We Are All Beautiful Messes

My friend’s husband was out of town last week.  She missed him and commented genuinely that she didn’t know how single parents do it.

I thought about that for a few days, and I guess my answer would be–the same way folks who co-parent do.

The best they can with what they have at the time.

Which can look as different as the one or the two who are parenting at any given time.

I’ve been a single parent.  First, I guess some would say, by my own choice.  Only it wasn’t my choices that led me to that decision.

I had great supports.  My parents.  Family.  Friends.  Folks who were a part of my village in helping love on my baby girl.  I give thanks everyday for each one of them and the role they played in who she has become and in me keeping my sanity.  Well, most of it anyway.

The second time I became a single parent, it was situational and temporary.  Sixty-two days, ninety-five days, one hundred thirty days, and roughly ten months that one time–when the Fella deployed.  He was as much a part of things as he could be from his place in the Sandbox, but for the daytodailies it was all on me.  And my village.

This parenting thing, this thing I love so much, it isn’t easy.  Ever.  With a partner or without. I’ve walked both paths.  It’s all hard.  But it’s harder, just like everything else, when you’re discriminated against.

Oh, not the second time.  The second time folks were all willing to pitch in and thank me for my service.  (Umm, you’re welcome?  I’m just making sure everyone’s fed and the house doesn’t burn down, and occasionally I try to talk the Fella into things long distance–like getting a puppy.  I don’t necessarily make it easy for him.  He’s the one sacrificing here, but I do appreciate the support.)

But that first go ’round?  I hit some roadblocks.

The first time I remember was when I was looking for a school for my girl.  We lived in one town and I worked and spent many long days in another.  I wanted her in school where I would be closer.  I remember sitting in the office with the administrator at this one school.  She didn’t know our story at all.  But in one swift statement, she alienated me and mine and I never set foot there again. “We love to have our families involved.  It’s important to have both parents an integral part of the child’s life.  Studies show that children do better when both are very involved.”

Ahem.  Maybe not so much.

My girl and I were both better off.  Without sharing stories that are better left unshared, let me share this–she saved me because I wanted better for her.  A huge part of who she is today would be so different if we had kept the whole two-parent household thing going on.  So studies be well, you know.  The truth is, in many cases, the child is better off in a one parent household.  But a lot in this world tend to look down on single parent households unfortunately.  Single and stereotyped.  That’s it.

As evidenced by something that we came across in the past three or four years.  It was a school organization.  One of the tenets on their statement that had to be signed for membership gave their definition of family.  I was reading it, and Aub was reading it over my shoulder.  She frowned and shook her head.  “No, Mama.  We are not doing this.  According to this–‘we define family as a married man and woman with offspring’ you and I were never a family when we were on our own.  No, Mama.  Forget it.”

Yes.  Exactly.  We ourselves were plenty.  We were enough.  We were family.  And a much better one than we had been before.  We were safe and we were strong.

I’m sad when things like this happen.  When well-intentioned folks say, “Studies show that children are better off in a home with two parents.”  That takes away something important for all the rest of the families that don’t fit in that box.  Something very important.

Hope.

The truth is no one but me really knows all of my story.  About why I wound up where I did when my daughter was three months shy of three.  About why I am where I am today.  It’s my story.  Even if I told it, no one would be able to fully get it.

And the same is true with each one of us.  I don’t know your story, or yours, or yours.  I wish we could just give each other the space and the grace we all need to be who and where we are without folks judging or making us feel less than.  I just wish…..

I read this news article recently about a program in Canada, the Nanny Angel Network.  Founded by a cancer survivor who saw moms with cancer sitting in treatment rooms with their small children and who thought, this is no place for children, this non-profit provides free childcare for moms with cancer.  Over half of these young women have been single moms.

Oh bless.

I cried when I read about it.  This is it, isn’t it?  Loving without judging.  Taking care of each other.  Having each other’s back.  Being each other’s feather.  Yes.  This.

We need more of this in the world today, y’all.  And less guidelines and studies and belief statements that put folks aside as < less than.

That.  Ain’t.  Right.

Love is.

Bottom line.

Tonight I’m thankful for our village.  The way they allowed their stories to be so intertwined with my very messy one–is there any greater gift we can give someone?  Than not being afraid of their mess?  If there is, I don’t know it.

