For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a terrible sense of balance.
I was five, and my dad decided it was time for me to ditch the training wheels on my bike. There were many trips up and down the driveway that fall afternoon. Leaves crunched beneath my tires, and my dad trotted along behind me, one hand over mine on the handlebars, the other at my back. Each time he let go, I would wobble and crash. Again and again, even though I moved smoothly as long as he supported me, I couldn’t seem to stay the course once he removed his steadying hand. After one particularly bad tumble, I went running into the house, tears streaming down my cheeks, seeking my mama to bandage my skinned knees. I was frustrated, but my dad refused to let me quit trying. Finally, after what felt like hours, he released his grip once more, and I remained upright. I exulted for a few glorious moments, the wind blowing my hair, the sun warm on my face … before I remembered I didn’t know how to stop and crashed once more.
My coordination hasn’t improved much as I’ve gotten older. I regularly trip up stairs, down stairs, and across flat surfaces. I couldn’t figure out waterskiing, and I look like a wobbly newborn colt whenever I wear stilettos. I am an absolute nightmare in a canoe.
The trouble is, the stakes are higher now. I’m not the only one who suffers bruises when I lose my balance. Trying to maintain happy and healthy kids, a happy and healthy husband, a happy and healthy career, and a happy and healthy self brings the familiar wobbles, crashes and flat-on-my-face moments. Feelings get hurt, promises get broken, and I find myself trying to patch it all up, the same way my mama patched my knees after all those falls off the bike. My own happiness, and the happiness of those I hold most dear, often suffers from my inherent clumsiness.
I’m pretty good at maintaining one area. I can forgo everything else and throw myself into my children. I can be patient and attentive, creative and fun. I can build forts, race cars, sort shapes and play dress up. I can be the picture-perfect mom. The problem is, this level of devotion is akin to pedaling uphill, all day long. It takes every ounce of my strength and determination, which means that by the time both kids are tucked into bed, I’m ready to coast. There’s no energy left for work, or conversations with my husband, or that book I’d like to read. My balance has slipped. I won’t make it far before I find myself sprawled on my face, smarting from another stumble. I’ll lose my temper and lash out at the kids for a minor infraction. I’ll chafe at being “just a mom” and that hard-earned college degree going to waste. I’ll argue with my husband about how long it’s been since we had sex. My clumsiness leaves carnage everywhere.
Inevitably, I will overcorrect in the opposite direction. I’ll throw myself into work, earning much-needed money and reclaiming my professional life that was placed on the backburner when our second child was born. For a bit, I’ll feel confident and proud. Then, I’ll notice my children climbing the walls (and the couches and bookcases), and the neglected state of my marriage. Stress and guilt start to pebble my path, and I lose control once more - another crash and burn.
My poor sense of balance is my Achilles heel. It’s the thing that brings me to my knees over and over again as I trip over myself, crushed by the weight of all I carry. It’s more than skinned hands now; it’s scarred hearts. When I find myself kneeling and reeling from my latest tumble, my mama’s words come back to me:
"When life knocks you to your knees, pray for grace. You’re already in the right position, after all."
He answers every time; oh, how He answers. I may not be graceful, but there’s no question that I’m grace-filled. My God reminds me that it’s not my burden to bear alone. He picks me up, dusts me off, and rights me on the path again. He breaks through my pride and stubborn belief that “I can do this myself!” It’s then I see the hands that cover mine and feel the gentle pressure at my back, holding me upright. My husband is always there, steady and sure, ready to catch his more careless partner. My friends, too, are quick to grab me by the elbow when I falter, provided I’ve allowed them to walk next to me in the first place. My dad is still guiding me and encouraging me to be stronger than my frustrations, while my mama is still mending and tending; she alone has the patience to patch me back up again and stem my tears.
The beauty is in the balance, or so I’m learning. I don’t always get it right; if you’ve known me for any length of time, chances are you’ve born witness to my lack of balance – falling, tripping, stumbling – often, over nothing more than air. Stay a little longer, and you’ll likely be exposed to the more hurtful side of my clumsiness; those who stray closest to my path are the most at-risk. Texts go unanswered, date nights are postponed, and pay no mind to my ragamuffin kids. I’ve never had it all together and won’t pretend to now. I am realizing, though, how much of myself I can pour into one area of my life before the others suffer. Through trial and error, I’m finding how to portion myself out to everything that lays claim to me, and yet still have something left that’s just mine, too. It’s a balance as quirky as my grandmother’s famous chocolate icing recipe: too much milk, and the icing slides off the cake; too little, and it’s like trying to spread cement. When the measurements are in balance though, it’s a little piece of heaven.
My perfect balance comes when I accept my own limitations and safeguard as much as I can against my innate clumsiness. It comes when I pray for the bracing hand of a God who is with me and goes before me, preparing the path. It comes when “good enough” replaces “perfect,” and I allow myself the occasional shortcut. It comes when I realize that, sometimes, it’s worth taking the long way for the pure joy of the journey and pleasure of the company. It comes when I strip away all pretenses and admit my balance is lousy without the support of the ones who love me.
It turns out, you stumble less when you allow someone close enough to catch you as you fall.
Written by Jennifer Batchelor
Photo by Sandra Kordazakis.
*This essay was crafted in our last Known Workshop using the prompt of writing in metaphor. Our summer writing camp sold out in one day (!) and we are so sorry if you weren't able to get in. Sign up here to get advance warning and early access next time we host a writing workshop (hopefully soon!).