five minute Friday, frustration

Five-Minute Friday: HIDE.

Today’s Five-Minute Friday is HIDE. You can join us in our quest to write freely for five minutes (without over-editing or backtracking) and share in the community at Kate’s. Everyone is welcome.

“Why is is that we all think we’re the only ones feeling like this?”

It was typed into a message box on facebook, because it’s easier to have these conversations where we can’t see each other’s eyes…on the phone, texting, or hiding behind our sunglasses on the days we manage to drag ourselves out to a park playdate.

Why, indeed. Why are we hiding from each other? Why is it so important that we always seem to have ourselves together? Why can’t we admit to each other how hard this mothering gig is sometimes?

God didn’t make mothers for solitary confinement. Even Jesus had twelve people around him. Twelve! There are days when even one close confidant would make a huge difference for most of us.  In those moments when I’m standing over my kids with clenched teeth and fighting back tears at how hard this all is, I can imagine the relief it would be to tell someone that I’m struggling…that sometimes I don’t know how I’m going to make it until dinner time…that sometimes at nap time I eat more than one handful of chocolate chips.

The thing is, we can choose to stop hiding. We can do the minimum that it takes to get ourselves out of the house even on the worst days. We can take off our sunglasses, look at each other’s eyes, really see what’s there, and accept the grace extended to us by another mother who has been right where we are, right now. And we should. Maybe accepting grace from someone else will help us extend it to ourselves. We are loved. We are worthy. Our work is hard, and we are doing a good job.

We don’t have to go it alone. Let’s reach out and help each other.

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate’s.
community, frustration, sharing

We need each other.

Motherhood has eaten me alive this week.

I feel behind on absolutely everything. The house is a mess (mostly because every room that I straighten is immediately torn apart by a child while the other two are busy wreaking havoc in another corner of the house). Lucy has stolen my deodorant seven times, and when she finds it, she eats it. Nora has put three toys in the toilet (and one set of keys). SuperSam has rigged up four different contraptions by stacking furniture together that he can jump from in an attempt to touch the ceiling, and he’s been pretending to be a narwhal for most of the week (which means he only makes “narwhal sounds”).

I know they aren’t really teaming up to defeat me, but it still feels that way.

Our oven has been broken since we returned from vacation. It might be a fuse- we’re not sure- but until it gets resolved, there’s a lot of slow-cookin’ going on here. I thought it would be fine (after all, it seems much too hot to bake), but I hadn’t considered that we couldn’t reheat pizza or melt cheese under the broiler or heat up pita bread to eat with our hummus or make our frozen waffles more than two at a time.

(Maybe we need a bigger toaster.)

Anyway, I’ve been running (figuratively) all week without making any noticeable forward progress. My brain feels stopped up from not writing enough, and the laundry baskets are full of clean clothes (some folded, some very far from folded). I missed a run on my marathon training plan because I just couldn’t get it together enough to find time to do it. We had to cancel one playdate for a sick child who turned out not to be sick so much as she was just run down and tired. (Kind of like her mama, I bet.) We had dinner guests last night, and I completely forgot to serve them dessert or offer them coffee after dinner.

I’m a hot mess, as my friend Bev would say. (She probably wouldn’t say it about me, even though it’s true right now.)

Haley wrote beautifully about praying with your feet, and I tried to shift my attitude toward everything with mixed success. I had a total meltdown at George on Tuesday night that ended with me leaving the house in a rage without my shoes or my phone to drive aimlessly around the county until the sun was going down. It was out of character- very irresponsible, which I almost never am!- but I was at the end of my rope and hanging on by my fingernails, and I just let go.

It’s been a tough week.

Slipping & sliding in solitude…not today.

Today, I combined the chaos of my week with the chaos of two dear friends and their families. Together, we three mothers have ten children (and one of us is 39 weeks pregnant today). It’s a rowdy bunch, ranging in age from “due any day now” to 8 years old. (I think that’s right.) We have babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary schoolers, who ran each other ragged around the house and out back on the Slip n Slide until they were all worn out, soaked, and hungry.

