When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough

My best simply isn’t good enough anymore.

No, no. It really isn’t. I’m not fishing for compliments, or advice, or sympathy. I’m just stating the facts, ma’am.

I say the following phrase with increasing frequency: “I’m doing the best I can!” This is usually in response to questions like:

“Why are there no clean towels?”

“Why do I have to borrow Dad’s socks again?”

“What am I supposed to eat? There’s no food in the house!”

And then there are the questions I ask myself:

“Why haven’t you had quiet time today?”

“Why does everything seem so grungy and chaotic?”

“Why am I so snappy with my family when I have so darn much?”

“Why are we eating chicken apple sausage and noodles AGAIN?”

Lately I’ve felt a big, ugly thing inside of me. I don’t have to be a psych major to know what it is: It’s discontent because nothing is how I want it to be.

Common refrains:

“Honey, PLEASE take the kids out today so I can get something done.”

“Honey, PLEASE take Rachel to the Splash Park so I can have a bit of silence and maybe get a shower.”

“Honey, PLEASE help Collin so I can type up this declaration.”

So, even though I’m “doing the best I can,” that “best” seldom seems to include “doing it all,” or hanging out with my kids, who I very much wanted and am so glad to have.

Trust me: this has nothing to do with having a smaller to-do list. I am not trying to scrapbook and reorganize closets and Shop Vac the garage. This is Survival 101. Such as having NO TOWELS, not even dish towels, the other day, so we all had to drip dry after showering. Such as having canned soup and a green lemon from our lemon tree as the only foods in the house. Such as my husband borrowing my underwear because all of his are in the wash (I made that last one up, but not by much). Such as having to store my “active” files on the kitchen counter, right by the CDs of singing vegetables and the “Home Menus and Shopping Lists” binder I haven’t touched in eight months, so I can glance over them while boiling noodles.

Read the rest of today’s post here.

In These Middle Years

The bright and shiny of all the things we wanted – the kids, the dog, the house, the minivan – are dulled by fatigue. By being up for three hours by 8am and and still having read only one email, one verse. By sharing 2.5 cups of coffee with a spoon-wielding princess. By being an introvert who is accompanied by two littles in the bathroom, while a big-little knocks on the door.

We have comforts. We bought a new mattress to make us less tired. It’s fancy, and big, and came with a remote that we share. It lights the room blue at 2am when we wake, hearts pounding, thinking surely we’re supposed to be doing something, anything, other than resting tired bones. Even with a downstairs Nana, a few-blocks-away Gamma, our exhaustion defeats us.

Yesterday I met a woman with one little, another on the way. She has comforts, too. I can tell this by where her house is, where she works, what she wears. I can tell, too, that her comforts don’t make her bright things shiny. She has no Nana downstairs, no Gamma three blocks away. Just a new home, a new town, a long-distance family, and a few short months to go before she’s a mother of two. I want to sit with her, write a list of her needs. Share them with my too-tired mama friends and envelope her with love. But I know that if I were her, and I have been, I would say no. Would go it alone, overwhemed and longing. Determined to make do.

“Mom,” I say, “I am just so tired.”

I know.”

She tells me about her thirties, how every bone ached with exhaustion. How she hallucinated after three days without sleep when my sister was in the hospital. “I remember,” she says, “when we would go to the farm to visit grandpa and I was so tired. I thought I’d never feel rested again.” Even decades after the fact, I can hear the fatigue in her voice.

She had comforts, too, but still her bright things dulled in those middle years, when all we have are edges, stretched thin and yawning into nothing. Dangling our feet over empty, hanging heavy and threatening to burst.

And in this chasm, I read, in a moment almost ignored:

He stretches out the north over empty space;
He hangs the earth on nothing.
He wraps up water in his clouds.
They are heavy, but they don’t burst.
He covers the face of the full moon.
He spreads his clouds over it.
[ ]
Those are only on the edges of what he does.
They are only the soft whispers that we hear from him.
Who then can understand the thunder of his power?
(Job 26:7-9, 14)

Today, when I–

play 7am Frisbee with a princess and a troll;

rock and walk a 21-pound baby for over an hour;

am a fairy godmother in 2-inch heels and ankle socks;

cook things from a box in the oven and pretend they are real;

celebrate new life almost here,

I will dance on the edges, lean in for the whispers, find comfort in the thunder.

