Learning to Love my Actual Life- My Messy Beautiful

I did not sign up for this.

It was more than just a thought that ran through my head all day. It was like a vow to myself. See your life? You didn't choose it. It happened to you. Someone else did this to you.

I did not sign up for this.                            

The first time that thought ran through my head, it was 9 o’clock on a Monday night. My first day home alone with my two children. When we had our daughter, our life did change dramatically but one thing didn't, I kept going to work each day. When Mack was born and Lou was fourteen-months-old, I decided to stay home. At this time, my husband started the bridge job he would work on for a year. He left the house by 5 am and came home at 8 pm, 6 days a week. He ate dinner, sat in his chair for 15 minutes, showered and went to bed.

So there I was on that first Monday evening as a stay-at-home mom, standing over the kitchen sink. It was full of dishes (we had no dishwasher at the time, the inhumanity!) Pots covered the stove, toys littered the floor, food stuck to the linoleum I stood on. The lighting in that old kitchen gave the room a dingy yellow glow. Suddenly everything hit me like nothing had ever hit me before, “This. Is. My. Life.” And as that water filled the sink, I leaned over it and began to sob. I felt the weight of caring for these little babies, meeting their infinite needs, the weight of cooking and cleaning for a man who did not have the capacity at this time in his life to help me- physically or emotionally, the weight of our recent move and all the stress that had brought on me. The loneliness of it all washed over me and I cried harder, because this was my life and I suddenly realized I actually had to live it.  

This realization sunk in deeper each morning I woke up during that milk soaked, sleep deprived summer. As C.S. Lewis says, the needs of the morning “rushed at me like wild animals,” and there wasn't enough coffee in my house for me to have the capacity to meet them. Oh yes, how I loved my babies and my days were also full of sweet, sweet moments. But I couldn't grasp the other side of motherhood. It was a whole world that nobody told me about. I felt so tricked by it. I received these beautiful children, all I wanted to do was hold them and snuggle. I am a lover of all the things and could do this part, and do it well. But the other side… like feeding them and the basic daily maintenance of a home (even if for sanitation purposes only) it overwhelmed me.

You wacko's! Lose the googly eyes and take a parenting class!
When Mike and I were first married, I had gone two WHOLE months without doing a load of laundry (yes, I have a large underwear collection). We laughed at our messy house- aren't we so silly? Let’s leave our meal on the table and clean it all up tomorrow! And if we didn't feel like making dinner at all, we went out to eat.

But we could not live this way once we had kids and I could not wrap my mind around the fact that my life was FULL TO THE BRIM of things that needed to be done that I was not good at. This 
wasn't on the curriculum in grad school, none of my fun and relational job training experiences taught me how to raise a baby, even having had an awesome mom myself did not prepare me to be one.

I began to get bitter at my husband. He brought me here, impregnated me and then left me. I clearly told him when we got married that I wanted to live near the ocean, but here I was in rural Iowa. I felt like I was living his life, his dreams, and could not believe how quickly mine felt like they weren't an option anymore. I spent our 15 minutes together each night making sure he knew how exhausted I was. But exhausted himself, he fell asleep listening to me and snored for dramatic effect.

After weeks of this, things got worse not better. Mack started waking up from his newborn haze and crying more, Lou introduced us to her capacity of toddler-crazy and began throwing tantrums, Mike’s hours increased as the days grew longer, and I could no longer attribute my lack of friends to the fact we had “just moved” because it had been several months. I felt trapped in our little old house and often put the babies in the car, turned on Baby Einstein, and drove around eating onion rings and singing along to "Old McDonald," hoping someone would flag my car down and ask my greasy self to be their friend.
A picture from the "porch of affliction," where I sat and had my quiet times that summer


I finally decided something HAD to give. I could not change my children (yet… I would try later on), my husband was not my enemy, ultimately God brought me here, to such a season of life as this, and I had to learn to love it or I would surely die of bitterness and a seriously unhealthy dose of self-pity. 

So then began my search to answer the questions that swirled around my head, how do you learn to love your life, when it is not the one you would have ever chosen for yourself?

