only human

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My energetic, fun-loving, compassionate, fierce, spontaneous, good-natured little boy turned five this week.

He is not my oldest or my youngest, but his birth marks the beginning of life as I know it.   Since my older two are only eighteen months apart (and there was a miscarriage between them) I hardly remember only having one child.  When I think of the early days of my life as a mother, I think of this little one's pregnancy and birth.

I learned so much from that first year (which was really hard - between reflux, allergies, and chronic ear infections, I spent that year with a very fussy baby and his very busy toddling brother).  In honor of his birthday, I thought I would repost one of the lessons I learned from his babyhood.

I'm human.

That's the second thing I've learned in the past year: I'm only a person. Only one person, finite in my ability to produce formula/chopped food/ sippee cups/ clean diapers/ entertainment on demand. And only one person, requiring the same things everyone else needs to function. I require food, and water, and sleep, and coffee, and occasional emotional/spiritual nourishment, or I wither into a demanding, short-tempered, over-caffeinated ball of mush. I'm only human.

Because my son didn't start sleeping through the night until he was 10 months old, I didn't start sleeping through the night until he was 10 months old, either. I also stopped sleeping when I was six weeks pregnant with him, which means I did not get a full night's sleep for about eighteen months. When I am tired, life is harder - I have less energy and am more focused on doing only the things that are necessary to sustain life (like producing formula, chopped food, and/or sippee cups on demand). When I am tired, I am cranky. When I am tired, I am not the ideal friend, wife, or mother. Last year, I was tired a lot.

So I would have the same conversation over and over - "I don't know what's wrong with me," I would say, genuinely puzzled. I have just been so tired lately. Maybe I need more protein." (Or water, or sunshine - I'm not unlike a plant, really. Just water me and turn me towards the sun ...) And then whatever dear friend was enduring this conversation again would say something like, "Well, maybe when he starts sleeping through the night you'll feel better," and I would remember - OH YEAH. I HAVEN'T SLEPT FOR SIX CONSECUTIVE HOURS IN THE PAST YEAR. 

I was constantly surprised and disappointed in myself, that I couldn't somehow rise above the sleep deprivation and take up new and interesting hobbies (like completing a sentence). I was constantly comparing my life to others, who were able to both get dressed, go to the grocery store, and have a conversation with their spouse, all in the same day. I was constantly asking, "What's wrong with me that I can't get it together?" Well, I was tired - no, I was exhausted. And it would seem that motherhood does not come with a cape and superpowers, though I can't imagine why not. Lord knows you need them.

And then when my baby was four or five months old, my mom changed my perspective. I was lamenting once again how tired I was and how neglected the house was and how groceries just refused to spontaneously appear on my shelves, and how I had other friends who had newborns and were teaching yoga, leading Bible studies, growing their own food, and opening businesses, all at the same time. My mom's response was, "Well give her a gold star."


There are no bonus points in life. I don't get extra credit for neatness or spelling. If my house is clean or messy may effect my mood, but it does not earn me anything - not one single damn thing in the whole wide world, except whatever personal value I have put on having a clean house. The things I was worrying about? Did. Not. Count.  I wasn't making a bad grade in life, which is how I felt - nobody even cared but me! There are no gold stars past the second grade.

Who knew.

From then on, I began to ask God for the grace to live the day He had given me - not the day He had given someone else, but me. And I was free from the perception of expectations of others, or the personal demands I putting on myself to be, well, perfect. To be more than human. I was still tired, my house was still a mess, but I began to think about what do I actually, really care about in my day? What is important to God? What is success and failure in my job? And are the markers I have created for myself accurate? Is a vaccuumed floor always sign of order in a home? Can't it also be sign of an imbalanced need for order placed above a child's need to explore and play? Is a day with no tantrums and clean dishes really success? Or do I care more about building relationships with my sons, teaching them how to learn and explore, and providing opportunities for curiosity and fun to grow? And isn't curiosity sometimes messy? Can't a messy house sometimes be a sign that we had a good day, too?

It changed my thinking, my mom's statement and the prayer that resulted from it. There are no more gold stars, and as long as perfection is my goal, I will constantly be frustrated. But when relationships are my goal, then there is room for tiredness, for crumbs and dog hair on the floor. Sippee cups, chopped food, and formula are all necessary to sustain life, but so are curiosity, love, and rest. When I began to see the larger picture, I had more patience for myself and my children. I had more patience for my fatigue, and could accept that this was just not going to be my year to learn yoga or start my own business. This was going to be my year to have my baby boys - tired as I was, tiring as they were, it was my only year to have them as two babies, and to enjoy the moment for what it was, and not just for what it could be.

After all, I'm only human.

Thanks be to God.

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