Or: Eggless Banana Bread, Curdled Cheese Sauce and Shattered Windows
In preparation for becoming a mother of four, I went to a mom’s conference just three weeks before our little one arrived. It was a great time of relaxation for me, as through different circumstances I ended up having my own room. When I left I felt renewed in my calling as mother, refreshed by the time I spent debriefing with other moms, and I was grappling with a call to reconciliation with my family and my preconceived ideas of what it means to parent, especially what it means to be mom.
In the weeks leading up to Mary Elena’s birth, I cleaned constantly as if my striving would ensure the perfectly organized and sanitized environment to bring my baby girl home to. I cooked as often as I cleaned, and we ate and I froze meals … sure that once my help left at the end of March, I would have a couple week’s worth of meals to make my transition to doing “it all” easier. I wanted my baby girl to meet the best version of myself, not the messy one I oftentimes am.
As her due date approached and I became more uncomfortable I continued in all my preparations and added walking miles uphill to my list of things to do, just hoping she would position herself, and I would have the natural labor I’d become accustomed to. A week before her anticipated arrival, we discovered that the baby was measuring big … according to the new ultrasound machine, right around ten pounds. Because of a difficult and traumatic delivery with Nicholas who was just under nine pounds, in which my rose colored picture of natural delivery was colored with him getting stuck, nurses jumping on me, pushing down on my pelvis, trying to widen that ring of fire to ensure my boy would have full mobility in his arms, and him emerging, flailing, blue, with burst blood vessels in his eyes, my doctor highly recommended we opt for a c-section for this birth.
The idea had never crossed my mind. If there’s one thing I thought I was good at, made for even, it is naturally delivering my babies with as little intervention as possible. But there is another part of me. The one that becomes crippled with fear. The part that would protect my children, without regard for myself. The one that was exhausted and worried about the outcome of this my fifth and final pregnancy.
We set a date for three days later, and I continued preparing for sweet Mary Elena Leigh to join our family.
That Friday morning, I dropped my older kids at school, dropped the baby off at a friend’s house, and made last minute lists and phone calls to those who would be caring for my kids during my four and a half day stay in the hospital. Wiping down the counters one last time, putting the last load of laundry in dressers and closets, and removing three meals from the freezer for my family, I left for the hospital.
Other than wondering about the unknown, I was calm, and I knew our little girl would enter the world without a hitch, and she did at 1:03 on the afternoon of February 24th. She was and is, absolutely perfect. Her name, Mary Elena Leigh means “cherished light, sheltered from the storm.”
Well, my help has returned to Texas and after four wonderful weeks of help from my mother-in-law where we began to discover the reality of being a family of six, I am mostly on my own. Because of the unforeseen cesarean, and the longer recovery and the busy-ness of having four kids six and under, we used all the meals I had prepared and frozen before mom left. And she left and I felt and continue to feel inept, inadequate, overwhelmed. And instead of responding to those feelings with the grace I prayed I’d have, with patience for the other four people in my home who are also adjusting to their new roles, I’ve found myself demanding perfection from myself, from them.
“Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora’s box of all the secret, hateful parts — your arrogance, your spite, your condescension — has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and moving on, you zing them. Hello, it’s Mr. Nasty.” Unfortunately, as lofty as my expectations and goals are as a mother, I am human. Often as a wife, parent and friend I feel what Tom Hanks says in “You’ve Got Mail” to be true of me. And no matter how much I try, I will always be inept, inadequate and overwhelmed unless I ground myself in something more than my own ability.
As I struggle to find enough hours in the day to clean, do laundry, cuddle, do homework, cook, do dishes, reassure, and gently redirect, I am rediscovering that in order for restoration to occur in me, in order to be the best version of myself, I need to be constantly in prayer, to spend time in the Word each day, and to give and receive the grace provided to us through His sacrifice.
It is no mistake that in my limited time, I just “happened” to begin reading through the Proverbs again.
Day after day I read, and it seems repetitive, but then I realize that all of my good intentions to do what is right and to be what I need to be, are futile and in my humanity, God knows that like my children, I will need to be redirected continually. And so I am reminded daily:
“Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). It is a constant thing to mold the hearts of my children, but oh the eternal reward if I make it my priority.
“Better to live in a wilderness than with a nagging and hot-tempered wife” (21:19). Whether or not he does the things I think he ought, regardless of him making life for me easier or having needs that I must respond to, I am called by One greater than myself to be that “good thing” of which Solomon speaks for my husband (18:22).
“Life and death are in the power of the tongue …” and “The intelligent person restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a man of understanding” (18:21,17:27). In this regard, I require much maturation.
The interesting thing about Mary’s name is that while it means “cherished” it has an underlying meaning of “bitterness.” This week, in moments when I’ve lost it, when I haven’t allowed myself to be admonished by the above truths, when I’ve been the messy version of me, I have begun to realize that whether Mary understands herself as a cherished light or allows bitterness to take root in her heart is very much on my shoulders. The way I react, when the lid blows off that Pandora’s box, when my children and my husband receive my spite instead of grace, I plant the seed.
So when I forget to put the eggs in the banana bread and realize it the minute before the timer goes off — or when I am required by my occupation to redirect hearts and I forget about what I’m cooking and my cheese sauce overheats and curdles — when juice spills on my newly mopped floor — or my son knocks so hard on the window that it busts on a night when it is bound to rain, I must lock the box and “… be transformed by the renewing of [my] mind, so that [I] may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
The work of a mother is tiring, non-stop, challenging, but rewarding.
You are changing the world
one little heartbeat at a time
Making history with every touch and every smile
Oh you, you may not see it now,
but I believe that time will tell
How you, you were changing the world
One little heartbeat at a time.
— Steven Curtis Chapman