To the Mom in the Dentist’s Waiting Room

To the mom in the dentist’s waiting room this morning. As you held your one month baby in your lap and your rambunctious toddler circled the room with ever increasing energy, I wonder if you felt invisible. Every person who passed, including me, commented on the adorableness of your baby. As you sat there answering yet again the repetitive question: “How old?”, did you wonder if anyone’s eyes saw you?

I saw you. I saw the tiredness in your face, and heard the frustration in your voice as the appointment dragged out for longer than expected. 

I saw you. I saw when you reached your emotional limit and tried to instinctively protect yourself by deferring the important decision that needed to be made about your son’s tooth to your husband, adamantly refusing to take part. I saw you, not because I judged you, but because in that moment I knew what you felt, because I have felt it too. 

I see you. Just one month from the labor and delivery of your child, learning to add another little one to a household that already requires so much from you, you must be exhausted. You must feel so close to your limit every single minute of every day. I see you.

I see the power you hold without always wanting to, the power of motherhood. Those dentists kept coming to run things by you even after you told them to talk to your husband because they sensed that power and respected it. I know you probably in that moment wanted someone, anyone, to see your pain, your cry for help, and to realize that you just wanted to give up, even though you knew you couldn’t. I see you. I see your pain. I heard your cry for help.

I didn’t give you any words to show you that I saw. I wasn’t sure if you would welcome me stepping into your world. And I didn’t know what to say anyway. But I wish that you knew. Knew that this morning I saw you and you made sense to me. I wish you knew that sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with your child feels so mundane, and yet I believe it is one of the most self-sacrificial ways in which you can love your child. As you sit there, watching the minutes of your precious life tick by, you are giving a part of yourself to your child’s wellbeing. It will often take mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical strength that many people will underestimate. You will make so many decisions every single day, whether in or out of a doctor’s office that affect your children’s health and wellness. Each of those decisions takes something from you. And it will often feel like that sacrifice is not visible or appreciated. And so, I hope you know that this morning, I saw it. And I valued it. And I honored it.

You are strong and resilient, even though you do not feel like it on this day. Every single day that you are a parent is a day in which you are growing ever stronger, ever more skilled, and ever more resilient. But every day is also a day that has the potential to drain you more than you ever imagined possible. You will be tested to your limits and then past them, day in and day out, and you will sometimes wonder if it is worth it. You are not just a mom, but I know that in these first years of parenthood, you will feel like you disappear behind your children. And so, I really wish I had told you today that I saw you.

 

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I pulled up my blog today to see if I could find a post I wrote about friendship. It surprised me to see that it was my most recent post because I wrote it almost 4 months ago. I knew I had been silent on the blog lately, but I hadn’t realized that it had been that long. I actually have been trying to write, but I often feel really stuck.

Sometimes my lack of ability to write comes from a realization that what I have to write is complicated and deep and extremely vulnerable. Being in a new community with people who do not truly know me yet has made me a little more hesitant to bare my soul. Either I try to write it out and it feels like a rambling mess of words that are perhaps coherent, but not cohesive, or I sit with my fingers on the keys waiting for words to come and not wanting to record the ones that do. I value vulnerability, I really do. But sometimes things feel too raw to say in public. It’s easier to be vulnerable about something in the past that has been resolved. It’s hard to be vulnerable in the middle of the darkness. It’s hard to share ambivalence. It’s hard to share questions that have no answers as of yet. It’s hard to paint a picture that I know will not be pretty and maybe doesn’t yet have any redeeming messages.

When I write, I want to make a point. Even when the words are dark and swirling, I like to end on a hopeful note. But, maybe right now I need to ramble. But also, maybe I don’t have to make all that rambling public either. Maybe I just need to find those few people who will listen to me ramble and sit with me in my confusion. Those people who will catch my tears, and tell me they love me no matter how complicated and messy I am. They can’t give me answers either. But is it answers that I need? I actually don’t know. It feels like there has to be answers at some point. That some of what I’m feeling has to eventually come together and make sense. But who knows? Maybe life is learning to be comfortable with the questions.

It is perhaps insanely insensitive of me to post this vague rambling blog publicly. I know you are now all wondering what’s going on. “Is she ok? Should we be worried?” you are probably asking yourself. You are welcome to reach out to me privately and I may or may not share more of this with you. If I don’t, please do not be offended, it is all very private stuff. And I am mostly doing ok. I am coping really well, actually. It is just that I have moments when my coping strategies fail or my hormonal balance swings to the extreme or I don’t get enough sleep. And in those moments I discover that what lies just below the surface right now is a lot of sadness and pain and confusion. I’m working in several different ways to sort it out and thankfully the lows are different than the anxiety I’ve dealt with in the past. I feel just a bit more in control of it than I used to. But it does sometimes come unexpectedly. This last week I had a sudden drop into a dark pit of despair, but I was spending a couple days with a friend at the time, and he caught me when I fell and comfortably sat beside me in the pit for awhile. Sharing tears with friends is incredibly healing and cleansing, and I am so thankful for that time. See, there I go again, trying to find something hopeful to end this on. That is, I guess part of what makes me who I am, so I will not fight it.

