A Bit of Sunshine

Please join us in welcoming Michele to Mama Might!

When my husband started graduate school a year and half ago, I remember standing in the door frame of our new apartment with my six month old in my arms as he left for school the first day. A feeling of dread washed over me as I realized that I was stuck in 650 square feet with a baby. I had nothing on my agenda. It was blank for not just for the day but for weeks.

After a few long days, I realized a few things. If I didn’t get out of bed, no one would care. If my house was a mess, no one would see it. If my hair didn’t get brushed or if lunch consisted of eating Cheerios out of the box, no one would ever know. There weren’t cookies brought over by neighbors. There were no lunch dates or play dates. I went to a few church activities but would come home in tears begging my husband to move. There was a little extra sting because even my sweet husband was busy with his new school. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t see what my life was like at home when he was gone (which was most of the time). I had a chronically sick, crying baby and nowhere to go.

I felt completely invisible.

Now, I’m not one to sit and mope. I’m a generally happy person and I believe that life is what you make of it. After six weeks of sitting around, I went and got a nanny job with the only requirement being that my baby could come with me. Over the next year, my daughter and I created a happy life. We worked in other people’s homes. We went to flea markets and the beach. She and I explored farmer’s markets and libraries on weekends. I set goals for myself, such as walking outside for at least thirty minutes a day and to get rid of any possession that I didn’t want to clean. Through my adventures and goals, my life turned into something that was uniquely created by me, and I was enjoying it.

The thing that I kept pushing in the back of my mind was we were not at home. It was still true that if our beds were not made and dishes had not been done, that no one would notice. If we did not go out of the house, no one would care or miss us. And while I was aware of it, decided that I was perfectly okay with that because I was happy.

Then one day this all changed. A lady advertized on Freecycle that she needed a blender. I had a blender that was only used for making milkshakes, and I thought, “Eh, why not, she can have it. I don’t like cleaning it anyway.” I emailed her back telling her that she could come pick it up the next day at 2:00 PM. I thought that would be a great time. My daughter and the baby I am currently watching in my home were both usually napping by then. It shouldn’t be a problem.

Famous last words, right? I think it’s needless to say, but the next day did not go according to plan. The little guy I was watching got his first teeth in that day and would not stop crying. My daughter took advantage of this and decided to do all the things that her toddler mind wanted to do that I never would let her. When I put her down for her nap, she put her feet up against the wall and kicked it repeatedly. At one point, I realized one of the thumps was a bit off rhythm, and I realized, “Oh! There is someone at the door.” It was the lady from Freecycle, and I had completely forgotten. I opened the door frazzled and ran to the kitchen, grabbed the blender, and shoved it in her arms. She was trying to thank me and explain that she needed it to can peaches. I forced a smile and told her that it was nap time and sent her on her way.

A few hours later when I regained a bit more control, I felt so embarrassed that I treated her that way! I was so rude. I set her a quick email apologizing and then forgot about the incident (probably as my toddler shoved a roll of toilet paper down the toilet).

Exactly two weeks later, there was a knock on the door. I was surprised to see the lady from Freecycle standing at the door again. She was standing at the door looking nervous. She said to me, “Michele, I brought this for you. Thanks so much for giving me your blender. I really needed it to can all the salsa from my garden.” She then gave me a bag telling me it was for my baby and then left.

I opened the bag and inside was a beautiful yellow blanket with a card. The card said, “Here’s a blanket I made for your daughter. I hope it brings a little sunshine to your day. I know how hard it is to be a mom, but what you are doing is important. Best regards.”

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I put down the card and sobbed. The feeling of validation and love I felt in that moment was overwhelming. Even now as I type this tears are falling from eyes when I think of the tenderness of that moment. This random stranger came to my home and for the few minutes she was there she got a glimpse of my lonelier part of motherhood. She saw the mess. She saw my wrinkled and stained shirt. She saw me trying to comfort an upset baby on my hip with my toddler in another room needing my attention. She saw me trying, and she decided to acknowledge me as a person. She even remembered my name.

I don’t know much about her, other than her name and email, but I often wonder if she’s a mother. I would love to know how she learned to be so perceptive and to reach out. I learned from her how much one gesture can feed another person’s soul. I made a new resolution that day to be more like her- to keep both eyes open and to not let fear get in the way of reaching out to people. After all, you never know who is feeling invisible and needs a little reassurance that they exist and are important.

MicheleMichele is a stay-at-home mom of an almost two year old in Princeton, NJ. She spends her time figuring out how to live a fulfilling life while her husband goes to graduate school. Some of her current interests are trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle, Futurama, RIE parenting, and Waldorf schooling. She is on a first name basis with her local librarians and cupcake bakers and can be found reading some random non-fiction on the children’s floor on Thursdays afternoons. You can read more of her life at her own blog, Aisle 11.

 

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My True Love Letter

“A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it’s not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world…Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

My husband has never written me a love letter.

