A Mother’s Day Reflection

Mother's Day

Today is Mother’s Day, and so I’m lost in a sea of introspection, mulling over my own mothering and the influence of so many mothers in my own life. Over and over today, I’ve been struck with how blessed I am to be surrounded by wonderful mothers.

There is my own Mom, of course. She is a woman so wonderful that I think almost everyone who meets her knows within moments how special she is.  She continues to teach me about creativity, kindness, forgiveness, and family. I love her.

There is my mother-in-law, a woman who has opened the doors to her home and her family so wide, that I have always felt right at home. I love her.

Then, there are my friends, many of whom are the best mothers I know. On my hard days, they encourage me and listen to me vent. On my good days, they celebrate with me. They are examples of compassion, patience, faith, and courage—whether in mothering or not. They inspire me and make me want to be better while knowing I’m accepted as I am. I love them all.

And there are also writers, bloggers, and public figures who have transformed my own mothering experience through their words, art, and activism.

It’s a great cloud of witnesses.

One of the things I love most about being a mom is the same thing I love about being a woman—what an amazing company I am surrounded by, both near and far. It’s an honor and privilege to count myself among them. Seriously.

These days, my children challenge me and also make me insanely happy. I’ve talked so many parents about how there really aren’t good days and bad days; there are just days jam-packed with both very good moments and very bad moments. My children can be stubborn, aggressive and emotional; they are often needy, demanding, and loud. There are speech delays and allergies and behavioral challenges that keep me up at night and make me question my parenting decisions. But my children are also joyful, passionate, compassionate, and eager-to-please. They are smart and curious, always eager to learn. They have contagious smiles, awesome laughs, and the sparkliest blue eyes. They are awesome snugglers.

I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about this in my writing or on social media. (In fact, I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about it in many of my offline relationships either.) But I find that I can’t talk about Mother’s Day this year without acknowledging that since Leo was born, I have struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety. I started taking medication just a few weeks before Ruthie was born, and only over the past few months have I finally begun to feel the cloud lifting. I am finally feeling like myself again.

I don’t like admitting this part of my story. I’ve been trying to write about it for months, but I haven’t really been able to. Maybe some day soon I can share more of the story. But what I can say right now is that the past 18 months or so have been incredibly difficult, and I have struggled to find joy in my motherhood on many, many days. I have felt like a failure, and it has felt almost impossible to be the mom my kids deserve. (I know that’s not true. But it felt real, nonetheless.)

I’m grateful to be mostly on the other side of that. At the same time, I’m mourning the time I lost. Today at church, we talked about the now-but-not-yet Kingdom of God, and one of the most significant things I’ve come to understand is that in motherhood, like in the rest of life, there is room in my heart and hands for both joy and sadness. I can carry them both. As much as I feel grief over my PPD, I also feel deep, abiding joy in the presence of my children and in the act of being their mom.

Motherhood is exhausting, and there are days I wonder what in the actual heck was I thinking?

Motherhood is also my most important work. It’s not every woman’s most important work, but it is mine.

Being a mom is my greatest act of resistance, and it is my greatest contribution to the kingdom of God.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Anne Lamott says there are three essential prayers: Help, thanks, and wow. Motherhood makes me pray those three words in an endless loop.

Today, I am grateful.

Painting a Legacy: A Kindred Mom Guest Post

On a Monday morning this past October, my husband Evan and I sat in the waiting room at the OB-Gyn. We were waiting for an ultrasound, wondering if the little one growing inside me would be our third boy or—what seemed almost impossible—a girl. Weeks before, we had decided that if indeed we were having a girl, we would name her Ruthie, hoping to carry on Nanny’s legacy of creativity and love. The night before the ultrasound, my mom texted to say Nanny had gone into the hospital after some abnormal blood work. I laid on the exam table and Evan held my hand as the ultrasound tech proclaimed what I almost couldn’t believe: we were going to have a daughter. Ruthie. 

What I couldn’t have predicted as I looked up at the flickering, shadowy image of our little girl was that Nanny would pass away just four days later.

Today I’m honored to have a guest post up on the Kindred Mom blog, about the connection between Ruthie and my sweet Nanny Ruth. Click here to read more!

Made for This

This morning, Ian was at school. It was Leo, Ruthie, and me at home, the three of us still in our pajamas. (A luxury I get to enjoy because of my sweet neighbor Lindsay, who takes Ian to preschool for me these days.) Leo was puttering around the living room, playing with this and that, carrying a yellow bowl of Cheerios around with him and coming dangerously close to dumping them all out on the carpet. I let that go, because I figure he needs to learn to carry things without tipping and spilling them, right? I’ll probably regret that a week from now when I’m sitting on the floor, staring at crushed Cheerios, and feeling guilty because I still haven’t vacuumed.

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At any rate, Ruthie was laying on her play mat, watching the lights blink and flash, until she started to get fussy. I picked her up and cradled her in my arms, and I was struck in that moment by how perfectly she fit there. Her head was in the crook of my elbow, my arms underneath her back, one hand patting her little diaper-padded bottom. She relaxed, took a deep breath, stopped fussing, closed her eyes, went to sleep. She is the perfect size for my arms right now: not the least bit heavy, but not so small that she feels fragile like newborns do. Her legs wrapped around my hip just right, her one arm under mine and the other resting gently on my chest. Just perfect, like she was made for me.

Because, after all, she was.

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Just yesterday, I raised my voice at Ian after asking him to wash his hands about a million times. He burst into tears and proclaimed, “You scared me!” Ugh. I’m often impatient with Leo at breakfast time, because he demands to be held the entire time and all I want to is to eat my bagel without sharing it and finish my coffee while it’s still hot. I’ve been feeling guilty today because Ian is on a field trip to the bowling alley, and I feel like I should be there.

I wonder, if not aloud then at least subconsciously, am I the right person for this job?

But today, as I held Ruthie in my arms and she fit there just right, I remembered: I was made for this.

We were made for each other.

Dear Ruthie (3 weeks old)

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Dear Ruthie,

Welcome to the world, little one. I suppose I’m being true to birth order stereotypes;  you are already three weeks old, and I’m just now getting around to writing you a letter. I hope you’ll appreciate the gesture anyway.

With both your brothers, labor was induced one full week past my due date. So, that’s about what I expected from you as well. On Wednesday afternoon, I texted our neighbor Jolanda and said, “I’m not holding my breath for her to arrive any time soon.” Less than a few hours later, contractions had started. It was as if you heard my thoughts and said, “I’ll show you, Mom!”

We arrived at the hospital a little after midnight. Around 3 a.m. I moved out of triage and up to the labor and delivery floor, where they gave me my epidural. You were born at exactly 11 a.m., after only 15 minutes of pushing.

This was your sacred and surprising entrance into the world. Two things stand out to me as I look back on that day.

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The first is this: when you were ready, you were ready. Of course, so many variables determine and shape the course of labor; I don’t pretend to understand any of it. But you forged a very different path than your brothers, who may have been content to stay in utero forever. You surprised us with your eagerness, with your readiness, with your sudden presence. I am so looking forward to the ten million different ways you’ll surprise and challenge us over the course of your life.

I tend to hesitate, to waver, and to second-guess. At times, I let my insecurities and doubts trip me up. I hold back. That wasn’t true of you in birth, and I’m hopeful that quality will persist, changing with you as you grow. I hope you never stop being ready, hungry and thirsty for an abundant life. I’m praying you always move and act with wisdom, but that you don’t hold back more than necessary.

Here’s the other thing: you are loved, Little One, and our family is loved. Living here in Michigan with all our family and most of our friends in Florida feels very lonely sometimes. I worried about how your arrival would work out. I was stressed and indecisive about when your grandmothers should schedule their flights up here, hoping they would arrive in time for your birth but not wanting them to waste time and money flying up here if you weren’t going to arrive for weeks. Dad and I felt a bit isolated.

