DONE and DONE-er: Resignation Tendered …

mom - heaven and hell

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Quite some time ago, I was chatting with a new mom and during our heartfelt and honest exchange … she dared to utter something that  I have heard on countless occasions in my work as a counsellor and/or parenting coach.  She said “I feel like I’m failing.”  In my compassionate attempt to save her from her own self-deprecation, I promptly responded saying, “No need to do that to yourself.”

That particular moment has always stuck with me because my response was unintentionally dismissive.  It failed to honor how challenging it is to negotiate the peaks and valleys of parenting and, ultimately, the pain of falling short of your own preconceived ideas of  how it going to look when you, too, claim the crown of motherhood.  What I wish I had said was this:

Yep … you are going to feel like you failed. Often.  It’s sheer hell.  And, you are going to feel the pride of success. Often.  It’s absolute heaven.  And, from my humble place of reference, the secret of surviving the inevitable roller-coaster between the polarities of agony and ecstasy is not gripping too tightly to either one.  It has been my experience that things seem to work out best when we can savor our victories (however fleeting they may feel) … and … stop ourselves from ruminating too long over the failures (however devastating they may feel).  I’ve learned that the best we can do is let it all come … and then … let it all go.   Be like a cork bopping along the seas of motherhood rather than trying to anchor yourself into any one place. 

Yes … I know … that is easy for me to say now that my children are all grown and parenting children of their own.  I can still clearly remember, though, planning it all out while I was pregnant for the first time … comfortably assured that my kids would never have snotty noses or melt-downs in public.  I even had the subscription to Parents Magazine long before I had the baby.  And then, all that glorious theory collided unfavorably with reality when I found myself lost at sea with ‘real’ children.  I remember how shocked I was by the shame and sheer exhaustion I encountered as my best efforts to do what the books said failed.

Oh my … as I reflect upon my experience of motherhood over the last 35+ years, I’ve had more than my fair share of epic failures. You’d think my schooling and work experience would have been fool-proof prophylactics for problems in parenting, but the seas get rough – even for the most well-schooled sailors.  A while back, I came across a “Letter of Resignation” in my filing cabinet.   It was in the scribbler we used for family meetings over 20 years ago. I howled when I read it!! In retrospect it seems quite humorous, but during that hellish time I was clearly DONE!  Or … maybe I had completely come UNDONE.  I was clearly drowning. Capsized completely.  Floundering desperately and gasping for some small breath to save me from the menacing undertow of raising three strong, independent girls.

I knew something had to change … and here is a wee excerpt from my feeble but six page attempt to right the ship:

Dear Family Members:

  1. I have had MORE THAN ENOUGH OF: 
    • (I had a very long list of frustrations … I will spare you the details).
  2. I am TIRED OF:
    • (I will also spare you the  lengthy but compelling arguments I used to defend my position)
  3. SO … FROM NOW ON:
    • if you want it clean – clean it
    • if you want to eat – cook it
    • if you cook it – I will  eat it too – but I will no longer cook with the family in mind
    • if I show up for meals, I show up … if I am not going to show up, I will call you … unless I forget
    • if you have laundry – wash it … do mine too
    • do NOT use the white towels – they are NOW all mine – that way I will know I have clean DRY towels
    • please do not ask to borrow another thing of mine … not. one. thing.
    • if it is convenient for you to use the van, fine, but if not … do NOT waste your breath trying to convince me
    • someone should assume responsibility for groceries – we will need them replaced
    • use your own mirrors in the morning please – I want mine available so I can use it when I need it
    • set your own alarms – and GET UP when they ring – I will be sleeping until I have to get up myself
    • please do your chores and I will do mine.  I will do a good job.
    • it would really be nice if someone would co-ordinate all the comings and goings and appointments for all the family members
    • I would like to spend $200 per month on golfing this summer … so sorry … you will have to go without your extra-curricular activities … it is my turn
    • I am charging  $20 for my black pants that were borrowed but not returned – PLUS $10 for the aggravation of not having them
  4. AS WELL:
    • Do not worry about how what you do affects the rest of us – we are all just individuals living under the same roof.  We would only need to concern ourselves with that kind of consideration if we wanted to be family oriented and supportive of each other
    • I will continue to work and pay bills BUT I expect NOT to be asked to do anything for anyone else if I have homework of my own to do 
    • You can ask for my help and I might give it – if I feel like it – or I might forget – but you will understand.
  5. AND:
    • I only mean some of this – can you guess which ones I will hold you to…?