Pray other mamas whose feet dangle, alone, do the same.

Doing the Unstuck

Today I took down the streamers.

The balloons have become my daughter’s weapons of war.

The flights from California to Florida, we’re finding, cost more than we feared.

For at least a year after my son quit playing baseball, I cried, just a little, every time I drove by the ball field. I never wanted to stop hating the grass stains.

For four years, I’ve waited for high school to end. To be rid of open campus lunches and rules that don’t work for kids mature beyond their years who are too smart for their own good.

And now, it’s done.

Hallelujah?

Yes, of course. But there is also a grief I never expected to feel in leaving behind an institution that has brought 6am wake-up calls, 6pm-like-clockwork auto-dialers, and more missed back-to-school nights than I care to admit. Grief in unrealized things and the messiness of life and that odd, ridiculously unnerving feeling that comes when you realize there are no do-overs.

When a part of your life for so long is simply… gone.

A few things remain. We still need to pick up the diploma. Still need the final grade to come in.

Because my son skipped a grade, because he is leaving home for college just three weeks after he turns 17, I feel unnerved. That feeling of knowing you’ve forgotten something but not remembering what. It’s a vague unease, an incompleteness.

I suspect it will soon pass. Soon we will be mired in packing and planning and cross-country trips and U-Hauls. Soon I will be crying and rejoicing for the future, not the past.

For now, I will try my best to learn from yet another unexpected mom-moment, take hope in the power of prayer, the technology of Skype, and a calling plan that includes unlimited texting. Rejoice that my youngest two have more than a decade to go before we head down this messy, surprising, absurdly difficult path all over again.

Week Links #5

Women’s Words

Rebecca Yarros: Dear Boys: We Protect Those Who are Smaller

Jen Hatmaker: Worst End of School Year Mom Ever

Glennon (Video): All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in the Mental Hospital

Megan Gahan: ReclaimingFemininity

Jen Hatmaker @ Deeper Story: Do Not Stumble on Account of Me

Words for Thought

Jen Hatmaker: Adoption Ethics Part 3

Jennifer Grant’s guest post @ Amy Simpson: See You When I See You

Betty Ann Boeving: A California Climber Takes Up the Trafficking Flight

Week Links

Women’s Words:

Sarah Bessey: In Which They Are Overlooked in a Sea of Hipsters

Sarah Bessey: This is for the Day

Catherine Woodiwiss: In the Image of God: Sex, Power, and “Masculine” Christianity

Emily Maynard: I Don’t Want Kids

Words for Thought:

Rachel Pieh Jones: You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice

Andrew Hanauer: Debt Forgiveness and Food for Crocodiles

Karen Yates: To Grieve is to Human

Jon Huckins: The Violence of Peacemaking

Abigail Rine: Why Some Evangelicals are Trying to Stop Obsessing Over Pre-Marital Sex

Mental Health Awareness Month

Brandi Grissom and Alana Rocha: With Consensus and Money, State Takes on Mental Health Care

The Untouched

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
(Isaiah 49:15-16)

My youngest loves to touch and be touched. He needs it to grow, to find his place in the world.

His daddy walks in and Aaron squeals. Propels himself forward like someone is trying to light his diaper on fire. Andy scoops him, and Aaron pats every part of his daddy’s face, his hair, especially his stubbly cheeks. They nuzzle and wiggle in tight for a big baby-hug.

When Aaron needs to know he’s okay, he’ll crawl, 90-to-nothing, to where I am. Pat my shoe, wobble his arms in the general vicinity of “up.” I swing him high and he laughs and laughs, touches my face to say hello or I love you or whatever happy thing he feels.

Aaron and Mama = love

Aaron flaps like a crazed chicken when he sees Nana. She kisses his nose, and Aaron throws his little half-way arms around her neck and smiles because he knows she’s silly. After a few Nana-minutes, Aaron will ask for my arms, do a quick mama check, then reach for the floor so he can hug the dog.

