During my devotions this week, one of the passages focused on the widow who used the very last of her oil and flour to make bread for Elijah during a great drought. At first she protested, telling him that she had just enough to make one last meal for her son and herself, after which they planned to wither away and die (a regular Susie Sunshine, eh?). Believing that Elijah was the man of God he said he was, however, she gave up her last meal and chose to trust that God would care for her and her son. To her delight, her oil jar and flour canister never ran out, no matter how many meals she made.
For this is what the Lord says: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land—I Kings 17:14
When I read the story of the widow and Elijah, I personally relate it to the energy required to keep my family running. I kid you not, I did 7 loads of laundry yesterday and was all caught up for approximately 17.2 seconds, before I found another pile of dirty underpants and socks hidden in the far recesses of a bedroom. In addition to laundry, I cleaned, cooked, scrubbed dog pee out of the carpet, played the piano at church, went to the pool with the kids, worked on some writing projects, forced the aforementioned kids to bathe, made a campfire, caught up on work for my day job, went to Pilates and did my devotions. It was a slow day.
I know I don’t have the market cornered on busy days. I can feel your weariness from here, parents. So how do we keep the energy coming when we need it? We don’t. God does. And coffee. But mostly God. Even when a monkey wrench hits your to-do list squarely in the face, God keeps your energy canister just full enough. If it were solely up to me to get everything done, I would hibernate hard. Like a narcoleptic bear. God gives me (and you) what we need, though, just when we need it. All we have to do is ask. Now all I need to do is work on my attitude while I do it. I detest self-made martyrdom, but was guilty of it yesterday, I am ashamed to admit.
If you are up to your eyeballs in Clorox and carpooling, don’t fool yourself into thinking that the minutia isn’t a ministry. It absolutely is, my weary friends. Even when you feel unappreciated, used up and undone, God sees you and is tickled pink when you serve your family with humility and grace. To be clear, serving doesn’t make you a servant (lest you think you need to let your sweet little cherubs treat you like one), but serving changes you. It brings value to the mundane. (Remind me of this the next time I am picking Play-doh out of the dog’s fur, please.)
Here’s to you, Supermom and Superdad. Fold those socks and wipe those noses. Cut off those crusts and force-feed those vegetables. You are doing important work that only you can do.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. —Romans 12:10-11
My last post, coupled with this one, ought to give you a good picture of why it has been so long since I’ve posted. Moving and work. Work and moving. The problem is that I had no idea how true the title of my last post would be when I wrote it. We are literally, barely moving. We have had 25 showings in the 82 days we have been on the market. It’s a very respectable number, and those showings have resulted in some lovely (and not so lovely) feedback about our house. The part of my brain that holds the fiery, sarcastic venom would love to share some of the more…interesting…buyer comments with you, but I’ll save them for late night texts, laden with obscure Emojis, fired off in whiny frustration to my parents. Not one of those 25 potential buyers has made an offer yet. So—we plod on, spending hours on end cleaning and improving, and trusting God’s timing, and wondering if we really do want to move now that we’ve finished projects we should have done years ago, and our house looks so nice… but then, all 7 of us spend a weekend in our modest little ranch house and we all remember how precious square footage can be. Plus, building on sounds like such a mess. The sawdust. The hammering. The unusable kitchen and trying to cook for 7 people on a hot plate in my living room. Bring on showing #26, I say!
So, on to the other half of my absenteeism. Simply put: being a working parent stinks. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for my job. I truly love my boss and my coworkers. The culture of my company is uh-mazing. I can wear a suit one day, and my super-cute-but-sweatpant-level-comfy boyfriend jeans the next. It’s not the job. The job allows me to pay for our home and Christian school and violin lessons and gymnastics. It allows me to give to my church and to causes I believe in. It also supports my shoe habit (which has been hindered a bit now that we are in the market for the aforementioned square footage). So, it’s definitely not the job. I manage high-profile, complex projects, and I thrive on the panicky thrill of it. God put me where I am for a reason—even when I thought I knew better. He carefully steered me right where I needed to be and has blessed me over and over and over since. It feels so good to be good at what I do. I hope that doesn’t sound braggy. I don’t mean it to be. I screw up. I have to Google unfamiliar industry terms at least 14 times a day. I just know a good thing when I have it, and thank you, God—I have it. However, being a mom and marketer is hard. So hard.
