Soul Mates?

My husband and I will celebrate 13 years of marriage in a few days. It’s strange that there are ways in which it feels a lot longer than that…like can I even remember what life was like without this man by my side? Then there are different ways where these 13 years feel like the blink of an eye…and I’m still 17 and just excited to be cruising gravel roads with this good-looking guy riding shotgun in my Camaro. Gosh, even that thought, that picture of us fresh-faced in my mind’s eye, makes me blush and smile. Those really were the days…

I was talking with a friend, and we were chatting about if relationships, life partners if you will, are predetermined. Do you have a soul mate or could you have ended up with someone else and still be happy in marriage? Are you happy with your partner because it was predetermined that you belong with them…or could you have made a happy life with anyone?

For my readers, I’m sure it’s not hard to guess which side I fell on. I believe we are made with a soul mate in mind for us, someone you belong with. My friend, who is also in a happy marriage, thinks that we can make a happy life with other people, as long as you and your partner would be devoted to doing just that.

Who knows which one of us may be right, but what I have found over the course of my relationship is that a happy marriage comes from the choice. Even with the right person, the wrong choices can lead you to some very difficult places. So happiness in relationship comes from the recognition that you have the choice to stay or to go…to love or leave…to encourage or to break down your partner. A happy marriage comes from choosing to show up and bring your best to your relationship every single day.

There are points in every marriage where circumstances and problems cause spouses to review their marriage. Challenges come without fail. There are tough times. We can find ourselves wondering what life would be like on our own. We may try to figure out if we could do it on our own. Could we survive…financially, emotionally? If we make that determination in the midst of a tough season in our marriage it may bring us comfort that we could do it on our own, but I think that that very thought is the crux of every downfallen relationship. Thoughts become things, so we have to guard our thoughts bravely and fiercely when it comes to our relationships.

For me as an individual and in my marriage, I know that I’m a strong person. I know I am capable of hard work and that I’m even tougher than I realize. But I also see that my life would look so drastically different on my own and without my marriage, that I never want to “make it” on my own. I never want to wake up and face this life without my husband.

Everyday is not perfect. Every moment is not easy. But every day I choose my husband all over again, and he chooses me. Part of what makes that choice easier, better and more fulfilling, even on the hard days, is that I have come to learn, believe, and know that he, just like I, wants what is best for both of us and for our family. This knowledge…the knowledge that we want what is best for one another and for our family…it allows me to always see the best in him. Paired with my ability to choose to show up in my marriage, I am left with hope, happiness and fulfillment.

These thoughts allow me to stop and recognize the beautiful quiet moments. The moments when he helps our daughter to shower and brush her hair. The moments when he picks up our son and takes him to a car show on a whim or when he dresses our little baby daughter in her pjs and gets her ready for bed. It’s in the moments when he washes the dishes, takes out the trash, picks me flowers, makes our bed, stops me in the kitchen and just gives me a hug that I see the best in my husband. I see my life’s happiness and it fills my heart to the brim…so much so, that the thought of living without all of those little, but big, things…even the thought of living without that…is too much to bear.

I don’t know if I’m right or wrong about this soul mate thing. What I do know is that my heart feels so woven into who this man is, who we are together, and what we have that I never want to face this world without him. I know that if he was not by my side, I would feel as though I lost a part of myself, my heart no longer whole. As we celebrate 13 years, as we work to raise these three beautiful children together, as we continue to grow as individuals and as a couple, I will choose my husband in every single moment, to see the very best in him, and to be thankful that, predetermined or not, he is mine.

The End

Grief is action

It’s doing whatever it takes.

Being there.

It’s the crossing of every boundary.

Grief is wanting more time, but wishing for the end.

It’s letting another’s peace come before your own.

It’s the forgetting of self, the end of everything small and petty, the epitome of love and understanding.

Grief is waiting.

It’s saying goodbye.

It’s feeling like it will never end, but yet like it’s all moving too fast.

Grief is the quiet moments.

It’s the promises made.

It’s facing the end and learning to live without a part of your heart.

Grief is a wash of gray, a numbness.

It’s feeling fine and devastated.

It’s feeling thankful and angry.

It’s the silent prayers, the one-way conversations.

Grief is the tears, the robber of sleep, the stealer of joy.

It is the slow, burning longing inside to go back, even if for just a moment.

It’s knowing things will never be the same.

