Wednesday, March 6, 2013
There is a home video clip, somewhere in my box of home video tapes, that was recorded over nine years ago. It shows my brand new baby girl, McKenzie, snuggled tightly in Brian's arms and rocking back and forth in an old, hand-me-down rocking chair that matched all of our other furniture only in the way that they, too, were old hand-me-downs. In the video, Brian and I laugh at the little squeaks that come from sleeping McKenzie each time the rocking chair changes directions. Back, *squeak*, forth, *squeak*, back, *squeak*, forth, *squeak*. Rather recently, my eight year old McKenzie and I laughed at the cuteness of that little baby on the television screen... and then, rather suddenly, the milk I was drinking came perilously close to being sprayed across the room in a bout of laughter as the following conversation occurred through the speakers:
"Why don't you turn the camera around on to yourself?" Brian said in a joking tone.
"No!" I replied.
"Come on, Linds!"
"No way!" Then, obviously feeling the need to explain myself to any future viewers, I continued. "I just got out of the shower a few minutes ago and haven't blow-dried my hair yet." And the milk-spitting sentence, "I can't even find time to blow dry my hair anymore."
This was surprising and funny to me on a variety of levels. First, that I used to actually blow dry my hair (I seriously just contemplated packing up my blow dryer last week with all the other things in the I-probably-won't-need-this-in-the-next-few-months-before-we-move category). Second, that I cared about being seen if said activity had not been completed (if that were the case these days, no one would know I existed save for phone calls and email). But mostly because I felt that I had no time to do something for myself when my husband was home, holding our only child, who was sleeping. Sweetheart, I thought in a rather condescending tone, why don't you go ahead and blow dry your hair when you're done with the camera.
But, soon after my initial reaction, I started finding it easy to cut my 21 year old, brand new mom self a little slack. And then a lot of slack. To the point where I actually understood why she said she could not find time to blow dry her hair. It wasn't about time in the sense of minutes and hours... not really, because she still had quite a bit of that to herself. It was more about the concept of time.
Up to that point, my time had been strictly governed by myself. Though I had external responsibilities that needed to happen at specific times (class, work, church, etc.), there were few (if any) surprises along the way. I could sit down at the beginning of the week and, planning around those external responsibilities, decide what hour I would eat lunch that coming Friday... and what hour I would go to bed on Wednesday. I was in complete control about whether or not I was late to class, or early to work. I was in complete control about when I wanted to shower and I could decide to blow dry my hair before even leaving the bathroom if I wanted. But a baby changed that. All of the sudden things, such as time, were unpredictable. I could plan to take a shower at a given time, sure, but if the baby was awake and fussy during that time then I would have to reschedule. I could plan to blow dry my hair right after said shower, sure, but if Brian called me in to the living room to listen to the funny squeaking noises my baby was making, and if I found it cute enough to warrant pulling out the video camera, the blow drying would have to be rescheduled. Eating lunch could not be set in stone, and even an intense spit-up or a major blow out on the way to church took being on time out of my hands.
This was an adjustment for me and, in this way, having a dependent child altered my own independence. When McKenzie was born, it felt like her independence was handed to me to take care of along with a responsibility to teach her about it over the years and, piece by piece, let her take it over. But as long as her independence rests in my care, it mixes with mine... diluting my own independence, yes, but making me part of something bigger.
And so much better.
With the addition of each child, my independence has diluted even further, and the time I'm able to take for myself, time in the sense of minutes and hours, is shaved some more (to the point where, now that I'm a mother of four, I feel I really don't have any for myself (which is not entirely true because, here I am blogging (though, I am doing it one handed while nursing my sweet baby (yes, it's taking forever)))) and this change has always been an adjustment. I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't admit that sometimes I want my own undiluted independence back... sometimes I'd like to eat breakfast first, or go to bed before everyone else is ready. Sometimes I'd like to watch a show in the middle of the day, or type away in my journal or blog all through the dinner hours (and use two hands to do it). But those desires have been weakening through the years and something is happening to my heart through it. Joy is settling in. A deep joy... a lasting joy... the kind of joy that is untouchable by outside sources. I'm starting to feel that the deepest joy, for me (other than feeling loved and bonded to my husband), comes from this sort of self sacrifice for my kids. From letting go of somewhat selfish desires and throwing my whole heart into caring for these beautiful babies of mine.
From being All In.
