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Identity Theft: Being a Wife and Mom

identitytheft I stood beside my husband trying hard to maintain eye contact with the speaker with two little hands wriggling for freedom in mine. I had given them the speech before we went in: though I understood the temptation, they were not to ask for candy and needed to understand we were not there for them. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to cry but knew it was important that I be there. So as I waited in one of those rooms, filled with mourners and smelling almost nauseatingly of chrysanthemums, we stood in line with others who came to pay their respects to the family of the man from our church who had recently passed away. I had never even actually met him because we haven’t been at our church all that long and for a lot of our time there he has been sick and unable to come. Still, I had spoken with his daughters and wanted them to feel loved and supported. I scanned the room and smiled, but as I saw the people approaching I inwardly groaned, because by now, I was well acquainted with this routine. People walked up to our girls and gushed over how beautiful they were and, “oh my, look at those dimples.” While I tried my very best to concentrate on what people were saying, the girls whined about when we were going to leave. My husband was introduced over and over to family from out of town as the associate pastor and father of these two charming and delightful children. I waited patiently.  Anytime now, surely someone would acknowledge me. But as I stood them, smiling politely, I was no more than a footnote on a page. When I was acknowledged at all, it was to be told what a wonderful husband I had and how blessed I was to be his wife. If introduced at all, I was nameless. Just an accessory, really, on my husband’s arm. I felt as important as the tie he was wearing. “This is his wife and his lovely yellow tie.” His wife. Pastor Sam’s wife and Evie and Nora’s mom. Nameless. Faceless.

The girls began to really get antsy, as little girls do in a funeral parlor filled with nothing to do but to try to wriggle free from their mother’s iron fist grip. After twenty minutes of “your husband is the best thing since cherry pie” and “oh. You are so lucky to have been blessed with such a husband and children. Count your lucky stars the heavens were smiling down on such a person (I’m sorry. What’s your name again? Yes. Yes. That’s right. Sam’s wife)” I gave up and let go of their hands. Before I knew it, they were trying to race each other down the hallway all the while I was trying to keep my attention on the funeral director who was shooting jokes at my husband left and right. I told them they needed to sit, which to them translated into jumping violently on the couch. The elder of the two smirked at me, knowing full well that my blood pressure was rising, which meant her fun was just starting. Through gritted teeth and a plaster smile I told them to sit quietly in chairs within arms reach of me. Once they had done so, the older one began to bounce in the chair, again to try to see if she could crack me. I really think this girl has a future in interrogation some day.  At this point, my head was throbbing, my feet were screaming, and my heart was drumming in my ears. I shot the girls that look that only mothers can give that says something like, “I love you but if you choose to cross me again I will sell you to the circus and make sure they give you a terrible job like cleaning up elephant poop and scraping gum off of bleachers and brushing the lion’s teeth…” A man from our church chose that moment to mosey on over to us and tell my girls how good they were and how sweet and charming and pretty they looked. Again, I was acknowledged only by a conspiratorial smile as if I would readily agree how well behaved they had been. The elder of the two flashed me her dimpled, smug grin that I know translates to her, “I win”. At that point I think my smile must have looked akin to one someone must have when they are sent to an insane asylum because her smile faded quickly. The gentleman from our church must have seen it, too, because he chose that moment, the first time I had been acknowledged as an individual the whole evening to say chidingly as he walked away over his shoulder to,” enjoy the journey. ”

Then I screamed. I did. I yelled that I, too, was trying to be thoughtful and considerate by being there and that it had been by my choice, not obligation. I shrieked that I did, in fact, have a name. When I was born to my two, lovely parents they did not put on the birth certificate “Sam’s wife”. I stomped my feet a little, threw some really poetic insults at the condescending comment, and stormed out of there, wives and moms around the world applauding me, my oldest daughter gawking at me and my husband giving a great speech to everyone about how I was the love of his life and what he, in fact, would be without me

…… In my head. That whole, lovely scene only played out in my head. What actually happened was I smiled again, politely, not really dignifying the comment with a response, then grabbed the girls by their hands, ushered them outside, put them in the van and lamented to my husband about how I have lost all identity as a mom and wife, how no one seemed to even see or acknowledge that I was even there, other than to scold me for not ” enjoying the journey “. I may as well have a name tag that says ” Hi. My name is wife and mom. ”

