Awesome imperfection

I’ve been a little overwhelmed lately by some perfection messages. One of my dear friends wrote recently about her struggles regarding the messiness of her faith. Somehow she–and let’s face it, many of us–feels like it should have some shiny glow. That there should be constant communion with God, memorized scripture, extended times of prayer, and enriching quiet times alongside corporate study.

Where did we get the impression that’s what faith should look like?

When I hit the scriptures, faith looks messy. It’s believing in something unseen and often unfelt. It’s standing out against the backdrop of our culture. It’s being aware of our shortcomings, of what we lack, of what a terrible price Christ paid for us. It’s sounding crazy sometimes, defending miracles and resurrections and archaic biblical messages, not to mention the conversations we–by most reasonable assessment–should not be having.

Nothing about true faith sounds shiny to me.

Motherhood neither. As Mother’s Day rolls past, we’re crying at our kindergarteners singing about us seeing them as beautiful, those little voices rising with semi-synchronized hand gestures, our minds full of times we’ve made them feel otherwise (like this very morning when I suggested to K that she might want different leggings that matched her dress and suddenly I’ve crushed her into thinking her idea isn’t okay. Way to blow it, mom). I read yet another post about how much I’m missing when I check my iPhone or run to Walmart during M’s karate, how many moments are slipping through my fingers, how much more I should be present, how much more I should enjoy.

Where did we get that message either?

I can point a few fingers: those blog posts, magazines, Pinterest. What’s worse, often the alternative messages are denigrating. Moms “confess” they’ve resorted to McDonald’s and/or locking themselves in the closet so that we can bond over the okay-ness of our failure. Even there we have this notion that there is a perfect ideal that we’re somehow all missing. The other message that stings is the “anyone can do this!” cheerfulness. I know we are trying to encouraging when we say “anyone can make this craft!” or “anyone can throw this recipe together!” But when we can’t, we feel like a failure.

Motherhood is messy, too. It’s hit the ground running in a rush of hormones and exhaustion. It’s everything changing. It’s diapers and sleepless nights, arguments, discipline. It’s teaching and standing back (and sometimes guessing when to do which one). It’s a huge thing, raising a little person. There’s so much for them to soak in–and do we ever expect them to take it all in? Or more than that: to stand back and recognize that the are taking it all in, while taking it all in?

In faith, motherhood, and life in general, there are so many different things we could do, and always something left unchosen. Life is messy, especially when you live it abundantly. So instead of the expectations, the self-deprecation, the shiny Pinterest perfection of which we fall woefully short, I would like to push this message:

You. Are. Awesome.

Try saying it to yourself. Try saying it again out loud. Try really meaning it. Because you are. Period. Even without memorized scripture or handmade felt decor. Even with McDonald’s and an empty prayer journal. None of these things will make you any more or less awesome. You are awesome because the maker of the universe knit you together, one molecule at a time.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t work at our faith, our mothering, our lives. But don’t work to be awesome. Work because you’re awesome, and God means for you to enjoy that, in action and in rest. And trying to balance that in a broken world is messy. An awesome mess, but messy nonetheless. Being frustrated with that just shows that we are meant for someplace perfect. Perfect sounds great, but for now, I’ll settle for awesome imperfection.

On raising squirrels

Maybe it’s because I have squirrels in the backyard, but sometimes I think parenting is a bit like raising small, intelligent squirrels. What I mean is that they are cute, helpful, and mostly of the making-sense variety. But they’re still squirrels, perhaps until puberty, when I envision they change into fire-breathing dragons of some sort. What I mean is this: no matter how reasonable they seem, they can still be easily distracted and somewhat nonsensical. Wild. Cute, but unpredicatable. Which occasionally makes my job an exercise in insanity. You know an example is coming, right?

Prior to going to the beach, I asked the kids what they would like for their lunch. I rattled off a series of reasonable choices swimming at the top of my head, which included various types of sandwiches. M immediately requested peanut butter and honey. K, unsatisfied, requested pizza. “I don’t have pizza, and I don’t above time to make it,” I told her. “I could make quesadilla,” I offered, to which she agreed. I made pb&h for M and I and quesadilla for K, and off we went.

When I opened up lunch, squirrel-ish chaos ensued.

M: I want quesadilla.
Me: You asked for sandwich.
M: But you didn’t tell me you had quesadilla.

That’s true. Imagine that: I didn’t remember to list every item I could possibly make from the contents of our fridge, freezer, and pantry. Partly because the more things I list, the more times I have to repeat said list before anyone picks anything.

Me: Okay, maybe K wants to trade some quesadilla for sandwich.
K: Sure.

They trade. They eat. K requests another sandwich. I think, Great, now M will get more quesadilla. This thinking thing, it’s always where I go wrong.

M: Can I have another sandwich?
Me: Actually, there’s quesadilla left.
M: [With the utmost of indignation] But now I want sandwich!

Should I mention that they ended up eating my lunch and I was stuck with melty trail mix? Insanity and flexibility, both.

