On Being Smudgy

I wrote you a real letter today. On paper and everything. And it’s dated two days ago because that’s how long it took me to finish it. That’s OK, though. I think you’ll understand.

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
40 comments
  1. I read your letter in church. On Mother’s Day. Because my husband asked me to speak in church. (That’s his church job in our lay ministry, asking people to speak (for free) in our church. Well, it’s part of his job.) Anyway, aside from every woman in our church being both appalled and grateful that my husband would ask /me/ to speak on Mother’s Day, the things you said in the letter were the things my fellow church-goers needed to hear, and it comforted them. And me. Thank you.

  2. I’m glad I read this this morning. Last night, my partner-in-crime admitted to feeling tired and disappointed in himself. He was laid off in November, and, long story short, is finding that starting his own law practice is the most prudent course of action we could take. But it has been HARD. It is taking more time than he expected, and he’s afraid to just start, because what if having all the ducks lined up first really is necessary? Brand new territory- and it’s dark!
    So thank you. I shared this with him, in hopes that it adds to the encouragement I’m trying to give.

    Waving! 🙂

  3. I just wanted to wish you a HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY BETH! You make me a better mom!

  4. From one exhausted and weary mama to all of you mamas out there – this passage from the Bahá’í writings brings me comfort, so I thought I would share. I would love to know what brings you comfort/renewal/energy as well:
    “Never lose thy trust in God. Be thou ever hopeful, for the bounties of God never cease to flow upon man. If viewed from one perspective they seem to decrease, but from another they are full and complete. Man is under all conditions immersed in a sea of God’s blessings. Therefore, be thou not hopeless under any circumstances, but rather be firm in thy hope.”
    It helps me take myself out of the moment and know I am not seeing the whole picture, and knowing for sure that I am encompassed by blessings I may not be noticing makes me stop and look for them… Exhausted and frustrated at another doctor appointment the other day I had to stop and see the blessing that we have access to doctors and medicines and the funds to pay for them…
    I lived in Africa in high school – my parents were teachers – and the day I arrived this girl from the school took me to her “house”… It was quite literally a mud hut, with a tin roof, a bare floor and a kerosene stove, and a big bag of rice… She was bubbling with excitement, and told me that she had been chosen by her village to be educated, and they had pooled their resources to obtain for her the hut, stove, rice, school uniform and tuition. She was blissful recounting her good fortune, and then insisted I take some of her rice to my mother as a welcoming gift… I was an American teenager who had never seen this level of poverty – I mean, she was sleeping on a dirt floor. I tried not to take the rice but she was adamant that she share her blessings with me… In her paradigm she was warm, clothed, fed, educated – she was aware of all of the blessings that I had taken for granted all my life…

    1. Wow…this was very touching. Thank you for sharing that experience! What an awesome life changing moment.

  5. Awe, thank you for this! (and the hand writing was extra special) As I look around my kitchen, my whole house for that matter, I am greeted by a mess. I haven’t had the energy to clean because of a little boy that thinks the middle of the night is the perfect time to play! I have an important meeting coming up next week, where I’m already freaking out a little bit, because I know I’m going to want the house spotless for it! But, this letter, oh my – it refreshed me. I’m looking around and I know it’s ok. It will get cleaned up, my little guy will start sleeping some day. It will be ok.

  6. I’m with you tonight, smudged and tired. My daughter had an endoscopy today. She’s four. It’s not our first rodeo (she’s had more anesthetic procedures than I can count), but I don’t sleep when I know one’s coming. I pace, bracing myself on the wall. Holding her while I pace. Carrying her, letting her rest on me, letting her cry on me, while I keep it together for her, and take the smudges for us both. And she’s finally asleep tonight, so I’m about to pass out. 😉

  7. Does it count that at 53 I am 8 weeks away from the end of my final rotation as an occupational therapy student, and I am feeling so smudged that all I can think is “great. Five years of effort and $100,000 of debt just so I can do this nonstop for the rest of my life… “? I need a Magic Eraser for my soul.

    1. I don’t know if this will help your soul or not, but as a mom whose 3 1/2 year old son sees occupational therapists weekly you will have the capacity to radically improve lives for the better and be the witness and bringer of miracles. Take a vacation when you are done and take a breath because the hard work you will be doing is incredible and appreciated. But joy and passion make a difference so rest and I hope you find your joy again.