This idea of identity theft is sort of a recurring theme in my tales of woe, actually. Just yesterday I was crying to him about it again. I have people tell me all the time how incredible my husband is and how lucky I am to have him. Though I usually respond with a very sincere and hearty word of concurrence, it can also be discouraging, because though he has earned every single word of praise, I can’t even be introduced by my name if I’m introduced at all. When I begin my lamenting it usually sounds a little something like this: I feel like a job. I am the packer of lunches, the finder of socks, the kisser of boo boos, the maker of meals, the comforter, the cheerleader, the team mascot, the folder of laundry, the discipliner, the cleaner….. You get the idea. I’m rarely even called by my name. I’m, “Moooooooooooooom!!!!” most of the time. There are so many days when I sit back and wonder how it came to this. How did I lose all sense of who I am as a person and become a job? When did I become so faceless and nameless? When did I become nothing more than arm candy for my husband and a convenience to my children? If I’m honest, some days I can be downright resentful of my family, because, in the spirit of being totally candid, so much time spent being a mom you are undervalued. You are taken for granted and abused. In fact, there can be an attitude that you should be cleaning up after them, cooking for them, and taking them where they need to go. And my husband, who truly is this amazing man and great spouse, can’t meet all of my needs all the time and can get wrapped up in work or coaching soccer, because, despite popular belief, he really is only human and the poor guy can only do so much. So he can’t always see that I am drowning sometimes in loneliness and frustration. I heard once that when people were polled, what they wanted most was to be appreciated. I also read this somewhere: you know you don’t appreciate someone when you think it’s their job to do anything for you.

A pet peeve of mine is to go to a restaurant and see people treat the service there like their own personal slaves. My mom used to be a waitress and I only know a fraction of how hard that really was on her to be on her feet all night, dashing to fill orders, to be hit on by drunken men, to have people yell at her because their steak wasn’t prepared to their liking though it was no fault of her own, to work for crummy tips, all with a smile plastered on her face. But I have been out with friends and witnessed some of them treat our servers in this way, making snarky comments, ignoring them when they check on our table, and not offering any word of gratitude and say something like, “They’re getting paid for it.” As if passing them a lousy tip gives you the right to treat them any way you want.

OK. I digressed a bit. But here is my point: Just because someone has a job it doesn’t give anyone the right to treat them as less than human. As a means to an end. A job. Hence my point. As a wife and especially as a mom it so often feels like I have lost all sense of self and feel underappreciated. My children, as I did to my own parents, don’t get how much I sacrifice for them on a daily basis, and honestly, I don’t expect them to until they have kids of their own.

As I have been sitting here writing, I wanted to tie this up with a nice little bow; a word of encouragement and enlightenment to those who are struggling like me, most days just trying to keep my head above water and sanity in tact. So here it is, my incredible words of wisdom: you’re not alone. When I talk to my friends, most of ’em feel the exact same way. Being a mom is tough. Sometimes being a wife, even if you’re married to a really great guy like I am, can be really tough, because all of a sudden you wake up one day and realize that you have lost so much of who you used to be. I think I used to be fun (I think??). I used to be spontaneous and go out swing dancing. I used to hang out with my friends on weekends and NOT talk about kids. I used to be the interesting girl across the room that you wanted to get to know better. I used to have a name.

My mom recently handed me a folder full of all these papers, mementos of things I created as I grew up: report cards, pictures, essays. I came across one essay I had written as an introductory paper for a creative writing class. It was titled “Mirror of my Life.” As I read it,I was reminded of the girl who wrote it. She talked about her dreams and ambitions, her frivolous activities. She talked about making up skits when she was all alone, talking in different accents and dreaming of a life on stage, perhaps.  She talked about her fears and hopes and the world that was wide open before her. At seventeen, anything seemed possible. As I read those words, I missed that girl.  I missed the girl who was carefree and laid back, who spent her free time writing poetry and daydreaming and reading books.  Then as I read further, I caught a truer glimpse of her, reading between the lines: a girl who dreamed of being married and having kids.  She was a girl who prayed for and laid awake at night dreaming of and writing letters to the husband she couldn’t wait to meet.  She was a girl who was at times lonely with the ambition to have her own family someday, lonely in the waiting. Then I was reminded of the girl who just a few years later married a man beyond her dreams when she was so young, but who cried herself to sleep so many nights and sat in lonely corners during the day aching to hold a baby of her own. For years, she sat and prayed and waited, empty in heart and womb. Then I am reminded of the person I am now, living out those very dreams written down on the paper in my hands. After that, I come to pity the girl on the paper because though she may have had much less responsibility, she had much less to be thankful for.

So here it is: my secret to sanity when I feel like I’m fading into absolute oblivion, because, as with all things in life, it usually comes down to perspective. I will take a few thoughtless comments from people who can’t see what I do, though I know I do them. I will take not being introduced properly to so-and-so’s second cousin twice removed who I will never see or remember again in my life.  I will take the forgetfulness, being taken for granted, and yes-being walked on at times, because even on the most exhausting of days I wouldn’t trade this life or what this girl has for anything in the world.

