This One’s for the Mothers

It’s May, what I like to call work-with-the-windows-open-in-my-office month. Now I can hear the community sounds as they rise up to greet me at my desk – the distant lawn mower, the mailman pulling up into the cul-de-sac, kids laughing from the trampoline, bark-gossip between neighboring dogs.

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Sometime during the past week or two, newborn baby cries have joined the neighborhood chorus.

Our backdoor neighbor paces their yard several times a day holding their newest member. Through the trees I can’t always tell if it’s the Mom or the Dad, but I always know it’s the baby – short wails and baby hiccups give her right away.

I think these sounds mixed with the arrival of Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge have me thinking back kindly on the early days of having a new baby.

But I’m no fool.

Motherhood is both miracle and madness.

And so here is a toast for all the mamas everywhere during this week before Mother’s Day. It’s not the first or the best ode to mothers on the internet, but the words came to mind this morning and so I offer them to you:

a toast for the mothers

Here’s to you, dear mama, with the tired eyes, the impossible schedule, and the sour milk smell all over your clothes.

Here’s to you with the PBS cartoons in the background, eating a handful of goldfish and calling it lunch, with the toddler who just learned the word mine and won’t stop secreting bodily fluids from all of their orifices.

Here’s to you who negotiates bedtimes and snack times with a special kind of finesse, the likes of which Wall Street and Washington have never seen.

Here’s to you who would gladly and without hesitation jump in front of a bus for your children but, for the love, cannot manage to find the energy to make one more PB & J.

Here’s to you leaving work early to pick up ginger ale and saltines for his upset tummy and digging through the trash for the accidentally discarded lovey.

Heres’s to you buying poster board at the only open drug store at 11 pm because someone forgot to mention that science fair project.

Here’s to you making the ten thousandth school lunch, driving them to practice, trying to remember the multiplication tables while you make the dinner they probably won’t eat.

Here’s to you asking for help, letting someone else do the laundry and take them to swim practice because you need a minute.

Here’s to you who fights off guilt, comparison, and shame.

Here’s to you who chooses love, laughter, and a light-heart every chance you get.

Here’s to you who is raising them up all by yourself, doing the job of two parents with the energy of only one.

Here’s to you praying for their friendships, playing in the backyard, buying shoes again.

Here’s to you who doesn’t always have the answers to the endless questions, the patience for their constant demands, or the words to communicate just how much you love them.

Here’s to you cringing in the passenger seat, staying up til curfew, making pizza for bottomless stomachs.

Here’s to you cheering on the sidelines, laughing at their humor, counting down the days.

Here’s to you straightening the bow tie, listening in doorways, braiding her hair.

Here’s to you making reservations, holding up a camera, waving from the driveway.

Here’s to you who prays in the darkness, longs for connection, hopes for the future, and always wants what’s best.

Here’s to you, dear mama, who no longer has children in your house but holds them always in your heart, who leaves backdoors open wide and arms open wider.

Here’s to you – sisters, aunties, grandmas and friends – who do the mother work as you listen, cheer, help, and walk with children in ways only you can do.

Here’s to you who longs for the children you don’t yet have or children you now only hold in your heart.

Here’s to your courage, creativity, and faith.

I raise my coffee mug to you.

And maybe a wine glass or two.

You are exquisite.

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The Spiritual Discipline of Learning Nothing

Releasing My Lesson Obsession

Last week we walked through a profound disappointment with one of our girls. I use the word “profound” because that’s how it feels when you’re eleven. Basically, she longed for something that, in the end, belonged to someone else.

As her mom, I see all the necessary parts of growing up happening in this one disappointment — the spiritual discipline of letting go, the practice of faith, the understanding that smallness is not always something to run away from.

But in her most vulnerable moments, lessons don’t help her, at least not the kind you teach on purpose.

Still, I sensed the tension within myself – on the one hand I felt like I should be teaching her something in all this, helping her to see the markers. On the other hand, I just wanted to comfort her and to remind her she isn’t alone.

It’s true, learning is good and disappointments are an opportunity for growth. But I’ve grown weary of trying to squeeze a lesson out of everything, of always asking what God is trying to teach me in every circumstance, of seeing the world through lesson-colored glasses.

I am guilty of managing my experience of difficulty so my struggles don’t feel wasted. In this action, I fear I’ve missed sacred times of healing in the darkness because I’ve wanted to rush ahead to the more understandable light. I have bullet-pointed my soul so that things make sense and have regarded God only as my teacher, forgetting he is also my friend.

School is good and necessary, but in my heart I long for home.

The words of Paul come to mind as I remember he didn’t say “To live is to become Christ-like.”

It sounds almost right, but it’s completely wrong.

Instead, he said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

To live is a person, Christ himself.

