Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What I Would Say to You

Dear Mama Friends,

This is what I would like to say to you, and perhaps you need to hear it. It's what I would like someone to say to me, although it's easier to say than to believe.

You are not a terrible person. I know sometimes it seems like children bring out the absolute worst in you – all the frustration and anger and selfishness. But you are actually the same person you used to be; it's just harder now to kid yourself about how awesomely kind and loving you are. Think about how much patience practice you have gotten over the years. Even if your patience is still not enough to last the 24 hours a day that you need it, you are more patient now than ever before.

You are not doing it wrong. There is that baby who sleeps all night from 2 weeks old. There is that toddler who potty trains in 2 hours. There is that child who teaches herself to read at 2 years. That is not your child. That is not most people's child. It's completely normal for babies to wake up during the night, and to start waking up again once they've stopped. Yours is not the only toddler to poop anywhere but the potty. And it's supper frustrating. But it's not because you have missed the Perfect Window or the Vital Step or the One True Way. It's because every child is different and life is just messy (literally) and much more complex than we'd like it to be. It's not you.

You remember the moments when you snapped and acted like a sleep deprived two year old. And your kids might too. (Let's be honest, they'll grow up and blame you for everything no matter what. That's what therapy is for.) Those are such big moments right now, moments that seem to define everything. But in ten or twenty years your kids will mostly remember sandwich triangles and silly songs at bedtime and all the little moments colored by security, trust, and someone there who cared.

You are not failing. It sure looks like it sometimes. You cannot possibly stay on top the mess. You don't cook enough vegetables. You did not create magical memories for the first or hundredth or last day of school. Some days (years?) your children will invariably act horrible and you will be certain you are raising them to be terrors. They don't sleep. They won't focus on school. They won't calm down for two blessed seconds. They are far from perfect, and you are far from perfect, but you are far from a failure. You battle frustration and lack of accomplishment and invisible progress every single day and what do you do? You get back up again the next day (or every few hours all night long) and start it all over again! Day after day after day after year. If that's not success, I don't know what is.

Those dark circles are beautiful. They tell of so many nights of self denial and caring for others. That saggy stomach sheltered a tiny human being or three or four. Those stretch marks show how you literally stretched yourself to the limit for the sake of new life. Your hair is turning gray before your eyes – because even your hair has worked so hard at this business of life. Your whole body is showing how you have lived and how you have given. All those imperfections whisper of the tears and losses and anger and disappointment that you don't like to let show; they give away how hard this has been. They show how strong you are. The mirror might show something that seems worse than before, but you are a wonder.

What you are doing matters. All those menial, meaningless loads of laundry and trips to the potty and time outs and cleaning up markers off the floor and washing snotty noses and helping focus on another math problem and quieting the screaming and making another dinner. You are providing your children with food and clothes and keeping them safe and helping them to learn some kindness and responsibility and math, and where would they be without that? Human children are pretty helpless. They need you. They follow you around everywhere you go talking incessantly because they want to be with you.

What you are doing matters. In itself, by itself, this is incredible spiritual work. You are literally feeding and clothing the least of these. You are washing feet and showing the extent of your love. You put others' needs before your own day and night. You hear your baby cry, and you answer him. You lift him out of darkness and draw him into your arms, giving comfort. You offer your physical body as a sacrifice.

You are weary and discouraged and wonder if you will ever again do something that feels meaningful, something that you can finish. But this right here, this is IT. This is life. You were made for this life, for this every day, and you are doing it so well. Let us raise our coffee mugs together in solidarity. We are doing this. Carry on.