They’re everywhere. The promises of a new year and a new you. Now is the time to reinvent yourself. Get more organized. Quit smoking. Lose 5, 10, 15, or 20-plus pounds. Exercise more. Sleep more. Eat less sugar.
Personally, I really like my 5-year-old’s New Year’s Resolution: Be nice to people. Now that has eternal value.
Funny aside: My 7-year-old uses the least amount of electronics in the house, but she was the one who wants to watch less TV in 2015. She doesn’t play on the computer or even watch much television. She usually has her nose in a book (she read five fat books over the Christmas break), but she also is the one who always thinks she is worse than she is. I’m not sure where she gets that from. Ahem.
I’ve always been a goal-oriented kind of person, so I usually end up scribbling down a few New Year’s Resolutions. Once upon a time at least one resolution had to do with my weight. Even when I claimed I was just thinking of my health, I was guilty of subterfuge. But not this year. This year I want to pray more, write more, and listen more.
I am tempted to add more even though I know that while my goals seem simple, I’ll likely fail pretty miserably at them. Way to believe in myself, eh?
I like to accomplish, but I seem to accomplish big things pretty rarely lately.
Every week I scribble down a to-do list, and I get great pleasure from checking off each item. Look at how productive I am! I like to have things to work for, too, and things to achieve. What I don’t like is failure or feeling like I haven’t accomplished much. But this year has been a year of letting go. And not just for Elsa or her gaggle of pint-sized followers, but for me, too. It all started with the dreadful running injury. I can no longer call it a running injury because I am not much of a runner any longer, although I ran with a running peep this morning and experienced pure euphoria – more from the company than the actual physical exertion. The run didn’t provoke much pain, but walking around the rest of the day and just sitting to teach my child phonics did hurt a bit. I’ll think I’m all better and that BAM! I’ll feel a twinge in my high hamstring area, or my hips will start aching. On a bad day, both hips, my hamstring, and my bum hurt.
Sometimes my body makes me grumpy. Sometimes it makes me sad. But lately it’s made me grateful because despite my dreams of qualifying for Boston or even running another half again perhaps becoming wishful thinking, I feel strong. I am doing quite of a bit of Pure Barre. It’s a low-impact but challenging workout. I don’t weigh myself, but I definitely feel stronger and leaner. The first day I tried the class I felt like an old, uncoordinated dork. It was 80s day, which I didn’t know, and all these young things – who were born in the 90s, mind you – were planking and tucking and shaking in flashy, hot pink workout garb. I was all in black on the back, planking like an elephant probably.
As I tried to follow along and figure out what it meant to tuck, I mourned for my running life. Running was something I could do pretty well. This was new and scary and all the core work wasn’t easy for a mom of four, but I stuck with it. That was way back in early October, and I’m still sticking with it, and I’ve found my groove. When I was leaving my most recent class, the instructor, whom I had not had before, asked me my name. I told her, and she said, “Katie, you had excellent form all throughout class.” This is ridiculously silly, but I thanked her and beamed, and the afterglow lasted at least an hour. I headed out to the cold mist with a bounce in my step, no matter that my high hamstring was nagging me and I felt shaky walking down the stairs after giving my thighs a killer workout.
I went out to dinner with my running peeps to catch up recently as well, and it was a delightful evening. We laughed and chatted, and I was so grateful that all those miles covered had forged true, meaningful friendships. And, of course, I was nostalgic for those morning runs, wishing I could be out there, too, and maybe I will be (I have a pain provocation test tomorrow involving an injection into my hip bone), but what’s been such a blessing is I am starting 2015 totally and completely at peace with the fact that I may not be able to return to the kind of running I once did. This is where the gratitude surprisingly comes in: I am grateful there are other ways I can move my body. I am thankful I can shoot hoops with my daughters; my 10-year-old is playing her first season of basketball and loving it, and I’m enjoying playing Horse and having free throw contests with her in the driveway. I am thankful I can still be active even if I do hurt sometimes.
