Monday, January 17, 2011
Earlier today I had a conversation in my head that went something like this:
Me: Hey! You should save all these great gift boxes and plastic food containers and pretty glass plates that people used to give you treats at Christmas! You could totally reuse them next Christmas!
Self: Yeah! Great idea!
Me: Except, crap--we just put all the Christmas stuff away yesterday. You'd have to go unpack the boxes in the garage and cram this stuff in. Or put them in a new box, which you'd probably forget about and rediscover next time you move.
Self: Good point. But think how much money I'd save next Christmas by already having this stuff!
Me: Um, when was the last time you actually gave little neighbor gifts or treats to people at Christmas?
Self: Three, four years ago? Wow. Has it really been that long?
Me: Very likely. What are the odds that you are actually going to make treats for all the neighbors next Christmas?
Self: Well, I WANT to.
Me: But what are the odds that you'll actually do it?
Self: I know, I know. Okay, so we take the box to DI?
Me: Good plan. Let's put it by the front door and see how many months it takes before we remember to put it in the car. And how many months after that before it goes from the car to DI. Maybe we'll make it before Christmas next year.
Which brings me to the actual point of my post:
There are far more things I'd like to do than enough of me to do them. To put it much more poetically and beautifully, in the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, "My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds."
In this I am not alone, especially among my sister friends. For some reason an urge to do and be it all seems to be more the province of the female gender, and we have the accompanying anxiety, depression, and insomnia meds to show for it.
The week before Thanksgiving a perfectly nice woman from my church called me one evening to ask if I would, along with one other woman, sew all the costumes for a church Christmas party less than two weeks away. She assured me that the costumes were very simple, and at most, we were only looking at 10-20 hours, total. I told her I'd think about it.
What I should have said was, "In what bizarre universe do you ask a single mom of four very young children, who works full time and teaches part time and insanely insists on being a part time student as well, who already has three other callings at church, and who just bought a house that seems to require a new repair every other day---in what whacked out place in your brain did you think I would be the logical person to ask for this project????"
I sincerely, sincerely regret that I did not offer the above response, and I promise that if (when) something like this comes up again, I most certainly will.
Much as I knew that I must decline, there was still some residual guilt, which I don't even want to begin psychoanalyzing here. I like being able to help people, and anything church-related brings an extra dose of both responsibility to help and guilt if I can't. Thankfully, church is made up of lots of regular folks like me, and the core of my spiritual life--my relationship with God--is founded on His Perfect Understanding, so I have somewhere to go when these conflicts arise.
It bothered me. I prayed about it. I told God that if He really needed me to make those costumes, I'd do it. Even if I had to do them between midnight and four am, which is about what it would be.
God said it wasn't necessary.
He reminded me that there's only one person on this earth who is my kids' mother, and it's me. Nobody else can do that job. I wouldn't want anyone else to do that job. The teaching, squabble-settling, feeding, clothing, cleaning, bathing, tucking, rocking, listening, singing, holding--those are one of the very most important things I can ever do with my time. Ever. And it does take TIME.
I've only got two parents (and two step-parents, but you get the point). I like them. A lot. Our relationships are important to me. I enjoy them. I need them. I want to spend the time required to maintain those relationships.
Ditto my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and many good friends close enough to consider family. It takes energy and work and time to nourish our relationships, and I WANT to do it. I CHOOSE to do it. I believe God approves.
Participation in church is important to me. I attend church each Sunday. I partake of the Sacrament there, believing that the observance is a source of actual power in my life. I play the piano and play the organ and teach classes and sing hymns and freely, actively serve and worship with my fellow saints.
I gladly, willingly accept the assignment to be a visiting teacher, to be a friend to other assigned sisters in my neighborhood. I love visiting teaching. And it does take time. I believe it's important. I believe it matters to God. I believe He wants me to love these women and look after them and care for them.
Temple service is hugely important to me. I think anyone who knows me knows this. I love to attend the temple, serve in the temple, worship in the temple. This also takes time.
