Have you ever stopped to think about how weird it is to cry? I mean, how did God decide that the ultimate expression of extreme human emotion would be salt water dripping uncontrollably from two tiny little drain holes in our eyes? It’s just weird. We’re happy and we cry. We’re sad and we cry. We’re in pain and we cry…
What a bunch of leaky sad sacks we are.
I hate to cry. My emotional engine typically runs at one speed, so it feels very unnatural to succumb to something that’s so…natural. The rest of my body is in agreement with me. I know, because I’m allergic to my own tears. No joke—my traitorous eye-terrorists leave little red shame trails on my face. Every. Single. Time. Since I cry approximately once every leap year, this has never been much of a problem—until recently. I seem to cry about everything lately. Happy crying. Sad crying. Stress crying. Pain crying. I don’t know who this emotional lunatic is, but I miss the old robot me.
The past couple of years have been some of the best years of my life, but some of the hardest too. In the last two years, I married the love of my life, became the stepmom of three fantastic boys, quit a job that made me want to give myself a lobotomy most days, started a job at a company that I love and respect, and became even more involved in my church and my community. All wonderful things. In the last couple of years I was also diagnosed with an incurable and wretched GI disorder, I had to all but stop running—which has been a huge part of my life for the better part of 20 years, I have had to learn how to be a stepmom to the aforementioned boys, I lost my grandmother, and my husband and I have had to juggle his self-employment with my new job and all of the stress that comes with both of our career paths, all while navigating a new marriage and blended family. It hasn’t been easy, but every moment was part of God’s plan for us. The happy, the sad, the painful and the downright stressful—all part of the plan. Just knowing that makes everything seem much more manageable, doesn’t it?
Through all of this, even on my worst SOD day, I’ve kept my emotions in check for the most part. I cried when my grandma passed away, and even then the feeling was so foreign that it almost felt like someone else was operating my face. Don’t get me wrong– I love my family so much that it scares me sometimes, but my tear ducts haven’t traditionally felt obligated to weigh in—that’s all.
Today, I wrote down every stressful or nervous or negative thought that crossed my mind during the day. I was amazed at the extent of the thoughts I had. Looking at that list, I realized just how trapped I am inside my own stoicism. I think mothers feel like it’s their duty to keep it all together sometimes. I know I do. When I can’t keep it together, and it all starts leaking out my stupid face, I feel like I have failed somehow, and my “Pillar of Strength” merit badge has been ripped away.
Since my face isn’t really giving me a choice, and since I feel like maybe there is a lesson in here somewhere for me, I’ve decided to just let my acidic tears fall where they may . Maybe the old robot me is still in there, but this new, dribbly, soft version of me can co-exist with it. Being a human is hard, but what a blessing it is to feel things worth crying about, right? It reminds us of what we have to lose, what means the most to us, and the grace we’re given to overcome the hard times. If you’re feeling like you’ve misplaced your robot too, I’ve got a box of Kleenex with your name on it.
Okay, half a box.
Two. Two used Kleenexes with your name on them.
Rip off that hero badge, mama.
God bless America, land that I love
Stand behind her and guide her
Through the night, with a light from above
From the mountains, to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America
My home, sweet home
I hear other mothers talk about how they limit the time their kids are allowed to use electronics to 10 minutes a day, or only on Saturdays, or only when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars–but only if it’s on a Tuesday.
Friends, I am not that mother. I would like to be, but it is with great mom-shame that I tell you that sometimes I use my kids’ iPads (yes, they have their own) as babysitters, teachers, bribes and the carrots at the end of the stick that is parenting tedium. Don’t get me wrong—we have rules about our electronics, and the kids are expected to follow them. Our rules are just a little…looser than some of my other mom friends’ rules.
In our house “One more word and you lose the Xbox” elicits an immediate and intentional silence that even the crickets don’t dare violate. “Do you want to lose the iPad?” has the same weight as “Do you want to be dipped in boiling oil?” The behavior in question magically vanishes, and my previously unruly child stares up at me with the face of a sweet cherub.
In my kids’ defense, they really are bright and creative and active. Although there are days when I have to pry their electronics out of their white-knuckled grips and drag them outside as they blink up at the sun like little zombies, those days are rare. As all moms do though, I feel that sense of “I’m the biggest failure that ever failed a fail” when it comes to most things (why do we do that to ourselves?) and I aspire to impose stricter limits on electronics. Oh, but then I have an emergency conference call. I have to run across town for an unexpected errand. The dog eats 7 smoke-bombs and starts vomiting neon projectiles (true story). The point is that life gets in the way of good intentions and I hand over the iPads in defeat.
