We were nestled in the comfiest corner of my family room sectional on a mellow summer Wednesday night. Me and some girls I call sisters, friends, fellow soldiers. We gather every Wednesday night in our home and could answer to all kinds of names—Life Group, Small Group, Bible Study, Community Group, Friends Hanging Out, even Church in Our Family Room. What’s noteworthy is that we gather weekly and intentionally along with our husbands (no kids!) to study the Bible and pray and share from our lives. The good, the bad, the, oh, Dark Confessions from a Place Called My Kitchen.
As we do on the reg, that week we split up, guys/girls, for a time of deeper sharing and prayer. We don’t shy away from the real, so I knew I was in a safe place to share my request, thudding in my heart and pressing from inside my stomach.
But the truth is, I was a little embarrassed. In a world of disease and terror and a new tragedy hashtag popping up frequently to break all our hearts, my issue seemed unworthy and trite. Yet still. It was real. And three years’ strong. And frankly, getting worse by the day. So when my turn came, the words tumbled out, messy but true.
“You guys. I joke about Crappy Hour all the time—5 to 7 p.m.—that time of day for moms when everything gets really bad fast. Every day it comes, so you think I’d ‘be ready’ or ‘better at this’ by now. But lately, it’s getting to the point where I truthfully almost can’t deal. Some days, it gets really dark. My frustration at the cranky kids and resentment at the dinner I don’t want to make and impatience for Doug’s long work hours… I just… Some days, I feel like I can’t anymore. Can you pray for me? For my attitude, for my heart, for our evenings? That somehow God would change me and turn this around? I mean, I really can’t go on like this e-ver-y dang day.”
*Shut one eye and squint the other to assess the collective response.*
I also admitted to frequently declaring that Mom goes off the clock at 7:30 p.m., so everyone better be fed-bathed-booked-tucked-in-and-happy by then, OR ELSE. Yeah. Sounds so HAPPY! Adopt me! In addition I confessed that I’d really love a fast-forward button daily for speeding through the pit-hour misery.
Every time I share my innermost mom thoughts, the ones I don’t want to admit to anyone, even myself—I expect some shock, no matter the group. Some judgment, some shame, at least a look to precede the advice. But you know what? I’m learning that this is largely my own insecurity and assumptions. Almost never is this the case. Sure, occasionally this is the case; much as I’d like to say that they’re not, the mommy wars are real and alive and some strangers don’t love my iPad, Velveeta and princess gowns. And sometimes I get a blank stare if a sweet mom doesn’t happen to share my particular struggle, like in Bad Moms when Kristen Bell reveals her deep-dark mom fantasy of landing in the hospital while somebody cares for her kids and the nurses pamper her. (I feel you, KB, I FEEL YOU.) Mostly, though, I am surprised by the tremendous power of vulnerability. I’ll shed my armor if you shed yours. Let’s share our dirt, put it out there, and maybe it will help us feel cleaner.
And my sister moms did just that—climbed in my murky little mom waters, right there with me, with gentleness, affirmation and love.
One friend cited a fascinating statistic that the evening hours are often most difficult for those prone to anxiety and depression—moods dip, tension spikes, as the literal darkness sets in. Another friend admitted that the brutal end-of-the-day was so hard for her, coupled with her chronic illness, that she’d quit cooking dinners from scratch altogether and found total peace in that. One revealed that it’s hard for her not to jump immediately into the contest of “whose day was harder” the second her husband walks through the door each night. Still another simply said, “Oh, it’s SO hard, Steph. It’s no joke, especially with two kids. It’s so gnarly and tense and sometimes it just really sucks.”
Their admissions and kind words baptized me, and I could feel something crystallize. I wasn’t the only one. Day in, day out, of being pulled at and yanked on and tested by the sweet little people we’d die for—well, quite honestly, it is freaking exhausting. And right at 5-7-ish when I once “clocked out” of a long-but-adult corporate work day to meet Doug for happy hour, try a new spin class or leisurely make a divine homemade meal while catching up with all my Real Housewives, I was now thrust into the chaos of a fussy baby (Hadley, you’re so good except for RIGHT NOW!); echoes of Sofia the First (Is she casting another spell? Is that bad? WWJD? Revisit later.); and the only real housewife present, myself, who really wasn’t much fun anymore. Dinner in the oven was also inevitably turning to dust—and Douglas, let’s just please say you get home at 7 because 6 is an L.I.E.
I was drowning and I wasn’t alone, and the empathy and encouragement of my friends felt both comforting and profound. And yet. Crappy Hour was decidedly not going anywhere anytime soon, we didn’t have a fast-forward button, and none of us knew the answer. So one of us prayed for me while the others bowed their heads in agreement.
With her hand on my shoulder, my beautiful friend Ashley spoke to the Lord when I wouldn’t have had the words. She lifted me up and condemned the enemy for stealing my joy every evening. She prayed for my moods and my spirit and attitude every single day as the difficult hours approached, when light turned to dusk, that God would be near to my heart. That I would find meaningful ways to redeem this time—new recipes, new music, new mantras. Whatever it took.
She prayed that I would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that there—right there in my kitchen—was exactly where God had placed me, wanted me, called me—right there and nowhere else—for such a time as this, from 5 to 7 p.m. each weekday. Making spaghetti, setting the table, taking care of my family. The unglamorous, sleeves-up, hard-beautiful-sometimes-thankless-always-sacred work of being a wife and mom.