Then there are all those things I mentioned earlier--the full time job, the part time job, the studies, the house, the dishes, the yard, the laundry. The list never ends. Somehow, mixed in all of those, are moments of connection, even of service. I tell God that while I don't have much in the way of time, what I have is His, and if He just points me where to go, or what to say, or what to do, I'll do it. I'm frighteningly obtuse, but He breaks through, and the two of us do some good things from time to time. I'm constantly re-learning how frequently one of the greatest acts of service we can do for each other is simply acknowledge each other, fully, completely, to truly SEE each other. Those seemingly trite things--a smile, hug, sincere listening, belief in someone's potential and innate goodness--aren't really so trite at all. Those things don't come naturally to me, but they do to God, and I'm taking baby steps. I don't always see the world through His eyes, but I'm learning.
That's all He expects. It's perfectly enough.
There's never quite enough of me to go around. Just ask my four kids, as they each vie for a spot on my lap. Me & God; that's a different story.
I may not be able to do everything, but thanks to Him, I can do enough.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
When my babies were, respectively, 2, 1, and newborn, I used to fantasize about what it would be like to wear "real" clothes to church on Sundays once again. Clothes that weren't chosen based on their ability to disguise spit up stains, mashed fruit snacks, and crushed cheerios. Clothes that could double as facial tissue or napkins (gross, I know, but if you've had kids, you know what I mean. I drew the line at subbing for toilet paper. Though a good diaper blowout was close enough).
Naively, I thought I was a year or two away from Real-Clothes Sundays.
The darlings are now, respectively, 7, 6, 5, and 5, and I'm pretty sure I'll be back in "real" Sunday clothes POSSIBLY in twenty years or so, though by that time I'll probably be meeting grandkids, so my years of Real Sunday Clothes have likely already passed for good.
As a favor to those of you who were/are like me, and innocently thought that only the first couple years of childhood need impact parental costuming, I present my list of fashion choices to avoid if you have young children (and by young I mean anything under legal drinking age. After legal drinking age you'll have a whole new set of issues).
Things Not to Wear to Church:
- Pantyhose. I began today with a brand new pair. Temporary insanity. The first snag, so to speak, occurred 15 minutes later, in the church parking lot, when child no. 4 slammed the car door into my leg. Five minutes later, child no. 2 stepped on my foot as she tried to climb over child no. 3 to get the most desirable spot on the pew. Halfway through the meeting child no. 4 tried to push child no. 2 off my lap, rubbing his foot up my leg in the process, specifically, the part of the shoe with the velcro closures. The stockings were past gone, but child no. 3 decided to make sure by using her finger to show me how she could poke a hole through the nylon toward the end of the meeting.
- Anything white. Or light. Or dark. Unless you want to see what they look like with permanent marker, crayon, FD&C Red 40, bubble gum, or cherry lip gloss across the front. I wore my new wool coat to church today. Why do I have a new coat, you ask? Children who shall remain nameless melted crayon into my old coat, and crayon just doesn't come out of wool fibers. After a year of wearing bright blue wax on my sleeves, I finally bought a new coat. Today in church I looked down to see child no. 3 intently running a yellow crayon up and down my new black coat. She is still alive, and forget anything else you've heard--that right there is evidence of my eternal love for that child and the reason I'm going to heaven when I die.
- Anything with a neckline lower than the collar bone. Ditto for buttons up the front of the bodice. Unless you like flashing the bishopric sitting up front. I generally consider myself a modest dresser who doesn't push the envelope on what is revealing. Yet in the years since I've had kids the people in pews near me have been entertained by these comments: "Oh Mommy, what big breasts you have!" Or "But I LIKE grabbing your boobs when I climb on your lap!" Or "Hey, if I open all these buttons like this I can see your underwear!"
- In that same vein, avoid hem lines any higher than the ankle. Since I prefer long skirts this usually isn't an issue. However, today I forgot. I wore a fun little dress that went just below my knees. Problem one, it gave me kids far greater access to pantyhose than usual. Problem two, by the time all four had jockeyed for position on my lap, I looked down to see my skirt up around my hips. I'm not joking.
