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mind-over-motherhood

Being more than "just Mom".. honestly.

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The Quiet Work

Defining – and Defying – the Word: Me·ni·al

me·ni·al   /ˈmi ni əl, ˈmin yəl/   [mee-nee-uh l, meen-yuh l]

adjective

1.  lowly and sometimes degrading: menial work.

2.  servile; submissive: menial attitudes.

3.  pertaining to or suitable for domestic servants; humble: menial furnishings.

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Finding your identity – and maintaining a sense of it – as a Stay at Home Mom can be a little more than challenging.. especially in terms of how the world views you — what “worth” they put on you.

I get comments from people all the time (usually other women) about how “nice” it must be not to “have to work”.

Or the drive by comment, “Oh, the life of a stay-at-home-Mom.”  – as the working mom drives away from the bus stop on her way to work, and I walk back to the house in my yoga pants, with my coffee cup in hand.  Little does she know that the idea of getting dressed in business attire and being able to have a change of scenery – where I can turn on my brain and engage in something other than house and kids sounds like manna for my starving mind sometimes. *

As you may have gathered from reading this blog (when seldom I post, lately), I work hard to have an identity outside of my children. To find ways to keep myself well-rounded and feed those parts of me that need a little more than 5th grade homework (challenging as it is for my old brain) and endless loads of laundry.   I have been diligent in recent years in my attempts to hold on to the interests I had prior to my three little birds landing in my life… so that once they spread their wings and leave the nest, I don’t feel lost with no definition of myself.  When they fly away, I pray, that they will be strong, independent and GOOD big birds… and that I will be more than just mom with an empty nest.

I have made endless efforts to find ways to engage in my interests, learn new things, and feel like I still contribute to the world outside of my home (not in any way belittling the value or importance of being focused on the contributions I make to my household.)  It takes a lot – and I mean, A LOT – of energy to keep from being all-consumed by life as mom.  Which makes the comments from others that go like this: “Oh, are you still doing that little volunteer thing?” – feel a bit like a knife in the gut. * (It’s worth visiting this asterisk again.)

While I do know that having the luxury of staying home with my little birds is a blessing and I AM thankful, I also have to admit that very often when I’m doing the same laundry for the 100th time — or doing dishes for 4th time in a day — or trying to figure out what to cook for the next meal (when I’ve just finished cleaning from the last one) — or picking up guinea pig poop — or having to repeat myself endlessly with my children, I often feel that most of the things I do all day are just plain menial.

There have been times, I even feel like anyone on Earth could do what I do –  I could just record myself saying “No. Stop fighting. Speak kindly. Try again!” and let it play on repeat on the ipod — or that I am simply that robot, Rosie from the Jetsons (please don’t tell me that you don’t know who the Jetsons are.)   Am I just wasting my talents and my education on these menial tasks that have to be done over and over and over and over, with no end in sight?!

Not that these tasks are unique to stay at home moms… all moms/dads have to get these same menial things done, but when you have no other “professional” outlet or career definition in your life, these menial tasks tend to be the things that come to define who you are – they ARE what you do.

But that is not where this topic ends. Not with the negative. Never.  I look back to that first paragraph, and I Thank Goodness that – as a Christian – my “worth” is not defined by this world.

One morning a while back, during a few minutes of devotional time, I happened upon a quick writing about Holy Thursday. It reflected on Jesus’ last acts with His disciples and pointed out that in His final hours with His most beloved – His chosen – He didn’t perform miracles or do “great” works. He didn’t bring people back from the dead, he wasn’t being anointed with costly oils or perfumes or any of the multitude of things that The King would seemingly choose to do in His final time on Earth.  Instead in His final hours, He chose to spend with His earthly family, His chosen disciples.

In very much a familial way.  He chose to feed them. To teach them. To wash their feet. In essence, the very cooking, cleaning, correcting and teaching that I have loathed. That’s what was most important to Jesus in His final hours. That’s what He chose.**

Yeah, go ahead and think about that for another few seconds.

And the crazy thing is that when I found this reading – about Jesus, Himself, choosing these seemingly menial tasks as the most important things He could do in His last days, I began to find happiness in doing them.

So, I share this today to say that, here – at the end of the calendar year, I am adding a new “MORE” to my list.  As this Advent Season begins I will make the everyday things  – that I have been so desperately trying to keep from defining who I am – precisely what defines me. And by that I mean, what should – and really does – define me, is how I choose to view these tasks. My attitude towards those menial tasks defines my character.  It makes me more than just mom.  It makes me the person that I want to model for my little birds as they grow.

Menial = redefined.

* I truly don’t have any ill feelings toward my fellow moms that make these comments – not at all – I maintain that we are all on the same team. Maybe sometimes we just need to communicate about our different positions on the team and how they all work together for the greater good of our team goals.