Writing is part of how I process and find my journey through the wilderness. But not all of what I write will be posted here, especially right now, so I anticipate that my posts may continue to be few and far between. And while I know I don’t need to apologize for that, I also somehow feel it is worth you knowing, because it is always good to be reminded that everyone, even those of us who are more publicly vulnerable than others, put up walls to hide behind. We are none of us completely transparent. Make safe spaces in your life for those you love, because you never know who might be in need of dismantling their walls right now.

 

Disappointment.

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Disappointment. It’s a long and stringy word, like a rope. It tends to tangle itself around our limbs, clinging on as if it were a living thing every time we try to drop it. It is one thing to cognitively adhere to the idea that gifts should not be obligatory or transactional, but it is an entirely other matter to make it through a birthday or other special event without disappointments of one kind or another.

I can do my best to just keep uttering the words, “It’s ok, it’s not that big of a deal,” but that is not enough to shake loose from the cords of disappointment that slither out of a well of never-ending hope and expectations. Like a snake, they quietly find their way into the room where my attitude sits.

It is not maturity to ignore them, any more than it is to throw a tantrum with them. Instead we must notice them and learn to sit with these additions to our attitude. To tame them. Disappointment is not foreign. Since our early days we have found the cords entangling us. Sometimes we have fought against them, other times we’ve joined forces with them and used them as a weapon attempting to strangle those around us. It is time we made peace.

When we learn to sit still next to our disappointment, the struggle ceases. The rope, though still attached to our wrist, lies still. And in that moment we notice that it is only one thing, not the entirety. We look around us and see that we are surrounded by many things–beautiful gifts left for us not just on this day, but on all the days preceding this one. Expressions of love, bright points in dark days, smiles of friends, words of appreciation. The disappointment may never disappear, but if we learn to accept it and give it just the space it needs, no more and no less, it will not overwhelm us.

Voices in my head.

The last two days I’ve been angry. Angry about a lot of things actually. My therapist has reminded me that anger is not wrong. Anger is a signal pointing out to us something important. I struggle to admit when I am angry because it doesn’t fit into the persona that I like to cultivate about who I am. I’m not an angry person. Therefore I am not angry. I’m frustrated, or a little emotional, or . . . No. I am angry.

After naming the anger, I am working on identifying what it is pointing to. Why am I angry? One of the most important things I learned from Dr. Bailey’s book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline is that we are rarely, if ever, angry for the reason we think we are. “You are making me angry,” is said so often, but never, ever true. Anger is our stuff, it stems from our internalized messages or wounds that we have or insecurities or fear. If I am angry at you, it is never your fault. I might need to address something hurtful you said or did, but you didn’t make me angry. I got angry because I have an issue that I am working on.

So, why am I angry? I’m working on that. Some of the anger I can tell you where it comes from, some of it, I am not sure. I have a feeling that deep inside I know, but I’m hiding it even from myself because I’m ashamed of it. So, I’ll keep digging.

But even after recognizing the anger and identifying where it comes from, it is important to know what to do with it. Do we let it go? Do we speak up? Do we confront? Do we forgive? Anger is powerful. But that power does not have to be destructive. It can be constructive. So, for now, I wrote a poem. I took my anger and tried to give it a voice. There are wounds here, but also hope, hope that I can rise above those wounds and choose the non-violent path of peace and love.

 

I don’t need your voices in my head.

Don’t you know they already echo in the dark recesses of my soul?

Your expectations.

Who you think I’m supposed to be.

Don’t you realize that I step out of the box in order to dismantle it?

You tell me God loves me, but what I really want to know is, do you?

Even more importantly, do I?

Do I love myself?

Do I love you?

Can I experience the love of God without saying the name of God?

Can I be the love of God without your permission or approval?

Can I create a space in this world that is truly mine. 

Can I be who I am created to be, or do I have to be what I am told to be?

Your picture is not the only picture.

Your path is not the only path.

I wish to be free.

I wish to put on wings and fly beyond the words.

Maybe up there, above everything, it will all be clear. 

Maybe up there, I will see the energy and the spaces and the connections. 

Maybe up there I will see my space and know how to fill it well.

And I will see you and how you are connected to me.

I don’t need your voices in my head.

But maybe, if I truly saw you, touched you, felt you.

Who you are. 

I would understand your place and how it connects to mine.

And I would love you.

And there, and only there, in that love, do I want to find the face of God.

