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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

Artist Mother 2

She steals away an hour, to hover over fragments of pages, torn from one form to be made into another.

A twinge of guilt runs through from her gut to her head. She should be tending to the sink full of dishes. She should be sitting with children as they play.

But the insatiable urge is there, compelled to create. Not for the world to see, but for sanity’s sake. This way, she can reach all the corners of her mind.

Clutter and chaos give way to pattern and form. Last week’s unfinished business flows perfectly into tomorrow’s plans. There are just enough cracks left to let slivers of light stream through.

It is tempting to rush, but the children play quietly just long enough. The phone remains quiet. The dishes stay put in the sink.

She lingers a moment over her work, yet unfinished, but just enough for today.



For those who don’t know, one of my pathways to sound thought and sane behavior is through making collages. There is something sacred to me about taking an object or an image that has had a specific purpose, and reshaping it into an entirely new form of expression. This poem is about an hour I spent on a Sunday afternoon working on a collage piece using a few pages from one of my daughter’s old math workbooks. 

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Too

I trudge through grass that is too tall through raindrops that came on too fast and too heavy, but ended too soon, to turn off the sprinkler that I left running in the back yard.

Too many weeds and too many ideas about what to plant leave me feeling too tired to accomplish anything this afternoon.

I ignore the to do list that is too long, become too distracted by mundane things to keep my children focused, and so they go to bed too late once again.

Too many people ask questions, to which there are too many answers, and so I also stay up too late thinking and talking and explaining and dreaming.

I feel as though I’ve seen too much, but somehow also done too little. The universe feels too big, but my corner of it seems too small.

They used to tell me I was too idealistic, that I tried to cover too much ground with one poem.

But I kept on writing anyway.

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Never Too Late

September 1, 2011

Exhaustion set in upon waking. I ignored its demands. Discipline took its place. Or maybe it was merely obstinance, stubborn determination to prove something to someone I’ve yet to meet, that set me to task with the daily routines.

I was brave today, or at least I told myself not to be afraid. I spoke of gratitude and vision, and prayed with deep conviction. Even so, by the time the dinner bell was rung I had already begun to unravel.

Tried to rest before it was too late, to no avail. As my family slumbers, I’m still waking, still wondering, still pondering and figuring. Answers hang before the wrong questions, and the hopeful horizon fades just out of view.

I try to stop caring, but I answered the call to compassion when I was yet a child without words. No one knew my open heart might need protection. The healing has begun, but I am still revealing painful scars.

These two spirits, entrusted to me, stir up all the dregs of my past. Have I ruined them already, I wonder? Is it simply too late? “Never too late,” I can hear my mother’s words, “It’s never too late to become a better parent.”

***  ***  ***

My oldest daughter will turn 7 in a week. I have to laugh at myself, or at least smile a little, at the pressure I feel to offer my daughters a perfect childhood. The truth is, there is more yelling and chaos in our lives that I ever dreamed I would allow. I’m struggling to let go of the wounds uncovered while I parent my children through the lens of my own dysfunctional upbringing. My parents loved us and provided us with the best they had to offer, but there was a lot of pain and insecurity woven throughout my developmental years.

My parents began their this leg of their journey into healing when I was still in high school. They visited counselors, attended workshops, and today they are marriage mentors, transforming their past hurts into hope for so many others. Now I am in my 30’s, and just a couple of years ago my mother and father attended a parenting workshop at their church. Some of their friends wondered why, since they were about to become empty-nesters after my youngest sister moved out a year later. That was when my mother asserted that it’s never too late. I’m so grateful for their example, and for their commitment to growing in the Spirit. If they are still healing, then there’s hope for the rest of us yet.

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Artist Mother

I wish I could capture all of it, that a sort of memory existed where I could save every blasted moment:

The pinkish haze of the colored twinkle lights that illuminate the living room from the scrawny potted cypress leaning under the weight of sentimental ornaments.
The low rumble of the wood stove as embers of pine and pecan radiate ominous, oppressive warmth.
The unbearable anticipation of the greatness of my husband, as he sleeps off this latest illness. Do I have enough faith not to care whether he succeeds or fails?
The way I love him even when he disappoints me, and especially when he surprises me.
The littlest one on the bottom bunk in a nest of blankets, snuggled under a canopy made from monkeys and gauzy scarves dangling from the slats above.
The bigger one with her long legs sprawled over the railings up top, the mystery of what she has yet to know escaping in sleep-drunk proclamations from her dreams.
The way they both seem to grow before my eyes, how every day they seem to know more.