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Mama Drama

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I placed my fingers to my temples and rubbed, trying to ease away the rhythmic throbbing in my head as my oldest daughter bounded from the sink (where she splashed water all over the counter and mirror while making faces at herself) to the hand dryer.  The fact that she was skipping only intensified my annoyance. “Let’s go!” I didn’t, but nearly shouted at her. Undaunted, she did a little dance while she dried her hands off.  I ignored the stares from the woman washing her hands and almost groaned as I saw her approach. Here it comes, I thought grudgingly to myself.

She nearly stooped over, as though I was an unruly child who needed a good talking to from a much older and wiser adult, and said, with that ever-so-subtle condescending pitch, “You need to appreciate this now. They grow up so fast.” At this point, I would normally plaster a smile on my face and say something like, “Oh yes, you are so right. Thank you for the reminder,” and go about my merry way, clenching my jaw the whole time. Instead, I ignored her. Yep. I looked at her, grabbed my daughter’s hand and stalked away very rudely, all the while thinking, “Which part of this am I supposed to enjoy, you know-nothing busy body?” (Which, I’m really not proud of).

Maybe she meant the part about my daughter whining the entire time we were in the store, bouncing between trying to pull things off the shelf and tormenting her sister.  Maybe she was talking about the part where my daughter sung at the top of her lungs just so my husband and I couldn’t carry on a conversation and she wanted to control us because that’s what she does. Maybe she meant I was supposed to appreciate the part where my child asked for everything, not because she truly wanted it, but simply because I had told her not to ask for anything.  Maybe she meant I was supposed to enjoy the fact that I was on a time crunch, but my daughter whined so loudly and fiercely that she “needed to go potty” that I spent fifteen extra minutes I didn’t have searching the store I wasn’t familiar with for a bathroom while she complained the whole time that she wasn’t going to make it. Maybe she meant I was supposed to love the fact that once I raced her into the bathroom, she took her sweet time getting settled on the toilet only to produce nothing more than three drops.  Perhaps she was suggesting that I appreciate the fact that I know my daughter was skipping, singing and dancing in victory, knowing she had won the battle over me since we both knew she didn’t need to go to the bathroom at all.  Was that what she meant?  When she stooped over me, practically wagging a condescending finger at me, and told me that I “needed to appreciate this now”, was this possibly what she meant?

I could feel it building inside of me; that pressure that felt like a two ton elephant was sitting on my chest.  My head was pounding, I was white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel, I was working my jaw and clenching my teeth, I was answering incessant questions from the backseat with brisk responses. I knew it was coming; the hurricane, and I couldn’t stop it.  Yes, there was that little voice lying to me that said, “Just ignore your feelings, ignore your child and everyone will come out of this alive.” I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw my child’s smug face. It sounds paranoid, but if you knew her, you would know exactly what I am saying. She gets delight out of sowing discord in our home, and is absolutely giddy when she knows she has gotten to me. So I gritted my teeth, grabbed bags furiously from the trunk, slammed it, and stomped to the house, not even caring if the girls were following or not. The whole time that lady’s voice was in the back of my head like bullets being fired into my heart, as if what she really said was, “Failure! What kind of mother are you that you can’t see how precious this delightful, clearly happy and pleasant gift from above this child is?” Her words didn’t spur on reflection to which I said, “Whoa! You just blew my mind! Yes! Thank you for that clarity of thought. Now I can go on with my day and rejoice when my child manipulates me and makes it feel like a locomotive is careening through my head.Now I will do a little jig and say a prayer of thanks when she tries to make the day miserable just because she can.”  It just made things worse.

I can’t even tell you what happened next, because I know it doesn’t really matter. I was a bull seeing red and all I needed was a small flash of color, something minute so I almost had an excuse to charge. I can’t tell you what it was because I’m sure it wasn’t significant, but it was enough to send me over the edge. It was the straw that broke an exhausted, guilt-ridden, angry mama camel’s back. I let loose. The demons were unleashed. I was a mass of white heat and rage.

Yeah-I said it. Rage.

That nasty, taboo word that isn’t supposed to be part of a mother’s vocabulary, let alone her persona. But let’s call a spade a spade. I was raging mad. I was out of control of my emotions and nothing was going to stop me, especially not this stubborn child who stood in front of me, and didn’t cower at my anger, but starred it down with challenging defiance. I lost it; I screamed. Let me clarify this so we’re all on the same page. I didn’t yell or raise my voice. I screamed. It was shrill, it was loud, it was ear-piercing. My throat was sore and scratchy afterwards. I didn’t even recognize it. I lost all control. I could feel my heart racing so fast that it squeezed and pulsed like someone was gripping it with an iron fist. I was shaking violently. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was scary, not only to my children, but to me.