      1. Thank you. You’re right. And I had a better day today, so I feel encouraged.

  8. Is there even such a thing as smudge-free moms?

  9. I LOVE this letter and I love you! Thanks for always making me feel like whatever Mombie phase I’m in, that it’s okay and I’m not alone, that I will come out of it alive and a better person. This blog is a God send!

  10. Geez, I love your soul.

    I have been asked to speak to my congregation in church this week. It’s a lay ministry, so nobody gets any money, we just accept opportunities to take turns sharing our beliefs. I was wondering if I might read the main portion of this post as part of my address?Whether or not that’s okay, thank you for sharing this. It moved my heart and encouraged my soul. God bless!

  11. So very smudgy and very tired with no end in sight. (Indulging in whining…Son #1 had a horrible 1st semester in college (grade-wise – socially he had a 4.0!), my daddy passed away in January, we busted Son #1’s chops and he’s back on the straight and narrow during 2nd semester but his girlfriend from across the state had to move in with us in April due to a horrible, terrible, tragically sad home life, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks ago and I found out recently that my dear pastor is leaving our church this summer. End whining.) My smudges have smudges but your post (as always) was perfectly timed. Thank you AGAIN for helping me to put things in perspective and realize that I AM NOT ALONE! In the dark, but not forever and waving to you all!

  12. That was a sweet, sweet letter, and I’m tired and smudgy, too, with no end in sight, and like that part about not working tirelessly, but tirefully, for these people whom I love more than life itself.

    Thanks!

  13. “It’s ok to expend ourselves for the right things. It’s ok to pour ourselves out.” So perfectly stated and got metro the core of my mamma heart. So many times I hear the opposite. That we’re not supposed to give until we’re empty, even to those who mean the absolute world to us. Thank you for saying it’s ok. Thank you!

  14. We are doing Screen Free Week (the children, not me. I NEED the internet like oxygen) and because of this I am super smudgy. Like, all-my-clothes-are-ruined-smudgy. I know it’s a good challenge, and good for them to experience life without tablets, TV and movies… but their mama adores those beautiful times of silence when all three little boys are engaged in something other than wrestling each other.

    Lord help me.

  15. Thank you so much, it’s good to remember how lucky we are and how strong we can be. Although I admit I am so so tired of being strong. In process of getting a divorce, painting walls of house to put it up for sale and I don’t know where my son and I will end up living because I am in the middle of getting him diagnosed…most likely cerebral palsy, taking him to therapy left and right but grateful that there is help, will need to find childcare that will be caring and loving and not overwhelm him and a job that will work with everything…all at once. Oh yes and wonderful birth parent visits the next two weekends. I sincerely mean wonderful, but oh so tired. Waving in the dark to everyone. I’ll be the one laughing, which is kinda creepy in the dark so I apologize, because at this point I honestly don’t know what else to do.

  16. The letter was lovely and everything was beautifully said. Now, can I just let you know how jealous I am that there are no cross-outs, arrows moving paragraphs around, and no chicken scratchy self-edits in the margins? How on earth did you do that? I can’t even write a grocery list without making a mistake!

    As for the penises? I feel your pain, sister. Although in my case it required issuing the rule that there be NO penises drawn onto character-shaped Minecraft houses. I thought having a girl naturally IMPLIED there would not be penises drawn on anything ever. I obviously was wrong. (I’m not sure if I’m comforted by the fact that it wasn’t quite drawn correctly.)

    1. Yeah, my daughter has made things in Minecraft that look rather ‘adult’ (to my polluted mind) but I always praise her (she wants to be an architect and OMG you should see this Minecraft castle she built (minus the potty mind)!). It has matching round swimming pools, side by side, each with a round red floaty in the middle. 😉

  17. My problem is that I do the tireful working and the faithful vigil over things that are only scary inside my head.

    Like, for example, I once waited WEEKS to take a pregnancy test when I was very sure I was pregnant because if I *knew* for sure that I was, I would have to start The Worrying that we bereaved mothers do. I was, in effect, staying up in the night to keep watch over myself, so I wouldn’t find out something that was wonderfully good news, because I wasn’t sure I could handle the good news.

    And it wasn’t something I could ask for help with, because I was embarrassed about the way I was, in effect, over-dramatizing my life in order to make something wonderful into a problem.

    And when I finally took the pregnancy test, I didn’t feel relieved, just the horrible, crushing, irrational anxiety I had guaranteed I would feel by being so nervous about it and thinking about it so much.

    I wish that feelings were always rational. But if they were, I guess humans wouldn’t be so magical.