Fighting desire with desire – the parenting version.

zooRecently I listened to a podcast by Rob Bell, or as he likes to call it, a “Robcast.” I’m way behind on his episodes because I started listening way after he started putting them out and I am going in order, because that is the way I do things. So, this one was from 2015 and entitled: “This Episode is Sugar Free.”

The theme of the episode was how to deal with cravings or desires for things we know are not healthy for us. So, while it started with the idea of foods we know do not fuel our bodies well, it also covered everything else as well, like addiction and unhealthy behaviors.

One of the things he said stuck with me. Don’t fight desire with will. It’s an unfair fight. Desire is much stronger than will. We have to fight desire with a bigger desire.

Now I’ve heard this idea before and totally adopted it into my understanding, even if I don’t always implement it. We can’t successfully become healthier by focusing on the negative, the things we can’t have. We need to focus on the positive, the things we can have.

But as often happens these days when I am deep in the role of parent, I started to wonder how this should apply to parenting. I feel like I am always giving my kids negative directives and answers when they ask for things they want that I know are not healthy for them. I haven’t spent a great deal of time helping them develop the ability to replace their unhealthy desire with a healthy one. We had just had an outing to the zoo, where everything had been happy and exciting until the one request for a bag of cotton candy was turned down. Suddenly the cotton candy became the one thing in the world that my nine year old really really wanted. Everything, EVERYTHING, now seemed to hinge on wether or not he was going to get cotton candy. Or if not cotton candy, some other special treat. Now, part of this was my fault because I didn’t have the fortitude to turn down the cotton candy idea right away. I played with the idea, or maybe they have kettle corn. I really like kettle corn. We could get a bag of kettle corn. But then it turned out that the supposed kettle corn was really just regular old butter popcorn and now there wasn’t anything I particularly wanted, so the treat idea was shut down entirely. So, yes, I realized that my indecisiveness and my own weakness when it comes to sweets led to some of the difficulty. But I also realized that even though I talked with my kids about how their disappointment should not be the thing that determines their attitude about the outing in its entirety, I didn’t really talk about the positive things they could use to fight their desire for cotton candy.

In thinking this through I wondered if it would work. Especially with my younger kids who are so focused on the present. Most of the positive desires we work for are long term, out in the future, not right here and right now. I wasn’t sure they’d be able to grasp the concept or be willing to even play with the idea. But if I wasn’t even giving them the option, how were they going to develop this positive thinking muscle that they will need later when mom is no longer there to say no, you can’t have five donuts for breakfast.

I received another chance at this on Monday. I was out with that same 9 year old. He is often the one who gets caught up in obsessive desires that end up ruining his whole outlook on an outing. It was just the two of us and we were heading back to the metro after an appointment in DC. The first time I took him to this part of DC I also took him to Starbucks and he bought a pastry and a bottle of watermelon juice, which was apparently the greatest juice EVER. Now, every time we go, he asks about stopping to get that juice.

In order to save money (once I realized that riding the metro was already adding up to a large chunk), I have stopped planning on taking him out to eat something and instead have tried to get creative with packing meals and treats instead. Today we had had “lunchables.” Not really, I just packed crackers and salami and cheese and cucumbers. I had even put in sliced apple and peanut butter for “dessert.” He really enjoyed the meal and now we were heading to the metro to hurry home.

As we passed Starbucks, he asked, as he usually does, if we could stop so he could get the amazing watermelon juice. I said no, we needed to get home and also I was trying to save money. As the disappointment started to set in, I decided to ask him. “What do you want more?”

I explained how when there is something we want that we can’t have or isn’t good for us, it is helpful to think of all the things we want more that we can have or are healthy for us.

Do you know what he said?

“A good attitude.”

That’s what he wanted more. He wanted to have a good attitude and a good experience on the outing. And then he went on to say how he really liked the food I had packed and enjoyed that meal. And just like that he left the desire for watermelon juice behind him and proceeded on with his day.

As we entered the metro I pondered how often my kids exceed my expectations when I give them the opportunity to try.

This is happily ever after.

ceremonyI remember once a very long time ago, looking over at John and asking him if we would always be as in love and happy as we felt right then. We weren’t married yet. I think we were engaged. For us there was never much difference between dating and engaged. We started our relationship both knowing where we wanted it to go. Or thinking we knew. In my mind, the ultimate dream was getting married. But in that moment of questioning I glimpsed the life that was beyond that beautiful wedding I envisioned. A life I hoped to live with this young man beside me.

Looking back on our first years of marriage, it almost feels like a dream. Life was, in many ways, shallow. I didn’t see it then. I struggled with the same things all newlyweds struggle with. And I struggled with the responsibilities of a household. We married young, neither of us had learned to really live yet. I felt myself consumed with household chores, meal planning, and eventually motherhood. I struggled almost constantly with a feeling of unfulfillment. I was trying so hard to be the wife and mother that I thought I was supposed to be.

