“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember repeating this saying to myself as a kid, trying to convince myself, through my tears, that it was true. With childlike innocence, the desire to please, and the extra sensitivity that somehow was part of the person God created me to be, harsh words cut like knives into my soul. Especially as a child. Other kids chanted this statement with a smile whenever anyone said anything mean to them. Why couldn’t I? I would repeat it in my head, over and over and over again. Like a broken record cued to play the moment someone started to say something hurtful. I was determined to convince myself it was true, so no one could hurt me. But I couldn’t. Because it’s not.
As an adult, I have gotten better at compartmentalizing my feelings when confronted with hurtful words. Law school taught me well. Instead of letting myself “feel” the words that are spoken to me, I use logic to break them down. Measure their meaning. Look for fallacies. Seek out inconsistencies. Look for factors to distinguish. And then argue my way through them. Adopting a posture is also important, whether it is offensive or defensive. It all plays into the mechanics of the argument. Because feelings can’t “feel” when there is an argument to be made. Or so I have found.
I must readily admit that this can be a personality flaw. Of course. It’s a cold response, even a callous one, but it’s a darn good defense mechanism. Sure, it interferes with my ability to express emotion, even positive emotions. And it hampers the way I show love, leaving me seemingly more withdrawn and disengaged than I really am. So, there are definite “negatives.” But it allows me to protect myself. And nothing else has ever worked so well. Suddenly, I can banish the childlike innocence, desire to please, and extra sensitivity. Those things have no place in this hard, cruel world. Right? Maybe . . . .
But what of those people in my inner sanctum? Well, there is an exception there. Although I may not show love as freely and openly as I would without this defense mechanism in place, I cannot completely banish the innocence, desire to please, and extra sensitivity that is part of me from my relationships with those people in my inner sanctum. And that can be hard. The moments that those in my inner sanctum spout hurtful words . . . well, it is like getting hit in the face with a bucket of ice water. And then a knife to the heart. Tears sting my eyes. And I get so frustrated. With them, but mostly with myself. Why can’t I shut them out too? Like everyone else. Sometimes, I determine that I am going to try. And there are times that I actually succeed. But, usually, I can’t keep up the façade. Burying my true self in an all-immersive grave of cold, hard logic is suffocating. I feel like I can’t breathe. Like being buried alive in a coffin. (I think Edgar Allan Poe wrote about that sensation once. There was horror as the main character clawed at the closed lid of a casket from 6 feet under. With the realization that suffocation was only moments away. Terrifying. Haunting.) And so, after a time, the façade shatters. And the softness, the weakness, creeps back in. But only into my inner sanctum. I can’t allow it any farther than that.
Why do I bring this up? It’s kind of an odd topic, especially considering that it has been months since my last blog post. Well, the intervening months have been busy. Between work, school, sports schedules, business travel, holidays, errands, laundry, and oh --- lest, I forget --- another pregnancy to boot! Yes, we are due with baby #4 in early September. Another boy to bless our lives. Our very full lives. J And with all of that, fitting a blog in, even one focused on (the fallacy of) “doing it all” is tough. Very tough.
But I am back today. Why? Well, this morning, I had a “mommy moment” simultaneously with a true “sticks and stones” moment that brought my childhood memories racing right back to the surface. Odd that such a moment would be the catalyst for me to open a new post. But I need to find a way to cope with it. Or at least digest it. Writing is a good medium for me. And I’ve pledged always to be honest in this space. So, here it is, in all its gut-wrenching glory.
It started out innocent enough. My second son’s three-year-old PreK class held a short celebration this morning in honor of this coming Mother’s Day. All the moms were invited to stay for a few minutes after drop off. I did this with my oldest last year when he was in PreK3, and I treasured it. I have been looking forward to it, a much-needed break from the craziness of life and some special time with my second eldest. In fact, when the original date conflicted with a business trip that I couldn’t miss, I even went so far as to ask the teacher if she would consider moving the date. She kindly agreed. It seemed the stars were aligning. I was excited.
I suppose it goes without saying that my second son—all my sons really—are firmly entrenched in my inner sanctum. There has never been the desire to shut them out. I love them, and although they can be frustrating and trying at times, their hearts are pure, and their love is pure. They are innocent children, my children, and I love them so much.
The Mother's Day reception started out well this morning. The teacher read a book about moms, and the kids sang and danced for us. So heart-warming. So sweet.
Then, each mom was given a card by her child. But, first, each card was read aloud by the teacher. The teacher had interviewed each child about his/her mother and combined the thoughts into a card for each mom. Here is what my card said:
Within moments of the teacher beginning to read, I felt the familiar sting of tears and the lump forming in my throat. I smiled and laughed it off outwardly . . .
But, on the inside . . . I was horrified. And devastated. Every word she spoke played my worst insecurities and failings.
I am not 48. I am 32. I feel old though. Old, fat, and lazy. I am out of shape, badly so. My diet is awful. My clothes don’t fit right, and I lumber around like a hippo. I probably look 48 . . . easily.
I never wear dresses. Hardly ever. Rarely, in fact. Because my legs are fat, and I’m pregnant and hot all the time, and the combination in a dress is really uncomfortable. Even when I’m not pregnant, it’s still uncomfortable. I used to be feminine. I used to love dresses and skirts. I don’t know what happened to that person. She went the way of my waistband.
I do like to sit down on the couch. My days are hard and long. Sinking into the couch is my version of sinking into a warm bubble bath and shedding the worries of the day. Once I do, I dislike having to move from the couch for any reason. And I am quick to anger when asked to move. No wonder my son sees me as old, fat, and lazy.
