Monday, June 29, 2009

A small accomplishment

This email was inspired after reading and hearing stories of others dealing with crisis. It all boiled down to spending time with your kids because they are all that matters. For whatever reason, that idea struck a nerve. It has always struck a nerve in me, hitting a resonant chord of something sounding good but not being entirely true. On the surface this may sound horrid but it wasn’t until my own crisis that I could fully understand the truth of what had haunted me.

Yes, my children are the most important persons in the world to me. I would do anything for them. They aren’t however, the only important entities to my life and I discovered that even in crisis there is a need to balance all those things that are important and essential, in order to remain steadfast, resilient and true to the process of being utterly available to those who need me most.

Subject: a small accomplishment
Date: March 11, 2008

There are so many ways to gain a sense of accomplishment in any given day. I know this intellectually but I have often struggled with that idea as a full-time stay at home mother. I used to think that the start-to-finish projects of a household were the key to my sense of accomplishment. My children have once again taught me a completely different way of looking at that notion. I remember becoming easily frustrated about starting something, even a mundane chore like
laundry and not being able to finish it because of the constant interruptions the day sees with children. There are many times even now when I feel like I have some sort of mother’s attention deficit disorder where I begin one thing for a few minutes only to have my attention turned to something else for another minute or two and then I’m needed for yet something else and then something else and then perhaps I can return to my original task. That is, if I still remember what it was. It is rare that I accomplish much of anything and yet I accomplish a great many things. How is this paradox possible?

I nibble at things all day long and that nibbling as a sustaining force has taken me a long time to embrace. Still, it is a necessary approach and I find that after a few days of nibbling, suddenly accomplished things are witnessed.
With Aria’s illness and the crisis it brought my family I felt compelled to examine this even further. I had read stories of other peoples’ crisis, stories of tragedy and illness that forced families to cope and change and grow. I suppose like most people, I would read these tales and wonder, “God, what if that ever happened to me?” or “I hope that never happens to me!” or “How do these people do it?”

For some reason the advice of ‘letting things go’ and ‘nothing is more important than your children’ always stayed with me in a weird negative kind of way. It felt cliché and I’ve always abhorred clichés. I’ve thought about it often, even before I had children. Part of me thought the sentiments were obvious. Of course, nothing is more important than your children BUT (and it is a big but) there are still a million little things that need to get done. Don’t they? When I became a mother, I struggled with this issue: putting my children before anything and everything else. I found that I couldn’t do it. Sometimes they forced the issue and their needs preceded all others but sometimes and often even, they have been forced to wait. They have had to learn to entertain themselves, to find amusement in all matter of things and places. I had tinges of guilt that I wasn’t the kind of mother who had all kinds of enriching activities, in which I felt equally engaged. “Spending time with your children, playing with your children is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do…” is something that I frequently heard in my head. I would face myself at the end of the day and know that I hadn’t been that kind of mother. I’ve had to accept that I’m not an entertainer-type mother. I can be that kind of mother a lot of the time, but not all of the time. I’m a selfish mother, who needs creative outlets and I demand that my children find their way when I’m in need of replenishing time.

Some may think this all sounds very natural. Of course mothers need time for themselves and children benefit from developing skills to manage their boredom. We mothers can’t constantly be entertaining our children but I tell you, I found myself overloaded with this kind of advice. So much so, that every time I had a little time for myself I felt that I had to rationalize and defend it. Not only that, but I felt guilty about it. These ideas came flooding back to me in full force when Aria became sick.

Aria’s leukemia and her hospital stay and all the subsequent unknowns were an almost drowning force. I found myself in the hospital with her, hearing a voice say, “Spend time with your kids. Play with your kids. Nothing else matters--just your kids. Your kids are the most important things in the world. Cherish your kids. Let everything else go. Let the laundry pile. Let the dishes soak. Let someone else cook the food. Hire someone to clean. Spend all your time with your kids.” So I did and I learned a very valuable thing about myself. I learned that I need a sense of accomplishment. I learned that those things that I felt encouraged to let go still needed to get done. I felt completely out of control and I know and embrace that control is an illusion but there are still many things that can be controlled and those things were very comforting to me in crisis.

I remember being in the hospital thinking about stories I had read. Women, mothers who just wanted to spend every single moment with their sick and sometimes dying children. I understood that and for a short time I did that. Aria guided me. So often I wanted to embrace her and touch her and kiss her and she wanted to be left alone. So often I wanted to stare at her and would, only to be scolded, “Mom, stop looking at me! Leave me alone!” What was I to do? I had all this advice ringing in my head to spend time with her, be with her and I was but she didn’t want to be engaged in any sort of way. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was spending energy learning to build a private cocoon for healing.

