Hair-lickers and Mothering Ideals

I looked in the backseat and there she was, eating leftover breakfast out of her hair. Never mind the fact that her usual hairstyle looked like something out of "The Boxcar Children", now she was using her hair as a spoon, and with more accuracy than I had ever seen her use any utensil before, hence  this whole scene unfolding in the first place. I remember turning to Peter and remarking that she was going to show up to church looking like she had just climbed out of a puddle, if puddles were made of oatmeal, and she was wearing the purple rainboots to match. Maybe she would at least smell like sugar and spice.

Something kind of funny happens the more kids you have, and I say "kind of funny" because it is also kind of pathetic and terrifying and embarrassing too. So its the "laugh and throw up your hands but your eyes are really pleading 'help me' " sort of funny. The more kids you have, the more your ideals go out the window. At first this is probably a good thing. I mean what newborn was ever happy with a flower headband the size of her entire body and what 15 month old is thinking, "man, this sitting on the potty seat is so fun. I wish we spent all our Saturdays this way, every hour on the hour. I have no desire to play with blocks or poop my pants...or play with blocks while I poop my pants ever again! Diapers are so last year. And I bet we are having trapezoid shaped tofu as a reward for dinner tonight, because I am a vegan who totally already knows what a trapezoid is. Why is Mommy sweating and crying in the corner?" (I don't mean to offend. I'mean just saying we can all let our ideals get out of whack.)

In fact I think the main purpose child #2 served in our house his entire first year was helping me break down my ridiculous ideals. At the time I was pretty sure his purpose was to let me know I was a horrible mother, but time has given me a little perspective on that one. I know now that I am not horrible, but marginal. And if abolishing crazy-lady ideals was not the main purpose for #2, it was hands down #3's purpose: my purple boot wearing, hair licking, free-spirit. And then by the time #4 came 5 months ago, I realized I didn't really have many ideals left. Turns out that isn't the best place to be either.

I am realizing that motherhood in many ways is a tight rope act. On one side of the rope you can drown in unnecessary ideals, many of which were never really born of your own heart but often impressed on you by other people. On the other side you can fall into the abyss of letting too many ideals go and then your kids might eat breakfast out of their hair more than occasionally. Occasion breakfasting on hair is acceptable. That's just where my tight-rope act needs to be right now. I lean a little towards grace and lack of cleanliness. But that's just me. Maybe your ideals would say your children should never snack on their hair, especially when on the way to God's house. Maybe if you turned around and saw your three year old finding pieces of food in her hair big enough to chew on you would be appalled and it would be a sign that all had "gone to hell in a hand-basket", as my dad says. But maybe not. Maybe you would be like me. Cringe a little. Sigh. Shrug. Whisper "all in a day" and really hope you had packed baby wipes to use as shampoo in the church parking lot.

And I guess that is what I am saying. We all have different priorities, different passions, personalities and goals. Even if there are common elements our days all look slightly different; our schedules and to-do lists vary. And though we can take solace in the solidarity of motherhood in the trenches, we are all different people who live different lives. More than that, we are made my God to accomplish different things in this world. We are unique. And so are the broods of hair-lickers we are raising. So, wouldn't it make sense that our ideals would be different too? Why is the lady from preschool's ideal, suddenly mine? Why does the way the pastor's wife would do this or that suddenly the only right way? And why for God's sake would I adapt the ideals of a stranger on the Internet unless they resonated with me?!

There are so many ideals out there. Moms are basically drowning in them, until that equally horrible day when we become the mom who has lost all her ideals. It is almost like we realize we can never attain it all, so we give up entirely. Things that really do and should matter get tossed aside with the unimportant, unrealistic ideals. We mean well. We're just exhausted. And confused. And exhausted.

We know what we are doing matters. So there is always this tugging guilt to do it all. But we know we can't. I am learning this: to find out what my ideals are, my few things, and I am going to hold on to them. These are the essentials. My kids need to know they are safe and loved. They need to laugh and be kind and have a general understanding of phonics. I want to foster a home that appreciates imagination and creativity. I want to teach them the depth and ugly-beauty of grace. I want them to begin young with spiritual disciplines like prayer & scripture memory, and I want them to know that every good act of obedience is possible because God loved them first. Then there are the second tier ideals, like a tidy house and healthy multi-course meals. And so on. Finally down at the bottom are things like matching socks. I have just given up on that entirely. I need to do this loose hierarchy because if I don't sometimes I can start thinking that a pinterest worthy birthday party is up there with the biggies like character development. Or I can think my kids need to look like child models or have rooms bursting at the seams with toys. I can forget that getting every problem right on a math sheet is not nearly as important as the lesson of perseverance learned. That's why I hang it on the fridge. And I hang these reminders on my heart, because I am so forgetful. Sometimes if my ideals are out of whack, when a little person decides not to nap one day and just needs to be cuddled, I might think my time would have been better spent cleaning up the kitchen.

So I make a hierarchy. I make the lesser ideals bow to the greater ones. Obedience often calls me to sacrifice good ideals, for better ones. Thus by lowering some ideals I can raise more important ones. It means there are almost always dirty dishes in my sink. It means that some nights we just eat eggs for dinner. It means sometimes I say "no" when I wish I could say "yes" or "yes" when I just want to say "no". It means today we made snow cream and ate it next to a pile of laundry.

  Ideally, in a perfect world, it would all get done. We would always eat the thoughtful dinner. The dishes would wash themselves. We would have the money to say "yes" to more things without spoiling our kids. We would have the time to do it all and still sleep 8 hours a night. But because that is crazy-talk I make my ideals obedient to who I am and who my family is. And I make myself obedient to God- not Internet mom or neighborhood mom or playgroup mom or grandmom in Target who has to throw in her two-cents. It means one day we won't make snow cream and will watch too much T.V. instead. It means some days we will go to the zoo and have a picnic at the beach and feed the birds AND the hungry orphans,  while other days dinner will roll around and we are still in our p.j.s while the rest of the social media world rocked it and has the photos to prove it.

My ideals will look different than yours. That's a good thing. It doesn't mean I will always get it right. But I am still walking that tight-rope. I am not drowning in everyone else's pictures of what our life should look like, taking on a load bigger than a pack-mule. Moms have enough to carry in the diaper bag alone. And I have not given up entirely because it all seems so impossible. I have not abandoned everything holy and given up on the good ideals I hold close to my heart.

 I keep walking that tight-rope. I have found it gets easier when I acknowledge that is what it is.  I keep walking it and I know this, even if I fall to the right or to the left there is a big old net to catch me. The net is called grace. Grace is big. Grace gives me a second chance. And a third. Grace makes kids forget. And it makes kids remember. It makes them forget when I chose the Internet over one more bedtime story or the time I dressed them all absurdly matchy-matchy and screamed at them from behind the camera to just smile a real smile. It makes them remember deep inside their heart how I made them feel, the character I modeled in the in-between moments, and the times I said I was sorry. And the greatest grace of all is that no matter how many times I screw up, no matter how many times I don't sacrifice the right ideals, I still get the chance, even in my short-comings, to point my kids to their Heavenly Father who will never mess up His ideals or let them down or love them any less than perfectly.

So whether you have never had a hair breakfaster (yet!) or if your mini-van is full of them (God bless you!), know you aren't alone. Stand on your own ideals, Momma. God gave their kids to just the right woman for the job. There's freedom here. Now go make that snow cream or don't.

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