As I pulled on my boots this morning to get ready for some long overdue grocery shopping it reminded me how some days, many days in fact, I have to pull myself up by my bootstraps, putting on one boot at a time. And today was definitely one of those days where I had to remind myself — one step at a time.
It’s over halfway into the new year and this new season of my life as an empty-nester. While the letting go has many times felt like a crushing weight, I’m finding that as the days of the new year are already swiftly moving one into the next so to the ache in this mama’s heart lessens with each passing day. And while I still strain to hear the sound of a car door out front or glance expectantly at my phone throughout the day for a text, the pang of disappointment in the silence is not so heavy these days.
Funny how when my boys were infants and needing constant feeding, diaper changes, soothing and all other form of no-time-for-me attention, it could at times feel like a life sentence with no end in sight. But I very clearly see how those times were a life-giving force bringing beauty and meaning to my days — days which quietly slipped away into the past.
Bagging my groceries today — yes, we have that kind of grocery store — I oh-so-subtly watched a young woman and her preschool-aged son across from me. Smiling at the little boy, I asked if he was helping his mama to which he quickly replied a resounding, “no”! As the woman and I laughed, I commented how much I missed my boys being that age and ‘helping’ me. With a weary smile, the young woman loaded up the last of her groceries and taking her little boy by the hand said goodbye. Walking to my car I couldn’t help but smile in remembrance of days past where little tow-headed boys would be riding on the end of the cart, under the cart, or ‘helping’ to push it! LOL
Days can quietly slip into the past while we are busy looking towards the future until suddenly we are standing in the midst of it wondering where the time went.
Some days, perhaps most days, are meant for pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and taking one step at a time — one breath at a time.
“The years were short, son. The years can be too short, and all the ways you fell short, too long.” ~The Broken Way
Those highlighted words in my book kept jumping back at me with all the truth they bear. The years are so very short and even seem to quietly slip away faster and faster the older I become. But isn’t it also true how our shortcomings seem to hold on far too long.
I admittedly fell oh-so-short all those years trying to raise my sons the best I could or at least how I felt was best those long-ago days. I got a lot wrong and made a lot of mistakes, some of which continue to haunt me to this day. But it was never for not trying.
A couple years ago my oldest son angrily reminded me of how much I’d failed him, how much his childhood was ruined because of me. Yet even through the pain of his words ripping apart my mama-heart — words sown from his own pain — I tearfully agreed with him about my mess-ups and falling short as a mother. “But,” I countered with these heart-wrenching words tumbling out from deep within my soul, “I may have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but the one thing I got right was loving you and your brother with my whole heart.”
The one thing I never got wrong in all those fouled up years of his was loving my son, both of my sons, with a love that can only come from the very depths of a mother’s heart. And I tried my best, wanted the best for my boys, even if they didn’t see it as good enough in the end.
My love for my boys never fell short, even if I as a mother did.
Ann Voskamp writes even more truth-felt words as she contemplates her short-comings as a mother:
“I never expected to get so much wrong. I never expected love like this. I never expected so much joy. Be patient with God’s patient work in you.” ~The Broken Way
Yes, I never expected such joy that comes from being a mother. Such love. And also getting so much wrong, at least in my eyes. How grateful I am for the Grace of God which covers all my mess-ups, short-comings and failed attempts as a mother.
I’ve always wondered how my boys didn’t seem to understand what had really happened with their father and I, how they could blame me as I struggled to find my footing after their father left us. How did I turn into this ‘bad guy’ who had been out to destroy their lives while they showed favor on a man who treated them abusively throughout their childhood? How is it I was held accountable for the things their father had done? Why they could so easily heap the blame and persecution upon my shoulders while I was already stumbling under the weight of two decades of blame for another person’s actions was beyond me.
But the truth is, I never spoke of those years with my boys because I did not believe they needed me to heap more on their shoulders, things which were not for them to bear. My boys will never really know what I walked through all those years, because no matter how similar one’s path is to another, no matter whether people are victimized by the same person or living within the same walls — no one can truly know the extent of how another is affected.
We may walk similar paths and have lived under the same roof but my boys have no idea what I endured in those twenty years with their father. They were not privy to late night hurts and tears, the lack of empathy towards me, the behind the closed-doors hatefulness, whispered threats, lack of love and compassion. Yes, they each lived with their own hurts from their father, but the truth is children want and need to feel the love of each parent and are more likely to push aside the bad in order to try and keep a hold on what good there is. And who am I to try and take that away from them.
I cannot expect my children to understand the depth of pain I felt all those years. The lack of love, the lack of respect, the lack of a real marriage. Yes, they had their own struggles with their father and yes, they were victims of his abuse too, but perhaps they do not see my struggles as the same as theirs because I chose their father and I continued choosing to stay.
Perhaps their lack of respect for me evolved over the years of watching their father treat me disrespectfully or perhaps it developed because they watched me succumb all those years to that type of treatment not respecting myself enough to stand against the evil in our home.
Letting go of my sons as they’ve walked out my door into their own lives has not been easy as it never is for any mother left in an empty nest. But much of my heart-ache has stemmed from wanting to make up for all that was lost to my boys. I would give anything for them to have not lived through abuse and the fractured family it produced. Some days I yearn for just one day to go back and make things right for them, but then by doing so would change the course of the future — the place where we are currently standing.
I yearn for my boys to know how very much I loved them and tried my best when they were still those little tow-headed boys. I want them to know that my staying in the walls of abuse were not necessarily because I lacked the courage and strength to leave, but because of my love for them and thinking, however erroneously, a fractured family held together with tears and heart-ache was somehow better for them than leaving. And while I know better now, I truly tried my hardest back then to do the right thing.
“And there he is at the end of boy and becomes man while we both were just turning around. And that is all this has ever been, a passionate process of turning all that’s been into velveteen.” -The Broken Way
In the book The Velveteen Rabbit, the rabbit wonders what it takes to become real and if it hurts. Yes, being real hurts but until we choose to be real we can never experience love to it’s fullest.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day…
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse…”When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once…” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time…but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
-The Velveteen Rabbit
One day I turned around and there were no more tow-headed little boys fighting to ride on the end of the grocery cart or reaching their little hand into mine. Bit by bit, the years slipped by until two young men stood in the place of those little boys and it was then my velveteen became Real. And I can never be unreal again for who I am is who I am. Being a mother changed me forever and the love between a mother and her children lasts for always. There is nothing which can break that bond — no amount of miles, hurtful words, or silence.
Perhaps we develop into our real selves by being fully unconditionally loved or maybe it’s when we fully love with abandon that our velveteen becomes flesh and blood — we become Real.
Some evenings the deafening-quiet of the house is broken by the sound of the clock tick-tocking away the minutes which turn into hours overflowing into days, months and years. Bit by bit over the years, my worn, shabby velveteen has been made into something real because of being loved beyond measure and in all my realness I’ve wanted nothing more than to love my children with my whole heart. And I have.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” -I Corinthians 13:13
And when tomorrow comes I will again pull myself up by my bootstraps and remember who I am — I am Real because I’ve loved and been loved.