Not too long ago, while I was volunteering at my son’s school, a fellow volunteer called me Dory. Dory, as in the little blue fish who originated in the animated classic, Finding Nemo. It was, in part, due to her frustration, but it was said with humor and love. To be honest, it was not an unfair comparison. I had just come floating in at my scheduled time to “help out” on a project she was literally knee deep and drowning in. None of the things had gone to plan. People who committed to showing up, did not. We were hopelessly behind and understaffed. It was going to be a long day, but I was so happy to be there. I was confident we would get it done. Indeed, we just kept swimming, it all came together, and we had a great time. Later, she asked me what it was like to be so effortlessly optimistic. My answer was simple. There is nothing effortless about it. My optimism isn’t born out of lack of awareness or forgetfulness. It is born out of my intention to extend grace and keep moving forward.
As moms, we often hold ourselves and each other to impossibly high standards. Who could blame us?
We want the very best for our children and our communities. We want to show up and get it right every time. But getting it right doesn’t mean the journey isn’t messy. Volunteers are going to fail to show up. The best laid plans fall apart, and we will be left to put it together again. Sometimes, WE are going to be the moms who just can’t make it to the event. We will not always be welcome at every table we need to sit at. So, how do we stay present in the chaos, hold on to our friendships, bring joy, and create opportunity? I believe it begins when we commit ourselves to the practice of extending grace.
I do not mean the kind of grace that allows us to turn a blind eye to poor choices or run from difficult conversations. This is not social grace or polite dismissal of those we feel fall short. There is no, “Well, bless her heart,” happening when real grace is practiced. I am talking about untamed grace that gives us the courage to have the difficult conversations even when we know those conversations will likely lead to uncomfortable changes. I am talking about the grace that allows us to live authentically and imperfectly. This grace allows us to sit at tables with people we do not agree with, listen to differing viewpoints, and stay at the table. There is nothing effortless about extending grace, but once you find it and cultivate it, it rushes out of you like a waterfall. You instinctively stop focusing on the “missed” steps and begin to focus on the “next” steps.
One of my favorite scenes in Finding Nemo is that moment that Dory and Marlin are almost to the East Australian Current (EAC) that will lead them to Nemo. They have to choose the dark path through the ridge or the bright path over the ridge.
Dory remembered that through the ridge was the safe way, but she couldn’t remember why. She reminded Marlin that, “Trust is what friends do,” but he chose to trick her into going over the ridge instead of facing his fear and going with her through the ridge. As a result, she followed Marlin into a perilous situation, and they found themselves surrounded by deadly jelly fish. It’s only then that Marlin leans into Dory’s “present moment” way of thinking as she unwittingly uncovers that they can get to safety by bouncing off the top of the jellyfish. The great thing about Dory in this moment is that she is not focused on how Marlin failed or how she failed. She is just taking it one jellyfish at a time. Spoiler alert: They learn to work together and eventually find Nemo.
We can learn a lot from both Dory and Marlin. True, our mom-life struggles are not jellyfish — but they certainly come with stingers. Extending grace in failure is like our very own version of bouncing of jellyfish. It is perilous but exhilarating.
Forgive yourself when you don’t meet your own expectations. It is hard, but so important. Accept that our friends will sometimes let us down and just love them anyway. Forgive the mom who bit your head off or undervalued you. Encourage the volunteer who forgets to show up. Constantly remind people of their value. Look for those who aren’t at the table and take action to find them a seat. Take pictures for the parent who can’t make the performance. Speak your truth and know that some people will walk away. Don’t allow yourself to get tangled up in the tentacles of drama, expectation, and self-doubt. In that chaos, we can lose sight of each other. We lose sight of our common goals. We lose friendships. But on the other side of grace, we find each other again. We move forward. We create our happy new beginnings.