Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Friday, May 24, 2013
Monday, May 20, 2013
It’s a game we play, and replay, a lot at our house.
“But it isn’t FAAAIIIIR!” they whine.
I act Alarmed. Affronted. Confused. “Who told you life was fair? How dare they!”
It’s not entirely an act. I happen to think that teaching our kids they are entitled to a life of ease and comfort is irresponsible, possibly cruel. Someday the real world will come calling. If they haven’t had an opportunity to build important coping skills, they will likely to fall to pieces. The small, everyday disappointments of life are an important curriculum.
You won’t be able to watch that movie tonight, because Dad is watching his team lose the Stanley Cup.
There’s a hole in your favourite hoodie (the only thing worse than this is my suggestion of sewing on a patch, apparently).
Your sister has a sleepover tonight and you don’t. You’ll have to hang out with your mom instead.
I’m sorry, but your sister ate your homework (true story).
All valuable lessons, if handled correctly. Somewhere between “Vlad the Insensitive, Destroyer of Dreams” and “Schmoopy the Rescuer, Enabler of Dysfunction” lies good parenting.
My parents certainly didn’t subscribe to the “protect-at-all-costs” parenting philosophy. In their mind, suffering builds character, even for kids. They didn’t push us down the stairs or pinch us when we smiled too wide. But they didn’t apologize for the reasonable disappointments life brought our way – doing more chores than any of my friends, wearing second-hand clothes, bypassing the candy aisle, bringing lunch instead of buying… a whole lot of making do with what we had, without complaining.
This wasn’t easy to swallow as a child. And if I’m being honest, it’s still a struggle. Although I wasn’t raised to believe my life SHOULD be easy, I still feel somewhat surprised and ripped off when it isn’t. “But God, it’s not FAAAAIIIIR!”
Because it’s really not. Life isn’t fair.
Lessons I’ve learned from Disappointment:
Perspective: As I write this, on my personal laptop, in a warm house, dressed in a new (second-hand, but still newly bought) shirt, after eating a filling lunch, while my healthy son naps and my well supported children attend a well equipped school nearby, I realize that whining about life being unfair is pretty, well, unfair, to the billions of people who could only dream about a life as good as mine. Nevertheless, my small disappointments gave me a taste of suffering and dose of reality. Life is like this. Bad stuff happens (the slightly less poetic, but much more child-friendly truism). There’s not always someone to blame. No one is entitled to a trouble-free existence.
Health: How many of the worst patterns/habits/addictions we hold are attempts to escape or numb the pain life brings our way? I can personally attest to the tranquilizing effects of too much food, which I begin to crave whenever things start going wrong. One of my children asked if it’s true that ice cream is medicine? Ummm… A healthy person is learning to accept this discomfort and process it in a healthy way. Cry. Pray. Laugh. Create. Throw socks at the wall (really, it works).
Selflessness: Selflessness is learned in the hard places. After we process the disappointment, we have a choice. Where will my focus be? Will I wallow in my misery? Or will I think beyond me and what I want? Without a doubt, the instruction most often handed out, but not always followed by myself is: “It’s okay to be upset, but it’s not okay to make everyone around you miserable just because you are.”
Gratitude: What comes easy is often taken for granted. When I’m familiar with disappointment, then getting what I want/need/hope for is a gift and I will truly appreciate it. Our daughter B was born the year after we buried her brother Simon. Although her diagnosis with Down Syndrome threw us somewhat for a loop, it paled in comparison to the glorious fact that she was ALIVE and healthy.
Compassion: Disappointment is very real to the person feeling it. Whether anyone else understands or not, there it is. Someone who has faced their own disappointments may not be any better equipped to understand a unique sorrow, but we are open to the experience. Where it would be more convenient and comfortable to stuff our own pain beyond conscious reach and whitewash over the pain of others, the student of disappointment is not afraid to go there.
How to Grieve: My small disappointments have prepared me for the devastations in life. Not entirely. Nothing can. But it’s a start: the basic skill to face the hurt, work through it, find the joy in the midst of it and reach out to others regardless.
Disappointment isn’t lethal.
Disappointment is a natural part of life.
Disappointment is a good teacher.
