Who turned off the light?
We are experiencing a real treat of sunshine right now in Seattle and my Facebook feed is filled with friends living life to its fullest with pictures of fall hiking and tailgating and fun gatherings. Their kid’s back-to-school pictures are perfectly posed and their lunchboxes are bursting with organic salads and cartoon-shaped cheese slices. I am happy for them, really I am.
Is there a relationship between their happiness and my melancholy or sadness? Does their highlight reel force me to look at my less than stellar situation? Does their success as a super-parent highlight my failure to keep up? The enlightened response is no, of course not. But, in all reality, it depends on the day.
On some days, I am confident that I have packed a healthy-enough, satisfying lunch for my kids. I have made sure they have clean clothes in their closets and encouraged them to pack their school work in their bag the night before so they can start off their day with pride and a calm readiness. We hug in the morning and wish each other a great day.
Other days, I just can’t. Maybe the argument with my husband hit my heart deeper than I thought and I can’t focus on anything else but anger or guilt. Maybe the zinger from my daughter stung too much when I popped into her room and she launched an attack the way only a 16-year old girl can do. Maybe I’m just exhausted, or discouraged or depleted.
Motherhood is truly one of life’s greatest gifts and from the first breath of each child, people said to me that from now on everything will be filled with love and joy and bright moments. Sure, I heard about some breastfeeding bumps, the terrible two’s and the teen years, but it was always with a wink and a smile. No one tells you about the dark moments, though, and how they hover and wait and block all light when you least expect it.
Like when life is going along relatively smoothly and then, boom, conflict erupts and all of a sudden you don’t even recognize the child raging in front of you. Yes, I know in my thinking mind that this is teen angst or hormonal. But in my heart, I am absolutely crushed. This is part of the darkness, the flip side of motherhood’s big smiles and joyous moments, and somehow I just didn’t know this was a part of the package. For many years my children’s outbursts fueled my insecurities and fears about my mothering. Immediately, I would jump on myself with blame and retribution. ‘See? You weren’t complete or perfect when you had kids, so of course they have lost their way – it’s your fault!’ That voice was loud and crystal clear and drove me to work harder and ‘mother’ better. But that cycle burned me out.
Motherhood is not for the weak. It has pushed me to places I didn’t even know I could go. It brings out the deepest love, yes, but also the burning rage, the complete isolation, and my own triggers and there have been times that I felt my only way out was to surrender to the chaos swirling around and retreat from everyone. I didn’t want to hurt others, and I didn’t want to get hurt, so I would sit in the emotional darkness until I was ready to pull myself back to the light again. The explanation.
The compromise. The forgiveness. The healing. This is motherhood in all 5 Seasons, and I often turn to my own book to move out of the Winter, and back into Summer in my relationships.
What does darkness look like for you? And what do you do to pull yourself out of it, whether it is because of conflict, illness, fear, poverty, or isolation?
For me, the ways that I climb out of the darkness have changed over time. Right now, I am on a mission to live life to its fullest so I try to stay in the light. My mission to visit 50 countries by 50 years old keeps me looking far in front of me and keeps me from getting stuck in the here and now. I make plans. I form dreams. When I fall into those dark moments, I flip through hundreds and hundreds of family pictures to remember what light looks like for us when we are sharing and growing and laughing and appreciating each other. I try to remember the angry words of a teenager don’t define me as a mother any more than they define her as a person. However, I have gotten much better at letting her know her words hurt me, just in case she needs a moment to recognize that if she is in her own Winter, in her own season of darkness or a bitter cold storm, and she’s trying to reach out to me, those aren’t the words to use. We can get to Summer, just not that way.
And just last week I left a picture of the two of us cuddling not so long ago on her desk with a note that said whenever she finds herself in a dark place, this too shall pass, and I am right here for her always.