I didn’t take a single picture.

I was too busy appreciating the warm, fuzzy comfort of two women in my kitchen who know exactly what it’s like to survive this kind of week. Over salads and fruit, we talked about communal life…what it would be like to share our food, our chores, our possessions, our children all the time instead of just occasionally.

Today was not the first time this topic has come up with friends of mine. Many women I know think that living together in groups would be desirable…if not in the same houses, at least near enough that we could holler at each other from our porches and have our kids run back and forth for cups of sugar.

Why are we so drawn to the idea of living in community?

There is a common feeling of totally-completely-overwhelmed that sometimes chases us, mows us down and crushes us with its weight. It happens because we as modern parents of young children are trying to do it all. Our society expects us to work, take care of our families, our houses, our yards, our cars, all the while trying to make as much money as possible so that we can buy more (bigger, better, newer) things.

What if less was really more? The idea that we could step back from that constant push for more and actually use less is appealing to a lot of us, I think. The idea that we could share what we have with someone else (and that both of us wouldn’t need to own a lawn mower, a play kitchen, a grill, or a swingset) is fascinating. The idea that we could do what we do best and combine it with what someone else does best and make a life together where we don’t all have to do every single thing is liberating. 

Doing and being everything is too much for one person.

There’s more to it, though. The desire to live in community is born of a longing to know and be known, to share burdens that go beyond the practical ones about what we’re having for dinner or who is going to cut the grass. It’s about finding someone who can relate to your struggles, who can share your journey, who can be vulnerable with you as you find ways to ease each other’s burdens.

My friends and I combined our crazy families just for a morning, but what we got today was worth so much more than the sum of our chaos. In each other, we found encouragement, an understanding smile, an empathetic ear. There is something so refreshing and normalizing about talking with someone else who gets it. Even if nothing changes at all, things seem better.

We weren’t meant to do this alone. We need to find ways to help each other out.

Short of moving into a commune together, what can we do? I’ve thought about trying one of those meal exchanges with friends (where you cook enough to share so you don’t have to make dinner every night), but I’ve never gotten organized enough to make it happen. We shared a riding mower with friends for a while, but it eventually broke. I share hand-me-down clothes with some friends’ children, but I feel like I could do more. These things don’t always come naturally in our “everybody for herself” culture, so sometimes it takes some creativity and flexibility to find ways to make sharing work.

Is it possible to share life in community with each other even if we are separated by great physical distance? Is “online community” a myth, or can we create true community with people we have never met face to face? I’d like to know what you think.

frustration, gratitude, grocery shopping, parenting, practicing gratitude

Rejoice anyway.

I am in the middle of one of those days that make me wonder if I am really cut out to be a parent at all.

We had to go for groceries this morning (and you know what that is like!). It didn’t go horribly. It just felt like a lot of work. On the way home, as my children screamed at each other and Nora beamed a sippy cup at Lucy, striking her in the forehead and making her cry loudly, I started grumbling to myself about how everything feels like a lot of work all the time. Coming off a weekend of parenting without George at my mom’s house (which has tall stairs and isn’t set up for toddlers), I am grumpy and tired. We got home yesterday, and it feels like I’ve lost a day this week in which to accomplish chores and laundry and running and bathing the kids. There are not enough hours in the days I have left.

So many tasks…so little time.

As I was preoccupied with the fifty-seven things I need to do, my kids were pulling at me, biting each other, unrolling the toilet paper repeatedly, and polishing off an entire pint of blueberries straight out of the grocery bag without asking. They “cleaned” the toilet with foaming hand sanitizer taken from my purse (Nora stood on SuperSam’s stool to get it from the top of the piano- one of the few places that I thought was still out of their reach).

