We spent the morning sitting poolside for swim lessons.
Flies swirled around us in an attempt to infiltrate the cardboard Dunkin’ Donuts box we had brought along. The humidity crept up as the sun inched higher in the sky.
I stared listlessly at my phone.
I knew I should be engaged in conversation with either of the two children who were stretched out on the lawn chairs beside me while their sibling splashed in the pool. But even the thought of it seemed exhausting after the rush to get children out the door that morning.
Suddenly, the laundry list of summer activities I had yet to do with my children began to unfurl itself in the back of my mind, and my anxiety began to balloon. It usually does when I disengage from deep thought, accidentally giving worry the inch it needs to creep in.
I haven’t practiced any bit of school with them in the last four weeks. We have only gone for a proper swim once this summer. We haven’t done any crafting. We’ve hardly caught any fireflies.
It’s been about what I can barely tolerate when it comes to being with my children this summer.
I always qualify the statement that I’m sick of being at home with my children with how wonderful I truly think they are. It must precede every jaded and tired observation I share with whomever I’m venting to that my children are not the problem because if I don’t, it means piling guilt on top of anxiety.
If anything, at their worst, they are simply being children.
They can be octopus-armed, pleasure-fueled machines, who almost every day cover my floors in raisin boxes and shredded toilet paper. They want this or that. They’re bored. They’re arguing over something ridiculous. They’re just being children in the heat of summer with no routine in sight.
Right now? There is no room for that. There is no room for nurturing them through their flaws and shortcomings. There is no room for gentle leading. There’s no overflow spilled down from their mother.
My capabilities are thus, please allow me to feed you, but please do not ask me to break up sibling squabbles. Please don’t say the cut up chicken in front of you is spicy when it isn’t. Please don’t ask me to drive you all over creation. Please, for the love, peel your own swimsuit off, and don’t squirm when I slather you in sunscreen.
Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.
When I’m not chiding them for being ridiculous, I’m chiding myself for being the woman who cannot hack it.
I’m the woman who should be sitting on the floor with them, playing Domino’s.
I’m the woman whose laundry should be folded.
I’m the woman ignoring the froths of black dog hair on her floors, sticky syrup spots on her countertops, and quarter-inch of dust on her bookshelves.
I should be enjoying these golden years, but my time with my kids is best spent breathing through these interactions like I’m breathing through labor pains. Breathe in the ridiculous backtalk and whining, breathe out something that won’t send my kids to the psychiatrist one day.
I’m currently the woman who would go absolutely bonkers over a spilled cup of milk. Try not to be envious.
I’ve sought peace, though probably not as much as I should. For a while, I waited for God to see me through this season as breezily as a tour guide leads tourists through an attraction.
“And here we have despair and impatience, but up ahead we can see the days miraculously get better.”
It wasn’t until God kept handing me a word, “through” that I realized I may be stuck here for the foreseeable future as He rearranges the furnishings—and also me. As He shows me the way I should have been operating for the past almost-33 years.
Today, though, as I fought to slip one child’s clammy noodle arms out of their swimsuit, and grim thoughts batted my head the way the persistent flies were, I fought back, in the smallest way.
Or, rather, God threw me a breadcrumb as He is wont to do.
He reminds us gently that He knows precisely where we are when we forget that He could never forget us.
He reminded me that though this season is difficult, it doesn’t make me a bad mother.
Seasons of difficulty can last for months. Even years at a time. I could tell you a lot about the ugliness of this season. The bitter byproducts of the winter of motherhood. Where our children are left to contend with whatever the cold and freeze hasn’t taken. Where not only is there no growth, the earth is entirely folded in on itself.
God reminded me that though this season is long, unforgiving and tedious, it is not the future. It is not permanent. It is simply that hard.
Because God takes the whole not the lumps and pieces that we see and live in every day. He takes the whole because He IS the whole and He makes us whole, even when we are broken. Even when we can’t see past the horizon.
We don’t always grow up accounting for how we are going to thrive when the clouds shut up the sun. For when life becomes breathtakingly difficult.
But already encased in this frozen tundra is hope, spread beneath the surface. Waiting for its time. Plants are nothing if not persistent. They just wait for the sun to return.
Motherhood is the most common of miracles. And yet, we take it for granted. I used to people watch in the grocery store. I would observe the woman with children hanging off the side of her cart. I never considered her, she was merely a staple. The woman hurrying from one place to another. There is always a mother trapped in the torrent of busy life with children, somewhere. We are everywhere.
Now, though, that I am a mother, the curtain has been pulled back—actually, it’s been decimated. I live in the narrative of always seeming to try very, very hard and usually failing at something.
There is no way to know how hard motherhood is until you’re in the very thickest parts. And with each new season and milestone in our children’s lives comes new challenges and hurdles. Hills and valleys. Mountains and plains.
The landscape is not linear, especially the landscape hidden within our own hearts.We can’t think the journey a failure just because it is hard. That is the nature of journeys.
In a difficult season, where worrying is as easy as breathing air, defeat feels as close and natural as the clothes we wear, where we feel like we will snap like a twig from anxiety, we need to let hope be the thing that breaks us.
It can hard to hope. It can even be painful. But it is hope that can crack and shatter us into a thousand shards that get planted deep.
And it is hope that waits for the sun to return.