Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Conversation With Myself, Happy New Year

I am a mother to 4 girls and 1 boy, ages 18 down to 7. So I find myself giving a lot of advice.

"I advise you to get your room picked up before I come in there and pick it up for you...and there WILL be a trip to Goodwill involved."

"I advise you to get your attitude straight...NOW."

"I advise you to go back to your closet and try again or else I will be choosing an outfit for you."

Lots of advice being shared.

But, every once in a while, when my kids are feeling sad about something hurtful that happened at school, or they aren't confident in the way God made their body, or a boyfriend moves on, or others seem to be able to control the ball better on the court...or whatever...I surprise myself by actually managing to share a bit of comforting wisdom with them. Sweet! And I quickly write about it in their journals so when they are older, they can remember that I was a good mother.

One time, I tried a new approach with "sage advice-giving." My young teenager wanted to be allowed to be dropped off by another parent with some of her friends at the River Market in downtown Little Rock on a Friday night. During RiverFest.

This is me, with sweet calmness in my voice: "Darling, if you were your mother, do you think it would be safe and responsible to allow you to do what you're asking me to let you do?"

I know, I know. But keep in mind that I was trying to avoid the drama, tears and general freaking out that usually accompanies this kind of parent-child interaction. I had hoped (albeit a vain hope) to appeal to her grown-up personality. Like most teenagers, she has multiple personality disorder and sometimes, sometimes, Surprisingly Mature does make an appearance. No such luck this time. Two Can Play At This Game showed up and replied:

"Mother, if I was my mother, I would trust me to take care of myself and I would want me to be happy and spend good quality time at a music festival with my friends."

And so there was no avoiding the freak out. And tears. Oh, the tears and the accusations.

However, that is not my point at all. What I'm trying to say is occasionally I sit at my children's bedside in the dim lamp light and give them the kind of advice that causes tears to dry, trembly smiles to flit across their face and while they hug me, I glance around the room to see if I can catch a glimpse of the One who fed me the words that soothed and blessed my precious one.

In those moments it occurs to me that I should listen to my own advice a bit more. I can be a pretty smart cookie every once in a while.

I am coming clean now and confessing that teens aren't the only ones who suffer from multiple personality disorder. I, too, have never outgrown the disease. I am in the middle of lecturing my child for running barefoot through the church auditorium and nearly knocking down an elderly lady, when there are footsteps behind me. As I turn from my errant offspring, I magically transform into smiling, friendly Preacher's Wife as if I wasn't just threatening another human life a mere millisecond before.

I am walking through the house ranting and guilt-tripping everyone in my path because I am such an unappreciated slave in my own home, picking up everyone's dirty socks and stepping on Legos and how I am apparently the only one who knows how to flush the toilet, when my phone rings. It's a dear friend calling to discuss the details of our next epic hiking trip. And in an instant I go from Dirty Dishrag to Fearless Adventurer. Multiple personalities, indeed.

So, on this 31st day of December, 2013, instead of writing a bunch of New Year's Resolutions, I'm going to attempt to use, with myself, the approach that failed so badly with my teenager. I am going to ask my 85 year old self to speak to my 41 year old self. (And, hopefully my 17 year old self can keep her mouth shut and stay out of it.)

85 year old me might say something like this to 41 year old me:

This is my Grandma Childers. I hope to look something like this when I'm 85.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dear 41,

You are beautiful. 

When you look at those old photographs of yourself from when you were 7, you want to gather that shy, pale, red-headed, freckle-face darling in your 41 year old arms and tell her she is lovely. You want to kiss her forehead and tell her she will never have shiny dark hair or red lips and that that is a good thing because she is amazing and brilliant and beautiful just the way she is.

In the same way, 85 wants to gather 41 in her arms and shout, "You are beautiful!" Quit looking for beauty in the mirror. It's not there and mirrors lie.

Those lines around your eyes -the ones that have you paying way too much for tiny little jars of cream that leave greasy spots on your pillow cases- those lines show most when you smile. Smile anyway! 

The creases between your eyebrows that you think make you look like Stinky on Sesame Street, show most when you are worried. Worry less!

41, you are so concerned about that extra 15 pounds you've been carrying around since your last baby was born. At 85, I have some things to say about that.

