Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Swimming in the deep side of the pool

Recently my middle son has joined a beginner swim team. He loves the pool, always has.

I on the other hand have not always been a fan of the pool, at least not since becoming a parent. One of the first homes we rented when we moved to California had a pool, and I had three small children under five. We tested the extra tall gate, we gave the pool safety talk, we locked the backdoor, we did everything we could to keep our tiny ones safe and even then we knew that bad things happen in the world.

When the baby was sleeping, I would take the older two boys for a swim. Our pool was deep, so I put life jackets on them and held onto the younger one the entire time we were in the pool. I was always right there, watching them, experiencing the water with them.

As the boys grew, I signed them up for swim lessons. I hated swim lessons. I hated getting ready for the pool, I hated how hot and sticky the room felt as we sat off to the side, and I really, really hated helping the kids get dressed after they had finished their lessons. Three tired boys, needing showers and dry clothes which somehow always ended up just a little damp.

Once the boys could swim, I was able to sit farther away from them in the community pool. No longer arms reach, they were venturing further and further from me. When we went to a friend's house with a pool, I could sit in a chair nearby, talking with friends while keeping a casual eye on the pool - mostly to keep them from too much rough housing.

And now I have a boy who I can drop off at swim team practices. A boy who goes in by himself when I have to rush off to get another boy to hockey. A boy who packs his own bag, works hard at his practice, and then heads off to the locker room all by himself.

Isn't this so like parenting. The constant care and worry and precaution taking, slowly replaced by baby steps and feeding themselves, to heading off on their own to school or practice or the real world. My son no longer needs me to be there.

He does still need a ride.

So I'm not done parenting yet.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Job Description: Motherhood

Remember that video that went viral last month. The one with the job applicants being interviewed for the hardest job in the world. The one where the candidate is bewildered by the insane expectations of the job. And then at the end the applicant is told that someone already does that job.

Motherhood is the hardest job in the world, they say.

I hate that description and I supposedly have that job.

Except that motherhood is not a job. Motherhood is a relationship. Yet we keep hearing that motherhood is the hardest job, the best job, the most important job. The penultimate of all jobs.

Do you want to know what happens when you tell a generation of women who left their professions to stay home with their kids that motherhood is a job? We treat it as a job. We take all of our job skills, our training, our professionalism, our goal setting, our hopes for advancement and approval, our need to be productive and contributing members of society and we put all of that on our children. We turn our role as mother into the title CEO of our homes. We turn our birthday parties into corporate event planning. We take our kids' homework as a group assignment that needs to be done right. We become professional volunteers at our kid's school unless of course we are becoming full time teachers at our home school.

These are not bad things in and of themselves.

But when we treat motherhood as a job, we treat our kids as our product, our client, our boss, our subordinate.

Motherhood is not a job.

It is a relationship.

Where did we get the idea that motherhood is a job?

Child care is a job. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, party planning, teaching, bill paying, gardening, chauffeuring, tutoring... These are all jobs. These are things we can do ourselves or hire out. These are jobs. So is being a coal miner or a fire fighter, an emergency room nurse or a combat troop, except I would argue that those are actually harder jobs because let's be honest, no one is sacrificing to be a stay at home coal miner.

Motherhood is a relationship.

It is why I get up with my little guy in the middle of the night when he's had a nightmare.

It is why I may spend hours looking for the right Pokemon character to put on the top of my son's birthday cake.

It is why I say no sometimes and why I made my kids learn how to make their own breakfast and lunch.

It is why I ask about my kid's day when we are driving to hockey practice or before bed.

It is why I pray with my kids at the end of the day before I tuck them in for the night.

It is why my heart breaks when my kids fail or get hurt.

It is why we care so very, very much about these little people in our lives.

Motherhood is not a job.

Motherhood is a relationship.

We do hard things for people we love. We stay up too late, get up too early, give up vacations for summer camp fees, and new purses for new school backpacks. Love is why we do whatever we can to help our kids become the best they can be, not a job description.

And maybe if we stop seeing it as a job, we can let go of our performance driven parenting. We can stop seeing our children as our performance review and go back to loving our kids for who they are and helping them be awesome.

And then maybe we can also remember that we are not just mothers. We are also friends, sisters, daughters, wives, and we are ourselves.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

To The Sunday School Teachers

Dear Mrs. Wybenga,

It was third grade. That was a tough year for me. That was the year my mom spent time in a mental hospital after attempting suicide. I was 8.

That was alto the year that you were my Sunday School teacher. I honestly don’t remember much about the actual class. It was a Baptist church so I am imagining we heard Bible stories and did little crafts while our parents sat in big church. I can’t remember the particulars but the love I felt, that struck deep.

And you showed up week after week. Do you know how much that meant to a girl whose own mother left unexpectedly one morning in an ambulance and then stayed away for more than a month? You showed up week after week.

I remember going to your house once or twice for a special activity with the other girls in our class. It was a small group of third graders. Again, I don’t remember the activity, it didn’t matter really. You had invited us into your home. You made time outside of the Sunday morning commitment you had made. You had time, for me.

I remember your home was quiet. So unlike the chaos of my house filled to the brim with my two brothers and the six teenage foster girls that lived with us. At any moment, my house could erupt with a shouting match, name calling, swearing that would make a sailor blush. I heard stories that an eight year old should never hear, stories of sex and abuse. Your house felt calm and peaceful, which is how I felt whenever I was with you.

