Motherhood Monday: Michelle

Motherhood Monday: An Introduction and Explanation

This intro should probably be a post in and of itself, but I want to put it here because I think Michelle should be on the cover of a magazine, as should so many other moms.  As an alumna of Brigham Young University, a school which is sponsored by a church which teaches that a woman’s highest and holiest calling in life is to be a mother, I have struggled over the years to see alumni magazines that feature women like Stephenie Meyer and Jane Clayson Johnson — women who have accomplished extraordinary things and been celebrated for those extraordinary things.  I don’t begrudge them their successes and accomplishments at all, nor do I bedgrudge them their recognition, but I wonder at the seeming incongruity, if not hypocrisy, of telling women the greatest thing they can do is be mothers while only publicly celebrating women for some other accomplishment.  I know, I know.  There are so many mothers . . . Writing a best selling series is extraordinary.  A meteoric rise in a television journalism career is extraordinary.  Walking away from “all that” to be a mother is extraordinary.  But “just” being a mom?  Meh.  Why feature that on the cover of the alumni magazine?  Moms are a dime a dozen, right?

I’m practical enough to know you can’t routinely be featuring moms just for being moms on the cover.  There are too many of us, and it doesn’t do anything to extol the merits of the university, especially in the current political climate.  But you know what?  I think mothers are extraordinary.  I think they deserve a little recognition for “just” being moms, regardless of whatever else they might be, because most moms don’t feel extraordinary for being moms.  They don’t feel valued by society for being moms.  They don’t feel appreciated for being moms.  As Michelle said to me, it seems, “People see being just a mom as a wasted life.”

So I want to say to all the moms, all the people, out there, regardless of what else a woman is in her life, be it novelist, journalist, or whatever, her endeavors as “mom” are not a wasted life.  Impractical though it may be, moms deserve to be on the cover of a magazine, because nine times out of 10 they are the hand that rocks the cradle, and, as William R. Wallace so eloquently wrote, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

Now for the Actual Article

Michelle and I first “met” about a decade ago via the world of adoption blogging.  I don’t know if that world even exists much anymore, but our friendship does, and I am so grateful for and blessed by it.  We have had the chance to hang out in person a couple of times now, never for long enough and always with our kids in tow.  She is a truly lovely person with a hysterical sense of humor.  I keep waiting for her to write a book.  I haven’t met all of her children, but the ones I have met are a testament to her love, dedication, and compassion as a mother.  She teaches them both by word and by example as she mothers them and regularly enlists their help in serving the needy in their community.

Michelleandkids

With 10 kids ranging in ages from 38 to nine, it’s fair to say Michelle is an experienced mother, and with all that experience comes an abundance of the common sense and wisdom that are gained not through study and research, but through living and loving and, sometimes, wanting to tear your hair out.  Like lots of moms, she’d be the first person to tell you she is not wise and the first to tell you she is a failure, but she is (wise), and she is not (a failure).  She would also be the first to tell you that she is a joyful, hopeful person in spite of the shortcomings she fears she has; and I know from first-hand experience how her joy can brighten one’s day.  

Her message to other mothers is invaluable, though it’s something we can believe in our heads but have a more difficult time taking into our hearts:  Don’t be so hard on yourself, don’t expect yourself to be perfect, and extend the same level of grace to yourself as you extend to others.

After roughly three decades of mothering, Michelle thinks she is getting better at following her own advice, and it makes things less stressful for her and the kids who are still at home.  “I feel like I’m becoming the mom I hoped I would be . . .”  she said.  “Now that I’m beginning to learn to allow myself to mess up, it’s much less stressful.  The benefit of that is that my kids can feel that.  It comes through in how I’m parenting them.”

There is great wisdom in that.  We all go into motherhood with certain expectations of both ourselves and our children, only to discover that babies don’t conform to our fantasies (neither do toddlers, pre-schoolers, grade-schoolers, middle-schoolers, or high-schoolers), and we don’t even have ourselves figured out half as much as we thought we did.  Becoming the moms we all hope we will be is a process that only begins when that first child is placed into our arms.  Funny how we initially expect the process to end there, isn’t it?

“Here’s you’re baby, ma’am.”

“Woo hoo!  I. AM. MOM!!!”

They really should put the baby in your arms and say something like, “Here’s you’re biggest growth opportunity ever.  You are going to do some wonderful things, and you are going to screw up a lot.  Best of luck!”