I am not making excuses for myself in the areas in which I need to improve. Life is never going to stop being crazy—we just have to find new ways to cope with it and become the next “better” version of ourselves. One thing that we all have in common is that we want to do our very best for our kids. If my best today is “watch a movie while Mommy picks Legos out of the garbage disposal” then that’s my best, and I have to be okay with that.
I picture my inner critic as June Cleaver. White apron, immaculate hair, perfectly-applied red lipstick… I hate her. She smells like fresh-baked banana bread and judgment, and she is always staring down her perfect little nose, telling me what I should have done and tsk-tsk-ing at my failures. You know what, June? My kids might have permanent grass stains on their behinds (it’s possible—trust me), and they might be able to quote the NFL Bad Lip Reading videos verbatim (if you’ve never seen them, they’re HILARIOUS–but, I digress). They might be missing 2.5 buttons at any given time, and it’s 50/50 if they remembered to flush the potty, but they are loved and they love fiercely in return. Their little hearts are pure and sweet and focused on Jesus—even at their young ages. For every moment that they cause another gray hair to pop out like a turkey timer on my head, they give me a thousand moments of warmth that make June’s banana bread look like a pile of regurgitated smoke-bombs.
It’s not easy going through your parents’ divorce. When you add on a new stepparent and step siblings, life really gets interesting. I am not one to embrace change. I often wonder how I would have reacted as a child if my parents had divorced and remarried. I have a feeling it wouldn’t have been very pretty.
One of things I am most proud of is for the way that all five of our children have adjusted to life in our blended family. We all still struggle in different ways and at different intensities, but I am so proud of them for continually adapting with such grace. (Do me favor please, and remind me of that the next time they are all in the car, arguing about who gets to sit where while I rock back and forth in the passenger seat, pulling out my eyelashes.) The bottom line is that all seven of us continue to develop new, improved versions of ourselves. Our 2.0’s. We work on our “bug-fixes” and make adjustments where we need a little tweaking.
Mommy 2.0 might not be able to get the kids to flush, or to stop running around in the yard in their socks, but she’s okay with that. Who knows? She might even bake banana bread.
For the past 6 months, my husband and I have been attending classes at a Bikram yoga studio. If you aren’t familiar with Bikram, here’s what you need to know:
Okay, okay. It’s more than that. For people like me, with digestive tracts made of rotting garbage and fire, it’s actually very beneficial. It releases toxins through the 3.72 gallons of sweat I provide during each 90 minute class and it also increases the blood flow to my ungrateful pancreas and ill-tempered liver. A bummer for me, however, is that heat exacerbates my digestive disorder in some pretty spectacular ways. It takes the worst parts of my illness and amplifies them.
There are classes where I feel like a Zen-master. I bend and stretch and ohm in ways I didn’t even know my body could, and I feel great. I barely notice the 104 degree heat and that it’s so humid in the studio that it’s about to rain. Then there are the other classes. The ones where it’s too much work to just lay like a melted marshmallow Peep on the mat, and my internal dialogue sounds something like this:
“Why did you do this to us?”
“Shut up. It’s good for us.”
“I am going to make you pay. I’ve been talking to Stomach and Colon, and we have a plan.”
“Try me. Look at your husband back there. HE’S not panting like a Chihuahua during a thunderstorm. What’s YOUR problem?”
“It’s not a competition.” (silently competing harder)
(Instructor) “Now, let’s move on to Wind Removing Pose.”
“Oh, no. NoNoNoNoNo. Dear Jesus, please put your hand of embarrassment-prevention on my belly. Silence the evil of Stomach and unleash your righteous fury on Colon, telling him to ‘just be cool, man.’ I know I’m not supposed to bargain with you, but if it helps, I will cover myself in sackcloth and ashes and sing of your mighty works on Monument Circle—just please, please get me through the next 30 minutes with my dignity intact.”
Jesus, in His infinite mercy, always heeds my prayer and I make it through. I roll the dice again in the next class, not knowing if it’s going to be 90 minutes of magical, organ-compressing bliss, or of pure, vomity torture.
When the heat gets intense, my worst parts act up. It’s the same way in my non-yoga life. As work and motherhood and day-to-day pressures start to make me sweat, I am no longer the flexible and focused wife, mama and stepmama that I want to be. Anxiety and crabbiness start pouring out of me and my inner dialogue gets downright mean. So how I do silence it? I am slowly learning, but I have a long way to go.
