Gee, I wonder where I get my squinty eyes from....
There's a meme going around Facebook today (Mothers' Day) saying "post a picture that makes me proud/happy to be a mom." I'm not quite far enough out of postpartum land for those to be the first two adjectives I'd attach to my motherhood, but I can attach them to my recent graduation, which is so tightly wound up with motherhood in so many ways. I mean, I spent a year writing a thesis about (blogging) mothers. I am like a high priestess in the order of over-thinking all the complexities of motherhood. So here's the thoughts I do have about motherhood today. They aren't super glossy, but they are coming from my authentic place of wanting to find a way to be honest and still find beauty in things.
We pulled Sir O and the Captain out of school to take this photo. They were not about to miss class parties for mom's graduation. After 3 minutes of having my feelings hurt, I figured fewer greased pigs to wrestle during the convocation was probably a good thing for Mr. Renn.
I am really grateful, but mostly just awed that I've been entrusted with the care and keeping of such giant, unwieldy personalities as the ones that have landed in my lap. These kids have so.much.energy. You would think God would have sent them to a less-easily-overwhelmed mother. Someone who found tremendous fulfillment in keeping their days filled with structure and wholesome recreation and silly songs and who didn't want to crawl into a cave at the end of everyday just to have some time to be alone and not be so tangibly needed and touched every, every minute.
I mean, motherhood is deeply, deeply humbling. And not just because the world talks about mothers as angels when we all know very well we are human, human beings. Motherhood is humbling because when you love these little ruffians so fiercely you want the very best for them, then you continually catch yourself being unable to give them the very best mother. You can only be you, and you are invariably selfish and short tempered and irritable and tired and burnt-out. Or whatever your particular shortcomings may be - those are mine. I wish my kids could have a parent who never lost her temper, and was always level-headed and able to think before she spoke. But, instead, they have me. I sometimes manage to make progress toward being the parent I wish I was, but there's a lot of backsliding on my journey toward being a saintly mother.
I mean, I love my kids, and I love spending time with them individually. Collectively they tend to run me ragged. I do not love feeling like an unpaid maid, being ignored, bearing the brunt of their anxieties and frustrations, and being the only place where the buck stops most days. (Nor am I enamored of sleep deprivation.... which makes all those other things that much worse.) Kids save their ugliest behavior for their parents, and unfortunately we, their parents, tend to reciprocate that favor.
So some days I despair and become convinced I'm raising a small army of psychopaths. And because of my personality and the way I (and most other women) have been socialized, I internalize failures and give credit for successes to others or to good luck. When my kids show a stunning lack of capacity for logical thinking, my first reaction is to try to figure out where I failed. When my kids exhibit repellant behaviors in public, I am mortified for myself because I assume everyone will use their insanity to index my worth as a human being. There's all that cultural baggage of womanly virtue being tied up in trying to control things that aren't entirely controllable. A virtuous woman will have her house in order and her children will be well-behaved. I mean, crimony. I will never have enough 'virtue' in me to stay one-step ahead of my children's capacity for entropy. I am forever and ever trying to figure out what makes each of their vastly different personalities tick and how to leverage that toward better social graces.
My favorite features of myself, and the things that make me like myself as a human being in my less-depressed moments are virtues of quite a different stripe. I like my willingness to consider the possibility that I'm wrong. I like the extra effort I take to say meaningful things (and not quip deepities) when I think people are in pain. I like the delight I find in making things fancy or celebratory when they could just be plain and serviceable (you know, when I feel well enough to find energy to spend on such things.)
I even kind of like some of my features that are on the verge of being vices. I like my penchant for dramatics, because it opens up space for vulnerability and honest talks about feeeeelings. I like my advocate heart that speaks up when people voice ideas that are incomplete, and need to expand to include ideas, people, and experiences that are uncomfortable for them to acknowledge. There was probably a time when Mr Renn would have changed these things about me if he'd had the choice, but I think they've grown on him.
See, no matter how much my life revolves around being a mother, I'm still a person first. A real, whole, messy person with my unique set of gifts and failings. And when you hand me the stewardship of a grundle of other such complicated persons, and the responsibility to train them to function within a cultural framework that often runs contrary to their natures, it's just not always a pretty process.
So I hope we can value motherhood without having to say it's pretty. Sure, I love my mother because she was endlessly patient with me and cheered me on, and other platitudes, but I also love her because she made lists she never managed to check off, occasionally played solitaire when real life was just too-much, couldn't resist reminding me what a hard time I'd given her over her inability to force my brothers to keep their rooms clean when I turned to her for solidarity over my discovery that kids are gross, and probably gave me a therapy-worthy complex with her struggle to embrace healthy vulnerability (she's getting there). I love her not just because she was a great and dedicated mother, but because it was dang hard for her to be a great and dedicated mother. She knows what it's like to realize that your kids aren't going to cooperate with your preconceived notions of what motherhood is, and to slowly, painfully peel yourself away from those preconceived notions (which were reasonably pleasant and modest and circumspect, we were smart enough to know were were raising humans, not creating stock footage.) I love that when I criticized her as a 9-year old for not being imaginative enough, she entertained my attempts at giving her imagination lessons. I mean, she accepted criticism from her bratty kid, because she was so keenly aware of her own failings that she acknowledged the truth in what I was saying and discarded the hubris of it without a thought. I catch myself responding in the same way to my children's complaints. We both probably needed to be kinder to ourselves and tell our kids to cut us some slack, but there we are being human and broken and keenly aware of it.
SO anyway - I'm happy and proud that I graduated. I mean, it was insanely hard to push that project to completion. I did grad school while raising 4 kids, through a nasty pregnancy, and through a move to a new house. It was not pretty. I tell that to everyone who says "I can't believe you (did grad school and x,y,z.)" And you know who found the most delight in my accomplishment? My mom. she just thinks it's the coolest thing in the world that I managed to pull it off.
But hey, I think we learn and grow the most from putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations. The ones where we are so stretched that we can't manage those traditional markers of virtue. If life is hard enough that you aren't quite managing to keep your house in order and your children well-behaved in public, then you must be learning some of the best and brightest life lessons, and pursuing some of the most difficult-to-attain virtues. I bet you could use a cheerleader. I will cheer and validate you from my messy corner. And that's how I'm feeling about motherhood today.