It’s not knowing what to do, what to say, how to act.

Grief is feeling lost, alone in a sea of people.

It’s the painful feeling that comes with the memories, the images of a face you can no longer touch, the feeling of the hand you can no longer hold.

It’s the heartache, a heavy weight.

Grief is a time. It’s a place. It’s an ocean with no horizon.

Grief is unnerving, unapologetic, a quiet lamb and a ferocious beast.

It is the end of life.

It is an unfinished story.

Grief is watching the world pass you by for a while.

It’s having no idea of how to move forward, but knowing you will.

Grief is a moment at a time.

When There Are No Words

How does one write about the end of a life well lived?

How do I write about a person who burned more brightly than words can describe, who loved deeply and honestly, who had a zest for life that translated to anyone that was lucky enough to share a moment with her?

How do I put into words a woman who was strong and brave? For those of us who watched her journey with cancer over the past three years, we came to understand the true depth of Roberta’s strength and determination as she fought for more time with the family she loved so much.

I can tell you she was always the life of the party, with all of the dance moves. She was a woman who could make you laugh when you wanted to cry and who would be there for you all the way, a woman who loved her friends and family fiercely, deeply and honestly. Roberta was soft, gentle and kind. She wouldn’t take less than she deserved, and wouldn’t allow those around her to do so either.

How do I write about Roberta…how do I capture my friend in a way that honors such an incredible life? How do I tell you about the way Roberta loved? I can share about the way she gave the best hugs. That kind of hug is the one that my heart yearns for today. I can tell you that she had a way of pulling you in so snuggly, wrapping you in her love, leaving you with a kiss every single time, and the simple, comforting knowledge that someone in the world loves you for just the person that you are.

How do I tell you about the laughter, so much laughter and light? Roberta lit up the room with her beautiful smile and a presence that made life so much more fun. What are the words that will tell of the moments of love, kindness, humor, and understanding that are countless? Where are the words that tell of the kind of life Roberta lived, and the kind of person she was?

I can start by recounting the many blessed and loving relationships. For my mother-in-law, Roberta, there were many.

Perhaps the relationship I admire most in Roberta’s life is the 40-year marriage full of love, respect, kindness and care with her husband, Tim. I saw in my in-law’s marriage a patience for one another, the knowledge that neither individual was perfect, but together they created a perfect balance. Him reserved where she was open, her soft in the places he was tougher and vice versa. They shared a certain playfulness with one another, facing this life with a humor that made the good times even greater, and that made the difficult times a little easier to bear. Their lifetime together that began with a little tennis match would grow to include a shared passion for supporting their children and then grandchildren, and giving them a foundation of love, hard work, joy and acceptance. Over the last few years and then even more so in the past few weeks, I had the privilege of witnessing the strength of Tim and Roberta’s bond. I heard Tim say he knew Roberta was the one from that first date. I saw how blessed they were to share this life, and that they were the best thing to ever happen to each other. Their love, their deep commitment to one another, is something that continues on beyond this world, beyond this life.

Then there was the relationship with her children, the patient, tender way she loved her daughter and son, always understanding and appreciating them for the people that they are. She just “got” them in the way only a mother does. What I learned from Roberta, what I saw that made her so incredibly special as a mother, was the way she truly wanted her children to be happy in this life. Not in the easy way of happiness, not in the material things, but in the difficult way. She wanted happiness for them in the way that only comes from following your heart, sometimes away from the things others may expect from them, but towards the people God designed them to be. Roberta only asked of her children to be authentically themselves, knowing that is the only path that would lead them to a happy and fulfilled life. She accepted them, she loved them, and she celebrated them as God made them, and I only hope I can be the same kind of mom for my own children, Roberta’s grandchildren.

Roberta’s relationship with her grandkids was also a special one to watch. She came so far from the day over eleven years ago when she thought maybe she was “too young to be a grandma.” Well, she was right. Roberta was never a “grandma”. She was our one and only Mamaw Birdie and she cherished every moment with her grandchildren. She was there for all the moments, for births, birthday parties, preschool graduations, ball games and school programs, for holiday traditions, and for big celebrations. Most importantly, Mamaw Birdie was there for the small everyday moments. She was there to give love, attention and just to hold her grand babies. This is one of my last memories of Roberta. In her last days, when her legs were too weak to carry her, when her speech had failed her, when her energy was so limited, she held out her hands to hold her tiny grand baby, and she held her granddaughter tightly to her chest. I will take that moment with me forever.