But that truth is, that feeling wasn’t at all justified. When it came time for you to arrive, we were not at all alone. Katie and Bryan across the street watched your brothers that night and the next day. Lindsay and Jolanda both helped make sure Ian got to school and Leo was well cared for. Both your grandmothers immediately started texting making plans to change their flights and get here as soon as possible. Our small group at church—new and still getting to know one another—has already set up a meal schedule, and other friends have offered to do the same. People have rallied around us.

The timing of your arrival and the way it coincided with other events in our lives reminded me of how carefully, thoughtfully, thoroughly God provides for us. His provision is sometimes practical and other times less tangible, but it is always real. I am so grateful for our people. I want you to know that as you grow, you have a whole big tribe who loves you and will care for you. Bob Goff often says that God doesn’t pass us notes; instead, he passes us each other. It’s true.

I’m so glad you’re here, Ruthie!

Love you lots,

Mama

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Ruthie, at 3 weeks old:

  • Eating 2-3 ounces of formula, every 4 hours or so
  • Burping an awful lot and spitting up otherwise
  • Wearing a lot of footie pajamas, and the onesies Dad’s family made you at the baby “sprinkle”
  • Wrapped up in a big blanket all the time (because Michigan)
  • Crying loudly (And to think we spent the first day of your life wondering why you had barely cried at all)
  • Sleeping at least one good four hour chunk at night, but…
  • Wanting to stay awake and be held after you eat at night
  • Growing well; you’re already up to 8 lbs
  • Smiling at us (unintentionally) as you fall asleep
  • Loved by your brothers, who jump up to check on you whenever you make the slightest noise
  • Swinging in the swing a lot; it’s your favorite place to sleep and rest
  • Sporting what may be the world’s chubbiest cheeks

A letter to my children, in the aftermath of the election

Dear Ian, Leo, and Ruthie,

Have you been able to tell that I’ve been a tiny bit out of it lately? I’ve been in a bit of a funk: stuck in my head, easily distracted, feeling melancholy. I hope you haven’t noticed, but it’s alright if you have. I’d like to tell you why.

You see, just a couple of weeks ago, our country endured the 2016 presidential election. In the aftermath, it seems like everything and everyone is going a little bit crazy. I won’t go in to the all the details here, but I will just tell you this: Everyone is feeling pretty disheartened, and things have gotten ugly. It seems as though many, many people are using this time as an excuse to be unkind. I think most people are scared, and sometimes fear makes us do and say crazy things. Some are scared of Muslims. Some are scared of black people. Some are scared of white people and a group called the KKK. Some are scared of terrorism, and some are scared of the economy, and some are scared to lose their jobs. Many moms and dads like yours are scared about the kind of world you might grow up in, and how it might be different than the world we’ve known up until now.

It’s likely that by the time Donald Trump is done being president, you guys will be 11, and 8, and 7 years old. (Ruthie, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be born just before the inauguration.) I can’t even fathom what each of you will be like in eight years, let alone what our country will be like. I don’t know what you will have experienced or what you will understand about our country.

But. I do know a few things, some of which feel more important than ever. Here’s what I want to tell you:

It’s important to be good listeners. I signed up for Facebook just before my freshman year of college, when they still required a .edu e-mail address to sign up. I love social media; your dad pokes fun at me a little bit because of it. But I’ve come to realize something that bothers me: social media allows us to talk but rarely requires us to listen. We can unfollow, block, or scroll past without a second thought. I can’t begin to imagine the ten million ways you all will be able to share your opinions when the time comes. But I hope you’ll try to listen before you try to be heard and understand before being understood. In our family, I promise we’ll try to be committed to the truth. We’ll try to always honor and welcome your questions. We’ll say, “Tell me more about that,” and “It sounds like you are saying…” I am not always a good listener because I love to be right and be an expert; I’m confessing that to you now, and I hope we’ll be able to learn more about this together.

It’s ok to be uncomfortable or not understand. It’s uncomfortable to disagree with people and hear people talk about their pain. But please—don’t walk away from those uncomfortable conversations. It is always ok for you to feel angry, sad, confused, afraid, or disappointed. It’s also ok for other people to feel that way too, even if you don’t understand or experience the same things. Our feelings may not always be true, but they are real. Remember that when you are talking to people and avoid the temptation to rely on quick resolutions and easy answers. Everything is not black and white.

