Friday, June 29, 2012

The Invisible Mother

It all started with a kick in the ribs.  Well actually, it started with a swear word right at my daughter.  I knew I was about to swear at her and I heard myself in my head say, "don't do it..." but I did it anyway.  The look on my daughter's face was shock and probably hurt.  As I yelled at her to get upstairs and start brushing her teeth, at the same moment I was struggling with my 4-year-old trying to get a deep-in-sleep child to take some medicine.  Marcella was trying to confess her mistake of spilling makeup on her white comforter and although I showed I was upset about it, I really didn't care.  It washes out.  Perhaps I was frustrated at trying to get my youngest to drink her medicine without spilling it on the couch and half frustrated with myself that I allowed my kids to stay up late again.  I haven't written anything in over a week and I was really missing my computer.  I was looking forward to getting some posts done and found myself frustrated at my daughters' lack of speed because of my own lazy negligence. 

Marcella and I have our best one-on-one talks at bedtime, but perhaps my lack of understanding of the spilled makeup caused her to be less than interested in talking to me.  All she wanted to do was complain about how bad her whole entire day was.  As I leaned over her legs to get a better look at her while I we were talking, she kicked me in the ribs as if she was "stretching" to get me to move off of her.  She's been doing that a lot lately.  She'll bounce her foot on my leg as we're sitting together when she sees me trying to steady my hand at something else, or she'll kick me to get me to move away from her.  When I stopped scratching her arm to move, she got upset with me because I stopped.  That's when I told her that I have feelings too and that it hurts me when she kicks me away instead of using words to ask me to move.  She doesn't treat her friends like that, why does she do it to me?

As I fell on my own bed in exhaustion, I couldn't cry although I wanted to.  A few minutes later Marcella comes in and I gave her more grief about getting out of bed (that's getting out of hand too).  She laid down on the floor and I silently cried.  I eventually went into the bathroom, shut the door and finished my crying fit. Then I saw this on the floor:

 When she wrote, "do you love me too?" it was natural for me to wonder if she feels enough of my love. We rarely ever get one-on-one time and when I am motivated to do something special with her, she'd rather play with her friends.  It seems so hard to love someone even more than I already do when it's hard to love myself enough to take care of myself.

I could justify all these crazy emotions over our crazy summer schedule lately, lack of sleep and certainly lack of "me" time.  I'm going to bed late and waking up early because that's the only time I get peace.  I can't even remember the last time I had a date with my husband.  I'm in desperate need of a break.

It is so strange how I came across the story of the Invisible Mother.  I'm sure you've read it.  It's been floating around emails for years.  It touched me so much that I printed it out and kept it all these years.  I came across it the other day and wanted to write about the story. How fitting it was over what happened to me tonight.  In case you've never read it, or want to read it again, here it is:

 The Invisible Mother
Author Unknown

I couldn’t make sense of the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids would walk into the room while I was on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?" Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I'm invisible. The invisible mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more. "Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?" Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?"  I'm a satellite guide to answer "What number is the Disney Channel?" I'm a car to order, "Right around 5:30, please."
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history, music and literature and the mind that graduated sum a cum laud-- but now, they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, she is gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package and said, "I brought you this." It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription:
"To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read --- no, devour the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. 2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. 3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. 4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it."  And the workman replied, "Because God sees." I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place.

It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction, but it is not a disease that is erasing my life.  It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness.  It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder; as one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree. When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand-bastes a turkey for 3 hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend to add, "You're gonna love it there ...."

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

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