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They’ll all land on the therapist’s couch at some point. (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

Image courtesy of Microsoft Office royalty free images

I’ll bet you didn’t know this, but I’m an award winning mom. Spend any length of time with me, and you’d figure that out pretty easily. At one time, I had collected so many awards, I needed multiple shelves to hold them. I’d love to think I’m unique, but I’m guessing you’ve got at least a few awards yourself. Let me tell you how I amassed my collection… before I starting throwing it away.

When C was a tiny babe of 4 months old, she got a sunburn. I’m not talking “a little pink”; she rivaled a lobster on its way to drawn butter. Her daycare provider had two small boys in swim lessons and while watching her boys master the frog kick, she failed to get C out of the sun before her tender skin was screaming. Yes, I was mad. Words can’t possibly express the anger I felt, at least not words I chose to use on this blog. My blood boiled. However, the anger I felt was easily dwarfed by the  guilt that consumed me as I cooled her skin through the night with white vinegar compresses. Guilt found me alone in the dark with my thoughts.  My doubts, really. And my crying baby. And my breaking heart.

What if I hadn’t gone back to work? What if I hadn’t placed her in daycare? Was I just selfish? Was I more concerned with my needs, my career, the money, than my daughter? Was I….a bad mama? My daughter’s burning skin confirmed what my breaking heart already knew. Yes, I was.

I’ll never forget that day. Though it wasn’t the first time I was sure I had blown it, it was the first time I gave myself an official “BAD MAMA AWARD” and placed it upon the imaginary shelf in my mind. It was the one that started my shelf of shame.

At 18 months old, she fell, face first, into my office chair and ended up with a black eye. The pediatrician said she would be sure to put a note about what happened into our file– just in case we were visited by Child Protective Services! We weren’t, but another award went up on my shelf.

When C was around 2, she had a simple cold, which evolved into croup, which became pneumonia. After her pneumonia cleared, she was diagnosed with asthma. Those 4 months left me very familiar with the sound of gunky lungs, nebulizers, and inhalers. Add a few more awards to my shelf.

At the age of 3, she choked on a piece of ice when I wasn’t watching her reach into my cup. I was deep in conversation with my neighbor and though I acted fast, it was my ice that caused her to choke. One more award on my shelf.

I could go on– trust me I could! I haven’t even started on life after A and all the awards I’ve earned as her mama, or my failings at giving equal love to both girls, etc. But, I’m sure you get the picture. You may even be thinking about some awards of your own.

My award shelves came tumbling down about 10 years later when C was diagnosed with pneumonia three times in 18 months.  The poor baby had barely recovered from one bout before she was struck down again. Each time, I got her into the pediatrician quickly. I knew the sounds. I recognized the dark circles under her eyes and listless steps down the hall. I grabbed my stethoscope and carefully listened to the crackles as she took a deep breath. By the third round, I told the receptionist she needed to be seen for pneumonia–not suspected pneumonia. At some point during that appointment I muttered, “I feel so bad. This is her third go-around.”  The pediatrician casually replied, “Don’t feel guilty. These things just happen. It doesn’t make you a bad mama.”

I looked up with surprise. Had she seen my shelf? Read my thoughts? Sneaked a peek in my journal? Yet suddenly, from somewhere deep inside came the words, “There’s no more room on my “Bad Mama Award” shelf. I’ve stopped collecting.” She nodded without looking up and told me she was sending us to Children’s Hospital for a x-ray; even though she concurred with my diagnosis, insurance would insist. “Pneumonia be damned,” I thought as we drove to Children’s, “I was on my way to healing my chronic mama-guilt.”

A few days ago, I sat with a new mom. Her son is 4 months old. Such a good age. Such fertile land for mama-guilt. Her little man had a small, very insignificant scratch on his face. My friend fretted. She didn’t know how he got it. Did she scratch him with her earring? Did he do it himself? Were his nails too long? Mama guilt seeped from every pore. I could smell it long before she announced, “I’m a bad mama.” There it was. Up went the award on her shelf.

Far more important than any teething or diaper rash advice I could give her, I needed to tell her about the downfalls of collecting “Bad Mama Awards” and the weight they carry. They suck the fun out of mothering. They suck the joy out of a marriage. And, they suck the life out of a mother. “It’s a tiny scratch. It doesn’t matter where it came from. Just do the best you can and trust me, he’ll be fine. Even when you make a mistake. We all make mistakes. Let it go,” I pleaded. “Besides,” I assured her,  “I’ve learned there is only one guarantee in parenting; that we will all do something that’ll land our kids on a therapist’s couch at some point.” I prayed she heard me, so maybe by the time her son is 13, she, too, will take down her award shelves.

