“Mama, I have tons of eye boogers!”
My day yesterday started with these very words.
Sure enough, Thomas’s eye was gunky with boogers and had a shade 0f pretty pink. And it should be noted, that typical boy, he was pretty pleased with all the grossness.
“You have pink eye.” I told him.
“Yes, it’s an eye infection. We’ll get medicine for it.”
“Now we have a pink and a purple eye!” he exclaimed referring to his eye and big sister Madeline’s black eye, which she acquired earlier in the week during a football game collision at recess.
And we’ve got the flu. And ear infections, I thought.
“Pink eye is very contagious, so try not to rub your eye,” I said. “Wash your hands a lot, and don’t touch the baby.”
Minutes later I heard Rachel screeching. It turns out my devious Thomas retaliated against his big sister by rubbing her beloved Knuffle Bunny in his infected eye.
“What should I do?” she wailed.
“Put Knuffle Bunny in the laundry room. I’ll wash him. Thomas, don’t infect anymore of your sister’s stuffed animals.”
This all happened before it was even 7 a.m. The day could only get better, right?
During that same morning’s interview for Getting Past Perfect on Spirit Radio at 8:40 a.m., I made every effort to be as authentic as possible sharing tales of my “tsu-mommy” moments, mentioning depression, and how I’ve struggled, at times, as a mom. Yet, I also was encouraging. My voice was all chipper. I was coaching and uplifting myself as much as anyone else.
I felt ready to tackle whatever may come my way. Mom ceremoniously pumps fist in the air while “Eye of the Tiger” plays in her head.
Then, at the pediatrician’s office, while I attempted to discuss not only Thomas’s goopy eye but also his ear infection as well as two failed hearing tests and whether he should be referred to an ENT, two feral animals who answer to the names of Thomas and M.E. were wrestling on the examination table, tearing up the white paper that’s supposed to make the surface more sanitary. They continued their loud shenanigans despite my failed attempts at disciplining them.
Then sparkly M.E. looked at our kind, wonderful pediatrician and said, “We feel much better.”
Not for long, I internally seethed.
I admonished them in the van after the harrowing visit.
We picked up more medications. I have spent a small fortune on prescriptions this week. Then we headed home.
Charlie was trouper through it all. Honestly, if he was fussy, I’m not sure how I would handle it. “It” being life.
The afternoon started out okay, but I was exhausted. Not only had I been up feeding my nocturnal nursling the previous night, but M.E. woke up from a coughing fit and could not get back to sleep without me coming upstairs and resting beside her. We obviously didn’t want our plagued child (she’s the one who tested positive for the flu, lucky girl) in the same bed as the baby and me. She eventually succumbed to sleep and when I returned to my bedroom, Dave was cuddling with a wide-awake baby.
“He woke up as soon as you left,” he said.
So more maternal compassion poured out of me with every drop of milk I offered my newborn.
Prior to that night, it seemed I had more of where that came from. I’d been coping well with the sleep deprivation and savoring my baby’s newness and littleness. I’d also been juggling the busyness that comes with older children fairly well.
But that one extra wake-up call with M.E. seemed to push me over the sleepless edge. I was pining for shuteye, but I had a baby and two sick, irritable kids at home. The afternoon hit me like a mack truck. I needed a break, but I knew I wouldn’t be getting one. My mind also raced ahead to the quickly approaching weekend. Dave would be working and so I wouldn’t be able to catch up on sleep then either. I retreated to the bathroom to actually use the bathroom and not just hide away when M.E. and her brother erupted in a fight out in the backyard. They were so loud I could hear them from inside my bathroom. Thomas was in a rage, and all I could think about was how our sweet elderly neighbors had just brought the kids Valentine treats and now they must be thinking they were unattended pyschos. I finished up my business as quickly as physically possible and stormed through the house. When the two littles continued to not listen to me, I lost it. I’d depleted my compassion bank for the older kids and in its empty wake, all that remained was a crazy-angry-tired mama.
How very ironic that I’d been interviewed earlier just that day as an “expert” mom. Crackup is more like it.
Later that same day I discovered curdled milk in two of our kitchen drawers. Daisy, our food-hound puppy (yes, we are certifiably crazy for having a puppy and a newborn in the same house) had dumped half and half off the counter earlier in the week and apparently, some of it had seeped into the drawers without me being aware. Just the day before my supersonic sense of smell had caught of a whiff of something gross in the kitchen, but no one else seemed to detect it and my sniffer could not identify its source. Now I knew I should have listened to my nose. I had been trying to get spaghetti ready before one child came home from soccer (Daddy was picking her up) and another child headed to soccer practice at a different location and time (a babysitter was taking her) and before we took the first soccer player to an induction ceremony at school that evening. But now I had to scrub soured half and half from two drawers and several pots and pans. Meanwhile, M.E. needed math help with understanding what quarter to three meant.
And Thomas was crying, “No one will play with me!”
