When I was a young teenage girl my mom and dad traveled to Indonesia on a missionary trip. Of all the stories they came back with I remember one in particular. The home where my parents stayed belonged to a middle class Indonesian family and they had three small children. My mother was very intrigued by the way the mother of the home handled her children. The maternal grandmother also lived in the home, and she was as much a part of the children’s daily care as the mother.
What impressed my mother the most was how well behaved the little boys were…how pleasant. As she watched the ladies care for the children she was shocked to see that the word “no” was hardly ever used. In fact, most of the day was spent following the children around and gently redirecting, letting the children explore, climb, and play at will. The mother or grandmother stood by quietly, always watching and ready to catch, hold, and otherwise facilitate the child’s self direction while securing their safety.
One afternoon my mother witnessed the oldest boy eating his lunch while riding his bike in the street with his friends. The mother was standing on the other side of the front yard fence with a bowl of rice and vegetables, and every few minutes the boy would ride up to the fence and get a bite from her then return to riding. He ate the entire bowl while playing with his friends.
As a mother I just love that image.
Motherhood is a wondrously complicated and highly individual art. It is shaped by unfathomable impressions, memories, experiences, and nuances. It is absolutely impossible to know what a mother is supposed to do or why she does what she does. These things are shaped by something unseen, something that resides in the heart of the mother and is incomprehensible to others. I told the story above to share just how this heart is developed. Like a magnet that attracts all the metal in the junk drawer, a woman has been collecting her mother conscious all her life. The boy on the bike eating his lunch in freedom was given to me second hand, and yet it has been a powerful metaphor for child raising in my own experience. This is miraculous when one ponders the nature of how we humans go about caring for our young.
I think that most of the skills, knowledge, and abilities we have as mothers are gained through the organic process of living. And if we stay connected to the vast storehouse that is the present moment we have everything we need to be a good mother. I have heard women say, “I was never taught how to be a good mother.” And I agree if what is meant by this statement is more truthfully, I never had an example of a good mother in my life. However, I do not think this makes it impossible to be a good mother…what wisdom and heart can be found in the pain of a troubled childhood.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
The greatest tool I have ever used as a mom is awareness…just practicing awareness. In each moment, if I am truly present I am always enough. I am never perfect, but I am enough. Within my heart I have everything I need to love and cherish and mother my children…it’s all there, everything I have collected and experienced has brought me to this moment, and I can trust my own heart. Honoring this process and recognizing it is dynamic is the tricky part. This gaining and collecting process is ongoing and very much alive. It is natural to change and grow as a mother as I live longer…motherhood is not static.
Another aspect to this process is that as a community of mothers it would be wonderful if we honored the process in each other. When a mom says she needs support she is not asking for advice or the latest parenting self-help book per se. What she needs is for someone to get to know her well enough that she can share her heart with that person. And it is in the sharing of the heart that women come to themselves, that they learn through communal sharing…women are very communal. When we honor each other we intrinsically honor ourselves, and this type of friendship is authentic and life giving.
I suspect that the reason I have been struggling with my parenting lately is because I have not been honoring the process…I tend to demand a type of static perfection. And this is lazy parenting. Awareness demands that I stay present, plugged in, and connected with my kids. As far as I know Moses has not come down off the mountain with the 10 laws of motherhood, oh wouldn’t that be easy…or maybe not.
Maybe being a good mother is kind of like standing at the fence and feeding the child while he rides his bike…being that stable source of nourishment while the child rides like the wind. Maybe it’s just being willing to roll with it and trust that what’s in my bowl is enough. Maybe it is acknowledging where and how my bowl is filled.
And maybe what makes a great friend and support is that I honor that process in you.
Mark Zuckerberg is a genius, but not for the obvious reason of being one of the co-founders of Facebook. He is also the networking website’s CEO, and is said to have a net worth of over $30 billion…still not why I think he is a genius. His one dollar salary from Facebook is pretty great, but again I am not all that impressed by numbers, big or small.
What I am impressed by are his habits, the habits that are the foundation for his success. When my husband told me that Zuckerberg wears a gray t-shirt almost everyday my ears perked up, and not because my husband was making a case for his own gray t-shirt, the t-shirt he says is lucky, the t-shirt he wears every time it is clean, the t-shirt that I don’t “get”.
My wheels began to turn because of the reason Zuckerberg gives for this very quirky habit. He says that deciding what to wear everyday is a “silly” thing that he would rather not waste time on. After a quick search I came up with a quote of his concerning his gray t-shirt that I thought was what embodied this young entrepreneur’s real genius,
“I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.”
He also thinks deciding what he will eat for breakfast is a waste of time. And I could not agree more. How did this young fella learn this at such a young age…how to manage energy in this way? I am just now learning the principal of energy conservation and how to manage stress from the inside out not the outside in.
