It was a really great holiday at our house. But I have one complaint: I got too many presents. This stresses me! Because of the four (yes, four) dogs in the house, we had not wrapped all the presents ahead of time and placed them under the tree to be shaken and guessed over. Everyone pretty much wrapped Christmas Eve or morning, and presents did not get to the tree until Travis, the only early riser in the family, moved them there Christmas morning. I had no clue what was about to transpire. Her siblings having given up fighting for the privilege about ten years ago, Libby played Santa, as always, and she just kept piling gifts in front of me! In our family, we typically open one present at a time, taking turns from youngest to oldest. This way everyone gets to share the joy of the surprised and delighted (or sometimes puzzled or nonplussed) expressions on the faces of our sweet family. Tuesday morning, I had to open two presents for everyone else’s one. The kids were getting tickled at my panic, and I just felt loved. And guilty. Moms are not conditioned to accept that sort of generosity. We just want to give it (and I have to add that my particular husband is the same way).
It’s been a hard couple of years. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am unhappy in my career, recovering from a crippling vocal injury, frustrated with a sense of stagnation, and stretched to the absolute limit of financial strain. I thought my family might be sending me a message: relax! Your stress is killing us! The gifts included a tray for me to put my wine and books in while I take a hot bath, a whole set of stress relief bath gel and lotions, a thick soft bathrobe, and well, you get the idea. But really, I believe my family wanted to surround me with visible evidence of their love for me.
I don’t always feel very lovable. I’ve been told I will probably not last another year on my campus, a group of my students had me curled in a ball sobbing in my office about three weeks ago. I can be snarky and judgemental, I worry a lot. Somehow, in spite of all of that, my husband and kids love me. They tell me every day in countless little ways that no matter what happens out in the big wide world, that no matter what new principals or grouchy teenagers or estranged relatives think of me, I can drag my wounded self into this home and be loved, and through that love, healed.
When I started this journey of wife, then mother, all I ever really wanted was a do-over. I wanted to create a new family, the family I had always wished for as a child. I did not have aspirations to fame or wealth or performance success. I wanted a Home that would erase all memories of other homes, a Family to supplant the brokenness of my childhood family, Holidays worthy of photo albums filled to the gills with pictures of genuinely joyous children. This did not come naturally to me. I had little upon which to model my approach to Motherhood. I drew on memories of my grandmothers, I channeled my aunts, I remembered Mama Bea, Chellie’s mom, who took me in when my own family was in tatters. As the children became teens, I listened to Dorothy, a mother who had shepherded her flock through many many trials with grace and mercy. I struggled. I did. Perhaps nothing scared and scarred me more in my young motherhood than when an extended family member got me alone and threatened to take my children away from me by legal means if there was even a hint of bad mothering happening.
Through sheer determination, prayer, and dogged love, I managed what I set out to do. When the five of us are together, and now we have added a couple of precious young adults, we laugh. We hug and tease and speak honestly and without judgement or anger. Not one of my children believes that there is a thing in this world that could separate them from the love of this family. I know without question that no mistake is so great that it can separate Trav and I from each other or our kids.
I cannot change the whole world. I wish I could. I have learned that I have limitations on my physical and emotional energy. I need a little alone time every day. I need to face new challenges and stretch myself intellectually and creatively. I need a little music and wine in my life. I need true and significant relationships. And if my girls are to be believed, I need a new wardrobe. But mostly, I need these four precious people. I need their unconditional and abundant love. I am grateful every single day that the Divine has given me my deepest heart’s desire: a Family. Happy New Year, dear friends.