Charlie, thankfully, was not crying. God bless him, he was rocking in the swing, eyes wide open, perhaps pondering this chaos he was born into and dreaming of the sanctuary of the womb. Me, too, kiddo. Me, too.
When Dave made it home, I cried. We hid in a room sans kids. We had about 10.2 seconds before someone would find us. My kids never know where their shoes are, but they can pinpoint my location with stunning speed and accuracy. I told Dave I was done. I’d hit the wall. And then I’d been a mean mommy. Was it any wonder my kids sometimes fought the way they did? I didn’t feel like cooking dinner or doing much of anything else. I longed to just crawl in bed with sweet Charlie whose needs and wants are one in the same and fade into sleep with his warm body curled into me.
Oh, and my right breast felt like it was on fire.
“I think I’m also getting mastitis,” I said through sniffles.
In the past when I’ve vented about reaching my limits, Dave, like most good men, has tried to fix things or told me that it will be fine (when at the moment, I don’t want to hear that because nothing feels fine at all and then the guilt piles on because in my heart of hearts I know he’s right and that, actually, everything is fine at that very moment because we are all well fed, relatively healthy minus the flu, earaches, the shiner, pink eye, and potential mastitis, and we are usually a happy, albeit noisy and passionate, family.
But today he did just what I needed and what I’ve asked from him during moments like this in the trenches. He pulled me in and hugged me, and he said nothing. That embrace was a conduit of grace and gave me just enough strength to finish out the day – maybe not smiling but not despairing either.
I took Madeline to her school event. Everyone oohed and ahhed over Charlie. One mom grasped his perfect, tiny hand and remarked, “I love babies.”
“So do I. I could have a million babies, but then you have to raise them,” I joked.
Just before Madeline and I were getting ready to leave, a friend came up to me and said she needed to talk to me privately. “I have to tell you that your book has helped me so much.”
I’d given her a review copy at the last minute. I’d been reluctant to do so because she’s super busy – balancing motherhood with a new full-time job – and she’s also a “yes” person, but something (the Holy Spirit?) prodded me to approach her. I now know why.
Her voice lowered. “Being a mom isn’t easy for me,” she confessed.
“It isn’t easy for me either,” I admitted in our withdrawn huddle. “You should have seen me today.”
“Well, reading your book has made me feel not so alone and that it’s okay to have these feelings and still love my kids. Thank you.”
I then started to mindlessly ramble because compliments make me flounder, and I’m an extremely socially awkward person who regularly suffers from verbal diarrhea. Also, ever since my radio interview, I’d felt like an impostor. Who was I to write a book on motherhood when I still got it wrong so much of the time? Nevertheless that it happens to be a book on imperfect motherhood, so perhaps I should feel very well qualified.
But just as God had worked through my husband and given me grace in Dave’s unconditional love and compassion, this mother’s words, honesty, and encouragement blessed me and reminded me once again that I don’t have to be perfect or to know everything to put myself out there or to minister to others or to be a good enough mom to my kids.
Dear mom, you will have many good moments. You’ll get things right or almost right. Your heart will swell with happiness. You’ll get choked up and feel like your love for your children is just too much. But there will be plenty of times – days, months even – when you feel just the opposite. It seems there’s never love, compassion, sleep, energy, happiness – and just not enough of you – to go around. You’ll get things wrong or not quite right. You will feel discouraged, depleted. You may even feel like an impostor in your family. Why in the world were you chosen to be a wife and mother to these people? There’s got to be someone better for the job.
These feelings are normal. You are not alone. You are not an impostor mom. God chose you to be the mother of your children. You’re not perfect, but you are the perfect mom for your children. If they didn’t drive you crazy or push your buttons, you wouldn’t seek the grace you so desperately need. Motherhood is sanctifying not because it’s a constant joy fest, but because it is hard and it stretches you. Just because you make mistakes or your kids act inappropriately at the doctor’s office doesn’t mean you’re fraud or that they’re future juvenile delinquents. Remember how you feel about motherhood or your children at any given moment is not a measure of your or their worth or your love for them. You are bunch of imperfect people trying to live together and to do hard things day after day. It’s difficult for your children to be sick, tired, and/or feeling out of control or slightly ignored because a new baby’s taking up a lot of Mama’s attention. It’s tough for you to love children who are acting unlovable even though that’s when they need your love the most.
As my friend Rachel Balducci wrote in the Getting Past Perfect foreword, motherhood is not for wimps. Sister, yes, you’re human, but you are not wimpy. You’ve got this and in those crushing moments when you think you don’t, grace is there just waiting for you to stop hiding or despairing in your flaws and failures. Without Thomas’s eye boogers he wouldn’t need a doctor or medicated eye drops. Without your own struggles and emotional and spiritual sickness, you wouldn’t need God or others. I don’t know much, but my life has taught me that this much is true: It is in our imperfections, our brokenness, that the most light is able to shine through.