When I was a young mother and wife I thought that managing time, stress, and energy meant I needed to overhaul my house, make strict schedules, and crack down on discipline. After stumping my toe on that perfectionist bed post enough times I have slowly become aware of where the stress that makes life “undoable” comes from and how to go about managing my life in a real and sustainable way.
The most important thing I have learned is that stress is an internal battle, not an external problem. There are real external challenges that we face as human beings living on this flawed planet; sickness, disease, poverty, conflict, and pain. But the stress we feel as we live among the thorns and thistles is something of a phenomenon that occurs when we cannot surrender. Being out of control, in any shape or form is what stress is all about. The real trick of living in this world is to become aware of what we can and cannot control and act accordingly.
Over and over again I notice that successful people live the serenity prayer:
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
and especially, The wisdom to know the difference.
To know the difference…that is key.
To know the difference between what I can and cannot control.
What I wear, what I eat for breakfast are all under my control…for now. These are simple decisions that do not have to be a stress…they can become passionless. And when the ascetics speak of passionlessness I wonder if this is how to walk that out in everyday life? Passionlessness for a mother and wife is about “doing” without passion. What I wear should not make me anxious or lustful or prideful. And this is where a gray t-shirt everyday comes in handy. Simplicity practiced on a regular basis is a great tool in calming of the passions.
Simple habits of success.
Simple habits that eliminate unnecessary passion.
Simple habits that conserve energy that would best be spent elsewhere.
It is hard for me to admit that stress is a passion. It is hard for me to imagine a life without stress…is it even possible? And then I ponder the Panagia and her life. Her fiat makes it all clear, “Be it unto me according to Thy word.”
Her habit, her way, her pondering, her perfection…made perfect in surrender.
Stress is not a habit of the Kingdom.
Lately I have been pondering where my stress really comes from, and the passions that cause it. I am also learning to accept what I cannot change and stop wasting energy on those things. I am learning to recognize the sources of my stress…things like perfectionism, sentimentalism, pride, greed, and unbelief…learning to stop sinful thoughts and thought patterns. Stress begins with imaginations.
Managing a home is a lot like managing a corporation, and I am the CEO of this enterprise. What kind of a leader am I? Home management is not about perfectionism…it is about creating an environment where stress is at a minimum… where passionlessness is a goal. It is about creating a haven from the world of pain and sorrow, a place where those who need rest find it in it’s fullness, body and soul.
I like Zuckerman’s attitude. He wants to eliminate stress to be able to serve his community better. I like that…eliminating stress is not about making “me” feel better (although it is a great side effect).
Eliminating stress is about having the energy to serve God and my family better.
It’s what I work towards…what I seek…what I hope for… passionless passion.
Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ
O Ruler of all, Word of the Father, O Jesus Christ, Thou Who art perfect: For the sake of the plenitude of Thy mercy, never depart from me, but always remain in me Thy servant. O Jesus, Good Shepherd of Thy sheep, deliver me not over to the sedition of the serpent, and leave me not to the will of Satan, for the seed of corruption is in me. But do Thou, O Lord, worshipful God, holy King, Jesus Christ, as I sleep, guard me by the Unwaning Light, Thy Holy Spirit, by Whom Thou didst sanctify Thy disciples. O Lord, grant me, Thine unworthy servant, Thy salvation upon my bed. Enlighten my mind with the light of understanding of Thy Holy Gospel; my soul, with the love of Thy Cross; my heart, with the purity of Thy word; my body, with Thy passionless Passion. Keep my thought in Thy humility, and raise me up at the proper time for Thy glorification. For most glorified art Thou together with Thine unoriginate Father, and the Most-holy Spirit, unto the ages. Amen.
– Prayer of St. Antiochus
Somewhere around day five of this quarantine I began to relax, and then it hit me. Maybe my lack of rest in general is why my body is not recovering like the others. Sam and I have not slept well in months and months…and I think it just finally caught up with us. When I gave in and just let things be what they were going to be I began to see the tight knot that is wound up inside of me. I am just plain tired, but the adrenaline I am addicted to that makes it possible for me to function is hard to resist.
And when Mamas get this run down we must resist adrenaline.
We must stop pushing through and rest.
Resting has been very good, and I have been eating nourishing food, sleeping late, and going very slow. This has given me much time to think about my health. I have also had plenty of time to sit and contemplate ways to better care for myself and my family.
When I look ahead at 2015 I can see some major projects, possibly a move, a heavy work load, and schedule. And all these things are good. However, I can also see that my inward state needs some nurturing if I am going to enjoy health and happiness this year. I need better strategies to help me not feel so overwhelmed.