There was the bond with her siblings, the laughs, the stories, a special connection that develops only after sharing a lifetime together. Every family gathering is filled with stories of childhood memories, of teenage shenanigans, of the joint learning of raising young families together. A few new stories have been laid on me this week, like the way Roberta would make her younger siblings lick the bottom of her foot as a punishment when they were little (and I can only imagine what her baby brother did to deserve that!). When life got tough for Roberta or when she had a joy to share, her brothers and sister were the first she’d want to share with. I loved watching them together, giving one another a hard time about…well about everything, and loving one another hard. My mind takes me to a place where I can only imagine what Curt and Betty witnessed as parents with this crew of rambunctious, fun and loving children. Roberta, being the oldest, was often a source of strength for her siblings. She understood what each of them needed and was there for them without hesitation. Roberta knew how to stand next to someone, to kindly hold their hand or to nudge them in the right direction when needed (gently or more directly in the “Bert” sort of way). She gave guidance throughout life’s many ups and downs. Roberta understood exactly how to be a friend.

There is nothing I could write that would capture the character of Roberta Lee Hafele. The are no words that can explain what she meant to her family and friends, to those of us that were lucky enough to love her in this life. I began this by asking how one writes about the end of a life well- lived. The answer is that I don’t. I don’t write about the end, because for a life like Roberta’s, there is no end. Roberta lives on in our hearts. She shares a part of our souls. She continues on in the stories and memories that we share. We have no doubt that Roberta is saving a seat for each of us in heaven, her favorite music playing, the dance floor cleared, ready to meet us again when it’s time. Until that day, we hold on to the abundance of love she gave during her life here on earth, and we all carry a piece of Roberta…of “Bert”…of “Otis”…or to me, of Mamaw Birdie…we carry her with us, changed for the better because she is there tucked away within our hearts.

An Open Letter to my Children 2019

I’m on a flight somewhere over the great state of Kentucky, headed to sunny San Diego. We’ve not reached cruising altitude quite yet, and a few small bumps here and there keep reminding me of my fear of flying. Can this momma get a mimosa over here?

When I think of why I fear flying the truth is that I can’t imagine not making it back home to my husband and children. I left them this morning, all in some state of morning sleepiness. We gave hugs and kisses. We said “I love yous” and “I’ll see you soons”. I stole one final look at each one of them to get me through the next five days. I let their image, their sweet little squishy faces, sear into my brain, and I didn’t allow myself to think about the treasure I was leaving behind, certain that the tears would come, and I wouldn’t make it out the door.

So while I’m in the air praying not to die, missing my kiddos, I figure this is the perfect time to think back over the past year and write them the annual “Open Letter to my Children” letters. The kiddos have actually been asking me to write this blog and asking me to read the prior years’ letters to them. My heart swells knowing this has become a tradition for us and that they truly appreciate seeing themselves through my eyes. So here we go year 2019 of motherhood. It’s been a great one.

Jace –

You are ten years old. You just finished the fourth grade, which is totally bizarre for me, because I can remember when I was in the fourth grade. And yet, somehow, I now have a fifth grader on my hands. And while in some ways I wish I could say that ten is just a number and that you’re still my little baby boy, that is not the truth. I have watched you grow and mature this year into a young man that I am extremely proud of.

You learned the value of studying and preparation this year. When your science grades came in lower than what you had hoped for, you focused and put the work in every single day until you grades reflected your good study habits. You brought your study guide to me everyday and together we covered the material, even before your teacher asked you to. That made me so proud of you.

You wrestled for the first time this year, and Bud, you were a natural. You’ve always complained about being shorter or lighter than other boys your age, but in wrestling you found that your size, mixed with your strength and speed were an absolute advantage, and you excelled. In baseball, you overcame frustration with batting and have started getting hits from the live pitcher. You have a different coach from the past few years and I’ve been impressed that you’ve been able to speak up when needed and form a relationship with him on your own. You’ve learned things like the importance of carrying your own gear to and from the field and thanking us as your parents just for getting you to the game. Your coach this year has focused on teaching respect and responsibility, and I’ve seen you take pride in those lessons.

You’ve continued to be a leader among your friends, still always concerned with others choices about things like cussing and spending too much time online, but you’ve also learned that you can’t choose for others…they have to make their own choices. I’m so proud because I understand the importance of that life lesson.

