(Read part 2 of this post, here.)
My mother is not a very empathetic person.
She has many wonderful qualities, but empathy is not one of her stronger traits.
Sometime this summer we were having a conversation over the phone.
“This summer has been so hard,” I said.
I then continued to give her a list of things that were hard. Among the top of the list:
- taking care of 5 (five!) kids all day long, every day
- staying on top of housework (impossible–see previous point)
- needing patience but seeming to always run out at about 9 in the morning, which is a rather depressing way to begin the day.
I don’t even remember what my mom’s response was, other than, I know it was devoid of much sympathy.
You see, my mother comes from a long line of pioneer-stock women–the hardy, no-nonsense, let’s-find-solutions type.
Five kids? That’s nothing.
My mom had 7, my grandmother before her had 8. And my great-great grandmother? At points in her life in Sweden she was so poor they ate nothing but potato scraps & tree bark, worked 16 hours a day, & her skirt, when stuffed with straw, became her mattress at night which she shared with her many younger siblings. No, no, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.
When Joseph was in his last year of law school & we were discussing potential employment opportunities, I suggested he could get a job in city not to far from where we lived.
“The commute’s not bad,” I said. “Only about an hour or so each way. Plenty of people do it.”
“I am not wasting two hours of my life every day in a car. I don’t care of plenty of other people do it. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m spending two precious waking hours of my day in a car. Knowing that other people have much longer or worse commutes wouldn’t make that commute any more bearable.”
He is right.
Knowing that other people have it worse, or more difficult, doesn’t do much by way of actually lightening your current burdens.
Can it give perspective? A greater sense of gratitude? Sure (& it ought to).
But it doesn’t take away the fact that you have burdens to bear, no matter how paltry they look in comparison to the plight of others.
So how was my summer, you ask.
Awesome, hard, long, hot, soul-stretching.
It’s that last one humbled me to my knees. Not necessarily in prayer (although it did a bit of that too), but more in a metaphorical sense. There were so many points during the summer, when I thought, “I totally suck. I’m a horrible mother. I can’t do this. My house is mess. I’m yelling at my kids, & I’m at my wits end.”
Admittedly, now that the kids are back in school, a weight has been lifted. I feel lighter, happier, glad to be back in the rhythms of school time (I love you public school teachers!!).
I’m still mulling over what I learned, or what I should have learned from the summer.
At moments it felt dull, terribly long, while at other times I felt the joy of having my children around me–to see them light up as they talked about legos, or a fun fact that they learned from a book they just read.
At moments I felt my sanity slipping. My life seemed to be nothing more than a long stretch of days, where my mind became so numb with details & noise, chaos & clutter.
At moments I loved myself for choosing a life that is not easy, that doesn’t offer much by way of public accolades, & revolves around thinking much more about others than myself.
At moments I was convinced I was not cut out for the trade of full-time, hands-on, constant motherhood.
One day in August, I took the kids swimming.
You know how the light starts to turn in late summer–sort of autumnal, even in the middle of the day?
I remember diving into the pool, swimming underwater, feeling my body glide as I saw sunlight filter through the water. It was nothing but impressions really, because my eyes were closed, but I felt that light flicker & flash all around me. My body was long & light. I felt weightless & free.
I came up for air, saw Salem & Amalia splashing near the edge of the pool, the boys running after each other, the baby sitting content in the stroller, watching all of us.