A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
by Michelle Frindell
He comes by when I am vulnerable and anxious and out of control. Hormones fling wide the door. Sleeplessness and hunger flash beacons to him.
You are not good enough. Not smart enough. Not selfless enough. Not competent enough.
Sometimes he shouts, but mostly he whispers, insidious as a serpent. You’re wrong. You’re foolish. You’re unworthy. You’re not enough.
This voice has plagued me from my earliest memories, beyond the reach of reason.
The one who reduced me to the fetal position on my bed one day in November as my three babies ate and slept and cried downstairs. You can’t do this. You are not strong enough; there is not enough of you to go around.
The one who hisses at me every time I lose my patience with my kids, whenever I raise my voice or toss a sarcastic remark at them as I walk away from their tears because my gentleness has maxed out.
The one who tells me it’s your fault; you should be able to fix this when one of my kids’ anxiety about making mistakes is so strong that this kid now refuses anything but a sponge bath, refuses to have a diaper off at all, and is making limited progress sitting on a potty.
The one who laughs in knowing mockery when one of my kids is still learning to handle Big Feelings. This kid throws things or hits or runs, say, toward parking lots because the two-year-old psyche gets so overwhelmed by anger, frustration, sadness, powerlessness, that it goes Caveman. And I know those impulses. And I feel powerless to help. They inherited your temper. You still lose it too, don’t you? What kind of model are you?
I have come to realize that this voice is part of me. I can’t outrun him. I can’t stick my fingers in my ears and pretend he doesn’t exist. I can’t evict him from myself.
But I don’t have to listen to him.
I say: Enough.
I say: Parenting is hard. Raising triplets is hard. I’m doing the best I can. And that is enough.
It has taken becoming a parent to make me face exactly how imperfect I am: how broken, how vulnerable, how human. It has taken becoming a parent to show me that not despite my flaws, but because of them, I am enough.
I am enough not because my counters are always spotless or my floor clear of clutter or birthday cards are mailed on time. Not because I never yell or I shove shoes on the screaming, rigid kid because we-just-need-to-get-out-the-door-now or I need some grown-up time.
I am enough in the way I cheer for my kids when they do something well: show kindness, try something scary, help without being asked.
I am enough for my daughter when she cries out for Mama after bedtime and, when I stand by her crib, leans against me, needing nothing more than a hug and the reassurance that I’m still there. Night after night. Call after call. I always come.
I am enough because as I told my husband through gritted teeth how frustrating the potty training journey is, my son looked up from his dinner and said, “Don’t be frustrated, Mama,” then reached out his arms and called across the room, “Long-distance hug!”
I am enough for my daughter as she cares for her dolls and animals with the same compassion and often the same words that she sees me express.
I am striving to do better, always. Reading and researching and praying and reflecting, but at my core, enough for my husband and my kids and my family and community.
If there is one thing I want my children to know, really understand with their souls of light, it is that they are enough. Simply by being who they are, learning and becoming and growing, they are enough.
There is no lesson plan, no parenting expert, no researched strategies available that teach this. No matter which parent label I am failing at the moment–am I attached enough? do I set enough boundaries? do I let my kids fail enough? do I praise them too much?–one thing I do is see my kids as they are. Their beautiful smiles, their successes, their frustrations. I know their favorite dinosaur is the Neovenator. I know what songs help each one calm down. I know their temperaments, their sleeping positions, the sound of each one’s voice over the monitor. I know their hearts.
So they need to see me as I am. A soul of light who makes mistakes and grows and changes and makes mistakes again, and makes amends. Enough.
Michelle Frindell is a full-time mom to triplet toddlers, part-time high school English teacher, 3/4-time cook, half-time writer. Her favorite place in both grandmothers’ houses was the kitchen table, where cookies were eaten, Boggle and Trouble games won and lost (not graciously), and Nana and Grandma stories were absorbed. Her own kitchen table is likely covered in toast crumbs or play food or Duplos or all of the above, but you are welcome to pull up a chair, grab a chipped tea mug, and hang. She is always appreciative of kindred spirits. You can find her writing at Maple Leaf Kitchen.
I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the honorable mention entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Michelle’s story:
Korie: “What simple, true and powerful words; thank you for telling your story.”
Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.
Meghan: “I loved this! Beautifully written, poetic, something I want to save and read in those moments when I need it.”
Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart.
Aj: ““So they need to see me as I am.” Hiding imperfection in public in one things; hiding imperfection from those you live with is another.”
Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press.
And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.
Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net