You are still a total gear head, and I now see that this passion may direct your life path. You spent hours upon hours this year rehabbing old bikes, sanding them, painting them, replacing the grips and brakes, and making them your own. While I’m not loving that we have eight bikes stored in our garage, I cherish that you have found something that you love and that is uniquely yours.

You love your family and continue to enjoy spending time at home. You love spending time with Jema and making her laugh, and you love picking on Jera and making her whine (although occasionally I see you lovingly guide her as well). You are bright, caring, loving and the most considerate person I have the pleasure of knowing, and I’m beyond grateful to call you my son.

Jera –

You are seven years old. That sentence still doesn’t seem real. I look at your beautiful little face sometimes, I see your bright, lively eyes, the freckles across your nose, your sweet and mischievous smile, and I don’t know when you grew from my cherub-faced baby into the young lady you’re becoming. It seems that time just passed when I wasn’t looking, and I suddenly have a smart, feisty, determined preteen on my hands. And my sweet Jer-Bear, you are strong-willed. I love that about you, and rather than fighting to have things my way, I’ve learned to first understand what is important and what really doesn’t matter. You love to choose your own clothes, style your own hair, do things in the order you choose and in the way that you choose, and you’ve taught me so much about embracing your ability to know just who you are and what you want, even at seven years old. I can already see the strong women you will grow into, and that makes me so proud of you. This year you found your voice at school and volunteered to do morning announcements in the gym, to lead in the classroom, and to speak up on your own behalf. You like to play shy, but I see an ability in you to step outside of your comfort zone and do any job that needs to be done. I see you shine in front of a crowd, and I think you will continue to grow and find strength in that ability.

And goodness girl, are you smart. This year I was blown away, BLOWN AWAY, by your ability to write. The stories that you wrote as a first grader are far beyond the capabilities of any child I’ve ever known. Your teacher took notice of your talent for writing and asked your dad and me to continue to encourage your gift as you grow. I really thought my head would pop right off my shoulders, I felt so overcome with pride.

You also begrudgingly agreed to play your second year of softball. Begrudgingly not because you don’t like softball, but because you just like free play time better. And although your dad and I want you to do what makes you happy, we also want to give you a foundation of involvement that gives you options as you grow. So we agreed, you needed to pick one activity, any activity, but you had to be involved with something. So softball it is. Although you weren’t excited to play, you show great potential. We sit in the stands and hear the comments on your swing, your speed, your natural ability. You tickle me because you never, and I mean not once, look in our direction during the game. I’m not sure if you’re just that focused or if you just don’t need the reassurance from us, but you’re all business when your on the field. It’s been fun to watch you, and while I’m not sure if softball is something you will dive into or leave behind in the future, we are having fun watching you grow in your abilities and make new friends for now.

Your sharp sense of humor makes you so fun to be around. You enjoy time with friends and family, but also don’t mind alone time. I’ll often find you in your room with the door closed, watching television, playing, or just relaxing on your own. I appreciate those moments that you ask for together-time so much, because those moments are a little more rare with you. You are independent, and I admire that about you.

You are also a proud big sister, and are excited to to pick out Jema’s clothes every single day. You can’t stand to see her fuss, and will pick her up any time she makes a noise and deliver her to me. You love your big brother as well, and as much as he likes to pick on you, you also love to push his buttons. It’s an interesting game the two of you play, knowing you also wouldn’t know what to do without each other. My sweet daughter, you are strong, fun, imaginative, and loving. You make every single day interesting, and you add a special spark to our family that I am so thankful for.

Jema –

You are five moths old. Wow, this is hard to believe, let alone write. The last time I wrote these letters, you were tucked away safely in my womb, and I was imagining you face and personality, excited for what was to come. And now, you are here, and you are so much more, SO MUCH MORE, than I could have ever imagined or asked for. I know that I changed with the birth of each of my children, but at 34 I had thought I had most things figured out. I was wrong. You came into my life, and yet again I was transformed. You have reminded me of the importance of family, and while my family has always been important to me, you made me realize just how quickly this time in my life is passing. You came into my life, and suddenly Jace and Jera seem so much older, and I can see that the time I have with the three of you as children is limited. So thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, because I won’t take any of these moments for granted. You have taught me that being busy, worrying about the details, being concerned with others outside of our family circle…well none of that matters….not really. What matters is Phil, Melissa, Jace, Jera AND Jema. Everything else is secondary. With that in mind, I’m enjoying…cherishing…all the moments. And you make enjoying it all so easy.

