It's been a banner week for me as a mom. I've probably made 15,485 mistakes, conservatively. I was doing pretty well today until the sun went down (you know, around noon, because I live in Evansville). I had a headache from the seventh circle of Hell, and I was driving up Green River Road with a screaming banshee in the back seat. Because I have a Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education, I employed the tried-and-true technique of yelling, "STOP SCREAMING!" at my sweet baby. Powerful stuff. Very effective. I was fairly flustered by the time I got to Schnucks. I wanted to get a couple things for dinner tomorrow but mostly needed ice for my raging Coke Zero habit. Matt is out of town till tomorrow evening, so I knew he couldn't bail me out. After embarrassing myself a little in the parking lot - how was I to know all three cars around me were occupied? - I carried Jack in with no car seat and no cart cover. I grabbed a cart wipe, but I decided I couldn't adequately cover the surfaces of the cart. Because I might scream at my kid in the car, but shopping cart germs?! This. Will. Not. Stand.
I carried Jack's 20 pound self around while my brain felt like it was rattling against my skull with every step. After an eternity of bearing up under the weight of Jack while I stared at the pork, I turned to the nice butcher who taught me a Boston rolled roast is the same as a shoulder roast. Who knew? I managed to get the other few things, shifting Jack and the basket from one arm to the other and thinking about how I really need to call my chiropractor, like yesterday. When I got to the checkout, I thought long and hard about how I could manage to carry a bag of ice out the door without dropping my few groceries, my child, or my Boston rolled/shoulder roast. I don't know if it was my dead eyes or the twenty pounds of Jack that prompted her sympathy, but the sweetest bagger with the biggest smile offered to carry out my ice and grocery bags for me. She grinned and chatted the whole way out, and I thanked her and blessed her for being so kind. She said she always offers when someone looks like he/she could use a hand (or in my case, a face palm). She showed me such grace tonight. I could have kissed her. Jack fell asleep in the car, and I bought myself doughnuts for dinner because only God can judge me.
As a mom, I'm more aware and more thankful when I'm on the receiving end of grace. Often it's something small, like a stranger holding the door open for me when I'm pushing the stroller. My husband continues to show me grace every day (I've written plenty on that). Time and again, grace comes from my own mother. She tells me I'm a great mom. She tells me it's okay to let Jack watch Fraggle Rock. She talks about times I rolled off of things and how I'm obviously fine (debatable). She tells me sometimes all moms get angry. If they say they don't, they're lying. I have such a fantastic mom. I brag on her a lot, and if you know me even a little, you know I think she's the cat's pajamas. She obviously has done and continues to do so many things beautifully as a mother. But what seems to help me the most these days is hearing about things that didn't look so perfect and neat.
That's the kind of grace I crave as a mom. Motherhood can be messy and gritty and hard and lonely. I need to hear that other mothers followed their instincts and made mistakes and still raised upright citizens! I need to hear that perfect isn't even on the table, but I can still be a great mom!
I am also blessed with a network of friends who support me and keep me sane. Parenting is much more communal than I'd previously imagined.
I was absolutely flabbergasted by how hard this journey can be. I thought having over a decade of teaching and childcare experience under my belt would give me some kind of leg up. I thought it might make things a little easier. Many times the words of an old friend echo in my head, "Everything is different when it's your own, Lauren." She was more right than I can express. The joy is bigger than anything I've known. The hard parts are harder than I expected. Things I said I'd never do, I've done. Things I said I would definitely do, I've scrapped. And I've learned that motherhood is more universal than I ever realized. You don't get to skip parts of the process because you have a lot of experience. Sleep deprivation and a harrowing cocktail of hormones will pummel you, and they will win. With an experience so universal, shouldn't we be extending grace even when we disagree? I have friends on every point of the Crunchy to Cry it Out spectrum. For instance, I have a friend who made all her own baby food because she wanted to know exactly what her babies were getting. For me, buying a jar called "Just Sweet Potatoes" with an ingredient list of...just sweet potatoes...was sufficient! Actually I tried to make my own baby food to save a little money, but so far it's been disastrous. Other things are more serious, though. I don't know how bad "mommy wars" were before social media, but I believe it's much tougher now with articles and opinions flying at me all day long.
Women are bombarded with scores of conflicting right answers. As a result, no matter what you choose, you're wrong. It can be paralyzing if you let it. It can also really hurt. Nothing is more personal than parenting, so seeing someone post an article that says your choices are destroying your child can be devastating on a day when confidence is in short supply. It creates an atmosphere of fear. You begin to worry about being discovered. Parenting decisions start to feel like dirty little secrets you'd rather hide than defend. It's distracting and counterproductive. Thankfully in real life I have that strong village of women who stand arm in arm with me. Other mothers support me even though I don't make all the same choices for Jack as they did for their own kids.
Five years ago, I wouldn't have been able to handle this at all. God had big lessons to teach me about grace. I still struggle against feeling like a failure. It hurts every time I make a mistake, but perfection has no place in parenting. I look at Jack, and I see he is healthy and happy. He knows he is loved. He knows when he cries Mama, I'll be right there.
Sometimes I look at Jack and think about how much it would break my heart if someday he were to walk around with his head low, berating himself over every imperfection. That would tear me to pieces because he is my son. How sad does it make my Heavenly Father, then, when I refuse to drop the shackles He already freed me from? I am His redeemed daughter. I am enough because He says I am enough. I am righteous because of the work Jesus completed on the cross. His power is made perfect in weakness, and I have plenty. His grace is sufficient for me, and it's enough for you too, Mama.