Home Takes Work

Home Takes Work

What does the word “home” mean to you? Is it the place you walk into, shut the door, and take refuge at the end of every day? Or the place you travel to a few times a year to see family or loved ones? Is it a treasured memory in a country far away?

The idea that there is someplace we’re fully able to belong, to relax: that’s home. But it doesn’t happen by itself.

Home takes work. It takes constant maintenance, and effort, particularly when there are children in our home and we are the adults loving and caring for them.

I don’t always appreciate that work and effort enough, or give it enough weight. I think of it as lesser work. But it’s important.

It’s important for giving our kids (and ourselves!) a place of refuge. Most parents strive to create homes for our children with memories that will hopefully give them a strong foundation, and joy, when they’ve long since left that home. It’s a place where a framework for their futures is built, and on which their values, their priorities, their abilities will be formed and then deepened.

So home is important. But for those of us who follow Christian teachings, home is not everything. It’s certainly not the biggest house we can buy, furnished with the nicest furnishings and the most up-to-date technology, clothes, etc. It is, rather, the place from which we launch, striving always to complete our mission, whatever form it takes, and the place to which we retreat when we need to rest and recharge.

As I type this, it is snowing outside, threatening to make a very long week go out on a yet more hectic note. And so rather than dwell on all the worries that tomorrow could bring, I think I will call it a night, grateful that the kids are all sheltered, warm, and sleeping, and safe, and give myself that same respite.

New Chapters

New Chapters

A typical day in my life doesn’t usually go according to plan. But one morning last week was an exception. I fit in a workout and shower before 7am, the older kids got dressed and did their morning chores without extra prompting, and the day was off to a positive, earlier-than-usual start. It stayed that way all day, too. Hi-fives and feel-goods all around.

Here’s the issue: whenever I have a day that good, I expect every day to be that good. Just like I expect the kids to always be good just because they’ve demonstrated that they can be. Just like I expect myself to always be super-productive in every way. (You’d think nine-plus years of motherhood would have beaten that out of me, but I am, by any indication, a slow learner.)

And then, when the day’s not so smooth–and it usually isn’t–I am hard on myself, hard on the kids and impatient with pretty much everyone and everything. That person is not the person I want to be and this daily pattern it is not the way I want to live.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that the things we would wish for if genies were real are things that cannot be wrapped and put under a tree. Improved health. Restored relationships. Peace. Freedom from worry. A job we love. We all have something. And for many of us, the fact that we don’t have this thing can easily lead to frustration and, well, impatience with ourselves and with the world. There is a restlessness to our humanity that no amount of consumerism or distractions can satiate.

There is a well-known passage in I Corinthians, Chapter 13 of the Bible that lists love’s attributes, and among those attributes is patience. I’ve read or heard this passage approximately 783 times in my life, and I think I’ve always understood “patience” to mean doing things like waiting for a slow walker, or, I dunno, listening to your grandma tell the same story for the tenth time. It’s only recently dawned on me that this is a very superficial understanding of patience. Patience is kindness is forbearance is love is patience. It is seeing the flaws and failings of another, and of myself, and accepting the person anyway, being gentle anyway. Not because you don’t see the flaws or don’t expect better, but because you know how hard life can be on each of us, and because a gentle response has never done the harm that an impatient one has.

This has become manifestly apparent in my parenting. Between encountering a new preadolescent in my oldest child, scooping up the 30-some pound angry acrobat that is my terrible-two-ish youngest, and not neglecting the middle child, I often lose whatever cool I may have once had. And when this happens, I doubt my skills as a parent and worry that I am ruining my relationship with them and scarring them for life. A little more self-restraint and patience with each of them and myself would make all the difference. Of course, a change this fundamental is easier declared than made, but it is still January, and it is not too late for resolutions. (Not that it ever is: resolutions are made when you are ready for them, not when the calendar dictates.)

So, patience. It’s my resolution for the new year. Patience with the kids when they act like, well, kids. Patience with myself, as I am a less-than-perfect mother and human being. Patience for this messy, imperfect life that we all live.

On Becoming the Person I Used To Be

On Becoming the Person I Used To Be

Maybe motherhood is a metamorphosis, like a butterfly’s, and I’m in the cocoon phase. But if so, I’m pretty sure I’m doing it backwards and going from a beautiful butterfly to a squishy slimy worm.

You know that mom in the grocery store parking lot with her hair falling out of her ponytail and stains on her yoga pants and a determined smile on her face while her offspring yell and tug at her? I always felt sorry for her; she couldn’t even get it together enough to handle a grocery store run. But not anymore. Now….well, now I find ways to avoid going to the grocery store solo with all three kids. Fresh fruits and vegetables are over-rated, and what’s more, I don’t need your judgment, thankyouverymuch.

