The winnowing season
This summer has been, my recent college grad sister and I keep joking to each other, “the summer of ‘no.'”
As we trudged through these past 3 hot months shoulder to shoulder, she searching for a job and I for a home, we had ample opportunities to commiserate. She couch surfed with us a few nights most weeks, trading babysitting and extra hands on deck at dinner and bedtimes for a place to crash when she had interviews in Denver. Some evenings would find me frantically unwrapping string cheeses and pelting them at the kids as I backed out the door towards yet another showing, tossing apologies along with mozzarella.
My children were patient and flexible for the most part – remarkably so for their ages. We must have dragged them through 2 dozen houses in 6 weeks. I, however, was not so patient. Not so flexible.
As one contract and then another fell apart after unwelcome surprises during the inspection process, I would retire to my room at night and cry hot, salty tears of frustration and exhaustion into my pillow. We had already given tentative notice to our landlords and I’d been packing. I couldn’t believe we could be starting over.
Of course, you know the punchline and I should have known the punchline all along. Here I sit tapping this out on the final day of August, a breeze coming through the open sliding door from our new backyard. It was just a little over a month from the depths of despair to closing day, all told. Long enough for me to contract shingles and lay uselessly on the couch for the better part of that month, and long enough for me to fall out of the habit of social media use and much internet use at all.
And you know what?
It was glorious.
It was so glorious that I’m a little sad I’ve come back at all, because being alone with my kids and our little life and only hearing about terrible news and global goings on from my husband casually over dinner or in the homily at Mass was pretty awesome.
I found, to my everlasting surprise, that I liked being “just” a mom for a while. Blistering rash and all. And I found that when I did make my way back to the keyboard, the words didn’t flow quite the same, haven’t flowed quite the same since.
I spent the other morning lying in Evie’s rejected toddler bed – which she expresses her perpetual disdain for by regularly removing her pajama bottoms and urinating in it and then sprinting from the scene cackling like a drunken Olympian – just cuddling with the younger 3 and reading them stories. We probably spent 45 minutes just lounging around, thankfully with no urine present this day, and I CAN NOT remember the last time I’ve done something so intentionally meaningless with them. There were no orders being barked, no multitasking, no thoughts of wasted time or lost productivity. Just big, sloppy baby kisses from Luke’s enormous puppy dog mouth and endless renditions of the Bunny Rabbit Show.
And I kind of loved it.
Maybe that’s an admission that should embarrass me, that I can’t remember the last time I just messed around with them. But the truth is, I didn’t really know how.
If I hadn’t spent the bulk of last month uselessly splayed out on the couch with Netflix blazing and babies and crumbs collecting around my ankles, I doubt I’d have been able to enjoy it. I’d have been thinking about the laundry piles, the unanswered emails, the looming deadlines and requests for help, for connections, for advice, for collaboration. But that morning I just stayed where I was, physically and mentally content to remain at home.
I am sorry for the months and years I wasn’t able to be in this place with my kids, but I have no guilt.
I don’t think I was ready for full contact motherhood until recently. I think it was essential to my mental and physical health that I have some degree of separation from my kids, and I think it helped me to survive a demanding season of life.
But my parenting muscles are growing. I’m getting stronger and more able to withstand long stretches of time without the relief of going off duty, even if only mentally. And I’m so glad. Because I love my children, but also because for a while there was a sneaking suspicion, never voiced but ever present, that maybe I didn’t pick the right life, so to speak. That I should be doing motherhood better, stronger, more joyfully.
Now I can see a little more clearly that as they have grown and changed and matured, so have I. That it’s easy now to do what was impossible when I had my first baby, when I’d only recently been removed from the position of “center of the universe.” (Painfully obvious disclaimer: I’m not suggesting all non-parents are selfish. Just that I was. And am.) And it isn’t that I chose wrong when I chose marriage and motherhood, just that I said yes to an idea and to an ideal, and reality is infinitely more beautiful and more difficult.
(Oh, and for sure I don’t plan on dismissing my extraordinary mother’s helper any time soon, so please don’t misread this as a missive for why a mother must do All The Things by herself. Malarky. I may be taking more enjoyment in the “wasted timelessness” or whatever Pope Francis calls chilling on the floor with Legos, but introverts still gonna introvert. So for 8 hours a week. Just throwing that out there.)
The summer of “no” was a bummer. But it has ended up being a beautiful, necessary season of suffering and course correction that had me thanking God for the gift of shingles, for mold problems, even for sleepless nights when it was all said and done.
It is a gift to see oneself in the light of reality. And the reality that hit home for me is that this season really is fleeting, and that while more days than not are dog hard and long as hell, there’s nowhere I’d rather be, and there’s nothing more important that I could be doing.
I’ll still be writing here in this space, because writing is another thing I was made to do. But it may be with less frequency, or it may not. I’m not really sure what this fall and winter holds for our family, but I suspect that I’ll be saying a lot more no’s so that my yeses can be more whole hearted.
Thank you for this:
“And it isn’t that I chose wrong when I chose marriage and motherhood, just that I said yes to an idea and to an ideal, and reality is infinitely more beautiful and more difficult.”
-First time mom of a seven month old
This is so encouraging to me! It’s exciting to think that my motherhood muscles might get stronger with time, that someday I might get better at embracing do-nothing time with my kids.
I can say together with you that no life pursuit gave me more happiness than “just” being a mother. The mind of God is simply amazing when we take time to ponder His creation of the family and motherhood.
PS I love the garage picture you included…I remember our garage being the place where my mom painted a hopscotch pattern on the floor for us, my father built a little playhouse area that we used for awhile, often it was my skating rink; a ping-pong table was there in the summertime, and then a pool table when we were teens. So many things kids can do in the garage on rainy days…to think grown-ups want to use the space for storing a car!
If it is any comfort……those motherhood muscles get so ‘in the groove’ that they keep on working even after all the little ones are up and grown. I have been accused of ‘mothering’ my workmates! But they happily accept it:-)
I remember moving house when there were 3 under 8 and another on the way. We had such fun playing hide and seek using the very deep window ledges that were a real feature of that house. Even yet the older children reminisce about that time. They don’t remember the holes in the floor, the weeks of wet plaster when we ran a dehumidifier 24/7 to make things dry a bit quicker (difficult in a Scottish winter!), not the feeling of damp, bone-numbing coldness that plaster brought with it. They remember the little fireplace in the bedroom and how I would light a fire there to warm the room before bedtime. They remember the hide and seek, they remember the meals around the kitchen table, but not the fact that there were no kitchen units.
Your little ones will remember the cuddles, and the reading, and the feeling of being home – and that is because you now feel home too. No longer rootless. And that, in the end, is what we all, mothers and children alike, need. Somewhere to put down roots.
I wish I lived nearer to you. I would pop by with a house warming present:-) And a hug!
Ah you seriously always write exactly what I need! That sneaking suspicion of not having picked the right life has been creeping up on me as I try to navigate all my tangled desires to be a present mother, a loving spouse, to write, to keep house well, and to create art.
I’ve been trying to remind myself that the perfect balance is never going to be fully achieved but this is also comforting–that I need to acknowledge my weaknesses and submit myself to a long process of growth rather than trying to be perfect at everything right this moment.
We had the hardest year this past 12 months (with housing issues too!) and it sucked, but I also came away with so much clarity. Praise God for being so much smarter than we are and for giving us the things we didn’t even know we needed.
You struck my heart with this little piece and I love you for it! I’ve had a very trying few weeks lately with my head and my selfish worldliness willing me to be/do everything but mother. Thank you for writing about this. Im right there with you in giving a heartfelt and resounding yes to my most important work!