How do you function as a human being, when you feel you are not living according to your design? I thrive in relationship, spending hours outside, having space in my life for creativity and spontaneity, and being able to read and learn. But the people I spent my day with could not talk, cried when we spent hours outside because they were all like “hey mom, we need naps!” My life zapped my creativity and all I mustered up each day was a fuzzy picture uploaded to Instagram. The only learning I did was what Curious George taught me that morning—so that’s how you make maple syrup? Thanks George, you’re a good little monkey.

Y’all, we are so lied to as children! What do you want to do when you grow up? Who do you want to be? How do you want to live? What amazing thing will you become? Life, we are told, is about doing what you excel at and making sure you are surrounded by what makes you happiest. When you expect your life to always be filled with what you love and are good at, it is no wonder that when we wake up and we are not the President, or a NBA star, or Barbie, our image of what our life could look like and what it actually is do not line up, and this makes us depressed.

Thankfully, sigh, oh THANKFULLY, God was not surprised by my life, nor by my inability to live it well. After a few loooong months, I turned to Him and said, “Okay, you did this to me. Where do I go from here?”

I began to beg God to teach me to love my life.

And He did. Oh how He did…

There are so many good things that followed asking that question. And not in a Pollyanna-my-life-is-so-great-now type things. Real things, heart re-molding things. The next 6 months of that hard, hard year, I can look back on and say were the best of my life. For reals! We didn't move to the Carolina's, I didn't hire a nanny, and my husband didn't suddenly become Superman. But, I could write a whole other post on what happened, how God showed up, how He taught me to love my life, to love being a stay at home mom, and another time, I will.

But now I am imploring you, if you do not love your life and if you are alone and struggling, start by asking Him, the Author and Creator of you and all that is good, for a little help.

A lot of people told me these years with little babies would be hard, but they did not tell me how to cope. I wanted to shake those little old ladies in the grocery store who stopped to tell me, "Oh my, don't you have your hands full" in a semi-violent way and ask them how they did it (because did they even have birth control back then?!) How to find myself again under the piles of diapers and dirty onesies. And hearing people say that "it will be gone before I know it" just isn't enough for me. I want to learn to love it NOW. I do not want when my children are napping to be the best part of my day because that is like 5 minutes and then somebody starts crying. I will not suddenly wake up and have all the hard things gone (unless we hire a maid, please husband, please!) but this is my life and I will live in it and I will thrive. If only because I choose to but as I have learned (because it has been beaten into my brain), that choice is everything.


So now, today, if you are struggling in your life and with how it’s playing out, ask God to begin to teach you to love it... or maybe at first tolerating it would do. And if you are a mama, remember that for most of us, Motherhood (capital M to honor the sanctity) is learned, the lessons are long and received with tears and possibly thanksgiving if you keep your heart soft enough. And practically, we need mother schools not elementary schools because I’m pretty sure I use those math and science skills, well never, but please someone demonstrate for me an equation to get my daughter to eat green vegetables.  

I did not sign up for this.

It has been EXACTLY one year since that little song became the anthem of my life. It is still true. I look around and remember my younger self, how she had never considered being a stay-at-home mom. My rush to get dinner on the table before my husband walks through the door would ROCK her feminist values. My new-found ability to carry a toddler potty full of pee in one hand and an infant in the other while keeping said infant from splashing in the pee would not amaze her. Judging my house as clean solely on the premise that there is no poop or cheerios on the floor might freak her out a little. And she would not find my simple daily goals of getting everyone fed and brushing my teeth at least once to be very ambitious.

But I am learning to embrace all the wild, unexpected, and gross parts of my life,---- and to give this Mothering role a big old hug because this is the one life I get to live, and I will love it well. 

And disclaimer: the best time of my day is still when my kids are napping. Sorry, there just ain't no getting around that one. 