Over the ten years that we have been a couple, nine of which we have spent as husband and wife, I have never received a love letter from him.  He has purchased beautiful cards on (almost) every birthday, anniversary, mother’s day, and Christmas we have shared.  Most of them have brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart.  Many have made me smile, and a couple of them have made me laugh out loud.  Some of them have been short, sweet, and simple in their delivery of a loving message and some have covered three sides of card-stock with words so beautiful that I can’t believe they are meant for me.   Although I do not doubt that my husband has chosen these cards deliberately and with great care, they are nonetheless cards filled with words written by someone other than the man giving them to me.

I have every card I have ever received from him.  I keep them in a clear plastic tote next to our filing cabinet, and the fire-safe box that holds important documents, the kids’ ultra-sound photos, our wedding video, and three tiny wisps of baby hair in varying shades of brown.

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I have hinted at the idea of a love letter at various times over the decade we have spent by each others’ side.  I wrote one to him in hopes that he would write one back.  I have come right out and asked him to write me a letter.  He has yet to pick up a pen, sit down with a sheet of paper, and put his feelings for me into words that I can read over and over again and cherish in a special box for the rest of my life.  He has never written me a love letter.

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He has spent hundreds of hours transforming the woods that pressed against our house, making me feel isolated and anxious, into a gorgeous yard where I feel relaxed and truly home.

He has held my hand at funerals, gotten out of his seat to find a tissue, and then helped me wipe my tears so my mascara doesn’t smear.

He has gone out for Honey Nut Cheerios, in his pyjamas, at eleven o’clock at night.  Without a single disparaging comment directed towards his very pregnant, and very unreasonable, wife.

He has stood by my bedside, holding my hand, offering sips of water, tracking down pink popsicles, and whispering words that kept me calm and helped me focus three times as I laboured babies into our lives.

He has tucked our boys into bed at night so gently and sweetly that I have stood in the hallway outside their door with tears in my eyes from the joy of having a man like him as the father of my children.

He has called out a sweet greeting to our tiny daughter as I bring her down the stairs and into the kitchen where he has been making breakfast for the boys, every morning since she’s been born.

He has thoughtfully offered insight after listening to millions of my words, tumbling out of my mouth at mach speed, more times than I care to remember.  He has held me and said, “I understand”, more times than I can count.

He has forgiven me over and over and over and over.

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He is kind.  He is not jealous.  He never thinks of himself.  He does not get angry.  He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

He has come home to me every single day for ten years.

He has never written me a love letter.

Instead, my husband has given me his whole life.  Every choice he makes is largely driven by his decision to love and provide for us.

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Every time he wipes up a milk spill, every time he offers me a smile at the end of a long day, every arm tossed over my shoulders in the middle of the night, every cold, dark trip to the emergency room with a feverish child, every financial sacrifice he makes for the sake of our future, every piece of toast he gets up to butter so I can have ten more minutes in bed, every phone call I get from him while he’s at work, every flower he sends to me from the backyard in the hands of one of our sons, every time he drives our loaded mini-van to church on Sunday morning, every time he kisses us goodnight, every time he laughs with me after a rough week, he adds to the manuscript he has been working on since the day he asked me to share his life with him.

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His life is the love letter he writes to me every single day.  And when I take the time to read it, it changes me from a woman who longs for words written on paper, to a woman who knows what it means to read love in every act, every step, every moment of a life lived together.

**Shout out to Lisa-Jo Baker for writing the beautiful post that was my inspiration for this one!**

A Life of Questions?

Have you ever had a question about parenting?  Not like, “Which diapers should I be using?” or “At what point do you take a feverish child to the ER?”  No, no.  I am talking more along the lines of:  “What ever gave me the idea that I could do this?”

Mama, I.have.been.there.  Depending on the day, I am still there.  There was even a time in my not-so-distant past where nearly every waking thought ran along these lines:  Should I stay home?  Should I work full-time?  Should I work part-time?  Should I home-school?  Should I put them in French immersion? Should we be eating better?  Should we get rid of the TV?  Do I read to them enough?  Do I do enough crafts with them?  Should we be practicing printing more?  Should we be practicing math skills more?  Should I be speaking more French with them?  Do I worry too much?  Do I worry enough?  Should we be reading more Bible stories?  Should we be praying with them more often?  Am I being an example of good behavior?  Am I meeting their needs?  Am I smart enough?  Patient enough?  Firm enough?  Loving enough?  Creative enough?  Entertaining enough?  Tender enough?  Nurturing enough?  Attentive enough?  Funny enough?  Wise enough?

 

Can I do this?

 

Am I enough?

