Thursday, April 2, 2015

Comparison: The Thief of Joy

A couple of weeks ago, it was the end of Spring Break week and Addie had gotten in the habit of staying up late and sleeping in so I was trying to convince her to go to bed earlier by letting her go to sleep in my bed.  She was alternating between sitting up and bouncing and laughing and then lying back down and stroking my face. I was struggling to be firm in my message that she must go to sleep when she was being so adorable.  Finally around 10pm, she was dozing off so I got my phone out and was reading a blog to wind down myself and it was a mommy blog and it was full of cute and funny tales about her precocious three year old.  I read one about her rocking her daughter to sleep and her daughter telling her she was her best friend but if she really loved her, she wouldn't tell her no so much.  No sooner had I chucked than I felt sadness kicking in.  I looked over at Addie lying next to me and suddenly felt this great loss that she did not talk to me and tell me things like that.  I started thinking about all the cute things 4-year-olds normally tell their parents and becoming aware of what I was missing.  In a matter of minutes, my complete happiness over my sweet little girl whose arm was still wrapped around my back had turned to sadness and grief over what I suddenly felt 'should have been'.  Nothing had changed but my perspective.  The simple act of stopping to compare my life instead of just live it had cost me my happiness.  I gave myself a good talking to and eventually shook it off and was fine but it made me think about how often we do that.  We lose our contentment with what we have when we start focusing on what others have.  

It reminded me of a quote I love that I actually have a printed off version of behind my desk at work: "Comparison is the thief of joy".  I have it placed somewhere that I look every day because it's a reminder I definitely need.  It's actually surrounded by a ridiculous number of quotes because a few months ago I decided that I needed to be surrounded by wise words. 

In October we got Addie's autism diagnosis and for a couple of weeks, it was all feeling very overwhelming. New developmental diagnoses have always been much harder for me than medical emergencies and I can make that claim with a wealth of experience in both over the last four years! In a medical emergency, it is all about right here, right now and there are doctors and nurses making sure you are okay and numbers to follow and people bringing you cupcakes.  It's chaotic and scary but I know what to do with myself and how to stay busy and purposeful and calm.  When I'm facing a new diagnosis and a new change to what I thought my future was going to look like, I get more restless and panicky and sad.  There are no doctors doing anything to fix it, there are no quickly changing numbers to track progress with.  There is just normal life and people handing you daunting packets with names of therapists who may or may not take your insurance.  So, when we got the autism diagnosis, even though it was completed expected, it still started to make me feel all worried, sad and woe is me.  And there was no time for that so I decided some inspirational quotes would help me.  I went straight to the source of all wisdom- Pinterest- and began pinning all these quotes about strength, trials, the future and hope.  It became the perfect project for me when I then printed them out and mounted them all on cardstock and laminated them.  If you know me at all, you know that nothing relieves my anxiety levels like melting plastic onto paper.  As I pulled each freshly laminated warm quote out, I was starting to find my calm again. I taped them up all around my desk and to this day I am surprised that none of my students have asked why it looks like a self help book threw up on my wall.  But, those quotes really did help me!  I would show up at work every day and read all my little pep talks and get my groove back. I was given this life because I am strong enough to live it! The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time!

And of course: 'Comparison is the thief of joy'.   Clearly I should have enlarged that one and made an extra laminated copy for every room in my house.  Because it is a struggle.  I need that reminder every time I go to the playground (perhaps I need a little business card sized laminated copy for my wallet) and a little kid asks Addie to play with them and she keeps walking with her hands full of mulch because clearly it is more fun to throw mulch down slides than play princesses with the other kids.  I need that reminder every time I log on to Facebook and see adorable pictures of little boys playing t-ball and I wonder what Max would look like standing up with a little bat in his hand.   I need that reminder when I'm out to eat and I marvel at a toddler eating chicken nuggets because oh my goodness sometimes I forget that other children eat with their mouths and not with a tube.  Come to think of it, I should probably just go straight to a tattoo parlor and get 'Comparison is the thief of joy' tattooed all over my arms because I need to be reminded of it constantly.