“I had this Ma Ingalls . . . just these ridiculous images in my head.  I was going to do it all right . . . I tend to set my expectations for myself so much higher than they should be.  My expectations as a mom were almost setting myself up to fail . . .  I was expecting perfection,” Michelle explains.

Like so many new moms, she initially felt the heavy burden of “having” to do everything right.  She expected to be one of those super fun moms, always down on the floor playing with the kids all the time, but she also had a fear of “screwing up,” and a feeling that she had to earn her kids and prove to God that she could be good enough as a mom (I think Michelle and I are soul sisters).  Eventually she realized: a. playing with the kids on the floor all the time is simply not real life; and b. she had become “just the rule person.”

“My focus was wrong when they were young.  It was all about behavior, and not about heart,” she says.

“Again, I just put too much emphasis on behavior . . . I think my goals changed because of the pressure I felt to be this perfect mom and turn out these perfect kids . . . I was so worried about what other people would think of me as a mother, that I wasn’t just mothering and loving my kids.”

It was interesting to hear her say these things, because I can relate.  At the same time, I have, at various times and in various places, felt surrounded by mothers who are so busy “just mothering and loving” that they don’t focus on behavior enough, if at all.  So I want to take a quick sentence or two right here and right now to give a shoutout to Michelle, sing her praises, and give her props for doing her best to teach at least a few of this world’s children appropriate behavior, even if she now feels it was too much and/or too motivated by the wrong thing.  

One never knows what joys and what trials mothering will bring, and this is part of what makes each mother so extraordinary: her willingness to walk into the unknown and figure it out as she goes (even though maybe she walks into the unknown not knowing that is what she is doing).  Everyone’s story is different.  Every mom travels a similar but wildly different journey, and every mom, if she is paying attention, comes through that journey with a different store of lessons learned.  One lesson Michelle shared with me is the importance of being real with your kids, of letting yourself be a real person with real feelings, and being able to tell them when you’re having a bad day rather than trying to protect them from it.  As a younger mom, she had a particular and prolonged experience which left her sad and hurt. “I realize now, as an older mom, the best thing to do is talk to your kids when you are feeling that way . . . I didn’t talk to them about it, but I think I snapped at them more,” she says.  

“I should have said, ‘Hey, I’m feeling sad today.  I need you to pray for me today . . .’  I am a better mother when I am letting them see reality rather than trying to craft a better reality.” 

At this stage in her mothering, with just three left at home, she sees areas where she feels like she failed as a mother, but she also sees areas where she has succeeded.  One of her strengths is her eagerness and effort in keeping the lines of communication open with her daughters without pushing them to talk when they don’t want to, and, though some of her kids have turned from the faith she hoped they would embrace, which gives her a sense of mom failure, she knows she raised good men.

“They are hardworking, responsible, they are decent people . . . they’re good men.  Anyone else that met them would be like, ‘You raised such great kids.  They’re such great guys.’  In that aspect I was successful in turning out great human beings . . . There’s a lot to look at there and be proud of . . .   But the voice in my head says, ‘No, you didn’t do a great job.'”

Later in the conversation, though, as we continue to talk about advice she would give younger moms and things she has learned, she says, “I’m finally [through life experience, not through our conversation] beginning to realize that that inner voice is not telling me the truth.” 

“I am trying to start extending the same level of grace to myself as I do to others . . . I just hate hearing when other mammas are doing that to themselves . . . It’s very easy to look at your children and view them as gifts from God . . . but God also chose you for them.  You know, you are the person He thinks your children needed.  So instead of focusing on what you think you are doing wrong, why not focus on what God is doing right?  He can redeem the mistakes that you’ve made and use them, still, to turn out good people.” 

When she feels the creeping grip of worry and self-blame for troubles her kids may be experiencing, she finds comfort in The Old Testament in Isaiah 43:18-19

18 Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.

19 Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

It reminds her of her own transformation and brings hope.  “God completely changed who I was,” she says.  “God can radically change any life.  If He can do it for me, He can literally, honestly do it for anybody . . . that verse reignites my hope and refreshes my faith.  That’s my go-to when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my mistakes.”