  18. My vigil is not over, and my smudgy pacing continues. This made me weep a little, the kind of weeping you do when you’re barely holding it together and then someone is suddenly kind. Thank you for that image of the pioneer woman leaning against the wall as she paces–I will think of her to give me strength.

  19. Hopefully the penises were not drawn with the nail polish. 😉

    1. Nope, Jen. They used permanent marker. For reals. Although the drawing was with permission (the CONTENT of their drawing wasn’t), so it’s fine. I’ll probably take pics and share with y’all soon. They’re quite the artists, my kids.

      1. Will it help to know that I taught 7th and 8th grade for 15 years? I have seen more than my share of penis drawings! I can critique it for you if you’d like.

      2. Those Magic Erasers will take that stuff right off. Don’t ask me how I know that. 🙂

  20. Thank you for sending us this lovely letter – lots of smudgy mascara here this evening and it’s not because I am working on my smoky eye look. I would like to make a comment about the comments on this blog. While you were away, I checked out a couple of other mom blog sites just to pass the time. One article got me really riled (ie seemed to be passing judgement on me in particular) and I decided to comment. Well, I had to scroll down all the other comments to get to the comment box. Oh my goodness!!! They were horrible. I had been planning something calm and not too emotional. These other people had just let loose and were unbelievably aggressive and just full of rage. I decided I didn’t want to be part of the mean girl gang so I didn’t leave a message after all. I don’t know if you are a ruthless moderator of comments or whether you just attract a kinder, gentler class of people. Anyway, thank you and I hope your organisation and your family are doing well. Good luck with the sleep. xo

    1. Thanks for this, Jennifer. We do have genuinely kind and lovely people here, so there’s not much moderating I have to do. When I DO moderate, I allow unkind things said to ME to stay — I’m willing to take criticism, and some of it is helpful — but I don’t ever, EVER allow bullying of others here. I will always protect the momrades. It’s taken all of us to build this space online, and it’s a huge gift; I won’t allow anyone to undermine the encouragement and love people find from each other here.

      1. Beth, you are a beautiful person, smudges and all. 🙂

  21. Thank you for the letter. 🙂 I’m right there with you, pacing and smudging, except it’s night school instead of kids. One month seems so brief and yet so interminably long at the same time. (Please note that I had to fix three typos in the last sentence alone).
    Also: Nail polish? Do tell! I’m sure I’ll get to paint my nails again someday, and when I do it would be nice if it stayed on!

    1. Sally Hansen gel. NOTE: No need to buy the whole $55 kit! I just bought the $8 gel polish and the $8 topcoat, and it’s GREAT. I’m not suggesting it lasts 2 weeks or anything like the label says (labels are lying liars who lie), but I’ve been wearing it on my fingernails for 4 days now and it’s still going strong. The MAXIMUM my fingernails keep polish on them before they chip, peel, smudge, etc. is 2 hours. No joke. So this is, like, a 4800% improvement.

      1. I tried to buy that today! On a whim, just because I saw it. I had to leave whimless because they were out of the topcoat. But good to know it will be worth a trip back. My polish always lasts within the mere hours range as well.

      2. And I thought the 2 hour thing was just me …. You’re the 2nd person in a week to recommend the Sally Hansen one. Take it from me, the ColourStay one from Revlon isn’t worth it.

        Joining you in the smudges. And the trenches. xxx

        MM

    2. Hang in there Meagan. I went to night school for 5 years to finish my Bachelor’s degree. I finally did it (graduated in December of 2013) and it’s worth every moment and every drop of blood, sweat and tears, mostly tears. So wear your smudges proudly as well and if anyone asks tell them you are fashion forward with the “new smokey eye that wouldn’t be complete without the redness and puffiness.” Anyone can look model perfect – your beauty goes way deeper!

    3. Meagan–I am 51, I have two sons grown and gone, and three teenagers at home. And I am 26 credits away from earning a BA in English–now, granted, I am doing online school (Yay UMass Lowell!). I”m tired. I’m so smudgy. But there is an end in sight!

  22. Your writing is beautiful – and so is your handwriting! 🙂
    smudgy moms UNITE!

  23. I love it. I am also smudgy and tired but it’s ok.
    And, what’s the nail polish???

    1. I replied to Meagan above with the nail polish detes. 🙂

  24. Ooh! A real letter! Thank you, thank you! It’s been years since I’ve received one.

    And also: your handwriting looks so much like mine it’s almost creepy. Thank goodness for the different kind of & you do.

  25. Thank you! I needed to get this letter today.

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