Once upon a time I had a life before kids. In that life, I imagined what my life with kids would be like. It would be something like this:
We have a small cottage in a big field, filled with wildflowers and friendly bunnies. My daughter and I run through the field, laughing and dancing. We have twirling skirts. I have a steady stream of Vivaldi and Chopin streaming through the house as we bake cookies and smile until our cheeks hurt. The house is always spotless, with minimal effort.
Everything is, of course, eco-friendly, and her toys are vintage wooden things. Life is peaceful, serene. We only eat organic, and although she might fuss a little about eating her vegetables, my husband and I will just smile as we eat together and reminisce about our day. My hair is long, I have a natural motherly glow, and I have a never-ending closet full of hand-sewn clothes.
Fast-forward four years and two kids later. One of them is a boy. Enough said, right? Apparently I thought that once I had kids I would be transported to Prince Edward Island, Anne-of-Green-Gables-style. (I'm thinking I read that series way too often.)
Wildflowers and bunnies? Try thick leaves and ticks.
Vivaldi and Chopin? Well, sometimes, but more often it's Muse and Irish punk. Why? I don't know.
We do bake cookies, and we do smile until our cheeks hurt. But a spotless house? HAHAhahaha. As I mentioned, I have a boy.
There are elements of my silly fantasy world in my real life, but mostly it's messy, loud, chaotic. And it's possible that I have hidden in the attic when the kids wouldn't stop whining and fighting, plugging my ears with my fingers and singing la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
What Makes Us 'Us'?
I've called my mom several times to apologize profusely for all my whining and all the times I didn't clean my room. (And various other things.) I understand her so much more now. Sure, maybe she over-reacted to a few things, but it's only because I stretched her nerves to the limit and because maybe, just maybe, making dinner for the family and cleaning it up afterward in a never-ending cycle is not as simple or pleasant as she made it seem.
The truth is, we do the absolute best we can. We all have different methods, and none of them are perfect.
As mothers, none of our stories really start with us. We're formed by our mothers, who are formed by their mothers. On my mom's side, my grandmother's grandmother was a Cherokee Indian, living in Tennessee. My grandfather's grandmother was also a Cherokee, interestingly enough. I don't know much about them, although I wish I did. They both married white men and settled in the mountains of Tennessee. All my grandparents, like most Americans, were poor as children.
My grandmother had six brothers and sisters. She had a difficult life, with a lot of abuse and a constant lack of money. She got married young, and had a lot of ambition and passion. She was an artist, a painter. Everyone in my family has at least three of her paintings somewhere in our homes. Her soul was wild and free, but she was also heavily influenced by her culture.
She grew up mid-century, a time that was not very accepting of strong, independent women. She had black Cherokee hair but bleached it white-blonde. She and my grandfather lived in Chattanooga, where he was a police detective and she was a hairdresser. She was the type of person who did everything big.
Her motto in life was, “There is always a way to get what you want.” Sometimes, what she wanted wasn't always a good thing, but she did always get it.
My mother inherited that drive and ambition. She, unlike my grandmother, embraced her Cherokee heritage and always wore her black hair in two long braids. Her schoolmates called her Pocahontas. Her upbringing was also difficult, for different reasons. To make a long story short, she met my dad, who is from Athens, Tenn., they got engaged after two weeks of dating and were married six months later.
Eventually they had me, and moved halfway across the world to work in refugee camps and an international church in western Europe. That's where I lived until I was 12.
My mom and I were always close. She was technically a stay-at-home mom, but she was always working on something. She is a singer, and just as artistic as my grandmother. She led Bible studies, organized concerts, and all kinds of other things. We performed together as a family, even back then, with me playing piano, my mom singing, my dad playing guitar. As my brother got older, he would sing with us too.
I'm very, very, very sorry!
The other day I called my mom. It's funny, as you have your own kids, you suddenly feel very guilty for what you put your own mom through. I apologized for never cleaning my room and for being so whiny as a kid, among many other things.
I was also asking her advice on some things. For the past year and a half, I've been working a lot from home and working on my master's degree. In my mind, she was always there for us and I didn't remember her ever working. I was feeling guilty for working so much, even though I am able to stay home. She said, “Crystal, are you crazy? Don't you remember? I worked your entire life! I wasn't always paid, but I always worked.”
When I was in middle school, apparently my mom was also in school full-time and working full-time. She said that the reason I didn't remember that was because of how organized she was. I then began to remember the huge charts she made for herself. She scheduled out every minute of the day, from the time she would write a paper, to when she would start dinner and what we would eat for the week. She also managed to keep the house spotless, always.
Now, in case you were wondering, she runs her own business renovating foreclosures. She has more power tools than any man I know and succeeds at everything she attempts.
My mother knew what she wanted. She had a goal, and knew that she could reach it. She wanted to change the world, to be a great mom to her kids, and to add to the income of our home. I want to be as successful as my mother was and is, and defining my priorities is the way to do that.
I have been reading a book by Chalene Johnson called PUSH. In her first chapter, she guides her readers into discovering what their top three priorities in life are. They sometimes are not what you expect. If you know your top three priorities, then it is easy to confidently go in the direction of your dreams, as Thoreau says.
To begin with, write down your top ten priorities. Things like, health, being present in your children's lives, keeping the romance alive with your husband. Once you have done that, circle top five priorities out of those ten. Finally, list them in order, with the most important priority first. My three in January were to be a good mother, get healthy, and add income to my family.
As mothers, we tend to have a hard time saying no to projects. When something comes up, run it past your top three priorities. If it doesn't line up, don't feel guilty about ignoring it.
There's always a way to get what you want. You just gotta know what you want!