Guilt, I’ve tried to teach my kids, can be useful if you use it to course-correct. Mama-guilt, however, is rarely used so productively. We compare ourselves to other women whose children are without black eyes. We use it to flog ourselves when we slap a PB&J down for dinner because a client wants a summary report in the morning. But, most often, we use it to penalize ourselves for being human.

And humans we are, doing the best we can to love and parent our young’ins, in between visits to the therapist. 🙂

Please share how you’ve handled mama-guilt when it rears its ugly head?

Out of the ashes, beauty. (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

From the ashes....

By many of today’s teen standards, my kids are dorks. They love mythology. No, one might say they are obsessed with mythology. It doesn’t matter the origin, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse, Arabian, Indian, etc., if it has the makings of a good tale, they’ll read it, discuss it, debate it, then read it again. Myths are discussed in the car, at the table, through a closed-door, and over whatever might be playing on the TV.  I guess that makes me a dork, too, because I’ve long loved mythology and I’m always willing to join the conversation. Aside from being good stories, filled with ample murder and mayhem, there is an abundance of life lessons woven into the myths. From Medusa, we learn about the consequences of disobedience and jealousy, and through Hercules we learn about justice and loyalty to friend. And, it is a story told since ancient times that offers me one of my favorite lessons.

The Roman poet, Ovid, wrote the following:

Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent’s sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.

The beautiful mythical phoenix rises from the ashes to new beauty. It is a tale of fresh opportunity and restored hope.

The other day, I chatted with an old friend, who has become a new friend. She is just over two years out from the end of her twenty year marriage. It took years to build the nest in which her marriage would die.  And, after years together, unkindness, impatience, neglect and denial littered her nest; lies and deceit sparked the flames. It was nothing she wanted. Quite the opposite. I was there when she was married in the church and vowed until “death do us part.” A vow she took seriously and believed in with all her heart; she still does. It is a vow she was committed to honoring; a vow that drove her to endure emotional emptiness. It drove her to fight alone for a marriage that had ended long before the divorce was granted. She was forced to surrender her burden when he walked away from their marriage and life together. I can’t count the number of hours she spent in tears and disbelief. I doubt she could either. Yet, out of the darkness, out of the ashes, she rose again.

After I hung up the phone, I realized I had talked with a new friend, a revitalized, re-energized, reborn friend. We have talked often over the years, but yesterday’s call felt different. She had weathered the biggest storm of her life and emerged renewed. She had moved past the disbelief, the bitterness, the anger and was in the process of building a new nest; her own nest filled with her daughters’ love, friendship, laughter and a rediscovered sense of self. She is the epitome of the phoenix bird, rising from the ashes, into new beauty. And, for this, I am so very happy for her.

We have all faced storms in our lives. It may be the loss of a marriage, a friend, family member, job, or lifestyle that brings the rough seas. It may be something far less “permanent” that rocks our stability, but it is change. Change often reduces us to ashes, forcing us to move from our seemingly safe, even if destructive, position into the unknown. However, from the ashes, beauty can emerge. Unseen, unknown, new beauty that has been there all along, waiting for its opportunity to rise. It exists within each of us. In our darkest hours, we don’t see it. We don’t believe we will ever see it. And, just as we begin to lose hope, there it is, hidden in the folds of strength we didn’t know we had before the storm; a fresh, new, beautiful spirit ready to embrace life with a new perspective.

If you read Ovid’s words, you’ll note that the phoenix does not discard its old nest; it carries it with her to the city of Heliopolis. It is a part of her past and worthy of honor; without it there would have been no ashes. Like everyone, I have scars from the storms I have weathered, and though I do not share them with everyone, I carry no shame from them. It wasn’t always that way. However, I have learned that time, patience, and perspective, when glued together with love and support, make all the difference. Today, my scars remind me of the ashes from which I have risen, and there I see beauty.

In my curio cabinet (and in the picture in the upper corner of this post) is a red glass apple my husband gave me more than 20 years ago. It was created using volcanic ashes from the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. The artist crafted a stand with a light inside upon which the apple sits. It illuminates the bubbles formed by the specs of ash, remnants of Earth’s dramatic change. It is my constant reminder that, from the ashes of dramatic change, beauty can be crafted.

Are you rising from the ashes, or sitting in the fire? Trust there is beauty within, just waiting to emerge.