I give thanks for women like Audrey Guth, the founder of the Nanny Angel Network, who see a need and let their heart and mind figure out what they can do to help.  And then they DO it.  I aspire to be one of those women too.  Sometimes all folks need to shine is a little love from someone else.

Let’s take time to find someone with a messy story and go love on them and let them know it’s okay and #bethefeather, okay?   And if you feel like your story is too messy to be of a help to anyone, look at me right now.  (Well okay, the screen.)

You and your story are not too messy.

Read that again.  I’ll wait.

We are all beautiful messes, and we are meant to journey together.   Don’t let your mess keep you from letting folks in.  Ever.  Life’s too precious and there are people who need to know you and your heart and who need to hear your laughter.  Let it ring.

Love to all.

But What Does It Do?

This one starts off like the classic meme–

I don’t always watch the commercials on TV, but when I do…..

they make me sad.

Forget the ones that are inappropriate and the main reason I cannot watch live TV with my children.  (Well, don’t forget them, but we’ll set those aside to discuss another night.)

Never mind the ridiculous ones.  I’m a little over the two guys eating in the car at Sonic.  They might have been funny once, but, really?  Enough.

And don’t get me started on the movie trailers that get us all hooked and then they say, not yet rated.  I KNOW what that means, and sure enough, another one we were looking forward to is shelved until the littles are older.  Thanks Marvel and Disney.  Way to go.

No, this one’s about the ones that make me really sad.

The ones for the stuffed animals.  But wait, there’s more.

These stuffed animals aren’t just stuffed animals.  There’s one that rolls into a ball and bounces.  There’s another that you can use as a bag to hide your unsightly pajamas–you know, because tucking them under your pillow just will NOT do.  The one that really takes the cake is the one that has a fish tank in its belly.  I kid you not.  A fish tank.  Or you can store Legos or other small things inside the see through stomach on this stuffed animal.

Wow.

What a world we are creating for our children when even their stuffed animals must multi-task.  What happened to the cuddly stuffed animals that you just wrapped your arms around and let your cares melt away?  I’d even take the ones that talked when you squeezed them over this.

It’s what the world is like now, isn’t it?  We can’t just be.  We must also be able to do…..so.  much. more.  And it breaks my heart.  I see it a lot as a stay at home/homeschooling mom.  I saw it when I was a working Mama.  You’re introduced to someone and the next thing after hearing your name is, “Oh, what do you DO?”

It’s how we relate to each other.  We categorize and compartmentalize and move on.

Now we’re doing it to our children’s toys.  Nice bear…..but what does it do?

*sigh*

What these little folks must be learning from us.  Go, be, do, and then do more.

Just no.

I’m more than my Mamahood, though that is a huge part of me and I love it.  I’m also more than the homeschool teacher.  I’m more than I appear and way more than what I do.  I’m what I feel and whom I love and a composite of every moment I’ve breathed on this planet and every decision I ever made.  I am more.

But not because I DO more.

Simply because I am.

So no, I won’t be ordering the bubble belly bear or the boucing ball hippopotamus.  I just can’t do it.  We’re quite happy with the simple ones we cuddle with and wrap up and play ‘ten like with.  Then they can be and do anything we imagine.

And without letting myself be put in a box, so can I.

Love and wishes for a soaring imagination to all.

The Greatness in the Small Things

Today a realization hit me, and I knew an apology was in order.

Days like this when my shortcomings walk up, introduce themselves, and demand my attention–they can be hard.  I don’t like looking in that mirror.  I might just consider taking seven years of bad luck if breaking it were possible.

A couple of days ago I was working on a project, and in the middle of it, it just felt so right.  I was mentally high-fiving myself at how well it was going, and when I walked away after I was finished I think I actually fist pumped.

Yeah.  It went that well.  I had not expected that at all.

Almost immediately after I left and was headed to my next stop, my mind started jumping ahead.  This.  This is what I was meant to do.  The way I felt in the middle of the project was a sign that this was my thing.  I began to envision doing this same type project only on a larger scale, more folks, more input, and so on.

Ummm, hold up.

Today it hit me.   Perhaps the reason it went so well and the reason it felt so right was that it was right.  Just like it was.  On that scale, in that moment.  Perhaps that is what I was called to do.  Not the same thing, just bigger and better.  But that thing just as I did it then.