- Loose waistbands. With four kids literally hanging on my skirts, this one is a no-brainer.
- High heels. In reality, this really shouldn't matter much. In real life, however, child no. 4 will remove said shoe and use it as a weapon against child no. 1, who will spend half of Sacrament Meeting whining about how she IS old enough for 3-inch heels, and while we're at it, everybody who is anybody wears eyeshadow in second grade, and it's not fair that Mommy gets to wear both the heels and the eyeshadow and she is relegated to cherry lip gloss and ribbed tights.
- Makeup. By the time four kids have spent 1.25 hours fighting over your lap, you won't have any left, anyway.
- Styled hair. Save yourself the effort & pull it back in a ponytail to begin with. After going through all of the above sweat will have destroyed those careful curls or straightened tresses you spent a half hour creating.
You may be wondering, after this huge list of Don'ts, what is left to wear.
I'll simply point out that there may be a reason long, heavy, indestructibly denim jumpers are the preferred outfit of choice for many a Mormon mom. Hold your judgement--it may be less of a choice than you realize.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Mommy: "Look! Check out my new coat! Isn't it beautiful?"
Grace: "Why did you get a new coat? You already have one."
Mommy: "SOMEBODY left blue crayons in the car on top of my coat and the sun melted the wax into the wool fibers and I can't get it and I've been wearing it like that since last year, and now I finally have a new coat."
Grace: "First, it looks just like your old coat. Second, are you saying it's time for us to put crayons in the car on the new coat?"
Sunday, January 02, 2011
While not super huge on the list, one hobby I kind of like is cooking. I didn't realize until I had kids, that I specifically like cooking for appreciative audiences. As in, I get a huge thrill out of planning, organizing, and creating something special for people to eat, and I especially like going to all that effort when they clearly enjoy the end results.
It should surprise no one that having children has been one long and ongoing test of my patience in this regard.
A few years ago I pretty much stopped cooking, not because I was too busy, or because homemade meals didn't fit our lifestyle anymore, but simply because my ego couldn't take the hits.
I'd spend several days planning a perfect meal, shopping for perfect ingredients, block out the time to go through each step, and proudly serve it, exquisitely arranged and impeccably timed---and my darlings would scrunch up their noses and began to wail how much they hated whatever-it-was, and why, oh why, couldn't we just have chicken nuggets or mac & cheese instead?
Time is a marvelous thing, and lately I've detected a shift of sorts.
Grace's new favorite food is salmon, and she doesn't really care how it's prepared. Lightly glazed, pan-seared salmon fillets make her eyes light up bigger than Christmas. Mia has a newfound addiction to hummus and recently polished off three slices of ham quiche--a dish previously pronounced "completely disgusting" by all four kiddos. Mercie asked for seconds and thirds on homemade wild rice & shrimp chowder, and didn't pick the shrimp out. And I nearly passed out last night when Eric skipped the navajo tacos in order to create a custom dinner salad, full of healthy things like lettuce, avocados, beans, and cheese.
Even better, pretty much every day now I hear things like, "Thank you for that yummy dinner, Mom," or "Mom, this (insert whatever it is) is SOOOOO good! You are, like, the best cooker in the whole world!" Or, patting a very full tummy, "Mommy, when I grow up I want to cook as good food as you."
We've had the past two weeks off for the holidays. We've spent lots and lots of hours together in the kitchen, also far more enjoyably than I would have expected. Instead of monster messes, the kids are actually getting old enough to be truly helpful. And things actually soak into their little brains, and I don't have to repeat myself fifty times!
Last night I sat on the couch in the front room and the kids, honest to goodness, worked together to clean up after we made dinner together. I swear I'm not making this up. Every now and again one of them would detour through the front room to hug me or pat me and tell me thanks again for dinner.
My babies are growing up. I could so get used to this.