Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lost

Photo by dani+elle on flickr.com.

I was already pretty sure I couldn’t hack it, even before the impending disaster that would only further verify my incompetence. Nine months earlier, having a second child had seemed like a wonderful idea but that was before, when filtered and distant notions were too far off to affect reality. As my due date loomed closer difficult questions began sprouting like aggressive weeds, strangling buds in my garden of idealism. Two arms, I had counted while taking inventory of my mothering assets, two legs and one body – there wasn’t enough of me, I suddenly realized, to go around. Elijah was a handful at 2 ½ years old, a kind of toddler unimpressed by a furrowed brow or high-pitched warnings. He’d grown accustomed to the life we’d built together, one in which he was the center of my universe. I had just enough patience and stamina to keep one kid away from busy streets, how on earth would I ever leave the house, make a meal, or finish a thought with yet another dependent little one strapped permanently to my person by way of breastfeeding, a sling, or a rocking chair?

Fortunately, upon Priscilla’s arrival, I remembered that adoration, in most cases, overrides our fear of failure. “So this is why we keep reproducing,” I thought to my infatuated self as I stroked the silky curls on my daughter’s head. Thankfully, there was plenty of help available for those first two weeks; I was free to sit and bond with the baby. Eventually, however, husbands return to their jobs and meals stop being delivered to your front door. Sooner than I would have liked, of course, I was alone again with my required domestic tasks and apprehensions. The days stuck at home stretched on almost unbearably as I was nervous to venture out of doors with just the three of us. When a month into my new position as a mother of not one, but two children, I was invited to go to shopping with my parents, I leapt at the opportunity and waited anxiously for the clock hands to turn. It took a ridiculous amount of time to pack a diaper bag with all of the burp cloths, extra clothing, pacifiers, and changing pads, but Priscilla and I were ready when our coach finally arrived in the form of a dark blue Passat. “Goodbye,” I waved to Troy and Elijah, way over excited about commonplace occurrences such as the wearing of jeans, seeing people I wasn’t related to, and escaping the perimeters of our urban neighborhood. It was exactly what I needed: a moderately grand adventure.

Our destination that fateful evening was IKEA, a massive and magnificent Swedish-born shopping arena packed with wall hooks, storage bins, and lingonberries. For weeks I had been drooling over their catalogue, daydreaming about how much better life would be if only my kitchen and bedroom had more jars, tubs, and shelves to keep all of our accumulating junk in order. Having been sequestered for a while within our modest Chicago two-flat, the stimulation of actually ogling and touching in person that innovative (and much coveted) merchandise was somewhat intoxicating. To my great relief, Priscilla was being an angel, sleeping soundly and silently in her car seat since entering the store. Perhaps this is why I didn’t notice at first her absence. For the previous half hour, my mom and I had taken turns pushing my newborn in the cart so when I asked her opinion about a picture frame I was interested in purchasing and noticed, then, that she was alone without my baby, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I said, “Wait, where is Priscilla?” to which she replied, “Honey, I thought you had her!” And the horror that ensued was indescribable.

I didn’t think or calmly retrace my steps, I just ran. I ran and scanned the aisles, growing more and more distraught with each minute that passed us by without me finding her. I was nauseous and inconsolable, irrational and ashamed. “My daughter!” I was yelling with tears streaming down my face, “Please help me! I cannot find my daughter!” An employee listened intently as my father described to him the situation. Immediately there was an announcement over the intercom: “Code 58!” said a disembodied voice, “we are looking for a four week old infant last seen fifteen minutes ago on the third floor.” All of the doors were locked; gaping patrons pointed and whispered, “There she is, the girl who lost her baby.” Either moments or hours later (I can't recall), I came across a crowd guarding protectively my abandoned child. In the exact place I’d started was a still sleeping Priscilla oblivious to the drama she’d been the center of. Had I turned back a few feet after talking to my mom, instead of taking off hysterically in the opposite direction, I would have seen her, I would have avoided that entire humiliating nightmare. But I didn’t pause, I panicked and under the scrutiny of fellow IKEA customers left trembling that night, ready to throw in the towel and let someone else more responsible rear the children I obviously had no business raising myself. It was the first of many times I would seriously doubt my aptitude as a parent.

Evidently I eventually recovered, going on to produce an additional son and daughter. Time and duty numbed the sting of those frightful memories and I stepped up to the plate to take another crack at molding thoughtful, resourceful, and productive members of society from out of the malleable and reliant souls within my care. I've skipped through months laced with pride and satisfaction as my growing children displayed intelligence, compassion, and creativity without my prompting. “It’s working,” I have concluded, “I do have brilliant, obedient, god fearing kids. I guess I am a decent mother after all.” And I offered up to Christ the appropriate prayers of praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings that a family affords until that is, there’s was a shifting within the serenity of our household. Behavior I find appalling from my five or two-year-old, a nine-year-old son’s inexplicable undercurrent of anger and disrespect, a daughter’s loathing of all chores (and her siblings) can instantaneously renew the angst of being powerless to ensure a romantic outcome - can knock me forcibly over the head again with accusations from myself to myself regarding negligence, misaligned priorities, and a general lack of skill. “I stink at this,” I moan while conjuring up numerous outlandish and unpleasant future scenarios involving four selfish, lazy, spiritually ambivalent adults each bearing my last name and fair skinned complexion.


“You can’t possibly know where to begin if you don’t start your morning with a fervent entreaty to God for direction and wisdom,” says my priest after every confession. I am, unfortunately, an agonizingly slow learner. It’s just that sometimes that answer seems so pat and far less palpable than, say, a how-to book on managing your home and the people in it. I should know by this point that Christ abides in the subtleties but I’m a sucker for what is loud and most blatant in the here and now – or more specifically, my needy family and our deficiencies. I’ve over packed, is what I’ve done, I’ve crammed morbid fears, weighty expectations, and popular opinions into my already full heart and now I’m wondering why my stride is so easily broken. We parents are such obvious targets for discouragement and despair because it rarely crosses our minds that when loving, pleasing, and fretting over of our family members takes precedence over the fostering of our faith, we, essentially, are rejecting Christ’s invitation to take His yoke upon us and find rest. Why not just claim the irrefutable truth that I am so unbelievably imperfect and in constant need of divine supervision? Why not spare myself from the exact same cyclical patterns? All this running around in circles feeling lost and scared and aggravated will only keep me from finding the confidence, the joy, the source of astuteness made amply available for those brave enough to slow down, release their baggage, and humbly receive it. Why not stop already with the negative assumptions and start anticipating the grace we've been promised?

5 comments:

Holly said...

Thanks Molly...I really needed this today.

a frazzled Mom of 3

Hope

Sh. Kelleylynn said...

Dear Molly,

You did it again...thanks for your beautiful words and encouragement.

I struggle with the very same thing, as I believe most moms do, but Ahhh! to be together in the struggle is so comforting.

My prayers to you from the
"freak-out" mom to 4!

neil said...

Beautiful photo! I know you borrowed it, but I had to comment anyway. It's really moody and captivating. Now I guess I should read the post...

Kelly said...

Molly,
So nice to hear that other moms are doubting their abilities just as often as I am. Thank you for bringing up those things that so many do not address!

1st time mother of 11 month old

H and S said...

Thanks Molly, this really spoke to me today. Beautiful. What a crazy story you have to tell Priscilla! I bet she loves hearing about it.