This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE
But seriously, read her book. It'll change your life. Love, Ally


21 comments:

  1. I can SO relate to this! I never in a million years thought I would be a stay - at - home mom, married to a farmer, in rural Iowa. This post reminds me to not feel sorry for myself when I get to see Kegan for 15 minutes in the a.m, and an hour at night.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh, Alicia I think about you often! You should feel sorry for yourself (every once and a while) because that is definitely not enough husband time! I am so glad you have family nearby. The best thing for me has been filling our schedule with playdates. The littles come home exhausted and I get some much needed connection and have made some awesome friends. I hope there are some other stay-at-home mama's near you guys that you can bless with your friendship. Life in Naperville definitely did not prepare us for rural Iowa!

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  2. Yes, yes, yes. To quote Saint Ann: Just this.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Although I am not a mother yet, I can relate completely to your "I did not sign up for this" thought. Life can be so extremely hard and it's easy to get caught up in the trials of this world. Thank you so much for posting this today. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

    A verse I have been clinging to is 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 - therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mama or not you are right, for all of us life is hard. But that verse reminds us it is light and momentary which is the best news. Am thankful for the renewal to be found in Christ. Thank you Holly for saying "hi!"

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  4. So needed this, thank you. For months I have had the "did not sign up for this" on my shirt! I see my hubby once a week. He lives at our house in Ames and remodeling the bathroom while I'm keeping our 18 month old out of the mess at my parent's house in Johnston. It's not ideal but a blessing. However not what I signed up for. 2013-2014 has been rough to say the least! More explanation needed but not going to share it all here. Feel free to go over to my blog and explore. I've enjoyed reading your posts! thank you!
    marykaisand.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for saying "Hi!" Ha, yes we need shirts then maybe people won't be so judgy when we're checking out at the grocery store and our kids are freaking. I am so glad you have your parents to help you with your little girl but nothing is as good as having your hubby by your side. I hope you finish the remodel soon. Thanks for reading Mary!!

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  5. I love your brutiful honesty! Thank you! Justine (www.everupward.org)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Justine! And thanks to Glennon for such a great word, life truly is "brutiful"

      Delete
  6. Ally: the funniest thing just happened: I was just reading this entry in your blog thinking, "gee, she reminds me of dear Glennon"....and then, I got to the end and saw that you are part of her project! God is so funny and good sometimes. I truly love reading you both!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sue I am so glad you read Glennon! Yes, I found her book Carry On, Warrior right after we had Mack and it really helped my heart! God is definitely funny, thanks for reading and for saying hi. I miss you and all our precious Knox friends!

      Delete
  7. Your entry brought back memories of my early motherhood!! I think you have a gift in writing--waiting for the poem version! :) Your gift is in communicating in a way we all can relate just like you do in conversation. Being a wife and mother is one of the ways God builds those qualities we all want. I miss seeing you! Thank you for sharing-keep writing!

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    Replies
    1. Ah Kristi, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall (but you prob didn't have any b/c your husband runs a pest control business!) when you were raising babies, I am sure you were an awesome and fun mom. But I would love to hear more about the real times when things got a little overwhelming with those six little ones! I forgot about the poem writing, I will try to re-channel that talent into blog posting, too. Thank you so much for saying hi, I miss you, we will be seeing you around JEFC because we will be back in town for the summer!

      Delete
  8. Hi Ally! So fun reading your Messy Beautiful. You are a great writer and your story had so much humor and heart. I especially enjoyed reading about how you turned to God to ask Him to help you love your life and your journey to fall in love with that life. Looking forward to hearing more from you. P.s. The view from your porch is beautiful. Hugs, Rachel

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Rachel! I appreciate you saying "hi!" And I think we are kindred spirits, I love to read as well and love the premise of your blog. When I saw your quote from Brian Andreas, one of my favorites, I knew I would be stopping back by often. Thanks for writing and sharing.

      Delete
  9. I am past the diapers and Cheerios stage, but you brought it all back for me! I can laugh now, (I had to work really hard not to sound / look disappointed when my kids woke up). And I never planned to be a SAHM, much less for ten years. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for the wonderful honesty! I'm hear from Snappy Casual blog & just added you to my feed of blogs I read daily. I'm an Iowa gal, too.

    xo
    Becky
    @bybmg
    bybmg.blogspot.com

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