’t, shouldn’t or to DON’T. But me? Nope. Not interested. I’m happy to leave my bikini days behind me, along with skinny jeans, leggings and feathered hair.

Which is why this is a strange transition I’m about to make. A strange thing I’m about to do. A strange turn of events to follow my (stretch-marked) gut and push publish on this picture of my belly, bare for all to see.

photo (75)

How in the world do you make a decision to bare your scars to the world? To wear the bikini at the lake… or to stand virtually naked in front of a mirror in the quiet of your own home and tentatively take off your shirt and step out of your jeans and lift the camera and watch the light and suck in your gut and puff it back out and choose to push the button that will capture this image? The one of the belly you love for growing babies? The one of the belly you hate for the scars that drip like candle wax? The one of the belly that made one friend gasp in shock and another say how beautiful? The one of the belly your husband caresses in the middle of the night which makes you wish he’d stop and hope he won’t? The one of the belly with the craters and the canyons, unblemished skin drawn haphazardly next to the skin that laid down and said, “I cannot do this. I cannot grow any more. Not one more bit,” and was stretched anyway, like all of motherhood?

How in the world do you make a decision to share that belly like it’s lovely? Like it’s worthy of not just words but a picture, too?

For me, it was this e-mail from my friend Sarah. This e-mail that made me laugh and smile and cry and run my nails along my scars and nod and say, “I know. Oh, I know.” Because Sarah wrote:

My husband grabbed my now dried up boobs last night and I started crying.

He was laughing and then I started crying.

And then he stopped laughing.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Remember that time he found me in the fetal position crying my eyes out about the fact that I could not stop the train wreck of motherhood that was hurtling toward me?

It was just like that. Except this time I was crying about the aftermath of the wreck and how I was no longer, nor ever going to be again, the woman with the perky boobs and nice rear he married. The full effects of having a child have left their ugly, stretchy, purple, saggy marks all over me.

My glory years are officially over. Or at least that’s what I was feeling like in the moment.

And, yes. My glory years are officially over, too, Sarah. Or rather, my glory years have been transferred from my broken body to something deeper and less physical and far more profound than a mere body. Not that that matters during the crying moments. It doesn’t. Because broken bodies must be mourned.

But someday – eventually – just like motherhood gets stronger, the body matters less. Because it takes a body that’s been broken to give life. And I don’t just mean to our biological babies. Oh, no, I sure don’t. Because this body of mine was broken with my first baby even though another mama grew her. My body was broken by late nights and early mornings that melted into each other. And by the burn in my back from holding her and holding her and holding her. And by the grind and the gore and the grace and the glory of motherhood which walk, always, hand in hand.

When I see myself in the mirror now, I think, almost always, “This is my body, broken for you, kids.” Which isn’t sacrilegious. Or self-deprecating. Or disdainful. Or sad. Not now. Not anymore. No. Because the broken body points always toward life. Always toward triumph. Always toward resurrection. It just took me a while to find the sacred in the scars.

……….

photo (69)

P.S. I laughed out loud at my panties the other day. In an epic move of comedic solidarity, they thought it would be awesome to mimic my stretch marks by getting stretch marks of their own.

—>

Good one, Panties.

……….

The Evolution of My Cape

Jul 12 2013

SuperCartoon…….

Truth is they won’t remember (nor do they care) how many baths they took, what they ate for supper, if their clothes were folded or even clean. They will remember how we love them.”
Five Kids reader, Charlie Collier

Cartoon Credit: Steve Nease

…….

It was after dark in October 1998 in a stranger’s house in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam when I was issued my Mama Cape. Of course, it was invisible like such capes always are, so I didn’t see it clip itself to my shoulders the same instant I took Abby from her foster mom’s arms. I only had eyes and ears for my baby. I didn’t feel the cape begin to unfurl down my back or smell the residue of its plastic packaging or hear its starchy snap as it caught the wind on our way back to the hotel that night.

