Beneath “Fine”

“Fine!  I’m fine.  Everything’s fine.”  I shrugged at my husband.  He held a curious glance at me that weeknight while I shoved another load of laundry into the dryer.  Just then, an angry shriek from the girls’ room pierced the house like the ring in a bull’s nose.  I froze mid-load, back bowed, and braced my palm against the cold dryer box.  Squeezing my eyes tight, I dropped my head and moaned. “I’m fine, except that these kids won’t stop fighting.  I’ve had it with their constant bickering!  Can you please do something about it?!”

He called the girls into the laundry room, asking them questions and talking about their fight as if he were settling in to work on a tangle in their hair: gently, teasing it out.  I found myself chewing my cheek at the whole mess.  I knew enough to let him handle this meeting that I myself asked him to call, but my skin was crawling with the desire to jump into the middle of his intervention, to declare a swift judgement of my own.  “Guilty!  Punishment!  Banishment! Dismemberment!”  Every fight and complaint of the day grated on me like a rind pressed hard into a lemon zester.  My countenance felt just as sour.

Sound familiar?

I had to get away.  So I walked out to the front porch to get some air, scooping up the baby along the way (baby being a term of endearment, as he was now a full toddler and as heavy as a labrador).  I set him in front of a bucket of squirt guns, and let him shoot the world in the last vestiges of daylight.  What was wrong with me?  I was in full-fledged “Rage-Mama” mode, a term my good friend Ori coined.  This is not how I normally am, is it?  Where is all this coming from?  I thought back: the normal routine had been going on at home, kids were doing fine in school, baby was doing fine at home.  My husband had had a few weeks of long work days, pulling him out of bed before sunrise, and dropping him back home at sunset.  His countenance had formed this perma-tired expression, but his eyes remained gentle.  What was wrong with me?

Nothing.  I was fine.  Just fine.  If the kids would just shape up, then I would be fine.

But I’ve been on this monkey train long enough to know something was up.  This line of thinking would get me in trouble.  When my emotional well-being was dependent upon my kids behaving themselves, and my chores doing themselves, and the barometric pressure of the atmosphere adjusting itself to my liking, then I had a problem.

Standing on the front porch, looking out onto the sunset glowing orange on the tops of the ragged pine-tree across the street, I sighed.  Pursing my lips sideways to myself, I decided to try asking questions.  I cleared some space in my heart, like a gardener around an emerging seed.  Why am I feeling this way?  What’s wrong with me?  What was going on?  I knew I was running on empty.  I had been parenting non-stop for weeks in a row.  My eyes felt buggy.  I sat with this and asked myself, “What else am I feeling?”  It took a moment.  Then it came.  Lonely.

I was trying out what Brene Brown suggests in her book, Rising Strong:

Give yourself permission to feel emotion, get curious about it, pay attention to it, and practice.  This work takes practice.  Awkward, uncomfortable practice.” (p. 68)

I felt all alone in the world.  I know my husband wasn’t working late to avoid me, but that didn’t make me any less alone.  I felt that all my other friends were busy with their own lives and families, unable to be with me.  I wanted to be seen, and known.  I felt empty, anxious, and irritable.  But beneath that, I felt alone, and unseen.

Then it hit me.  One of the things I found myself cringing at that day, along with the fights, were the interruptions of a kid demanding, “Mama!  Look at me!  Look what I did!  Look at this picture I made!  Listen to this song I made up!”  More than the interruption, they were asking of me the same thing that I was asking of… anyone.  Look at ME husband.  Friends.  World.  Does anyone see these lonely hours I’m logging with this posse?  I resented that my kids wanted me to give them what I haven’t received, myself.

But, in the Bible, God says that he does see me, and sees my worth, when I feel invisible.

 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31

I knew what I had to do.  Leaning over the banister of our porch, I looked over the edge at the concrete and said,  “Okay. God. You win.  You see me.  I don’t feel it.  But you win.  If you say I’m worthy of love, then I’ll take it.  But you’ve gotta help me give love too.  If you see me, then I can see my kids and husband too.  Your Holy Spirit can figure out the details.  Fill me again please Lord.”

The baby grabbed my finger and we walked back into the darkening house.  The light glowed from the girls’ room where my husband was doing bedtime.  He saw me and said, “You okay?”

“I don’t know.  But I could use a hug.”  It was the truest thing I could say.

I sank into his arms and rested my cheek hard against his shoulder.  Surrendering to vulnerability was tough. A moment later, I felt another warm set of arms across my waist.  Then another on my leg.  My nose stung and my eyes blurred.

“I’m sorry guys.  I love you.”  I whimpered into my husband’s shoulder.

Little voices of “Love you, Mama,” rang out around us.

My husband said, “You’ve had a long day.  We forgive you.  You belong here.  We want you.”  Then he pulled me back so I could see his eyes, and he said again, “You belong here.  Even when you’re not doing okay.  We still want you.”

More than fine, tonight I was seen.  I was forgiven.  And I belonged.