On Mom Guilt & Forgiveness

A friend told me that I always “make motherhood sound so good” when I blog.

And being a mom IS my favorite thing ever, but really, it’s not a 24/7 walk through fields of sunflowers and rainbows.  I don’t ever, ever, ever take it for granted because it is a HUGE gift, so I don’t complain very much.  But, in the spirit of keepin’ it real…

Motherhood lately has been fun.  And scary.  And messy.

It’s been FUN, because Zoe is independently moving and is the most fun-loving kid ever.  She’s bold and she has spunk and she will not sit still & quiet.  Last week, I took her to the playground and she wanted to walk over and over again into the splash pad to get wet.  I took her to music class at the library and she waved her arms, clapped, and screeched to the music, screaming and clapping when each song ended.  We took her to a birthday party on Saturday and she didn’t want to make small talk with anyone—she wanted to cruise around the playground holding onto our fingers for support.  She gives hugs, screams for joy, rips through her toy basket, and generally lives life to the fullest.  I love it.

IMG_1549It’s also been SCARY, because, well, Zoe is independently moving and is the most fun-loving kid ever.  She tries to kill herself multiple times a day, totally by mistake, and it is SO scary to think that her safety and security hinges on my close supervision.  I used to nanny and could give my sole attention to the child for the hours  I was there because it was my only responsibility.  As the mom, though, I have multiple things to manage.  I can’t watch her every moment and I can’t predict what zany idea she will think of next (eating carpet, pulling heavy toys on top of herself, yanking the dog’s ears, trying to pull the shower curtain down on herself, putting a twig I didn’t even notice into her mouth…my mind does not work the way hers does and I can’t always predict her next move.)

There’s a lot of pressure on me to, you know, keep this child alive and sometimes that pressure feels choking.   I try tactics to work through my fear, like praying or reminding myself that I used to be in charge of 24 middle schoolers on a daily basis, but in the amount of time it takes me to give myself that mental pep talk or lift up a prayer she usually has come up with her next Evel Knievel idea and terrified me again.

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And it’s been MESSY, because (what what?!) she is independently moving and is the most fun-loving kid ever.

Now, I’d already made peace with the fact that as a mom, I am messier than I was as a non-mom.  I have a certain level of acceptance for the bags under my eyes, the ponytails (a few months ago, Zoe became terrified of the blow dryer, so I can only blow dry my hair once a week or so when David is available to distract her,) and the mom uniform (I now own the same shirts, pants, and shorts in multiple colors so that I can get dressed in three minutes or less.)  I’d gotten used to life without jewelry (Zoe breaks it) and heels/platforms (who knew I was 4’11? No one, apparently.)  That’s messy, right?

Oh well.  Totally worth it.  “Polished 24/7” has never been my identity anyway, and  I love Zoe way more than straightened hair.

And I’d already made peace (or so I thought!) with the fact that life isn’t just about me, that this season is a little messy, and that’s beautiful.  Deeper meaning understood! I’m so well adjusted, right? Nothing should phase me now!

BUT GUYS.  In reality?

My house?

AHH.

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I’m phased.

Zoe is in a phase of development I’m referring to as “learning through mess-making.”  Or “MAKING MOMMY LEARN NEW COPING SKILLS.”

And she’s loving it.

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(That photo was taken at 6:15 am.  She had already consumed a bottle & taken every toy out of her toy chest.  Time for sunglasses.)  

I’m forcing myself to allow the messes because she NEEDS to make messes to explore and learn about the world.  If, for example, I insist on feeding her so that it’s less messy, she’ll never learn how to do it on her own, and she’ll be a two year old or twenty year old that still needs her mommy to feed her.

But giving her control?!!

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IT’S SO MESSY.

I know, I know…this is parenting.

I know, there’s a deeper lesson…that you have to let go of control and let them mess up because that’s how they learn.

And I know…these are the easy messes to clean up.  We have youth group parents that talk with us all the time about the harder ones so I should appreciate the avocado on the wall and poop in the bathtub while that’s all I have to contend with.

But AHH.  The stickiness.  The repetition of cleaning up the same messes over and over again. IT NEVER ENDS.  And that is the spot where I break, the spot where I am vulnerable, where I suddenly think: you deserve more than this.  You are too smart to be a full time housecleaner.  Maybe you should go back to work. You just spend your whole day serving your family—who serves you? When was the last time you got time to yourself during the day when you weren’t working? August? Why is your husband at work right now? What has he given up? Does what you’re doing right now matter at all? 

And I hate that these lies come.  I want to love and honor the people in my life, not despise them and feel weighted down by untruths about them.  I want to live joyfully and purposefully. Silently muttering to myself as I slam bottles into the sink and clean up toys for the gazillionth time that day doesn’t really fit into any of that.

I want to live authentically.  Pretending to clap for my daughter’s joyful exploration of our toy chest while I secretly think you are making work for me feels like a betrayal of our relationship, a betrayal of the kind of mom I want to be, proof that she deserves better than me.

I want to live sacrificially, because there IS more to life than my whims and wants and unmet needs, but sometimes the deficits feel so overwhelming.  I think, I have nothing left to give you.  I am empty.

So no, motherhood is not all sunflowers and rainbows.  Sometimes it’s visible sin that you can’t deny and frustration with yourself and guilt and hiding tears from your baby as you implore God to change your heart.  Sometimes it’s growth.  Sometimes it feels like stagnancy or regression. Motherhood is good—like I said, it it seriously my favorite thing ever—but it is refining and it is revealing and it is not something you should do if you want to feel successful and good about yourself all the time.  Because motherhood can create your best moments, but it also shows you your weakest spots and takes you to your most vulnerable and defeating places.

But you don’t have to live there.

I’ve always felt grateful for God’s forgiveness of me.  But since becoming a mom, I’ve awakened to how grateful I am that He enables me to forgive myself.

My sense of responsibility for this precious life is so high; my mistakes and failures are so numerous.  It would be easy to sit around in shame and frustration and guilt—not because I let someone else down, but simply because I want to be better than I am.

But He keeps me moving along, unencumbered by yesterday’s mistakes.  And so I sweep the floors and pick up the toys and wash the bottles again, knowing I am forgiven, loved, seen, and chosen even in my imperfection and (yes) messiness—knowing that He picked me for this job and that He can equip me to do it a heck of a lot more efficiently when I hold up my empty hands instead of trying to do it all on my own.

It’s humbling.  But it’s freeing at the same time.  Fun.  Scary.  Messy.

Hope that was real enough for you, friend 🙂

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October 22

Today, I am sharing a journal entry I wrote one year ago.  I wanted to commit my feelings and thoughts about that day to paper so that years later, I could read it to someone special.  I share it with you today. 

***

On October 22, everything in my life changed.

That morning, I felt God.  I stepped outside with Java in the morning.  It was dark and devastatingly beautiful outside.  It was colder–but not freezing.  It was clear and I could see the stars, which doesn’t happen every morning.  I looked up and really just felt awe–God was there and He wanted to bless me.

I stood on the patio in my bare feet and my pajamas looking up at the tall oak trees and the stars and feeling the chill in the air and I thought: THANK YOU.

I came inside, wanting to share my blessing with a still-sleeping David or with friends.  “His mercies are new every morning,” I would say or text, adding some commentary to share my special moment with those close to me.

But I decided instead to spend time with God, and I had a wonderful quiet time of prayer and Bible reading before heading off to get my flu shot and go to work.

Six hours later, the magical quality of my morning wasn’t matching my reality.  I was feeling sick from the flu shot and was kind of considering going home (a rarity for me.)  I met Heather for coffee from 1-2 hoping to perk myself up.  I decided I had too much to do to go home, gave myself a pep talk, and came back to the office to work on a presentation.  I almost didn’t answer my work phone when it rang.

But I did.  And everything changed.

It was our adoption agency.

“You’ve been selected,” they said.

“Selected? For what? A survey?” I asked.

They laughed, then got serious.  “No.  A birthmom selected you.”

