Tuesday, September 23, 2014

You Never Know: My Life

There is a video circulating on my Facebook feed about a mom and the service she gives to others and the way it makes her feel.  Maybe you've seen it, maybe you haven't, maybe you don't care.  You can watch it here if you do happen to be interested.

I was asked my opinion on an article that had some pretty serious criticisms about the short video.  I won't link to it here because it had some language that is not in my personal vocabulary, but if you do a quick google search I am quite certain you could find it or other similar articles.  I responded with my honest opinion on the article, I was thanked for giving my opinion, and that is normally where I would have let it go.  Everyone is entitled, as we know, to their own opinion, and I respect that.

There were, however, a few items in the critical review that I couldn't stop thinking about, and I guess I wanted to take the opportunity to address them a little more carefully, and explain myself a little more thoroughly, because the video is very personal for me - that woman is me, and I am her, and I have had that exact day before.  Honestly, my first thought when it was over was, "did they take a look at my journal or what?"

Now, I'm not going to proclaim that the video is perfect - it is only a few minutes long and thus there is no time for character development or anything close to that. You get a snapshot of a woman's day and have to infer the rest.  Those inferences come from our own personal experiences, and I think that is why people have such different reactions to it.  Thus, I will first name the criticism that was given, and then draw from my own personal experience to explain what I saw as I watched it.

Criticism: The mom made a hot breakfast for her kids (who has time for that?!), then when her daughter rejected it proclaimed that she wouldn't get anything else, then we see the daughter eating a bowl of sugary cereal with a smirk on her face.
My life: We eat "sugary" cereal almost every morning, typically it's like half a bowl of fruit loops (or whatever box is open), half a bowl of oatmeal.  We make hot breakfasts on the weekends.  I applaud the mom for making eggs.  Her lack of follow through with the daughter: turns out she isn't a perfect mom.  I'm not either.  I try really hard to be consistent with what I say and how I act and that my word is final, but honestly, sometimes I give in, sometimes I'm too tired to fight, sometimes I don't actually care that much, sometimes they are more stubborn than I am, sometimes I just plain forget that I had already said "no" and they keep asking and I realize only after what I've done.  Turns out, I'm not perfect, and it shows up in my parenting.

Criticism: Where is her husband (significant other)?  Even if he was away on a business trip, wouldn't they have checked in with each other?  Why doesn't he help out at all?  She obviously doesn't have to work to support herself...
My life: It seems to me that this movie isn't about the man, it is about the woman.  She is any mom, maybe she does have a husband and he is a total jerk, a workaholic who never comes home but his paycheck does.  Maybe he's a loser who spends all day in bars drinking up their money and debt is one more thing on her list of stresses.  Maybe he has a beautiful mistress and he is on vacation with her in Hawaii right then.  Or maybe she is a single mother, widowed or divorced.  Or maybe, possibly, her husband is a fantastically good man, and they have a strong marriage.  Does it really matter for the message that is trying to be given in this instance?  What does it change?

Devin is up and out the door on a run hours earlier than anyone else in the house (typically) is awake.  Then he leaves for work, and then quite often meetings keep him busy in the evenings. Sometimes he has to go straight from work to said meetings. Sometimes he doesn't get home from these meetings until after I am in bed.  Where is he? Visiting people who need him.  This Saturday he is helping organize and carry out the moves for three (yes, three) separate single women into new apartments.  I probably won't see very much of him at all, between his run and these moves.  Remember how I said I'm not perfect?

Sometimes I do get frustrated and upset that he is gone so much, that other families are "more important" than his own. Can't he see that I need him here? And then I remember where he is going, and what he is doing, and how blessed I am, how lucky to be living the life I live.  There may come a day when I am in need, and I am sure that in that day I will hope and pray that someone will sacrifice their husband's time for me.  I remember that I am stronger than I think I am, more capable than I think I am, and I roll up my sleeves, and I do what needs to be done.
As for not even communicating with him, sure there are days when Devin and I said ten emails back and forth and are on the phone with each other ten times.  Those days are in the complete minority. I don't know if you have ever tried to get ahold of Devin, but he isn't always available at my beck and call.  My marriage is really good, thanks.  I guess I took this one quite personally.

