About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

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Sunday
Jun152014

I felt God in the hardware store

The narrative began with a simple premise:

pick up the boys early from school and treat all four kids to free popcorn at the local hardware store. Return something, buy something, make a family memory, go home happy.

(I should know by now that almost anytime "make a family memory" is included in the narrative, it is not going to go as planned, and "happy" is not going to end up as the defining adjective).

 

The narrative I'd imagined included all four children rapt with attention while I smiled and pointed out various hardware items: "Look guys, this is a composter.  We can use this to help the earth. Children, this is a retractable utility knife. You can look, but do not touch. Your dad thinks it's a good idea to own at least five of these in various drawers throughout our house...do not go looking for them. 

I teach them colors through paint chips; I squeeze the stuffed toy birds in the bird seed aisle and mimic the call of the chickadee while I point out how the name and the sound the bird makes are one and the same.

The children find my earthy momma hardware store wisdom endearing, and they giggle and give me spontaneous hugs of gratitude.

Their dirt-free faces glow, while they chomp away on free popcorn without making crumbs. Nobody tips over their paper popcorn cones, nobody races their kid sized shopping carts down the aisle; nobody bickers, nobody yells, nobody cries, nobody interrupts each other.


The real narrative included everything that did not happen in the narrative inside my head, and left out everything else.

Carts were raced. Popcorn was spilled. Children cried.

Shenanigans happened behind my back while I tried to expedite the return process-getting out of line to threaten and discipline, jumping back into line to keep my place while I apologized to everyone around me and then continued my desperate attempts to train and inspire and threaten from too far away to do any good.  

I didn't have a chance to introduce my little darlings to the composter.

Not one child cared about the chickadee.  

My little family unit moved through the hardware store like the cloud of dust surrounding the Tasmanian Devil.


By the time we got from the back of the store to the front to look at paint, I felt so exposed and exhausted I could barely hold it together.

Sometimes days like this happen and I get more and more fierce, determined to STRONG ARM my children into obeying: "we are GOING to have a successful time in the hardware store, DAMMIT, and I WILL come out victorious, and you WILL appreciate the stupid composter and the stuffed chickadee, and you WILL learn how to behave yourselves in public, and you WILL thank me later, and I WILL check this errand off my everlovin' errand list, so help me GOD!!"

Sometimes days like this happen and I get more and more meek, grown tiny and weak in my awareness that I just don’t have what it takes to bend the day, and my childrens’ wills, to my own. 

This day, I got meek. 

Making a happy family memory was reduced to making it out of the store without a total breakdown.


I knelt in front of my two youngest and asked them to stay next to me instead of wandering off.  As I grabbed paint chips, I could hear their tiny little carts rattling down the aisles like bells around the necks of errant sheep.

So I chased them down, and even though I knew I was asking for greater attention-getting tantrums by enforcing my threat and taking their carts away, I took their carts away.  

They obliged by screaming and crying, as I knew they would (at least they are consistent).

In the midst of all this, my cell phone rang. I grabbed for the phone like it could have been someone offering free babysitting, saw the number, and instantly panicked.  It was the father of the boy I was supposed to have picked up from school. 

I'd forgotten him.


I'd switched up my routine by picking my own boys up early to give them a little treat and be a fun mom for once (dear god, how quickly this has devolved), and completely spaced picking up their sweet little friend.

I answered the phone already mid-apology, frantic to make it right while I gathered my kids so we could rush out of the store and drive the five minutes back to school to rescue their friend. 

It was too late.

The father was on the way to pick the boy up.

He's fine; he's safe; just waiting in the front office. The father was not harsh, but not exactly generous either. Which I completely understood.

I knew their sweet friend was especially sensitive to anything feeling unsafe, and it broke my heart to think of him waiting, wondering what had happened.  I texted his mother and then called, leaving her a message, imploring forgiveness, hoping she could still trust me.


By the time I hung up the phone, I was trembling all over. 

Whatever vestiges of willpower I had left to try and complete my errand were swept away by waves of shame.

Even the children seemed to sense the shift in my resolve.  