By the time they had eaten their morning snack and smeared the peanut butter all over the table (to make a “trap” for the fly that was buzzing around the kitchen), I’d had enough. I yelled at them (and almost immediately felt awful about it, since I’ve been working so hard on this). I quickly made them lunch, served it to them with no frills or chit-chat, and put them down for their naps an hour and twenty minutes earlier than usual.

Maybe it will reset the day. Maybe they are tired and out of sorts from traveling, just like I am. Maybe everyone just needs a little time alone.

Instead of tackling the laundry, I’m focusing on turning the day around. It is time for an attitude adjustment. This day needs to be reclaimed for what it is: holy time- 1,440 minutes made to spend together being grateful we are alive to share them.

This week actually as the same number of days and hours as every other week ever has.
And today actually has just as many blessings as the days surrounding it.
Maybe I’m just not seeing them today…or maybe those blessings are dragging me down the road behind them, white-knuckled and hanging on for dear life. Either way, they are here. They exist. Part of why we are created is to find those blessings and call them out for what they are.

After putting a reminder on the bathroom mirror, I’ve decided to take a nap, too. Part of my purpose is to rejoice in today…and maybe resting in the quiet will help me start doing it.

frustration, guest post

When trying your best just isn’t enough…

Image: Alan Cleaver via Creative Commons on flickr

Ever had one of those days when you try as hard as you can and come up with nothing? When you put forth your very best effort and still feel like you’re falling flat? When there are piles of dishes and stacks of laundry and missing keys and spilled cereal and everyone wants something from you at once?

I think a lot of us have those days from time to time…sometimes more than one in a row!  I’m excited to be sharing at (in)courage today about exactly this feeling that trying my hardest isn’t getting me anywhere.

If you’ve had one of those days recently (and especially if you’re having one today), please come visit me at (in)courage. I don’t have all the answers, but I can assure you that you aren’t alone.

church, faith, frustration, Lent, Mass, parenting

My inner Mary is dehydrated.

Holy Water Font, St. John’s Abbey (photo by Nancy M. Raabe)

My parish used to take the water out of the holy water font during Lent.

Although they stopped doing that a number of years ago, I still remember the feeling of oddly-dry fingers on the way in to Mass that accompanied the stripped-down altar and the absent Alleluia.

I came to the Catholic Church incrementally, but part of what drew me in was the quiet, prayerful holiness of the Mass and the diversity of prayer practice in the tradition. My introverted soul craves quiet contemplation, longs to rest in silence and drink it all in. I remember the days when I used to arrive early to Mass just to kneel and soak it up, letting my soul stretch and reach upward as everyone was arriving. I felt I connected with God at every turn then, and when I left Mass each week, I carried the fiercely burning light of Christ at the very center of my being, so hot that I could physically feel it behind my breastbone.

In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, I was Mary all the way…sitting at Jesus’ feet and hanging on his every word. 

Fast forward to now, and I feel like it’s all passing me by. I’m exhausted. I’m surrounded by clamor and chaos, and it’s my job to restore order. I’m in full-Martha survival mode.

Smiling on Mother’s Day…after Mass, of course.

Getting us all to church each week feels like an epic challenge, managed only by my most careful planning and hard work. I try to streamline Sunday morning as much as possible, but by breakfast, we’re often running late. We are never early (partly because we run late almost everywhere these days, and partly because getting to church early just means our little people have to stay put in the pews longer), but I wish we were on time more often.

When we arrive, we park and unload everyone, lugging them into church from the parking garage with the huge diaper bag stocked with distractions and extra clothes and diapers, praying that we will make it through the Mass without at least one child needing to be removed for tears or tantrums. We spend our time not sitting in quiet prayer, but bouncing, walking, whispering, shushing, swaying, pointing at words in books, turning pages, rescuing runaway crayons, preventing people from rolling on the floor, and trying not to be distracting. There are weeks when we spend the entire Mass out in the foyer with toddlers who are driven to walk, to climb, to talk about everything they see. 

