There are all these blogs with these moms who seem like the perfect parent. Just perfect and look at how precious and wonderful their bright-eyed, well photographed children are. They write little manifestos on how motherhood is such a gift (and it is, don’t get me wrong.) They cook delicious meals and do all sorts of cool crafts. Do they have perfect kids? How is their situation different than mine? I spent last Saturday crying on the back hall stairs. Didn’t want the kids to hear me. I just had my head in my hands. My best isn’t good enough some days with my youngest child. And then my worst comes out.
This paragraph, from Julie over at Shorty Gets Fit, stopped me in my tracks. I’ve been ruminating on it for the last few days. Ironically, I’ve also been trying to craft the perfect blog post. I’ve started and stopped and deleted; I’ve gone for power-walks where I was sure I’d found inspiration, only to come home to take a nap and lose it all; I’ve tried to be the patient, spacious, encouraging mama; I’ve tried to be the patient, spacious, supportive wife. And somewhere in there, I started to unravel.
By 8:00 today, there was no more getting around it. I was not super-peppy positive mama this morning. I was tired, overwhelmed, overwrought, over-thinking mama, the one who needs so many things she can’t even figure out what she needs, the one who has too many balls in the air, the one who uselessly cries, “Why?” when no explanation will matter, the one who should scoop the cat litter, the one who should take a walk, the one who should do yoga, the one who should work on her book, the one who should pay bills, the one who should call her mother. Should, should, should. Meanwhile, she made challah french toast and changed the laundry and somewhere in there began referring to herself in the third person.
When I first started coaching, I wanted to “help women moved from busy to balanced.” Ha. I still do, and then some. Starting with myself is always a good idea. It’s the whole oxygen mask thing – how are we supposed to connect with our kids when we defer, forget, dismiss, deny our own selves? It’s not a black and white thing; sometimes connecting with my kids brings me back to myself. But other days, like this one, when I am literally starting to hyperventilate, what I really need is to sit still long enough, quietly enough, to allow my body to return to its own knowing. That is a fancy way of saying that some days it is challenging to even take a dump.
OK, it’s crass. But we all know it’s true.
At just the moment that Greg said, “Maybe we need to get the roof out from over them,” the phone rang. It was our neighbor friends asking if we wanted to go for a walk in the balmy 50-degree morning. Pushing aside the fear of seeming selfish, I opted out. I helped Greg get out of the house with Aviva and Pearl and closed the door behind them.
Then I put on my proverbial oxygen mask, lay down on the floor, and put my legs up a wall. This led kind of organically to moving my body around a bit – some yoga poses, some stretching, some breathing. The mask was working. I changed the laundry again and made a bowl of oatmeal. I sat down to write this post – again. I sat down to write it from exactly the place I find myself right now: needing space, taking space. Needing a little cry, having a little cry. Needing honesty, being honest. Needing to let things be what they are, and letting them be.
As Vicki and I forge ahead with the partnership between Parenting On Track and Strong Coaching, I’ll be contributing to the Parenting On Track newsletter with a post here. I’m a little behind (about three years actually) in categorizing my blog posts, but there’s no time like the present to start. So, I’ll be compiling these posts from now on in the sidebar. I suspect I’ll have plenty of new things to say, but I’m also going to take the opportunity to mine the archives.
Julie’s words about perfection – that awful perception that you are the only one crying on the back hall stairs, the illusion that every one else has It All Figured Out – reminded me of a post I wrote called Stacking Up. That was almost two years ago, but re-reading it now, it feels every bit as true as it did then. If you are plagued by thinking other people’s lives are perfect and if only you were different somehow, yours would be, too, please take a few minutes to read it.
Learning how to ask for, and to take, what we need. Learning that none of us is perfect – no matter how good things look on the screen, no matter how real the moments of bliss may be, how good the recipes, how gorgeous the photographs. Learning how to put our own oxygen masks on. Claiming some space. And sparing ourselves the real injury of comparing ourselves to the imagined lives of other people, other parents. This is what I’m talking about.
As Greg was leaving for the walk today, he said something about how I’m hard on myself in many ways. This may be true, but it’s also something I’m slowly learning to shift. And like anything you want to get good at, it’s not a one-time thing. It requires practice.
What does it take for you to put on your own oxygen mask? What practice in gentleness, in compassion for your own experience, can you offer yourself today? I swear, sharing this stuff helps us all breathe more deeply. So please, take a breather and leave a comment – or feel free to send me a note. And thank you, Julie, for telling it like it is.