You are the best baby. The BEST. I feel a little ridiculous even telling others that you’ve slept through the night since five weeks, that you made it through your brother and sister’s ball seasons crying at only one game, that you’re content and happy, that you’re so beautiful, that your smile makes me melt into an ooey-gooey mommy puddle. How did I get this lucky? You are simply amazing, a gift in my life.

You love your brother and sister. You will spy them from across the room and you are immediately hooked, watching them and waiting for their attention. You are showered with love from your siblings, cousins, and your grandparents. I watch your dad with you, and I fall in love with him again and again, seeing his love for you, watching him connect with you.

You are getting extremely interested in food, watching our spoons as they come from our plates to our mouths, reaching out and trying to redirect our meals to your mouth. You are so interested in fact, that as soon as I return from this trip, food for Jema is one of the first stops on my itinerary. You are rolling over in every direction, trying hard to crawl, eating every two hours, smiling and blessing us with your laughter and holding up your head and upper body with no problem. You are growing fast. You are my precious baby, patient and calm, gentle and loving, and the perfect final piece to our family.

I’ve made it to Denver now and will soon hop a final flight to San Diego. I’m excited for the learning and growth that await me so far away from home. But I’m most excited for the gift that awaits me when I get back. I am blessed beyond measure, and oh so grateful.

My Definition of Me

My husband and I got engaged over 19 years ago. I was so thankful to hear that he had asked my father for permission to marry me before popping the question, not because I was my father’s property of course, but because I respected that my father had been first in my life up until that point, and now this man would be stepping into the role of the man that I would love above all others. I remember my then baby-faced fiancé telling me that my father had told him only, “She’s fragile, you have to take good care of her.”

At the time, and even today, that sentence makes my heart squeeze. I had lived on my own for a few years by that point. I had paid my own bills, got myself from point A to point B with no assistance, and often been the person others went to for guidance. I was a helper, and hardly saw myself as helpless, let alone fragile. But there was something in those words that resonated with me, and yes, at that time, maybe that’s what I wanted, someone I could be fragile with, someone who would take care of me.

Over the years, marriage didn’t go quite as I expected. My parents have a very traditional relationship, with my mom staying home and taking care of most of the domestic things, and my dad going to work and filling the provider role. My parents are attached at the hip, and it doesn’t matter if it’s grocery shopping or a trip to the BMV, they do it together. My in-laws on the other hand, each worked outside of the household and we’re relatively independent of each other, enjoying their own circles of friends and hobbies. Unknowingly, my husband and I each brought these very different expectations of what a normal marriage looks like into our own relationship. These definitions of a “normal” husband/wife were the rules we measured one another by.

There are so many moments I remember thinking of my husband, “You were told I was fragile. You said you’d take care of me. What is happening here?” The moments when he allowed me to mow our grass…shouldn’t he come and take the handle of this mower from my hands and let me go sip some lemonade??? The moment he didn’t hold the door for me, or left me to accomplish a task on my own, or when he expected me to assemble our furniture or shelving. I felt puzzled by this, and not because I didn’t want to do these things, but because I hadn’t expected I would have to. It wasn’t the story I had told myself about marriage.

There’s something else here too that was happening in my heart and mind. All my life other people had defined me. I had been defined by those around me as smart, as funny, as pretty, I was nice, I was the baby in my family, I was fragile. There were negative stories too, the “I wasn’t”. I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t independent, I wasn’t brave…all of these definitions creeped in and made up the person I thought I had to be.

Our loved ones see a lot of who we are. They see us from a perspective that we don’t see ourselves, and often they are privy to strengths and weaknesses that we may not even be aware of. But even our mothers, fathers, siblings or spouses don’t see all of us. They view us through their own lenses, the lenses of their relationship with us, the lenses of their life experience and the lenses of their personality. There’s truly only one person on this planet that can define us, who we are, who we’re capable of being…and that’s ourselves. We decide who we will be.