I saw a picture of a new family this week, mom and dad holding their beautiful new baby, all of them radiant. My breath caught in my throat and my eyes stung as I looked into the happy face of that first-time mama and thought, You’re about to discover a whole new kind of love. And also, You’ll never again know a life without fear. And also, I hope you know you’re made of the stuff of heroes.

It’s strange to be on this side of motherhood with my cape as threadbare and tattered as my wedding towels. My kids keep finding the holes my cape and sticking their fingers in them, fiddling and tearing them bigger and bigger before I can mend them. I’ve spilled coffee on it thousands of times. It’s seen more bodily fluid than I care to mention. I was actually glad when the bottom panel ripped off sometime around the summer of 2008; I kept forgetting to move it out of the way while pottying — probably because I was simultaneously breaking up a fight, writing my grocery list, and reading The Cat in the Hat to a rapt toddler audience — and the cape corner dripping down my leg as I stood was an unpleasant reminder of my MIA mama brain.

Still, by 2008, at least I knew I had a cape. Before that, I was sure I was living in a superheroes’ world sans cape or powers or magic wand. My house looked like a super villain had attacked, and so did my feelings of inadequacy, scattered just about everywhere. I didn’t know yet that capes are rarely made from pristine homes, perfect organization, zen-like patience, or magazine-cover meals, and that I was destined for failure when I tried to patch mine together from those things. That those expectations were, instead of a ticket to freedom, my kryptonite, sapping my strength no matter how hard I tried.

I didn’t know I had to stop judging myself by my false cape standards before I could appreciate the ratty, resplendent one I already owned.

Now I know what my cape is made of — a hundred thousand serendipities. Baby bottoms. Sloppy wet kisses. First days of school. Trips to the ER. Reading the same bedtime story. Falling apart. Standing back up. A whole lot of tired. Strength anyway.

My cape is made of just in the nick of time, and right now, and oops, too late.

It’s made of laughter and yelling and smiling and tears.

And smooth sailing and sudden turns.

And friendship and loneliness and building a home, somehow, in the middle of the mess.

Yep; I know some of what my cape is made of now. And I know we all have one, cobbled together from the things we didn’t expect.

We use our capes to dry tears and build forts and clean spaghetti-stained faces. We spread them on the ground for impromptu picnics. We wrap our kids tight in giant cape hugs. We wave them in the air like the white flag of surrender. We hide under them in the midst of the storm.

The best kind of capes are like the best kind of lovies. Used. Worn. Soft. Totally gross to untrained eye. Absolutely perfect with their pilled surfaces and crusty bits and the nutty smell of home.

 

Some of us talked about this on Facebook this week; your responses were my favorite thing on the internet. So I wanted to ask you here, too, where more moms and dads and nonparents — all of the fallible, fantastic people — can be encouraged:

“…You’re already wearing your cape, mama. You probably just didn’t recognize it because it’s not made out of materials you’re used to. Your cape is made of playing and snuggling and painted toes. Mine is made of Otter Pops and basking in the sun on threadbare towels.”

And you? What is the evolution of your cape? What’s it made of?

……….

On Being a Mombie and Cutting Ourselves Some Slack

May 14 2013

Questions. They’re too much pressure. I think we should make a pact right now to stop answering them.

How are you?
Do you want a receipt?
What’s for dinner?
Are you finished in the bathroom?

Sometimes I don’t know.

I’m not trying to avoid the question; I just honestly have no idea.

I’m sorry, Mr. Barista, who’s waiting patiently for an answer while the line piles up behind me. I can’t possibly decide whether I want a receipt. I already made a decision in this coffee shop. It was to order a cappuccino. Then you wanted to know whether I wanted it wet, dry or traditional. Traditional, please; I think; I don’t know. For here or to go? “For to go,” I said. Do I need a sleeve on it? “No?,” I said with conviction.  

The receipt question, though, while well-intended, is a bridge to far, man. My brain flickered and went out, and now it’s stuck in an infinity loop. Do I want a receipt? Do I want a receipt? In this scenario — complete brain meltdown — I’m having trouble processing what a receipt is, much less whether I want one.

