There are holes in my walls, rounded fist sized holes, not an easy admission for one who so owns the preference of order and perfection.
I can recall in those burgeoning first weeks of motherhood, being so off put by the absolute chaos created by the nine pound cherub who had wrenched from my hands any level of systemic organization that I had so strived to create in the nesting phase of gestation. The appearance of mountains of clothing spilling over laundry baskets taunted my very being, and the unused infant gear that I so insisted upon for the very survival of my son, threatened me from every inch of our closet-sized family room. Armed with a degree in Child Development and fresh from a child-centered career, I was absolutely unprepared for the idea that every well intentioned purchase, every scrubbed toilet and every inch of carpet covered flooring would be subject to the sticky hands, sour stomach and the well intentioned creative side of my new little muse.
While motherhood came with sweet instinct to me, the birth of five children in as many years introduced me to the world of imperfection in ways for which I was not prepared. For much of my life I relied heavily upon the thoughts of others to define me. If I presented the picture of perfection before the rest of the world I would be deemed worthy and accomplished, two things that I had yet to find within my own spirit. My children, in public, would be polished and carefully coordinated as to give no indication that life was anything other than ordered. But life behind well-tended exterior walls was far less tidy. In those very early years of parenting, order was a dream replaced by five gloriously needy, messy little beings who, though certainly without the effort of intention, began to teach me the value of chaos and the danger of order. In the midst of the mess, an extraordinary family was born.
My early years were stable and good. Hard work was valued, modeled and applauded. Being honest and funny was highly treasured. We had beach vacations and family reunions, there was always plenty to eat, and we went to church every Sunday. Looking back, it was a pretty ordinary, do-your-homework, sheltered-little-girl kind of life. My expectation of family was tidy but was it true?
I have, for the whole of my life, heard words like dysfunction and broken, tossed about effortlessly and with little thought. And I began to wonder if somewhere there existed this otherworldly family made up of people who never disagreed and who never spat words they did not mean. I wondered what it was about my growing family that made us so different, so interminably messy, uncomfortably gritty and exquisitely real. But what I have come to understand in the most stunning of ways, is that dysfunction and broken are quite simply born of the attempt to label the trials and tribulations of family life.
Family is family. It is not defined by marriage certificates and divorce decrees. It is neither a birth certificate nor an adoption proclamation. Families are born of connection. They are not static or rigid. People marry and people divorce. They are born and they die. Family, after all, is fluid and evolving. And within the family there is no need for perfection, for there are holes in our walls. There is only a need for honesty, for this is the spine that keeps us upright and true. There is a need for vulnerability, the blood that runs rich and resilient. And there is simply the acknowledgement of our shared humanity, the full circle of human emotion included that steadies a beating heart.
In so many ways I have had the opportunity to grow up with my children. And although I have yet to fully surrender my need for order, they have shown me that their security and endearment, the value of our family, is not based upon my perfection nor is my vast love for them based upon theirs. Oh that they might know the value of the holes in their walls, because beautiful things break, that is how you know they are real.