Lose the scorecard ladies!

Mothers – go grab your wallet, cell phone or journal – whatever you use to store your scorecard.  “Scorecard? What scorecard?” you say.  Come on, don’t be embarrassed.  We all have one.  You know – the card that records the sum of your successes and failures as a mother?  Yes, that little thing…you remember now.  Go ahead and look at the bottom line.  How is your score trending today?  If you aren’t sure, I’m happy to provide you with this Seventeen Magazine style scoring scale:

  • 0-30:  You’re right, you have no business being a mother. Someone from CPS will be by to pick up your child shortly.
  • 31-50:  Your child has likely sustained permanent emotional/intellectual/physical damage at your hands.  Keep striving for average.
  • 51-80:  Congratulations, better than average may keep your child out of jail.
  • 80-100:  Clearly you’re clueless.  No one is this good.  For penalty of self-denial, subtract 30 points from your score.

If you have children, you will undoubtedly experience many “Parent of the Year” moments*.  For example:

  • You forget to set the stroller break and your son rolls down your driveway while you’re packing the car.
  • You glance away from your toddler while he decides to eat a peculiar berry from a nearby bush.
  • Your child eats from your dog’s food bowl.
  • You place a blanket over your child’s head to play hide-n-seek, immediately sending him to walk headfirst into a wall.

(*I certify the above stories from friends resulted in no injuries and eventual laughter.)

For mothers, scorekeeping begins with the insanity inducing post-partum hormones. Your baby cries and instead of cycling through the list of potential causes, you think, “My baby must be dying!  I can’t make her stop crying.  I might kill my baby!”  Breastfeeding is often the beginning of scorekeeping – not enough milk, painful feeding, baby is still hungry, can’t increase milk supply.  We internalize every perceived failure or shortcoming as a direct result of our inadequacy.  What a burden!

Many of us remain mysteriously unaware of our scorecard, even as we liter it with detailed notes.  I saw my scorecard for the first time when Wade was 9 months old.  He’d been using his highchair for several months and we’d removed the safety harnesses as they were too large.  As he progressed to standing up independently I foresaw the need for the safety straps approaching, but I didn’t want to harness him in unless it was necessary.  Of course somedays the time between unnecessary and necessary in child’s development seems to be about 10 minutes.

One day after lunch, as the sun streamed in from the bay window, Wade decided to explore the confines of his highchair.  A wiggle – became a twist – became a turn – became a lift – became a mid-air hoist.  Wade finished uprighting himself to standing, proudly, in his highchair (tray still in place).  I immediately realized he was at high risk of falling to the floor so I reached out to grab him.  In the same instant, he fell forward in a Cirque de Soliel dive while the floor rose up to meet his head.  I was holding him the entire time – but only with one hand.  The result was Wade’s first head-bump.  Tears ensued for him and I cried angrily on the inside.  I was furious at myself – what an idiot mother!  How could I have allowed him to hurt himself?  The fall replayed in my mind for days.  I felt responsible for my son’s harm.  However, there was a second less altruistic feeling hidden behind the first – pride I had ruined my perfect scorecard.  Recounting the story seemed a confession to others of my negligence as a mother.  I felt ashamed and realized this would only be the first of many “mistakes” I would make.

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too happy to keep score

I talked to a new mother friend recently.  She was overcome with fear about sleep training, thinking her 2 month old should be further along in his sleep patterns.  Had she missed the window!?  Was it too late!?  What if she had damaged his future sleep habits!?  I was far enough in my own journey to see what was happening to her.  I had ordered a tall stack of sleep training books when Wade was a month old and spent several weeks of maternity leave reading, sorting, comparing, trying to find a hidden connection that might reveal a Universal Sleep Truth! (If you’re curious, I can assure you there is no such thing.)  I tried to alleviate my friend’s fears, but sleep training was not the real issue.  I told her she was at a crossroads in her nascent journey as a mother.  This was her first opportunity to let go – to take a slow breath and remember – her son will be okay.

Even if we master sleep training or breastfeeding, there will be another challenge, another unmapped territory to traverse.  There will be discipline, school, driving, dating, traveling – an endless list of iterating unknowns.  If we do not begin to let go, to trust, we will be consumed by fear.  As I challenged her, I recommitted myself to the discipline as well.  You may have your own formula for renewing trust.  Mine is:

follow my gut + pray  = Wade will be okay!

