Thursday, October 4, 2007

Losing Myself

Someone I love recently made a comment to me that I can not get off my mind. I'll just admit it... it was my mother. Mothers have a tendency to say things that echo in our minds days, years and decades later. I so need to remember this when I am speaking to my children. The things we say as parents carry a lot of weight.

So this is what is echoing in my brain these days. My mother said that during the last time I came home for a visit with the children that she felt like I had lost part of myself. This has been bouncing off the walls of my brain since the phone conversation. My first reaction was to be defensive. I explained that I was in a certain place in my life, a stage of my life where my children were my focus.

I married when I was 35 and had my first child at 36. We have 3 children now. The youngest is not quite 2 yet. Before I married, I was engage in my life fully. I had to be. There was only one of me and I steered the ship. I had some great jobs and gained an undergraduate and graduate degree. I went to seminary and met my husband while doing my chaplaincy residency at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Nashville. He too was doing his residency but in Psychiatry.

Meeting Edward was a surprise. A lovely surprise. Falling in love, marrying and having children were always way far off dreams that at 35 seemed almost unlikely to happen. I had been in a relationship for a number of years before and by the end I did not recognize myself. When I met Edward I was authentically me again. I was confident and unapologetic in who I was. I could be myself with Edward. He gave me that gift and I have always appreciated him more than he will ever know. I do not have to be "sweet" all the time. He loves me for who I am. In our family Edward is the sweet one.

So, yes, life changed. The first year of our marriage was challenging for me. Living with another person and learning to compromise were hard lessons. I had to face the fear of being abandoned again which came from the loss of my father who walked out when I was seven. I had to learn to really trust. And sadly I still have bad dreams where Edward is not acting very nice. I use to wake up crying from these dreams. And Edward would always apologize for whatever he had done in MY dreams. But I know they are my fears and have nothing to do with who he is as a person. My marriage actually gave me a place to grow. To look at nooks and crannies that had been overlooked by the broom for a long time. It was only in this marriage that I could do this work.

And then came kids. I read somewhere that being a parent gives you the opportunity to grow in ways you could never approach otherwise. When a baby is born a big ole magnifying glass comes along for the ride. Lots of people never realize that the glass is tucked in there with the baby but it is. If you think you can continue to be "me" focused with children around you are in for a very rude awakening and its probably gonna be at 3am in the morning too. We envision parenting as an opportunity to raise and teach our child all the things that we think are important. But children tend to turn those things on their ears. My daughter has been trying to teach me patience for 4 years now and I only just figured out it was on the curriculum. I was so busy trying to teach her to be quieter and more contained that I missed what she was trying to teach me.

My mother taught me what it was like for a woman to take care of herself and her children without the help of a man. I was proud of what she accomplished and what she modeled. It was important to me that my daughter especially know what she can accomplish in her life all on her own. And because I could I stayed home with my children. Edward and I agreed that one of us should be home with them. He wanted it to be him but his income disallows that. And he jokes that my job is too hard and he would rather work outside the house.

Never would I have thought I would have the choice to be home with my kids. But I was a child who longed for her mom to be more present than she was too. I wanted my children to have that security at least until they were in school full time. Then I would go back to work.

And seven years later I am chatting with my mom on the phone and she mentions in passing that she thinks I have lost part of myself. And I feel I need to answer that for myself. But its not a "yes" or "no" answer. Sure there are many things in my life that have passed away. A clean and organized home, lovely quietness, and only answering to my own needs being some of the ones I miss most. I don't think this is what she is talking about though. Maybe it was my lack of energy for anything but feeding, cleaning and refereeing three children during my vacation at her house.

Right now in this moment in my life I am fully engaged in choices I have made. Having three children requires some sacrifice but it also brings many blessings. I have lost myself to three lovely little faces who yell and scream and call "Mommy" a million times a day. I drive here and there to pick up and drop off, to school, to ballet, to Taekwondo. I hope that in losing part of myself my children have gained monumentally more. And there will come a time when they will no longer need me as they do now. I will have to pick up the looking glass once again and figure out what I need to learn next.

1 comment:

Elysa said...

Very true words, Stephanie. The mystery of motherhood and life is that it seems the more we die to self, the more we gain.