Poems & Essays

29 Sep

Enough is Enough

General/Column No Response

She’s wearing that red sweater again, I think as my daughter sashays through the room in her favorite 35-year-old red hand-me-down sweater. The sweater that I’ve been dubious about since the beginning. The sweater I’d already removed the drawstring from when she wasn’t looking.

I tell myself that it wasn’t enough.

I watch my children enjoy their bedtime ritual of dress-up, but I can’t see how cute they are. I can’t appreciate the innovation in the little game they made up.

I’m eyeing the zipper on that red sweater.

And the paint on their tea set, the toy cars, the baking dish I donated to their play kitchen, their tambourine, and that basket I got such a great deal on a few weeks ago.

As they play, I sink deeper and deeper into a pit of guilt.

Just a few hours earlier, I’d read an article about the lead on a sippy cup too similar to the ones we use for me to not see the obvious connection. I read about the lead in the seam of stainless steel water bottles like the ones in our cabinets and the label of flip-flops that looked so innocent.

And I wonder how I hadn’t thought to check.

I tell myself I’m not doing enough (again).

Of course it’s not really about the lead in the end, just like it wasn’t really about the botched birthday cake a few months ago, the pile of unfolded laundry last week, or all that screen time this weekend.

(Okay, maybe it’s a little about the lead. You can’t un-see the brazen red lead test results looking you right in the eye.)
It’s really about all the what if’s and what-this-says-about-me’s and what-would-others-think’s.

It’s about being enough and all the ways that I’m, well, not.

Clearly, there’s so much more I could be doing.

The thing is, there’s always been so much more. My whole life has been about enough and more, and I wonder if I wasn’t enough then as a daughter, a sister, a student, a newlywed, a young new mom of one, how will I ever be enough for a family of five? How will I be enough now that I’m older and more worn out? How will I ever be enough when it seems like there’s even less time?

Maybe you know this train of runaway thoughts.

It’s the one that eventually leads to I’m not exercising enough. Definitely not sleeping enough. I’m not writing enough. I’m not prepared enough. I’m not saving enough. I’m not home enough. I’m not patient enough. I don’t eat enough vegetables. I’m not organized enough. The house is most certainly not clean enough.

At any given moment, how many of us are tallying up our shortcomings and reciting that familiar list of ways we’ve let everyone down?

When did enough stop being enough? 

As I sit there plotting how to get my daughter out of that sweater, I think of the unfiltered reactions I get when people find out that my husband is still at home with the kids, that we’ve decided to have a third child (I don’t know, maybe we are crazy), or that we have no idea when we’re moving back closer to home.

There’s always more, and it’s never enough.

More to be. More to feel. More to experience. More to plan. More to do. More to earn. More to achieve. More to remember. More to share. More to change. More to prevent.

By now I’ve identified with more and enough. They’ve become a part of that greatest hits playlist in my head. They feel like they’re a part of me, so letting them go seems unthinkable.

We’ve all internalized our own version of more and enough.

We’ve spent a lifetime steeping in sensational headlines, stories our parents told us about “those people,” unsolicited advice from strangers, and the “I’m just trying to be a good friend when I say this” comments from people we’ve just entrusted with the most private details of our lives.

Together, these tell the story of us, the person who’s only playing the part of someone who knows what they’re doing.

My 2 and 4-year-old play happily, totally oblivious this hidden world of more and enough that I’m currently engulfed in.

I think about the day they won’t need to hold my hand when we cross the street. The day they’re embarrassed to hug me in front of their school. The day they’ll roll their eyes at me and say, “Whatever, Mom.” And the day I watch them drive off in the family car without adult supervision.

I think about first dates and first jobs.

I picture them growing up, moving out, and eventually having kids of their own.

And I wonder if I will have been enough.

Because it really isn’t about the lead. It’s about being enough.

It’s about knowing I encouraged them enough. Taught them enough. Loved them enough. Believed I them enough. Protected them enough.

When did it stop being enough to simply encourage and teach and love and believe and protect?

When did we need to become beyond perfect?

When did enough stop being enough?  

It’s always about more, and the more we do, the less it feels like enough so that one day you’re riding that runaway train of enough and more and prying the red sweater off your daughter.

To be clear, testing your kids’ toys for toxins is not the problem here.

The problem is that spell we’ve been put under by more and enough. It’s seductive and very convincing.

The problem is that enough is NOT the same as perfect, and more doesn’t always mean better.

I watch them play and take a deep breath. Yes, I will probably test that sweater (and the tea set and the toy cars…), but I’ll need to sort through a lot more than lead in the house if I’m going to teach them anything from all this.

Maybe instead of worrying about if I’ve taught them enough, I’ll focus on teaching them the truth.

Instead of teaching them about more, I’ll teach them about our values.

When I encourage them, I’ll encourage them to be happy and free, not more and good enough. And I’ll vow to keep my own expectations and fears of inadequacy in check while I do.

I will hug them and love them and protect them.

I will do all of this while remembering what matters most to us. What fills me up. What makes me feel free and happy. What kind of adults I want them to grow up to be. And what actually makes me a better parent.

Because, seriously, enough is enough.  



Leslie Ralph is the author of the blog, A Year of Happy, where she’s encouraging mothers to nurture themselves, be present in body, heart and mind, and bottle up the good stuff for rainy days and bumpy roads with her signature blend of joyful projects, guided journals, and delectable meditations. You can get your year of happy started now with the 2-minute revitalizing meditation on the house at https://www.ayearofhappy.com/revitalize.

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