I am unfortunate enough to live in a place that was built in the 1980’s and has had little to no renovations done to it. For me, that means one entire wall of the dining room is mirrored. It also means the doors of the very wide closet in the master bedroom are also mirrored. Of course there are obligatory mirrors in all three bathrooms; the master bathroom has two. Needless to say, it seems there is nowhere in our home that I can escape reality. Reality hits twice as hard, though, in the summer. It’s so easy–and wonderful–to hide the weight gained from medications and illness underneath big, cozy sweatshirts. Sometimes, I forget just how much weight I’ve gained, as well as how old I now look. Sometimes my mind still feels like I am in my twenties. My body is quick to remind me, though, that I definitely am much older than that.
As we were driving home one morning this past week, we passed a plethora of young people on the trail that runs by our home. Some were on bicycles. Others were running, either alone or with a partner. Some of the partners were of the four legged species. If I allowed myself to go in an unintended direction with this post, I would now transition into how much I hate myself as I watch young women, clad in short shorts and a sports bra, turn the heads of every male driver passing them.
But that is not the direction I am intending right now.
Instead, my thoughts this morning are about how difficult it sometimes is to accept reality–the reality of the fact that I am old. Mirrors don’t lie. The gray hair and sagging skin and the wrinkles remind me every day that I am not the young person my mind sometimes think I am. It is this “oldness” that I find myself often dwelling as of late.
As I pass by people outside, the ones that catch my eye are those with children. Some of these are babies in strollers while others are preschoolers on little bikes. I often wonder about these young families. Do they do family activities regularly? What kind of home do they live in? What does the father do for a living? What does mom do? As I ponder those types of questions, I recall the years that our kids were little. If you know me, or if you’ve read much of what I have written, you know that I was a young bride and a young mom–at least by today’s standards. Our fourth child was born when our oldest was five years old. My husband worked hard so I could stay home, something I always dreamed of doing. It wasn’t always easy; in fact, sometimes it was downright miserable. Looking back, though, I wouldn’t have changed that decision. There are, though, many other things I would love to go back and change. Of course, I would have to know what I know now in order to really make effective changes, and everyone knows that just cannot happen. The saying “Hindsight is twenty-twenty” haunts me as I think about the mom I was in those busy, stressful years. The poor decisions I made, the outright mistakes, the loss of patience, the quickness to scold, the hesitation to be a parent because I so wanted my kids to like me…all these and more swirl through every part of my brain much more often than I want to grant them access. Why is it that at night, my mind recalls all the ways I messed up as a mom? As I remember specific cases, I wonder do my kids remember them too? Did I not do a good enough job “Instructing them in the way they should go” as the Bible says? I want so badly to sit down with all of my now adult kids and tell them how to avoid all the mistakes I made as a marriage partner and a mom.
I don’t think they’d listen, though, no more than I would have if my mom sat me down and told me exactly how to avoid the mistakes I felt she made with me. I’m beginning to believe that mistakes are a very personal thing. I can’t steer my kids in a direction that I am 99% sure is the right one when I see them on a different course. They, like me, need to make their own mistakes. They need to learn from them. And, most sadly for me, they will need to look back when they reach the old age that I am and regret that they didn’t seek and heed the wisdom that comes from a parent who has been there, done that. I know because most of the time, I shrugged off advice given to me by my dad. He is now gone from this earth. I cannot pick up the phone and call him to beg for his wisdom in a situation. Oh, how I wish I could. How I wish I had listened to my mom and dad in those early years of parenting. They had already walked that path. They even had experience navigating the muddy waters of being a parent to adult kids. That, especially, makes me long to sit and talk with my dad once again.
I know I was far from the perfect parent. Right now, I feel like I was far from even a good parent. Perhaps I fall somewhere between the two–an adequate parent. I didn’t always do the best I could. I was selfish more than I should have been. I was angry more than I should have been. I was plagued with depression most of their childhoods. I didn’t respect my husband, their dad, like I should have. I didn’t seek wise counsel on how to deal with a special needs child or a difficult child or a colicky child or a gifted child. One thing I did, though, was always love them, perhaps to a fault.
Recently I was suffering greatly from a heartache over a situation. As I stood in the receiving area of work, I fought back tears as I shared just a little of what was hurting me. I said that I was growing quite weary of being hurt. My manager said to me, “You get hurt because you love. There are parents out there who do not–they don’t care what happens once their children become adults.” I knew she was right, but I can’t turn off the caring switch. I can’t turn off the overly-sensitive-so-seeing-a-dead-animal-in-the-street-makes-me-cry switch. To do so, I would have to harden my heart to everything around me, and as much as never being hurt again sounds like an ideal way to live, I don’t think it is how I am wired. That means I will continue to reflect on years past and feel like a failure. It means I will continue to hurt as a wife and as a mom. I tell myself that, thankfully, my life is more than half over, that someday all the hurt will stop. And on that day, God will wipe away every tear.
That is sometimes the only hope I have to cling to.