** I had to pause and ask myself if I knew that I had a few last days on Earth, what would I choose.. would it be to do the things I have never done and go see the world? Probably. Would I choose the menial acts of service for my loved ones? Probably not.

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When Cathedrals Begin to Take Shape

They are rare. Sometimes you can’t remember the last time one happened. Yet, I’ve experienced them twice in less than 24 hours.

We’ll come back to this, but first you probably need a little background info to fully understand what I’m talking about.

Just like us Moms, each of our children has their strengths and weaknesses. They each struggle with some area of their life. And therefore, we, as their Moms (parents) struggle with some area of their lives. Sometimes that struggle with your kids feels all-consuming.

Watching your child struggle through the tough spots is just about as excruciating as it gets.

The last 2 years, really 3, have been quite a struggle (felt more like a full-on battle) – socially and educationally – for our youngest, The Starling. She is actually a very intelligent child. That is evident and always has been, however her behavior (even since she was a wee little one) has been less than promising at times. My mom and I have joked for years about whether she would use her powers for good or for evil.*  When she was little she was quite the demanding child, to say the least. When she was a toddler, I would refer to her as a little tornado. – Climbing and destroying everything in her path.

But goodness, she has always been cute. I’m not just talking about her big baby blues, precious (though sometimes quite mischievous) grin, or long blonde locks, but her personality is as funny and entertaining as they come. She could win over the Grinch in a split second. And you should see her dance. I can be angrier than you can imagine with her about one of her impulsive mishaps, but that will always be when she pulls out something absolutely hilarious or incredibly precious, making it all-together impossible for me not to laugh or smile.

I’ve been convinced for years that her extraordinary cuteness was a self-defense mechanism given to her by God, because it has saved her many times. Like when she flooded the house. But that’s another story for another time.

The Starling had always been the confident, strong-willed child. Full of passion for life, incredibly creative and out-going. Exuberant and funny, expressive and strong. Knows no stranger. Lives life out-loud – in the best way.

However, we have seen a change in her these last two years. The child who instantly knew everyone when we moved here 4 years ago was becoming somewhat of a loner.  The confident, self-assured child we once knew, had turned into a somewhat fearful, self-conscious shell of who she used to be.

In addition to her sudden lack of confidence, in these last couple of years all the “tornadic” (for lack of a better word) behaviors that used to seem like a lag in behavioral development didn’t go away. In fact, they got worse. And at age 6 she still wasn’t able to follow directions with more than 2 steps. Or recognize all the letters in the alphabet consistently. Or find her shoes. Ever. Or remember her friends’ names. Her BEST friends, mind you. She couldn’t sit and finish a meal. Not one. She would get frustrated to tears when trying to ask me a question, because she didn’t know how to verbalize what she wanted to know.

My nerves were shot by the 6th – 7th year.

At the time, I was convinced that she was making the choice to push the limits. That she just thought her cuteness and knowledge of when to use it would get her out of anything; therefore she didn’t have to work – you know, the typical last-born, “I’m the baby; gotta love me” syndrome in the birth order debate. And, I’ll admit it : there were times that part of the problem was that I was tired.  I wasn’t able to put in as much time and  consistent parenting with her, as I had been the first two.  My grandfather’s (who had 10 children) words came back to me on more than one occasion, as well: “Once you have three kids, it doesn’t matter how many you have. Once you’re out-numbered it’s chaos.”

Out-numbered. Husband traveling. Tired. Not enough of me to go around. Not enough consistency in my parenting. Birth-order. Her personality.

I didn’t really know what to blame it on, so I blamed it on a combination of all of it.  I hoped that with time, maturity and development  – and maybe if we could  get their WAPI Dad in a job where he wasn’t traveling.. well, maybe then I’d have more energy to invest in being more consistent, and maybe then it might get better.

Then, my WAPI husband changed jobs and was home all the time – just as she began kindergarten.. and the year progressed, but she didn’t.  I began to get concerned that her challenges were something more.. something that maybe – just maybe – she and I didn’t have control over.

Now, if I were to go into detail about the events and examples and trials and tearful, sleepless nights we’ve had in the last couple of years since Kindergarten, I would officially be publishing a novel instead of a blog post, so I will skip it and just say this: It’s been a difficult road. With potholes that seemed to be bottomless and speed bumps that you couldn’t possibly see over. I’ve cried a lot. And so has she. And I’ve been so frustrated that I thought I might stroke out. And so has she. — Same goes for my WAPI husband. And her siblings have paid quite the price for her all-consuming needs. When you have three kids and one needs at least 75% of your time, the other two aren’t left with much.

(And try though you may, you can ONLY give 100% of your being. All that crap you hear about “giving 110%”? Well, that’s just the biggest load of B.S. ever. No one has more than 100% to give. No one.)