34 years of life and 13 years of marriage have taught me a lot about…well, about me. While our spouses don’t define us, I truly believe God puts our partners in our lives for very particular reasons. They teach us so much about ourselves. My husband often believed I was stronger than I thought I was. He thought I was more capable than I had dreamed of. And although he was once told I was fragile, there are still times in our life together, that I wonder if he thinks I am unbreakable.

Through these circumstances, through his faith in me, his expectations of me, I have found some very powerful truths about myself. The woman I am today is very different than the girl that stood at the alter all those years ago. I may still be nice and funny and all of those things, but I am not fragile and I’m not interested in having anyone take care of me.

Through this life, through all of the hard, impossible, heartbreaking things, through all of the joyous, amazing, life changing moments, through all of the quiet, mundane, everyday happenings, I have found myself. My definition of me.

Strong. Stable. Sure. Powerful. Determined. Positive. Reserved. Loving. Kind. Happy.

I have also learned that my character summations of those around me don’t define them either. My husband, my children, my parents, my siblings, my friends….they’re capable of more than I could ever dream for them. I am careful of what labels I give them, knowing that I see only a small part of them. They are more than they show the world.

What if we gave every person this freedom? The freedom to define themselves. The freedom to be just who they are made to be. What if we each gave ourselves this freedom, a life for ourselves without definition from others? What could we be capable of?

I ask my readers, what label has someone, maybe even someone who loves you and means well, what label have they given you that you will shed and leave behind today? Begin today redefining yourself and become the person you are capable of being, not the person you feel you have to be.

From Entitled to Empowered

Have you ever been surprised by your own thoughts? I consider myself extremely self-aware, and all of the nerdy personality tests, that I love so very much, have said the same thing about me. But a few weeks ago, a thought leaped out of my mind with such veracity that I was totally and completely shocked.

My thought was this, “Why should I have to wash the dishes?” It could have been any thought really. Why do I have to fold the laundry? Why do I have to run the report? Why do I have to pick up grandma? It’s that routine thought that runs through our minds a million times every week as we exhaust ourselves beyond all repair, and we wonder why this responsibility or that task falls on our shoulders…and more importantly, we wonder why it doesn’t fall on our spouse’s shoulders, on our friends’ shoulders, or on co-worker Susie’s shoulders. These thoughts aren’t shocking, and I expect we all have them. At least I hope I’m not the only one.

The thought that I had directly after the “dishes” thought, the epiphany I had, was, “Why shouldn’t I have to wash the dishes?” How do I say this without offending every person who has ever thought, “Why should I have to?” I’m going to just put this out there. I realized I was making myself a victim. I had been indulging in a sort of entitlement that whispered in my ear that I deserved something more than simply taking care of my responsibilities, truth be told, my blessings. Those thoughts, those negative, whiny, victim-y thoughts did not serve me. They did not serve my marriage. They did not serve my relationships or my personal development. What those thoughts did is foster resentment inside of my soul. They made me feel like I was doing more than my fair share. They bolstered up my self-worth above those I love and depend upon in this life.

And then I had another thought. My idea was what would happen if I changed the thought, “Why should I?” to “I’m thankful I can.” What if I gave gratitude that this day allows me to wash the dishes and care for my home? What if I offered up gratitude every time I need to and am able to make my bed, help my kids with their homework, read a bedtime story, take out the trash, or let the dogs out. Something strange happened in that moment. I felt empowered. And it’s the feeling I’ve been left with ever since.

Photo by Carl Attard on Pexels.com

So many things become work because we feel like this or that isn’t our sole responsibility. That may be the truth. For those of us with a spouse, the dishes, the trash, the vacuuming, the billion things we do for our children…none of that is solely our responsibility. We are fortunate enough to have a partner to help us. But what I found in myself, as embarrassing as it is, is that I was spending too much time keeping a tally. Avoiding a chore or task because I hoped someone else (a-hem, husband?), would get to it first. Or avoiding it because I resented the fact that it is something he just doesn’t do. “Why should I have to if he doesn’t have to?” kind-of-type-of-thing.

This thinking is toxic. So I flipped the script in my own mind. I give grace to my partner, and I know he is doing the best he can to support our family and our life together. And I give thanks that, for today, I can wash the stinkin-unending-mindnumbing-stack of dishes.

Is this something you’ve experienced? Have you gone from entitled to empowered? We all have our own ways of thinking, and sometimes we get so wrapped up in the way we see the world, it can be difficult to gain perspective. For me, I’m finding again and again that gratitude is the true differentiator. If we can just be thankful for today, we start to see that even our most hated chore is also our blessing. Hello 17 loads of laundry that mean I have a happy family!

