The Measure of a Mom

Before Sweet Caroline entered the world, I had lived a whole other life. Thirty-one years of a life to be exact.

In that lifetime, I had been a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, a tennis player, a swimmer (not a good one, but a swimmer nonetheless), a dancer, a pianist, an obnoxious teenager, an obnoxious sorority girl, a waitress, a barista, a retail sales clerk, a teacher, an aunt, a wife, and most recently a school social worker.

For the last ten years, I had smacked my alarm clock every morning, thrown on clothes that I hoped weren’t too “teacher-ish” and headed to my job. I am by far one of the most unlucky people I know (other than my brother, Kevin. He takes the prize on that one). But when it comes to career choices, I had been one lucky girl. I didn’t wander and wallow for years trying to find my niche. I was a teacher. From my head to my toes, in the deepest parts of my soul, I was a teacher. I loved my job, my profession, my calling. I loved the good kids, the whiny kids, the weird kids, the awkward kids, and the down right bizarre ones. I loved, loved, loved it. Don’t get me wrong. There were hard days and parts of the job that were not so glamorous, but ultimately I loved it.

I’m a very organized and efficient person. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I check things off my To Do list. (Confession: if I do something extra. I write it down. Just for the joy of crossing it off…..sick….I think there’s medication for that). I also love feedback. I like to know when I’m doing a good job and how, specifically, I can improve. Teaching was the perfect profession for me. Everyday, I was given tons of feedback: Spelling tests, running records, Math quizzes, little hands flying into the air to answer the question, little faces that were totally blank screaming “Lady, I’m lost.” All of those student assessments were really assessments of me, of my skill, of my job well done (or not so well done). Even as a social worker, I got feedback everyday from kids, teachers and parents. My principal sat down with me at least once per year and gave me a concrete evaluation of my work. Right there, on paper for the world to see. Feedback I needed to keep moving in the right direction.

In May, I decided to leave the wonderful world of Education and stay home with my girl. I love it. I love her. I love being here with her and soaking up every sweet minute. I love reading to her, playing with her, teaching her, and listening to her laugh and squeal with delight in her swing. I love it. I do.

But how do I know if I’m doing a good job? Where’s the feedback?  When do I get my evaluation? How do I know I’m on track? Who’s going to identify my strengths and weaknesses and help me grow as a mother? Who’s going to say ‘You’re doing it right.’ or ‘You’re SO not doing it right!’

Do I wait until she’s grown up and successful and then say, “See? I did it! I was a good mom!” Maybe. Maybe not. I look at my life. Is my mom to blame for every stupid decision I’ve made? No. She guided me the best she could, but ultimately I made my own choices.

So what is the measure of a mom?

I refuse to believe that it’s how I measure up against other people’s facebook posts. I won’t be swayed into thinking it has anything to do with how many cute crafts I’ve “pinned” lately. I don’t believe it’s tied my culinary skills, my ability to stay “fashion forward”, to “bounce back” to my pre-baby body, make my own cleaning supplies, or alphabetize my spice rack. I can’t bear the thought of being one of those moms that finds my own value in her being the smartest, the prettiest, the best dancer, the most popular…..gag.

I’m a feedback person. I need feedback. I found myself sort of panicking that I wasn’t getting any…until today…

She gave me big wet kisses when she woke up.

She finally figured out the shape sorter (kind of).

She shared with another baby at story time (kind of).

She wrapped her little arms around my knees while I washed dishes.

She put her little hand in mine as she drifted off to sleep.

There’s my feedback.

Right there.

From the person who matters the most.

She thinks I’m doing an OK job.

She’ll keep me for now.

Wonder: What is faith? What is God?

For the last few years, I’ve been in nothing short of a crisis when it comes to my faith.

I’m a cradle Catholic with 13 years of Catholic education. My grandmother still lives in Ireland for Heaven’s sake. She used to sprinkle the car with holy water before we left on road trips. My mom’s family prayed the rosary so quickly everyday it sounded like they were speaking in tongues.

Yet, like many people my age, I have issues with my Church. I love my Church. I respect my Church. I feel at home there, and yet I don’t. For years, I’ve struggled. I’ve battled against some of the doctrine, the rules, the fundamental beliefs. I’ve sat across the table from priests and other church leaders and asked for more explanation, better answers, and more clarity. I haven’t gotten it.

I’ve thought about leaving. That felt like surrender. I’ve thought about staying and raising hell. That seems counter intuitive (you want to raise hell at church? really Katie? really?)

I’ve wandered. I’ve strayed. I’ve struggled. I’ve gotten angry. I’ve gotten really, really sad. I’ve thrown my hands up in the air in total frustration.

A year ago, I had a baby. A baby GIRL. I felt such pressure. It was time for the crisis to be over.  I really, really needed to figure it out. What do I believe? What is true for me? What will I teach her? What will I tell her? How will I guide her?

Two weeks ago a friend of mine suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. She’s young. She has two young boys. She’s an amazing friend, teacher, wife, mother, sister, daughter, Christian….soul.

Without thinking, I ran to God. Without over analyzing, I fell at God’s feet.I never thought about doctrine or rules. For two weeks, I have cried , begged, bargained, pleaded, screamed, and sat in total awe.

I realized that I do know what I believe.

I believe in God. I believe in love.

There is a loving, compassionate, hopeful, healing force within us and that moves among us. That is God.

There is something that connects my soul to every other soul on this planet. Something that makes me cry when I see starving children, makes me fighting mad when someone abuses a child, something that moves me to action when people aren’t treated justly. That is God.

We were sent to this place to love each other. That is God.

God is love.

All kinds of love, in all forms, for all people, in all places, with no limitations. Love that does not understand age, race, gender, borders, sexual orientation, or disability. Love that does not see or respond to prejudice, intolerance, or hypocrisy. God is love.

My faith crisis is over (for now). The work, the exploring, the digging, the fine-tuning is far from over, but the crisis is over. God is love. That’s what matters most. That’s what I’ll tell Caroline. When she feels love, she knows God. When she gives love, she shares God.

For those of you that are much farther in this journey than me, I am happy for you. I even envy you a little. Be glad that you have the nitty gritty figured out, but just give me some time to do my own work in this. Don’t shout at me and tell me why your way makes the most sense. Don’t look down on me because I’m 32 and I don’t really have many answers. Just love me and love each other. That will show me that at least I have the first part right.

God is love.

Please continue to pray for Jana Callahan. She will be in surgery tomorrow. I believe in God, Jana. I believe in love. I believe in miracles. I believe in you. Keep fighting, girl! I love you!