Obviously, Michelle’s life and mothering are greatly influenced and informed by her faith.  She embraced Christianity as a young adult, doing a complete 180, and that faith, along with a sense of humor, has sustained her and given her strength during the difficult times.  I think I mentioned at the beginning that she is hysterical and should write a book?  So it’s no surprise that, when asked what her favorite part of motherhood has been, she responds, “Laughing with my kids/making them laugh is just the best- just hanging out with them and having fun, hearing them talk about spiritual things and knowing I had a tiny bit to do with instilling that love for God and spiritual wisdom, seeing them serve others or do/say kind things that show me they are growing up to be genuinely good, kind people.”

When I asked her what she thinks her greatest motherhood accomplishment is, she tells me, “I don’t think in those terms, which is ridiculous.  Everybody has strengths, everybody has accomplishments, but I couldn’t think of a single thing.”  As she and I talk, however, she tells me that sometimes she has conversations with some of the adult children in which they might not see eye to eye, but she doesn’t get pushy or preachy, because she realizes that trying to “cram things down their throats is pointless.”  Hello???  That realization, in my book, is a big accomplishment.  It’s hard to stop “mom-ing” the young adult “kids.”

But that is so often the essence of motherhood, I think.  The big accomplishments seem so little to us compared to the so. many. other. things that are going on, so we don’t notice them and certainly don’t give ourselves credit for them.  I wish I had the skill and the time to design a magazine cover to go with this post.  The words, “Parenting Young Adults: Pushy and Preachy are Pointless.  Pray!” would be somewhere on there.  I would look at it every day to help me be a better mom to my own young adults.  There would also be something about strangling the mean internal dialogue voice that so many of us seem to have, because you can’t chat with Michelle about motherhood issues without coming away with the perspective and strength needed to banish that voice for at least a little bit.

“Cut yourself some slack.  Give yourself a break,” she says.  “You will be a better mom, a more peaceful happy mom if you don’t expect perfection from yourself . . . my big thing is grace for yourself as a mom . . . You are so much more than the mistakes you feel you’ve made as a mother. You are more than anyone’s opinions of you. And God is so much bigger than we give Him credit for. He is more than able to take the job you’ve done- the good, the great, the bad, and the ugly, and bring beauty out of it.”  

Michelle isn’t actively blogging right now (I hope she is secretly working on something bigger and will surprise us all one day with a book tour), but you can check out her writing and wit from years gone by here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motherhood Monday: The Awakening

In order to give you context for my whole awakening experience I want to share, I’m going to have to set the scene a bit, and the scene involves some churchy stuff.  If you’re not a churchy person, just bear with me.  There’s a point to it all, and I promise the point is not to be preachy or missionary-y (I love inventing awkward, “new” words).  Having said that  . . .

Sort-of-but-not-quite recently, I was substitute teaching for a primary (Sunday School) class at church, and the lesson I was teaching was on the importance of the sacrament (similar, though not identical, in concept and practice to communion, for my non-LDS readers) (*snort* like I even have more than five readers these days).  With that in mind, I went into that week’s sacrament meeting with greater-than-normal resolve to really focus on the Savior and the atonement during the sacrament portion of the meeting, to really ponder what it all means to me and how it has affected my life.  As I was thinking these deep thoughts and praying for further clarity about how to help the children in the primary class go home with a greater understanding of the basics, the sacrament tray came down our pew.

As I took it and looked down the row, passing it to the child sitting next to me, who passed it to the next child, who passed it to the next, who passed it to the next, I thought of, as I always do, my two kids who weren’t with us because they are off at college.  But this time was different.  This time I was hit in a deep way with the realization that several people have moved into our congregation since A~ and L~ left, and so, to those people, I am the mother of Midge and Tank Boy and Quinn and Spuds.  And that’s it.  Some of them are vaguely aware there are two older kids, but they don’t know them.  And?  They don’t know me as their mother.

This made me profoundly sad.

Being the mother of A~, and L~, and Midge, and Tank Boy, and Quinn, and Spuds is such a huge part of who I am, and I realized in that moment that I was surrounded by many people who will never truly know me, because they will never really know me as the mom of all six of my kids, and they will never really know how awesome those oldest two kids are.  I was surprised to realize just how much of my identity involves my motherhood, involves being the mother of these kids, all these kids, and I immediately was taken back to a conversation I had with my own mother when I told her I was pregnant with A~, the oldest.