Rowing away

While playing with K at the pool on Sunday, I burst into a session of “Row Row Row Your Boat.” I’m not sure what brought it on, except that we were in the pool and it reminded me of swim lessons, way back when we sang the song on a weekly basis. A furrow blanketed K’s face with concentration.

“We used to sing this… in my old gym class… with… water?”

It’s been at least a year and a half since we did swim lessons. She doesn’t remember it, not in the traditional sense. But it’s clearly in there. I explained about swim lessons, how we used to sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” as we practiced “rowing” with our  arms, the precursor to strokes. The confusion passed with a shrug of acceptance, and K swam away in a free and natural way that came long after swim lessons finished.

I’m coming to the close of those years, the ones the kids won’t remember. They are bittersweet: such a blissfully simple time we spent constantly together, yet totally outside of the kids’ conscious memory. I suppose they’re in there, all those little moments, banked into a hopefully deep-seeded sense of security and happiness. But I treasure them even more, knowing that of the three of us, only I will truly remember how wonderful they really were.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mothers are a funny thing, because we all have them, no matter whether we don’t actually have them anymore, or maybe you never did. But we don’t come into being without one. Yet, at least in my world, I never realized how behind-the-scenes a mom was until I became one. All the times I realize that my mom must have been so tired or sick or irritated, and yet she plugged away, as do I. So many of the things run seamlessly in the background–the clean clothes in a drawer or the food on the table or the (usually) regularly cleaned bathroom–that they’re easy to miss. Until, for instance, I found I was missing that favorite purple shirt and all hell broke loose. Did I recognize that the reason why it seemed like the world was ending was because I had come to assume that my clothes would always be clean and ready for me, because they almost always were? No, of course not. But I do wonder that my mom, instead of shrugging it away, would most often do a special load just so I’d have it ready in the morning. A special load? As if she needed to do any extra work. But she did, just to keep the gears turning smoothly, and so, often, do I. Moms like the producer of a really excellent show. And, come to think of it, the costume designer and casting director and caterer, too. That, in and of itself, deserves a day of one’s own.

So on behalf of mothers everywhere, I’d like to thank the academy (that’s God, at least in my book) for the chance to take on the job of a lifetime. And of course, I’d like to thank the brilliant cast, as well as the co-producer (B), because without them I would never have known what it took to be a mother, and what a mother I could be. Happy Mother’s Day!

Did I mention I need a pep talk today?

Did I mention that two weeks ago, I bought a Costco cake for a baby shower held the very morning that we were leaving for Las Vegas (or as M puts it, Lost Vegas, which is probably unlikely since it’s the only bright, shiny water filled object in a very large desert)? I bought this cake because it seemed like way too much work to bake and decorate a whole cake when I had cleaning and packing and busyness to attend to. Plus I wasn’t even going to the shower anyway.

Did I also mention that I left this cake in the back of the van while I took the first load of groceries into the house, even though I could clearly see K heading toward the back of the van? But of course she could wait thirty seconds for me to return and move said cake out of the way so that she could climb out.

Did I also mention that K is two? Very, very two?

Oh, you know where this is going. I’m not sure what body part dragged across the cake, but it was something that allowed her to run past me as I stood staring, google-eyed, at the smooshy mess that was once my ticket to a quiet, pre-vacation afternoon. I strode back over to my daughter, who was happily wheeling around on her tricycle, and tried to keep my voice in the semi-human tenor of supremely-pissed-but-still-sane as I explained, demonic like, that some things are very delicate and that she should not try to climb across them. She turned her bright little smile up to me, at which point I strangled her with my bare hands. Oh, no, just kidding (we obviously wouldn’t be enduring the binky crisis of 2009 if that had happened… hmm). No, I stared at her for a few seconds, totally unbelieving that she didn’t comprehend for a microsecond that she’d just destroyed something of value, when it occurred to me that she wouldn’t have any way to know that the cake was that delicate. I mean, sure, probably should climb over stuff, but eh, it probably looked stable enough.

I took the cake and kids inside and we all stood there for a while. I cried a little, and K talked sweetly, and M reminded her that Mommy was not happy with her right now, which didn’t phase her in the least. I called B, cried a little more, then went back to staring. Finally, I scraped the frosting from the top, took a break to feed everyone lunch, and after they went down for nap (back when we were actually sleeping–joy!), I spent that afternoon redecorating the cake I never meant to decorate in the first place. Then I spent that evening packing , and I got my rest on vacation, like a good vacation should provide.

The moral to this story–wait, is there a moral to this story? You do remember all that sleep we’re not getting. Yes, the moral! The moral is that we endure so much, so many big and little triumphs and tragedies in life, and that in the end, whatever you think you can’t handle or do or survive any longer usually ends up handle-able or do-able or survivable. Two weeks later, I hardly remember that afternoon, or the ire I felt, or the exhaustion-induced tears. I remember that I had a messed-up cake and that it got suitable fixed, and we still went on vacation and everything. And no one died, not even me. Sometimes we just have to give ourselves that due credit, and (wo)man up to the task at hand. Living life to the fullest isn’t always pretty, and sometimes that’s the best part. Perfection breeds happiness, but imperfection breeds character.