In Jesus’ name.
I haven’t been the same since that prayer.
Change takes time, of course, and growing pains always hurt. But the part of Ashley’s prayer that resounded deepest within my soul was the prayer, Dear Jesus, that I would believe, and truly know, that right there in my kitchen from five o’clock to seven o’clock each weekday is precisely where I’m supposed to be. Not in an office. Not at a restaurant. Not anywhere wild or sparkly. Right there stirring spaghetti, which I barely like but my family adores. Sometimes the greatest success looks like long silly noodles and chunky meat sauce. Things that make your cute toddler giggle and fill up your husband’s soul.
As I unpacked my poor attitude, inner darkness, even minor panic attacks that had been resulting from Crappy Hour, I saw far more resentment and selfishness that I would like to admit. I accepted, open-faced and dead-on, the fact that three-and-a-half years later, well over a thousand days since working full time as a childless person, parts of me were still mourning the loss of a previous life, which it was finally time to lay down. Let go. Rise up. Make a change for the sake of my family.
Day by day, moment by moment, I started breathing more deeply while cooking dinner and reciting Bible verses I learned as a girl:
“Be still and know that I am God.”
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
“By His light I walked through darkness.”
“What you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.”
“And who knows if you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
(Kingdom/Kitchen/Same. The important thing is reminding yourself that you are an absolute queen.)
I also developed my own mantras:
“Be here. Be present. Be still.”
“Look at these beautiful girls.”
“This is all I ever hoped for. Thank you so much, God.”
“Meatloaf is (GASP) delicious!”
“WHO INVENTED CROCK POTS! I love her. I actually have some time for a living room workout.”
The most important thing is that I yank myself to the present moment, breathing in gratitude, spices and peace—breathing out bitterness, anger and stress. If I shut out the temptation to long for anything other than this, I’m free to love the life right in front of me, and suddenly this really isn’t so bad. In fact, if you look closely enough, it’s astoundingly beautiful. I read this sentence not long ago, in the amazing novel The Light Between Oceans, about those evening hours we dread:
“Families gather, safe and whole, at the end of another day.”
What a privilege, right? A gift? Safe and whole, another day of blessings and struggles, mixed together like meat sauce, maybe not shiny and sexy but fulfilling and good.
My evenings are genuinely a thousand times better than they were several months ago. Sure, some days I blow it and lose it and regret it, because that is motherhood. We have grace for our momentary insanity and then we keep swimming, together when possible, the cloudy waters surrounding us getting clearer all of the while.
And though some evenings I still fiercely crave a fast-forward button when I’m feeling anxious in my own skin/kitchen/spaghetti-sauce-splatters: Did you ever see the movie Click with Adam Sandler? It’s oddly one of my favorites. He finds a supernatural all-powerful remote control that lets him fast-forward through the “unpleasant” moments in life. At first, it seems great! This fight with his wife, that tantrum from his kid, no thank you! But you know what? He misses it. All of it, in the end. He misses the big picture and he loses his family because he skipped the minutiae. And I really don’t want to miss it. A million repetitive nights build a steady, loving, magical childhood. I really believe that.
So I choose to stand there, second by second, staring straight into the pot or pan of the moment, claiming the truth that the only alchemy happening is not in the night’s particular recipe. That God is using hot water and weakness to boil, bubble and stir something new in my spirit, making me better, showing Him stronger, transforming me closer still into the woman I’m intended to be.
Still, life is hard. So in order to not miss it while keeping my cool in a highly chaotic environment, here are some practical things that have helped me out:
- Music: I rarely cook without music now. It helps drown out the kid volume (His mercies are new every evening) and whatever latest cartoon is driving me nuts (The Lion Guard, ugh). Some days my music is hip-hop, others it’s worship, still others it’s Pandora’s Musical Spa Radio station.
- A Good Momtail: Pour LaCroix flavor of your choice over ice! Muddle some raspberry in that thing. Finish off with a lime wedge. You’re on a mini-vacation and you didn’t even need any alcohol! (Thank you to my dear sorority sister + grad school buddy Natasha for this brill beverage inspo!)
- New Recipes: Oh, the power of spicing things up in the kitchen! I’m making things that I love—things I’d order in a restaurant or make for good friends. Really love these favorites, mostly from Skinnytaste.com (my obsession), and none of them are too difficult: Butternut Squash and Black Bean Enchiladas, Turkey Meatloaf, Bandera’s Macho Salad and Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili.
- Not Cooking: Extra bad day? OMG, skip the cooking! Order your favorite take-out or pick up a rotisserie chicken or heat up a Trader Joe’s pizza. You’re done. The kids are all right and you’re still The Queen. Also a little Disney Junior never killed anyone.
- Prayer: Often I say a prayer, echoing the original words that began a new work in me. Within minutes of inviting God’s presence to fall on our kitchen and kindly requesting that the enemy get his butt to the curb because NO he’s not invited to dinner, things feel better and different.
So, take Crappy Hour back with me, guys?!
Let’s make it happy again.
And juuuuust to be sure I wasn’t imagining all this improvement, I asked Doug what it used to be like coming home to the havoc each night.
“Absolute hell,” he said, only partially joking.
“And now?” I winced in regret.
He smiled, pulled me in, kissed my cheek.
“It is a joyful experience.”
For my Life Group girls. Thank you for lifting my eyes up when I can’t see outside my own kitchen.