This idea of being an All In Mother is not new to me... I've tried to be her for most of my mothering days, but I've been discouraged because she seemed so unattainable. My efforts to reach her took so much energy and it felt like they yielded only varying degrees of failure... sprinkled with success. The frustrating truth is that it has always been hard for me to feel fulfilled when the end of a day comes and I have nothing tangible to show for it. The kids may be clean, fed and happy, but all I can usually see is the massive heap of dishes in the sink and the five dried Cheerios stuck to the counter from breakfast. I've been the Mostly In Mother... and that has brought me incredible happiness; however, something is shifting. The years of prayers regarding this subject are being answered and my attitude is finally changing from one of I'll help you quickly, but I need to get back to the laundry or the dishes or the sweeping and the mopping to one of Of course I'll help you or hold you or read to you or watch you patiently while you show me how you can put your shoes on your feet in nine minutes flat, and if I have any extra time I might see to those dishes... I have always wished that this mind set had come naturally to me when I became a mother, but it did not. I was expecting it to - I thought it was part of the whole 'mother's intuition' phrase that is actually a bit meaningless because nothing has been quite intuitive for me. I've had to learn. Learn it all. From how to diaper a newborn (I forgot how strong their legs are and how easily their foot can end up in poop) to willingly sacrificing my own desires for them and to find real, lasting joy in that sacrifice.
I'm thinking that the reason that lasting joy was so hard for me to feel was because I was still subconsciously trying to hold on to 'my time'. 'My space.' 'My needs'. It's true that when I'm focused on myself, I feel burdened by a sweet request for a glass of water and I don't have enough patience to stop what I'm doing to watch (for the hundredth time) the awesome way my boys can slide across the floor in their socks. But, as I mentioned, something started shifting in me last week.
My Wednesday started early... 3:30am early... with my newborn baby. With his tiny head cradled in my hands and his feet gently kicking my belly, he calmly looked up at me and played for a while. His blinks were slow, but always opened back widely in the dim light. He experimented with the tiny muscles under his eyebrows and lips and I noticed that he seemed to be bringing me into focus much better than he had been and that his eyes had mostly stopped crossing. I talked to him for a long while and felt a little pang at how fast he was changing. He stretched his neck out, tilted his head and his squishy lips contracted into a tiny O. I smiled because I love those tiny O's. I love you. so. much I breathed...
...and I felt eager and ready to give the rest of myself to that precious boy and my other beautiful children in a brand new way.
Later that morning I found it easy to crawl into the backseat of the van and talk my three year old through his tears about going into preschool. His whole world has turned upside down with Timothy entering his home (just yesterday he asked me, "Mom, when is Timothy going to get gone?") and, though he's always loved preschool, he did not want to go. My to-do list at home was 50 items long with things like Spray Paint Stools and Re-Caulk the Master Shower and Clean Out Fireplace. I had been looking forward to those three hours that morning when Miles would be entertained at preschool... but, amazingly, I didn't worry about my to-do list for the entire twenty-five minutes I sat back there with him. And when Timothy spit-up enough to warrant a bath when we got home, I didn't stress about that either while I gently sponged the warm water across his tiny body. I didn't get one thing crossed off of my to-do list that morning while Miles was gone, but when he came home I still felt warm with fulfillment.
And the feeling has stuck! Somehow. The only explanation I can see is that the Lord must think it's finally time to answer that prayer. For a whole week we've had so many wonderful experiences. The things I used to feel burdened by are not burdensome anymore and my love for my children has, unbelievably, increased.
Anyway, I haven't finished processing these thoughts completely, and I do realize that there must be a balance in all things (uh, I do have to keep a house on the market) and that I need to take care of myself, too. And I do believe that my kids will benefit from seeing me take time for myself occasionally... I've just been surprised by the level of happiness I've felt by saying yes as often as possible, by taking the time to get the band-aid on that tiny scratch now, or by sitting and talking with my three year old for 25 minutes of time that had been allotted to work. By letting the dishes stay in the sink so I can give a bath to the baby and by holding and feeding that precious newborn through the still hours when everyone else sleeps. By not being so concerned about the things on my list that are not getting done and by remembering that the things that are getting done are eternally important. By not wishing for my undiluted independence...
...but by embracing that vibrant, colorful mixture of Independence I have coming from myself, McKenzie, Carson, Miles and Timothy. By loving that this mixture swirls around in my heart, guides my decisions, leads my schedule, and fills my minutes and hours and days and years with purpose and meaning.
And with so much joy and love.