My husband sent me this video the other day. He has this thing where if he is crying at work he needs me to be crying at work too. I think we are both feeling acutely the passage of time these days. Our oldest is finishing his first year of high school and our baby went on his first sleepover this past weekend without his beloved Beary (a stuffed bear; we aren’t very creative). I’ve been up late at night worrying how I’m going to find time to promote Bless This Mess as we ramp up to launch in August. How will I keep up with my regular job, patients who need me, paperwork and scheduling, without sacrificing some of the little time it feels I have left with my kids?
Then Rachel Held Evans died on Saturday. We didn’t know her but we knew her words and her wisdom. Molly got to hear her speak at a conference less than a month ago. Rachel was one of our top five people we were “really really hoping will love our book!” Her name remains on the list to receive an early copy. No one seems to want to take it off, to acknowledge that her voice is really gone from this world. I know that feeling of wanting to rewind time in the wake of trauma and loss. I can only imagine how those who knew and loved her are feeling.
I also know from both personal and professional experience what it is for a child to lose a parent too soon. I am so so sad for Rachel’s children, who won’t know her smile or embrace when they need it. Who in many ways won’t even know what they are missing. I also know something about the ways it will probably shape their becoming. How it will make them vulnerable in places and strong in others. I’ve seen it many times before in many different children. They are amazing. They are the reason I give when people ask me how I do what I do for a living, how I sit with kids in pain and suffering. I do it for a very selfish reason. It makes me less afraid to see how strong and resilient kids are.
As a parent, I am most devastated for Rachel. That she won’t get the chance to be there for her children’s Becoming. It seems so wrong and so unfair. It makes me miss my kids who are right in front of me, knowing they won’t and can’t stay exactly who they are right now. We can’t pause time anymore than we can rewind it. Buddhism teaches us that this moment has already passed. Mindfulness isn’t so much being in the “now” as it is recognizing that the now is fleeting and noticing what is happening to and around us. The best we can do as parents is notice and love our children in this moment, even (maybe especially) when it’s hard. And try to not worry too much about what might happen next. That’s the message of Bless This Mess. To be a good enough parent is to be good enough for the kid you have right now. Remember, for better and for worse, it’s fleeting.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten as a working mom is that my career will be much longer than the time I have my kids at home with me. This helps me to put off to tomorrow what can wait and to focus on what can’t. I try hard not to beat myself up too much when this means a phone call goes unreturned or a bill unpaid, or when I have to turn down writing a grant or paper, going to a conference, or being on an exciting project. One of the other best pieces of advice I’ve gotten was when I told my graduate school advisor I was pregnant with Luke, half way between my Masters and my PhD. I was so worried she would think I was making a mistake. But her response was pure joy and a reminder, “There’s never a good time.” I would add to that, “There is only this time.”
We hope that Bless This Mess will help parents live that out. There’s never a good time or a perfect child and you will never be perfect either. You don’t have to be. You just have to be good enough for today, for the child you have right now. Because you are all still Becoming and we never really know how much time we will have to become.
This doesn’t mean you have to love or savor every moment. As Glennon Doyle so aptly put it years ago, parenting happens in Kairos time. It’s not all joy all the time, not by a long shot. But as Glennon says, “It’s worth the hard.” Or as Molly and I say, “If it’s hard, you’re probably doing it right.”
Once, when Luke was about three, I had to take him for bloodwork in the lab downstairs from his pediatrician. He knew what we were there for and was alternating between full on meltdown and deftly trying to escape altogether. The only other person in the waiting room was an elderly man reading the New York Times. I thought for sure he must be so annoyed. Just when I was having to physically wrestle and restrain Luke to keep him there, wondering if we should just screw it and come back another day, the man folded down the corner of his paper, looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re a really good mom.” I may have broken down in tears along with Luke.
Now, when I think back on that day, I remember how smart and savvy Luke was. We laugh when I tell the story about the point when he seemed to calm down and looked at me very seriously and told me, “Mama, I just have to go out to the car to get something.” And then he bolted. That man in the waiting room didn’t tell me to savor the moment because it would be gone too soon. Instead, he gave me the confidence I needed to stick out the hard so that now, more than 10 years later, the funny and the good of who my child was in that moment is what I remember most.
Today, I’m going to try to live in Kairos time, and remember that none of us knows how long ours will last. And if I see a parent struggling in the now, I’m going to remind them they are a good mom or dad.