They stood quietly around me, waiting.

I bent down to tie a child's shoe. My seven year old asked me what was wrong.

Having to admit my mistake out loud brought me to tears. I stayed bent over the shoe to try and get it together, when I heard a voice from behind the paint counter, where apparently a male employee had been watching this entire scenario play out.

"You are being a really good mom," he started to say.

I shot to my feet, and whirled on him, cutting him off before he could finish. 

"DON'T say that, or you're going to make me cry," I said through clenched teeth, the bitter taste of failure in my mouth.

And then, of course, I started bawling, right in front of him.


I dropped my paint chips on the counter, hustled my children together, and told them we were leaving.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his face- so compassionate, so gentle.
Everything I couldn't seem to be with myself.  

How did I end up here, with all my aspirations for being fun mom and giving my children a happy memory?

This is what I get? 

Humiliated in front of a stranger.  Unable to control my emotions in the paint section of a hardware store.

My mothering aspirations reduced once again to checking something off a list and endless disciplining.

I had children because I wanted to love them and enjoy them, not just get them and myself through the day without falling apart.

 

It was a walk of shame, heading down the long white aisle to the exit, past all the employees who had witnessed me in the very intimate act of unsuccessful parenting for the last thirty minutes.

"What must this look like," I thought to myself. "If I was them, watching this whole scene play out? It's not a show I would want to watch." 

I didn't know if people were being kind not to stare, or if it was honestly not that big of a deal-maybe it happens all the time-even though I'd unfolded a new mothering low in front of an audience not of my choosing.


And there's the rub, really.

I say I long for vulnerability, and I do mean it; my truest heart desires vulnerability, at all costs.

I cherish vulnerability in those around me.

Being invited in to someone’s real life feels like being invited in to the delivery room to watch the miracle of a child being born.  

I stand in awe.


It is the greatest honor to witness someone’s becoming process, to watch them get a little more real right in front of my eyes.

But of course, for the person who is unfolding, nine times out of ten there are apologies and backpeddling: "this is so embarassing, I'm sorry for dumping on you, I'm sorry to be such a burden," and I have to reassure them over and over that it is my joy and honor, to be trusted in this way, to be let in.  

Brene Brown says, "Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you" (Daring Greatly, 114).

 

I felt it today.  Today, when the cost was high, another truth was revealed: just like most everyone else, I like to choose when and how I decide to be vulnerable.

This is not to say there isn’t wisdom to be had about who you let in to your life; indiscriminate vulnerability is not vulnerability, it’s what Brene calls floodlighting, a way to “use vulnerability to discharge your own comfort, or as a tolerance barometer in a relationship or to fast-forward a relationship” (159)

The truth is, when vulnerability is about YOU proving something, it’s not vulnerability, it’s still pleasing and performing in order to self-protect.  

 

But today, I had a human moment, a lot of them, that unfolded my well-constructed social image, that revealed my very raw humanity despite myself, and it felt terrible.

Although there was some small part of me, maybe the part of me behind the imaginary camera lens, watching it all unfold, that was aware of the almost epic quality of my narrative.  

I called a friend to tell her about my humiliation, and I remember saying, “Some part of me thought that even though I wouldn’t have chosen it for the world, I offered to each person who saw me that day, a completely honest glimpse of life. 

They saw real humanity played out on a real stage.

Not a reality TV show, not a mediated through a screen relationship, and how often does that happen?

To be let in to who someone really is, without any hiding or pretending or masks? I bet some of them are going to remember that day when the mom with four kids fell apart in the store. Maybe they’ll even remember it when they have their own terrible day in public, and it will help, in some way, help them feel not so alone.”

 

I really do believe this.

That, whether we like it or not, choose it or not, every time a window is opened into real life, truth comes flooding in- unadulterated, uncompromised, truth. The kind of truth that sets people free to be their own unedited selves, that allows for a profound moment of human connection between strangers, the bond of our shared experience of inadequacy in the face of LIFE'S relentlessness.

The relief of knowing we are all in this together, just crawling our way towards the light.


