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Ordinary Disruptions: a #WholeMama contribution

July 28, 2015

I’ve been following Esther Emery and Abby Norman for a while now and for weeks I’ve wanted to join in their Whole Mama conversations. This week, the topic is “ordinary” and for the life of me I cannot identify with that prompt. Maybe by the end of this post, I’ll get there.

I hear a lot of mothers who consider their lives ordinary. I used to think so about my own. It used to bore me. 

In the last year, I’ve had a few opportunities to stop and look around at my home and my work like a tourist. I’m a foster mom living with four kids, two dogs, and a cat in a three-story townhouse. I’m involved in racial justice work in my community. I contend with chronic illness on a daily basis. I have friends who are smarter (and weirder) than me. I’m a woman of faith in active pursuit of the living God. I have cultivated skills and talents in mothering that may one day make me fit for circus work.

 

Come see a woman feeding a wee child… WITH HER FACE! She can text at the same time, too. A modern marvel!

 
My life is pretty darn fascinating when it comes down to it. It’s also busier than I want it to be, but isn’t everyone’s? Maybe ordinary is easier to find than I thought. 

As I was listening to Esther’s interview with the amazing Mihee Kim-Kort this morning, I was interrupted four times by by four-year-old. He wanted a snack. He sang a song, repeatedly. He wanted to point at Mihee. As the Asian kid in a mostly-white family, he does this “point at an Asian person” every now and then. It’s a bittersweet thing to observe as a mom. It’s a moment of identification and estrangement. These are ordinary things in our extraordinarily complicated family.

As I’m writing, he interrupts me to let me know he had overestimated his appetite and he didn’t want the second hot dog his big brother made him. I have to leave this post to throw a partially-gnawed hot dog away. It’s not glamourous work. It’s as ordinary as ketchup. And these little interruptions and disruptions are the most ordinary occurrence around here.

During the home study process before we became foster parents, a social worker met with my husband and I, together and individually, and went over our life stories. As part of the preparatory work, we were asked to look at a timeline of our lives and mark our milestones, but also our moments of grief and loss. Until then, I think I had spent most of my life moving forward, straining ahead and not looking back. As a young person with chronic illnesses, I had been taught that coping meant grief would only slow me down. If I let those struggles and feelings in, they might hold onto me forever. Looking down at my timeline, I saw that the losses I faced, particularly the health-related ones, gave me the adaptability and resilience of a survivor. Yet those disruptions had never been given full permission to do the work of building patience or empathy. 

Sure, I knew long-suffering, but rarely had I cooperated with it in such a way that would allow me the full experience of loss. I had to learn to sit with surrender instead of lacing up my bootstraps to troop up the next hill.
 

It helps that my current boot is not lace-friendly

 
As a mother, I have been determined to give my kids the tools to not only express their feelings, but to feel them. I fail at this often (another ordinary occurrence). I am impatient, frustrated, aggravated by the interruption that comes with sharing your home and your life with, God help me, five other people. Most days it seems as if their entire life goals are to get me up from wherever I’m seated. With kids, there is no rest for the weary. I have things to do and places to go. I have an agenda. These tiny people hold all that up (as do frequent setbacks with my health). 

I joke that my headstone will bear but one word to describe my existence on this earth: thwarted. I’m only half-laughing when I say it. In literature when there are quests, obstacles, and gauntlets, there are also reprieves, lulls, denouements to give the reader a break and to better develop characters or nearly conclude a chapter. In a life that seems so relentlessly challenging, there are few, if any, clean breaks.

Because of that messiness, I feel compelled to embrace disruptions, to recognize them for the ordinary break from the ordinary that they are. Sometimes, in a particularly daunting season, I have to orchestrate my own interruptions. These momentary breaks for reflection remind me of two truths: this life is not about me and I don’t have to be a martyr to be loved. 

Kathleen Norris writes in her work, The Quotidian Mysteries:

The Bible is full of evidence that God’s attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us–loves us so much that we the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is “renewed in the morning” or to put it in more personal and also theological terms, “our inner nature is being renewed everyday”. Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous details in Leviticus involving God in the minuitae of daily life might be revisioned as the very love of God.

Norris argues that the ordinariness of doing work historically labelled as “women’s work” makes it ripe for contemplation. Sometimes I find that to be true, other times My rebellious heart wonders if it’s not just romantic nonsense meant to lure us into doing our chores. 

 

comic from Married to the Sea

 
I’d prefer the more profound conclusion, but in practice, I struggle with the load and feel my heart complain, “Feminists fought so we wouldn’t have to do this drudgery!” But, truly that’s a white woman’s whine rooted in the oppression of people who do hospitality work. Someone will always do this drudgery. May as well be me. I cannot give quarter to nasty attitudes about the value of labor. But I digress…

I think Norris is right that if we submit to the ordinary and milk it for what it’s worth, we will be rewarded. The ordinary interruptions of my life have always blessed and humbled me, particularly the arrivals of my foster children, which in both cases, threw everything in our household into chaos and backburnered most of my projects at the time. Ordinary disruptions remind me I’m not in charge and recalibrate my attitude about my own power, privilege, and position in this world. 

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5)

The ordinariness of interruptions seem to get me out of my own way while bringing me back to myself. They also bring me back to these people I have made commitments to love. For our family, disruption might be a way of life, familiar and routine, but it’s in these rhythms where our characters are being developed. It’s where all of us will learn humility, flexibility, adaptability, and compassion, if we let interruption teach us. 

We might be ordinary human beings, but we are capable of more than we know; and, we are valuable far beyond our capability.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2015 1:30 am

    I have a tendency to live in my own head instead of in my body, and I feel like motherhood (and the nonstop interruptions therein) get me out of it. I’ve never lived so much in the physical world, not since I learned how to read. It’s… there’s something amazing about it.

    I like your post! I’ve been thinking about what it means to go, day in and day out, just getting on with the business of living when there’s this sort of implicit promise we all tell ourselves as children that we’ll be CEOs or celebrities or famous horseback riders by 33. Yet here I am, giving a baby a bath and trying to carve an hour out of the day that isn’t work, chores, or caring for her.

    But there’s worth in that, too, in giving another little human being a home and endless love and always being there. That’s a calling, too.

    • July 29, 2015 1:49 am

      You’re right about the physicality of mothering/caregiving. I hadn’t thought about that. Maybe that’s why it’s so overwhelming at times, too.

  2. July 31, 2015 2:49 am

    The ordinariness of interruptions ….there’s a richness to it, that’s for sure!

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