I turned to Reo and Rianna trying to savor quality time with them but my heart and my spirit were flat and focused with worry and sorrow about Aria. They could sense this and so their interests had nothing to do with playing games with me. They wanted to play with toys in the room and be in the presence of everyone without being fully engaged.

I found myself needing that sense of accomplishment. What could I do? I needed to DO something. I needed to be busy and distracted. I needed to feel like I was actively getting something done. So I turned my attention to all those things that I remember being encouraged to let go. I found doing laundry incredibly therapeutic. Being on top of that pile and getting it done filled me with a great sense of accomplishment. Tidying toys was a wonderful mindless little task too. Being industrious and tackling all kinds of chores was tremendously satisfying. I learned that as much as I wanted to hold Aria and be with her, that wasn’t what she wanted. I followed her lead and didn’t feel guilty. I felt sad because my need in this regard was not being met, but I had to remind myself that her needs were more important and being in contact with me was not one of them.

Now that we are home and she is so much better, I don’t find that I am more engaged and playful and entertaining as a mother per se but I am more sensitive about it. I suppose I have a greater appreciation of what quality time with the kids is, especially Aria. I savor moments with her and I find myself savoring more and more moments with Reo and Rianna. The little details of what they say and do seem heightened somehow. It is a wonderful new sense. It is a real gift.

My sense of accomplishment has changed as well. I’ve had to let a lot of things go now that we are no longer in crisis and I am perfectly accepting of that. What used to provide a sense of success for the day (even before Aria became sick) like cleaning the house, ironing a load of clothes, sewing a new dress, and so forth has completely changed. If I get part of any one of those things done, I am fulfilled. Not only that but I’m finding satisfaction is the strangest of places these days!

The other day, Aria and Rianna were taking a bath. I found myself engrossed by Rianna. She is such a beautiful little baby, or rather big baby! She has beefy sturdy legs that drew me in. She’s inquisitive and worked for a long time placing a cap on and off a bottle of bubbles. Her expression was one of pure concentration. It was the most stunning thing to watch. Aria completely ignored Rianna and busied herself creating a bath-time world that only 4 year olds understand. So I was perfectly content focusing all of my attention on Rianna, who by the way has no fear whatsoever so she requires a tremendous amount of supervision.

As I was watching her, I was reviewing the day, considering all that I had done or in this case hadn’t done. I hadn’t finished the laundry. I hadn’t made the one phone call that Doc asked that I try to do. I hadn’t run the dishwasher. I hadn’t written the 2 thank you letters that I had set on the table. I hadn’t prepared a dinner. I was beginning to feel dismayed. The list was long and as I was sitting there I was able to think of several other things so I decided to switch gears. What had I accomplished? What did I do today besides park myself on the couch with the kids and watch a movie? I played a little. I read some books. Reo and I managed to do some school activities. “I, uh, ummmm, hmmmm what else? Was there anything else? That’s it? That’s all you got done today?” droned my hyper- critical voice that sometimes rears its ugly head. But, before could begin the process of pecking at my self-esteem, I looked at Rianna and with a quick swipe of my finger across her nose, it happened. I had just picked the biggest booger. It was enormous and as it sat perched upon my index finger I was suddenly swept by a wonderful sense of satisfying accomplishment. I was in stitches, belly-laughing once again at how completely absurd I can be. I sat there on the purple bath mat realizing that I am a first class baby nose picker! I hadn’t ever really thought about it before but yes, indeed, as I look back I have experienced several satisfying nose picking operations. I pondered the whole process. How adorable everything is with babies including these nostril barricades. There is a time, however, when those things are a lot less cute and I would never dream of doing anything like that. I would never consider swiping at Reo’s nose for instance. The idea is completely disgusting but it is strange that it is far less disgusting coming from my 15 month old. Odd, how things change.

I didn’t do anything gross like wipe it on my skirt or the bath mat itself. I grabbed a nice proper square of toilet paper and flushed the whole nonsense away. I giggled and giggled. I felt very grateful to sit back down and in the moment embrace the idea that sometimes in my life, the accomplishment and satisfaction of mothering, even amidst crisis, can be found in those quirky funny little nothing moments of just living.

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