I know that’s how God created them. That’s how they experience the world – it’s what they do at this stage in their lives. They are too young to understand about sitting for that long, and we are outnumbered. We bring things to distract them, but the laws of toddler physics are inevitable: eventually, a toddler-not-in-motion will become a toddler-in-motion…and woe to the mother who tries to impede that toddler.

If we are in the foyer, I always sneak back into the church for Eucharist carrying whichever Sister is least likely to make a scene. The priest often makes comments in his lengthy post-Mass announcements about how people should stay through the final hymn, but we usually sneak out again.

When I was Mary, I always stayed through the final hymn. (Honestly, I even judged other people for leaving before the final words had been sung.)
Now Martha is in charge, and she knows that sometimes, we need to cut our losses and get out of there as quickly as possible.

By the time we reverse our arrival process, stuffing the coat-clad, frustrated children back into the car before grabbing lunch quickly in our attempt to make it home before nap time (so we can collapse when the children are sleeping), I’m often in tears, sweaty with exertion. I’m exhausted from the struggle of managing it all. Sometimes my arms are actually shaking from the physical effort of keeping it all together. Most weeks, I only know what the readings are if I managed to read them ahead of time (as the chances of my absorbing much of what is said are low).

Parenting on Sundays sometimes feels like as much work as all the other days added together.

My friends who are not churchgoers wonder why we do this every week. If it’s so hard, why are we putting ourselves through it? Surely God would understand if we came back in a couple of years when everyone was better able to handle it?

God would understand, yes. But it’s not God I’m worried about.

It’s me.

I’ve written before about how I think it benefits our little ones to be in church with us, but when it comes down to it, I’m the one who really needs to be there. I need to dip my fingers in the font. (There’s plenty of water there now; it’s my soul that is parched.) I need to sing, even if I don’t remember all the words and can’t manage holding a hymnal (or am caught in the foyer without one). I need to lock eyes with the child that is challenging me most and say, “Peace be with you.” I need to encounter Christ. And in that one small moment after receiving Eucharist, I need to take a deep breath, look into the face of Jesus on the cross and say, “Yes.” Or maybe, “Lord, have mercy.” Or maybe nothing at all.

I need to be Mary again, just for a second.

Even if I’m struggling the entire time, in that one moment, there is strength to sustain me. I can do this for the rest of this day, for another day, for another week. I am not alone in my work of mothering these children. My work is God’s work. My children are God’s children. God loves them infinitely more than I do, and God loves them through me and in spite of me…and as long as I remember that, I cannot fail them entirely.

I’m so grateful for the gifts of their lives. I tuck them in every single night with a blessing and the words, “I’m so thankful to be your mama.” I’m working hard, and I’m learning to manage, and I’m a Martha-among-Marthas most days: capable, organized, and on top of my game.

But today, the Mary in my soul would really, really like to just rest quietly at Jesus’ feet and drink her fill.

activities, Advent, cookies, feasts and seasons, frustration, little holydays, liturgical year, parenting, saint celebrations, St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, take one

This is our family’s first observance of St. Nicholas’ Day. Our logical, intellectual, science-loving preschooler was about to throw all belief in the invisible out the window after seeing Santa in a mall near my mom’s house at Thanksgiving. Sensing that we needed to shift the emphasis a little from the Santa question, I suggested we start celebrating this feast to honor the historical person of St. Nicholas, who was so much cooler than Santa, anyway (see Haley’s excellent post on him here at Carrots for Michaelmas).

I won’t go so far as to say it was a bad idea for us to do this. I just think I went about it wrong. Interested in learning from my mistakes? Here is the breakdown of what you should do if you want your St. Nicholas feast day celebration to feel like it’s turning out badly:

  • Realize that you aren’t sure whether to set out the shoes on the night before (St. Nicholas’ Eve?) or the night of the feast. Pick the night before because you’re excited. (Ignore the sneaking suspicion you may have at this point that this is about you and not about St. Nicholas or the children. A moment of self-awareness at this point could ruin all the fun.)

