When Not to Worry

DSC_0919When we become mothers, women who were once carefree or serious or focused find ourselves turning angsty over all that could go wrong in the lives of our children.  We seem to stress in direct proportion to how big we feel our job is.

And I think we all agree:  it’s big.

In earlier generations, moms cared about their kids but didn’t assume they needed to be their little darlings’ entire universes.  Frankly, they didn’t think it was healthy for the kids or themselves.  But add busier-than-ever parents plus guilt plus more things to worry about (thank you, Internet.  No, really) and you’ve got a recipe for defensive, burned-out mothering from the word go.

Homeschooling does not make a mom immune to inner and outer kvetching.  It can help to turn down the temperature on our worries in some ways, only because we’re spending a lot of time with our kids, and we can sort-of take stock of how they’re doing throughout the day.  But it also presents a whole new list of things to question whether we (and they) are doing well.

In spite of all that, I’m happy with the way this school-and-mothering year is unfolding.  My oldest son turns 14 tomorrow.  I have another one who’ll be 13 in the blink of an eye, and an 11-year-old daughter who looks like a freshman.  We have had, and will have, our fair share of difficulties, new things about which to wonder, problems that will arise.

Believe me, I know.

But, looking back, lots of my parenting worries throughout the last fourteen years have not come true.  Most haven’t, in fact.  The kids are doing well, by the grace of God.  They’re turning out in spite of my failures both as a teacher and as a mom.

I want to offer encouragement in case some of you have younger kids and are tempted to worry, too.  Just keep showing up, loving them, praying for them, enjoying the time you have with them as much as is possible.

Refuse to give in to the temptation to fret.

In the end, most of what you worry about won’t come true.  And, honestly, even if some of it does, it will still be OK.

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Red Dawn

[I wrote the following essay for a medical journal.  I’m submitting it here in the hope that it might help some girl, somewhere]

I’d started judging the girls in my class according to the clarity of their skin by the time I was in the eighth grade. Before then other things had occupied my mind, things like which girls were tallest, and who could outrun the boys. But it was in junior high that my friends and I began to lose the smooth skin that had marked our elementary years, displaying instead the blotchy, hormonal foreshadowing of T-zones to come.

For me, there were only two kinds of girls—those with smooth faces, and those without. In a teeth gritting attempt to avoid finding myself in the latter group, I spread calamine lotion on my face before bed each night, sometimes even wearing it in the harsh light of a Saturday afternoon at home, because my mother had told me that it dried out pimples as well as insect bites. I was grateful for this secret remedy and hoped it offered me an edge over those poor wretches whose faces had become relief maps before my eyes.

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By the time I reached college my hormones had leveled out and, though I didn’t know it then, my face was the clearest and smoothest it would ever be. When my skin behaved itself, as it often during that time, I turned my attention to other, less pressing flaws like the size of my hips. Only when my face broke out occasionally did I fix my gaze on it again, engaging my old familiar enemy with perverse pleasure. I met my husband during these confident years. My skin even had the decency to glow on my wedding day.

But after the birth of my third baby, I noticed that I’d begun to look like I had a perpetual sunburn across my face. Then, at three months postpartum, my cheeks broke out in scores of tiny red bumps that reached clear into my hairline. I’d never seen anything like them, not even in middle school, but I dismissed them, hoping they were the natural (temporary) result of creating three human beings in less time than it took to get my bachelor’s degree. I bought a drugstore cream with alpha-hydroxy in it to show my skin that we couldn’t go back to the old way of doing things, but that—relax–I was wiser now and less judgmental.

I smeared it on my face one morning while the baby slept. It felt cool and refreshing, as the packaging promised.  Three minutes later, however, I knew that something was dead wrong. During that short time my cheeks had bloomed red as plums, concealing their former bumps beneath a creeping, fuchsia wasteland, and under my eyes little water pillows formed so that I stared at my reflection through slits. I curled over the sink and frantically washed the cream off, but it didn’t help. My scorched-earth face remained electric for days.

Two weeks later, when the dermatologist looked at me, he sucked in his breath.

“Oh, you’ve got it, bad,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s Rosacea, but I don’t think it’s going to scar. We’ll try and straighten this thing out.”

I hated him for saying that. I’d suspected it might be Rosacea. Not one to sit at home and let the professionals handle things, I’d Googled every possible explanation for my skin’s hideous new state-of-being, whittling down the possibilities to, a). A prolonged allergic reaction, b). Lupus (why, God?), or c). Rosacea. But in all my research I hadn’t once imagined that my skin might scar.

The dermatologist didn’t help me ‘straighten out’ my newly irritable skin, though not for lack of trying. First he suggested that I smear sulfur cream on my cheeks. When that didn’t improve things, he prescribed a gel that was supposed to reduce inflammation on the my skin’s surface, which, he reminded me, would have to be good enough since there’s no cure for Rosacea. But when I slicked it on, using my ring finger for the lightest possible touch, my cheeks burst into metaphorical flame again.

