Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In Which a Gift from the Past Is a Treasure

This morning I opened my closet and got down all of the dusty, old journals I've filled up over the years. My intention was to skim over their fading pages and decide whether any of these collections of messy scribbles should get the old heave-ho.

As it happens, I got stranded on the first one. Or maybe I should say "bogged down" in the first one. Sheesh! That little girl was hard on herself!! (Well, she wasn't a little girl actually...She was 29 years old at the time...but I have to tell you that I barely recognized her.) And that surprises me.

I should fill in the blanks by saying that the journal in question chronicles the year 1981, when my children's ages were 5, 3, and 1. Little did I know I would become pregnant again at summer's end. I'd planned to postpone pregnancy indefinitely because of my baby's severe asthma, which (in those days of way less effective medication) took a great deal of time and attention to manage. Some of the entries remind me that I had a pretty hard row to hoe.

Anyway, here's the thing. Is it a universal tendency to look back on early parenting years with rose-colored glasses, or am I the only one who apparently doesn't remember with any degree of accuracy how it felt to be struggling with a husband who was working so hard he could hardly ever get home, kids who were sick at least half of the time (and getting into mischief or fights the other half), and seemingly endless cleaning and laundry that always needed doing? Because when I look back on those early years, my overriding recollection is of good times, good friends, good children, and good feeling. (Make no mistake, there were a lot of good things.)

Today, though, I'm looking at written reminders of days that didn't feel so good. I'm reading the words of a young mother who sometimes felt inadequate, unsuccessful, and discouraged. Many entries consist of a fairly harrowing account of the day's events, followed by a play-by-play analysis of what went wrong, a summary of woe-is-me and/or shame-on-me feelings about what went wrong, and a resolution to do and be better. Oh, don't get me wrong, a note of joy does creep in here and there (and a LOT of humor), but the fact remains that mommysue wasn't always having as much fun as grannysue remembers.

Of course, I realize that I was probably using my journal at that point mostly to vent. Let's face it––on the good days, I probably had way less need to write anything down––but it's still true that I'm a little more out of touch with the me that inhabited those early years than I thought. To tell the truth, I find myself wanting to reach back and put my arm around that determined young woman who was trying so hard and wanting so much to be "perfect" for her little family.

All I can say is this: It's a good thing reality set in, or the teenage years would have killed me! (Actually, the teenage years probably had a lot to do with bringing me from there to here while providing what I now recognize as no small degree of growth.) I learned to love more unconditionally, to let go of control that I never had anyway, and to be okay with not always feeling okay. (I think it was a case of be gentle with myself or perish.) I learned humility, respect for limitations, and acceptance. I'm STILL learning them. (If Neal A. Maxwell is right and the Lord "tutors" us, I am a student that takes a LOT of tutoring.)

However, be that as it may, this is my observation for today: I have grown! Exponentially. And you know what? It's heartening, reassuring, and even inspiring. What's more, it makes me realize that these journals are not just for those family members who come after me...They're for today's me coming after yesterday's me. At those times when I feel my personal growth has plateaued for so long that I may never reach the peak of any mountain in life, reading an old journal like this can remind me that it's the long haul that counts, growth-wise, and that leveling off or even dropping off a little here and there does not a failed growth curve make.

The thing is, I am a different woman today than I was then. A far calmer, kinder (to myself and others), and wiser one. And you know what? I like having evidence of that!

So think about getting those journals out, my friends. (And yes, the personal ones do differ from the blog ones...because they are like having an intimate conversation with yourself.) No matter how open and honest you tend to be, having an audience skews things a bit, and you may not record as clear a picture of your spirit for posterity (and yourself, of course!) as I was able to see today. That's why I'm grateful that, back in 1981 on a few dark and dreary evenings, I took the time to let it all hang out...in writing.

And you know what? In 2010, mommysue has been able to reach through the years and give grannysue a pretty neat gift.

How cool is that?



Karen Sue said...

