My mom and I spent a big chunk of yesterday afternoon playing a very confusing game of “Catan: Junior” with the kids.
A game they normally play with my husband or with their cousins, we were very foggy on the rules and had only a 9-year old and 7-year old to explain them to us.
Yes, there was an instruction booklet and, YES, I read it but…just hush, okay? This lady comprehendeth not written instructions, especially of the boardgame variety, and neither does the lady who birthed me.
I have to admit, I was impressed by the command my little children obviously had of the game, but there’s this thing about elementary-aged kids: they’re confusing.
After about ten minutes of listening to them enthusiastically describe all the complicated ins and outs of the game in no particular order…like, seriously, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER… I was literally slumping in my chair in yet another state of motherly frazzlement.
It’s a stance I find myself employing often in our home and, frankly, I hate it.
I hate that I slump, ever.
I hate being frazzled.
And I hate not enjoying my life and my job to the max every minute of every day.
I just do, and you’ll never be able to convince me to give up on this Eden-inspired quest for holiness, joy and contentment.
And as we sat there trying so hard to enjoy a boardgame together, chairs squeaking, bodies wriggling, kids making kid mouth noises that just bombard your nerves, a memory flickered through my mind, not of a moment that actually occurred, but of one I once daydreamed about on a regular basis.
My newlywed husband and I had splurged on this awesome game called “Dread Pirate”. A winner of toy awards, it came housed in an actual treasure chest, with gemstone game pieces and a rugged-looking map as its gameboard.
I bought it with such reverence, dreaming of future days around a dining room table, enjoying this ridiculously incredible pastime with our family, and of course, we were all dressed as pirates, because, duh, and there was pirate music playing in the background, followed by a meal of Ring Tum Ditty, not because it is a pirate meal, so much, but because it sounds like a pirate meal (and it’s delicious, matey).
Let’s not get lost in the weirdness of my “memory”, please, and just focus on the fact that I had very motherly daydreams, all the time, as a young bride. Most of us did, didn’t we?…
My heart ached in those days with anticipation about the times my future children and I would surely share together: beautiful picnics in the country, apple-picking in some quaint place that I’d never even seen, watching movies on a big screen in the woods, making S’mores over campfires, having dolly tea parties with real dishes, singing all the best songs and reading all the best books.
I was a really, really, REALLY good mom in those days, as earnest and as loving as they came.
And then I had children.
One by one, day by day, those former illusions began to dissipate in cruel and consistent ways and I found myself staring face-to-face with the bewildering reality that I could barely manage to get three subpar meals down our gullets every day, let alone have themed meals. With matching costumes.
I just can’t even think most days. I can’t keep up with the schedules and the plans. I buy groceries all the time, and then we eat them. And the pantry is bare AGAIN. I forget to turn on the music. I lose track of what month it even is. I can’t find our SHOES, for crying out loud.
I just don’t have time or energy or brain capacity, on most days, to be the tiniest bit whimsical.
Sure, some of this undoubtedly has to do with the insane season of life I have just walked through: a friend of mine told me once that the mother of one of her friends referred to her baby-having days as “the lost decade.” She couldn’t remember it, really. Where had it gone? What happened??
Lord have mercy, I can SO relate to that. The past ten years are foggy, indeed, more persistent in their exhaustion and tumultuousness than they are in any of the things I so zealously intended and, with our fourth and last child (so far) nearing his 3rd birthday, I am finally…barely…beginning to see the bigger picture again.
I am crawling out of my own lost decade and I’m blinking at the sun and, honestly, I’m trying to learn how to walk again. How to interact with the outside world. How to be good at what I do once more, because, I did used to be good at things.
And this excruciating hope is dawning in my heart that maybe I can be really and truly good at motherhood…not good in everyone else’s estimation – I’m sure most people would assure me o’er and o’er again that I’m a good mom!…but GOOD, deep down inside. In a way that satisfies my longings. In a way that I believe and rest in when no one else is looking.
A couple of weeks ago, we left our toddler with my mom and took our oldest three and their friends to Incredible Pizza and, oh my goodness, I was dumbfounded by how easy it was. They got their own food at the buffet. They filled their own drinks at the fountain. They threw away their trash.
I could breathe.
I could think.
I could EAT!!!
My world seems to be shifting into something concrete once more, where I’m on top instead of at the bottom, where I’m bobbing instead of drowning.
And now, with all these things in mind, I’m wondering if this would not be a good time to step away for a bit, take five, and revisit the heart that I had when I first started my journey as a mother.
