Monday, August 11, 2014

Parenting: The Cure for Vanity

Those of you who are parents know that it is not a role that is conducive to having high self esteem. In fact, the entire process of childbirth seems to be just a small foray into what life will be like when you are stripped entirely (and almost literally, in the instance of giving birth) of any and all shreds of dignity that you might have maintained in the previous months when you had another person grow inside of you and take over your body and life. I won't go into gory detail, but suffice it to say that it is very hard to preserve any sense of modesty or decorum while expelling another human being from inside of you. And after having 4 children in 4 different hospitals (none of which were teaching hospitals, incidentally) I find it a little hard to believe that there just happen to be students who want to crowd in and watch this "miracle" of birth. Every. Single. Time. I am convinced that it is just part of some diabolical plan to make sure that every last modicum of self-respect is gone by the time I leave the hospital. In preparation for what is to come.

And what is to come, you ask? What is it about parenthood that makes it hard to feel good about yourself? Well, let's start with what it does to you physically. Suffice it to say that I did not even know to appreciate my pre-child body. Dang. I wish I would have. Who knew? Who knew that back in my prior-to-childbearing years that I should have felt good about myself simply because I was not scarred with iridescent stretch marks and my belly button still looked like an actual belly button and not some mangled, disgusting, puckered....well, you get the picture. Granted, probably my mom knew. But I wouldn't have listened to her anyway.

Next, let's talk about emotional scarring. Take a heaping helping of lack of sleep, sprinkle in some I'm-doing-everything-wrong, blend in a teaspoon of I-have-boogers-in-my-hair-and-cheerios-in-my-bra, and top it off with just a smidgen of maniacal tantrums and you have the perfect recipe for I Am The Worst Parent Of All Time. And that is just the toddler years.

After the toddler years? After they start speaking and truly expressing their feelings? Oh, my friend. Oh, how it only goes downhill from there. And the older and more articulate they get, the worse the blow to your already threadbare self esteem. For instance, let me share with you just a sampling of the lovely sentiments my children have expressed to me recently:

"Why are you going to the gym, mom? You're already hot. I mean, you're not like 100% hot or anything, but maybe if you took care of that stuff on your stomach, then you would be...But, I mean, you're probably like 90% hot or something."

Yes, and by that stuff on my stomach do you mean the stretched out result of your gigantic head occupying the space that previously was reserved only for my undigested lunch??!? Bunch of ingrates, these kids. (I guess I should feel pretty pleased to be 90%. It could've been a lot worse.)

"No, I don't think your butt looks bad in that swimsuit. It just looks kinda mom-ish. Like a mom butt."

I don't know what a mom butt is. And I don't want to know. I really don't.

After a conversation between my older kids and their cousins about how none of them want to get old because elderly people don't look like themselves anymore:
"My mom's old. And she still mostly looks alright."

Thanks. Just thanks. You do know how to make a girl feel beautiful.

"Mom, this looks like a dress you would wear."
"Yeah, that's way cute! I totally would."
"No. I didn't say it was cute. I said you would wear it. You're just lucky dad can't see that well."

Um, no words. None.

So, I guess my point is that in addition to endless patience, the answer to every question under the sun, and a veritable toolbox of how to solve any and every toddler through adolescent problem, you must also have in your parental arsenal a thick skin. A very. Thick. Skin. Because there are days that your children will say and do things that will make you long for them to just scream that they hate you and you are the worst parent ever. At least that's a little less personal.

So why do it? Why bother? Why have children at all? Because they love you. And they need you. And there are those rare moments when you actually feel good about what you're doing. And the amazing children you are raising. The rest of the while? It's pretty thankless. Don't expect to be able to maintain much of a sense of self regard. It's not for the sensitive soul or faint of heart, that's for sure. And you can always take comfort in the fact that one day, their children will be doing the same thing to them. And you will be there to raise them back up and tell them they are wonderful. I do believe that is what is called the circle of life.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Ones Who Love Us Anyway

It's been a while since my last post. I'm not proud to admit it, but the simple truth is that sometimes in the battle of Me vs. Life I feel like I am reigning victorious. Other times I feel like I'm bloodied in the corner and there is not a coach out there that is going to talk me into get back into that ring. Not even Apollo Creed. I'll let you surmise what kind of summer I've been having.

That being said, there is a subject that has been weighing on my mind over the past few weeks. And some things just need to be said (written, know what I mean.) A couple months ago, I had the privilege of attending my grandfather's funeral. He had lived one of the fullest and most service-filled lives I have ever had the honor of being witness to. He had been sick over the past few years and been suffering immensely, as did those who spent their days taking care of him. This being the case, I did not expect to feel an inordinate amount of sadness at his passing. I was actually a little surprised as I sat in the service to find that I was unable to stem the unending tide of tears pouring down my face. I was a little bit ashamed of myself to think that I could be so selfish as to mourn him that deeply. Especially when I have a deep rooted faith that his spirit had not only gone on but was thriving elsewhere. It took me a while before I realized that the tears I was crying were actually tears of deep and heartfelt gratitude and not tears of sadness.

Let me backtrack just a little and say that my grandfather was not actually my grandfather. My maternal and paternal grandparents had all passed away by my 11th birthday. My grandpa was just a man, the parent of one of my dad's friends who "adopted" not just me, but all 4 of my younger siblings as well. He and his wonderful wife chose to nurture and love and adore all 5 of us and have been my grandparents for as long as I can remember. As I sat there in the church building that day listening to wonderful and funny stories about my grandpa's life, I was flooded with memories of his love for me. When we were little he and my grandma truly played the part of doting grandparents. They listened to our school accomplishments, patiently suffered through our piano recitals, sent us Christmas cards, invited us on summer vacations. Everything you would expect from a loving grandparent and more. And they were no less involved in our lives as we grew to adulthood. They made it a point to attend every baby blessing, birthday party, graduation and baptism that they possibly could. And all the while, THEY DIDN"T HAVE TO. They loved us by choice. They sacrificed their time and their energy loving us because they wanted to.

This has really gotten me thinking about all of those people in my life who love and endure me because they choose to. Husband, children, parents, siblings, cousins...these people are kinda stuck with me. Granted, they don't technically HAVE to love me either, but they do. Because they're family. And not to undervalue how grateful I am for their love and support. But there is something uniquely special  about those people who are in my life specifically because they WANT to be there. Those friends who listen to me whine and moan about my problems. Who instead of telling me to suck it up, offer their advice and their shoulder. Who know what a hot mess I really am and are not embarrassed to be associated with me. Who travel to be at my daughter's graduation, even when they have work and children and endless responsibilities of their own. Those wonderful people who I don't talk to daily but I know are in my corner. Who send me encouraging texts and messages, just because. Who take time out of their own busy lives to call occasionally just to check on me. Not because they have to. Because they want to.

I am thankful not just for these friends and co-workers and neighbors, but for the people who don't know me at all and choose just to be kind. The ones who see me fighting with a willful and mouthy 4 year old at the store who give me a sympathetic glance instead of a dirty look. The ones who smile understandingly from their car when I give them the I'm-so-sorry face and wave after embarrassingly almost drifting into their lane while yelling at my kids for the 947th time to put on their freaking seatbelts. The ones who hold the door open for me when they see my hands are full. The ones who I run into at the gym and the grocery store and the kids sports practices and dance lessons who ask me about how things are going in my life. And actually take the time to listen.

I will be the first to admit that I go far too many days without seeing and appreciating the miracles around me for what they are. But there is not a day that goes by that my heart is not bursting with gratitude for the people who choose to know me. And who love me anyway.