All of that.
I've been feeling like a failure lately in my endeavors. People say things to me like, "I don't know how you do it!" and "You are a supermom" and "4 boys? You are amazing."
Most of it is lip service from strangers, the go-to things that people say to moms (and moms for 4 boys). It goes in one ear and out the other most of the time, but lately those comments have been giving me stress. This was a crazy move for us, a big change returning to boat life and living across country from my family. I feel like I'm barely holding on and that I'm frequently dropping the ball with our kids. We wrestled with our decision to send our oldest to public school instead of continuing homeschooling him. We wrestled with the decision to homeschool our 4-year old twins instead of re-configuring the budget to send them to preschool. We've been wrestling with the decision on whether or not I want to go back to college (and all that entails-- registering, student loans or GI Bill, childcare, time commitment, yadda yadda). Just life decisions. It is all life and it is all normal and it is all good, but it has been a lot all at once.
But through all of this, I have felt like I have been stretched as a mother. One of our 4-years has been struggling with his asthma. Our baby had bronchiolitis and is taking a long time to recover. I am s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d. The other day, our 1st grader wanted me to come see the DinoTrux he built out of Legos and one of our preschoolers was babbling and the baby needed a nebulizer treatment and the dog was barking because the delivery man dropped a package off at the door and who knows where the other preschooler was... and I snapped, "Go to your rooms! Go, go, go!"
I want a break.
When I hear the lip service from strangers, I think, "Is this really as good as it gets?" It makes me feel like they don't really know how it goes at home. They may see a glimpse of our life-- the boys darting around happily at the park-- but all I can think is that the boys will be so tired leaving that 2 of them will be crying, one will be hitting another, and another will be taking off down the path on the way to the car instead of listening to me... and that once we get home I will have to wrestle them all through the bedtime routine. I feel like I'm yelling all the time. I feel like I'm sneaking to my room all the time to let the stress go, to say a prayer, to plead to God for some mommy courage, to vent to new friends who probably think I'm nuts. And so the kind words from strangers, most likely meant to be encouraging, often make me feel like I'm falling short from what they "think" of me, that I'm not portraying our true selves, and that surely motherhood has to be more than where we are right now.
I know motherhood is more than this. We have days and strides where I am overwhelmed with joy from my our children. We have moments where I can't imagine being anywhere else in the world. And then the last couple weeks have left me feeling burnt out. BURNT OUT. Like, flame extinguished, running on fumes, headache, heartache, tears, sleepless nights, BURNT OUT. My face feels like it is in a constant frown and I swear I'm getting wrinkles from worry lines. I'm sure that my far away friends and family think I'm a nut. I'm texting everyone too much and calling too much and writing too much and in general, being a hot mess. I'm venting to new friends about potty training woes, 4-year old woes, back to school woes, moving woes, Navy woes, woe, woe, woe... and I wake up in the morning feeling defeated before my feet hit the ground.
I finally opened up a devotional I got from MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) last year and find myself nodding "yes" to every page. Known & Loved by Caryn Rivadeneira has been such a comfort. This morning I made everyone breakfast and eagerly opened up my devotional, ready to dive into the Word and feel like I'm finally getting my feet back on the ground. My parents recently flew out for a visit and it was so good, so good having my mom get us on schedule and making me feel like I wasn't losing my mind. Reading this devotional is a lot like that feeling, the rope guiding me through this dark tunnel where I'm not sure what lays ahead or if other people feel this way. The best part of this devotional, to me, is discovering, yes. Yes... other moms do feel this way. It is a day by day journey. There are hard times. Change is hard. Change is hard on the children. It is hard on the parents. It is hard on me-- I feel like it all is falling on my shoulders to guide each of them individually through this time of transition and that somehow, from somewhere, I need to have all the answers. It feels like our world has been turned upside down and that all these little eyes are looking at me for guidance and I'm just as confused-- yet somehow in charge of the ship. I have to balance their physical needs with the clockwork schedule of our house and now this crazy range of emotional needs as well. How do I get it all done?