And in that moment, my life exploded with happiness and joy, stress and joy, anxiety and worry and joy…but JOY.

And that is how I feel now.  Pure, simple JOY.

As Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed!” 

THIS girl can relate!! I am not carrying the Lord or even “carrying” a baby–but I AM overjoyed. And I am grateful and humbled that the Lord has fulfilled the things He said He would do for me.

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her will be accomplished!”

***

I didn’t know then where this would all lead.  I didn’t know our baby would be a healthy and beautiful girl, with no signs of the possible developmental delays that I was preparing for.  I didn’t know that I’d be leaving the job that I loved for a job I love just as much.  I didn’t know just how much more I could love my husband or how deeply I could love another human being.

But I knew something was beginning.

I don’t have a story of the moment I realized that I was pregnant.  I didn’t have a stick with a symbol on it, a heartbeat to listen to, or a belly that grew for 9 months that proved that something was happening.  But I have that day in all its beautiful messiness.

And even more than that, I have the 6 weeks that followed it, when a friend began pumping one extra breastmilk bottle per day for my baby, when emails with subject lines like “Prayer Request” and “Exciting News from Sarah and David” were sent and joyfully received among our closest friends and family…

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…when papers with scary and amazing truths were signed…

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…when my sister spent her own money and time to fly out from California and help put a nursery together…

IMG_0295…when friends willingly gave of their time during holiday season to help us create baby registries, assemble baby gear, notarize our forms, properly install carseats…

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IMG_0010…when friends encouraged us to use their beach condo and spend one last Thanksgiving as a couple without kids (and even though I felt totally overwhelmed and stressed out and may have cried for half of our beach weekend, I am so grateful that we have the good memories!!)…

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…when friends threw me a shower that made it feel like it was real…

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…and when friends and family members texted, called, emailed, and met with me to encourage me and tell me how much they believed that this would happen, speaking truths over the lies and fears that this wouldn’t come to fruition, that this wouldn’t work out, that I would never take my baby home.

YOU were my “belly,” the two lines, the heartbeat—the reminders that this was real, that something was happening, that this was joyful, that this was something to celebrate instead of stress over.  And I am so incredibly grateful for the support you have shown us over the last year.

And most of all, I am thankful for the God who showed me His presence that morning, the God who knew I needed a reminder of His love so that I could trust, the God who has shown me His presence every day since.  He is the God who knew that day that Zoe would ours, who knows who she’ll turn out to be someday, and who holds every day of our lives in His hands.

This morning Zoe woke up around midnight.  David fed her a bottle but she kept crying—she just wanted to be rocked.  So I went in and sat there holding my baby girl who is now spilling off the chair and thought: another holy morning.  Another October 22 starting with God’s presence.   May it be so for you as well.

“For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”  -Romans 11:36

Day in the Life: 9 Months*

(*Yes, Zoe is actually 10 months now but I am just now getting around to posting this “Day in the Life” that I wrote when she was 9 months old. Putting in the photos was my hang-up!  Forgive us–I’ve been just a bit busy over here!)

If you’re just joining us, I’ve been trying to post a “day in the life” post every 3 months so that I can keep track of how Zoe is growing and developing over time! Feel free to read our 3 month and 6 month posts.

The 3 month post has all my “disclaimers” about this project, but to review: I am not Martha Stewart and do not kill myself to keep our house clean or make elaborate meals, I work part time, Zoe is bottle fed, my husband works down the street and stops by a lot, and I do not detail diaper changes in these posts because that’s boring.  And without further ado, here’s our day!

SEPTEMBER 17, 2013:

6:00 am Zoe screeches to wake me up.  She has been sleeping through the night most nights recently and tonight was no different.  SCORE!! I get up and make her a bottle and let David keep sleeping.

6:10 Zoe enjoys a bottle while I start my quiet time: an online study on Daniel.

6:30 Zoe and I sit on our living room rug.  She plays while I drink my coffee and try to finish my quiet time. I say “try” because I don’t think you can truly call it a “quiet time” if a toy is screaming “ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT, GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM” on a loop as your baby presses the button over and over again.  We roll a ball back and forth and Zoe gets really excited about it, so I get all of her balls out for optimal ball play.

