Life is full of milestones. When you’re primarily a stay-at-home mom, most of those milestones are for other people. First steps, first foods, “I dressed myself today,” academic or character recognitions at school, a raise, a nomination to a professional society…these are things I celebrate with my family. I rejoice with them. Joy shared is joy doubled, and I am a joy doubler. I have had my own share of various milestones, but the last ten years or so have been my Mom Years, full of daily toil without any expectation of honor or recognition, unable to take on the kind of projects that earn accolades because I have to keep the main thing the main thing. The Mom Years feel invisible and exhausting. The Mom Years are treading water.
But last year was an especially difficult year for me. My dog died, my dad’s health continued to deteriorate at an ever-increasing and frightening rate, Andy started his doctorate and shocked us all, including himself, with the enormous mountain of work he had to accomplish and the exhausting pace his physical and mental absence would take on our family of six. Phoebe wasn’t sleeping (ever, it felt like), Theo needed replacement ear tubes, Phoebe needed ear tubes, June’s sleep issues and ADHD were hampering her daily life and needed to be addressed, orthodontics for 2/4 kids, Gideon was great but always under threat of being forgotten in the chaos, Theo was flirting with the idea of being the family’s next Napoleon, and I kept putting off things I wanted to do, or decisions I wanted to make, until I had time or things were under control. But that time never came. My guitar gathered dust, some friendships became more distant. There were plenty of things to celebrate along the way, but they were always floating on top of an undercurrent of worry, apologies, stress, exhaustion, caffeine, and depletion.
But I kept on, because when life gets tough, the tough get going. I don’t think I won any battles, but I kept it together. I don’t think I impressed anyone, but I didn’t quit. I kept loving my kids, caring for my family and home, encouraging my spouse, being a friend–however imperfectly and sloppily done. I showed up to my commitments, as many as I could, even when I came to potlucks empty-handed but full of apologies. I confess that at times it felt like it would have been easier to stay at home, if only to avoid public embarrassment. But I showed up anyway.
And then my dad died. I had to begin to process that, my kids had to process that, I had to help my kids process that, I had to grieve with my family, all while letting detail after detail slip through my fingers and trying to let the grief wash over me without pulling me under into the waters of disappointment, doubt and insecurity. It felt like I’d been treading water for too long already and someone just threw me a bowling ball. Oh, and it was Advent, and my husband’s a pastor.
Some years you just sit down with Jesus and put your life on the table and stare at it together. “Been a hard year, right, Jesus? I feel like this year is hard…You ever felt that way?” “Yes, I have…It gets better.” “You keep saying that, Jesus.” “I know. Just a little while longer.” “You’ll stay with me?” “Every step of the way.” “Even when I can’t feel You?” “Especially then.”
Early this year, a representative from our United Methodist Women stood up to announce the winners of the annual UMW award at our 8:30 a.m. church service. She called two names, and one of them was mine. My mouth fell open in shock and I walked up to the altar to receive my award. As she introduced the other recipient and noted his accomplishments, which included running an incredibly successful church-wide capital campaign while taking care of his wife throughout her cancer treatments, my mind raced to guess what I had done to merit such an award. I drew a blank. Perhaps they had made a mistake? But as she turned to me, she said something along the lines of, “This award goes to Christine Hargrove, who always shows up for things and is constantly working behind the scenes to support our church and community. We notice and appreciate how much you do here.”
I think I laughed and joked, because that is what I do when I am caught off-guard, but as time has gone on I realize this is one of my favorite awards of my entire life. This award helped me realize that I’d misjudged it. The invisible Mom Years? Because I was willing to show up, none of what I was doing was invisible. My community saw and affirmed the gifts in me and offered friendship and encouragement. I thought back and remembered that we had had friends from church babysit, send us out for meals, give us handmade gifts or hand-me-downs for the kids, serve up drinks on the deck while we put our feet up for a chat together, hug my kids and tell them they’re loved, listen to my parenting problems and offer encouragment, bring me a birthday cake on my birthday, and cry with me and flood us with food when my dad died. Hugs, encouragment, prayer, meaning, patience, kindness, friendship–these are all things I get when I show up in my church. And if I had any doubt that my imperfect presence was valued, they gave me an award, just for showing up. I still think I’m getting the better end of the deal by far.
The pin I wear on Sundays, and on other days at will, is a wonderful reminder to me that sometimes just showing up is an accomplishment to be celebrated. Sometimes not quitting is your milestone.
Some years are like that. And they’re not invisible. And praise God when they are over.
So when the clock hit midnight and 2017 began, I was ready to declare 2016 “a year to forget.” But now I think I’ll remember it as the long, hard current I successfully swam/was pulled through and the pin I have to prove it.