I've struggled with this blog post because I haven't known all the words I wanted to put in it, the feelings I've wanted to convey. There are so many moving parts when you PCS, when you check into a new command, when you arrive in a new duty station, when your kids are going to a new school, when your children grow from preschool and kindergarten to 1st grade (so big!). And cold and flu season approaching, managing asthma in a new climate... another one of our children diagnosed with reactive airways, 2 children on Albuterol, doctor's appointments, trips to the hospital, nights up worrying and monitoring breathing... my head spins thinking about all of the things that have gone on during this PCS. What finally motivated me to get this blog post in writing was our son's first day of 1st grade. I was so proud of myself for holding it together that morning, proud of our 4-year olds (who have been struggling with all the changes) for behaving like gentlemen dropping off their big brother, and proud of our 1st grader for being brave when he was so nervous. Most of all, I was proud of all 4 of our boys for having listening ears on as we wandered around the school hallways trying to figure out where to go and what we are doing and how we do school pick up. I left the school feeling like, "It is getting better. We are putting one foot in front of the other and moving in the right direction." We went to a coffee shop to celebrate the occasion; I bought our younger 3 boys each a chocolate milk and myself a pumpkin spice latte. We sat in the sunshine and chatted with other parents doing the same thing. The 4-year olds were right back at their busy behavior-- they have been keeping me busy, like gray hair busy. As I chatted, a lady at the coffee shop felt the need to interrupt my conversation with a fellow momma to let me know how I was parenting wrong. Can I even begin to tell you how defeated, deflated, and embarrassed I was at that moment? This happened in front of a couple that I had met just that day, fellow parents at our brand new school in our brand new duty station. I ended up bustling my boys out of there and walking them to the park so I could get fresh air and not cry at the coffee shop. I was so embarrassed. So embarrassed at how the couple must perceive me and that my children were such a nuisance that someone had to dive into the middle of my conversation to inform me of how she feels their behavior should be corrected. I looked out over the water by the park and wondered if we were making progress or if we were just sitting at square one.
That is when words from the devotional came back to me, Psalm 94:18-19, "When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy." I've also had Coldplay's "The Scientist" stuck in my head the past couple weeks (parenting: brought to you by the Bible and Coldplay... don't worry, I know my life is a mess): "Nobody said it was easy/ no one ever said it would be this hard/ Oh, take me back to the start."
It isn't easy. I'm not sure when I will hit my stride and feel like, "I've got this." Perhaps I will always feel like we are a hot mess and maybe the dull headache will come and go over the years as these children try my nerves at every turn. Perhaps God has me where he wants me-- calling out to him hour by hour and day by day. I've said it before that one thing I love about life as a submariner's wife is that I have to opportunity to see my faith come alive in every day life; I am there again right now.
For any strangers or friends who light-heartedly want to say, "You are a supermom." No, not a supermom. I am a mom that has no idea what she's doing. I'm a mom that makes mistakes, big and small, every day. I'm a mom with a heart full of love for friends and family and doing my best, just like every other mom out there. I'm a mom that says sorry and who leaves coffee shops crying after people judge my parenting, perhaps harshly or perhaps for good reason (though that lady's timing could have been better). I'm a mom that has super long evenings and super stressful mornings. I'm a mom that ends honest tries at involving the kids in projects with a headache, wondering if it was worth the effort, but always trying again, hoping that this time will be more fun or a little easier. I'm a mom that always stresses about if a bone is broken or if that is normal breathing or labored breathing or if we should call the doctor (how about we just call to be on the safe side...). I'm a mom that packs lunches that are never eaten or are only picked at, that has a mini van covered in snacks and chicken nuggets. I'm a mom that wears shirts I thought were clean, only to find them caked with oatmeal or whatever else life throws at me. I'm a mom that swears, sometimes intentionally and sometimes on accident. I'm a mom that doesn't read directions and then wonders why I can't get new batteries in a Lightning McQueen flashlight. I'm a mom that calls my mom for every problem and my best friends for all the other problems that arise in between phone calls to my momma. I'm a mom that loves each and every moment with my children and is also surprised and exhausted over how freaking hard each and every moment with my children can be.
I think all parents are super parents. Life is hard and we are all doing what we can. Treat each other with love. Because that mom that you chewed out at the coffee shop is having a super rough couple of weeks. She may look like she was gossiping with friends while her kids ran amok, but I'm telling you, she wasn't. I went back to talk to that lady, but she wasn't there. I tried to picture what that glimpse in my life looked like to her and wanted to give her a bigger picture. In my 7 years of parenting, she is not the first person to offer "insight" as to how I should be parenting. This one just happened to fall at a tender, vulnerable moment in my life. I know that we will have many more comments made to us in this parenthood journey and I hope each time God reminds me of his Word and his promises just as I feel myself falling apart.
"When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy."