My first Christmas gift of the season came a couple weeks early, at a play date with a dear friend and our kids. As time was drawing to a close, she pulled out a small gift bag and handed it to me. My kids instantly zeroed in on the reindeer-adorned bag, tearing into a treasure trove of lollipops and tissue paper. Their animalistic urgings satisfied, the actual gift remained untouched at the bottom. Pulling it out, I was greeted to the sight of an adorable mug.
I have to admit, I initially didn’t read much into it. Instead I was captivated, as usually happens, by the eye-catching glitter.
“Oh, I love it! This is so cute!” I remarked.
“Well, you are Wonder Woman,” my friend replied.
It hadn’t been a particularly great day up to that point. Hours earlier, my husband had left for a work trip that would leave me juggling the kids, work, and the household duties as the holiday season ramped up. Focused and determined to keep pace with a self-imposed schedule, I rage cleaned baseboards and toilet seats, doorknobs and shower drains, mirrors and dishes. I cursed under my breath at the remarkable amount of cheap plastic toys strewn haphazardly around the house.
Yet, I carried on—a madwoman of sorts, cleaning as if the world depended on it.
Several hours in, I felt as if I was constantly two steps behind, never fully catching up. My nerves were frayed; my patience spent. And then I turned around to find my children exploring the joys of puffy paint, which further confirmed that, no, the work really wouldn’t ever end.
Just like that, the madwoman was at it again, half-heartedly mumbling responses to never-ending pleas for snacks and drinks, for help changing Barbie clothes, and assistance reaching a too-high-up piggy bank. In the back of my mind, I ruminated over the honey-do list that hadn’t been completed before my husband left, frustrated that his household priorities didn’t match mine to a tee. I could feel my anxieties and frustrations boiling over—multiplying, expanding, taking up far more room than they should ever be given. And yet, I felt helpless to control any of it—powerless, defeated.
So when I say that it hadn’t been a particularly great day, what I really mean is that I hadn’t felt like a particularly great mom or wife. I knew I had been ignoring my little ones in pursuit of some vague feeling of accomplishment. I knew I hadn’t shown my husband much genuine affection or concern as he walked out the door. And with that kind of knowing comes the aching guilt of which we are all too familiar — the feeling of failure in the midst of trying our absolute hardest.
No sooner had the broom and sponges been put away in recognition of the fruitlessness of my endeavors, than the doorbell rang. In walked that dear friend and her two little girls. Before long, laughter filled the house as all four kids gleefully ran off to entertain themselves.
My friend and I moved into the living room and, for the first time all day—indeed, what felt like the first time all week—I simply sat. Sunlight poured in through the open windows and I exhaled deeply. It was a good healing breath, one that took me out of my head and into my present. And when I took a moment to recognize it, the present was pretty darn good—puffy paint stains on the walls notwithstanding.
For the next couple hours, we chatted and enjoyed one another’s company. There was still laundry to be done and a toy room that had been almost instantaneously destroyed, but in the presence of a good friend, my once monumental concerns became entirely trivial.
And as often happens in this roller-coaster of a military life, this was no ordinary Sunday afternoon coffee.
Within the week, my friend would be moving across the country—the last of a core group of women who had made the time at our current duty station so fulfilling and meaningful. One by one, new duty stations called until it was just the two of us. I was acutely aware that, before long, even that would change.
Maybe that’s what pulled me back into the moment. Maybe it was the heavy air of yet another goodbye, another last, another loss. I realize that sounds hyperbolic—hysterical, even. But if I’ve learned anything in my years as a military spouse, it’s that the friendships we cultivate—no matter the time we are given—leave lasting impressions. We celebrate holidays, babies, and marriages together. We confide in one another our insecurities and fears. They are friendships often born of necessity and bonded by experience. They are invaluable.
So perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that a simple visit from a friend could so quickly rearrange my priorities for the better. That’s what we do for another: bring out the best.
Still, while a visit from my friend had quickly lifted my mood, I certainly didn’t feel as though I was in a great place. In fact, the whirlwind of life over the past few months had left me racked with guilt and feeling inadequate. So when she explained the meaning behind the mug, I was taken aback, unsure of how to respond.
There I was, just a couple short hours removed from the hot mess of a mom who had been tearing through the house in a huff. And there she was, a woman whom I admire and strive to emulate going out of her way to empower me. This is a woman who has seen me lose my cool in front of my kids, who has seen the graveyard of forgotten toys that is my backyard. She knows my imperfections. How could she possibly utter those words with a straight face?
Sensing my hesitation, she continued, “You are Wonder Woman. We all are.”
That did it for me: we all are.
I relaxed into the compliment, nestling into the warmth of recognition, of appreciation. It’s something so simple but so necessary, a balm for the soul which we often forget to apply; because in the midst of countless awards and promotion ceremonies for our significant other, it’s easy to forget that our sacrifices matter, too; that this life demands a lot, and perfection isn’t required. It’s easy to forget that supporting our families through never-ending transitions takes a great deal of strength.
For me, it took sparkles and glitter to open my eyes. Maybe it looks different for you. But whatever it takes, find a moment to sit in the bright sunlight, take a long healing breath, and tell yourself, I am Wonder Woman.
Then go out into the world and empower other women to feel the same; because it can be so easy to lose sight of the extraordinary nature of the sacrifices we make. We become blind to our own fabulousness, and sometimes it takes a thoughtful friend to remind us of our own inner strength.
You can be that person for somebody. You can do anything. After all, you are Wonder Woman. We all are.