I am also thankful that I am finally able to approach new ventures – even things as seemingly insignificant as a new barre class – without perfectionism as my sidekick. I lost out on a lot of fun in the past because I would park myself on the sidelines of any activity in life if I knew I wasn’t going to excel at whatever it was. I’m far less afraid now, probably because I fail all the time and motherhood more than anything else has taught me just how little control I have over my children or anything else in my life. I am so glad I’m learning these lessons because I want my children to try new things and to not be afraid to not be the best at everything. I want them have to work hard at something, to know that what starts out tough may one day become easier simply because you stuck with it. And I want them to dust themselves off when they do fall, forgive their own failings, and start again.
I’m talking a lot about exercise these days and my inability to run, but this has been a year of growth in the mothering department as well. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that my mothering life (so far) hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would. I remember when Madeline, who is now 10, was just 2 years old and I found a network of Catholic homeschooling moms, and one of them would always talk about how she could see me having 10 kids and homeschooling them all. That really stroked my pride. I envisioned myself as this super mom effortlessly juggling at least a half dozen kids while still taking daily showers. I have four kids, and I won’t tell you the last time I washed my hair.
And these days, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be a mom of a super-sized family, and I am homeschooling only one child now with plans to have her join her big sisters in that place I once feared so much: REAL SCHOOL. That first year of REAL SCHOOL I felt like an epic failure. I’d run into a friend of mine who still homeschooled, who probably had more kids than I did, and I felt like I was lacking or that they were better than I was. All my comparing and feelings of worthlessness only robbed me of joy and blinded me to the fact that we were all doing okay. I doubted myself and my husband’s decision on a daily basis. At the start of this school year, I still was approaching the year with some trepidation, but something has happened. I see how happy we are, how this is working for my own little family, and I know I didn’t fail at anything. The girls returned to school this morning, and Rachel hopped out of bed this morning and said, “I can’t wait to go back to school!” This doesn’t mean she didn’t enjoy her time with me. We loved our lazy break and the slower pace, but she’s happy there, too.
I also don’t care (too much) what others think any longer. I did have a handful of well-meaning homeschooling folks (although the vast majority offered nothing but support) say some hurtful things when I first decided to send my two oldest to school. It wasn’t easy to digest what they said – things like, you only get one chance at mothering your children and if you can homeschool, why wouldn’t you? Of course, these people did not know the clinical depression I was grappling with or the fact that my husband’s hours are unpredictable or the temperaments of my lovely but feisty children. Many times we mothers dole out our opinions in an effort to validate our own choices. We’re not really looking to criticize the other mom or her choices; we’re just trying to convince ourselves that what we’re doing is the best for us and our families.
Now I joke about being a homeschool dropout. I don’t worry so much about if we appear all put together because the truth is, we’re not. We’re a messy but fun bunch. I let my kids choose their clothes – even what they want to wear to the Christmas Eve Mass, providing it’s the right level of decorum. I peruse our thousands of archived photos for the perfect family photo for our Christmas card and instead of becoming frustrated at the dearth of photos where even half of my clan is looking at the camera, I laugh at the wonderful energy this family of mine has, and then I create a Christmas card that is authentically Wicker. And lo and behold, I get more compliments this year than any other year. People crave authenticity.
That’s what I really want to be in this life more than perfect. I want to be authentic. I want to be the kind of person you can come to and reveal your dirty secrets and dirty dishes and know that I’ll love you anyway. I want my children to know in their deepest souls that despite the times I fail them as a mother, despite the chaos that is our life, I love them just the way they are.
One of my daughters, who happens to share my melancholic tendencies, was recently divulging all of her bad memories. She then went on to point out the ways I am not a very good mother. A year ago her diatribe would have made me cry. Or I would have acted strong, but I would have crumbled inside. I would have wept to my husband and sought his reassurance that I was a good mother and that I wasn’t screwing up my children. But tonight I calmly hugged this child. I reminded myself she was angry at me because I had taken a privilege away as a consequence for less than desirable behavior. I told her I was sorry she felt that I wasn’t a good mommy right now and that I knew I was far from perfect and had a lot to work on but that I also knew I was a good mom who gave her very best and who loved her children with an open heart. Then I calmly left the room. It was bedtime, and my child wanted me to stay beside her for longer (ironic that she wanted a monster of a mother to be in such close proximity to her in the dark). She started to rage against the injustices of the world. I told her I’d come check on her in a bit. And I did. I slipped in beside her in a nest of blankets. She threw her arm around me and she whispered, “I am so, so sorry.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For acting like you’re not a good mommy when you’re the best mommy in the world,” she whispered.