A rare moment where I believe we are reading "enough" for one day! ;)

A rare moment where I believe we are reading “enough” for one day! 😉

The truth is that I am a far-from-perfect mother who struggles on a daily basis to reconcile the mother I am with the mother I feel I “should be.”  I have, and oftentimes still do, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy.  I compare myself to other moms.  I have denied the existence of my own gifts.  I have been lost in the box of what God has called someone else to be, instead of embracing who I am.  And I have failed to live up to my own expectations.  I have constantly questioned the purpose behind the plan, or if there even is a plan.  It is only now, after having failed miserably to succeed as someone I am not, drowning in questions with no answers in sight, that I am able to see that my idea of success was inherently flawed to begin with.  I now realize that many of the things I believed I had to be to qualify as a good mom are actually meaningless, and that there is no one better equipped to raise my children than I am, because I have been chosen as their mother by the One who never makes mistakes and never leaves me without answers.  So I say: I will no longer live in a way that produces questions without answers.  I can do this.  I am enough.  And so are you.

The truth is that when you became a mother it was not an accident, a mistake, a random event, or a coincidence that you ended up with your specific child or children.  They are with you, here and now, for a purpose.  You are their mother because no one else could be.  They are your children because they need to learn something that only you can teach them.  They are calling out for something that only you can offer.  You have a gift, or maybe even many gifts, that God has given you in order to mother them in the exact way that they require. When you accept that, how can you fail?

Worrying about things like which soccer team my kids play on and how many grams of sugar they consume on a daily basis will never get me the answers I am looking for, as a mother.  I have arrived at the point where I now realize that “things” and activities are good, and time spent with my children is always time well-spent.  However, if my focus and motivation for providing things, planning activities, and spending time is to convince myself, and those around me, that I am worthy of the title “Good Mom”, then the reality is that I will fail my children.  No amount of, or even LACK of, primary-readiness worksheets, French immersion registrations, Pinterest crafts, Bible stories, or worry will ever transform me into the mom God calls me to be, or my kids into the human beings He has called them to be.  If my goal is to turn out good kids that will in turn make me look good, I may impress a few human beings along the way, but that’s where it will end and that is not enough.

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It is so hard to be a mom, no matter how your family has been called to operate.  It is even harder to be a good mom, and entirely impossible to be a perfect one.  In fact I have discovered only one perfect parent in all of history, and He did not concern Himself with what other parents thought of Him, nor did He lie to Himself about what was truly important.  Likewise, I have discovered only one perfect child, and He was not in French immersion, nor did he play hockey 6 days a week (although, He probably did wear cloth diapers).  Instead He watched His Father, and by doing so learned how to live in such a way that His purpose was fully realized.  Who could ask for more than that for their children?  I know that it is not my job to be what other human beings consider to be perfect or to produce perfect kids, and that even if it were possible to accomplish such a thing, it would still not be enough if in the end they never discover their true purpose.  I now know that it is my job to teach my children to watch their Father, and I can only do that by watching Him myself.

“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love.” -Ephesians 5:1-2

A life of love.  So simple!!  Not a life of things.  Not a life of accolades.  Not a life of human approval.  Not a life spent worrying myself and my kids to death over details that don’t give us what we need.  Not a life spent in hopeless pursuit of an ever-shifting definition of perfection.  Not a life of questions with no answers.

A life of love.  To me this means a life spent watching what is good, doing what is good, teaching my children what is good, keeping company with and learning from God, and then living the rest of my life loving the people God has called me to, trusting that my children will learn to do the same, in whichever way this is meant to look.

A life of questions?  No, thank you.  Mama, I promise that my life will never be perfect.  Neither will yours.  I will never be you, and you will never be me.  But I believe with all my heart when we each strive to live our individual lives with love that points our children to their Father, that our lives of questions will become lives of answers.

Enough

ImageBeing a single-income family in a culture driven by dual-income wish lists is going to be tricky. As my maternity leave benefits come to an end, I’m realizing that in choosing to have a parent at home, we are going to live differently than many other families. Our lives won’t be better or worse than those around us – just different.

I want my daughters to learn the value in enough. I want them to understand gratitude. And what better way to illustrate these concepts than to sacrifice material possessions in exchange for deeper relationships and the constant presence of a loving parent?  Their bellies will always be full; they will always be clothed in (relatively) clean, well-fitting clothes; they will always have toys to play with, books to read, and opportunities to learn, grow and engage in the world around them. Will they eat in restaurants every week? No. Will they receive every toy they ask for? Of course not. Will we travel as much as other families? Probably not. Will they suffer because they lack these things? Not even a little bit.

God-willing, my children will never be without enough. And I hope they never want for anything – not because they already have everything they could wish for, but because they have learned to be content with what they do have. Don’t get me wrong, though. I want to be able to give them nice things. I want them to have goals and aspirations. But I don’t want their happiness to hinge on material possessions. I want to teach them, by example, that true happiness comes from being content where you are, as you are.

So why am I concerned with raising children on one income? It isn’t because we don’t have enough, because in fact, we are wealthier than much of the world’s population could ever imagine. It is because of the impact our instant gratification society will have on these girls. I don’t want them to see their friends with a constant array of brand new clothes and toys and feel sad. I want them to recognize that we have enough and be grateful.

I hope my presence has an impact on these beautiful girls. I hope they understand that having Mama home with them every day is worth the sacrifice.

– Alison