Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Grace

Last night a friend from choir dropped off my husband’s Lecture notebook along with two surprise books for me. My friend is a psychology professor and we’d been talking about the “Anxiety Cure for Kids” as a solution to Hannah’s elevator phobia. (Hannah spent time alone in an elevator two years ago when my stroller with Alex got stuck outside as the doors closed. A nurse held her hand on the second floor and brought her right back down. Hannah’s elevator phobia, however, has gotten worse over time.)

I started reading the adult version of “Anxiety Cure” for some clues to help me and Hannah. I was shocked to get hold this clear key of understanding for my relationship with my Mother. It’s such a perfect measure of grace for me.

I think I’ve blogged a lot about my struggles with how to honor my Mom. I’m pretty sure that my Mom has an undiagnoised anxiety disorder. I know for certain that me, my daughter, and my maternal grandmother all suffer from the same thing. I also know that my maternal great-grandmother suffered a “nervous breakdown” in the 1940s and spend the next 24 years in a mental institution. (The only other facts I know about great-grandma Ruth is that she was a college educated women in the 1890 and the only explanation ever given for her break-down was “she was a college woman who couldn’t adapt to rural farm life,” something I unhelpfuly replay in my mind on particularly rough stay-at-home Catholic mothering days.)

So anyways, I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know if my Mom has an anxiety disorder per se, or just inherited some maladapted strategies for dealing with stress from the maternal McCormick clan. I do know that I’ve harbored some major resentment for the lack of a home-making role model I had as a kid.

Our house was always chaotic and tipsy-turvy. If you picture you home during a bad bout of the stomach flu, that is the state of my childhood house all the time. Life was one stressful event after another for my family. It wasn’t “real stress” that other people could see. It was more like “fake stress.” The consequences were real though.

I remember watching a Reading Rainbow series a few months ago and feeling overwhelming envy for a kid with a wheel-chair bound Mother. The series on kids with disabled parents was supposed to highlight how rough it is for a first grader to have to sweep the kitchen floor and open up chicken soup can for his single parent with M.S. “What a hard life,” the host sympathetically intoned.

My internal thoughts went something like this “at least he can see why his Mother can’t care for him. Its obviously, she’s in a wheel chair. He won’t grow up thinking that Mothering tasks aren’t important. He won’t think that he doesn’t deserve it.”

One of the worse, biting things about mental illness is that it’s invisible. You can’t see it. No body else can see it either.

I remember this one day during my 17th summer. My sister and I were alone at home for a week. My Dad was leading a college student trip out of the country, and my little brother was staying with my grandparents. My Mom left on a teaching trip and left us twenty dollars to feed ourselves for six days. It was Thursday and we hadn’t eaten in for a day because we ran out of money. There was nothing in the house, no saltine crackers, no extra pennies under the couch. (There was a refund check that my Dad had promised was in the mail before he left on his trip two weeks before and had to empty out our checking account. The check hadn’t arrived. The four of us had exhausted all the food and coins in the house before my Mom’s trip.)

My sister and I were both working at the annual Methodist Minister’s conference at the college next to our house. My clear memory is putting on my best Sunday School dress, the one from the Limited with blue poseys on a cream background and scheming about how to smuggle a donut left out for the volunteers home to my hungry sister. “I could just ask?” I thought. Then it hit me with a start, no one know that we are this hungry. No one expects that girls who wear Limited dress can go 48 hours without food. None of those sweet ministers would hesitate to share their breakfast with hungry kids. At the same, time I knew for certain that my Mom would never, ever forgive us if we asked for so much as an extra donut.*

So that’s why I was mad at that poor first grader. When your Mom is in a wheel-chair, people notice. They bring over casseroles and stuff. When your Mom is chronically embarrassed and ashamed, nobody can tell that anything is wrong from the outside.

So I’ve had all these feelings for a long time. Every time I learn how to do something new as a home-maker, it’s accompanied by a mourning period “why didn’t I have this growing up as a kid?” Then I read that passage in Anxiety Cure which I quoted in an earlier post. Turns out that chaotic housekeeping and anxiety tend to go together. I could no more expect my mom to have a smooth, efficient household routine when I was a kid, that that first-grader could will his mom to get out of her wheel-chair.

This anxiety craziness thing, is ending with me. I’ve got the tools. I’ve got the heavenly help. I’ve got the sacraments and saintly intercession of Brother Lawrence. We are starting our baby steps in the daily routines outlined by Home Comforts. I’m making a pledge that with Our Blessed Mother’s help, I’m going to cling to my house-keeping routine even on days when I don’t feel like it. I need structure because structure helps keep me well.

I’ve been so blessed to have a Mother who gave me life and who got me baptized. I’m blessed to have a heavenly Mother who lends me all the home-making with a cheerful heart lessons that I lacked growing up. I’m even more blessed to have children who know how to pray to their Gardian Angels in elevators and ask St. Anne to help them learn how to read. I’ll do my best with these mothering tasks and trust our Blessed Mother to handle all the rest.




* As a post note, God always knows when you are hungry. My job for the day was driving around elderly visitors. One couple was so charmed by me that they insisted on buying me dinner at the college cafeteria. I asked immediately if I could take my little sister. At the free meal, I told my sister to stock up so that it would last her all the next day. My sister told me that would be “accepting free food from a poor minister would be like stealing from the church.” I told her “this is God providing for us!” I got her to eat only one sedate piece of chicken and she passed on the ice-cream sundaes.

4 comments:

  1. Wow, what a touching, interesting post. Thank you for sharing your insights!

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  2. Really interesting post, Abby. I'm glad you're feeling empowered to create a home through grace, rather than anxiety.

    Interestingly, stress in my life (and my mom's and maternal grandmother's lives, too) led to the opposite of what your describing - obessive compulsive behavior about housekeeping, not chaos. There is a lot of mental illness in my extended family (out of my grandfather's family of eight, six of them were treated with electric shock therapy!), but it generally resulted in an over-structured, repressive, non-communicative lifestyle with very, very, very clean houses! While thankful neither my mother or myself have struggled deeply with mental illness, we both turn to cleaning and laundry in times of stress. When I feel out of control, I seem to think, "Well, I can control how clean my house is - let's break out the mop!" While I end up with a clean house, everyone in the family suffers. Woe to the husband or child who tracks dirt on when one of those moods is upon me! Thankfully, I've recognize my behavior more clearly all the time and can use cleaning as a stress-reliever, but within reason.

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  4. Wow, Maria. That is so interesting! I didn't realize that anxiety & housekeeping could fall in either of two extreme camps. Sounds like eating disorders.

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