Sometimes I teach my kids stuff on purpose. Mostly, though, I just enjoy their company.

Today I’ll practice walking into the great mystery of God. I will practice encountering Jesus as a person and not a character. I will live this day as a daughter first and allow the student to tag along behind.

Today I’ll grieve the losses, laugh at the jokes, sit in the silence, and move through the routines. I’ll keep my eyes open for Christ’s presence rather than trying to figure out his plan. And as I carry each moment as it comes, I will release my obsession with learning a lesson and instead begin to learn the person of Christ, whatever that might mean today.

A Staying Prayer for Mothers of College Freshmen

staying prayer for mamas

The next few days may be marked with lasts,  but soon her grown-up child begins a new set of firsts. She helps him pack his bags with clothes and his boxes with books. But you see what the mamas carry in their hearts – anticipation, longing, love, regret, anxiety, nostalgia, and resolve.

They are a mix of excited, terrified, and closed-eyed hope.

As she watches her child look for a fresh start, remind her to make her home in you.

As she sends her freshmen off into the world, make her feet steady to stay behind – sure, confident, and at peace.

As she prays for her daughter to find good friends, may you bring prayerful friends to her own side, to remind her she is not alone.

If insecurity, fear, or disappointment knock on her empty-nest door, may she turn to you with her questions rather than get busy doing.

If she receives calls from her faraway girl, though there may be tears and heartbreak on the other line, may she not set out to fix, rather may she sink deeper into you. Weave your wisdom into the fibers of her soul, bearing the fruit of confidence, clarity, contentment and a light-heart.

a staying prayer for mothers of college freshmen

May she have the patience to believe even when the reports sound grim.

May she not be quick to judge, rather may she be patient and curious.

May she remember what her daughter needs more than answers is to know she’s not alone.

May she remember what her son needs more than advice is to know he’s got what it takes.

May she not despise her weakness, rather may she see how weakness brings a daily reminder to trust.

May she feel the freedom to feel what she feels without the pressure to be more happy, more sad, or more anything other than simply who she is in this moment.

If she is struggling to let go, in your time replace her fear with courage and her confusion with peace.

And if the not-enoughs haunt her in the night, the fear that she didn’t love, teach, do, or instruct enough while the kids were under her roof, comfort her with the assurance that you are the Artist who weaves together good from all things.

Help her release her children into your hands.

For the parents of college freshmen all over the world, may your grace surprise them kindly in this time of newness, waiting, and love.

Amen.

This staying prayer for mothers of college freshmen was inspired by a post I wrote last year around this time: A Sending Prayer for College Freshmen. May you find peace and joy in this season of transition.

final simply tuesday 800

What They Will Remember

Yesterday I spent a few hours in the southern Indiana town where I grew up. I came alone to do some thinking and some remembering. Some things you just need to get out of your system.

Indiana

As I pulled into town, every intersection had a landmark I recognized but a street name I didn’t. Even though the town is a fraction of the size of the town where I now live, I couldn’t navigate the roads without my phone for directions.

It was a little maddening, recognizing that stone house on the corner and that water tower over there, but now knowing exactly how to get to the library. But these were the sort of things I expected. We moved away from here before I could drive so I never learned my way around. What I didn’t expect was at every turn, at every familiarity, I thought of my mom.

It wasn’t a particular memory, like oh there’s where she taught me to finger paint! or that’s where we went out to that fancy restaurant and laughed about all the funny things!

Maybe memory montages happen that way in the movies, but I didn’t have many specific memories of anything as I drove to our old house, to the parking lot of the grocery store, to the elementary school where I learned to read. Instead, it was more like a blanket of memory, singular. It was simply a familiar cloud of an old life brought near but not quite.

Mother's Day - chatting at the sky

I kept picturing Mom, younger than I am now, just being our mom. I kept imagining, everywhere I was, that Mom was close by and I needed to go on home to her. Her presence was a deeply safe place for me as a girl, something I’m not sure I realized until this very day. And it’s not because she mothered us like some kind of super-hero. She didn’t. But she was there, she was with us, she loved us, and I knew it.

Wandering through these familiar streets reminded me of what it means to mother well. Now that I have three of my own, I realize fancy is great, but it’s probably not what they’ll remember.

If you are a member of Hope*ologie, one of the podcasts for May features a conversation with Mom, Dad, Myquillyn and me about growing up, motherhood, simple presence, and embracing imperfection. Visit Hope*ologie to see what others are saying about the site and sign up today!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for loving us well.

What a Parent Does

They both need white collared shirts for their chorus performance this week. It sounds easy enough, but as it turns out there aren’t a lot of stores selling plain, white, button-up collared shirts for girls. They all have ruffles or rhinestones or characters on the front. And hardly any of them are white.

blouse

Today I don’t mind the hunt. It reminds me I’m their mom, and I do things like find them shirts for their chorus concert.