Look to Jesus. The world is a confusing place, and faith can be confusing too. Some people—especially Christians—will try to convince you they are 100% sure of their answers and don’t have any lingering questions. I’d stay away from those people, because chances are, they aren’t being honest. I don’t think it’s wise to expect your faith and politics in our country (or anywhere in the world) to match up well; this is simply not the example Scripture sets for us. So, whenever you are feeling confused, something doesn’t sit right with you, or you wonder what to think, look to Jesus. He may not give you a straight answer—after all, he was mighty fond of asking questions—but he promises his spirit is within you and can help you navigate these situations. When I look to Jesus, I notice he was always making more room to welcome more people in, he was always choosing to lower his status in society, and the people in power almost always disagreed with him. I notice that he was gentle, and slow-moving, and loved to share meals with people. You might notice different things about him; I can’t wait to find out what they are.

It’s more important than ever to be kind. And being kind is always more important than being right.

It’s easy for me to say these things, but they are harder act on in the context of our real lives. They are challenging for me sometimes, and it seems they get a little bit harder all the time. But you know what? We are family, which means we are going to figure this all out together. We are going to practice, and mess up, and practice some more, and there is always enough grace to go around. I am not afraid of the world you’ll grow up in, because I know that Jesus is still in charge and you three are going to help build his kingdom. And nothing gives me more hope than that.

Love you guys,

Mama

New Dreams

Like most small children, Ian goes through phases with books. He discovers a certain one, decides he loves it, and over the next several weeks we practically wear the thing away to dust with all the “Read dat again, Mama!” and “What dat page ’bout, Mama?” He moves on eventually. Sometimes he comes back around to visit, the words and illustrations as familiar as an old friend.

Just recently, he went through a phase with If You Give a Moose a Muffin and If You Give a Pig a Pancake. (Only The Little Blue Truck have been able to usurp them.) It’s why, on recent grocery shopping trip, Ian kept shouting, “Where da muffin mix? We need muffin mix! We need maple syrup too, Mama?”

You know these books, right? If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll want some milk to go with it, and then a straw, and then a napkin, and on and on until you’ve practically given the mouse the keys to your house.

A few weeks ago, Ian and I were talking about a tree in our yard, and he said, “And we have tree house?”

Not understanding, I said, “Yes, we have trees outside our house.”

“No mama, we have tree house?! I want treehouse,” he responded, and we went back and forth about this a few times before I finally caught on.

In If You Give a Pig a Pancake, the pig notices a large tree in the girl’s backyard as they walk outside, and in the next scene (somewhere in-between the tap shoes and the wallpaper glue), he decides to build a treehouse. Bingo.

So far, toddlerhood is not my favorite stage of parenting. I’m eager for the days when we’ll talk about navigating friendships or how his soccer game went. I look forward to science projects and spelling words, cooking together and…well, anything that’s not answering “Why?” and “What for?” ten million times a day.

Toddlers make a lot of impossible demands, like “Fix broken cheese stick!” and “Green light right now!” Ian knows the phrases “Not yet,” and “Not right now” very well; I use them to redirect and postpone temper tantrums, while he uses them for thinly-veiled defiance. Sometimes I wonder if Ian’s days are just a constant stream of disappointments: the doors on this toy car don’t open, he can’t have another cookie, the green sippy cup is dirty, it’s raining again. Such is life as a two year old.

Meanwhile, I think of all the dreams my sisters and I had growing up. Many of them–Ivy League schools, professional theater careers, hot pink bedroom walls–didn’t pan out. My parents said no in some cases, while others were simply never meant to be. At the same time, many of my childhood dreams and desires did come to fruition: an N*Sync concert, drama classes, a trip to Europe, seeing a musical on Broadway, an amazing wedding. My parents gave their time, energy, and money to make those things happen. (In the case of the N*Sync Celebrity tour, they even endured hours of several thousand screaming preteens. I imagine that’s even more torturous than hours of driving Hot Wheels around.)