Some time ago, at the end of weeks with the kids off school, I realized my voice was actually hoarse from yelling at them all day. If you know me even a little, you know I’m not the yelling type. But I’d been yelling, and a lot. When did I become this, I asked myself? Does it have to be this way? What in the name of all that is good and right in this world has my life become?

Yes, it is a beautiful life, full of beautiful, healthy children who live and love large and out loud in the heartbreaking way that only children can. They have taught and continue to teach me more than anything has. They bring me joy and pure delight. Yes, it’s a life with a wonderful and committed spouse and lots of memories being made. I am fortunate; I know I am. And I know they will grow and change and need me less and fly away. I know all that. I know I should be grateful for this time.

But sometimes, think of me what you will, I am not. Sometimes, I can’t take any more of their living out loud. I just want quiet. In fact, in the precious few quiet moments, early in the morning or late at night when they’re in bed, I think I’ve become someone I don’t recognize. And that is pretty terrifying. I say things that would be laughable in any context other than among kids, and I say them so frequently I am sure I will go crazy from the repetition. I am very happy to climb under the covers at 9pm. I drive a minivan. Going to the movies, or to, well, any type of event, is no longer a typical Saturday night. It’s a once in a blue moon occasion to be anticipated and savored. So is finishing a meal while it’s hot. Come to think of it, so is finishing a thought or a sentence without interruption. And it’s been this way for so long I have to concentrate to remember it wasn’t always so.

I have to remember too that, although examples like these are easy to find, they do not define who I am. Like the creature in that cocoon, the essence of who I am is buried somewhere behind the toys and school papers and constant chatter that are my environment these days.

One day, I hope to return to myself. I hope my kids will know me as I know me, or the me I imagine I am at my best. I hope to be able to have the conversations with them that I always imagined having, even when I was a kid myself. Right now, I’d take even the ability to talk to my kids without interrupting myself to yell things like, “How many times do I have to ask you not to pinch your sister?” or “Don’t interrupt someone when they’re in the middle of talking,” or a whole host of other things that are, simply, maddening.

But what if there is no returning to myself? The dreams I’d had of the type of mother I wanted to be are slowly being reshaped by reflections of the type of mother I am becoming, and the relationships I will have with these particular kids in our particular life. I hope that my kids will know me one day as a person, not just their hassled, frazzled mom. They may never know the young woman I used to be, but that chapter is long closed. Motherhood is a metamorphosis, and I’m in the cocoon phase. Until that cocoon breaks open, I don’t know how I will emerge. But I do know there is such a long road to travel, and in those multitudes of hours, there is the opportunity for betterment that I mustn’t let pass.

Standing on the Edge

Standing on the Edge

Recently, I came across an unfamiliar word: koselig. It is the Norwegian word for coziness, and it resonated with me. I’m not sure why. It’s certainly not because I have any desire to be anywhere near anything wool, fleece, or fuzzy. Indeed not: it’s currently 28C/81F.

But this post isn’t about the weather. It’s about koselig, and the fact that as a couple and as a family, we are currently at this odd juncture of waiting for a pretty significant change to come into our lives (in the form of baby #3) and at the same time anticipating a settling in. A settling in, or a “koselig:” a finality, a completeness that brings a psychological coziness.

This time around, parenthood is surrender. I know there is little we can control about this child: how good a sleeper s/he will be, or how loud a crier. Later, what and who will this little person of ours love? Who will s/he become? (There is, of course, a lot we can and will influence, teach, discipline, etc., but from where I stand now, the unknowns overwhelm that which is within our  control.) How will our older kids adjust to the change in our family dynamics? How, exactly, will our day-to-day lives change? I’m a lot more at peace with not knowing the answer to this last question especially than I would have been even one year ago. That has everything to do with trusting that God will see us through whatever this new chapter brings.

“Koselig” is also reminiscent, for me, of rest, and comfort, and a sense of being sheltered. These are sensations that are too often lacking in the do-something, be-somewhere nature of our lives. We–and I’m not sure whether by “we” I mean Americans, most humans, or simply people like me–seem to always be seeking the extraordinary and exciting. But I would posit that the richest moments of our lives, and the ones which we look back on when we need comfort or the memory of happiness, are moments that are ordinary, homey even.

Cooking a turkey at Thanksgiving. Note the stylish cereal necklace, compliments of a certain 4-year-old.

Simple pleasures: swimsuits drying on a clothes line after a day at the beach, a mighty hug and good night kiss from a child, the smell of a home-cooked meal when you walk in the door.

What if we learned to savour these things, instead of always seeking the next sensational thrill? That thrill, depending on one’s personality and preferences, can be the latest purchase from a favourite store, or that newest, rancor-filled political article, or the next meal or vacation on a recent “best-of” list, or any number of other thrills. At some point, I think excitement and novelty became overrated, and small, ordinary joys became under-rated.

As we stand at the edge of this new chapter in our lives, my hope is that we–I–will learn to right that balance and embrace the koselig that is waiting right in front of us.