Oh how I needed that respite, that quiet space. It often felt like my whole childhood was defined by the drama. Everyone knew our family, if not for the group home kids that lived with us, than for my mom’s mental health issues. You though saw me, little me. And you told me that Jesus loved me, little me.

People, after hearing my story, often ask how I turned out so normal. My answer always points back to God and the people that showed me God’s love.

Many, many years ago, you gave up your Sunday mornings to sit with a group of third and fourth grade girls. You told us stories about God’s love, His protection, His provision. You listened to us and made our silly ideas and random prayer requests seem like the most important thing in the world. Because they were. Because I was important to you, I believed I was important to God. And that belief was deeply planted, the roots holding me tight when I sometimes forgot myself.

So thank you. Thank you for all those Sundays. Thank you for the prayers I now know as an adult that you prayed for me. Thank you for sharing your life, your home, your time, your Jesus with me. You made a difference in my life.

For all the girls,

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Nice Game of Chess

I spend a lot of time thinking. It is just what my brain does. It thinks, it processes, it turns over information and tries to see other options. It obsesses and replays and cycles back around again. The brain is made to process information and it is good at its job.

We are all processing, thinking, planning, plotting, examining, reviewing, decision making, second guessing, changing our minds, regretting our choices... all day long and often in the middle of the night.

For some of us our brain works for us, but for others, me, my brain can turn on me if I allow it to run itself.

I don't know if you ever saw the movie War Games with Matthew Broderick. It's the story of a high school computer hacker (back before there was even the term hacker) who broke into a government computer and started playing a game that simulated World War 3 between Russia and the US. Except it turns out it wasn't a game and somehow this super computer began to play for real. (Spoiler alert) Part of the plot has the computer searching through all the possible outcomes until the computer comes to the realization that the only way to win that game is to not play.

I am coming to find that may be true with my brain as well.

I love to think about ideas and to ponder the possible. I like to read and discover new things and I love that my mind turns things over and over rubbing off the sharp edges until I have a beautifully polished nugget. But I don't like the obsessing, the time spent rethinking, the second guessing a decision made or something that has already happened.

I think about the time wasted thinking over and over and over and over about something that really did not need that much analysis. I think about the insecurity that creeps in when I live in past conversations and past deeds that have been resolved or at least that we have moved past. I think about the stress I cause by letting simple decisions become a three ring circus of information gathering and listening to so many voices that my own is lost.

My brain is going to process. It is going to do its job and I want that. But I am tired of getting bogged down with obsessive thoughts, with holding onto a topic long past its expiration date. I am tired of feeling like every decision is life or death. And I am tired of being driven by thoughts and intrigues that are not even where I want to spend my time but I do.

I am going to try to retrain my mind. There are things I do want to think about. Books I do want to read. Words I do want to write. But these are all pushed out when I spend my days thinking about the trivial, the unchangeable, the out of my control, or the already well thought through.

It is time to think on something and then move on.

It is time to choose to ponder the better for me.

It is time to for my brain to learn that sometimes it is better to play a different game.

How about a nice game of chess? - Joshua, the computer, from War Games

Thursday, May 1, 2014

To The One I Didn't Like

To My Polar Opposite,

It was years ago when we first sat across from one another on those old couches in the church basement. We had been assigned to the same Bible study small group, some would say by chance. I don’t remember what study we were doing that session, possibly a Beth Moore one with lots of homework and plenty of things to discuss. I don’t remember what question prompted your comment. It was election season, a Presidential election at that, and you said that if one candidate lost you didn’t know what you would do, as if all hope would be lost. My mind jumped at those words, and I was quick to respond that I wouldn’t know what to do if your candidate won. I was always quick to respond in those days, young and brash and knowing more than I do now.

That was not the last time we disagreed I am sure. We were polar opposites in many ways. You were much older, me much younger. You were conservative, I leaned liberal. You saw things one way, I another.

But you listened to me. And you kept listening, even when I contradicted much of what you believed. You did not insist on being right and so neither did I. I started listening to the person behind the words, to the heart behind the beliefs. I started asking more questions, trying to learn more of your story.

I knew you only as the person before me in that moment, but people are not just the here and now. They are the make up of their history. Childhood traumas and young adult regrets, things unseen and stories no longer told.

By listening, I learned that your husband was your second, a divorce decades earlier in a time when I imagine divorce still carried a heavy weight of shame. I heard the trials of trying to find your place in a merged family when you mentioned your shared children.  I saw a daughter who deeply loved her father as she worked to care for him in his final painful years. Watching you, I saw a steadfastness that this wandering soul needed to know.

The next fall when groups were mixed, we were once again put together, and I was so thankful. And when I had another baby, you were there with a meal. When I was asked to lead, you stood in my corner. I knew you were on my team. And when I moved away, your hug, your words, brought tears to my eyes.

I think we are living proof that it is Jesus that binds our ties. That when we are willing to let stop being right and start seeing the child of God in front of us, we experience the love that God commands. We chose to stop being about the day to day and to sit and read and study the Bible together. We shared prayer requests in our groups and checked back in a few weeks later. When the groups were again mixed up and we were no longer together, I missed sitting across the circle from you. But you were still there, with a smile across the sanctuary or an encouraging comment after I taught one Wednesday morning.

I am sure we still cancel out each others votes on election day, not that it matters. We chose the better together.

Thank you for giving me grace,