The pregnancy was planned, so it was not an “oh crap” kind of thing, but I was still scared.  Get ready to judge me here:  I wasn’t terribly scared of being a horrible mother, nor was I scared of the financial aspect of it all (even though I knew we’d be dirt poor for a while), and I wasn’t all that scared of the physical changes and possible dangers that accompany pregnancy.  I was scared of losing myself and my identity (here’s where you judge me for being selfish and shallow — go ahead, you won’t be the first).  I remember telling my mother that I didn’t want to “just” be so-and-so’s mom.  I wanted to be known for who I was, not for my relationship to a child, but I knew that I was going to wind up being “just” so-and-so’s mom.

You know what?  I was right.

I quit my job as a small-town newspaper editor a week or two before A~ was born, and, just like that, I was “nobody.”  There were no more invitations to join and/or speak at local clubs, judge local pie contests, or sit on local steering committees.  No one was asking about or trying to influence my opinion on local issues, and nobody was trying to kiss my she-buys-ink-by-the-barrel hiney.

A~ entered the world as an extremely colicky baby with a scream that seemed permanently attached to a well-cast sonorous spell and an Olympic-level ability to projectile vomit, if projectile vomiting were an Olympic sport.  As I was reduced to, or felt reduced to, being that woman with the screaming baby who was perpetually wiping up yack, I increasingly missed ME.  I missed using my brain.  I missed interacting with other adults every day.  I missed making my own money, meager though it had been.  I increasingly missed college and the independence, freedom, and growth I experienced there, and I would cry every time an alumni magazine came in the mail.  I also desperately missed sleep, which probably exacerbated all of my other woes.

I was, as I’d feared, “just” A~’s mom.  This left me feeling simultaneously like gum on the bottom of the shoe of life and like the luckiest person in the entire universe.  Because this colicky, vomitous little human who never slept more than 20 minutes at a stretch was my beautiful, little, extremely alert human who loved books by the time she was three days old, and how lucky was I to get to be her mom?  So, so lucky.  I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I felt: like a mushy ball of so, so lucky garbage.

Two years later, again according to (a seemingly crazy) plan, along came L~ , and I was further sucked in to being “just” a mom.  A~ never left me with free time (two twenty minute naps a day just don’t count as free time), so it’s not like I suddenly had even less time to be me.  I just had the same amount of time to be less me.

Three-and-a-half years later, and along came Midge.  Then Tank Boy.  Then Quinn.  Now Spuds.  It would be a long, long post if I tried to figure out and detail my twenty-year transformation from being “just” a mom to being A Mom, but it happened without me even realizing it was happening.  I suppose one cannot dedicate twenty years of her life to such an intense, multifaceted, and complex pursuit without losing herself to it so totally and completely that she becomes fused with it.

So I sat there in church, fused in my heart with all of my children, even (maybe especially in that moment) with those not present, mourning the fact that I am not me without them; and though I still have them in my life (thank you, gods of technology, for making that easy these days), I will spend the rest of my life knowing and getting to know people who will never fully know me because they will not know them.  Likewise, I will never fully know many mothers I meet or already have met because I will never know all of their children.

Oh, how important are the mothers of this world who pour so much of their souls into their children, and how under-celebrated is their motherhood.  I think we need to celebrate that motherhood.  I think we need to acknowledge and examine and even exalt this portion of our identity which is everything to us but, sometimes, seems to be nothing to the world around us.

I don’t care if you are a stay-at-home mom or a working mom.  I don’t care why you work outside of the home or don’t.  I want to get to know you as a mother, not as a stay-at-home mother or a working mother, but as a mother.  I want to hear about your motherhood-related hopes and fears and accomplishments and lessons learned.  I want to hear about the motherly joys and the sorrows, the mothering things you know you’ve done right and the things you would change if you could.  We’ll leave worldly employment status out of it and just talk about mothering and motherhood and how awesome you all are (even when you don’t feel so awesome).

So my goal for the blog in 2018 is to have regular (which doesn’t necessarily mean weekly —  let’s not go crazy with the goal setting) Motherhood Monday posts in which I feature a mom, “just” a mom as far as the blog is concerned, so that we can recognize and celebrate this all-important part of us, so we can recognize and celebrate each other as individual mothers, and so we can recognize and celebrate motherhood itself.