Criticism: The son suddenly remembers his science fair project, the mom slaps it together, they race out the door and somehow are not even late, and then he wins the science fair.
My life: Sometimes, we forget homework and have to do it the morning before school.  Sure those mornings are rushed, but we have also never been late.  It looked to me like he had already done all of the research and had all the papers printed off and had merely forgotten to glue them onto his board.  I don't think the mom is "doing it for him" if she helps him with a glue stick.  It also doesn't take that long to glue some papers on a board and run out the door.  Sure, he should have remembered before that morning, but he didn't, and I guess my kids aren't perfect either.  I'm okay with that.

Criticism: The sister is portrayed as being "narcissistic", wearing lipstick while the mom looks frumpy, selfishly dominating the conversation, not letting the mom vent about her own day.
My life: First of all, it did show the mom putting on mascara.   I applaud her for taking the time.  She was even dressed in a pretty nice outfit.  Next, we have no idea the background of this sister.  We don't know if she is married, divorced, widowed, wanted kids but never had any, had a child who died. There are a million scenarios and we aren't given a peek.  When she called her sister to ask about lunch she said she really needed it.  What she needed was someone who would listen, not judge, and love her.  Sometimes in conversation it is a mutual sharing of thoughts, ideas, emotions, and great bonding happens.  Sometimes one person just needs to talk things out, and you are simply there to be an ear.  There have been times when I haven't noticed that was my role, and opened my mouth, and realized only after that I was the one being selfish in not being a better listener.  Sometimes it's my turn to vent, sometimes it's not.

Criticism: If she could take the little girl to the park, why couldn't she take her on the errands she had planned to run?
My life:  Again, we didn't have time in the video for this kind of nitpicking detail, but it seemed pretty clear to me (again, judging from my life) that they were at a neighborhood park.  The mom and kids walked there, and the sister met them there for leftovers on the bench.  If they could have "gone" somewhere, I bet they would have.

Criticism: With watching the little girl and taking the dinner, couldn't someone else have been found to do it?  Couldn't she have (with regards to the meal) just ordered a pizza?  It was also mentioned that this bringing of food to women after having a baby was somehow a "Mormon" practice.
My life: Let's go back to me not being perfect.  Sometimes I put more on my plate than I can actually do.  Call it pride if you want, but I say yes and then I panic and then I find myself screaming at the oven when things didn't go the way I thought they would. (I have never actually screamed at our oven, but probably wanted to at times, on the inside.)   This one also struck me quite personally.
1. If she had asked them to find someone else, they probably would have.  But who are we to say that that other woman's life was any less stressful or busy that day?  Who are we to say that our plans and to do lists are more important than another's?
2. Sure she could have called a pizza, but for me that defeats the purpose of offering the service.  I don't do it to actually feed the family food, I do it to show them I love them.  And it is probably pride (is this the second or third time I've mentioned that I'm not perfect?) but I like the feeling of making something myself to give them.  I like to take meals to show my love and support for the new mom, and I like to make it myself because it feels more genuine, or something.  Maybe she should have said she didn't have time or asked them to find someone else, but every time I have become stressed and thought, "Next time I'm saying no. I can't do this again. My life is too crazy." I have regretted it.  There may come a time when my life is literally too crazy, but until that day comes I want people to know that I am someone they can count on in their time of need. (I'm not talking about times when  you really can't do it, and that's a definition you have to define for yourself.)
3. I have two neighbor friends of other religions and one I had to practically knock other women out of the way to get in line to provide meals for, and the other I never actually got in because she had too many meals being brought.  It seems to me that it is in no way exclusively a "Mormon" practice.  I'm not even sure why the author of the article mentioned that it was. 