So go ahead – crunch up your scorecard, rip it, burn it.  It will not help, it will only harm.

What is your strategy for alleviating your anxiety as a mother or parent?

Let the heart be moved

When American Airlines Flight 11 struck the first trade tower in 2001, I went back to bed.  When I awoke several hours later, the second tower had been struck and what I slept through was undeniable.  Last week, while listening to recordings from the day, I reflected on my emotional transformation since and how my resistance to being moved might have dried up the fruit in my life.

Let’s rewind a few years before my son Wade was born.  Ask my immediate family or closest friends to describe me.  They might say I am warm or empathetic, that I care deeply for those close to me.  They might also say that in spite of these qualities I am not particularly demonstrative or affectionate and that, come to think of it, I rarely say I love you.  You might receive an occasional love you, but the “I” would be absent, giving the phrase a casual, careless expression.  They may also note my aversion to crying and heightened discomfort with public affection or vulnerability.

Various life experiences encouraged me restrain emotion.  If I had to cry, I would do so in private.  I cared deeply for the people in my life, but there was a limit to what I publicly shared or revealed.

It’s much safer, much easier to not be moved.  The more extensive your armor, the less likely you will be shamed by emotion.  This was my main objective – to not be shamed.  To that end, I constructed a defensive armor from variety of materials – cynicism and skepticism being two of my favorites.  They shielded me for years.  You have seen people cry during a movie, or lift their hands in worship.  Both are examples of the type of behavior I avoided.

But after years of living in preferred stoicism, I changed.  I would like to tell you I proactively decided to pursue greater maturity on my own, but as with most transformation, I was compelled.

Wade breached my defense the day he was born, leaving in his wake a broad entry point for all other events and relationships to follow.  You may think parenting changes you, that’s no surprise.  But what specifically caused the transformation?  Perhaps it’s the biological change.  My body is permanently altered in shape and physiology.  Though at best the organic is only a partial explanation.  Could it primarily be that the knowledge of my heart is altered and that my relationship to the world has shifted?  Now the world has a target line to the most vulnerable part of my flesh.

I was not cold-hearted as I may sound.  I felt sad like others when reading the news, hearing of an abused child or a family displaced by war.  I perhaps even felt empathy and a call to prayer, but I remained separate, as if looking through a telescope at a distant star.  Now I read the same stories and see my son, feel the staggering burden of a mother’s love.  It is tender.  It is terrible.  Each story transports me – it is my child, my friend, my community.  My throat tightens in protest, but my eyes soon blur with tears.

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I can’t fight it anymore.  I can no longer contain the sorrow and the joy in me!  And why should I?

I look to Christ as the example for all things.  In the gift of His life, we see that God allows Himself to be moved!  And further, He does not hide His joy or sorrow from us!  The journey from Godhead to man is our example of astonishing vulnerability.  Through it we see God is not stoic or hard-hearted.  He chooses to be intimately familiar with our heartaches.  The Psalmist assures not only does He see our tears, He keeps a record of each one.

If God allows me to move His heart, I honor Him when I allow myself to be moved.  If his own glory does not keep him from joy or sorrow, how can I permit my own pride to do so?  I see now that in restraining my own heart, I was restraining the heart of God.

I will not lie.  If you see me cry, I likely will be fighting embarrassment.  But I will also be remembering my God, allowing the tears come and hoping that for someone near, they might hint of the one God with a heart to be moved.

When He saw the throngs, He was moved with pity and sympathy for them, because they were bewildered (harassed and distressed and dejected and helpless), like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36 (amplified)

Hearing from you – did having a child or another experience change how you care for others, or show your care?

Why – Start With Broken ?

Pretend we just met. Maybe we experienced a natural connection or maybe our conversation was unpleasantly awkward. Regardless of the outcome, I want you to leave the encounter thinking I can do it all. I want you to think I’m like the woman you read about once in a magazine – the one who rises before her husband and children for a morning run, followed by harvesting in the garden, then washing up to cook a breakfast of local eggs, hand-squeezed orange juice and heirloom fruit, all while writing a narrative poem that she will read to her family while they eat. The description seems ridiculous, right? Unfortunately, I pursued this lie of doing-it-all until my body no longer allowed it.