And I hurt. I hurt because the breathless feeling that I used to feel about my husband seemed to be slipping away. The love notes he used to slip into my backpack disappeared. Sometimes the plans he had dreamed changed and I felt like he was breaking a promise to me. I didn’t understand how his mind worked, how he had to explore and dream and look at all the options. I retreated to spending lots of time with my family. It was there that I felt truly myself. I wasn’t mom or wife. I was just Miriam. When I interacted with John I would often slip into a pretend version of myself. Apparently even my voice would change, this was pointed out to me by my sister when she would hear me answer the phone when John would call. But I didn’t know how to do it differently. He didn’t understand the all-consuming task of motherhood and I didn’t understand the stresses of his work or really what made him tick. I think that the transition to parenthood was just as much of a shock to him as it was to me, but we didn’t really talk about it.

John watched me slip away from him. He says now that he felt he was losing me to the caricature of “preschool mom.” And ironically, I was striving really hard to fill that role. I was trying so hard to be “that woman.” The one who had dinner on the table and a clean house when her husband came home from work. The one who was always available sexually for her husband even when she really didn’t feel like it. The one who suffered silently when she just needed her husband to say how much he appreciated her and all that she did. The one who submitted alway, obeyed often, and settled for a life that was valuable because of who her husband was. And constantly I felt like I was failing.

It wasn’t bad. We had plenty of happy moments. Sometimes I opened up and was honest to my husband and cried the tears of pain that needed to be cried and he comforted me. Often we dreamed together and made plans. I started to learn more of who he was, but I think I neglected to learn more of who I was. I tried so hard to be someone I thought I was supposed to be, that I lost sight of the woman that I was. John and I had been best friends before we got married. Looking back now, I think we knew each other the least during those first few years of marriage. It was as if marriage destroyed our friendship and it has taken us a long time to begin to build that back.

Over the last few years I have been on a journey to discover myself. I have stopped trying to be someone else, and instead am exploring how to be myself. I began to truly see myself as someone existing completely separate from my husband, someone who has the choice every day to decide my journey, someone who has the right to speak up, someone who can be honest when I am not that person I thought I was supposed to be. And it was when I began to see myself that way that I began to be a better friend to my husband. We cannot truly love someone if we do not love ourselves. Love seems so much more powerful to me these days. Instead of feeling breathless in John’s presence, I feel full of breath. Fully alive.

I told him yesterday that life is not roses and daisies. It still hurts, a lot. Sometimes even more than it did when I was trying to ignore the pain. But it is real, I am real. If I could go back and answer that question I asked so long ago: “Will we always be as in love as we are right now?” I would say this: “No. Thankfully no. We will be more. But it won’t feel like it does right now. It will be deeper. So much deeper. This relationship will take more from you than you know you have. And it will give to you more than you could ever imagine. One day you will look back and realize that this is real life. Not a fairy tale. And you will be grateful for the pain and joy and dreams and tears and struggle. Because you will love, truly love this man. And when you wonder if it is possible to love him any more than you do right now, you will hope that you have enough life left to find out.”

How must we then live?

image11 years ago, I woke to find my infant daughter Emma not breathing. It took awhile to accept that she was gone. I did cpr, John called 911. The paramedics worked on her in the ambulance. The doctors worked on her in the hospital. But there was no sign of life, no response to our urgent attempts to breathe life back into her little body. And so we let her go, once we knew she had already gone, we let her go.

One thing that was excruciatingly hard to accept was the fact that I wasn’t there with her, holding her in my arms as she passed from this life into the next. The pain of this part of the story came back up for me again just last month. My grandma passed away on January 2. She was in the hospital, and my grandpa was there, but he was sleeping at the end. grandmaHe feels so bad that he wasn’t holding her hand. And as he shared his pain at not being able to be there for her, I remembered that I shared in that pain. Even while knowing how hard it will be to let go, I think it is natural to have the desire to be as close as possible to our loved ones when they approach death’s dark door.

But we can’t go through that door for them or even with them if it isn’t our time. Even had I been holding Emma’s body in my arms, there would have been a point where her spirit would have left me, where she would have had to go on alone. Death is a door we walk through alone.

All of us will reach that point. Life is temporary. But until that moment we live and we don’t live alone. I feel like traditional Christianity often puts an emphasis on our life after death. That it is at the end of our life that we truly begin life anew. But lately I find that I want to focus more on the life that we have been given now. Every day we awake with the gift of breath in our bodies is a day that we have been given to live.

This morning as I reflected on Emma’s death, remembering that day with an oddly comforting sense of nostalgia, I wondered what I will feel when I reach the end of my life. When I look back on the days, months, years of my life, what do I hope to see? What is it that I want to be able to say? And I think, that when I reach death’s door, I want to pause and look back to see all the relationships both in my past and present and say: “I have loved well, and thus, I have truly lived.”