I would like to say this was an isolated incident. It wasn’t. It doesn’t happen every day or even all the often, but it happens and it never ceases to surprise or frighten me, because sometimes I feel the build-up like this particular day, but other times I’m blindsided by it. We can actually have a pretty good day, but a long fit (this same child can throw a fit lasting 1-2 hours, crying so hard that she makes her nose bleed and will pound on the floor so violently the dishes rattle in the cupboards) can send me into a blind rage.

How do I feel afterwards? Well, let’s just say I’m not feeling too good about myself (um, yeah-huge understatement). I beat myself up for days and find myself trying to talk to friends and family, someone who can give me a good answer on how to handle not only my child but myself.  Often, I am met with a blank, sometimes horrified stare, as though I have just grown an arm out of the side of my face.

I’m a “deep thinker” which mostly means I analyze every minute detail of my life to death, mostly my relationships. I want to know why things happen and how to fix them and why my life isn’t one big Hallmark commercial. How can I have dreamed for so long about having kids and loving them to death every moment of every day and still go from zero to fifty in a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds? I’m also trying to figure out if I’m the only one who ever experiences this because no one wants to talk about it. I’m writing this actually piggy-backing off an article I saw recently discussing this subject. I was actually shocked to hear another mother talk candidly about how she has struggled with rage because no one seems to want to talk about it. People seem to want to give “the right answer” and try to put a band-aid over a gaping wound and say things like, “You need to just appreciate this”. Does that help anyone?

I’m using this poor woman as a scapegoat when I know she really did in some way mean to be helpful, even if it was poorly timed. My point in writing this is not to even point out what she said, but to emphasize how we get to this point as parents where we just explode. Am I truly alone in this? Do other mothers ever cross that line from losing their tempters to losing total control? Is the problem me, or is it just that my kids are so difficult? I honestly had never experienced true rage before six years ago when we brought our daughters home. I was pretty much the same as the woman in the bathroom, shaking my head and pointing my finger at those frazzled moms who lost it on their children. I didn’t get it. Does it make it right? No. Heck no. But, I still think it would help if we could talk about it, if we could all admit that we aren’t alone.  When I have tried to talk to people for help and they are become tight-lipped, or when I meet someone in the store who has a “word of wisdom” for me, it doesn’t help, but seems to compound the problem. Can we stop pointing fingers and learn how to support each other as struggling parents? I think as moms we are all equipped with built-in guilt thermometers, and as the guilt rises, the build up of pressure rises until we explode.

My husband and I talked about this just today after I sat in the car with him and cried, pouring out to him all my motherly woes. As we talked we both reminded each other of this profound truth so easily forgotten: if we aren’t willing to accept grace for ourselves, we are inept to give it to each other.  In my life, this seems no more real in my life than when it comes to being a parent. When I spend the whole day beating myself up for things I forgot, things I should’ve said (or more likely things I shouldn’t have said), ways I failed, and obsessing about the girls’ behavioral issues, by the time they come home from school, I’m almost resentful of them. I’m already prepared to do battle with them. The grace of God says, “Erased, forgiven. It’s over.” We even have taught the kids that. They sometimes in their little hearts feel the need to do penance for something long after we have talked about it and moved on. They will still apologize two or three more times until I give them to reassurance that, “It’s over. It’s done. I forgave you. We don’t need to talk about it anymore.” I have seen a very visible weight lifted off their shoulders when I free them from the guilt of what they have done.  They are lighter on their feet, they are more affectionate, reconciliation has been restored and it is so freeing. So why, when we are trying so desperately to teach our kids the grace of God, do we not accept it for ourselves?  We do penance, and through that everyone else pays.

I heard Matt Chandler, a pastor in Texas, use the illustration of his daughter learning to walk as an example of God’s grace to us. When his daughter was learning to walk, they got the video camera ready and helped her to her feet, encouraged and applauded her.  When she would stumble, like they expected her to, no one said, “Stupid kid.” They only applauded the progress she had made. They expected her to fall, but when she did, they just helped her back up.  That is how God’s grace is with us. He doesn’t knock us back down.  He expects us to stumble and He knows every sin we will commit and knew it long before we were even created, but still put His plan of salvation into effect. If we can’t accept this gift of grace, how in the world can we extend it or be examples of it to our children?

I heard this quote by C.S. Lewis, too, that was a good reminder to me. We like to beat ourselves up because in some backwards way we feel like it makes us better parents, sometimes better Christians. If we feel the heavy blows of guilt on our backs every day, it somehow makes us holier. Lewis said this, “True humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.” If we could grasp that as parents, if we could let go of the guilt which still ties us up and keeps the focus on ourselves, how much more free would we be to love and show grace to those in our home, especially our children?