Here are a few things I am going to try…
One giant step toward health for me is the choice to leave social media, Facebook in particular. I once left Facebook for seven years, and I did much better with my inner life. It has taken me a while to understand why I have this love/hate relationship with it. It is not that Facebook is evil or wrong or anything like that. I love the interaction and the keeping up with friends and family. For me it is neurological. Something about the format makes me nervous…the scrolling and how my eyes jump from one thing to the next. The amount of information is too much for me. And once I start on this feast of information I get bogged down in it, and I spend way too much time on this site. I know, I know, I could be more mature and set limits and all that…but I don’t. I think the site’s design (the actual layout, advertisements, colors, lines, etc.) is very addictive for me.
For a year I have been very angry that I cannot have the solitude that I think I need in the mornings. During this illness I came to terms with this and had a sort of funeral for my mornings in my mind…I must let that go and get into the groove of my baby. That means I will have a new morning routine. Instead of books and coffee and even lengthy prayers I am going to enjoy Sam. A friend who had six kids (I only had three at the time) told me that someday my mornings would be different…she was right. She told me that she prayed a morning offering prayer before her feet ever hit the ground, and that was the foundation for her day. She too was a lover of contemplation and books and coffee. However, her life demanded that she take advantage of her mornings in a different way. I am going to follow my friend and quiet my soul in this area. I holler calf-rope, and it feels so good.
My grocery budget is insane. I know that food is expensive, but I could do better in this area. My menus need to be simplified. I have a five week menu cycle that I made when I had three kids, none of which ate like adults. With two teenagers in the house and a tween that eats as much as her sisters, it is time to remake my menus to be more frugal. What I spend on groceries stresses me, and it should…it’s too much! I know my lack of planning and organization is the major problem. Some ideas I have are to make double batches of soups, beans, casseroles, etc. and freeze them. Also, I need to take advantage of sales and stock up on things we use more often. Another strategy I have is to grocery shop early Saturday morning when the stores are quiet. This one change would greatly reduce my stress in this area, and allow me to focus.
I have been in serous homeschool burn out mode this year. It just feels so tedious and overwhelming. And the truth is, it is! Homeschooling this many kids, all at different ages and stages is a hard work. But, it is my work…it is what I am called to do. Through the prayers of the Panagia and Righteous Anna I am strengthened… I do not labor alone or in vain. I am reorganizing the school room, refreshing books, and working toward a more peaceful atmosphere.
I would love to have this time of prayer on a weekly basis, but the long drive to the Hermitage or our Parish might makes this unrealistic. For now I want to attempt once a month.
I told Slade today that the illness during Christmas was a blessing. It forced me to stop…stop everything and really listen, really see. I am thankful that we are all on the mend and that the new year has come. What goals or resolutions do you have for the New Year? I hope you are feeling the peace of Christ this season and the joy of His abiding love. He is always with us.
The average “gifts for mom” list is not necessarily a good fit for a homeschool mom. Don’t get me wrong…I love perfume and scarves and expensive handbags just like the average girl, but if you really want the wow factor for this homeschool mom of five I have a better list. Maybe you can forward this post to your hubby or whoever is asking you that pressing question, “What do you want for Christmas?” I hope this list will inspire you to answer with every bit of the quirkiness that defines a homeschool mom.
The best recipes are the ones your mother made….the ones found on the family tree. The other day I was perusing a cookbook that my Granny authored, and I was struck by it’s prose and meditations. It tells a story, as do all good cookbooks. No fat grams, or calories, or nutrition facts…no, just good food made by hands and seasoned with the heart.
I love a good cookbook, but what I love more is knowing how to cook…I have a long line of matriarchs to thank for that…I think my husband and children join me in thanksgiving.
A good home cook can transform whatever is in the pantry into a feast, even if the ingredients are not the best money can buy. And resourcefulness and creativity are a home cook’s pleasure…what makes cooking fun. It is amazing what my mom could do with a whole chicken back when she did not have a whole lot of money to spend at the grocery store. We used to tease her and say that she could make four meals for five with one bird. Funny story, but when I really think about the wonderful meals my mother cooked when we were poor as church mice…well, I just stand in awe.
I made a pumpkin and buttermilk pie today. As I cooked these family recipes, I reflected on my Granny…now in a nursing home. She is a great cook…the best kind. Below is the cookbook’s dedication in her words,
…to Mama (Bertie Jayroe) for keeping the tradition of family meals and foods alive. Mother’s farsightedness and commitment created this multigenerational history of family eats. It contains a personal family tree from which nurturing and incredible resourcefulness is found in the skill of the kitchen and pantry…few women of today manage to create lunches and dinners from scratch every day, including desserts.
She (Mama) made the best chicken and dumplings. Her famous (from scratch) blackberry cobbler was the best there ever was. Daddy liked her cobbler the best of all. The berries were hand picked by Daddy from his blackberry patch in the orchard. Mama and Daddy raised there own chickens then. One was caught, killed, and plucked for the chicken and dumplings. All this required time, so my parents always rose early. As her children, we are very fortunate to have smelled, tasted, and eaten so well. But more so to have the values of a good home so deeply engraved. Again, thanks Mama.