When my five-year-old awoke me at 7:00, my disoriented head spinning, I sighed and rushed to make breakfast and pack backpacks and hurry everyone along in their morning tasks. Five hours later, we left the napping toddler with a babysitter while Daniel and I darted around town at lunchtime, trying to pick out floors to replace the ones that had recently been torn up as part of the remediation for a leaky faucet gone wild.
We returned home just in time for me to retrieve the girls from the bus stop, start homework and dinner, then race with Emerie to sign up for tae kwon do, her chosen extracurricular activity. We stayed long enough to watch little girls and boys with big voices break boards, I screeched through the Starbucks drive through for a cold-brewed pick me up, then ran into the house long enough to blend the soup on the stove, shout instructions to Daniel, and squeal into the school parking lot for kindergarten back to school night. I sat in the second to last chair available, beside my only friend in the room, and proceeded to try my darnedest not to fall asleep for the next hour. I had left the coffee in the car, and I regretted it deeply.
On our way out, we talked about the difficulty of getting used to our new schedules. “I’m not used to not knowing anything about his day,” my friend said. I nodded and empathized but had to answer my phone; Daniel was calling when he should have been dropping Mirabella off at dance.
“Are you almost here? You took the van and Mirabella can’t find her ballet shoes.” Daniel doesn't have car seats in his car.
SHOOT. I bumped, crookedly, into the driveway several minutes later, welcomed by a scene: The dog escaping down the front steps, Daniel holding a pajama-clad Deacon on the porch, and Mirabella, streaking across the yard, wailing and in tears. The beloved ballet shoes had been included in her “Me” bag that she shared with her second grade class. We hadn’t seen them since. I looked at the clock: 6:30 on the nose, her class would be starting now. “Do you want to skip it?” I offered.
“NO!” she wailed louder. So to dance class we went, breathing deeply along the way.
“Why were you late, Mommy? Why did you even go to that meeting if you were so tired? Why did you take the van? Why did you let me bring my dance shoes to school? I thought my teacher packed them. Now I have to dance in no shoes.”
“Mirabella,” I tried to soothe, “I can tell this hasn’t been your favorite day. It hasn’t been mine either. I’m going to be really grateful for those new mercies tomorrow, how about you?”
“Yes, but still, I hate this day. I hate that the house is torn up, Mommy. Everything feels. . .different!” she shouted.
I looked back at her red little face, all screwed up in frustration. I imagined her walking into her dance class late, still the new girl that no one knows, the one who is still playing catch up, and now she’s in stocking feet. I sighed.
“Everything is different, honey. We didn’t plan on any of this and, honestly, I kind of hate it too. It’s going to get weirder before it gets better. We’re just starting a new season that’s different for all of us. And I don’t feel like I’m doing a very good job. But we have to give each other grace while we’re learning. I’m so sorry you’re late to class and that you don’t have shoes. But you have to take a deep breath and go in there and do your best.”
I shuttled her into the door and apologized to the woman at the front desk. I unnecessarily explained what happened to her shoes. “We’ll get better at this,” I said, “we just need time.”
Of course I’m aware of how much worse it could be (and I’m stunningly grateful that Nationwide is on our side). I think it can be useful sometimes to compare our situation to that of others, for a little jolt of perspective, but I can’t live there. Comparison isn’t a useful tool for me, whether related to my marriage or my hair, outfits or children’s behavior, circumstances or belongings. If I fare better, I risk being haughty or feeling guilty; if I fare worse, I risk ungratefulness or jealousy. We are where we are, we have what we have, and it’s okay for it to feel hard sometimes, and it’s okay to say it out loud. Being told, by another or by yourself, that you “should” be handling it better is useless.
If you’re in a hard place, don't be afraid to say it. Find a friend to share your feelings with; relieve her of the duty to fix your situation. Give yourself the freedom to feel whatever you’re feeling, without judgment. The danger, for me, of not exercising this freedom, is getting stuck. I don’t want to throw a pity party,but when I let the frustration fester too long, without any outside air or perspective, it grows wild. Acknowledging difficulty does not negate having gratitude; you can recognize God's faithfulness and struggle through your situation.
It’s okay to ask for the help you need. Today I needed not to be here while guys in HAZMAT suits ripped my kitchen apart. I was allowed to be here, but I just couldn’t be. So I asked my rock star neighbor if we could crash at her house for a few hours. Our kids played, we drank coffee, and I welcomed the change of scenery and perspective. And finally, it’s okay to give yourself grace while you work out the kinks. Last night, Mirabella reported: “My dance teacher said I have to wear my shoes next class.” (As if she had arrived shoeless because I was somehow unaware of that fact.) Tonight, my husband will be home late, and it’s entirely possible that my children will be eating frozen, gluten free fish sticks for dinner. I cringe just typing that. But for two weeks, I’ve been cooking real-food meals on a torn-up floor crowded with dehumidifiers and fans that have driven the temperature in my kitchen above 85 degrees. Today, I think, I need a break.
Today, I am unapologetically modeling for my children the thing I tell them all the time: It doesn’t have to be perfect; you just have to do your best.