Good to get them out and re-read. My MIL is an avid journaler, but mine and more hit and miss. But I do write stuff in my calendar..LOTS of stuff.

Michelle said...

ah, this was a fantastic post.

karen said...

I think we all tend to remember the good things about being young(er) mothers. My daughter in law expressed frustration one day that women were always telling her to enjoy her young children, as it all goes so quickly. And it does. And when it does you tend to think of only the sweet things. Its when I really spend time with the grandkiddies (as I'm doing now in PR) that the memories come back of how long it takes to get out of the house with 2 (or more) kids. How lonely it is when your husband is gone a lot. But I've also been reminded how sweet a little one is fresh from a bath, and how sweetly innocent their love is. I'm tired out, but it's been a great refresher.

Momza said...

Oh that just sounds painful. I know I was too hard on myself, and often unrealistic with my children. I wanted to be perfect and have a perfect family. What a waste of time and energy!! I'm so much happier knowing that it's okay to be gentle on myself and have realistic expectations for all of us. Really true post, Sue.
word verification: tramatis...as in, looking at my old journals would tramatis me very much.

Jill said...

Oh yes, what a treasure. Whenever I go back and read my old journals, I get so lost in them, and it really does bring me back in time. It seems most of my entries I mention how tired I was. Life was so unrelenting back then...so many little people needing me. But they were sweet times too. Very sweet.

Heather Anderson said...

This post gives me hope...I love it:) THANKS

jen said...

very, very cool.
what's cool is that you took the time to write when (i'm sure) you had so little time. . .
i'm now that girl that you were in 1981! thank you so much for the inspiration and encouragement! very wise thoughts.

Darlene said...

How I do remember those days when I helped you take care of those three little ones. I seem to only remember the good parts. Even some of the bad times had lots of good in them, like when I rocked Ryan when he had such bad asthma and I tried to keep him from crying by having him listen and watch for the airplanes which came by every few minutes. I certainly knew what kind of days you had, Sue. You were such a good Mom and you still are.

As for me, I hardly wrote in my journals. Once in a while I would write a bit, but I don't even remember where those journals are.

I too remember when I was young and rearing all of you. I think I must have forgotten the bad times, although I am sure there were many. But when it comes to remembering each of you, I seem to bring to mind only the good times too. Maybe it's a good thing that our memories retain little of the bad times as we get older.

Having children and helping them to grow up well in every way is a hard job. Just the taking care of them and all that is connected to that is quite daunting. Maybe that is why not too many people nowdays are willing to have large families. In a way, that is too bad because as you get older (and for me just old) it is so neat to have a large family. We do receive such joy from them now.

As for writing in my journal these days, I got out the one you gave me in 2006 and discovered that I had written in it right after Christmas and I haven't written in it since!! Isn't that just awful? I am going to write in it tomorrow, I promise.

jen said...

I wish I could tell you how this made me feel today.
Trying so hard to "be perfect for my (big) family."
Needing to be "gentle with myself."
Just what I needed. A hug from a faraway friend.

Amy said...

I had to laugh as I read this. You described me. I probably am too hard on myself, and I still carry close to my heart the visions of a perfect Norman Rockwell kind of life that always evades me just a little. Your recollections and advice always help me be a little better. I just need to focus on letting go. Thank you!

Jess said...

I've never been a very good journal keeper, and the ones I did keep were lost in a flood- you've given me good reason to start again. Thank you

Janis said...

Really enjoyed this Post, Sue! My mom to this day always writes in what she calls her "diary." Today, they call them Journals. I tried to buy her a new diary for her birthday last week and according to Hallmark they only make "diaries" for children nowadays. Lock and all! I do "jot" things down on a calendar every night but after reading your post today I think I will actually start to really "journal." My kids aren't 5,3, and 1, but better late than never! I do remember you always having humidifiers in the kids rooms. Poor babies, asthma is no fun! My husband has it but with a nebulizer, Advair, and a rescue inhaler it is now quite manageable! Thanks for the inspiration to write more! I'm really going to do it!

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