Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Every Phase is Hard

FB, 11/16/2006: Jessica is not looking forward to dealing with her MGMT 403 professor

FB, 9/16/2013: My afternoon has basically been a frat party. 3 wild people in various states of undress are yelling incoherent things and cheering one another toward new heights of foolishness. They are playing some form of Limbo (the youngest chanting loudly: "HELLO- Candy-Go"). And a new cold bottle of beer was taken from the fridge, thrown into the living room, and exploded into a million sticky, little, fizzing pieces. Party on!!!

Facebook's new feature, On This Day, has come along just in time for me to begin writing these things down. In the isolation of modern motherhood, Facebook became a way I could reach out for a quick “I hear ya!” or “me too!” I spent, and still spend, time when I craft the occasional status update. Not only is it a little moment to be creative but also a chance to encourage and be encouraged in the strange land of Stay-at-Home-Parenting. I look forward to my little set of On This Day memories. The temporally striated posts give me a two-minute look back at my life phases from college through the past year. One thing is clear: all the phases are hard.

At my Bible study a few weeks ago, it was prayer request time. A new friend had that look like something big was on her mind but also like she might not want to say it. I hope I did what I did in a kind way, but it is always risky to try to draw someone out of her shell.

How about you? You kinda look like you're sitting on something.”
She answered, “Umm, I'm just really tired and feel like I have no right to be, but I am.”
Collective “mm” sounds and subtle head nods went around. I couldn't leave it alone, though.
I don't want to force you, but...”
Oh, come on, Jessica. Yes, you do,” a friend interjected.
Ha, well, it just seems like... well... what's that 'Don't deserve to' piece about?”

I was sitting there with Bran, and she knows I have the other three. I don't recall exactly, but I think I was soon to have my gallbladder surgery. Our hostess had 4 children. Other women had two or three. She is not a mom yet but works two jobs and had been doing a ton of weekend traveling for family events. Of course, she had every right to be tired! But, looking out at the room full of experiences she hadn't yet had, she felt ashamed of being worn out.
I mean, I don't have anyone to take care of. I don't have a baby,” she said as she vaguely gestured in my direction.
Ya know, I think every phase has felt hard. The exhaustion I feel now doesn't feel different to me than the exhaustion I felt before kids. It may have a different quality, but the effect on me is the same.”
The other ladies chimed in, and we all agreed that tough is tough, no matter what phase of life you are in. She absolutely deserved some grace and love for the difficulties she faces.

This little moment at Bible study really stuck with me. I think parents ARE crazy-tired. And it IS different than being tired from work because sleep-deprivation is just a special kind of torture. I laugh very hard at all the comedians' bits about how rough it is to have small children, and I do long for the days when simple pleasures like grocery shopping and long showers and great indulgences like sleeping for 8 solid hours were available to me. But, I don't long for hours behind a desk, dealing with group projects, being stuck in one building 40 hours a week, etc. Every phase is hard.

As parents we turn back and look at the D.I.N.K.S. and kids with jealousy from our high horses of Special Knowledge regarding the value of peeing with the door shut, staying in bed all night, and pursuing personal interests. We wish they knew how good they have it because we think that would cause the people around us to give us more credit for what we are going through. We feel our struggle is undervalued. But, I do remember the jealousy I had of parents, the jealousy I probably would have if I wasn't one. “They get to have the love of their children. They are doing something meaningful every moment! She doesn't have to put on day-time clothes. They are real grown-ups. I don't know if I'll ever be ready for that.”

The truth is: every phase is hard AND comes with unique perks and rich blessing. We should trade monologues. I should tell myself how fantastic parenting is more often than I let myself wallow in how hard it is. People without kids should feel totally free to enjoy their phase to the hilt! Take long showers! Peruse the grocery aisles until you really do find the very best mustard! Don't waste any time feeling guilty about not having kids to look after or being afraid that you won't be good enough once you do.

I got over being bitter towards the d.i.n.k.s. a couple of children ago, but I started looking ahead with some fear and some jealousy too. “Oh, to have kids who can all do {fill in the blank}. To be able to X and Y!” But, I see the moms of teenagers look at me with my baby's head nuzzled up under my chin. Their eyes tell a story of sweet memories and a new kind of Special Knowledge. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” they tell me. “It will go by too quick. Wait til you have teenagers...” I usually hate it when they say that. It feels so imprecatory! I am starting to get it, though. It DOES go by way too fast.

As I sit here, the list of stresses in my head include a husband being away on business for the next 36 hours (who's counting? ME), doing the dog's walk on my own somehow, dealing with Bran and his umpteenth snotty cold by myself all night, picking up and dropping off all my school kids at their 3 different places, and on and on. My phase is hard! When Ezra was a baby, I would give myself awards for leaving the house when he was 4 months old. This time? I have no choice! We have had days of being in and out of the car 9 times! NINE TIMES! “But,” I hear, “wait til you have teenagers!” Well, wait I will. And gladly.

We have to give ourselves the grace we need for the difficulties of our phase. It really doesn't matter what other people are dealing with; their mastery of their circumstances doesn't need to make us feel shame for the measly mastery (or survival?) of our own. Nor does it matter if anyone really gets how hard you have it. (That one is hard for me to believe. I am preaching to myself here.) I want my focus to be on thanksgiving because I have the security of God's love, authorization to do my job well, and approval through his Son. Yes, I will probably be up half the night cuddling and nursing a little sweetie who doesn't feel well, and I need grace. I will need to be gentle and not expect too much from myself for the next couple of days. I also can choose to be so grateful that I get to love, hold, and raise this baby that I dreamed of and wanted so intensely and that my other babies did indeed grow, sleep through the night, and are able to get dropped off, and picked up, and dropped off, and picked up, and...

So, thanks, Facebook, for allowing me to look back at the Jeskies of the past. Do I chuckle a bit at complaints from my earlier selves? Yeah, a little, but I give them credit too because I hope that I'll be gracious to 2015 Jesky someday. I am happy for me for every rock show I attended, every paycheck I received, and every, oh! every long shower. 

May it never be said of me that I missed my chance to enjoy these children during this brief time that they are young because I was too busy making sure everyone knows that it's hard, but, Lord, give me the grace to admit when it is!