I Am Reminded

It is amazing that no matter how prepared I think I am, regardless of what I think life is going to bring me, what actually awaits me around the corner is a total and complete surprise.

I delivered my third child a little over seven weeks ago. Adding her to our sweet family was the happiest of all of my life’s surprises, but my pregnancy felt long and agonizing. I was so happy to have another child, but as much as I appreciated having a healthy pregnancy, I felt physically and emotionally drained…especially in the last three weeks (little Miss decided to come over a week late!). I was happy one moment, crying the next, and trying to continue to move forward in my career, while raising a six- and ten-year old. I was ready for this pregnancy to end so I could enjoy my maternity leave, and run immediately back to work.

I love my career, and I would readily call myself professionally driven. When I found out I was pregnant with my third child, one of my first thoughts was of how the timing of the pregnancy would affect my career. I had decided our baby-having days were over, and I was fully focused on advancing in the workplace. So when I became pregnant, I was ecstatic, but also sure that my career-focus would remain strictly in place. While on maternity leave, I had planned to read professional books, listen to my Human Resource podcasts, and go to several work-related meetings. I thought I knew how I would feel. Heck, I had done this “momming” thing twice before…right???? I should know what to expect.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time with my first two children…but I felt very ready to return to work when the time came. I missed the challenge that my career offered me, I missed the routine…probably most of all, I missed talking to real, adult people…I had some great conversations with my tiny little tots, but they didn’t add a lot of content aside from a few giggles, gurgles and bodily gas sounds. So I thought this maternity leave would be the same. I thought I remembered how I felt and what I thought. I was wrong.

I love my job, and I am so extremely grateful to be working where I am and in the position that I am in. I know that when I return to work, I will fall right back into that excitement and passion that drive me to do what I do professionally. But in this moment, this moment only a few short weeks out from dropping my baby off and leaving her every weekday for nine plus hours….for the rest of her life…I don’t feel excited. I feel sad. The overwhelming thought that I keep having is of the first time she opens her eyes from a nap, looking to see me, and I won’t be there, and the thought gives me a tremendous guilt.

And this experience…this mix of reality, joy and heartbreak, is exactly what it is like to be a mom. I’m wondering if maybe I did have these feelings with my first two children, and much like the pain of childbirth, those memories faded with time, and all I remember is the happiness of the time with my children and the satisfaction I found in my work when I returned. Could that be? How do we forget the feelings that come with this stage in life?

I am so passionate about supporting women, whether it be in the workplace, at home, or in the community. But I must admit that I had forgotten about the difficulties of pregnancy. I had forgotten about the physical exhaustion and sickness that comes with the first trimester. About the sleepless nights in the third trimester when you can’t roll over and have to take a bathroom break every thirty minutes. About the absolute inability to think of anything but your child’s arrival in those last few weeks before baby comes. And now, about the absolute joy of having a newborn…and the pain that comes from separating yourself from them to return to life….my life outside of being Mom.

I had no idea I still had nearly two weeks of pregnancy left!

Now, after this unexpected third maternity leave, I am reminded. I am reminded of the beauty and difficulty that comes with having children…actually birthing, nursing, diapering, rocking, bathing…whispering sweet songs to, stealing midnight smiles from, holding close to your chest, living in your bubble where all that exists is you and them for just a moment…I am reminded.

In a few weeks, I will return to work. I will return to my routine of working mom. I will find joy in my work as I always have. My baby won’t remember this time we’ve had together, so she won’t even know to miss me two weeks down the road. I will provide for my family financially. I will set an example for my children of what hard work and dedication can bring them. I will soak up every free moment that I have with them after work and on weekends and vacations. But I hope not to forget this feeling I am having right now…and all of the feelings I’ve had over the past year. I hope I can use these memories to lift up and support my co-workers as they go through the same moments, that I can be a better friend and mentor because of my experiences.

It is impossible to understand the feelings that a parent experiences until you’ve walked in their shoes…and even after that, it is easy to forget and minimize these moments. But these moments matter.

As for me, I hope to enjoy every sleepy grin, every midnight feeding, every unintelligible jabber while this time slips away. I will be thankful for this time that I never expected, my third maternity leave that I never hoped for, and now could not live without.