A few weeks after Henry's birth (before the primal cold parked itself over New England), we were outside enjoying some fresh air. Julia and Charlie were playing on their swing set while I nursed Henry close-by. I watched Julia climb up to the top of the slide. It took a great deal of energy and a few failed attempts, but when she finally made it she wiped her forehead and said, "Whew, that was the hardest thing I've ever done". I had been thinking those words over and over again in my mind. I had just carried our third child for nine months, given birth, and begun the task of nurturing a whole other child. I smiled at her words and thought about how that phrase would evolve for Julia throughout her life, just as it has in mine. I remember the times when those words rang true for me; learning fractions in second grade (something that still baffles me today when I'm trying to double a recipe), my first heartbreak - sitting on the steps of my house in tears listening to Tim McGraw convinced that I would never love again (dramatic, I know!), learning to drive - our beat up truck used to haul hay was my introduction to the roads - I initially refused to drive it because it was a stick shift, but it was my only ticket to freedom at 16. After months of tears and tense moments between my parents and I, I wrangled that truck and hit the open roads. In college and beyond the tasks became more difficult. As I struggled to become independent, the refining moments were more real. I rode out to Arizona after college to deal with who I was and I uttered, "this is the hardest thing I've ever done" throughout that whole summer. I made it through the heat and thought that life could not dish out anything more trying. I learned that even when we deal with the hard stuff, it's never really over. Our lives are not linear, each trial overlaps with our previous experiences and we face it again, but this time with a different approach and stronger armor. Even in the joyful moments, I have uttered those words. Though Charles and I were well prepared to say our vows after months of pre-marital counseling through my church, I moved to Massachusetts within weeks of the wedding. The joy of saying good-bye to a long distance relationship and basking in the glow of marriage was constantly challenged by the reality of leaving my home. It was by far the most difficult thing I had ever done. At every phase of my life I have stopped saying those words for a little while. We are refined, we go through the fire and then we are shaped over time. We come to a place where we accept where we are and we learn through the hard stuff. Just as there is a moment of sheer terror whenever we take a leap - will I fall? will I fail? will I lose everything?, it is met on the other side with the fact that we survived. Whether you're climbing up a slide and taking that last step to safety or pushing through the pain of childbirth, the breath of knowing that you made it through alive is what makes it exhilarating.
first solo ride on the Merry-go-round
running with abandon
first jump off the diving board without a bubble
Much has happened in my life between my fear of fractions at Kemblesville Elementary School. The hardest moments of my life have shaped me to this very moment today. I am now a mother to 3 beautiful children and I have learned so much about myself in the process. I think it's safe to say that I have learned the most in the last 4 1/2 years. Though I have experienced many things, parenting (by far) has dealt me a wealth of days that have left me uttering, "that one was the hardest ever!". Give me driving lessons or teenage break-ups any day - it pales in comparison to the day I just had involving my 4-year old who refused to wear a coat to assert her independence on the coldest day of the year (and by refuse I mean kicking and screaming like a million bees were in the coat stinging her as it touched her body). The same day that my 2-year old had to be attached to me at every moment or else he was crying on the floor. This was the day that my 3-month old went through his biggest growth spurt yet and was feeding approximately every 20 minutes. When he wasn't feeding he was screaming. And of course on that day I was out of any kind of salvageable food in the pantry, so off to the store we went. As I pulled in to the parking spot, I was reduced to tears with the realization that I couldn't make it to the front door with my unpredictable children. On that day I decided that childbirth was a piece of cake.
Parenting is the great leap into the unknown. The kind of leap where you're not sure what's going to catch you, but each time you're safe. It may be messy, and humbling, and a bit scary at times, but life is found here. Until we confront the hardest things within us, we can never tap into the parts that make us feel alive. It often requires a few layers of armor from mistakes made in days past, but it sure is exhilarating!
"The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards. It is the year of travail - when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her. The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy then the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred."