Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Journey Without End: A Thanksgiving Note to Mothers

My baby was born six and a half years ago.  My oldest is almost eleven.  She is, what they call, a tween.  My middle one?  She's eight going on thirty-two.  What does all this mean for me?  I'm not really sure yet.  But I spent the day today at a friend's house who's oldest is turning seven.

And I realized.  She is in a different place than I am.  

The place where I melted and was rebuilt just a few short years ago.  The place where everything revolves around laundry and dishes and nap time.

I saw it in her eyes - the desperation of a woman who is trying to be everything to everyone and keep the floor clean in the process.  The heart of a girl turned mother who just wants to smile at her kids genuinely and clean perfectly and make the right meals and love her husband and plan the parties, wrap the presents, keep the laundry done, nurse the baby, keep control, love big. You know.

You know.  

I know.

The perfectionism that runs deep and leaves us entangled in a web of deceit.  It's a hard place to live - where perfectionism and ineptitude meet and beg us to pick one.  The place where we are never enough but have to be enough and who, exactly, do we believe?

I don't feel old enough or wise enough to offer advice to anyone.  Especially not mothering advice.

But I do want to offer something.   Because I did, just a few short years ago, nurse the babies and empty the dishwasher and fail at laundry and react all. day. long. Then I cried into my pillow and wondered why I was so bad at it and why was it all so much harder than it was supposed to be?

Oh but there was love and there were playdates and there were giggles and markers and cookies and flour-dusted cheeks, and of course we all know it's not all as awful as some women want to make you believe.  We all know there is true joy in service and that, at the end of the day, giving all you had is therapeutic and Biblical and life-giving.

But it doesn't make it easy.

Here's the thing, though, mother-newer-than-I.  I have a confession for each and every one of you, the ones who just know it will all be easier in a few years.

It's not.  Not really.

Oh sure, the laundry is usually caught up and the I have children who actually help empty the dishwasher and don't just grab the knives and take off running, laughing.  And I know the truth - that right now, when I say, flippantly, "Oh sure, the laundry is caught up," that you roll your eyes and think about how I don't remember how stressful that is.  I know because I did it to.

But I do remember.  I remember that stress and it is real.  But you know what's real to me right now?
What keeps me awake these days?

What I'm going to tell my daughter about sex.  How I am going to prepare her for her body changing and the monthly inconvenience that awaits her in such a short time.  How I am going to help my other daughter through her anxiety issues.  How I'm going to protect my youngest daughter from the things my older girls knew nothing about when they were six.

How do I protect them from the world as they start to enter it?  With one foot inching steadily into womanhood, dragging her sisters right behind her, I find myself wishing my only issue was the crying or the dishes.

Here's the thing.  I read plenty of books about nursing babies.  I did not, however, take the time while I was chasing the toddlers and folding the laundry and nursing those babies to read anything about what to do when they ask you what the f-word is or how to explain that ass means rear-end or donkey, but you can't say it aloud.

We have to talk about communion and what it means and how holy it is and we have to discuss big life issues that, honestly, I don't even understand sometimes.  They need to see me reading my Bible and how I react to their father suddenly matters in a big way because they are watching.  And listening to every word I say.  All day long.  There is no hiding, there is no naptime, there is only me in my sinful, very sinful, state, living alongside them, messing up even more things than before and this time the stakes are a lot higher.

So why do I say all of this?

Because there is a lot of advice and admonishment going around and it looks like this:  "Enjoy it because soon enough it will be over."  Really?  Is it ever really over?  And do we really want it to be?

The problem with all the advice about enjoying it and getting through it and leaving the mess behind you is that it cheapens it.  It pretends that right now doesn't matter.  Only later.  Only when it's over can you be happy because this part is hard, but it's almost over.  What a horrible way to live, always looking for the end of this holy thing you are doing.  What if instead I told you it never ended, only evolved?  Then could you, could I, could we, collectively, stop just surviving, waiting for the proverbial light at the end of this dizzying, mystifying, beautiful, ordained tunnel?

