Monday, September 29, 2014

Yin and Yang

The other day, I took my youngest daughter to a class at the library that was geared specifically for homeschoolers. While we were there, I ran into an old friend, several years younger than me. She was trying to hold a conversation with me while simultaneously answering questions from  her three elementary aged children, chasing a toddler, and holding a 14 month old baby. We chatted for a few minutes as we walked to the parking lot and she asked:

"Do you really miss this?" 

"All of my friends tell me that I should enjoy it now, because I will be sad when they grow up. Do you miss when your kids were little?"

I thought for a few moments  before I replied...

Yes and No.

 I absolutely miss snapshots in time. I miss the smell of milk breath from a newborn baby.

 I miss reading "Madeline" to a chubby preschooler. 

I miss fall park days filled with screeches of delight to "push me higher mommy!"

I miss sun soaked summer days at the river dripping with the smell of Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen. I miss pirate themed birthday parties and snuggling at night. These are the best gifts of motherhood. The reality is, they don't come alone.

They come mixed in with sleepless nights when I thought I would die if I didn't get just one solid hour of sleep. Arms and shoulders so tense and painful that they may fall off if I have to pick up one more toddler. A constant nagging fear that one of my babies will be drowned or kidnapped at the busy pool.  The temper tantrum when I said no to just one more popsicle.  The suffocating emotional intensity of so many people needing all of me all the time so that sometimes I wished I could just disappear. These are part of motherhood as well, and they in no way diminish the beauty of the gifts. 

I have been learning a lot lately about the Yin and Yang. So many times is life, we want things to be black or white. Right or wrong. We see the theme everywhere around us. Either children are good or bad. Smart or dumb. Marriages end in either divorce or Happily Ever After. Families are happy or broken. People are rich or poor. A favorite song from childhood talks about "Brown paper packages tied up with strings" and that's just how I wish life could be served. Wrapped and tied neatly in a box. But that's not reality. Reality is that happy families have disagreements. Successful marriages have good days and bad. Kids have strengths and weaknesses.  

A man I deeply respect once said:

"There seems to be a superstition...that Marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and beautiful wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear the divorce courts are jammed."

"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed."

"Life is like an old time rail journey--delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed."

"The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."

Now stick with me as we explore another aspect of this journey we call life. I especially want to speak to those of you who have a child who is "Special needs". What comes to mind when you hear that term?  I imagine that a long time ago, someone wanted people who experience life differently to stop feeling like they were less than others. To feel valued and included. And so they assigned this euphemism - special needs. I am the mother of a child who fits this label. I cannot speak for all mothers. I can only speak as the mother of my child. I want to share some things that may be uncomfortable for you to hear but need to be said. Every child is special. Some children are different. I do not believe that the difference is either good or bad. It is simply different. When we use the term "special" it creates something of an unrealistic expectation for the entire family. The child isn't sure what to think, because everyone is calling them special, and they feel anything but. They feel broken and frustrated and crazy and more than anything, they wish they could just be NORMAL. Whatever that means. I'm going to use the term "different needs".

As a mother, I love this child just as passionately as I love my other children. Perhaps more fiercely because I am accustomed to fighting for her needs to be met. But I also wish sometimes that we could just be normal. The reality is that life with a different needs child is exhausting physically, emotionally, and mentally.

The needs are relentless and there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth from both parents and children. There are endless support programs for the child, but no one tells you that the one will change the whole in ways you never imagined. The marriage will be strained. The siblings will be affected. Nothing is ever easy. And there is no medal at the end. But there shouldn't be, because I am no hero. I am totally imperfect in my efforts. And that's okay. I still love her to the moon and back. 

Today, my goal is just to create a space where we can open a dialog about the fact that life is full of good AND bad and everything in between. They co-exist. We are not perfect or failures, saints or sinners. We are all human. Yes, motherhood is beautiful and amazing. Its also smelly, exhausting, and overwhelming. And i'm perfectly okay with that.  Perhaps if we could be more open and honest about our reality, we could all experience more authentic relationships where we feel safe sharing things as they really are. Lets stop pretending like everything is supposed to be perfect. Let's stop photoshopping our lives.

 Lets share them - dirty dishes, screaming children, burnt cookies and all. I would love to see those on Pinterest! The older I get and the more I learn, the more I love the Yin and Yang. I believe with all my heart that if we could accept this duality of existence, it would go a long way in allowing us to heal ourselves, our families, and our world.

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