Oy Yoy Yoy.  Wouldn’t you know it …  I couldn’t even get the darn resignation signed before the maternal guilt started eroding my sanctimonious indignation.  But, that’s how it is with mommy guilt.  It’s always hovering … surreptitiously snatching every small snippet of self-care and ruining our resolve!  And even funnier … I must have thought that adding that dash of uncertainty about what I really meant would leave them quivering quite uncomfortably as I tossed in the towel (well – all except for the white ones). 

I don’t recall how they responded.  I don’t even remember how long my resignation lasted.  Probably only until the next heavenly wave of motherhood washed up warmly around me, melted my heart and swept all that hellish resentment out to sea.

You’d think that by the time you are a grandmother to seven,  you’d be a fairly skillful sailor, right?  Well … a little bit ago, we were watching five of our grandchildren and on the fourth night of five nights, we were pushing the limits for the littlest ones to be away from their parents.  I had the two youngest in bed with me (sideways and upside down) and the two year old had been having a rough night.  We had barely slept between 1:45 and  5:50AM (not that I was clock watching!) so I thought a little distraction might help.  We got up in search of the kitty.  It was mere minutes before the one we had left behind snoozing soundly in the bed joined us … and then … without my awareness promptly awoke two more.

Being cranky, over-tired and wired up (and I am not just talking about me) prompted body checks in front of the TV,  jumping on the furniture, refusals to share, teasing until there were trickles of tears and toy tossing in sheer frustration.  They were doing the best they could (and so were their grandparents) but let’s just say, tempers were terribly tippy even before the pancakes were on the plates and the sun had a chance to peek up over the horizon.  Somehow, it all fell apart for me when I caught sight of one of them buttering the bacon.  For some reason, that was the moment that tipped me right over the edge … into the depths of the dark blue sea.

Before their very eyes, Grammy devolved from being calm, cool and collected into someone sputtering threats to detain them all, right there in our home … solitary confinement of sorts …. until their parents returned the next day. Their eyes got big and bigger … as my voice got stern and sterner.  Not a muscle  dared move until I finally exhaled and bit into my pancake.

Yep, epic fail.  Now, intellectually, I know that buttering the bacon is not immediately life-threatening NOR inherently dangerous, but emotionally, I was lost at sea and losing all logical grip and reason in that moment. Agony eclipsed ecstasy. And,  worse yet, I am supposed to be the GRAND parent.  You know … the ‘grand’ one who knows better. Argh. Double argh.

Bless their little souls and shattered spirits. They have such pure little hearts … and are made of good stuff.  I felt really bad when I came to my senses.  I hoped they’d find it in their hearts to forgive me. I earnestly apologized for losing my cool and I tried not to ruminate about it … too much. After all, I did buy them the foam blocks, bubble wands, pop guns, paint sets, window catchers  and a mega-jumbo canister of play dough.  We went to the pool twice and to the spray park once.  I even got soaked with them under the great big bucket that nearly levels you with the gallons of water it dumps on you.  No slight intended to Papa, but he wasn’t nearly as good a sport! Not even close on this one.  I got some of it very right.  Yes I did.

Fast forward about a  year or so: some of our grandchildren had spent the night. It was heavenly having them with us. We were all seated at breakfast … just laughing and savoring our time together. It was one of those magical moments of connection and I sensed we could all feel it.  And then, with a wee gleam in his eye and probably an instinctive attempt to preserve the ecstasy in the space, my eldest grandson judiciously cautioned “just don’t butter your bacon.” 

I started laughing so hard that I nearly piddled in my pajamas … and … with their cheeky little chuckles, I could tell my blunder was forgiven, but not entirely forgotten.  Yep, bobbing along like a cork between the waves of agony and ecstasy … riding the tides between heaven and hell.  Best idea yet for anyone  trying to stay afloat in turbulent seas of parenting (or grand-parenting).

