It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day-to-day basis. -Margaret Bonnamo
image via Tamas Zsebok
This year I wanted Mother’s Day to have a little creative flair and give the grandmas something other than my go-to gift of framed photos of the kids. Inspiration (or was it Pinterestspiration?) hit me on a recent trip to an art store. I bought some large white canvases and finger-paints and reveled a bit in my outside the (5×7) box idea.
Here was my vision.
Set up the three boys at the counter with the canvases and paints. After a few minutes, rotate the boards among the boys so that each painting had contributions from all of the grandsons. Voila! Beautiful homemade masterpieces made with love.
A few hours later, I saddled the boys up to the counter and explained the plan. Wide-eyed and strangely calm, they sat and watched me place six paint colors onto paper plate palettes. I gave them each a plate and said we would rotate paintings in a few minutes.
Remind me again of that saying about the best laid plans…
Of course the boys did exactly what I should have known they’d do. Exactly.
I watched my little Picassos dig in and as they did so, all the visions of handprints, stick figures, and flowers dancing in my head abruptly stopped.
In eerie synchronicity, all three boys put both of their hands down and mixed the colors together on both the plates and their palms, creating a putrid shade of brown with a tinge of purple. Seconds later, and giggling wildly, they slapped their hands all over the white canvases, which quickly transformed into the same lovely shade of prown.
Stop, I cried. I tried to rotate. I tried to wipe them down and start anew with fresh palettes, but the prown just became prowner. Their laughs became louder and the game became more fun. Once the canvases were filled they turned their sights (and hands) on the kitchen counter and then each other, coating their elbows, forearms, and eventually their hair and faces.
Wide-eyed and not so calm, I halted the exhibition. One by one, I lifted each child up under the armpits, held him in the air, and carried him to the shower.
What a mess.
I sighed one of those “oh man” kind of sighs. Despite good intentions, this adventure had turned into quite the epic fail, a prown epic fail.
Three bathed children, two rolls of paper towels, and a bottle of 409 later, I resolved to head to the frame store the next morning.
But when that next morning came, a remarkable thing happened.
I went out into the kitchen, walked past the paintings, and stopped. I picked up each canvas, tilted my head to the side, and just stared.
The longer I looked at those paintings, the more I saw. And the longer I looked, the more I realized they were actually kind of…beautiful.
They were beautiful.
And right then it occurred to me why this was the perfect Mother’s Day gift.
In those paintings I saw a smattering of colors. I saw fire (red) and joy (yellow) and softness (blue). I saw growth (green) and wisdom (purple). I saw enthusiasm (orange) and innocence (white).
I saw fingerprints belonging to three one-of-a-kind kids who had chosen me for their mom.
I saw smudges and drips and smears. I saw mess-ups and uncertainty and failed expectations.
But I also saw laughter and happiness and togetherness. I saw a whole lot of love.
Those paintings were big, beautiful, brilliant messes.
And that’s exactly what motherhood is.
It’s unchartered and chaotic.
It’s full of clutter and noise.
Sometimes plans fall apart.
Sometimes there are epic fails.
Sometimes it feels like one big shade of prown.
But just like in the paintings, there is more to motherhood than meets the eye. And underneath the mess, there is something undeniably lovely and perfect.
There is a beautiful smattering of colors and qualities. There are smudges of mistakes, but also sparkles of joy. And woven in the fabric below is a whole lot of love.
Underneath that mess is a once blank canvas forever changed with little hands and hearts.
So on this Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate the brilliant beauty that exists in the messes.
May we always remember to take time to look for it.
Early this morning I was running on my treadmill in the basement, very excited about a guilt-free hour of bad TV. All of a sudden I heard what sounded like elephants running on an African plain upstairs above me.
Nooooo. Ugh. Too soon! I was only 12 minutes into my Real Housewives episode! I give my kids the post-sunrise hours, but this precious early one is mine.
First I tried denial. I ran on, convinced the thumping was just a figment of my imagination or static in my headphones.
I had about forty-five glorious seconds in Never Never (Heard Them) Land before it came again.
Still I ran on, reassured because I had put a gate in the doorway of my twins’ room. I knew they couldn’t get themselves into much trouble in there. I figured I had at least until the next commercial break. I fantasized they turned on the lights and were paging through board books, or, even better, had decided to get back into their beds and fall asleep.