Years ago, someone called me a “renaissance woman.” At the time, it seemed the most significant accolade of my adult life. Being type-A, I took much pride in the compliment. My drive to do was fueled by a desire to make others believe I could do it all. Managing my life was exhausting – friends, family, church, hobbies, news, work, fitness. The flow of things to do or know was relentless. But admitting that I had physical and emotional limits seemed a submission to failure, so I pushed on, concealing myself with projects and activities. I believed if I stopped to rest, I would become ordinary, unremarkable.

Attached to our childless lifestyle, my husband and I waited 8 years to have a baby. I convinced myself I was finally ready for a child to rearrange my life. Secretly though, I hoped for a life not too different from the one I was living. I assumed I would find a way to do it all, only now with a baby at my side. Scanning the blogs of crafty young mothers only confirmed it must be possible. Believing the lie, I was clueless to the impact my son would have on my life, or to the journey ahead of me.

An extremely sick pregnancy took me by surprise. Every day was a great struggle. Gradually I was forced to surrender my life one activity at a time – hobbies, household projects, even a few relationships. Rest was the only activity within my capacity. Working and completing the simple tasks of each day seemed insurmountable. Sometimes I laid on the floor of my office in the fetal position just to make it through the day. The surrender continued following birth as infection and a complicated recovery followed my caesarian section. In the midst of it all, I fell deeply in love with my son. My longing to be near him helped me accept the slowing of my life as a gift. Raising a child decreases one’s margins. To a larger degree than many of my friends, my body enforces its limits. I could resent these limits, but the truth is without them, I would be a ship run aground by impulse. Physical brokenness is an integral part of my person. It is the discipline that precedes simplicity.

When I eventually returned to my baseline months later, the old impulses returned – “Try this project! Rejoin the media stream! Get back in touch with so-and-so!” Unlike in the past, I was now able to deflect these impulses. I had tasted simplicity. A year of physical brokenness released me from a fear of the ordinary and taught me that simplicity living creates more room for the real stuff of life. God created a work of beauty from the sickness, darkest months of my life – another of his “beauty from ashes” narratives.

What I learned is that the most delightful, the most heartbreaking, the most fantastic, is in the ordinary. Watching my son, I sense an importance in every moment – that right here, on the floor, in the long evening shadows, is a moment of influence I will never replicate. How humbled I am, knowing I could have missed these moments because of my own pride.

But what does the idea of simplicity mean practically? It means I give my family the first portion of my energy. Unlike before parenthood, I keep my commitments few. I do not pursue multiple projects or involvements, and I filter the relentless stream of ideas and news. Post-Pinterest-traumatic-stress anyone? I have stopped trying to prove I can do it all. If I forget my simpler priorities, my body reminds me. I admit there are days where the impulse to dive into activity is strong. I imagine my son as a young man and fear my accomplishments and activities might not be enough to make him proud of me. In those moments, I reject fear and trust he will be most proud of the mother who loved well and gave generously of her presence above all else. In contrast to “renaissance woman,” I now hope to be label as present, engaged in the moment. I am held accountable knowing my son will not learn to value what’s most important unless I model it myself.

Choosing simplicity has shifted my values and changed how I prioritize the different components of my family’s lives. My goal for a day is no longer a lengthy project list. The primary objective is to be present with my son. I look him full in the face and listen, not ruminating on projects left undone or darting between his requests and my cell phone. I allow the flow of the day to lead us. We walk outside, we build, we tear down, we take lazy baths and bike rides, we bang pots and pans, we dance to a record, we read a stack of books, we nap, we jump on pillows, we take blanket rides around the house. I simplify our schedules and our home so we have greater freedom to engage with each other – less toys, less noise, fewer commitments. In quiet moments I imagine life without my son and the work God is doing through him. The image always moves me to gratefulness – how much I almost missed!

To others experiencing physical brokenness – let it be a simplifying force in your life. Brokenness is a turning point, a preface. It is the point on the long drive where you make the final turn to see home ahead, sweet in firm but few expectations, simple, but generous in space and time, ordinary, but one of a kind.

Why start with broken? Because its the place where transformation begins.

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