Doors to the future

 

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” ~Graham Greene

  Hanging in the downstairs hallway of my home is a magnetic whiteboard  covered with magnets collected during our travels and family adventures. Quotes are scattered throughout the mix. Every morning I pause and scan the trinkets.  Each one is different. Each one connects a memory to a heartstring.  Usually, my eyes find one upon which to focus. For just a few moments, I try to recapture the sights, the sounds, the smells of a day held in a small momento. For just a few moments each morning, I travel back in time.  Daily, I am inspired by the varied collection to remember my blessings. 

The most inspiring keepsake is slipped in a 4×6 magnetic photo sleeve. It contains a photo of my girls, 5 and 2 at the time and a slip of paper with the above quote. I recall when I first read those words, my first-born was not more than 2. I wrote them in a journal. That day, Greene’s words became my cautionary reminder that I may not, most likely will not, know behind which door lies their futures.  I did not then and still do not interpret this to mean that I should overbook our schedules with dance classes, sports teams, or extracurricular academics that hold no appeal. The future may lie in a trip to a museum, a book, the playground, travel or perhaps the first taste of  a new food. I believe my job, as their mother,  is to expose them to the doors that may capture their interest, not direct them to those that meet my vision for their future.

Our every experience becomes woven into the fabric of our skin . Some experiences lead us to doors, some to dead-ends, all to becoming ourselves .  Whether leading to the future, to frustration, or to a short-lived interest, all doors offer opportunities for personal growth. As a mom, my first instinct is to protect, to guide them away from the doors that may lead to disappointment. Nevertheless, I believe that, aside from guarding their physical and spiritual well-being, the doors my children explore are not mine to block, nor to close with my doubts or fears.

Watching my girls develop interests different from mine is not always easy. It takes me out of my comfort zone. I chafe against the perceived growing separation between us. I itch to stay purposeful in their lives. Truthfully, and embarrassingly, I fear feeling unneeded by them.  However, their unique interests may one day open the door they walk through. Perhaps, the door has already presented itself, and its shadow can be found on a magnetic whiteboard. Perhaps, it has yet to be found. Regardless, a parent’s love, support and encouragement are critical to a child’s future, and I know that I cannot allow my fears or discomfort to hold back my girls from discovering their futures. 

Someday soon, my children will be on their own, testing doors, and stepping through.  If I’ve done my job right, they will have the wisdom to choose well and the courage to step through. In the meantime, I must remind myself  to encourage them as they explore different paths, trusting in a divine plan that it is not mine to control.

Someday soon, I will become an empty nester. Until then, I relish the time I have left with children in the house and know that parenting and homeschooling are still my priorities. One morning, not long ago, as I was studying that 4×6 photo with Graham Greene’s caution, I realized that it is time for me to start exploring doors of my own again. By gradually redefining my sense of purpose, I can rejoice with them, not mourn, when they step through the door to separation. We raise them to fly on their own. We encourage them by taking flight ourselves.

Therefore, at the end of each day, we must ask ourselves, as women and mothers, “Have I closed a door, or did I encourage a future?”

Lessons from a tortoise

It wasn’t easy living in my house this past weekend.  There were no early Valentine’s Day celebrations. I snapped at my family and slammed doors. I was tired of the demands and expectations that come with the job of mothering. My frustrations were exacerbated by late nights waiting up for (babysitting) teens, the sacrifice of a full Saturday to my husband’s project, and the consumption of an entire Sunday by an infected computer.  I cried. My head pounded. My jaw tightened. I considered submitting my resignation. I mentally flogged myself for the consideration. Then, I pondered the absurdity that I might be expected to hire my replacement before I left. These were not my finest moments in motherhood.

 The truth is, I don’t want to be replaced. The truth is, I can’t sleep well  until my munchkins are home so I chose to stay up. The truth is, I love spending time with my husband and was glad to help him. The truth is, I felt empowered after restoring the family computer. And, the truth is, I was tired, just plain tired, and I didn’t ask for help before I desperately needed it.

I am known to have high expectations–just ask my homeschooled kids. My highest expectations are reserved for myself. I am commonly referred to as a “Type A” personality, a label I don’t deny. I enjoy being a “go-getter,” unafraid of challenge and hard work. Additionally, when I see a need, either inside my home or out, I gladly make room on my plate to help.  I know that when I give to my husband, my children, friends, or my community, I am really giving back to myself. I want to teach my daughters compassion, generosity, kindness, and hard work through example. I’m also inclined to believe I can be “Superwoman.” Like I said, I have high expectations, and I can be unforgiving of myself when I feel I have fallen short.

Yesterday morning, I began sorting through a mental playback of the weekend. Like a crime detective, I catalogued details of the events, replaying conversations in my mind, evaluating the demands for my time, searching for clues that might bust open the source of my impatience.  I found nothing beyond the normal load of demands and commitments. Why, then, did I vent  my frustration like a volcano ready to blow? “Clearly,” I justified, “I wouldn’t be so upset if they just understood how hard I work!” 

Then came my epiphany. In my search for answers, I need only look at the previous weeks on my calendar. I mentally confessed that I was ultimately responsible for my frustration. The answer was hidden in what I didn’t find–time for myself amidst a sea of commitments and chores. 

Like most moms I know, I regularly make two critical errors: I don’t give myself permission to take a break, and I forget that I am not “Superwoman.” Somewhere along the motherhood road, I wrote “no breaks” into my mothering job description. So, I push  and I push until I screech for help like a car’s failing brakes. I grow impatient with myself and direct it at my the ones I love most. I surrender, reluctantly, to my very human fatigue. My family, who has been standing at the ready, waiting to help, jumps into action. They clean. They tell me to rest. They support and love me. Then, I bury myself with guilt for my transgressions.  I remind myself to simply say what I need before it gets to that point again. Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

As I re-evaluated the course of the weekend, I clearly saw a pattern. I also saw the lesson I am really teaching my daughters. We remind our children to ask for help when they need it. We encourage our husbands to go to bed early when they look tired. We nudge our girlfriends to treat themselves to a massage or mani/pedi when stressed. We praise the people we love when they take care of themselves. How often, though, do we give ourselves permission to do the same? 

I read several books during my early mothering years. Many mentioned “sleeping when the baby sleeps.” But what about the years beyond regular naptimes?  We give our vehicles regular maintenance to keep them running well. Companies give vacation time to maintain employee productivity. Even bulbs go dormant in winter when resting up for their spring show. As mothers, we are emotionally , and sometimes physically, “on the clock” 24/7–roughly 157,680 hours by the time a child turns 18.   In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise wins the race because he paces himself, slow and steady. Parenting is a marathon race with a plethora of opportunities to burn out. The hours certainly merit slow and steady pacing to cross the finish line.

At dinner last night,  I shared my thoughts with my family, as well as my apologies. I acknowledged where I needed help and asked for it. We have planned two Valentine’s Day “do-over’s” for the weekend ahead–one with the family, one with my husband. There is no need for flowers, cards, or chocolate; I already received my gift. In return, I can give them a wife and mother that takes this road slow and steady, with time to recharge herself, free of self-inflicted guilt.

 On this day after Valentine’s Day, consider giving yourself and your family the gift of self-care.

Previously known as TransitioningMom.com

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