Here we all are on the way to Lydia’s bus stop, which is at the neighbor’s. Eden, Christopher and I were already outside documenting her first day, when Lydia came rushing out panicked that we were late. Christopher shouted something annoying, then Lydia told him to shut up, which provoked him to shout even louder to me that Lydia had told him to shut up and then I shouted at him to shut up and get in the picture.
There is a bag of rotting food in the trash. Another bag is leaning beside the front door. There is decaying food on the counter and yet more in the (repaired) fridge. The pool is green as has been for several days. It rained steadily today, but Jack still needed to be walked and taken out so there were constant tracks and puddles of water and wet patches of carpet and, of course dog hair in it all. Just because it wasn’t horrific enough Eden spilled the sugar bowl, twice.
The house smells like the inside of a dirty fridge and the air is stinky and damp.
I came back from a Pilates lesson to greet the repairman, help him move things around, spilling pineapple juice down my arm. Paul had a rehearsal so I put the kids to bed, talked with the repairman, wrangled Jack and then settled the bill. I collapsed on the bed after the girls were tucked in, Christopher was on the computer, Jack was in his kennel and the repairman was off to his last call. I read a good book until I couldn’t take the mingling odors of decaying food, sweat and pineapple juice and dragged myself to the shower.
My house is a wreck. In some ways it has been a cruddy, messy, frustrating day but I made it through. We did school and then went to the library. We picked up Burger King for dinner. The kids were thrilled.
The day was fine, maybe even good. I am tired but not exhausted. I’m peaceful.
Homemaking is a challenging gig for me. So often I feel beleagured by and ill suited to do the unending work. Today something cracked open for me. My priorities were clear. Up until this very moment I couldn’t have told you what changed but I know why I didn’t get nutty, or bitchy, or incensed, or depressed: there wasn’t any shame.
Until quite recently I carried shame everywhere, but a couple months ago I decided I was giving it up. I didn’t know how, exactly, but I started by saying I was quitting. I just announced this to myself not knowing what else to do.
Last week I had a couple of terrible days. Have you seen those bi-polar med ads in the magazines where it shows this woman going on complete bender? It was a little like that. The kids were rotten and the dog wouldn’t stop barking. The thing is both the big kids were attending a half day camp and I wasn’t even teaching them, but somehow they managed to pack the whining and fighting of a year into the half days they were home. One afternoon I snapped. I shrieked at all of them and then dragged the dog out of his kennel. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I wanted to kill him, but settled for telling him to shut up and that I hated him. It was not one bit funny. It was terrible. The kids were crying, I was crying and the dog kept barking.
I pulled myself together and apologized. They all forgave me and, still crying, told me I had scared them which is just so horrible. Decent people don’t abuse their kids, even verbally. Good mothers don’t scare their kids and terrorize the family dog. Here is the truth: I am not decent people. I am not always a good mother. That’s not shame talking, that’s the facts.
I was terribly ashamed. My behavior was shameful.
I checked the calendar. I was extremely pre-menstrual. This was no alibi, but a clue, a sign post, “Proceed with caution” Over the weekend I tried to take it easy. Paul had a workshop so I spent most of Saturday on my own with the kids at the last day of their camp at the museum. We had a good time, but by 3:30 I was ready to hand them off to Paul. He took them to the park for a couple hours. That night we got a sitter and went to a party. We had fun.
Sunday we slept in, went to the late service, picked up donuts, hung out at home with my sister’s family then got a little bite to eat and went to a movie. It was a good, lazy day.
All through the weekend, my shame hovered in the background. I prayed about it. I asked God to help me, to change me. I didn’t feel hopeless, just quietly sad and ashamed, trying to figure out how to do better, to be better.
Sunday night I was tucking Lydia in and I apologized again. She readily forgave me. We just sat there looking at each other, my shame between us. I told her how sorry I was, how ashamed I was. “Do you really forgive me?”
“Of course, Mama. I’m terrible sometimes too and you forgive me.”
I looked at her. It occurred to me that her crimes as a child were less than mine as an adult and, for goodness sake, her mother. And then I considered that there might not be any scales. There might not be any qualifiers in forgiveness, not even caveats for terrible mothers. I sat there looking at my girl, tears running down my face and I received her forgiveness. I accepted grace.
She began to cry too and I asked why. She didn’t know. We hugged and kissed, then I tucked her in and turned out the light.
This is what I can tell you after a long and chaotic day, from my vantage point in this messy but peaceful house : when you stop fighting grace and just receive it you don’t have to give up shame or lay it down because it disappears, it’s gone.