I am still a work in progress on this but I do think my being aware of it has been an important step because at least when I do start getting sad in those moments, I have been able to catch myself and re-focus on what IS and stop my mind from stalling on what COULD BE.   To clarify, none of this is to say there is not a place for real genuine sadness.  I think God completely understands when I feel sad that my children experience frustration and pain because of their disabilities.  I believe He wants me to take those very real and fair hurts to him because He too aches for Max and Addie when they suffer.  And although I know there is little merit to worrying or anxiety, I also believe those concerns for the future can spur us into action and therefore have a place.  It is helpful that it is the desire of my heart to help Addie find her voice.  My dream to see her talking and telling me how she feels has helped motivate us to make the sacrifices we are now making to get her into this school that will best help her get there.  That I don't want my kids to be sick or uncomfortable and that I long for them to develop new skills in their future- those make me a good mom. And I believe God honors that.  What is not good or helpful is that I can be in a perfectly happy moment in my home where I am genuinely enjoying my kids and they are both smiling and happy and I can let the thoughts of 'but it could be better' or 'this is not everything I wanted' slip in.  In those moments, I am just letting my comparisons- to other families, to my previous dreams- rob me of the genuine deep joy that day to day life with my adorable family brings.  That's when I need the reminder.  To stop focusing on anything other than right here right now and the blessings God has given me.  

The reason I am sharing all this is because I don't think this is just MY struggle.  I think it's something we all struggle with and I think it is more difficult than ever when social media makes those comparisons much more frequent and hard to avoid.  In the end, my getting sad because Addie cannot tell me she loves me (despite showing me all the time) is the same as if I were being very happy with my home until I go visit a friend whose home is bigger.  It is the same as feeling happy with my marriage until a friend tell me a story about her husband and his grand romantic gestures and I kinda feel slighted.  We do it all the time- we look at one snapshot of someone else's life and it looks better than our reality.  It's illogical because we don't always want to actually put the effort in it would take to have their life.  I can be completely jealous of someone who is really fit and still have absolutely no desire to exercise ever. It's also irrational because we do not always even know the whole story or want the whole story.  I admire their vacations and think I want that!  But I may not want the work hours that would pay for that vacation.  When we start comparing and wanting, we are trying to trade in a real, true, full life for a series of still frames that would themselves only disappoint.

And when we compare and feel slighted, we lose sight of OUR blessings and we forget to thank God for what we do have.  Because, it may be true that someone has it better, but it is most definitely true that someone else has it worse.  And neither of those really matter.  What matters is what we have been blessed with.  My children have a long list of complications but they are ALIVE and God did that (using some pretty amazing doctors).  There were days when I prayed for nothing more.  When I sat by an isolette and dreamed of them being in my home.  When the very idea of Addie laying next to me in bed was the most precious thing I could imagine.  They have overcome enormous odds to be home and healthy today and beyond that blessing, God has given us generally very HAPPY children who smile most of the time and find great joy in their lives.  Sometimes it's in unusual things- like throwing mulch or the fact that to this day Max acts like the mobile he has had since he was 2 months old is the Most Hilarious Thing Ever.  But you know what, it really does not matter whether it is 'normal' things that make them happy- it matters that they are truly abundantly happy.  And that is just talking about my children.  Some days I think about everything they go through and am working up some mighty self pity that I forget how much I have to be thankful for like seriously the best parents and in laws in the world who have the means and the HEART to help us out all the time and who love spending time with us, or a devoted husband who hasn't been home to Australia in six years because he wouldn't leave our kids for even a couple of weeks and who has given up his career to care for our kids, or a workplace that let me take time off when I needed it and supports me and co workers that really should abandon education and take up stand up comedy because seriously they are hilarious.  There are struggles in my life, for sure, but there are SO MANY blessings.  There is so much joy.  And I'm determined to hold on to every part of it and let nothing steal it from me.  Especially not comparison.  

I am going to have to settle for my laminated cards and my memory because I feel like I might look like a sketchy 80 year old if I have quotes tattooed on my arms.  I am probably going to slip and let those thoughts in sometimes and have those moments where I feel sad for the words I do not yet hear or the freedoms our situation does not afford us.  I am, after all, human.  But, I will try not to let it consume me.  I will try and focus on the sweet little arm on my back in my bed and how many miracles have already happened in her life and how many more I know we are on the cusp of.  I will savor the nights when Max is home and soak up his smiles because let's face it, I was never really cut out to be a baseball mom anyway.  And on top of that, I will every day thank God for my wonderful parents, my witty co workers and my warm bed.  There are some with more and many with less but as for me, my blessings are many and my joy, complete. 

1 comment:

Aaron Burdorf said...

So much love for this! So much truth! Thank you for sharing. :)