It’s not your fault, Mr. Barista. You’re doing a great job.

The problem is me. Or not me, really. It’s the brain tumor. Called motherhood. A big, old lump of motherhood right there in the middle of my brain. It’s progressive, this motherhood, and it causes my brain to respond unpredictably, running enthusiastically at warp speed or grinding gears to full stop. Moderation? Steady as she goes? Pffttt. These things are dead to me.

Sometimes this erratic brain of mine is good for a thousand questions like it should be in the Gifted and Talented Program for Moms, raising its hand at the front of the class and ooh ooh OOH, pick me-ing.

More often, my brain shuts down at the first question of the day, all slack-jawed and put-upon like a grumpy teenager. I think it’s faking. Playing dead. Hoping I’ll leave it alone and let it sleep in. And I’m stuck telling my brain that my kid just needs to know where his undies went, and, honestly, can’t it do this one thing to help out around here? But, no. It can’t. Infinity loop: Where is his underwear? Where is his underwear? What does the word underwear even mean? Why am I standing in the laundry room again?

Here’s what I want to say. My whole point, really.

If you ever feel like a mombie, or a space cadet, or like your brain is stuck in the middle of the highway and all the other brains are zooming past you; if you ever feel like you should be more present, more in the moment, but you can’t get your brain to turn over; you are not alone.

It’s OK.

It’s OK to be a space cadet. It’s OK to have a stuttering brain. It’s OK to have tumor called motherhood — or whatever — that takes over cognitive function or sometimes just shuts it down. It’s OK if your tumor has metastasized to your heart so it goes fluttery and soft and terrified in rapid, missed-beat succession. It’s OK if it’s moved to your lungs and affects the very air you breathe.

It’s OK.

Your brain will be back at the front of the class in no time. Or eventually. Cross my heart. In the meantime, let’s all cut ourselves some slack.

OK?

Yeah; don’t answer that. 😉

……….

I’d ask you all if you ever feel this way or to share your mombie experiences, but, you know, questions. They’re hard. If your brain is working at warp speed today, feel free to tell us a story about a time it wasn’t. Especially the one about how you almost went to work in your tights and no skirt; that one’s a classic. For the rest of us momrades who want to encourage each other even though our brains are stalled, we can just wave at each other, like this:

**waves**

……….

 

 

On Being a Mother and a Time Traveler

May 10 2013

ID-1009700

The problem with getting older is that we only have our youth to compare it to.

I look in my bathroom mirror, leaning gingerly over the dried toothpaste on my right and the puddle of what I hope is water on my left, and I blink mascara onto my lashes, stopping to study the fine lines and scars in magnified detail and to pluck some wandering eyebrow hairs from my chin. I lean back and notice my breasts are at half mast, and I see my stretch marks which always look like they made a poorly organized break for freedom but didn’t know which way to run and so have tripped over each other — splat! —  into a tangled, sprawling mess.

I typically don’t spend much brain power tearing my appearance down. That’s a serious time commitment, and, frankly, I’d rather waste my energy vying for a turn on the toilet. But sometimes, every once in a while, when I isolate things in the mirror, I sigh and grieve a little.

That’s when I get in my time machine and travel.

Not to my 20’s, like you might expect, to reminisce and remember.

No. I travel from my future, back in time, to right now.

I imagine myself as an old woman with all of her knowledge and secrets of the way this life went. The unexpected tragedies that shook our very foundations. The triumphs of enduring them and bearing witness to each other along the journey. The family who’s left. The abiding ache of loss echoed in the pain of my bones. Contentment and restlessness, my longtime companions.

I imagine queuing in the line at the time travel terminal, pausing to lean on my smooth, polished cane, showing my ticket to the agent at the door, and boarding the machine to travel to now.

I imagine arriving quietly, on an unseasonably hot spring day, and watching from the back gate of this house I used to own. This house where I built these memories. This house where these memories built me.

I imagine watching Young Me and our children in secret so I don’t disrupt the time continuum. I watch the popsicles dripping. The water spraying. The kids screaming in happiness and fury.