  • Be sure to get treats that are too big to fit into the children’s tiny shoes (more because of their tiny feet than the bigness of the treats). Attempt to shove the card game into your child’s shoes anyway and get frustrated when it doesn’t fit. Decide to save the Santa-hat-wearing rubber ducks for the children’s stockings because you hurt your hand trying to cram them into the shoes.

  • Let your child have hot chocolate at breakfast (it’s a feast day, right?), then grumble at him when he’s too full to really eat anything. 

  • Unsuccessfully try to read your beautiful new St. Nicholas book to your child, who will only talk about planets and runs away shouting something about nebulae when you try to change the subject. 

    • Decide to bake cookies with the child, but don’t bother to double-check the ingredients (especially if you bake and generally have all that stuff). Realize that all the traditional cookie recipes for St. Nicholas’ Day call for anise. (Who has that?) Decide to substitute cloves. Grumble at the child when he jumps up and down on his stool and spills flour all over everything and everyone.

    • Don’t chill the dough fully because you’re in a hurry to get to a playdate and you want to take fresh baked cookies along to share. Struggle to roll out sticky dough, even though you know better. When your child approaches and is chattering at you about VY Canis Majoris and how it’s the biggest star and how it can burn up everything in our solar system, tell him, “Sssssshhhh!” in a very aggravated way. Feel guilty, but keep struggling with the dough.

    • Burn your hand while taking out the cookies. Say, “Awesome,” in as sarcastic a voice as possible. When your child asks what is so awesome, roll your eyes at him.

    • Anger the babies while waking them up early for the playdate (for which you are already quite late). Feel frustrated with them for being fussy. Allow a small part of your brain to think they are doing it on purpose just to annoy you.

    • Realize that your celebration feels entirely uncelebratory and that it’s your own fault.

    My attitude needs a reset button today. I am the cause of my own frustration – it’s not really about my kids or the cookies or any of it. I have an idea of how I want to celebrate the feast, and I’ve tried to force our day to fit it. Really, it ought to be the other way around. Really, I should start with the day I have, and then see what I can do to make it feel like a celebration.

    My children are kind of grumpy today. I’m kind of grumpy, too. We’re making each other grumpier. We did the shoes and the cookies. That might be all the celebrating we need to do this year.

    You know what? It’s okay. It’s enough. Sometimes, on a day like today with little kids, you have to just cut your losses. SuperSam might remember the shoes for next year, but the girls won’t remember anything – it will basically be a blank slate. So for now, instead of worrying about what kind of feasting we should be doing at dinner tonight, I’m going to take a nap. I might even end up ordering pizza and calling it a St. Nicholas’ Day gift to myself.

    No judgment.

    Happy St. Nicholas’ Day, y’all.

    frustration, keeping sane, magnificat, Mary, parenting, post office, twins

    Destination Post Office

    It’s all about managing the situation today. I have one goal: to get to The Post Office. With all three children. By myself. It would be a bonus if we could get to stand outside for a minute during that process.

    Starting at 7:30 this morning, I began arranging everything, absolutely everything, to work toward that goal. At 9:53, things were looking good. The Boy had eaten breakfast. I had most of one cup of coffee on the inside of me (and even though I was wearing the rest of it on the outside for a little while, it still counts). Both babies were changed, fed, dressed, and sleepy. I had even showered (!) and was getting dressed while The Boy played in the bathroom floor with his trains. The babies were hanging out in front of a mirror in their bouncy seats, gooing and cooing pleasantly.

    (I never fully appreciated before what it meant to be able to close the bathroom door and be alone in there. Any bathroom time I have now is a very public, very carefully engineered experience. Generally, I expect to be rinsing the soap out of my hair while singing to the twinfants and doing a running commentary on the train action offered by The Boy, who is crashing the engines into the wall and yelling, “Look, Mama…what’s gonna happen?”

    The Boy: Crash! Whoa! Look at that!
    Mama: Whoa! The yellow box car is going straight up the door! Now over, across…oh, my goodness, he just crashed into the green tanker car!
    The Boy: Here comes the engine!! Whoo whoo!! Crash!!

