In the process of taking extended family photos on Tuesday night:
I love watching the adults make fools of themselves to get the kids to smile.
A last-ditch effort to chronicle the joys and challenges of being a young mother, at least before my momnesia completely wins out.
I cannot believe that it has literally been over three weeks since I have posted anything! Craziness . . . The need to do so has sat repeatedly at the back of mind, and repeatedly it has been shelved because of so many other pressing concerns that surround any typical mother of young children. You know the list:
Sometimes what requires my time is enough to make me wacky, and I wonder how to fit all of it in with some sort of serenity. Then, when I allow myself to take a giant breath, I remember that there is indeed someone who has the capacity to help me.
There is a scripture that reads: Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good . . .
I believe that there is more wisdom in that statement than meets the eye.
Think about it. If one truly believes that God lives, that we are His children, and that He absolutely loves us, then it stands to reason that He is indeed willing to guide us in even the tiny particulars.
And with that in mind, lately I have decided to take Him at His word.
For the last couple of weeks, each morning starts off with the same domestic chaos of feeding children, dressing them, overseeing the completion of chores and practicing, etc. But, as soon as they are shuffled out the door or dropped off at school, and I have put the baby down for bed, I pull out my notebook.
"A notebook?" you may ask. "So big deal . . ."
Actually it is a big deal, because that trusty little spiral bound number is where I begin to write and write and write. I list all the items I need to logistically accomplish that day--everything that comes to mind.
And then I start to pray. Actually, like the scripture says, I begin to counsel.
"Is there anything I have forgotten to include on the list?" I ask.
I note the changes.
"Is there anything else I should consider?" I inquire.
Again, I write the response. Sometimes the answer doesn't include just logistical items, but things to consider or ponder upon in my relationships with others as well. . . Particularly my husband and children.
"What items on my list are the biggest priority today?"
I star the items He feels are most imperative.
And so the process continues, while I glean more and more and more information.
Pretty soon I have a pretty good-looking list, with a peaceful picture of what I really need to do that day, and, best of all--the preferred way to go about doing it. Inevitably after a "counselling session" like this, I can expect all sort of magical moments in my day--like the moment I hear that still, small voice in my mind that says, "You have an extra 10 minutes to spare right now. It's the perfect time for you to stop at the store and pick up a gift for Big-O's birth mother for Mothers' Day." . . . "Thank you very much," I say.
Or the moment when I hear, "The kids are doing well downstairs for a minute, now is the perfect time to call the individual I mentioned this morning." . . . "Wow," I think again. Or, "Aren't you forgetting to call and reschedule those appointments?" . . .
And the list goes on and on.
Over and over I am astounded at the degree of help I receive for things that may seem meaningless to others, but are incredibly important to me. In fact, the process is often so personal that it often brings tears to my eyes as I marvel at His awareness of me as an individual, and the love helps center me in a way that nothing else can. As I stop to consider this process, I can say with absolute certainty that God hears and answers my prayers on a daily basis.
And, most importantly, the guidance He is willing to provide is constrained only by my own limited expectations--not His.
"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy not rich, to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages . . . with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasion, hurry never.
"In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconsious, grow up through the common. This should be one's symphony."
Twelve years ago, at the outset of my LDS mission to Taiwan, I wrote this wonderful quote in the opening folds of a beautiful, leatherbound journal someone had given me. The journal accompanied me everywhere on my mission--through the rain and blazing heat of that island, and through the ups and downs of one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. For whatever reason at the time, Channing's words really resonated with me, and each time I read those words it would cause me to reflect upon what really brought me happiness. It is now interesting for me to consider just how much those words would most powerfully apply to my mission as a mother.
For those of you who know me well, you will also know that mothering for me has brought with it some exultant peaks, and it has also delivered some difficult days of paralyzing darkness. Ushered in with the incomparable miracle of Big-O's remarkable adoption, I was only six weeks away from graduating from law school. Thrilled to have this experience, I rejoiced at the blessing of having the chance to embrace such a beautiful little baby, and though I wrestled with how I was now going to make things work with my new career and my new role as a mother, I felt confident that I would be able to figure something out. After all, I'd felt strongly that I had been guided into the path of pursuing law school, so it seemed to make sense that all of this would synchronize in a way that would make sense.
Well, as the story goes, I became one of those bizarre adoption statistics--where adopting a baby also invites a miracle of conception along with it. Just three months after we'd adopted Big-O, and as I was studying for the bar exam, I couldn't understand why in the world I was feeling such intense stomach cramps. After a couple dollar-store pregnancy tests, and a doctor's confirmation, we realized that I was really pregnant.