My husband is suffering from the pungent stink of working parenthood too. My oldest stepson has had two track meets so far this season, and work obligations have prevented my husband from attending both of them. Hearing his son confirm how disappointed he is pours salt on the already raw wound that all working parents have. I can’t stop thinking about it either. I remember how proud I was knowing that my parents were sitting in the stands. I hate it for my stepson, and I hate it for my husband. Last night, I was on a 12 mile run, getting panicky texts every few miles from him that he was still stuck in a meeting and he was going to miss the whole thing. Of course then I started imagining my stepson progressing through his races, realizing on the last one that his dad wasn’t going to make it. My imagination has a flair for the dramatic. I would have loved to show up to cheer for him, but we’re still at the stage of our blended family where a solo appearance from the stepmom might elicit a reaction other than joy. Hopefully that will change someday, but until then, I’m cheering for him in my imagination and will cheer for him in person, next to my husband when we can be there.
Working parents (inside and outside the home, in most cases) can’t do everything or be everywhere, and for those of us who want to excel at everything, that realization is a bitter pill to swallow. We rarely feel 100% present for anything. When we are with our kids, we worry about deadlines. When we are at work, the guilt-song of missing something important to our kids is the soundtrack for every conference call.
Today, after I picked my kids up (an hour later than I promised) from school, my daughter excitedly told me that her 1st grade field trip to a dairy farm is next Thursday. “NEXT Thursday? Are you sure?” I asked her. As she confirmed the date and went on and on about how excited she is for me to go with her, I had to break the news that I will be on a work trip in Los Angeles next Thursday. Her big, beautiful, blue eyes immediately filled up with tears. She tried so valiantly to be cool about it, but her words came out as a tragic wail. “That’s okay, Mommy. I understaaaaaaaaaaaand.” My heart scrunched up into a little knot as the Mom-guilt beat it with a baseball bat. Oh, those heartbroken little sobs. Ugh. It burns.
I wish I had some poignant encouragement for all of you parents out there who are going through the same stuff. You know those “Dear Mom Who Thinks She’s ______ (insert failure of choice)” blogs? The ones that make you want to stand up on your office chair and yell “I’m flawed and that’s awesome! Go me!” Yeah…this isn’t one of those. The push and pull of work vs. life doesn’t seem to get any easier. Ever. Next week, I go to Louisville to Chicago to Los Angeles and back, and I know that every minute, I’ll be wondering what my kids and husband are up to and counting the hours until I get home to the sweet monotony of cleaning my house for showings and packing lunches and listening to spelling words. It’s hard, but it’s reality. It’s okay because it has to be if I want to continue to be the kind of parent who not only provides the necessities of life for my kids, but models hard work to them too. Whether you are a stay at home parent or a corporate road warrior, I’ll pray for you, and you pray for me, okay? All God requires of us is to give our best. If my best is awkwardly crying into my airport burrito while my daughter goes to a dairy farm without me, then that’s my best, and that’s okay. God will handle the rest.
One final note…I can never unsee the “miracle of life” that was the calf being born when I went with my son on that same field trip. The memory is still so fresh and…squishy. I have been mentally preparing for two years to see it a second time with my daughter’s class, but work has intervened at the last moment, like a governor with the 11:59pm pardon.
Now that I think of it, maybe being a working parent has its perks…
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.