Criticism: at the end she crashes on the couch and cries and her children don't even notice. Is it so common a thing for her to breakdown that her kids don't care anymore?
My life: Kids are kids and they are incredibly observant one minute and must know all of the details of what you are doing and why, and at other times they don't even know or care where you are in the world.  When I cried all night that time I kept getting phone calls from someone saying they were going to kill me, my kids were completely agitated.  They were all over me, confused and scared, and I couldn't even begin to comfort them much less myself.  When I cried all afternoon after handing my statement to the police regarding the man who followed us home from the park, Hanna wouldn't have noticed even if my tears had been bricks falling on her head.  Kids are kids, is what I say.

Criticism: That it was insensitive of her to not tell her cousin that she was running late and might not make it.  It was rude to the cousin who was probably angry at her from the airport.
My life: Again, not perfect. Sometimes in the rush and bustle of things that I have signed myself up for I do forget to perform those little acts of common courtesy.  I do remember them later, and I do kick myself for them, and I do pray that the people affected will forgive me.  Often when I ask forgiveness, the person says they hadn't even noticed my slip.  So maybe she should have texted her cousin, but again, she isn't perfect, and neither am I.  We do our best and we apologize when we mess up.  Also, why would her cousin have been so upset?  She had to sit at the airport during her layover either way.  It's not like she was left waiting somewhere she didn't have to be.  She had literally no where else to go.

Criticism: She already had a babysitter, why didn't she just go out and grab some ice cream and spend some quiet "me" time before coming home?
My life: Maybe that would have been the right answer for some people, recharging batteries that needed it. For me, I know that I would go home because as terrible as some days have been, home is still where I feel best.  Even when my kids are wild animals that I am half ready to sell to the zoo, I would probably end up going to the zoo with them.  Because even in my lowest moments as a mom, this is still where I like to be.  I am not saying that this is in any way better than a woman who would stop and get an ice cream, I am just saying that I would rather eat the ice cream in my own freezer.  To each her own.

What it all boils down to me is the question of why do we serve?  Why do we give of ourselves?  I think that that is something we must determine for ourselves, and we must also determine for ourselves what level we are capable of and willing to give.  Don't let someone else define it for you.  None of us are perfect, we are all giving our best - but let's make sure it is our best.  And let's make sure we do it out of love.

The greater lesson I took out of this message was in the prayer she said in the morning, and the prayer her son said that night, highlighted by her "To Do List" that was repeatedly shown.  In her morning prayer she asked that they would get done the things they needed to, and in her sons prayer he acknowledged gratitude that they had gotten done what HE needed them to, referring to Heavenly Father.  What that says to me is that sometimes, His to do list is not the same as OUR to do list.  She did get done everything HE needed her to do that day. And no, she didn't get to see her cousin which was number one on her to do list, and probably Heavenly Father would have been happy for her to go and spend that time with her cousin.  But it was her fault, her mistakes that kept her from it and maybe if you want to look at a grand design it was so that she could learn this lesson, and get this message.  Sometimes the Lord in his tender mercies does stretch our time and all things work out, and sometimes because of our own mistakes we miss out on things we had wanted to do.  That was the take away for me, was that His to do list is more important than mine, and as long as I do everything on his the rest is just extra bonus.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Ames. And I actually do cook breakfast for my kids about half the time. When I'm not pregnant, we usually do every day. My kids happen to like oatmeal and scrambled eggs, and I do, too. Jill's school doesn't start until 8:35, and it is only a seven minute walk, so it isn't really that hard, because my kids are super early risers.

    And thanks for the reminder that sometimes we need to be the answers to the prayers of others and do what He needed us to do. I am grateful for all my prayers that have been answered by others.

  2. Wow. There are times that I judge others and my opinion is pretty critical; that said I really find I am much happier if I can avoid judging others; I pretty much do not have the information needed.