Today’s post on faith and parenting comes to us from the uber-talented Leena Tankersley. Leeana is the author of Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places (Zondervan 2009), spiritual writings inspired by her time in the Middle East. I met Leena at the 2012 Festival of Faith and Writing and we immediately hit it off. She is funny, honest, insightful, and committed to her art. Leeana lives in Bahrain with her husband and three children, Luke (3), Lane (3), and Elle (2 months). She inspires fellow gypsies at GypsyInk.com. Find her on Twitter: @lmtankersley.
Sometime after my twins turned one, they began throwing food from their highchairs as if it were sport. Bits of turkey, string cheese, and soggy peanut butter crackers were half eaten and then pitched from their perches.
I spent most of my day bent over, butt up in the air, picking up one kind of thing or another. On one occasion, to avoid fainting, I sat down on the floor next to the scraps, piling them up in my hand. Mindlessly, I pick the hair and carpet fuzz off the chunks of banana and sucked-on crackers and then I eat the remains. As if my only sustenance comes from the food I must forage.
This is what we call “a low.”
From my floor-dwelling, my mind wanders . . . to the girl in the Anthropologie catalog. And I want to be her. Perched on a tufted leather sofa, sitting in this most perfectly imperfect artist’s loft wearing ankle boots and a belted bohemian blouse that despite its tunic-ness somehow manages to make me look lean and elegantly unkempt. My children, Pickle and Twice (because I’m just that secure and avant garde), play lovingly in the corner. It’s clear from the décor around me that I’m very talented. It goes without saying that I’m gluten free, passionate about composting, raising some chickens on our roof, and the envy of all who know me.
Motherhood sits you down on the floor of life, closes the door, and asks you to do your best work, moment by moment, with no one watching. This is torture for someone like me.
I don’t plod well. I certainly don’t plod well with no one watching. I need a crowd, some adoring fans, a cheering section, loud applause, a fight song in my honor. A full color spread in a magazine, at the very least.
I didn’t know all of this about myself until these two little pink piglets arrived. I didn’t know that hormones would make an otherwise well-behaved woman feral. I didn’t know how much I would long for an escape some days, how desperately uncompassionate I would be with myself, how relentless it would all feel. I didn’t know how desperate I would be to feel seen.
I didn’t anticipate all the angst, and I didn’t anticipate what a lousy companion I would be with myself in that angst.
I once heard Parker Palmer speak about 9/11. Like everyone, he had been struggling to reconcile the terrorists’ acts with his theology, and the only question he could think to ask himself was, “What do these terrorists and I have in common?” His answer:
“We are all heartbroken.”
Was it possible that, in becoming a mother, I was now confronting my heartbrokenness: My longing for the glamour. My acceptance of the Beauty. And the gorge of grief that stretched between.
After some time, I did something radical: There in my floor-dwelling, I told God I was heartbroken. And I asked if he would mind terribly sending Christ to sit with me.
Three years and another baby later, tiny bits of breathing room have arrived, and I am finally able to . . .
let myself be scared of how much I love these kids.
let myself be scared of how much I know I will fail them.
let myself admit how tired I am.
let myself long for a tufted couch and a bohemian blouse.
let myself grieve the losses.
let myself drink an entire case of Coke Zero (only once in awhile).
let myself rest.
let myself laugh.
let myself off the hook, finally and after a long time, realizing that parenting isn’t hard because I am failing. Parenting is hard because it’s hard.
Baby steps. Small miracles. Water into wine. Spit and mud. Healing.
I just finished Some Assembly Required, the latest from guru-turned-grandmother, Anne Lamott. In the middle of the book, Lamott takes a break from grandmothering to visit India. She dreams of watching sunrise from a riverboat on the Ganges.
But, on the morning that she is to climb aboard the riverboat, the Ganges is socked in.
It was a thick, white pea-soup fog—a vichyssoise fog—and apparently we were not going to see any of the sights I’d assumed we would see, and in fact we had come here to see.
But we saw something else: We saw how much better mystery shows up in fog, how much wilder and truer each holy moment is than any fantasy.
This is the spiritual discipline I must practice every day, every minute, sometimes every second, if I’m honest: To believe that “each holy moment” can and does supercede “any fantasy.”
God, I love the fantasy. And every month when the Anthropologie catalog (“retail porn” as my husband calls it) shows up, I am bewitched all over again. Wanting to escape into a life that looks so much more enchanting than my own. Wanting to disappear into an image. Wanting to believe that glamour pays better than Beauty.
I believed motherhood would be the Ganges in all its glory. Turns out, some days the whole landscape is so socked in, you can’t see from one moment to the next.
The work, the holy work, is to believe that somehow what is happening in that fog, that haze, that soup—if we will allow ourselves to sit in it and even invite Christ into it with us—is actually the whole point.
Don't forget to check out Leeana's blog to read more!