One of my friends used to lament to me that “everyone aspires to be a business traveler–until they get their wish.” I have to say that I agree with that statement for the most part. Something struck me two trips ago, however, that I have to share with my fellow parents and wives (working, stay-at-home or somewhere in between): There is great blessing in being alone. Sounds crazy, but hear me out. I am not talking about being lonely. I am talking about having time alone. And by “alone”, I mean without your family. You can be surrounded by thousands of people, in the middle of Times Square, and still be this particular type of “alone.” I can almost hear your maternal gasps of horror from here. Relax. You can be Supermom and admit that you need time to yourself, away from your spouse and your little Dewdrops from Heaven.
When I travel for work, my second goal, aside from providing value to my employer, is to see/do/find/taste/experience something new. I have visited Prairie Dog Town and the Buddy Holly museum in Lubbock, Texas; I have rigorously taste-tested gelato all over Little Italy in NYC; I’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston; explored cemeteries in New Orleans– you get the idea. If there is a “World’s Biggest” or “Guinness Record Holding” something in a city I am scheduled to visit for work, I’m there, iPhone in hand, photo-documenting every bit of it. If you have to leave your family, manage the childcare jigsaw puzzle, and suffer through the delight that is traveling by plane in 2014, why not make the most of it?
About a month ago, I had to travel to LA. As usual, I spent a few minutes on Trip Advisor, researching the area in which I would be staying, and discovered that Redondo Beach was a) where they filmed the TV show “Baywatch” and b) that there had been an unusual number of great white shark sightings lately. Sold! Alas, I didn’t see any sharks, but as I was catching up on emails from the beach, I looked around at the vacationing families and laughing children, and was hit with a surge of love for my own family, which was immediately followed by the realization of how desperately I need my sporadic alone times.
In the summers, we have all five of our kiddos every other week (and two every week). I am so grateful for the extra time as a family of seven, and I wouldn’t trade one day of the crazy, ear-splitting loudness. However, I have to sheepishly admit that sometimes it just feels like too much while I am living in it. We’ve all had our moments of martyrdom, where being the mom, the maid, the chauffer, the bank, the personal attendant, the provider, the referee, the counselor and the disciplinarian feels like it is going to crush you. I had plenty of those moments this summer. More than I would even like to admit. However, sitting on that beach in LA, I realized just how much I desperately love and need each member of our crazy family. Distance and separation have a way of bringing clarity to your heart and mind in a way that counseling and Prozac never could! If you are in the middle of one of the “crazy moments”, where it’s all just too much, I would encourage you to find some creative ways to give yourself the gift of a little smidge of distance. It’s medicinal, and it works.
If you don’t have the sort of vocation that calls for periodic jaunts to the 4 corners of Earth, here are a few ideas:
1) Don’t undervalue the healing power of a few moments with a friend. Doesn’t have to be out of town– make time to have coffee or dinner with that one person to whom you can be completely honest about how crazy you feel at the moment, get it out, and then enjoy the perspective that only distance can provide.
2) Take time for something that is just for you. A fitness or art class, or a cup of coffee and people watching–whatever it is, schedule it into your calendar like an appointment and set the expectation with your family that this thing is just as important as a medical checkup or work obligation. You’ve heard that “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”, right? Truth. Everyone will benefit from your rabid insistence that they honor your “alone” time. Do not feel guilty about this (and do as I say, not as I do while you’re at it…).
3) If you do travel for your job, I encourage you to step outside of the hassle of it all the next time you go somewhere, and breathe in the sights and experiences around you. Take note of the good and the bad. Enjoy the strangeness of navigating a new place by yourself and on your schedule. Let yourself miss your family, and enjoy the opportunity to miss them.
It’s such a strange dichotomy to let yourself bask in the chance to be independent of your mom-ness and wife-ness for a moment, but for your heart to long for your family. That is the blessing of being alone. I am grateful for the distance that allows me to refocus on what is most important in my life, and return to it with a renewed spirit and mind and with gratitude for being trusted with the exact life I have been given. I hope you can use your “alone” for the same purpose.