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6:50 Daddy comes out.  The following adorable scene takes place (click it to enlarge if you want and imagine a baby voice saying “dada!!!” for full effect)

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6:50 David and Zoe throw a toy to “dog” a few times before he leaves at 7:00.  After he leaves, Zoe and I continue her “dog” theme by playing with the dog bed and reading a book about dogs.

Zoe and dogsZoe’s latest “leap” is supposed to be categories.  Can you tell?

7:15 Breakfast for both of us! Zoe eats Cheerios, banana, yogurt, & corn (hand feeding herself everything except the yogurt!)  I eat an oatmeal pancake with yogurt and blueberries.  While we eat, we listen to a morning worship playlist I recently made on my new obsession, Grooveshark.

8:00 I clean Zoe, her tray, and the floor up and we both get dressed.  If you haven’t heard, getting dressed is a HILARIOUS game also known as “keep away!”

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Needless to say, it takes a while to get clothes on her body.

8:30 I put Zoe in the stroller and we take “dog” on a walk through the neighborhood.  Zoe eagerly looks for cats, pointing and shouting “CAT!!!!!” whenever we see one.  I come up with a joke: what diagnostic test does Zoe perform on our walks? A CAT SCAN.  I tell Zoe and Java and neither of them laugh.  May need a little work…

9:00 We’re back home! Zoe has a bottle while I read blogs.

9:15 Zoe falls asleep.   I catch up with personal and work emails, type up our day so far, and do some dishes.

9:45 I have a business call for a nonprofit board that I’m a part of (I’m actually the president, which I thought would be “fun.”  We haven’t gotten there quite yet.) I fold laundry in between referencing documents.

10:25 Off the phone.  In a very rare moment of stay-at-home-momdom, I don’t know what to do with myself next.  This particular work week I am working 14 hours total facilitating workshops, but I’m working with a team that’s doing all the prep work so I don’t need to do anything ahead of time.  Since I’ve been working more hours than usual for the last two weeks, I’ve been a freak about time management and I’m caught up with my chores.  There’s…nothing to work on.  Weird! Wracking my brain, I decide to clean the bathroom, then realize that David’s best friend has all of our bathroom cleaning products at his house.  I text him and ask him for it back, wishing it could teleport to our house.  Then I putter around anxiously.  I hate unstructured time so much.  AHHH!!

10:45 Zoe wakes up and I pounce on something to do.  This is her face when I go in her room:

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I talk to her in an animated voice and she slowly wakes up.  She’s SO CUTE!

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As soon as she seems ready, we head to playgroup.

11:05-12:15 Tuesday playgroup! I love these women and babies so much.  I’ve noticed lately that if Zoe is not sitting on my lap while she plays, she wants me to be right next to her.  She frequently checks to make sure I’m still there by reaching her hand back to feel me.  If she can touch me, she’s okay.  If she can’t, she turns around, holds her arms up, and cries until I pick her up.  It’s sweet.  I stay right next to her as she excitedly plays with new toys.

12:25 Home from playgroup and time for some lunch.  David is finishing up his lunch and Zoe enjoys greeting him before he heads back to work.  For lunch, Zoe eats peas, yogurt, peaches, and bread with pesto (my little foodie!)  I top a whole wheat pita with pizza sauce, goat cheese, & mushrooms and bake for a little “pizza” lunch for myself.  A few bites in, I begin to feel sick.  I have a hard time finishing the meal.  (Postscript: I realized a few days later that the pizza sauce had gone bad!! Eww, and no wonder…)

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While we eat, we listen to Zoe’s “Nursery Rhymes” station on Pandora.  I try to pay attention to her reactions to songs and “like” or “dislike” the songs so that it’s truly Zoe’s station.  Her station has slowly merged into Motown with the occasional Barney.  That’s my girl.

Zoe begins dancing and waving her hands to the music, so I hand her a spoon that she can beat to the rhythm.  She loves rhythm.

IMG_1516After a while, I take the spoon away so that I can clean her up.  THE INHUMANITY!