But then the thumping got louder. And, unfortunately, broader. I could tell the jailbirds had busted out and were running wild every inch of our Suburban plain upstairs.
I quickly surveyed my house in my head, noting the dangers they
could would probably absolutely encounter.
So, as all parents do, I reluctantly surrendered my time to theirs and resolved to set my alarm a little earlier tomorrow.
I jumped off, grabbed my sweatshirt, and headed upstairs to reign in my little rascals.
I opened the door to the basement and peeked out into the kitchen.
And then I witnessed some magic.
I saw my three kids walking from the family room to the kitchen, the six-year-old in front and the two-year-olds in line behind him, all with pjs, tousled hair, and blankets in tow. It reminded me of a mama duck and her ducklings.
From the mouth of my eldest babe, I heard these words:
Okay guys. What do you want for breakfast? Waffles or pancakes?
My jaw dropped. I stepped down a few steps, put my back against the wall, and closed my eyes. I smiled the biggest smile I’ve smiled in a really long time.
This was a big moment for me.
It was more than an “oh how time flies” moment or a “kids grow up so fast” moment.
In that scene, I saw glimpses of self-reliance. I saw glimpses of confidence. I saw glimpses of kindness and harmony.
I saw a little bit of what it takes—of what it will take for them to succeed in the big world.
The what it takes is what it’s all about.
It’s why we do what we do. It’s what makes it all worthwhile. It’s why we are able to let go, little by little.
That’s the gig for a parent—to pass on what it takes. And every once in a while we get to see that what we try to pass on, is, actually, passed on. There lies the magic.
Of course, our kids aren’t born with what it takes.
And what it takes doesn’t fall out of the sky into their laps.
So whenever we see a glimpse of it, we need to smile and give ourselves a little pat on the back.
Show me a man who has what it takes.
And I’ll bet that very same man once had a mom who smiled when she saw her little boy make his own waffles.
Early one day a man was walking along a beach when he saw a boy picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. The man asked the boy why he was doing this. The boy explained the starfish would die if left to the morning sun.
The man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “I made a difference to that one.”
-Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley
I have known my children every little minute of their little lives. I understand their chemistries and their hearts. I know their nooks and crannies. I know their moods, their joys, and the precise locations of all of their freckles.
I know my kids. I know what my kids need. I’m Mom. And Mom knows best.
Except, of course, when she doesn’t.
Take one of those “fill in the blank” parenting problems-the overwhelming, exasperating kind of problem. The kind of problem with a variety of possible “solutions” from experts and friends. The kind of problem that comes with a lot of opinions.
I know that problem. And I know how it feels when I can’t fill in the blank. I know furrowed brows, tears, and a lot of guilt. I know times when I put my head in my hands and say I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know what to do. I. Don’t. Know. What. To. Do.
Sometimes Mom knows best. But sometimes Mom doesn’t have a clue.
There’s an expectation for parents to get it right all of the time because there’s an assumption that we have this special kind of knowledge.
Not only do we know our kids, but we are the grown-ups. We have decades of life experience on our sides. We have an understanding of the end game. We have learned from our own mistakes.
We are the Yodas to these young Jedis. Great knowledge we have.
But the truth is, we don’t.
Despite my decades of real-life years, my parenting years are pretty limited. I’ve only been a mom as long as my kid has been a kid.
There is still a lot to learn and a lot of ways in which to grow. Not just for my kids, but for me too. There are a lot of I don’t knows still to say and a lot of bad choices still to make. Not just for my kids, but for me too.
Kids grow up. But along the way, so do parents. And no one gets through it without a few scraped knees.
Moms may know best most of the time, but certainly not all of the time. We try and we try and we try. We pour and we pour and we pour into these kids.
Sometimes we hit it out of the park. Sometimes we swing and miss.
But we have this beautiful gift called unconditional love.
It’s a love with room for screw-ups, second chances, and forgiveness. It’s a love of duration without expectation. And it’s a love that knows we can’t possibly know best all of the time.
It’s also a two-way street.
No matter how often our kids get it wrong, we love them no matter what.
No matter how often we get it wrong, our kids love us no matter what.
In the end, that’s all that really counts. And that’s a better kind of best to know.