I remember my first agonizing middle as a mom. That first year when everything is new and even the most minimal expectation I had was the complete opposite of reality. When Izzy screamed more than she didn’t. When nursing was painful and defeating and confusing. And my own physical middle was weird and wavy. I wondered when, and if my abs would ever come back. I wondered when I’d be able to run without also peeing a little. I wondered if there would ever be a day when Izzy would just sleep without coercion.
It was a time of grief and joy. A time of restlessness and hope. A time of promise and pain. But the middle of my first year of parenting probably taught me more about the foundation of mothering than anything else in these last seven years have. And why? Because regardless of the distress and often disaster I was (hello, hot mess express trying to work full time with a child who would not take any of the 30 bottles or pacifiers we supplied her with and would hold out ALL day to nurse), the middle matters. Here are three things I learned from that first year’s middle:
- I learned to be confident in my choices as a mom. Not all babies and families adjust to the Baby Wise strategy. Hands up! That was not how Izzy functioned and certainly not her disposition. I was so embarrassed and felt like, “Why can’t my kid just sleep and eat on this schedule? What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with me?” And for every other mom who raved about it, I’d internally beat myself up and hide out of the conversation, feeling like a less than adequate mom. Maybe if I tried harder. Maybe if I wasn’t working. Maybe if … x, y, z. But friends, I learned that not all kids conform into what the normal should be. If there even is a normal these days. I think that’s why we have so many schooling options, food options, extra-curricular options. We have night owls and early morning risers. We have athletes and academics. We have writers and cancer researchers. Why can we celebrate our differences as adults, yet feel the shame when our babies handle things differently? It wasn’t just learning confidence in her schedule, but in each choice I made for her and for myself thereafter. The choice of delayed immunizations. The choice to work. Eventually the choice of a charter school. The decisions we make around food, mostly because of my celiac. We can stress out and compare ourselves to every other option, feeling overwhelmed and isolated, but if this is you, if you’re in the middle of the schedule mess, of a choice stand-off, of this, that or the other, take heart. Is it wildly exhausting?? 100%. But you are giving your child(ren) the best and we have more important things to do than compare our choices.
- I learned the name of a good, good friend: help. I could not have kept my job or my sanity if I did not have the help from family, many high school students and my co-workers allowing me to let Izzy romp around some days, or let me hide away to nurse or eat or be alone. I learned to reach out to friends and let people come over to sit with me or walk with me or even change a diaper. I learned that admitting feelings of frustration and anxiety allowed for processing and healing. It allows for transparency and the opportunity to grow. Moms, we have a lot on our plate. We are raising the coming generations. Providing and nurturing life, health, silliness and generosity. We rarely get positive feedback or office accolades. We often go unnoticed and unappreciated. Some days our meals are our kid’s leftovers. And asking for help is your achilles heal. But let me tell you, as a mom of one or ten, help is your friend. Help is rest. Help is sometimes resolve. Help can equal quiet. Help can equal peeing alone. Help is not failure or weakness. It is a close and necessary friend.
- I learned that God didn’t give me everything I needed to be a mom. You see, I thought He did. I thought He would at least by now! It was an easy thing to say and even encourage myself or others with. A positive, affirming phrase. But I learned that He didn’t. Had He given me everything then that I needed, I wouldn’t have to depend on Him or grow into motherhood. I wouldn’t have to humble myself and admit defeat some days. I wouldn’t have to apologize after my yelling fit that shamed my girls because of my own lack of patience and self-control. Do I know more now than when I first became a mom? Hands down. But do I know it all? Absolutely not. I do not have every ounce of patience needed to sit and listen to another girl drama story from my first grader. I do not have the immediate sense of forgiveness when one of them makes a big error in character. I do not have the forescense to know what life will look like for them in five or ten or thirty years and how to specifically prepare for those skills or needs. But God does. He knows it and sees it and knows them in that space. And He knows how I will succeed and where I will struggle. He knows just how to humble me and remind me that I can trust Him.
The middle offers growth and it most certainly matters. This middle is not always pleasant. Some days we wish the middle away. We want to be there, wherever there is. At the point of success. At the end of the day when the kids are tucked in and we finally get to Hulu and hard ciders. At the next phase of parenting because this is too hard or too boring or too lonely. At the next phase of adulthood because this is too hard. There, not here. Not in our grief. Not in the 135th marital counseling session because why won’t they just _______.
I’m in the middle of reading four books and finishing one. Lisa Jo Baker, an author I have admired and read for years, is releasing her newest book (wait for it …), The Middle Matters: Why That (Extra)Ordinary Life Looks Really Good on You. It is chalked full of solidarity with essays and letters rich in mercy and honesty and precious stories of her many middles. You will find yourself there with her, on her front porch drinking tea and looking for lightening bugs. You will connect over Brie cheese and your own stubbornness. I’ve found myself echoing back to her with grace and laughter. My favorite quote so far is this, “Because He is a good God. And I believe this. And I needed to believe that the no was a loving act from Him and not just a matter of ‘Well, that’s life’. Because what is all this faith we talk about worth if in the moments of our greatest hurts or hopes it doesn’t count?”. Friends, it is good. So good. So full. So engaging.
I’m currently in the middle of editing my own book, or rather, round two of editing. Some days I just stare at the words as they jumble together, making black and white pictures on the screen and papers in front of me. Nothing makes sense and I get so frustrated. But it’s necessary, right? If I gave you what I first had, I’d hide in literary shame. The words were not ready. I was not yet as vulnerable as I needed to be. I was shy and hesitant. I didn’t give my all to you. So I’m in the middle. Going back and over and under and through the words, learning still from my own story. Growing into a place of joy instead of cowering in nerves.
The middle isn’t always where we like to find ourselves, amen? The middle of a messy divorce. The middle of finding resources for a child with special needs. The middle of a diagnosis. The nightly growing pains that make our children restless and desperate for relief. It’s often messy and misunderstood and full of quick, shallow breaths. But it’s also where we grow. Where we find ourselves, our truest selves and what we are capable of. It’s faith building. Humbling. Stretching and sweat-producing. It’s exhausting and necessary. A seed does not just become a sunflower or a tomato or an oak tree. An infant does not just become elderly. A peewee football player is not immediately an NFL all-star kicker. The middle is full of roots finding their water source. Stems growing towards the sun. Skills being learned and defined and refined. Friends, the middle is our lives, most lived.
*You can pre-order The Middle Matters by Lisa Jo on Amazon https://smile.amazon.com/Middle-Matters-Extra-Ordinary-Really/dp/0525652841/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+middle+matters&qid=1558650780&s=gateway&sr=8-1. The hardcover copy pre-order price is $15.31 today! I’m on her book launch team and have been sponsored by WaterBrook & Multnomah.*