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1:15 Bottle time! I catch up on news on CNN.com while Zoe drinks her bottle.

1:30-2:15 One of the rhythms I’ve tried to set in our day is an after-lunch “reading time.”  We cuddle on the couch and I pick out books based on what Zoe has been around lately (if she’s shown an interest in cars, I get out our car book…if we’ve been around animals lately, I get out animal books…if we have been around other babies, I get out books with photos of babies…if she’s been making a lot of sounds with her mouth, I get out books that let me make funny sounds…why am I still typing? You get the gist.)  At first, Zoe just tried to eat the books and/or hit me with them, but now she actually sits on my lap, listens, and turns the pages.  She is also really into “lift the flap” books.

David happens to stop by to make a cup of coffee and takes our picture.  Aww.

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2:15-2:30 Zoe has been teething for the last 2 days, so in a “teething only” act she lies down on me and just relaxes.  I point out shapes in the ceiling (in related news, we are getting our roof redone soon…)

2:35 I lay Zoe in her bed.  No protest whatsoever.  Then, I Facebook a little, catch up on our day on this blog post, and read a book.   As mentioned, I don’t have much to do today.  My stomach is still hurting and I don’t feel good, so taking it easy actually appeals to me on a physical level, if not a mental one.

3:15 Although I don’t feel better, I decide to get up and accomplish something.  I dust the house.

3:45 Zoe wakes up.  I want to take her to the park today so I get us changed into “park appropriate clothing” (for her, a swimsuit, sunscreen, and sun hat) and put her in the car.

4:10 We arrive at the park! It’s a beautiful waterfront park with a splash pad and playground.  I take Zoe through the splash pad, push her on the baby swing, and help her “climb” and pull up on the toddler playground.  We meet a 3 year old girl who wants to talk and sing to Zoe, so we hang with her and her grandmother for a little bit.  Zoe loves big kids and is very happy to be around one.  It’s so cute 🙂

4:50 We leave the park.

5:05 Home! Time for a picture…

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…and our usual family evening dog walking session.  We spy lots of cats!

5:30 David gives Zoe a bath and changes her into her PJs.  Meanwhile, I make an easy dinner: vegetarian burritos and salad for David and me, and carrots, pears, peas, and pieces of whole wheat tortilla with almond butter for Zoe.

5:45 We eat dinner.  Note to self: don’t eat burritos when you have already been feeling sick to your stomach.  I feel worse.

6:15 Dinner’s over.  We play with Zoe in the living room.  She is REALLY into standing these days and shows off her tricks!

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She also gets interested in my camera and takes a selfie.

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6:50 Zoe starts rubbing her eyes and looking sleepy, so I begin her wind-down ritual for bed and give her a bottle.

7:20 Zoe is really cranky but won’t go to sleep.  I bring her back out to the living room and try to show her some toys and books.  She is very disinterested and keeps rubbing her teeth and crying.   I think her teeth hurt.

7:30 I don’t know what to do with her, so I decide to try something new.  I give her a cold teether from the fridge and let her lay on David and me for four songs worth of a “Praise Baby” DVD someone gave us.  She has only watched TV once before (when I was sick and David was out of town…such a bad combo) and she seems soothed and intrigued by the novelty.

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7:45 I don’t want her to watch any more TV.  She is obviously tired but disinterested in playing, so we take her for another loop around the neighborhood in her stroller.  It’s almost dark outside.  This finally seems to calm her and let her know it’s bedtime.

8:05 David gives her another few ounces of her bottle and lays her in bed.

8:20 Bedtime sticks…for now! I’m working most of the day tomorrow, so I prep Zoe’s food for the day for her sitter and pack my lunch.  My stomach STILL hurts, so I sit through yesterday’s episode of “The Colbert Show” and call it a day. I’m in bed by 9:00.  David stays up because he is not 85 years old.

I can’t believe that next time I write one of these “day in the life” posts, my baby will be ONE YEAR OLD.  I am indescribably grateful for every moment with this beautiful and perfect gift from God and I am trying to savor every day!

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