I believe it and I want to live it… but doling it out as a parent is a lot harder than I expected. Perhaps it is my generation. Perhaps I’m just a pathetic softie. It’s hard to say no. It’s hard to watch those sad little faces. It’s hard not to jump in and make everything fair and smooth out the rough edges and bribe them back to happy.
So, I’m thankful for the times we really can’t afford it. Or there isn’t enough time. Or enough energy. Or it just really grosses me out (see: pet snake argument).
There is nothing wrong with WANTING to give your children everything. There IS something wrong with actually giving it to them. Unless you’re hoping to raise spoiled, greedy, miserable brats. If so, then by all means, appease and rescue and avoid disappointment at all costs. You’re on the right track.
So here’s me, hoping we’re all disappointed just enough to build strong character and no more.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The week before Mother’s Day and the holiday is officially on. A large display of sappy, overpriced cards in the mall. A coupon in the mail for extravagant flower arrangements. And a messy painting project underway on our back deck, as we corral the littles into creating one-of-a-kind cards for the many moms in our life.
One more made up holiday to fill our life with saccharine rituals and construction paper crafts. It’s a lot of effort (and often expense) in our already busy lives. But it’s all worth it, because Mom doesn’t get to be the star of the show most days.
Most days it’s about everyone, and everything, else. Most days no one says thank you, because no one even notices all the little things that keep life moving. Most days it’s a grind, nothing glamorous or exciting or worth posting in a Facebook status (not that we don’t post it anyway). And most days, we do these selfless, thankless, menial tasks quite happily, because mother-love is the most practical love of all.
So you bet we treasure our gluey crafts and roses-are-red-and-so-is-your-hair poems. We eat Cajun-style toast and undercooked eggs off our laps in bed. And we grab our pink carnation on the way out of church like it’s a badge of honor.
We take our turn in the seat of honor for a change, and it feels good.
But not all mothers are celebrating with us. For a hundred different reasons, there are those who feel the pinch of this holiday. The celebration is like salt in a wound, and every sugary sweet second of it burns.
I remember that.
My first Mother’s Day after giving birth, I went home to an empty house. I was a Mom without a child. And I wondered if it still counted. If, on this day, I counted.
I hadn’t changed any diapers. I hadn’t soothed fussy cries. I hadn’t agonized over cloth or disposable diapers. I hadn’t taken 1,000 pictures of the exact same pose, because it looked like he just “might” be smiling.
I had changed my plans. I had cried myself to sleep. I had agonized over cremation or burial. I had taken pictures of the tree we buried our son under, because I wanted to watch it grow over the years.
That year there were two families in our church who had new babies. That Mother’s Day, our church family called both myself and my friend Cheryl up to the front and gave us each a keepsake in honour of our children. They made sure we knew it counted. That we counted.
This Mother’s Day I wonder how many other women are asking that same kind of question. Is Mother’s Day for me too?
For the women with empty arms. For the women who are waiting, longing, and hoping to be called “Mom.” For the women who did not give birth or sign adoption papers, but pour themselves into the children around them. For the women haunted by a twisted version of motherhood. For the women filled with regrets. For the women who are grieving and hurting and just trying to survive.
I think it is. Maybe especially so. It’s impossible to understand the gift of Motherhood without acknowledging the pain and the struggle. As a child is born, so is a mother. In pain. In giving. In supreme effort.
Not all mothers are born in the labour and delivery ward. Some are born during a long wait, intrusive home studies, and stacks of paperwork. Some do not hold their children in their arms, but in their hearts, with a love that is not diminished by the loss. Some give birth, then give again so their child can have a better life with a grateful family. Some suffer the long wait, wondering when their turn will come, going to extraordinary lengths for their children-to-be. Some instead wear the title “Auntie” or “teacher” or “nanny” or “friend” but give unconditional love, and time, and energy, beyond normal boundaries.
All mothering is done in the same way. In pain. In giving. In supreme effort.
All women who are in the labour pains of being or becoming mothers represent us well.
Mother’s Day may not be a Happy one for you, but it still counts. You still count.
So here’s some cheesy affirmation and bad poetry, just for you:
So here’s me, so grateful for all my children this Mother’s Day: the ones here with me and the ones in heaven. Also for the other mothers in our life, the foster-mother and birth-mother and birth-grandmothers, who’ve given us so much, at such a high price.