I do always tell my kids to listen and obey. Despite my other failings, I am militant when it comes to discipline, respect, and obedience. I could probably give most five-star generals lessons in that area. I am not afraid of punishment, or punishing my boys when they disobey, and sometimes I think that I’m probably too heavy-handed with it. But it takes a lot to keep our household running smoothly, and keeping the boys in line is part of that. Everything would dissolve into chaos otherwise. (Or so I tell myself.)
I am not funny. Or silly. Or creative. I wish I was. But my husband is better at that. I tend to find myself in the background when my kids are playing with him. I enjoy watching them. I smile and snap the pictures. But I don’t know quite how to join in. Kind of like that misfit kid who can’t quite figure out how to fit in. But, I tell myself, there is always so much else to do around the house. I’m never idle for long. My hands stay busy.
Sometimes our children are the ones to drive us to our knees and make us face our failures.
Hearing those words spoken aloud by the teacher and then reading them for myself . . . It felt like there was an elephant was standing on my chest. I could barely breathe. And when I finally caught my breath, it was only to feel the stabbing pain of a thousand little knives piercing my heart. Tears burned in my eyes, as I smiled and laughed on the outside.
When the Mother’s Day reception was over, I quickly gave my boy a hug and made my way towards the door. I had almost escaped when the teacher came over to me, cheerfully laughing. She wanted to relate to me what she thought was a funny moment involving my son. When they were preparing the cards, she asked my son what I like to do. Somberly, he answered, “My mommy doesn’t like to clean.” (Well, he is right about that. I don’t. I do it, especially after meals, because I like bugs less than cleaning, but we have a cleaning service that comes and does the heavy cleaning every other week.) She asked again, “Well, what does your mommy like to do? Then, “My mommy doesn’t like to cook.” (The sad thing is that, actually, I do like to cook. I just don’t have time to cook. Which means that dinner is always an ordeal, and I end up throwing together the first thing I see. I wish I had more time to cook. I wish it wasn’t this way.) So, she asked again, “But what does your mommy like to do?” Then finally “My mommy likes to sit on the couch.” I laughed aloud again. Smiling big enough to hide my shiny eyes, I commented that “Kids just have no filter” and “How funny it is to hear what they really think.” I wasn’t going to last much longer. Turning, I gave one last hug to my son, and then laser-focused my sights on getting to that door. Moments later, I stepped into the bright sunlight. With a deep breath, I had escaped, one of the first moms to leave, racing towards the safety of my car, with that painful Mother’s Day card in hand, weighing me down.
In the car, the tears came. I could not stop them. Or the accompanying thoughts. I must be the worst mother ever. My poor son. He only sees all of my worst parts. These are my flaws. The things that make me a bad mother. I don’t need to be told them to see them, but I thought I was hiding them better. Clearly, I’m not. Such failure. I need a reset button. What am I supposed to do differently? I can barely manage what I’m doing now. I need to be a better mother. But how? How do I re-make myself into a completely different mother? This is my personality. This is who I am. Are the hugs and smiles and encouragement I give my boys not enough? I struggle to give what I am giving now. How can I do more? I need to do more. I need to do better. Where am I supposed to start? And how can I find the time? I am drowning. I am going under. Sinking into a vortex. I can’t escape. This is hopeless. How am I allowing myself to fail at the most important job God has given me? How did this happen? And, why, oh why, is God giving me another child when I take such poor care of the ones I already have?
And somewhere, deep in my head, I heard that all too familiar chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Except they do. It’s a lie. Because they do. Even when uttered unintentionally, albeit unexpectedly, from someone who loves me, they do.
I know my son is only three. I know he has no filter. I know he has no sense of what it takes to keep our lives on track and moving forward. I know he doesn’t see the sacrifices or the burdens of adult and parental responsibility. I know he doesn’t understand the toll my job takes. Or that I have to keep doing it for the money, despite my wishes to the contrary. I know. I don’t fault him for any of that. And I want him to embrace that ignorance for as long as he can. For that is the beauty of childhood. He shouldn’t, nor do I want him, to grow up too fast.
I guess there is just a part of me that needs love and encouragement too. It’s hard to admit that. But I think I really do. Because, somewhere, buried under the layers of adapted cynicism and logic, is that same little girl with her childlike innocence, her pure desire to please, and her extra sensitive heart. I know she needs to grow up. Toughen up. Press on. Persevere. Make some changes. Mature. Become more selfless. And a better mom. Undoubtedly. Because complacency is not an option when the stakes are high, and the stakes are never higher than when it comes to parenthood. But . . . my tender heart still breaks. What do I do with that? How do I cope with it? There is real, genuine emotion there. And it hurts. What do I with it?
I want to end this post on a note of hope. Ending on a sad note, even if it is a truthful one, is something that I revolt against. Because I didn’t start this blog to spread hopelessness. I started it to spread hope. I hurt right now. The feelings are raw. That is the God’s honest truth. But with her childlike innocence, her pure desire to please, and her extra sensitive heart is, in spite of her adapted cynicism, is an optimist at heart.
So, somehow, some way, in some manner, I know she will try. She will pick herself up off the ground and forge ahead. Not sure how, yet. But she has in the past, and will again, or she will die trying. Because she is also the type who doesn’t know how to fail. And hope, determination, and perseverance flow in her veins, alongside that childlike innocence, desire to please, and extra sensitive heart.
So, here goes . . . .