 

 

 

 

Home Depot and Divinity

As I was walking out of the local Home Depot with a cart full of paint-the-front-porch supplies, I passed a man going in who looked for all the world like Russell M. Nelson.  My first impulse was to run over and introduce myself to him, to thank him for his service and for being such an inspiration to me and so many others, but logically I knew it wasn’t him.  I don’t know if President Nelson shops at Home Depot, but, if he does, it’s not on this side of the Mississippi River, so Spuds and I kept walking towards our car.

While we were walking, pushing the cart, I began thinking about how the man I’d just seen, though he wasn’t a renowned heart surgeon or apostle of the Lord, was still a child of God.  We weren’t really parked that far back in the parking lot, but all of these thoughts just kind of washed over me and into me in a matter of seconds, so I pondered the divinity within that anonymous elderly stranger and thought how wonderful it would be if we all could recognize that in everyone we meet.  I have no idea who that man was, what he has or hasn’t done in or with his life, or anything else about him, but why should that mean I shouldn’t feel privileged to meet him, to shake his hand?  Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if we all greeted one another with a sense of awe and gratitude just because we are getting the chance to meet another child of God?  President Nelson probably gets special, effusive greetings from strangers on a regular basis, and I’m sure that bolsters him.  What if we all got sincerely effusive greetings, whether from strangers in a parking lot or at times of formal introduction?  What if we all met each other as if we were meeting an apostle (or a celebrity, if you’re not into religion)?  I can only imagine how we could bolster each other through such sincere appreciation for . . . each other.  I mean, I’m not saying I should have chased the old dude down and fawned all over him or anything — there are limits of social acceptability and all that — but if, within the limits of what is sane and acceptable, we all greeted each other warmly, in a way that made the other person feel special, important, noticed . . . how amazing would that be?

Very Deep Thoughts to be having in a Home Depot parking lot, but the conviction swept over me to approach each new person I meet with a least a little bit of that awe and gratitude, a little more recognition that I was meeting a child of God, a little more effort towards helping each person feel their importance.  “Why don’t I already do this???”  I wondered to myself.

Then I heard, “Hey,” from a bit of a distance.

I came out of my Very Deep Thoughts to see an unkempt man standing behind the car parked next to mine, but almost standing behind my car.  He and his clothes, beard, and hair looked unwashed, his eyes were glassy and his expression hard to read, and he was standing in place but shifting his weight back and forth, swaying from side to side a bit while smoking a . . . what was it?  Do vape pens come with attached boxes?  I really have no idea, but the smoke seemed to have no smell.  We had been walking down the wrong row and had just barely turned toward the proper one when his,”hey” came from that row over, so I initially assumed it had been directed at someone else.

Again he said, “Hey,” and I realized he might be talking to us.  I smiled but said nothing, because I didn’t feel like shouting across the parking lot, and I still wasn’t sure if he was greeting me and Spuds.  As we entered the correct row of cars and were halfway across it, again, “Hey,” but he didn’t move away from my car, even though we were clearly approaching it.

I said hi, but was getting a thoroughly creepy vibe from this man who was swaying and smoking from some mystery apparatus and standing so close to the back end of my car that I knew he’d be able to reach out and grab one or the other of us as we loaded our supplies in the trunk.

At the moment I thought we were getting too close to what could be a dangerous situation, my phone rang.  I gestured to Spuds to get into the car on the passenger side, the side furthest from Mr. Hey, while taking to Midge about whatever it was she needed to talk about and trying to make it sound like I was talking to an adult.  I loaded the car quickly and then smiled at Mr. Hey as I looked directly at him and squeezed by to get to my door, praying that he wasn’t going to let go of his smoking device and sway in to grab me.

After getting in safely, locking the door, and getting off the phone, I realized two things in slow succession:

  1.  I’d just failed at my brand new resolution to meet/greet new people as if they were amazing and it was my privilege — what kind of awful person am I that I can’t hold on to a goal for, like, five seconds???  That man was/is a child of God, too!
  2. There are very real reasons why I haven’t been doing this it’s-my-privilege-to-meet-you stuff already, and, child of God though he may be, his glassy-eyed swaying with no sense of boundaries and appropriate space was creepy.  Maybe I failed at my resolution, but maybe I succeeded at keeping my kid and myself safe.

My resolution isn’t dead, but I’m also not going to stop listening to my Spidey Sense.  I wish I didn’t have to.