Because, yes, I was obviously delusional in those days and had no idea what parenting really entailed or that children were more like humans and less like Hallmark movie characters. And, yes, as I previously stated, I was definitely in a season of life that takes more out of the average bear than other seasons do.
But what if there is more to it than that?
What if, disillusioned about the former and beat down by the latter, I have arrived in an unnecessary rut, of sorts, one that I don’t HAVE to live in?
What if I’ve formed a habit that needs to be mortified and buried?
What if my vision has gotten fuzzy and I need to throw away the old contact lenses and pop in a new pair?
You know what, If I’m being honest, I don’t actually need to step away for a bit, or take five…I KNOW, with very little introspection, that these things are true of me.
I realized it yesterday, while I was slumping, frazzled, in front of Catan: Junior.
Somewhere along the way, I just stopped believing that I had it in me to run this ship with pep and creativity and enthusiasm and strength.
My disillusionment became my master, and I its slave.
The romance of my job faded. The honeymoon, as it pertained to my motherhood gig, threatened to end.
The symptoms of my disenchantment simmer on the burner of our life. When my kids ask me to play a game with them, I inwardly wilt and find a chore that needs doing. When they want to bake with me, I pull out the Pop-tarts. When they ask to go for a picnic, I point out the imperfect weather and suggest another day, maybe, one that never seems to happen.
And what has happened as a result is that, in between Mama’s “good days”, the ones where I FEEL like being the cruiseship director, and in between our magical holidays and our birthday blow-outs — because we do get very whimsical every once in awhile! — we habitually waste our beautiful, blessed, gift-from-God days together on junk like Facebook…Netflix…Amazon Prime…you name it. Not the good stuff from those venues…Facebook is awesome and Netflix and Prime are my boos…but…the dazed stuff. The lazy stuff. The addiction-like stuff. The I’m-going-to-plug-my-kids-in-to-this-screen-and-go-to-my-screen-and-forget-that-I-have-responsibilities sort of stuff.
The truth is, we know when we’re using these things for good or for suppression. We know it, but we don’t face it.
And what is produced as we melt once more into the allure of anywhere-but-here are countless days of lackluster living, of putting off fun for fear of the mess and exhaustion, of just getting by until bedtime so we can finally be alone and relax and enjoy cleanliness and quietude and…well, the life we were living before we had kids.
Did I mention that I hate slumping and I hate being frazzled?
Do you know what I hate even more than those things?
I hate wasting days.
The very thought slays me.
So, the kids and I have this practice we’ve done since they were very little, a tidbit I picked up in a Victorian-inspired book titled “Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions” and actually remembered to employ: when we’re having a bad day or we’ve found ourselves doing more bickering than normal, we sit down together, we cross our arms one way and say “Criss”, we cross them the other and say “Cross” and then we throw our hands in the air and say “Applesauce!!!!”
We do this little chant a couple of times and, once the last word leaves our lips, our day has officially, according to us, “started over”. It’s like we’ve just woken up, the day is fresh, and we get to begin again, the past behind us, the wrongs forgiven.
It’s a silly little tradition, I suppose, but…it works!
Well, today, I want to give all of us mamas (or daddies) permission to say, even if only to ourselves, “Criss, Cross, Applesauce!!!” over the job we’ve done as parents.
Do you feel, deep down inside, like you’ve failed more than you’ve succeeded?
Are you disappointed in the way most of your private days at home go?
Are there things that you always wanted to do with your kids that you have just given up on? Personal dreams that you’ve maybe even forgotten about?
I invite you to join me in finding some time today…this week…this month…to steal away with a notebook and a pen or your electronic thingamajig, say a prayer to the God of new beginnings, and reconnect with that mother or father of your youth, the one you wanted to be for your kids when you first began.
What are all the things you really wanted to do as a family, more than anything? What daydreams gave you butterflies inside? What lessons did you want to teach them? What did you want to grow as a family? What did you want to build? What places did you want to visit? What character traits were you SURE you’d instill in them?
Write them down. Make a plan and a wish. There’s still time.
It is never too late to start again, eyes fresh, heart passionate, hope new.
I don’t know where this journey will take you, but I dearly hope it will lead me, someday, to a dining room table, surrounded by pirates, with a pot of Ring Tum Ditty bubbling on the stove.
Find a recipe for Ring Tum Ditty here. Find one of my favorite books, Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions here (affiliated link). And, please, for the love of all that is good and beautiful, find Mrs. Gore on Facebook here! Thank you so much for reading today – I hope it makes a difference in your life. ❤