It took me two weeks to return to the store, to try and finish my fool's errand, this time alone.  I walked to the paint counter, and there was the same man, my witness.

"Oh, it's you," he said.

"I'm so sorry," I launched in, "that was a hard day."

"It's life. It's ok. You are doing a great job." He looked at me with the same gentle compassion, and I started crying all over again. 

"This is so embarrassing!  I'm so sorry. I don't know why I'm crying. I'm really fine. I'm not sad or anything. I thought I was over this.  God, I’m sorry. I think I must just be crying because I am remembering what I felt like two weeks ago, and it's like muscle memory or something..." I babbled on and on as he walked me through the paint product aisle, still smiling.

Finally, he turned to me and said," You don’t need to apologize. I could tell how much you love your kids. We all have bad days.  It's brave to be seen when we are weak."

Then he asked for my name, and the names of my kids.

We met each other. 


When I told him my daughter was named Kyrie, he asked what it meant. I began to speak of Kairos, Greek for grace, the opposite of Kronos-how it’s time out of time, where God moves, where creation and connection happens.  He asked how I spelled it, and when I explained about the Kyrie Eleison, one of the oldest prayers, how its simultaneous petition and gratitude, a plea for mercy, he knowingly nodded.

“I’m a painter,” he offered. “I have two paintings called Kairos #1 and #2, for some of the same reasons you mentioned.  Did you say you named your youngest Phoenix?"

"Yes," and I began to tell him about our fire, and how I was 39 weeks pregnant with my fourth child when the baby's nursery went up in flames.

"I have a painting called Phoenix Rising,” he said, and he began to tell me about his work.

 He mentioned he had several pieces hanging in a local coffee shop but couldn’t paint very much right now because his daughter was sick, and he’s had to increase his hours at work to afford the medical bills.


"When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them"

 -(Martin Buber, excerpted from Brown's Daring Greatly, pg.150)

 

I visited that coffee shop later in the week, and saw art that would have meant nothing to me without the human story behind the work.


And isn’t that what we all are? Art? With a human story behind the work?

And how often do we pass masterpieces in the aisles of the hardware stores without even taking a second glance. Because we don’t know the stories, we don’t see the people.


I will always remember the kind artist in the hardware store who witnessed my unfolding and called it a masterpiece, and offered his own honest story in return.

I felt God that day in the hardware store.

If that’s the payoff from the cost of vulnerability, then I will pay it, every time.

Reader Comments (3)

Trinity, this is good writing, good content and just all around good and I found it inspiring and I WILL listen to the Brene Brown thing on vulnerability. this has got to be the 58 hundredth time someone has told me about this. I think it is time~
Love you Trinity. You are a good mom.

Again...me a little less harsh. Things like this happen when we are overwhelmed. Do you have a support system nearby? You have a lot on your plate it sounds like. Stop volunteering for others and focus on YOU. YOU COUNT. Please tell me you know that....you are not just a wife or mother...you are still you. Don't get lost.....or you will cry like a child in the store.

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJennie

The word overwhelmed is not meant to be critical or mean. I am overwhelmed. I have severe clinical depression. I work a lot and have a cute apartment. I lost a ton of weight suddenly because of my depression. Next thing I knew....men were talking to me...whoa, I am 37! I got some pretty new clothes & socialized more. I ended up at a 5 star hotel with a handsome businessman in town. He looked like LUKE WILSON, and he was talking to me???? I spent a lovely evening with him. The condom broke. I said "don't worry I am 37"...he laughed and said 'I am 47'. I got his number and email......and a late period. I was horrified. I emailed him and chatted about getting together again in his city...the unsurprising reply was that he was a lifetime bachelor, but he was more than happy to entertain me at his leisure. I had an abortion. I swallowed my stupidity, tears, and shame, as I told no girlfriends...no mom, no one. I returned to work after 2 sick days, bleeding and cramping on vicodin on Monday & Tuesday after having the procedure done on Friday. I was anything but flippant. Being aware of my history and the nature of the situation, I KNOW I did the right thing. I now take depo shots as birth control.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJennie

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