It's difficult to explain what I felt at that point . . . I felt both guilt for worrying that our darling adopted son would be shortchanged with individual attention from us, as well as relief for the fact that he would indeed experience the blessing of a sibling . . . I felt great marvel and wonder at the miracle of a previously long-awaited conception, as well being overwhelmed at the thought of having tiny two babies to take care of all at once. I felt both thankful, and bewildered. Between these emotions, the stress of studying for the bar in the midst of caring for a newborn, and the hormones of pregnancy, I cried every night for a month. (Poor Pearly-Q.)
Suffice it to say, I did pass the bar, got sworn in with many of my law school classmates who were more than shocked at my new bump, and faced the oncoming storm. At the encouragement of a wonderful law school professor who became my mentor, I made efforts to pursue personal legal work in estate planning, (I know--useful, but boring), while caring for our son. Soon after, little Bitty was born, and my life was once again transformed. Unfortunately for me, beyond just discovering another little person who would become another center of my universe, I also faced the most horrific recovery (including raging insomnia) that led me down a path of ill health that continued for well over a year, further complicating my abilities to pursue the career path I'd originally intended.
And the story gets more crazy . . . 10 months postpartum I went into a checkup with my fertility doc to try to understand why I was having all sorts of unexplained bleeding. Turns out, my infertility issues appeared to be getting worse, and he recommended that if Pearly-Q and I wanted another child, we'd better try soon since our window seemed to be disappearing . . . I cried all the way home from the appointment. Yet, we couldn't deny that we felt like we needed to have another child, and that in the long-term picture we really wanted another child, and so . . . our darling Sass showed up 10 months after that.
Are you getting the picture? It seems like overnight we went from facing complete uncertainty over whether or not we would be able to experience the blessing of parenthood, to facing life with three children, age 2 and under. . .
I guess its no wonder that right before Sassy turned a year old, I hit a serious wall. It seems that the giant adrenaline rush that I'd experienced since adopting the Big-O finally gave out, and was left with unbelievable exhaustion, and what felt like a complete loss of identity. . . I cringe to think about it now, because it was just that bad. Looking back I think I was probably depressed, and thankfully I did seek out help. Between seeing a counselor, and searching desperately for divine help and guidance, (which often manifested itself in the form of many ministering angelic friends), I gradually climbed out of the cave I had fallen into.
Suffice it to say, many miracles led Pearly-Q and I to the pivotal decision to have another baby. It was no flippant matter, I tell you, to decide to take the plunge again. In fact, it required complete and total surrender on my part.
Uncertain of my own capacities unlike any other time in my life, I moved forward with faith, and one step at a time, I gradually stripped away all the excesses in my life that I could, trying to include things that would add more to who I was as a person--I decided to give birth naturally (in the face of great familial disdain), I put my joyless legal career officially on hold (a true sign of failure to many that I know), I decided to write (both for causes that I believe in and for my own introspection), and--heaven forbid--I even allowed myself to nap every day when my children did (while my household duties lay continually fallow)! With every effort to simplify, I became increasingly determined to savor what I thought may be my last experience with a baby. In short, I made room for the essential quiet space in my life, and this has made all the difference in my experience as a mother.
Recently for my book club, someone suggested that we read a book entitled Mitten Strings for God--Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry, by Katrina Kenison. (I cannot say enough about how much I recommend it as a vital read for every mother that I know.) The book resonated with me on so many different levels, and yet it did so mostly because much of what the author discusses were truths that I had discovered on my path back to joyful mothering. Here are some golden nugget examples, courtesy of the author who is much more able to express much of what I have felt in this last year, and especially since Coco's birth:
"When I clear a quiet space for my family, I make room for our souls to grow."
"When I stop speeding through life, I find the joy in each day's doings, in the life that cannot be bought, but only discovered, created, savored, and lived."
"In stillness, we find our peace. Knowing peace at home, we bring peace into the world."
"In simplicity there is freedom--freedom to do less and to enjoy more."
To say that I have enjoyed this stage of my mothering would be a serious understatement. The kind of soulful transformation I have felt cannot be conveyed, and I cannot express enough gratitude for the change.
It's strange because I often look back at who I was at the height of my "mommy burnout" and I hardly recognize the feelings that I had then. It pains me to think of what I put my husband and children through, and I find it ironically easy to judge how shortsighted I was during that time, (even when this same kind of judgment infuriated me beyond measure during that very stage of my life).
I suppose the best way I can reconcile it is this: I believe that facing those demons allowed me to savor this period of my life that much more. Like a chiaroscuro painting, the areas of brilliant illumination would not appear as breathtaking without the contrast of the shadows behind them. The silhouette emerges when the two forces blend, allowing one to fully comprehend the presence of the other.
I feel like I have finally stepped out into the light, and I must say that I do not believe the sun could ever be more warmly welcomed. Praise be to the Lord for that.