Motherhood is not like some crazy fast ride at an amusement park where, if we can just hold on, we will arrive at the end breathless and alive, giggling loudly, "Wow! What a ride!  Hey, you over there! Is this your first time?  Be sure to enjoy goes so fast! It'll be over before you know it."  Then we wander into the park, looking for the next cheap thrill with which to amuse ourselves.

Motherhood, parenting, loving, purifying, discipling...these are not tasks to be taken lightly. They stand together as a single, never-ending act of worship.

It's not a sojourn, this momentous calling placed upon us by the King of the universe.  It is not a stopping over until something better comes along, until we have fulfilled our duties, or service, only to be thrown aside as "that thing we did once when we were young."  It is, in fact, a journey.  A journey to the cross, to the destruction of perfectionism, to the execution of our flesh, the end of which is only the beginning, where we stand, holding our grandchild in our arms, look up at the face of her mother as she implores, "Does it get easier?  Will I ever sleep again?"  Your heart squeezes tight as you ache for her to know that the sleepless nights wane but the essence of always being available does not.  That her milk will dry up but her tears will forever run in the wake of the child you hold.  And I'll say to her that day what I say to you now and what I believe to be true.  

The problem with always looking to tomorrow for joy is that it robs us of today.  

Motherhood is not something we are supposed to simply survive until its finally over.  It is, in fact, a journey without end.  A joyous, beautiful, heart-wrenching, soul-squeezing, love-filled, miraculous journey.  Every insecure step drenched in grace and love and beauty.

Because a life spent traveling is a life spent living.  You've heard the old adage that we should always choose the experience when given a choice between that and stuff.  We can both agree, even while you change the diapers and clean up the spills, even while I stumble over a succinct explanation of the trinity, that this particular journey is one upon which we were called to commence and therefore, there is life in the walking. There is joy in the giving.  There is hope in the running.  Not hope that it will soon be over...but Faith that it never will be.  And relishing in this truth, loving our lives, slowing down to embrace it all and count it as joy, because it's the life we were given and our Father gives only the most precious of gifts.

Let's be thankful today for the path laid out before us.  That the road we walk has no end.  That we can stop waiting for the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and start pointing out landmarks along the way.  That today, and every day, is right now.  That right now is available, beautiful, meant to be wondered at and embraced in the fullest of ways.


  1. Tia, a very nice post. I am probably old enough to be your mother, or at least an older sister. I can say with all honesty that yes, I agree the path of motherhood will never be over, and that even as our children become adults, we live in the hope of seeing their continued happiness and successes, and we grieve for their losses too, whether they are in relationships, jobs or any other number of personal struggles. The gift very precious to me as an aging mother is, while we live in these moments, is that we grow and learn a much deeper sense of what being a mother is all about.

    There is a connectedness among all us mothers, and I think it's a universal thing that I'm talking about. Growing older, living through the motherhood experiences, I think we learn even more about our own mothers, how they must've felt in various situations (often like we do, I would bet), which gives us that deeper feeling, that closer connection to our own sense of being a mother as well as to other mothers' sense of being a mother. I can't explain it any better than that, but I think once one's own mother is gone, and you're living through it, you will know it. You will continue learning in motherhood, from your own mother, in a way you never imagined. As an example, I was at the funeral of a childhood friend's father this past week, in a former parish I attended, and one of these experiences I am trying to explain happened there. A flood of memories of growing up, our parents then, the parishioners now - all of these things were happening in the moment, yet brought me to a deeper understanding of motherhood right then. I was thinking of my own mother, how it felt to be in that parish again, seeing many of the same people I'd seen through the years - happy to see them, sad for the loss of my friend's father, thinking of my own children having grown up in that parish - so many different 'scenes' of life right there in that moment - and I just felt this sense of my mom, and how, over the years, she must have felt, having raised nine kids.

    Your closing statement sums it up well - that right now is available, meant to be wondered at and embraced in the fullest of ways. I came away from that funeral saying to myself, "it's no wonder mom felt the way she did".
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family, Tia.
    Rita C at Panoply
    (ps - my reaching your blog has come from the common thread of another mother, Alison at Nancherrow). :)