First, you have carried 5 babies to full term inside your body. Give yourself a break. No, your body will never wear a bikini, but does that really matter? You never wore one before you had babies. So what if the skin around your belly button is a little loose. Your husband is the only one who sees that part of you, and he doesn't care one bit about those stretch marks. He's crazy about you.

Second, you spend a lot of time worrying about that 15 pounds, but not a lot of effort in trying to fix the problem. I mean, you run some, but you know you could do better. You are strong enough and stubborn enough. You just have to quit being lazy and do the work: cut some calories and be more consistent in your exercise routine.

Or not. I don't care. You will feel better if you take care of yourself, but there really is no cheating Age. It will catch you eventually. You could just choose to love yourself the way you are. That would be fine, too. 

And, Darlin', that book you've been fretting over since you got back from the Grand Canyon isn't going to write itself. I know it's scary and you're worried about being rejected. I am you, and my memory may not be as vivid as it used to be, but I remember rejection in all its many forms. It's not fun, but even at the young age of 41, you have already learned that rejection is survivable. I'm not going to tell you how this turns out, but 85 is telling you you will regret it if you don't try. Oh, and quit using the kids as an excuse. I know they keep you busy, but you still manage to waste plenty of time each day. (17 says, "She so just busted you out.")

41, you have lots of ambition and lots of ideas, high energy and a pretty good grasp on the big picture, but you are easily discouraged when other people don't seem to know what to do with you; when they reject or doubt your leadership; when they dismiss you because of your gender. And you often lose control of your tongue and temper. (Don't worry. You will get better at that.) You get embarrassed and discouraged and then you just quit. You walk away. Don't bother trying to deny it. I know where you keep those 3 ring binders and journals full of ideas, plans, sketches and half-written stories. I'm sorry to say you will always struggle with this desire to throw in the towel to some extent. Part of it is your personality and your propensity to doubt yourself. Part of it is society. But, Darlin', God can't use you if you keep giving up so easily and He wants so badly to use you to call people to His rest. Find a way to call them and DON'T QUIT.

You doubt your ability to be a good mother to your children.   You've made a few mistakes, that's for sure. But beating yourself up about it isn't productive. Keep praying. Keep loving your kids. Keep holding them to high standards. Stand by their side when they make bad choices. Never abandon them. Walk through the hard stuff with them. That's your job. You do a good job of admitting when you've made a mistake and asking them to forgive you. Be ready to do that again because you have quite a few mistakes ahead of you still. 

85 is telling you your kids are on the right path, but I also want to remind you of the talk you had with Aunt Debbie at Christmas. She said your kids don't belong to you; they belong to God. He loves them more than you do. You have to trust Him with your babies. You have to trust that He can even use your parenting mistakes to mold them for their purpose in His kingdom. 41, you will have to trust your Father with your children. Even when you don't understand.

And then there's your husband. I won't reveal what goes on in your heart, the things only the Lord and I can know, but I will tell you this: no relationship is perfect. You, 41, are not perfect, and your husband shows you more grace and patience and forgiveness than you will ever know. Life is complicated sometimes, but it is also beautiful, and you two are in it together. So, try taking it down a notch on being annoyed when he interrupts you, or handles the kids differently than you think he should, or chooses to stay and see things through when you prefer to move on to new adventures. Quit worrying about his weight and snoring issues and just enjoy his presence in the life you share. He loves you more than life. Companionship is harder to come by at 85. Treasure what you have now, while it's yours. Quit wasting time.

Finally, 41, love God and love people; all people. It's hard. It's hard to love people who hate you and lump you into stereotypes and groups when you know you don't belong there. It's hard to love people who misunderstand you and want to assign motives to your actions. It hard to love people who are angry and hateful. But you have to try. And it's hard for 41 to love 41, but 85 has grace and forgiveness for you, so take a deep breath and get ready to take on 42. She's coming fast. Embrace her.

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Charlotte Vitden said...

Very good. It made me laugh and cry. I thought of mistakes I made with my children and then thought of how proud I am as I see them raising their own children. I do believe the best thing we can give our children is God. Yes, I know they were just given to us to teach and help them become all they can be and that time passes quickly. Have a good 2014!! One more thing. My daddy always said the best thing he could give his children was to love their mother so I am going to say~stay close to your man because when the day comes that your nest is empty you will need him and you want to still love each other because there is still life after children.