Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Need to Remember

Parenting is hard. Being a stay-at-home parent is particularly hard. I’ve had a hard couple of weeks with two sick kids. To be frank, I feel horribly guilty even mentioning anything that I may be struggling with short of life-threatening illness. Every day I view more images and read more stories about those impacted by the recent terrible natural disaster in Japan. So many have lost everything…loved ones, their homes, their livelihood, their every worldly possession. Some have yet to discover the fate of those they hold most dear. I think about them and pray for them constantly. And those in New Zealand and those in Haiti and those in other parts of the world whose countries are torn apart by war and bloodshed and unspeakable violence. I have a home, I have two normally healthy children, I have a loving spouse who is employed. My body works, my mind (usually) works, and I am healthy. Am I really so self-absorbed as to wallow in the inconvenience of my blessings?

We were not able to grow our family easily. We felt very, very strongly about adoption. In examining our options through adoption, we knew that adopting through the foster care system was the right path for us. So many children need forever families and we so wanted children. We didn’t care what gender or age or race. We just wanted a family. Our journey was a long one filled with endless meetings, heartache, court hearings and finally triumph. The day our boys were declared legally ours will forever be imprinted on my heart. I felt they were mine long before that day. The moment I met them, they responded to something in me that had been empty for a long time. From that first meeting, they were mine and I was theirs. I did not need time to bond with them. They were my loves and we were forever bound together. We hoped for them. We wished for them. We prayed for them. We waited for them.

I need to remember this. I need to remember that they are perfect little miracles in the process of becoming. I find that it is all too easy to get bogged down in the day to day life of parenting—laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, cleaning, gardening, more laundry, more dishes, food prep and constant toddler entertainment, all while imparting necessary truths and the rules of civility and politeness and stoking creativity. And I want our house to feel like our home. And it needs some TLC. So then there’s that.

Having sick kids the last couple of weeks has left me drowning under endless piles of laundry, a house in desperate need of cleaning, empty cupboards, and a general lack of energy to dig in due to my own internal battle of the germs. And the fact that I cried at the end of “Nanny McPhee Returns” the other day leads me to believe that I’m hormonally a bit off as well. Enough said. I feel overwhelmed.

This morning started with Eric (2) crying as he got out of bed (as he has every morning for the past many, many mornings). He had wet through again. As with nearly every morning, I would once more have to wash all of his bedding and his stuffed animals (he insists on sleeping with several “babies” every night) and his pillow before nap time. Once his diaper was removed and set aside, I started to wipe him down with a warm cloth and he started to pee…and pee…and pee. By the time I got him on the potty, 3 rooms had been “sprayed” as well as my clothes and into my hair. Eric’s general dismay at having peed ALL OVER culminated in such heavy sobbing on the potty, that he then threw up…all over me and the floor and the shower curtain. THREE ROOMS of rugs and walls and floors. ONE MAMA fully clothed and complete with too-long, mop-like hair. All covered in pee. And then there was the vomit. I left him sitting on the potty filled with the one tablespoon of pee that had actually made it in (incidentally now the one clean area in all three rooms). I sat back on my knees in front of him and slow, salty tears began the flow.

I was so hoping we could actually leave the house this morning. A walk perhaps? Or maybe a trip to my favorite home improvement store to pick up paint swatches? Or even just a trip to wash the car. I simply wanted to get the boys up, dressed, and fed so that we could actually venture outside. Please can we just all feel well enough to leave the house today? But now there was pee and vomit to clean up, another shower for me, a toddler to console (and his distraught brother in the other room), and bedding, bath rugs, clothes and a shower curtain to wash. My long-anticipated new rug in the hallway, not yet two weeks old, covered in pee. Sigh. BIG sigh.

At the breakfast table, I tried to rally, but I was feeling downtrodden and trapped in a domestic prison of my own making. Please don’t misunderstand. I LOVE being the parent who stays at home with the kids. I LOVE being domestic. I love playing with the kids, I love cleaning and baking and cooking and creating a home for our family. And I usually don’t even mind the laundry. This is my thing. MY THING. But this morning, my thing felt like it had a vice-like grip on my wrists and was holding me back in every way imaginable. Sigh. I was trying to hold back tears as I contemplated another day of two-year-old tears, snotty noses, laundry, cleaning, and seemingly endless patience.

Then Hillary sent this:

To all you awesome Moms (aka Cathedral Builders), please see the note below.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?'
Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible. 'The invisible Mom.'
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a TV Guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Pick me up right around 5:30, please.'
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, she's gone!
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England .
Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.'
It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'To Charlotte , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'
In the days ahead I would read--no, devour--the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

1. No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.

2. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.

3. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

4. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.
A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And the workman   replied, 'Because God sees everything.'
I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'You're gonna love it there.’ As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

I know this is probably making the rounds on the Internet. But this is exactly what I needed to today to remind me to truly look at my little ones and their perfect little souls. I needed to remember that my every day is filled with building a strong foundation for them and for our family. I needed the remember that they are masterpieces in the making. I needed to remember they are my loves and we are forever bound together. We hoped for them. We wished for them. We prayed for them. We waited for them. We rejoice in them. They are our dream come true. We are so blessed.

And the new hallway rug is only a rug, pee and all.


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