I imagine right now as a memory.

I look at my skin and deeper, and I think, How young! How lovely. Isn’t it strange that I used to see your flaws? 

And at Greg who isn’t really going grey yet, strong and tall.

I look at my parents sitting at the patio table, my dad laughing too loudly with his beer in a glass, never in the bottle, and mom with her sweet white wine. Mobile. Alive. Full of history and stories I didn’t tap while I had the chance, and I wonder why I squandered the time.

Then I watch Young Me wiping bottoms and tying laces and grabbing snacks and grabbing at sanity and yes-ing and no-ing all at once, and I remember, Oh. That’s why.

I look at my kids, and I try to memorize them. Each face. Each feature. Each gesture.

Oh, yes, I think, this is what you look like when you were six and running to me, hard head hitting my gut and stepping on my toes because you hug so recklessly. I remember the pattern of your freckles. 

I breathe the air and my young mama exhaustion; it’s sweeter, coming from the future. And I forgive myself my petty frustrations because it’s plain that I knew. I knew this was my kids’ only childhood, and I spent my time trying to give them a good one.

……….

Clock image credit to Salvatore Vuono via freedigitalimages.net

When Depression Comes in Disguise

May 7 2013

I just learned that May is Mental Health Awareness Month which is PERFECT because I just started taking anti-depressants again. Serendipity, friends; I could not have planned this better. Now this story, which I would’ve told you anyway, has a purpose. Awareness. Boom!

This is way better than when I told you about my wrap dress unwrapping in the parking lot which served no higher purpose at all. Of course, during the wrap-dress incident, I wrote without swearing. We’re not going to be that lucky this time. But, you know, we can’t have everything.

In my head, I’ve been handling life just fine. The key words there are “in my head.” Which is a real shocker because a couple of weeks ago I would’ve told you the key words were “just fine.” I began to suspect something was amiss, though, when I was getting ready for bed, pulling on my usual, sexy, threadbare, frayed t-shirt from 1991 — oo la la — and Greg, bless his heart, tried to talk to me. 

“I love you very much,” I replied, “but I can’t talk any more today. Like, Not. Another. Word. So. Tired.” Except minus the I love you very much part. It was implied.

And Greg gently said, “Mornings aren’t good for talking. When I get home from work isn’t good for talking. Nighttime isn’t good for talking. When’s good for talking?”

And I realized, um, no time. No time’s good for talking, Greg. How about we just email each other from now on? But what I said out loud was, “I don’t know.”

The conversation played on repeat in my brain, like a bad song I couldn’t get out of my head. I had a nagging suspicion, coupled with other red flags, that something wasn’t right.

Here’s the thing: I’m not depressed. I’m not sad. I haven’t been living in a deep, dark pit of despair like I was the last time I took anti-depressants. I’m happy with my family. I like writing. I have fantastic friends. I’m more fulfilled at this point in my life than at any other. More content. More purposeful. I love getting older; I finally know myself a little, I like myself most of the time, and I can generally figure out a) what I really need and b) how to get it.

But it was becoming hard to keep swatting those red flags out of my face. They were like mosquitoes on crack.

This past year I’ve become more and more reclusive. I’m an introvert by nature, which surprises people because I’m outgoing, I like people, and I’m often loud, at least when I’m comfortable. Being alone gives me energy, though, so while I enjoy parties, I’m something of a dried out husk by the end of them and Greg’s left picking up the pieces, by which I mean ignoring me at my request until I can be personable again.

I found over the past year that I didn’t recover as quickly from group events and people-contact. I found I needed steadily increasing time alone to feel like I could breathe. I found I only had time to focus on my kids and that most other activities, including the “little” things like grocery shopping, helping in kids’ classrooms and going out for dinner with friends, induced dread. Utter dread. I still did them. Mostly. I even liked them, other than grocery shopping which can burn in the fiery depths of hell. But mustering the willpower to see events through was sometimes overwhelming.