Aaron and Winston

It’s beyond sweet.

Aaron MUST do this. He would wilt without it, become sickly and sad. Touch is his love language, how he delights in existence. He must touch, be touched, check in, pat my shoe, love my face, hug me tight.

He is this way because that’s how he was born, not because that’s how we made him. And this breaks my heart.

Not because of Aaron, but because there are babies—babies upon babies upon babies— just like him. But they don’t get touched. And the thought of babies with half-extended wobbly arms not being embraced, or worse, being yelled at, abandoned, unappreciated, unsqueezed — hurt — is soul-killing. Babies and toddlers and latent-stagers and teens whose parents never learn the language of their children. Have no desire to. Maybe simply can’t.

Just as Aaron doesn’t know a world without emphatic love, these babies know nothing other than angry words, angry hands, neglected arms. It breaks them, then becomes their normal.

Sydney,

I never thought it was funny
when you told people to fuck off,
your fingers high in the air,
legs barely long enough
to reach the ground.

I knew you when
you were in your mother’s womb,
small and clean.

I tried to take you after she forgot
to come the third day
in a row,
but I found her

in a bar,
prolonged smoke break,
fresh hole in her arm.
She needed some time,
she said.

I wonder if you still live
off Cheerios and fumes.

We both cried
the day I picked dirt and makeup
from under your nails,

cried harder when I took the glitter off
and turned your hair
to taffy.
You flailed at the mirror-child;

I held tight and pretended
not to notice your bones.

A Day Like Any Other

Despite the fact that I have had 364 days to prepare, today still caught me by surprise.

The hours passed, chasing fairy wings, crying over mismatched clothes and sand-filled shoes. Knowingknowingknowing that I should enjoy every bit of the 45 minutes it took to walk 10 feet, remove every “hurry” from my mouth.

The fairy princess waltzed across the grass, owned the world around her, asked to walk up the big stairs by herself.

IHobo Fairy Princess

I thought of the day they’ll all be gone. Because they will.

Jamie and Collin 1996, then 2012

I yearned for a bigger pocket, a bigger purse, a bigger heart to carry them in.

2012 Christmas Eve Twas the Night Before Christmas

I shattered when the little one patted my hair, my face. Placed sticky fingers against my cheeks, hugged me with spit-up covered arms.

Shattered again at bad news from my oldest, and again when listening to Oklahoma funeral plans.

Put myself back together with shoestrings and Silly-Putty when the fairy princess belted out the blessing for the entire restaurant to hear:

God is great.
God is good.

A ketchup-covered french fry halfway to her mouth

Let us thank Him
For our food.

So be it.

I’m Not Coming Out & You Can’t Make Me!

My family knows that my shower- and getting ready time is “my” time. They know that, unless I am absolutely forced to, I will not open the bathroom door during the entire 45-60 minutes it takes me to shower and apply makeup, which is something I do every single day, unless I am so sick I can barely stand. Like the Fly Lady needs her shoes, I need my shower and eyeliner.

This doesn’t mean that in particular life seasons I don’t have someone either in the bathroom with me or banging on the door, screaming, from the outside. In fact, with a teen, toddler, and infant in the house, this happens more often than not. And my husband and I are often forced to plan an entire day’s schedule by shouting through the bathroom door. Nonetheless, the fundamental rule remains the same: if mama is in the bathroom getting ready, you better leave her alone or be prepared to face the consequences.

Sometimes I hear major chaos going on beyond the locked door of my sanctuary. Loud thumps and bumps followed by cries, phones ringing, dogs barking, teen requests intermingled with toddler tantrums and an infant’s demand to be feed. In these moments, I sigh, hastily apply 8-minutes worth of make-up in two, and head out the door to sort it all out.

The other day I heard all those things at once. My husband and mom were surviving, but they certainly could have used more (wo)manpower to ease the hurt.

As I listened to my husband try to make a phone call for our sixteen-year-old while the little ones’ battles raged around him and my mom pleaded with Rachel to stop poking her in the eye, I sighed a sigh of resignation and started to go into getting-ready overdrive.

