A few evenings ago I met my new friend, Katie, for a walk. It was her idea and I assumed since I'm older than forty and she is not, I'd be panting at her side in a attempt to keep up. She sauntered up in flip flops and her messenger bag saddled to her side. As she cooly walked in her casual attire I suddenly felt self conscious in my jogging shoes, running shorts and sweat band around my head.
OK, so I didn't come dressed for a 5K, but I was wearing my jogging shoes and the shirt I had chosen had stains and little holes. I briefly looked down at my clothing choice and wondered, as I do pretty much any time I go in public, why did I choose to wear this? The feeling of awkwardness in my own clothing choices is similar to the feelings I had in the first few years of being a mom. Thoughts of those years have been floating through my mind as I have struck up a friendship with Katie. She is a young mother of five little kids under the age of seven. My mom soup is beginning to simmer, while she is still figuring out what veggies to add to the broth (it's kind of ironic that I just used soup as an analogy when I almost never make soup or anything that has to simmer).
As we walked, and were continually distracted by the delicate scent of lilacs in full bloom, some of our conversation revolved around Jennifer Fulwiler's new book (see last post). I was, and still am, ruminating over her story and how it applies it to the real experiences of real moms in the real world. As Katie and I talked about some practical steps to apply some of Fulwiler's wisdom to our lives, her rosy cheeks and fresh smile betrayed her young age. Although Fulwiler's book is inspiring and I highly recommend it, I get a little uncomfortable when I think about young moms such as my ambling friend who walked beside me.
When I was in the throws of young motherhood, I began to long for something more. The whole mom at home thing weighed me down. In an attempt to settle my restless soul, and frankly my boredom, I joined a book club, arranged hikes with friends and had dinner parties. These were things I had enjoyed before kids and thought they would help me feel more alive and give me the energy I needed to be this mom I had become. Soon, my schedule was loaded and I was more frazzled and unhappy than ever. Keeping up relationships, which I so desperately needed, exhausted me. The book club conversations and reading the books sent my thoughts down paths that only meandered out into nothing and left my intellect frustrated instead of inspired. To plan a hike or party around my husband's work schedule and the fear of wearing him out became too difficult and time consuming . I began to fall apart.
At this point my husband pointed out that maybe I ought to stay home more and be content with less activity outside the house. Although I let out an annoyed sigh and turned my back to him, I knew he may be right. That's when I began to say no to everything and burrowed in as a mom at home. Staying home, coupled with more conversations with God (since it's hard to have a deep conversation with a four-year-old), were what finally gave me some of the peace and joy I had longed for. I set aside a lot of my passions, desires and dreams at that point, but it was good choice for me because I learned to have the confidence I needed to be comfortable as a mother, even imperfectly. Even though my mothering was like my T-shirt and may have some little stains and holes, I was no longer as concerned with the imperfection or what I lacked.
I glanced sideways at Katie once more. A little dog barked from behind a fence and a middle aged man adjusted his sprinkler. I am in a different place in my life as a mother than she is. My kids can feed and dress themselves or watch after the one who can't. She is still in the chaos of little babies and settling into her new identity. I've gotten more comfortable in this role and, with older kids, have a lot more breathing room. Finally I am ready to take up some of my passions again, but now I worry about moms like Katie. Moms who, inspired by books like Fulwiler's or seeking happiness and peace, may try to run after their passions and dreams only to find themselves frustrated like I did.
There is really nothing I can do to help these moms avoid frustration and even depression or despondency (except maybe write and talk about it). In the end, each mother must find her own sweet spot. Hopefully others can find it more quickly than I did, but maybe we all meander on this journey of motherhood. Sometimes we end up on dead end roads and have to turn around. Maybe balance can be achieved more easily when we are sensitive and present enough to see and smell the lilacs. Every step and misstep will be sweeter and will eventually get us to our goal.