I guess that’s part of the joy of parenting: doing what you can to make this little person’s dreams come true.

That's part of the joy

I can’t build a treehouse for Ian. We don’t have a good tree, and even if we did, that’s not really the kind of investment you make in a rental home. Even so, I love this part of parenting: the hints of the boy and man he’ll one day be, the burgeoning interests and obsessions, the desires and dreams just beginning to take root.

He hasn’t mentioned the treehouse again, having already moved on to a new book, a new story, a new dream. But for now, I have tucked this treehouse idea into my pocket. I’ll consider the backyard trees of every future home, wondering if now’s the time to make that dream a reality.

Maybe one day, I’ll get to say, “Let’s build a treehouse, buddy.” And I won’t even mind if he asks for a tire swing to go with it.

Labeling

Ian went through a phase a while back in which he labeled everything. He was learning new words every day, and by golly, he was going to use them. We drove around town and he exclaimed from the backseat, “House! Car! Truck! Tree! Moon!” In the Meijer produce section, he’d shout, “Apple! Nana! ‘Mato! Pepper!” I don’t know the official, scientific name for this developmental phase. I could dig out my childhood development textbooks from the basement and read about the cognitive and linguistic significance of it all, but I’m slowly figuring it out for myself.

In some ways, he still does this labeling thing, but he embellishes more: “Mama! I saw a pick-up truck! I saw a blue pick-up truck, Mama. It so big!”

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Evan’s lab building is in the heart of downtown, right across the street from a hospital. Ian loves going to pick him up after work, because it’s very likely we’ll see a bus, ambulance, or construction vehicle. On the way home the other day, Ian was trying so badly to say, “I saw two ambulances and a police car,” but he could not even get the words out because was so over-the-moon excited. He was just yelling and sputtering random syllables, and Evan and I could not stop laughing.

Sometimes it drives me crazy, but it doesn’t matter how many ambulances or pick-up trucks or police cars we see. He remains exuberant at each and every sighting, as if they were ancient fossils, once-in-a-lifetime discoveries.

Back in November, our small group was talking about gratitude (as one does that time of year). Counting gifts is still one of my favorite spiritual practices; it never fails to bring my focus back around to Jesus. It’s how I abide, how I pray without ceasing, how I choose the better way.

Our group talked about this practice, reflecting on how it can sometimes be insincere or legalistic, and wondering if we miss the bigger story God is writing when we’re so focused on the minute details of our lives.

One friend said, “Sometimes, it makes me feel like a little kid saying grace, you know what I mean? Like, ‘Thank you for my chicken, and for my french fries, and for my puppy, and for Sesame Street, and thank you for my friend Sarah, and for my ketchup, and…’”

I get that. In the years I spent serving in children’s ministry, I heard so many prayers that were offered up for no reason but the simple desire to be just like the other girl in class or to have one’s voice heard. And sometimes, we would end up praying for everyone’s goldfish (all of which mysteriously died within the same week). My four year-old nephew loves to say grace before family dinners right now. When the time comes, everyone waits with baited breath. You just never know what kind of prayer you’re going to get with a four year-old.

I remember, though, that Jesus said we should receive the kingdom like a child, making ourselves simple and lowly. I used to think this meant accepting without question or believing without logic. Now I think Jesus was talking about joy and curiosity and love.

Ian’s world is coming more alive to him everyday. He might not know it, but he makes it clear though his excitement and his questions. Every moment is ripe with new discoveries.

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I want to see the world more this way, with never-ceasing joy and never-waning enthusiasm. Just like Ian notices every single pick-up truck in the Target parking lot, I want to take note and give thanks for every single gift God gives. Maybe it’s childish to do so. Maybe that’s good.

Tomorrow’s gifts might be the same as they are today, but Ian teaches me that familiarity doesn’t make them any less wonderful or miraculous. And indeed, there are gifts today that I don’t even have the words for yet.

In the meantime:
hot cup of coffee
throaty newborn giggle
slobbery toddler kiss
pot of spaghetti on the stove
tulips sprouting out front
house, car, truck, tree, moon