And in the cupboards, in the closets, in drawers and baskets and boxes, all the projects waiting silent and impatient…for this too shall pass.
“Shape me! Sculpt me!” Brushes, paints, paste, paper, metal and fiber beckon from their exile.
“Later,” I murmur. Then I declare more firmly, “Not now!”
But there is only now, I know.
So I force myself towards sleep, disregarding all the nearly forgotten brilliance I embodied just an hour ago as I gazed at the bathroom mirror.
And every day I seem to know less.

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So anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows that I’m not shy about admitting my shortcomings. And tonight will be no different. I’m struggling right now in a major way to break a family cycle of dysfunction. I want to be a good parent, but my best efforts are not good enough to overcome the behavioral patterns established by my childhood experience. My parents did the best they could with the emotional and spiritual resources they had at the time, but like everyone else in the world I’m still left with a few painful scars. Unlike most other 30-something adults, I’m blessed to have had miraculous reconciliation with my parents and as a result some of my scars have begun to fade. But not all of them.

In the past few months I’ve become the type of parent that I swore I’d never be. I’ve had violent urges, I’ve screamed and chastized. I’ve blamed, guilted, and fallen into the “do as I say not as I do” conundrum since I start throwing a temper tantrum in the midst of trying to end their whining. And none of my resolve seems to make it stop. It’s very similar to my struggle with alcoholism: I feel awful afterwards (if it’s an especially emotional night I even feel hung-over the next morning), I swear it will be different next time around, that I won’t do that again. I make promises I can’t keep, because I’m powerless over the energy of the rage that wells up inside me.

Here’s the beautiful thing: because I live in community people noticed what was going on. And because I live in a loving, Christian community the people around me stepped in and offered to help. So next week, I’ll be receiving a gift. I’m going on a retreat all by myself while the community takes care of my children. I don’t know if I’ve done anything like this ever before in my life, and it’s been at least 7 years since I had a whole week with nothing to do but get spiritual. I’m planning on spending lots of time in prayer and meditation. I’m going to bring some art supplies and some books, my Bible. And I’m going to get down to business.

I know God’s been calling me to spend more time with him for a couple of years now. I’ve been sporadic about it. But this week the gloves come off, and I’m planning on doing a three day fast. I have no idea what to expect, other than a vague sense of foreboding. Not that it’s going to be bad, but deep down I know it’s going to be majorly intense. I’ll be at Jubilee Partners, a commuity in Northeast GA, so I won’t be completely isolated from people. But I think I’ll be pretty much alone as I go through whatever it is that God has in store.

I’m not sharing this on my blog to make a huge deal of it. In Isaiah 58, there’s a warning about fasting just to get attention with the guise of humility. But I’m sharing here because I know that, as much as I need to face what’s in store for me alone, I can’t get through it without anyone’s help. So if  you think of me next week, especially Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, please pray for my fast. Pray that I come through it more connected to God, more able to love those around me, and that I would recognize whatever gifts there are on the other side of this darkness.

To close, here’s the passage from Isaiah 58, the Message version:

1-3 “Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

3-5“Well, here’s why:”The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

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As a parent, when I imagine what it must be like for God, it makes me feel a little crazy. How can he be so patient with all of us all the time? It’s like watching my two-year-old daughter try to put her flip flops on the wrong feet earlier this evening. The first shoe just wouldn’t go on right, and so she started to scream and kick her feet in the struggle. I could have intervened and done it for her, but then how would she learn how to do it herself? And so I observed. And waited, not giving advice or assistance until she asked me to help her.

It seems so insignificant. What would have been the difference if I had stepped in to help her half a minute sooner than she requested? Anyone who has lived with a feisty two-year-old knows that if she wants to do it herself, you darn well had better let her do it even if she’s failing miserably. To intervene too soon is to rob her of the opportunity to learn not independence, but interdependence. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t get it perfect all the time. And I want my kids to know how to put on their own shoes, how to dress themselves, how to cook and clean up after themselves. But I also want them to know their limits, and to know how to accept help from others.

I picture myself like a two-year-old in my walk with God. How can he stand it to watch me flail and whine, cry and fidget rather than ask him to help me? I imagine he is very sad sometimes as he watches me, so close to me with the solutions to all my problems yet he will wait patiently for me to call on him before sending his legions of angels to assist me in ending the struggle.

I experienced just such a miracle tonight, while trying to put my kids to bed. I wanted to inflict all sorts of bodily harm because it was past 9pm, Kellan had already been in a screaming tantrum for an hour, and Ida, who had just returned from playing with some of the other kids, was just getting started on her antics. Very often I have to leave the house when that happens, lest I begin to rant and rave, to make threats and break small non-valuable items. But instead of losing it completely (though I did raise my voice and cry a little), I remembered to pray for help. You see, no concern is too small for God’s omnipotent, omniscient unconditional love.