Teaching her to read (and actually retain what she was learning) has proven to be more difficult than weaning, potty training, and sleep training combined – times 1000.

In addition to severe reading challenges, her particular learning issues have caused very atrocious hand-writing – to the point that it was often illegible.

BUT. Thanks to a lot of exploring, hard work, testing, diagnosing, commitment on our part, some bi-focal glasses, and one pretty spectacular teacher, we have begun to make headway.

Finally. (When I put it this way, it seems so simple. But trust me, it wasn’t.)

Not that the bumpy road will ever be completely smooth for her, but it’s getting better.

Now, at the end of 2nd grade. The work is finally beginning to take shape.

Last night I watched my once-struggling reader lie in her bed tucked into her daddy’s chest while she read to him by Kindle-light.  The reading was good. Really good. She flowed through the pages.  No help required. When she hit a word that stumped her she remained confident and stayed with it until she figured it out on her own. And it never took long. REAL second grade words and all. And she was happy.

There was something about the moment – with her precious little face framed in her reading glasses (it’s hard to learn to read when you can’t see the book OR the board) and lit by the blueish-white glow of her newly purchased Kindle Fire – I stopped and took a mental picture. So relieved that we were finally at this point, where she could confidently read and really fully enjoy her love of books, that I couldn’t even step away to get my camera** for fear that I’d miss the moment all-together.

It was a moment that made me smile so big that my face hurt, and my throat burned from trying to hold back the tears of joy.

As if that reading break-through weren’t enough, there’s more. Until today, I can’t remember an instance where I could read an entire piece of my daughter’s writing without having to ask her to translate a good portion of the words … or skip them and pretend that I knew what I just read, because she needed a confidence boost.

But here it is.  A Mother’s day gift that’s two-fold. I’m not sure what moved me more: the message.. or the fact that I could read it. All. By myself.

And this is what I meant up there in that first line.

Every once in a while in our motherhood, a moment happens where you can see a glimmer of the fruits of your labors. A moment when the endless laundry and meals and sleepless nights and cleaning up stomach viruses and all that other crap just disappears and you actually get to see the worth in what you are really doing. Where you realize that in between all the crap-jobs that are the major daily work of motherhood, you really are doing good work. Really good work. Important work.

Something makes you step back and get a preview of what it is going to look like in the end.. before you throw yourself back in to the work so closely that you can’t see it in your line of sight. The foundation is being laid and suddenly something makes you see the form of the cathedral beginning to take shape.

The reading by the kindle-light and the writing of a Mother’s day note. Twice in 24 hours I got a glimpse of the beauty that is The Starling’s Cathedral.

Happy Mother’s Day, indeed.

And if you haven’t had one of these moments in a long while  — hang in there.. your Cathedrals ARE taking shape. Even if you’re a little too close to see it yet.

* I typically inject some humor into difficult situations, not to belittle them or make fun of my kids or myself, but because it helps me gain some perspective.

** Those that know me know how huge a moment has to be for me sacrifice taking a picture of it, because I don’t want to miss it in person.

Losing Myself in the Building of Cathedrals

I can’t really claim this post as my own. I received what will follow my comments in an email from a dear friend today. It isn’t the first time I’ve received/read it, and it will not be the last. And yet each time I have opened an email that contained this forwarded story, it has happened to be on a day when I most desperately needed it. Sometimes in our struggle  to maintain some individual identity as M.O.M.s, we also have to figure out how to be OK with those days when it becomes impossible to achieve such a thing (and try again tomorrow.)

This post is for those days when it’s just unavoidable.. the ones where just me has no choice but to get lost in the motherhood. — And today was definitely one of those days…until I read this again. For those days, remember that it’s okay when “the building of great Cathedrals” trumps putting your name in the stones. (And by the way, I’m pretty certain that those who built the great Cathedrals also had some sort of separate life of their own when their work was done.)

As forwarded to me:

THE INVISIBLE MOM
One of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’ 
    
Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?? 
        
Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is the 
Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’
        
Some days I’m a crystal ball; ‘Where’s my other sock?, Where’s my phone?, What’s for dinner?’ 

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history, music and literature – but now, they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, she’s gone! 
        
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feeling sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’ 

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: 1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names. 2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. 3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. 4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.
     
A story of legend in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you 
spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof, No one will ever see it And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’ 
     
I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was Almost as if I heard God whispering to me, ‘I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.
       
No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become. 
        
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for 3 hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, he’d say, ‘You’re gonna love it there…’ 
        
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.”

* Thanks to my friend, Jenny, who sent this to me, then did the research that allows me to give due credit for this story to Nicole Johnson http://freshbrewedlife.sonacart.com/content/about-nicole – it appears that the version I have copied and pasted here has been paraphrased and edited by the hundreds of women who have forwarded it on via their email.

And just for fun — some photos of my very favorite “cathedrals” :

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