“It’s okay,” I said, and I squeezed her hand.
“I am so sorry,” she said again, and I realized she was me just a year ago, someone who was always sorry. Sorry for not being better, good enough, perfect. Sorry for not doing more. Sorry for being injured and not being able to run. Sorry for things that were utterly out of my control. Sorry for giving up on homeschooling. Sorry when I truly should have been sorry but not knowing how to open myself to mercy and forgiveness, so that I was consumed by guilt and what-ifs and mired in a despair I couldn’t shake even though to the outside world I was nothing short of a golden Pollyanna. Oh, the acting was exhausting. The guilt-mongering paralyzing.
“It’s okay, my love. I am not hurt. You are completely forgiven.”
“I am sorry,” she whispered one last time burrowing her head into me so that her honeyed hair tickled my face and her tears wet my shoulder.
I am sorry, too, that it’s taken me 30-plus years to let go of trying to be something that I’m not, I thought. And I am sorry that you, my sweet daughter, will have to learn this lesson on your own, that others and their careless acts and barbed words will rob you of your joy, that you might doubt yourself and remember the bad, the criticism, more than the good and all the praise. That you may be blind to beautiful you and not see that you have so much to offer others just by being imperfect you.
I can not make her believe any of this. Life will have to teach her all of it. I hope the wisdom comes to her sooner than it came to me, but it is a lesson she must learn herself.
On the eve of the Epiphany (yes, my tree and decorations are still up but if I’m truthful, the shedding pine needles and extra festooning is driving me crazy), I think of the Magi and what must have been a dangerous, tedious trip. The journey to truth is never straightforward or easy. But when you finally encounter it – even if it’s just a glimmer of truth – you are forever changed.
This new year, I’m not looking to be a new person. I’m just looking to make peace with the imperfect person that I am.
Reflecting on the past year I recognize plenty of moments of happiness and days when I was aware of the blessings that surround me even in the midst of life’s messiness. But far too often happiness was elusive for me because things that were out of my control kept happening, because I too easily let others, situations, things people said (or didn’t say), or self-defeating thoughts take my good feelings away.
Sometimes when I see my mom smile even as I am aware that her constant trigeminal pain is like hatchet permanently being lodged in her face, I can’t help but think, “Joy can always supersede our pain.” Because real, everlasting joy comes from something beyond us. Mean-spirited people can chip away at your happiness. So can everyday stress. So can a toddler who refuses to pee on the potty or an achy hamstring and wonky hips. So can a cancer diagnosis, a death in the family, a miscarriage. Life, no matter how hard we try to inoculate ourselves against unhappiness, will sometimes take good things and good feelings away.
But nothing, nothing can take Him away. He came to us on that first Christmas, and I’ve got to believe that He’s with us still.
All of these ponderings are nothing new. I’ve known them all along, I suppose, but they, I admit, have sometimes felt like nothing more than empty platitudes, cozy Hallmark-like tag lines to give me a temporary pick-me-up. But not right now. Maybe tomorrow I’ll forget this lesson when the laundry and sibling squabbles overwhelm me. Maybe I’ll lose my joy because I’ve lost Him. This is my human condition to be blinded again and again. But it is God’s condition to keep making me see.
And now a glimpse into our Christmas season:
Guess who was Mary in the Nativity play at church? And Rachel, my 7-year-old, sang a duet to “Silent Night.”
I don’t care if it’s a tad blurry. I love the joy personified in this photo.
We had a few spring-like days. Thank goodness because now it feels tundra-like.
I went on a date with my girl. We went to what she referred to as a “very fancy restaurant.” Layla (the dog) wanted to come along, too.
Puppy love. No, she’s not ours, but the kids sure do wish she was. This was one of Madeline’s best friend’s Christmas gifts from her parents. “Geez,” Madeline remarked, “she gets a puppy, and we get hermit crabs.” Yes, my husband and I got the kids two hermit crabs for Christmas. They’re named Padfoot and Speedy and to be fair, we do already have two fish, a cat, and a dog. And is it just me, or is my oldest child looking really, really old all of a sudden?
Here’s to a healthy, happy and joyful 2015!
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