It was one of those mornings. Except I didn’t realize it yet.
We made the half hour trip to Wegmans to stock up on some bulk items, get some organic produce for reasonable prices, and buy some rose water to make Turkish Delight for my husband’s students who are reading The Chronicles of Narnia. It was a bit of a wild goose chase, but we found the stuff and we were about to check out and go have a date at the cafe.
My stuff was halfway scanned and bagged, when, to my horror, I realized that I had left my wallet in the purse I took to rehearsal a couple of nights before. With my credit card, cash, and ID. At home. The uncomfortable reality of the situation settled in. I can’t pay for this food. And I’m 30 minutes from home. And I just spent over an hour here. With my two hungry kids. And we can’t have our date now.
The cashier was very kind. She rang me out, suspended my order, and took it to customer service to hold until I could return. The woman behind me was also very kind. She looked at me empathetically and told me she had done it before too. But when I told my son this meant we couldn’t have our date, he burst into howling tears at full volume in the front of the store.
As we walked out into the cold stinging rain of the parking lot, I tried to tell J calmly that I couldn’t do anything to change things, and I was sorry, and we were just going to have to drive home, get my wallet, and come back. He despaired. My frustrations heightened.
“Please, stop crying. I’m trying as hard as I can to make this right. I’m just as sad about it as you are!” I pleaded.
“I can’t, mama!” J replied. “I could cry all the way home!.”
“Me too,” I answered. “I know exactly how you feel.”
I called my husband to see if he had enough cash with him at work so I could stop by there. He didn’t. I called my mother to see if she was out running errands already. She wasn’t. I was about to crack when she asked what was wrong. I told her, and bless her heart, she said she would drive out to meet me (she lives closer to the store than I do). She volunteered to pay for my groceries so I could write her the check that the store wouldn’t accept without my ID.
I hope you won’t think too badly of me if I tell you that when I got off the phone with her, I lost it. I sobbed in that rainy parking lot with V sitting on my lap and playing with the windshield wipers. I was wailing right along with my son, lost in a flood of annoyance and distress that I had wasted so much time and gas by committing that one little error- not grabbing my wallet. And I was embarrassed- almost 30, and I still have to call my mom to come help me out of a bind?!? And maybe I was hormonal too. Let’s blame it on that, shall we?
And then J, compassionate boy that he is, asked if could sit with me. He said he could give me some of his cars to cheer me up.
And I couldn’t help but laugh. I was crying like I lost a pet or a family heirloom, but the only thing that had actually went wrong was wallet misplacement. In fact, we had been having a perfectly pleasant morning beforehand!
Suddenly, a realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m acting out in frustration just like my four year old would. I’m throwing my own fit. I’m acting like a child. Yet I expect him to stop his moaning so quickly?
Maybe, sweet J, it’s really been me who has given you your tendencies to act out. Maybe it’s been me who has discouraged you from using calm words. Maybe we’re more alike than we think, and maybe we actually understand each other better than we realize most of the time.
We both get upset quickly. We both talk incessantly. We both dance a lot. We both laugh at the same things. We both get mixed up sometimes. We both make goofy faces. We’re both forgetful and disorganized. We both like free hugs and kisses. We both have days that we act like bears, and we both can make up and forgive quickly.
I think- even though we don’t always remember it- that we’re two of a kind. Thank you for teaching me this today. I hope I can remember it more frequently, and I hope I can be a little more patient as a result.
And I love you always.
There’s a lot of talk about transparency these days. So let me be transparent.
I am not the perfect mother. Oh, you’ll see smiling pictures of me and my kids. Photogenic, sweet, beautiful children. Oh yes, we all laugh and play together. We sing songs and dance. We do projects. We try to home school. We go on nature walks and bake bread and get messy and soak in the dirt and the outdoors and play monster in the bathtub and have magical family moments. We really do.
But not all the time.
You may have experienced this too. My postpartum period was ugly with my first. I was overtired but couldn’t sleep, stuffing my face or not eating at all, hiding in the bedroom, not talking to anyone for fear that my lack of togetherness would surely come through. I remember feeling that my blood pressure was high all the time and I was always hot and sweaty. I remember feeling overwhelming panic over parenting decisions. (Do we circumcise him?? Do we let him cry? Should I go back to work? Should I leave him in nursery?? There was no end to the list of things I didn’t know.) I remember feeling like a zombie for the majority of it. But, surprisingly, you just couldn’t tell by my family photos:
(Many thanks to Bryan Shattuck of Icarus Image for this shot.)
But it wasn’t just the cloud of postpartum depression that was my only struggle. I am still plagued regularly by the rightness or wrongness of my every day decisions.
Perhaps like you, I find it difficult to eat well all the time. Peanut butter and jelly for dinner with a side of jello and maybe a hot dog if you’re still hungry? No, of course not, I’m the organic-real-foodie-sprout-my-own-grain-and-eat-your-veggies-first-mom. I wouldn’t feed my kids that junk… at least not tooooo frequently… or maybe at least only if I’m too harried and tired… or maybe more than I would like…
Perhaps like you, I struggle to find the balance of work and play. How much do I clean and how much do we read stories together? How long should we stay outside before we have to come in and do our chores? When do I make my son practice his phonics and when do I shrug it off with the reasoning that I shouldn’t push it yet at so young an age? Nine times out of ten I have no idea whether or not I’m taking the right course of action.
Perhaps like you, I have had my stressed days. Days when I didn’t think I could make it through without hanging someone by their toenails. (Not literally, don’t panic.) Days when I’m yelling more than the kids. Days when I think I need to lock my door and bang my head against the wall a few times before I can come out and parent again.
The point is this. Don’t ever assume another mother has it all together. She probably doesn’t.
As I’ve been sharing so much of our journey and our lives together on the internet, I began to feel keenly aware that I may be contributing to a greater problem that many mothers feel- that of comparison, jealousy, and a general discontent with their own lives. We are bombarded daily with mass amounts of parenting inspiration, information, motivation, etc., that we can never in our wildest dreams keep up with or live up to.
So let me proclaim it once again- I am not the perfect mother. I’m a mama with an infinite amount of learning and growing to do. I will always try to do my best- to grow in grace, in patience, in love- but will always remain fallen. And that’s okay. We can realize our faults while simultaneously working to cultivate contentment and move forward.
I can only hope that my own imperfections and weaknesses will help point my kids to the sufficiency of God- to His grace and compassion, His patience and faithfulness and forgiveness. It’s not just them who needs it. It’s us too.
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” Psalm 103: 8, NASB.
And for that I am grateful.
(Photo by Icarus Image)