Becoming part of the story
A good friend of mine and I recently got together with our kids. She asked if I missed blogging. Several people have asked me the same question. My response surprises me. I don’t miss it at all. I did at first, but after about 10 days I felt more at peace than I had in a long time. And it’s not because my baby boy started sleeping through the night (he didn’t). Or my reluctant potty-training preschooler stopped peeing on my floor (she didn’t). Or my mom stopped hurting (she hasn’t). Or I started easily squeezing in daily showers (I haven’t). Or life got less messy (it didn’t; my nana passed away, my little man tore his frenulum in his mouth, and I still step on Cheerios and/or Legos every day). But within days of not blogging I no longer felt as fragmented like a chunk of me was over there, another part was over here, and my body (I think) was with my kids. I had become so entrenched in the online life that I was missing out on the real one right in front of me. Far too frequently my mind was elsewhere, and my heart was pulled in too many directions. This still happens sometimes. Most busy moms – whether they engage in social media or not – are going to sometimes feel like they’re overleveraged, overextended, and on the verge of a total freak-out. For some women, blogging or popping in on Facebook might offer them a sense of calm. For me, taking a step away from the online chatter has done that.
When I was studying for my journalism degree, I took a media ethics class. One day we had a discussion about how as a journalist you had to report a story without becoming a part of it. This didn’t sit well with me then. It still doesn’t. At the time, I was a broadcast news major, and I couldn’t imagine playing the role of a talking head while amidst wreckage from some natural disaster or some human tragedy like what recently happened in Aurora, Colorado. How could I not become a part of the story? How could I not reach out to others? I could not just show their wounds and report on how they were feeling; I would want to help heal those wounds or at least give someone a hug or a reassuring smile. I’ve always hated it when a journalist – even if it’s only after a heartbreaking loss in a sporting event – asks the person standing before him or her, “How do you feel?” How do you think they feel? Sad. Shattered. Empty. Devastated.
As I’ve taken a step back from blogging and my entire online life, I realized the same to be true now. I don’t always want to be a critical observer of life; I want to be living it. I started blogging partly because I longed to document these precious years with my young children, but somehow along the way it just became too big for me. Documenting our days, my children’s milestones, my myriad emotions as a mother, and keeping it all as authentic as I possibly could had become a full-time job. Even when my computer was nowhere in sight, every minute became fraught with my attempt to capture these moments and share them with others. My motivations were noble. I wanted to give my children the gift of stories of their childhood when they were older and had forgotten. Our memories aren’t very reliable. My mom will tell a story from when I was little that I remember very differently. My husband recalls a vivid day from his childhood that apparently never happened. My children always want me to tell what they refer to as “childhood stories” – glimpses into my life when I was a little girl – and I’ve already depleted my well of memories. I thought they’d appreciate having detailed accounts of our days together and the silly things they did. I wanted to be a memory keeper in the same way a mom who scrapbooks might try to do by artfully arranging photos and embellishments.
I also wanted to give my fellow moms, sometimes dads, and others, too, encouragement. Yes, life is hard. Yes, sacrificial love cuts deeply. But life is beautiful, too. Giving, emptying yourself is what will fill you up. That sort of thing. And wouldn’t it be nice to show one of my daughters a post from a day when I was really being pushed in the trenches of motherhood and then survived and maybe even, on a really profound day, thrived once they became a mom and were wondering, “How in the world am I going to manage all of this?”
Yet, when my children, who are far from being parents themselves, and I would have a beautiful day together, I’d think, “Well, that was a blog-worthy moment!” Or, “This might help some other mom get through a rough day!” Or, when a child said something hilarious yet somehow profound at the same time like, “Being homeschooled is like being in captivity because you’re free to be a geek,” (I couldn’t help but share that), I’d want to post it right away. Or when I felt like the biggest mommy loser or I was lonely and feeling burned out, I not only wanted to use writing as catharsis, but I really and truly felt called to expose my humanness and brokenness to let others (including my children’s future adult selves) know, “Hey, you’re not alone in your feelings of hopelessness or being overwhelmed.”
But it wasn’t until I took a step away from writing about my life that I realized yes, I was there with my kids, but there was often something dividing us like a scrim. I was so intent on preserving memories that I wasn’t always a fully present part of making them. Mothers are first and foremost called to be memory makers, not memory keepers. My children are keepers of their own memories, but how I engage with them can influence how they remember things.
Not only did I often feel disjointed, caught between real life and blogging life, I started to become consumed by getting it right. I’m no photographer, but I wanted to capture the perfect image of an imperfect life with my words. After I posted something, I’d wonder if I’d chosen the right words. Did I convey the moment accurately? Was I honest and real and true to life? Did I make any sleep-deprived-induced typos? Would what I write lift up others or make them feel discouraged? Was I getting positive feedback – little hugs that came in the form of comments, emails, or Facebook Shares or Likes, or Retweets?
Meanwhile, my children were growing up. There were too many days when I felt frazzled because I was doing something that I thought had to be done when it didn’t. The connection between mother and child that I have written so passionately about in the past just wasn’t there, or it wasn’t as strong as it could be. So I decided after my husband’s urging to take a break – a blogging sabbatical, I called it. But it was more than that. I drastically reduced the amount of time I spent in front of the computer or with my eyes glued to my iPhone.
While I expected this time to make me feel relaxed and refreshed, I didn’t expect to feel so free. Not being tethered to technology has made me more awake to all the joys that surround me. It’s made me see things clearly, vividly. I haven’t completely abandoned jotting down memories. I’ve still been journaling a bit here and there, and my husband and I capture everyday moments and some of the bigger events with the camera. But I also know the secret to happiness isn’t looking back on life in retrospect. Life is fleeting whether you document it or not.
Even moms who don’t blog or journal often, especially in this digital age, feel like they’ve got to memorialize every precious moment and do it perfectly since you can take as many digital photos as you want. You can click away until you get it just right. Yet, the number of photos I have archived on my computer does not correlate with my love. It’s cliche, but we have thousands of photos of our firstborn. How many photos of a sleeping baby can you take? Hundreds, I say! As for our fourth baby, my lactation consultant mother-in-law recently needed a photo of me nursing him for her upcoming World Breasteeding Week display, and I could not find a single one where it was obvious that I was nursing, partly because his siblings were always piled close to me like puppies and it looked like I was not a nursing mother but a big couch for little bums. So on this weekend’s to-do list is: “Get photo of me nursing Thomas.” Because I don’t want to forget this beautiful, simple relationship we have. But I also don’t want to feel like my life with my littles is one big blog or photo-op.
I am living an imperfect life – a dearth of blog posts won’t change that. But there are plenty of perfect moments, too – ephemeral flashes of pure joy when I experience feelings of contentment that transcend my ordinary surroundings. A child dramatically recounts a book she’s just finished as I tackle the dirty dishes. Forgiveness and reconciliation in the wake of irrational tantrums from both my children and me. Witnessing a child scale a mountain of soiled laundry and giggle when she collapses in the stinkiness. These are the important details of my life story that for far too long I wasn’t fully enjoying because I was too busy looking the other way or too intent on dissecting the moment and thus losing its heart. A sense of well-being, purpose, and joy are not found online or in my own endless navel-gazing. They are right here in front of me.
I want to be a part of this story. This lovely, messy, thrilling, exhausting, challenging, suspenseful, heartbreaking, enchanting, joyful story of motherhood.
That’s all for now.