And the weight gain. Oof. I tried to tackle this whole thing, in fact, from the diet and exercise angle, knowing I feel much better when I’m running regularly, eating healthier foods, and about 20 pounds lighter than I am right now. But I just haven’t been able to do it consistently. The momentum. The time. The not-medicating-my-feelings-with-food. Indicative of a larger issue? WHY, YES. DING DING DING.

It’s the anxiety that drove me to my doctor, though. Or the panic. Potato potahto. I’ve always loved traveling and Greg and I had an unusual opportunity to travel a lot last year. We did it and there were some awesome moments, but overall I was a terrible traveling companion, almost constantly consumed by the fear that something awful would happen to my kids while I was gone.

So I saw my doctor on Tuesday morning. The nurse came in first and asked why I was there. “I want to talk about anti-anxiety medication,” I said. “Or something. I was on anti-depressants successfully for several years. But I’m not depressed or sad now. I’m wondering if my current symptoms warrant a closer look at anxiety.”  

“Tell me more,” she said.

“Well, I’m anxious to the point of paranoia. I’m hiding in my house. I don’t want to travel even though that used to give me joy. I’m gaining weight. Apparently I’m not talking to my husband regularly, but I hadn’t noticed. And sometimes I’m a raging bitch. Do they make a pill for that?”

And when my doctor walked in a while later, she said, “So. It says here you’re feeling irritable lately and anxious?” 

And I said, “Yes. Consuming anxiety. And I think I technically said I’m a raging bitch.”

And she said, “Yeah, I’m not allowed to chart that. The profession frowns on putting ‘raging bitch’ in writing. Consider ‘irritable’ a code word.”

Irritable. Good to know.

And then we discussed depression versus anxiety. And my doctor told me that my symptoms are symptoms of clinical depression.

Wha…?

“BUT I’M NOT SAD,” I said again. “I’m not hoping for a car crash that will land me in the hospital where other people will take care of me. You know, this time. I’m not in despair.”

“Just because you were sad last time doesn’t mean you’ll feel that way this time,” she said.

“Oh.”

“The symptoms are not the same for everyone,” she said.

“Oh.”

“Some people experience increased migraines,” she said.

“Oh.”

“Some people have difficulty concentrating.”

“Oh.”

“Some people experience anxiety or panic.”

“Oh.”

“Some people become reclusive or otherwise avoid engaging socially.”

“Oh.”

“Some people are ‘irritable.'”

“Oh.”

“And when people have several of the symptoms and a history of depression? Well, you see what I’m saying.”

And everything came into focus.

As someone who’s suffered from depression in the past, I was highly aware that it could resurface. I was on the lookout, even. But it came masked this time as a stranger, wearing clothes I didn’t recognize, and it snuck up and clocked me from behind because, no matter what it looks like, Depression is a dick.

Guess what? I’m gonna kick its ass.

I sat quietly at our giant farm table after dinner the other night while Greg did the dishes and talked. He stopped and stilled suddenly after saying something funny and said, “Did you just laugh?” I nodded, hoping he wasn’t offended and that I was laughing with him and not at him. “Yeah… ?” I said, wondering why he asked. He started on the dishes again and said, “I just haven’t heard you do that in a while.”

Oh.

I’ve been back on meds for one week, which anyone can tell you is not enough time to tell whether this is the right medication. It takes time to climb back out of the holes Depression pushes us into. But there’s light up there, I just know it,

ID-100153060

and I’ve started digging.

……….

P.S. Medication is not the right solution for everyone. It is the right solution for me. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, get help. There are lots of options, and getting help is the right solution for everyone.

P.P.S. If you’re having a hard time forgiving yourself for being depressed, read this all the way through the comments. You’re not alone. And you’re worthy of deep love. Including from yourself. True story.

P.P.P.S. I didn’t mean for this post to morph into a Public Service Announcement about depression, but it did. These things happen. Thanks for tumbling down the rabbit hole with me.

……….

Old Yellow Backhoe image credit to Keerati via freedigitalimages.net