    If I knew anything about sports, I think I might have a future on ESPN. Too bad there is no ESPN about trains. I’ve learned a lot about those.)

    And now, to get to The Post Office…

    The babies were generally entertained by our exchange and sat, all four eyes glued on The Boy, until they both fell asleep. I decided that two sleeping babies meant I should stop getting us all ready and just play with The Boy in his room (something I rarely get to do any more, so both of us really need it). The offer of some playtime with me seemed to motivate The Boy to get dressed faster than normal (though I ended up having to pretend to be a “robot crane dressing machine” to finish the job). We managed to put together his giraffe puzzle twice before both girls woke up demanding to be fed again.

    Having nursed the twinfants, I set out again to get us out the door. “Son, look at Mommy. I am going to brush my teeth. Then you will need to put on your shoes and coat.” I loaded both babies into their car seats, LadyBug screaming the whole time. At this point, still shoeless and coatless, The Boy lay down on the floor and refused to speak, move or open his eyes. I tried talking, redirecting, joking, tickling, hugging…he was unresponsive. I ended up dragging him around and trying to put his shoes on him. (I am not unsympathetic, but we had to get out of the house.) By this time, Belle had started screaming and was in serious need of a diaper change. The Boy was moaning, “no, no, no,” and I was quickly moving toward a meltdown of my own. I opened my mouth to tell The Boy to get up, took a deep breath, and started singing.

    Magnificat, magnificat,
    magnificat anima mea dominum…

    It didn’t come from deep within my soul. It didn’t feel like a holy song. It just sprang into my brain and out of my mouth, replacing the words of frustration I’d been about to say. I sang it over and over.

    Magnificat, Magnificat…

    Maybe at this point in the story, there should be a beam of heavenly light that breaks through the ceiling as a beautiful major chord in second inversion sounds. Harps…a string tremolo…maybe some wind chimes? Both babies should stop crying and open their eyes wide, looking cherubic. The Boy should sit up and smile, and say, “Mama, that’s beautiful!” And smiling, I should energetically move everyone toward the car, a shining gold halo encircling my head. I’m pretty sure that’s how the Blessed Virgin looked when she was getting everybody ready to go to The Post Office.

    Surprisingly, none of that happened. Piercing wails emanated from both car seats. I rocked the loudest car seat with my foot while pushing The Boy’s arm into his jacket. I kept singing while I brushed my teeth…magnificat anima mea…I carried The Boy into the living room and deposited him on the sofa, then lugged both car seats with their purple-faced occupants out to join him. I hauled Belle out of her seat and spread out the changing pad with one hand, deftly switching a poopy diaper for a clean one right in the living room floor, rocking LadyBug’s car seat with my left elbow. Magnificat. Belle howled as I put her back into her seat, tugged on my own jacket, then picked up the diaper bag, both car seats, and my letters for The Post Office.

    Getting there meant everything now.

    I nudged The Boy out the door with my knee, loaded the two screaming baby seats into the car, grabbed The Boy and a granola bar from the diaper bag to feed him, and buckled him into his seat. Magnificat anima mea dominum…I checked for keys, phone, and wallet, bucked my seat belt, and backed out of the driveway, still singing, teeth gritted, over a din of crying, unhappy children. How many were there? Just three? It sounded like forty-six.

    They all stopped wailing when the car started moving. We were on the way. It was 11:43 AM, and for a split second, it was silent.

    I managed to get the letters mailed and even get in a short walk with everybody before lunch. The Boy’s normal good humor returned when we got outside after mailing the letters. Maybe he just wanted to leave the house as badly as I did.

    I’m told this stuff is going to get easier. I don’t know about that. What amazes me today is that it is possible now to leave the house with all of them. So what if it took over four hours to run a ten-minute errand? I did it! And I didn’t lose my temper or my keys or any of the children. I survived. I’m calling it a success.