And just as suddenly as it began, the impending squall lifted and the girls and I laid together in the tranquil twilight, their breathing slow and steady. Both of them drifted peacefully to sleep in a matter of minutes. I held my breath. You see, even when everyday miracles occur and I recognize them as such in the moment, I’m still afraid that God’s goodness will not prevail. I’m like Peter walking on water, then plunging into the waves from my lack of faith. But Jesus still extends his hand to me, beckoning me to meet him across the depths. When I listen to his voice above the din, I am filled with gratitude and everything seems possible.

I may not even have noticed the depth of grace that I experienced tonigh, but when I logged into my computer and Romans 12:3 showed up as the verse of the day, the lesson came full circle:

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. –Romans 12:3 The Message translation

What have you let God do for you today?

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I decided a long time before I had kids that I did not want to hit my children.  And it’s a good thing I made that decision ahead of time, because this week I’ve grown into a new understanding of why child abuse occurs so often.  The girls have pushed every button I have a hundred times.  And after long days at work and long hours spent working out disagreements with other adults, the last thing I want is to come home to screaming hungry tired demanding children.  But that’s my life and so I’m learning all over again how to live in the reality that I created for myself.

Working full time is hard.  Raising kids is hard.  Working full time and raising kids is next to impossible.  Yet thousands of people do it.  And after the impulses to inflicting bodily harm that I’ve experienced this week, I’m amazed the human race has survived as long as it has.  I’m not certain that there has always been a level of consciousness among humans to deal with familial conflicts compassionately and peacefully, and I personally know many many people who survived beatings as children, even into young adulthood.  Matter of fact, I know several adults who have endured years of domestic violence.  I know people who have disowned their families.  I know several more who have joined the military and fought in wars and killed others for reasons far beyond my comprehension.  I knew people who even felt it necessary to end their own lives, at young ages.  Yes, the human race must have a special calling on this planet, and God must be keeping us around for a reason, because from a logical standpoint we should have destroyed ourselves long ago.

So, last night, when I was exhausted from working late and the laundry wasn’t folded and the dishes weren’t done, and both kids were screaming and refusing to do anything I or Brendan asked them to do until he and I started arguing too, I was able to reach deep inside and get the hell out of the house before I did things that I would regret later…well at least before I engaged in too many regrettable acts.  I did not hit, slap, kick, shake or throw either or my children (or my husband).  I did yell at everyone, and I did try to physically force both Ida and Kellan to brush their teeth.  And I stomped around and whined right along with them, slammed the doors and slammed the dirty dishes around in the sink.  When I wonder where they learned to throw raging temper tantrums, I am sad to say I don’t have to look very far.  They have learned a lot of it right here at home.

But as often as they act like royal pains in the ass, more frequently my girls are beautifully compassionate and demonstrate God’s love through their innoncence.  They are creative and brilliant, they hunger for understanding and knowledge, and they light up virtually every room they walk into.  People love to have them around (most of the time).  And I realize that they must have picked up a lot of these things at home too.

Children are mirrors to adults, as we are to them.  They imitate us, and reflect back to us what they need and want.  Within their needs and wants, I get to see a bit of what is really important to me as well.

There is a whole theory of human development based on this concept of the mirror.  My loose understanding of this theory follows:  A baby spends all her time trying to imitate the people and things she observes in the world around her.  Eventually she begins to differentiate herself from these other beings, and realizes that she is separate from them.  Once she realizes this, she begins to develop fear.  For example, a child learning to walk is not at first conscious of the fact that she is walking.  She is simply doing the same thing that the big people around her do all the time.  But then she takes those first few staggering steps…hovers…and falls.  Perhaps she gets back up and tries again.  Perhaps she cries out in frustration.  But she also realizes that the possibility of falling exists where it never existed before.  And that opens up a space for fear.

My recollection of the mirror theory stops there.  When we live in fear, we reject faith.  When we reject faith, it becomes far too tempting to choose the easiest way out.  In my case, the easiest and most thoughtless thing to do when my children swing their little fists at me would be to swing back.  But since I have chosen a path of faith, I am called to make a different choice.  Sometimes I succeed at this, sometimes not.  The point is, I’m consciously choosing to do things a little differently than the way that was demonstrated to me as a child.  I’m paying attention.  Talking with my parents about their successes, and their mistakes.  Talking with others and trying to remember that no matter how badly things get screwed up, there is always forgiveness and God’s infinite love.  And then I’m asking God to guide my thoughts and actions within that love.  And if God’s love is in me, how can I help but reflect that love so that others can find it in themselves?

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