With humble appreciation for all that motherhood has taught me, Karen

P.S. If I ever get really, really, really brave … I will have to tell you about the time I ransacked my oldest daughter’s bedroom looking for my missing gold belt.  Eeegads …. THAT too is long since forgiven, but never been forgotten. My daughter and I have shared some good chuckles about that epic fall from maternal grace.  🙂

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She teaches me to love … unconditionally.

feathers

Although our nest has been empty for nearly 10 years, the recent birth of our 7th grandchild got me reflecting more deeply upon the richness of motherhood … and … the peaks and valleys of my own journey through it. From where I am looking, parenting is one of the ultimate callings in life.  For me, I think it is the HIGHEST and most NOBLE calling because it has been the HARDEST calling of my life.  It has also been the most MAGNIFICENT and SACRED calling of my life … stretching my character to unknown vistas, bringing me to my knees in humble appreciation and heartfelt compassion for those who have parented before me …  and … leaving me with a deeper appreciation of LOVE than I ever fathomed could be possible.

Motherhood has been the ultimate in both agony and ecstasy for me.  It has been, and continues to be, the most remarkable part of my journey.  But, it has left me completely shaken, broken to the core and scared spit-less.  Feeling terrified that in my best efforts to be an amazing parent, I have screwed up royally.  Feeling petrified that I have harmed the souls of those whom I most cherish.  Reassuring myself, often, that they are resilient enough to rise above any of the pains I have etched in their hearts.  My three daughters, all grown up and with beautiful, sparkling little cherubs of their own, have broken me open in ways I had not expected … nor … at times, thought I could possible endure.

It is such a vulnerable place to live … being a parent.  Your heart is wandering about in the world … all by itself … and out of your control … so you tremble.  And, from the outside, you look rational for the most part, but you get crazed by irrational fears … blindsided while you are flipping a pancake or cleaning out a closet.  But your awareness of the lunacy of your fears is not sufficient to silence them.  You make up horrific stories in your head that won’t allow you to sleep until they are tucked safely back in the nest at home.

I swear that you view the world differently once you become a parent. You see things you never noticed before … and … you wonder how you missed such obvious hazards and then you worry beyond all sense and sensibility.  You treasure your children so much that your fears can eclipse your capacity to let them breathe … and … blossom.  If you are not careful, you smother them with your love.  And  you KNOW they can’t survive that kind of selfish, conditional love that places your fears before their freedom, but you can’t help yourself.  So you clip their wings in order to spare your own heart.  And then you feel guilty … and ashamed … because they deserve a chance to grow and thrive and offer their delicious and dazzling gifts to the world.

It is excruciating to learn that unconditional love means you make the decision to let yourself sit in the prickly discomfort of giving them wings.  You shift your gaze and do your best to silence your primitive protective instincts  … and … you commit yourself to dwelling in the anxiety of letting them flap their wings until they learn how to fly.  You accept (as some very wise soul once contended) that the question is not when they will find their wings, but  what they are going to wear with all those magnificent feathers.  And you cry.  And you know you shouldn’t.  It’s just hard to think about them fluttering off …  leaving the nest.  But you also know, they are meant to SOAR …

And you do your best to encourage the fulness of their flight.  And it is so hard some days.  So you practice your own counseling skills.  You attend an art therapy workshop but you use it to do your own internal healing.  The others might be thinking about how they will use this skill with their clients … but you are expressing your innermost emotions in the creation of the mandala … and … you write a poem from the artistry you have created.  And you feel some release of the weight in your heart …

Unconditional Love - 2

Unconditional Love … mandala/poetry by Karen Lanser

In a blazing circle of hearts

I am centered magnificently

watching

learning

growing

noticing a chaotic but definite pattern

of complete balance.

I see symmetry and asymmetry

interwoven into the continuous circles of change

and between

the sharp lines that sometimes divide us.

Although there are definite starts and stops

A beautiful yellow blossom

is emerging

from the center.

She is my sweet daughter

bursting magnificently

as a bold blossom

 generously gifted into our lives

to help

us learn

how to love … unconditionally.

It is my deepest honor to see my dazzling, brilliant and beautiful daughters embracing the highest and most noble calling of all … they are now raising my treasured  grandchildren.  I am so proud of how stunning and graceful they look in full flight with all those magnificent feathers …

And, I am so deeply humbled  and so richly blessed,  XO  Mom & Gram

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