Moms, guilt and lies are a powerful combination that begin to swirl confusion in the home as if a tornado is coming through. I will never forget a tornado moment of stress that caused a honest conversation to happen between me and my kids on the way to the airport.
I remember Brian and the kids all packed in the car. They were ready to drive me to the airport. I was flustered getting out the door. Not because I forgot to pack something. My suitcase had been packed for the last ten days. Not because we were running late, we were actually ahead of schedule. Why was I flustered? One simple word. Guilt.
Before that summer started, before my dad’s horrible car accident of almost losing his life when a teenage girl texting hit him, I pictured something very different for our summer than what had happened. I pictured long, lazy afternoons at the pool, sticky popsicle fingers, another round of sprinklers, another slice of watermelon, a Saturday of meandering through garage sales, a camping trip along the river bed and bike rides—lots of bike rides.
But life doesn’t always go the way we planned. The first six weeks of summer were spent in the hospital with my dad. He had lost his left leg in the accident and crushed almost every other bone from his hips down. It was a tough, tough time for our family, and it continues to be an intense struggle for him. But, I also had amazing conversations with him that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Within days of that six week period ending, I started traveling for work. Ten days of travel with two nights at home in between cities. A beautiful wedding in Colorado, an important speaking engagement in LA, and then starting to make regular trips to NY as Nate Berkus’s photo expert. Somewhere in between the LA and NY trips, guilt reared it’s ugly head which brings us back to the car ride to the airport.
I felt so guilty about leaving the kids again that all my behavior was highlighted with stress. Flustered packing, snappy responses to Brian, stressed, work conversation in the car, it was turning into a whirlwind of anxiety. Brian asked me to try and calm down so that I didn’t leave him and the kids with so much stress. I wanted to cry the moment he said that.
I think that part of me felt like he didn’t get it or understand. How could he ask me for something, when I was giving all I had? You know that whole path of logic—it’s basically titled “woe is me”. But underneath all the woe is me stuff, I realized my outward stress was about something much more. I realized I was acting out all this stress because I was hoping the kids could see how much more I wanted to be with them. I was under the impression that my stressed behavior was actually giving to them, showing them how much I love them and want to stay. Oh man, I knew there was only one way to find out if this was true. Turn around and ask the kids.
We stopped for gas, and I strategically waited for Brian to get out of the car. Wasn’t ready to own up to all this in front of him, not yet. “Pascaline, when you see your mom stressed like this, do you feel loved by me or more stressed?” There was no hesitation for Pascaline OR Blaze. “I feel more stressed mom. It’s really hard to see you this overwhelmed.” And then she went on to speak such innocent wisdom that left me speechless.
“Mama, I know you have to travel a lot for works sometimes, but I just want to see you happy. If your happy, than I feel happy for you. If your happy and excited to go on this trip and do all these fun things, I’m happy and excited too. But when your stressed, and you say you don’t want to go, my stomach starts to hurt because I don’t know how to help. I feel really helpless.”
Oh my goodness. I sat there in total astonishment. It was so clear. The kids are happy if I’m happy. The kids are excited if I’m excited. Even though my Pascaline was a strong willed, intelligent nine year old, she still looked to me to know what was okay and not okay in this world. If I’m good, she’s good. How did I miss it? Again?!
Blaze said he feels sad when I’m stressed, and he doesn’t like saying goodbye to me at the airport when he’s already sad. And that was all I needed to hear. Brian got back in the car, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. I asked both the kids and Brian to forgive me. I told them that I was actually really excited about this next trip, but I didn’t want them to think I was ever excited to leave them.
Pascaline chuckled and said, “Mama, I know you love your work, but I know you L-O-V-E me way more! You don’t have to worry about us thinking something crazy like that! We just like it when your happy.”
From that minute, I put a smile on my face. I told them what my trip was about, what opportunities were waiting, how excited I was to go, what an adventure it would be. And they listened wide eyed. When we got to the airport, I hugged and kissed them. And instead of apologizing for having to travel so much the last ten days, I pushed all that away and told them how excited I was to go swimming when I got back. I kissed and squeezed and kissed and hugged them until it was time to go. And Brian whispered ‘thank you’, as I walked through the double doors into the airport, waving one last time.
Our kids are happy, if we are happy. Is it really that simple? From that day, I made a promise to myself. Even when I’m beat down and tired and dread getting on another plane, I’m going to smile and tell the kids how happy I am to try this new adventure, but even more so, how much happier I am to come home to them.
This is what amazes me. I have multiple sources that I go to when I need affirmation on whether or not I’m making the right choices or pursuing the right things. Sometimes I go overboard and look like a woman with twenty five headlamps on her head, pointed in different directions. But the kids…the kids have one headlamp.
It’s a single light that shines in into the darkness of all tomorrow’s unknowns. And I have never realized how fixated their light is on mom and dad. If mom and dad are good, they know they can relax and feel safe in the world. It’s not about the hours I’m working or the trips I’ve needed to make. It’s about the peace and joy I have when I’m with them. If their little search light finds that on me, they are good.
You may have a crazy schedule right now or a mellow one. Ask yourself today, “When was the last time I did something for me?” If it’s been longer than a week, roll up your sleeves. This isn’t just about you, but the whole family. What can you commit to doing today that will bring you joy, peace or rest? Maybe it’s a day to yourself, time set aside to work on your photography, a walk with just you and the dog (minus the neighborhood kids riding their bikes behind you), go see a movie alone (a favorite of mine)…whatever it is…make it happen.
I have a feeling that it will not only fill you up, but the whole family, especially when those little headlamps illuminate you.