About four years ago, I was struggling. I had two-year-old, three-year-old and 8-month-old baby at home. In the middle of the winter. In INDIANA. I was feeling a bit a bit desperate in general, particularly for any sort of validation that I was worthwhile. The tiny people around me seemed to be crying most of the time, everything I did got undone, and the house, the kids and I looked mostly like a hot mess, soooooooo, yeah. I wasn't getting any cues there. Although the feelings I had certainly weren't ones that I was proud of, I thought maybe by sharing them it could help encourage someone else.
So, one day I pounded this out on my keyboard and sent this to a friend who has a blog and he posted it for me. He called it, "Cold coffee. . .and Mister Rogers." I liked that. I am going to share it again now in case anyone else is out there and needs this message, too. I have always loved our favorite "neighbor", ever since I was a little preschooler, and it's incredible to me how many messages Mister Rogers has for me as a grown-up. I am so far from being perfect, but he always reminds us that people can love us just the way we are and to keep on growing. Sometimes I feel like I have needed his show even more than my boys, and if you read below you'll see one of the many reasons why.
January 5, 2011
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what my vocation is in life. I mean, I guess I know what it is now. . .if it isn't being a wife and mother I am not sure what it is! I guess Facebook is something that really gets you thinking. . .you see all these people you went to high school and college with and they seem so. . .successful. Wow- they are doctors, lawyers, professors, ministers, politicians, artists. . .these are the people you sat next to in class (or maybe skipped class with to go to a bar. . .not that I would ever do that!), clowned around with, went to parties with. You took the same tests, competed or performed side by side, worked on teams together, and you always felt like equals. But, all of the sudden (or maybe not so sudden. . .it has been a while, right?) you look around and realize that everyone has become their grown-up selves with all sorts of grown up accomplishments. I am pretty confident that I have friends are going to cure diseases, write bestselling books, compose great music, make amazing contributions to the world and be remembered for a long, long time. It's not that I'm jealous, it just makes me wonder what I'm doing for the good of the cause, or what potential I may have inside me. I look down at MY grown-up self. . .a cushy mom/human kleenex wearing a purple sweatshirt and leggings, hair in a ponytail, baby formula all over my collar and smudgy mascara. No awards on my wall or accolades, no advanced degrees, no need for pantyhose or manicures, no time for social activism, never mind time to finish my coffee before it gets cold. As I am sure every mother does, I have puzzled over this a lot. When you stay at home with your children, it is easy to feel like you don't get anything done. There is no satisfaction of a straight A report card, pile of freshly graded papers or a completed project to turn in. The dish mountain in the sink diminishes only to reappear again within hours, the laundry is folded and barely put away before the baskets are full again, meals are prepared and eaten and the refrigerator is bare before you even had time to recover from the last adventure at the grocery store with tiny helpers in tow. A mother's work never ends. No one has been banging down my door to give me awards, and my kids haven't given me a performance evaluation lately, let alone a raise! If it doesn't make you act like a bit of a martyr every once in a while, you are probably a saint.
So, what's a person to do? I'm a big believer in being content with what you have and making the most of every circumstance in life so I wanted to reconcile all of these thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, my good friend Mister Rogers came just in time with the answer my heart needed. My boys and I watch the Neighborhood together as a special ritual almost every day. I try not to do anything else as we watch. . .just be fully present with my children in the moment and enjoy watching them be nurtured and educated by the show I grew up loving. We were watching the Neighborhood Opera "A Star for Kitty" when my answer came from the musical puppets and friends. The Kitty wants to learn to twinkle like the stars in the sky, and tries to twinkle by thinking happy thoughts. You have to be able to suspend reality for a bit to accept a tiger puppet dressed like a star hidden in a toothpaste tube and a trumpet playing half-moon as completely natural. I won't even go into why the cat is in the sky in the first place taking a twinkling class, but she tries in vain to twinkle, until she does a selfless act only to realize she has started sparkling without trying to at all. As I watched, I thought. . .wait. . .that's me! I'm Lady Aberlin dressed like a cat! Nah, not really, but that's how I sparkle! By putting others first. I may not be shining bright, making contributions (or making much money for that matter), being successful, winning awards or changing the world.
But my boys. . .they are my work. They are my legacy. They are my sparkle. If I put their little hearts and feelings first and nurture their spirits, they could grow to be kind loving, people who make the world a better place. Maybe they could grow into someone as great as Fred Rogers! That seems pretty important to me.
In our world of instant gratification, sometimes it is hard to remember the things that are eternal. Leave it to Mister Rogers to still remind me over 25 years after I was one of his little viewers that it is the things on the inside that count after all.
After I wrote that, I felt better. The thought that my life's work could not be to do something measurable, but just to love people, was pretty mind-blowing to four-years-ago-Jen. It's something I have worked on every day since, moving from the uncomfortable feeling in my heart to the peaceful internal knowing that my value is not to be measured by external factors. I can use all of my gifts. . . my humor, my mind, my compassion. . .right here with my little circle of people. I may never even see the fruit of my work in my lifetime, but someone will. . .someday. . .I'm sure of it. And, yes, no one ever is going to knock on my door with a major award. (But one time the TV repairman said I was a good mom, so that's, like, pretty close!) As one of my favorite authors, Glennon Melton, says, "Most people who have a deep desire for lives of meaning and purpose and love are the kind of people who already have lives of meaning and purpose and love." It's all right here.
So, I will keep washing the dishes and doing the laundry and waiting at the bus stop and kissing the boo-boo's and singing the lullabies and listening to highly detailed accounts of imaginary things. I'll do the hundredth tuck-in and pick up the thousandth toy and wipe the millionth tear.
I can say I do it more gently now, and more purposefully than I did four years ago, because now I know that THAT is the work.
Not the thing that needs to be done before I can go off and do some more important world-changing work, but that is the work I am supposed to be doing. Hugs and lullabies and stories and diapers and cleaning the pee ring around the toilet is "the work." Everyone's vocation is different, but I am sure that this is mine, all wrapped up in these four little boys. It's nothing to be ashamed of or to brag about or anything in-between, because we are all called to do different things. . .and we need those friends of mine who are doctors and lawyers and surgeons and nurses and teachers and athletes and clerks and tellers and musicians and activists and all of those other important people doing their thing to make people's lives better.
But this little calling is just mine, and it fits me now.
Just like your calling is yours.
It's kind of a radical thought, to imagine that you are just who you are supposed to be, and you are just WHERE you are supposed to be, when it seems that the world is always telling you to be more and do more be better and do it, like, NOW. Nope. Not accepting that any more. "You're just the way you're supposed to be," says Mister Rogers, "you're growing just right."
From Life's Journeys According to Mister Rogers
Thank you, television neighbor. That's just what I needed. :)