I give up on shopping in the girls section at Target and move over to the womens. I train my eyes to ignore every color but white and quickly find a rack in the middle with white, button-up shirts. With collars. There is only one extra-small so I grab it, knowing I’m only half done.

I end up at Once Upon a Child to find another white blouse for my other girl. I don’t come in here as often as I did when the kids were younger. I smile as I walk in, remembering how John always accidentally calls one of the shows we watch Once Upon a Child instead of it’s actual name, Once Upon a Time. 

I head to the back where the clothes are color coordinated. Score. This shouldn’t take long.

They only have three white blouses in the girls’ size, one with ruffles in the front (won’t work), one labeled size 10 but looks more like a 4 (way too small) and finally another that looks the right size but has a rounded collar. I decide it will work and head to check out.

As the cashier rings me up, she tells me all about how the store works and I let her because why not.

“You can bring in any gently used clothes she’s outgrown and we will buy them from you. We accept all seasons.”

I thank her, knowing she speaks lies and more lies because she makes it sound so simple but they are actually very picky about the clothes they will accept. Ask me how I know. Needless to say, I won’t be bringing in any clothes she has outgrown anymore.

And besides, I have two she’s. Not that the cashier should have known that, but I notice when she says it. In our house, it’s never just one daughter. It’s always two.

When I first found out we were having twins, I was aware of the potential resentment one of them might experience because of being a twin. (I like to make up problems before they happen because I am a rational person.)

As it turns out, I haven’t had to do anything back-bendy or overly special to make sure they each feel like individuals. They are individuals. They are also twins. If they need a little something extra – time, attention, conversation – we try to be aware of it.

I’m reminded of something John Blase wrote about the importance of simply being present with our kids:

“Presence. I realize it’s a counterintuitive idea for most parents these days but I like to suggest that simply being there is as important as what you do when you’re there. The cultural pressure to be this fully engaged father reminds me of that picture of Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders; that’s a little much, don’tcha think? Maybe one of the primary roles of the father in a child’s life is to be there, on-site, in the scene, to keep the fear at bay. Not to interfere, but to protect simply by presence.”

from his book, Know When to Hold ‘Em

Walking to the car with my second white blouse, the wind picks up as I open the door. I’ll head to the school to have lunch with them after this, where they’ll each pick a friend. We’ll sit in our little group of five at the family table, sharing the kit-kats I bought at Target and they will  ignore me completely while they giggle with their friends.

I will be so glad to sit with them. And they’ll be so glad I’ve come.

Tuesdays Unwrapped

Every time I walk up my stairs, my eyes follow a long, curvy line of ink that travels just beneath the banister. I’m guessing my son is the artist, though I haven’t asked around.

home

The ink has been there for weeks, maybe months? I’m not sure. But I notice it everyday now.

I know what you might be thinking. It’s Tuesdays Unwrapped, so Emily is going to say how normally that ink would bother her but today she’s remembering how it represents children young and still at home. And so she’s going to leave that ink mark there on the wall as a sweet reminder.

Nope.

Every time I see that ink mark, I remind myself to clean it when I come back downstairs. Then, like giving a mouse a cookie, I think how I shouldn’t just clean the ink but actually the whole wall needs painting.

I reach the top step thinking about Sherwin Williams Alabaster White and then remember reading somewhere that the White House paint is called Whisper and by the time I come back downstairs, the ink is forgotten.

Today, the gift is two-fold.

One, the ink is forgotten. There was a time several years ago – five maybe? – where ink on walls would have had me angry, searching for someone to blame. But the truth is it’s just not that big of a deal. And I celebrate the gift of my own growing up, my own ability to recognize what needs my attention and what doesn’t.

The second part of this gift? I also celebrate my children growing up. This is supposed to happen. I don’t need to try to hold on to marks on the wall or handprints on windows in an attempt to somehow preserve their childhood.

There is not something wrong with the universe when my daughter, nearly as tall as I am, can slip my shoes on to play outside and they don’t fall off.

Sometimes I gawk at her, breathless as I watch her run out to her bike with the movements of a girl but the growing body of a young woman. Sometimes it feels like the world has gone mad because this is my baby girl!

But this is supposed to happen, this growing and changing. And I celebrate a girl growing up.

I celebrate a boy who should know better than to write on walls but does it anyway.

I celebrate my almost-ten years of parenting that has taught me not to freak out about little things.

What do you celebrate today?

Tuesdays Unwrapped 2013

I hope you’ll choose one gift of your ordinary day and find the miracle secret it holds. Write it out, breathe it in, capture its image, see it new. And then come here to tell us all about it by linking up below. If you are new to this community, here is all the information you’ll need to prepare your post. All are welcome.

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