But then… I didn’t.

I thought, “I am not coming out of here and you can’t make me.” If I could have locked the door even tighter, I would have.

No one knows what’s going on behind the bathroom door, and they aren’t going to ask. And if they do, I’ll tell them that mama’s getting-ready bathroom time is like Vegas—what goes on in there stays in there.

This was a particularly empowering moment, but don’t worry. I have no intention of abusing my loved ones by hiding out in the bathroom during the morning crazies. But you know what? Despite the cries and chaos coming from beyond the door, despite the stress and frustration I heard in the outnumbered grown-up voices, everything turned out just fine. My oldest son’s car got to the shop, the phone call was made, the baby was fed, and my mom’s eye remained in tact. And all of this was done just fine without me. Can you believe it?

Manic Monday Crossover Post: The Crazies

Ah, Monday. Must mean that this post can also be found on my family blog.

Around our house, we have a few hours in the day I like to call “the crazies.” I used to call this time of day “the witching hour,” but then the one hour became two, then three, and now it’s sometimes even four, thanks in large part to Nana’s stellar bedtime routine, in which she reads approximately 500 pages of princess/cowboy/fairy tales to Rachel then Rachel feels the need to poke Nana in the eye repeatedly until Nana finally snaps and calls it a night. But I digress.

I’m sure we are not the only ones who have the crazies. For us it hits full force around 4pm, but the mental breakdown starts somewhere around 3:30, when I realize it’s almost 4:00 and begin sweating profusely. It goes something like this:

 

My 16-year-old, Collin, texts me: “what’s for dinner? If you’re not cooking I’ll pick something up, so I need to know ASAP if you’re cooking or not. I may or may not be home. It may or may not be around 5:30 if I do come home. But I need to know.”

 

About 5 seconds before or after that text, give or take, my mom starts feeling really good because she’s had at least 10 cups of coffee and watched a couple of old movies. For her, 4pm is work time and she starts “finishing” all the unfinished projects we have around the house. I start reminding her, in dripping-faucet fashion, that 4:30 is Rachel’s dinner time (yes, really), and that I would love it if she could help with the baby while I wind Rachel down. This does not sit well with my mom, who has just dragged out all her various tools and is really hitting her groove.

 

I’m still ignoring Collin’s text, because frankly, I don’t know what we’re going to do for dinner despite the meat thawing in the sink. This is a “how the kids behave” thing, not a “I forgot to think about dinner” thing.

 

4:30pm hits, and I feed Rachel something, anything, as long as she doesn’t paint with it, yell at it, or feed it to the dog. I begin reminding her bedtime is in an hour. She screams, “I don’t want to go to bed!” and I point out that she has a whole additional hour in which to play. Have I mentioned she can’t tell time yet?

 

She eats, or not, and now it’s time to start dinner for everyone else. Aaron decides he wants a nap, and Nana realizes she’s the go-to mom unless she wants to cook, and trust me, she doesn’t.

 

So she rocks Aaron, Aaron falls asleep, and 10 minutes later Collin gets home, at which point both the dog and Rachel go insane with joy and begin squealing, barking, and turning in circles. They all three play and I’m helpless to stop them, because really, could YOU stop a 16-year-old from playing with his brother-worshipping 3-year-old sister? It warms the heart. Aaron waking up, however, is not as wonderful.

 

Now it’s 6pm. In case you’ve lost track, that’s 30 minutes past Rachel’s bedtime and she is a MESS. We swipe a toothbrush across her mouth and call it a win.

 

She’s carted off to bed by an encyclopedia-wielding Nana, and Aaron and I hit the rocking chair with high hopes that he’ll stay down for the night. Right as the bottle comes to an end and Aaron’s eyes close, Collin tiptoes into the nursery to ask if he can go to his girlfriend’s house. Aaron smiles and we head to the living room for another round of “Don’t Eat the Dog.”

 

But at least I’ve made it to 7pm and there are only 3 more hours before Andy gets home, at which point I can collapse into a blubbering mess and hand the reins to him.

Please tell me this is what it’s like at your house. And if not, can I move in?