After topical creams and gels I tried oral therapy, swallowing low doses of antibiotics that gave me yeast infections and made me dizzy. Then I underwent laser treatments that were painful and expensive, and, in the end, left me squinting in the mirror for signs of improvement. After that I became a vegetarian, to the existential sorrow of my husband and chicken-nugget-eating kids, because I read that giving up meat can reduce skin inflammation. When that proved ineffective I decided to fast, going for days on nothing but purified water, to offer my digestion (related to skin!) a rest. But that provided only temporary relief, so I purchased nutritional supplements off the Internet. I swallowed one gargantuan liqui-gel after another, checking ten times a day for signs that my skin was returning to its blessed, occasionally-broken-out state. I saw little change.

This is what I now know: My dermatologist was right; there’s no cure for Rosacea. I’ve been down each quixotic therapy road and its end is the same burning face and a flabby wallet. For ten years I’ve lived with paper-thin skin, skin that can’t handle summer heat, sharp winds, my husband’s three-day-old stubble, my children’s hands. By now I’ve learned to anticipate the onset of neural pinpricks, the ones that light up the surface of my skin just before a spectacular facial flush. I’ve made begrudging peace with the small, red bumps that linger for days after the flush has died down. I’ve become an expert at reading people’s eyes as they talk to me. Has she been in the sun? Does she feel nervous or shy? My morning routine now includes only tepid water and tinted sunscreen. The sunscreen doesn’t offer enough coverage to hide the red underneath, but it’s the best I can do. I glow, but it’s the ghostly glow of zinc oxide.

Sometimes I think about the days when my skin was imperfect like everyone else’s, when the worst thing to happen to me was a pimple on prom night. I’m sad that I didn’t appreciate the normalcy of that time, that I wasn’t comfortable being flawed. It’s too bad, really, because now I’m uncomfortable in a physical way, and I won’t outgrow it. Ten years of managing a condition I can’t hide has finally given me a legitimate reason to think about my skin, and I’m trying not to. If this condition has taught me anything, it’s this: There is no perfect anything this side of Heaven. The pursuit of physical perfection is its own kind of prison.

And we are always the wardens.

The Real Reason I Homeschool

IMG_00011Look, there are a lot of reasons people have for teaching their own kids.  Many of them are good and compelling.  But, for me, most have faded over time.  I see my kids growing up and I think, They were always going to be OK. 

And, anyway, homeschooling is hard and can suck the life out of a person, especially a person who used to carry a planner.  Our warm educational fuzzies have grown a little threadbare during these middle years, and the tender platitudes that used to spur me on now find me with my fingers in my ears and, you know, maybe rocking in my bathroom.

But, so help me, there is one thing that hasn’t changed–and that is my need to go slow through this life.  It turns out that a poet crawled into my head and, having rattled around there, came back and wrote a poem that exactly describes my Actual Real Reason for doing this life the way I do.

To wit:

Leisure

by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

That’s my reason, folks.  What’s yours?

In Which My Adolescent Says Just the Right Thing

Middle school is hard.  It’s not like I haven’t complained about this season before–because I have.  These are tightrope years and I’m not one of those circus girls with the good balance.  Now I’m not saying it’s all my kids’ fault.  I have issues, too, clearly.  I need to be more encouraging, for one thing.  And I need to be more patient.  They need to stop telling potty jokes and talking over me.  We all need to be more like Jesus and less like ourselves, to be honest.

Sometimes, though, everything comes together for a moment and caterpillar-turning-into-butterfly kids say (or write) just the right thing.

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*Important note:  I got permission from said adolescent to share this Mother’s Day card with you!

 

 

Grace (Again)

It might be the weather.  It may be our ages around here (puberty.  the end).  It could just be me (I can never rule this out).  But whatever the cause, we’re in a communication swamp at our house these days.  I find that I say the same things over and over to my kids, in the same, um, strident tone, and I get the same results–languid compliance with a dash of resentment.  I see it in my kids’ eyes.  They are tired of my reactions to their reactions.  I’m sure that they can see it in my eyes, too.  I’m tired of the push-back I receive when I ask them to do things they’ve always done.

The thing is, it feels like a full-on cycle at this point.  I say, Get such-and-such done.  Somebody whines and moves s-l-o-w-l-y to get the aforementioned thing done, all the while muttering about why the task is meaningless.  I take a deep breath, feeling my heart begin to race, muttering to my own self that this kind of flak is for the birds and I don’t deserve it.  Then I say, in a scarily-calm librarian voice, that I expect compliance because this is right, that it has always been this way in our home, that I will not put up with disrespect, that I don’t give them that much to do, that this is ridiculous, that I am going to tell their father about this, etc, etc.  When I pause, feeling my heartbeat (now in my eyeballs), I see the withdrawal, the retreat, in my kids’ faces.  I see their squinting, their down-turned mouths.  I am sad suddenly, sad and tired.  I feel tricked by my own emotions–again.

This communication quicksand has got to dry up.  We love each other, and we’ve got to find a way to move through this new phase of life/parenting/growing.  Right now we’re in a flare/remission cycle where every other conversation has the potential to cause an outbreak of hives.  There’s got to be a better way to go through middle school.  But I can’t think of exactly what to do at the moment.

What I do know is, as usual, we all need grace.  Every moment of every day.  And He gives it.