Oh my.  That hurt.

Mama and Daddy encouraged us to dream.  They both told us numerous times over the years we could be and do anything we set our minds to.  They believed in each one of us.  I never doubted what I was able to do because they were there–that was it, they were there as I made choices and tried new things.  I could always come back to them and process what I had experienced.  And I could listen to their wisdom and make further plans from that.  Continue to dream, continue to figure out what my life’s vocation is, how my passions and talents and resources could help meet the world’s needs, as Frederick Buechner would say.

Only somewhere along the way I am afraid I fell into the Tim the Toolman Taylor mindset of “more power, more power” and “bigger is better.”  Remember the show “Home Improvement” starring Tim Allen?  If you could do it with a little saw, a bigger one was always better.  If you could build a small storage building, why not a huge one with all the amenities of home?  Yeah, that’s the guy.  It usually got him into trouble, that mindset did.  *duly noted*

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big.  I have heard my Mama say, “Don’t underestimate the great things you can do.”

But I forgot about the other message, the one that Mama and Daddy shouted quietly with their actions:

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They lived that.  The things they did to help others, to encourage, to empower, to share, to help along–they did them quietly and faithfully and sometimes, without anyone else knowing.  So it was something they lived by, doing great things in everything they did; it didn’t have to be on a grand scale, and it definitely wasn’t to impress.  It was from their hearts.  That’s what made it great.  But like so many of the best things in life, it was so quiet and beautiful, you could miss it if you weren’t looking for it.

Greatness in the small things I do.  I don’t have to be doing the things that I’m doing in a grandiose way to make them worthwhile.  Perhaps that is what I was supposed to learn two days ago.

Not that this is what I should be doing one day. 

But instead that this is what I should be doing today. 

And let that be more than good enough.  Let that be great.

Daddy used to say, “When you compare, you lose.”  Oh how many times I have repeated that to myself or to my oldest!  It comes up whenever we start looking through the lens of comparing ourselves to another–how they live, what they do, what they have…..compare and you lose, because that’s not what we are here for.  But you know what I found out today?  When you compare where you are right now to where you dream of being one day, you lose too.  By comparing what I have right now to where I want to be one day, I am robbing today of its joy and its value.

My Mama taught me that stealing is wrong.  I don’t want to rob anyone, not even myself.  None of us can get today and this moment and this, this greatness we are in the midst of sharing, even if it’s in a small way–no one can get this back again.  Why make it meaningless by thinking it’s not enough?

Oh, there’s that word again.

Okay, so that apology.  I called and shared how excited I was with my Aunt after I was done.  She listened as she always does, to my dreaming and planning and thinking out loud of where I was headed with this.  I think I will call her Aunt SoFullofGrace, because she never said a word that wasn’t encouraging.  She let me figure this out on my own.  But I do apologize to her, because I was wrong.  And I was raised better.  I  apologize to my parents too, because they all taught me better–

It’s not so much what you do as it is how you do it.

I owe one more apology.  To life and the universe.  I didn’t let the light and the good that came from those moments the other day shine.  I took away from that by not letting it be enough.  I gave it my best and it was high-fiving, fist pumping good, but I didn’t let that be.  I didn’t let the greatness that was be enough.  And for that I am sorry.

I came across this today.  Those of you who have visited lately might notice that I have been on a bit of a Mary Oliver kick lately.  When I find a writer I enjoy, I tend to read as much as I can by them; it’s what our people do.  And so today, I found this gem.  It is from Part 1 of her poem, River Clarion.

I don’t know who God is exactly.

But I’ll tell you this.

I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking….

And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.

Said the river I am part of holiness.

And I too, said the stone.

And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.

I’d been to the river before, a few times.

Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.

You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.

You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.

And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.

–Mary Oliver, River Clarion, Part 1

As the days grow shorter and the light grows dim, I want to be a part of what is sacred and light-bearing in the world.  I want to be a part of the holiness with the river and the stones and the moss beneath the water.  It’s been too long, my head filled with the busyness of being in the traffic, contributing to the traffic, and yes, filled with ambition.  It is time to sit and listen to the holiness around me and unstuff my ears.  And let this moment and all the greatness in the small things be enough.