More than anything, I have to ask for help when I need it. I’m going to make a confession to all of you: I enjoy a little self-imposed martyrdom now and then. I just do. It’s easier to let myself wallow in my “Poor me! I have to do this all by myself!” than it is to just ask for help and admit that I can’t stand the heat of life. Don’t be a grumpy hero, y’all. Ask for help.
Secondly, I need to let go of the way that I do things and realize that my way is not necessarily the best way, and it’s certainly not the only way. I can’t tell you how many times I have refused the offer of help from my husband or one of the kids because I thought “I’m just going to have to do it over anyway.” Why? Because they put the bowls in the top rack of the dishwasher instead of the bottom? Because they use a little too much furniture polish when they dust? The horror! Instead of letting the people who love me most show me that love by helping me when I need it, I load the dishwasher and dust the furniture my way, and then feel sorry for myself because of it. Goodness. That’s embarrassing to see in print, but it’s true.
If you find yourself doing the same things, I hope you can join me in the effort to let go of the grip we have on our to-do lists and just ask for help when we can’t take the heat. Like Bikram, it takes a ton of practice and patience with yourself, but we can do this. Namaste.
As I was driving my kids to school today, we were talking about all of the exciting things going on for our family in the month of September, and how much we are looking forward to spending the coming weekend with my husband’s three sons. After a summer of seeing them for a week at a time, it seems so long now between visits, since we’ve resumed our every-other-weekend schedule.
As we talked this morning, I glanced in my rearview mirror at my son’s face, and I could tell he was thinking. He is my pensive child, and his eyes give him away when something is brewing in his sensitive little heart. I asked him what he was thinking about, and he said “I love the boys and I love our big family. I just…I just kind of ache for some time with our little family.”
My son is old enough that he remembers the time period between when his father and I separated and when my husband and I started dating and got married. That time as a “little family” was so hard in many ways, but it was also so sweet and holds some of the most precious moments I have ever had with my children.
My daughter is young enough that she doesn’t really remember much about life P.B. (Pre-Boys). Don’t get me wrong—she still requires frequent “girl date” time, when we escape the den of testosterone and boy smells, and let our “boys be boys” with their video games and ninja battles while we go get a pedicure. She doesn’t remember, however, what it was like when it was the “little family” that my son holds so close to his heart.
After his confession, my son met my eyes in the rearview mirror and whispered “Please don’t tell Brian.” I felt a little pinch at his obvious struggle to ask me for some time alone, mixed with fear that he would hurt his stepdad’s feelings if he asked for it.
My children love my husband. He stepped gracefully and lovingly into their lives and they adore him. My daughter liberally bestows her hugs and kisses and sweet affection on him, while my son more shyly doles out his hugs, but communicates his love in written form, through notes and texts (hmmm…wonder where he gets that?). One of the qualities I love most about my husband is his empathy. He came from a blended family too, and he understands what our kids go through in a way that I simply can’t.
So how do I successfully convey to my kids and my step kids that it’s not only okay, but it’s good to crave that time with their individual parents in their “little family”? We work so hard to ensure that each of our children feels like an integral part of our blended family–an appendage that is crucial for the successful function of the family as a whole body. It’s so important though, to take a pause from that and whisper back to them “It’s okay to need time. I get it.”
My youngest stepson wears his precious little heart on his sleeve. You never have to guess what he is thinking. Stick around, and he’ll tell you! While he has vague memories of life before our current state, it isn’t as clear to him as the “little family” is to my son. What is very evident with him, however, is his need for quality time with my husband. When he has a “date” with his dad, he returns from it visibly refreshed, and talks about it for days. The older boys are the same way, although a bit more reserved in their response. Alone time is such a simple gift to give them, but one that I often neglect to give.
I tend to be the Official Family Planner. I make the holiday plans and the vacation plans and the weekend plans and try to keep things interesting and fun. Sometimes I hit the mark and sometimes I miss. Parenting older boys is a brand new world for me. I’m starting to figure out what suitable entertainment is for a teenage boy, but I’m still such a rookie that I can only ask for their patience while I stumble through the trial and error of it. What I am learning through the process is that it’s equally important to schedule time to be separate as it is to be together. We are one family. A big, crazy, loud, imperfect family. At the nucleus of our family though, you’ll find two little sub-families that are still alive and well.
I reassured my sweet boy in the car this morning that my heart aches too for alone time with my “little family”, just as it does for time with my big family, my husband and my friends. Quality time is important for any child, blended family or not, but nurturing the individual branches of your blended family tree (if you have one) is vitally important to its continued growth.
While certain days might feel like they are at LEAST 48 hours long, our time with our children is so short. Here’s to making memories worth aching for.