When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

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Sometimes the Most Ordinary is Extraordinary

I’ve always admired people who are content. Contentment has always been an elusive, out of reach quantity to me. It doesn’t seem to matter where I am, what I’m doing, or what I have, there is always a persistent longing. I want more.

I’ve always envied my sister this quality. She has always seemed content. It doesn’t mean that she lacks ambition or success–she has both in her life. Rather, she seems able to enjoy where she’s at while she’s there without longing for the next step.

Not me. From as early as I can remember, I always wanted more. I wanted to be the best, the prettiest, the most successful, and, no matter what I achieved, it never felt like enough. Yes, I have a competitive nature (I come from a highly competitive family after all), but it seems to me that this is something deeper than competiveness.

I think that I am a product of the child psychology of my day–Baby Boomer psychology. Unlike their parents, the parents of my generation taught us to aim high. They were idealists. The sky was the limit and we were told that the only thing that would stop us was ourselves.

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I grew up hearing that I was special–I would change the world. I had a destiny that I needed to reach for, a life I was meant to live. I was special. Not ordinary—the definition of special. I was extraordinary—extra-ordinary

This all sounds great. Everybody wants to be special and who doesn’t want to change the world? I embraced it.

After I graduated from High School, I put those ideas into practice. I traveled all over the world trying to make a difference. I went to Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bangladesh doing everything from teaching English to providing cyclone relief to teaching Bengali mothers the basics of hydration and hygiene.

And then I got married. I had children. My life changed. I changed.

Now, I find myself living a life that is the epitome of “ordinary” and the only things that I have been changing are years’ worth (literally) of dirty diapers and the dryer vents from the mountains of laundry that I do on an almost daily basis.

I am the epitome of the “soccer” mom (though my kids don’t play soccer). I have my 2.5 children (we’re going to round up in my case), a mini-van (well, actually an SUV), and my lovely house in the suburbs (which includes a pool to splash around in on those unbearable Texas summer days). I attend PTA meetings and little league (okay, so maybe not baseball, but football and gymnastics). My life is very, very ordinary–but it’s quite lovely—but it’s ordinary—and I am supposed to be extra-ordinary. I’m supposed to change the world.

I’m sure most of the Gen Xers didn’t take their parents and teachers quite so literally. They didn’t soak up that idealism and let it worm its way into their very DNA. But I did, and despite my lovely life, I long for more. I have not learned contentment—contentment is not something I was taught, and it slips through my fingers, completely intangible no matter how hard I try to grasp it.

But I’m learning.

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I’m learning, that it is not in the quantity, but in the quality.

I’m learning that I don’t need to change the world, just a few–and that starts right here right now. It starts with the neighbor who had a new baby, the friend who has cancer, and the student who thinks no one cares. It starts with what I can do in the world that I am in.

I might not get to sing for an audience any more and soak in the applause of a crowd, but when I sit down to play on my piano in my study and belt out a Broadway tune, my children sit enraptured. Theirs is all the praise I need.

I might not turn heads when I walk down the street, but my five year old thinks I’m beautiful.

I might not be the most popular mom on the block or have the most friends, but my kids sure love hanging out with me.

Being special doesn’t have to mean that you are better than everyone else—it means that you are extraordinary to a few. And my daughters think I hung the moon.

For today, that’s all the special that I need to be.

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“Who ever said life is fair? Where is that written?” (Grandpa from The Princess Bride)

             As a young person you have expectations. You expect the world to work in certain ways. You expect life to be fair. You expect good things will equal good things. You expect things to make sense. The world is mainly colored in black and white. Your dreams are attainable and the world is what you make of it.

            Some, the lucky few, continue on believing this because they have never been forced to acknowledge the unreality of it. The rest of us, we step from the idealism of youth into reality, and reality is not what we expected it to be.

            Life is not black and white. It is filled with shades of gray. You almost never get what you deserve and often get what you don’t deserve (often in a not so good way!). Good deeds often do not lead to good things even though they should. And bad things happen even to the best of people.

            Like so many others who have tried to do the “right” thing, I find myself in a place of disillusionment. My idealism wrestles with reality and I look for answers to life size questions but no answers seem to be found. You can hear the question echoing through the centuries from untold numbers, “Where is God in the midst of this pain (injustice or substitute whichever word fits your life)?”

            I was a good girl. Not perfect, but I always tried to do the right thing. Not only that, I went the extra mile. I went to some of the darkest places on the planet trying to do the little bit I could. Did this stop my daughter from dying? Did it stop my world from falling apart? Did it put me on a path of gumdrops and lollipops where everything is happy and the sun never stops shining? Absolutely not.

            Even after our daughter died, we were hit by more hard times. The church where we had found our life’s meaning didn’t know what to do with us. Our daughter was not a great testimony to God’s miraculous healing powers, but rather our testimony shined the light on the still unanswered question of the ages. “Why does God allow bad things to happen to his children?” The church, being uncomfortable with questions they cannot answer, became uncomfortable with us as reminders of those unanswered questions. And so, when we needed the church the most, we became invisible.

            I wish I had the answer. Sadly, even after wrestling with this question for eight years, I am no closer to coming to an adequate answer. Still, existence without God makes no logical sense to me. I have looked at it from every possible angle. God MUST exist.

             Adding to this the fact that most of us will know pain and suffering at some point in our lives, I have to come to the conclusion that this too has its purpose. Why some have so much more pain than others I cannot say, but the fact that there is something essential to human nature in suffering seems undeniable to me.

             I have to conclude that it is not profitable to avoid pain, no matter how badly we may want to do just that. Instead, I think we must accept the pain when it comes as best as we can and allow the pain to morph us into something better and more useful than untried “pie in the sky” optimism.

             I can’t help but think of the line from the Princess Bride: “Life isn’t fair highness, anyone who says anything different is selling something.” (Wesley)

             Though we know this cognitively, we still expect that life will be fair anyway. Because it should be.  And when it isn’t . . . well, it leaves us disillussioned, disappointed and filled with angst.

             I miss my idealism. Sometimes, I actually long for it. And I hate pain. Asolutely.   Hate.     It.    And yet, I will not allow its presence in my life, and all the unanswered questions that go with it, to delude me. My life has a purpose, and this pain that I feel is not anti that purpose or God would not have allowed it.

             I’ve grown up enough to know that most of us have pain we have shoved (and tried to hide) in the closet of our lives. It is not unique to you and it is not unique to me (though I sometimes have to remind myself of that!). It is part of the human experience. I wish I had the answer to why He hasn’t made the universe fair, but I don’t. What I do know is that you are not alone and it certainly does not mean that God does not see you or that He does not care. He does, even if our circumstances make it feel otherwise.

UPDATE: Ironically, I wasn’t writing this from that place of pain. I was more writing it because I know there are people out there who feel what I felt and I don’t want them to feel alone in that place. Most of us visit that place in different seasons of our lives. I guess I was hoping that maybe someone could gain from what I’ve learned. Apparently I didn’t do a good job of getting that across. Thanks everyone for your kind thoughts, but I’m okay right now. Really. 🙂