We are as we Become

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No book, class, or person on earth could have prepared me for motherhood. I could have spent my whole adolescences studying how to be a mother and still wouldn’t be proficient enough. It’s a role you can only truly learn and understand by being.

I am three kids, and just over seven years, into motherhood. I am nowhere near knowing all there is to being a great mother. They say your firstborn is the “guinea pig”. This is true in a lot of aspects, but each child is a guinea pig in regards to learning how to mother. Every child comes with different characteristics and traits. This makes motherhood the most evolving role I have or will ever have.

It’s hard trying to become someone while needing to be that someone at the same time. In nearly all other roles, we study then become. The role of a mother is opposite: we are as we become. Each day I am having to become a mother I have never been before, because I am mothering to children who are changing each day. This role has provided me the miraculous blessings of becoming; becoming better, becoming stronger, becoming a mother.

Before you say “you’ll miss this someday”

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I was so excited when I finally was expecting my first baby. Conceiving was a hard journey, though that’s a story for another time. With my studies as an undergrad in Marriage and Family I believed having a baby would be nothing but a joyous time.

After giving birth to a baby boy, life felt wonderful. Yes, the sleep deprivation was an awakening, but I thought I could manage. I was just so happy to finally begin the path I had been looking forward to for years.

Four weeks after his birth everything changed. He cried constantly. I felt I could never console him. I would spend, what seemed like forever, getting him to sleep, and then would finally lay him down for him to wake.

Nights were filled with feeding, holding, rocking, and intermittent sleep. Days were spent holding, feeding, and trying to fit in a shower. Yes, I was a new mom with the false belief he shouldn’t cry, but his crying seemed far from the normal I had learned about and seen with other babies. He also appeared to be spitting up more than he was keeping down.

At his two month wellness check up I knew I needed to seek help from his pediatrician. Fortunately, it was visible to the doctor how fussy he was. His weight gain was also concerning. It may seem ironic, but I actually felt relieved when the pediatrician said he was one of the fussiest babies she had seen. This recognition made my worries and frustrations validated.

Adjustments were made to help him but changes came slowly. It wasn’t until he was nearly four months old when I began to see his demeanor change. During those two months of transition there were many sleepless nights and long days.

A major lesson I learned during that time was empathy versus sympathy. Many people would say “this too shall pass and one day you’ll miss it.” Even though they meant well, this truly didn’t help. In fact, it was not something I wanted to hear. It did not help me in that moment. Those comments only added guilt to my burdens.

Of course I wanted to enjoy the new experience of motherhood and my son’s first months of life, but the struggle I was going through made it nearly impossible. What I really needed to hear was; “it is hard, it’s exhausting, but you will get through it and be stronger from it.” Because, at that time, just having someone recognize what I was going through would have been comforting. Sure, it wouldn’t have changed the circumstance, but validating my feelings would have given me encouragement and helped me find reassurance. This would have been far more helpful than trying to help me see into the future.

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Helping me to find joy in that current moment and circumstance was what I needed the most. My future fondness couldn’t help me at that time. And guess what? Even though I do miss, my now seven year old, when he was a baby, I don’t miss colic. I’m not sure I’ll ever miss having a colic baby. It’s a terrible infant phase which left me feeling robbed of the joyous first time experiences of motherhood, but it also provided me the insight to what I should say when others are going through a hard time.

Endurance isn’t about crossing a finish line

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In 2008 I started training for my first marathon. About half way through my training I developed shin splints. I was discouraged but ran through the pain, hoping it would subside. Unfortunately, the pain didn’t go away and only became worse. It got to the point I couldn’t even walk. I reluctantly decided to stop training and not pursue the race.

At the time I became frustrated and hopeless. What was to be something I worked towards and looked forward to, became no longer a possibility. I didn’t let my discouragement keep me from doing anything at all though. I began incorporating different workouts.

In 2011, after the birth and first year of my little boy’s life, I decided to re-pursue marathon training. We had then moved to Kansas and it was summer. Mid-westerners know this means hot and humid. The one perk was there were miles of paved trails.

On my long distance days I would wake at four in the morning, to try to beat the sun and heat. I ran through beautiful lush scenery. The scenery was not the only change in my training though, my muscles had become stronger as well. 

During my first training my muscles were not able to endure long distances, causing my tibia bones to start taking the shock. During my second training I learned three fundamentals about muscle strength with running. These fundamentals can also be applied to enduring hard circumstances in life.

First- Take a break. Having a break provides time for recovery. Initially I was forced to stop running but then it was by choice. During my recovery my frustrations turned into realizations and I found clarity, not only in running, but with life. 

Second- Learn from experience and conditioning. My first training was unsuccessful but it provided my muscles exposure to long distance. Each experience, even failure, can be used for good.

Third- Find new methods to become stronger. Not being able to run provided me the opportunity to try new workouts like; HIIT, Tabata, and Yoga. These exercises made it possible for me to stay conditioned and, ultimately, increased my muscle strength. Strength is found through gaining knowledge and insight.

With increased strength it provided me the ability to successfully train for my first marathon. The training was rigorous and challenging. There were still moments of pain but my muscles were capable of enduring. Crossing the finish line of my first marathon was rewarding, but the greatest reward was the strength I gained during the training.

Pick me up

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We have miles of trails right around the corner from our home. The kids jump on any opportunity to go hike them. Often our four year old starts out with lots of gusto, like she did on this day. She smiled and laughed as she ran down the path.

After about thirty minutes she started to tucker out and say her legs hurt. It just so happened to be when the trail was circling back up the hill. In an all out plea she sat down in the middle of the trail and cried, hoping Dad would pick her up.

Well he didn’t. He kept walking, hoping she would get up and keep moving. I lingered behind trying to motivate her, telling her we were half way done. I was unsuccessful at getting her to move but, shortly after, she saw red ants and got up quick.

Just ten or so minutes later she began complaining about her legs again. This time I took pity on her and encouraged my husband to pick her up. He swung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Later, when we got to more even ground, she began walking again and was able to end the hike in good spirits.

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I find myself like my four year old a lot. I’m excited to take on life and see what I can accomplish. But, all too often, I hit a hill. The hill typically isn’t anything significant. It can be something as small as a day-to-day task; you know, the ones you do over and over again. They’re the tasks when you first reached adulthood that were exciting, now they’re mundane.

Depending on my mental state, there are days when I want to call defeat. I want to sit right smack in the middle of the trail and yell, “no more!” Yes, I just admitted I would like to revert back to being a toddler. Playing all day, with the worst part being you have to take a nap; admit it, you would like to be a toddler some days too.

Lucky for me, I have extrinsic motivators (for Ella it’s ants, for me, her and her siblings), which help push me along. They give me a reason to get up and keep going. For instance, I have never been able to get up multiple times at night until my little “ants” came along. It’s crazy what they can get you to do.

Some days those cute ants aren’t enough though. I get to the point of “endure-until-it’s-over”. I no longer want to be hiking the once, exciting trail at all. I’m making it or rather, faking it, until it’s over. Unfortunately, that only gets me so far. Eventually, I hit the “can’t go any further”.

I’m sitting on the trail, the ants are biting my bum, and it’s painful, but I can’t find it in me to move. I’m too tired.

Almost every time I’ve hit this stage someone has been there to pick me up. It is my firmest testament that God lives and loves us.

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This is one of my very favorite quotes. It is the very reason why I am here today, why I have the desire to help others, and, ultimately, why I am able to experience joy.

Life is full of downhills and uphills. I have a long list of people who have helped me during those uphill times in my life. I am so grateful for that endless list of people.