When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

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Just another pretty face–being an adolescent girl–it’s all in the packaging

My daughter has started asking me what the songs on the radio mean.

That meant I had to actually start paying attention to what I was bee-bopping along to, because, I realized, half the time I had no idea what in the world the songs were about.

So, I started paying attention. I started actually listening to the words . . . and I was a bit dismayed by how many a)were about sex, b) were encouraging very negative behaviors, and c) were about sex. Did I mention how many were about sex–casual, meaningless sex?

tove loI’ve never really thought that deeply about the messages of many of the songs I listen to. I put the radio on and find myself enjoying the beat and the style, and so sing along without really knowing what I’m singing, or if I do, it really doesn’t penetrate, and, up until now, my kids were too little for it to really matter.

But now my nine year old daughter wants to know what they mean…and I find that I don’t want to tell her.

How do I tell her that, “Oh, honey, this song is about a girl who does drugs and goes to sex clubs because she misses the boy who dumped her so badly? (Tove Lo’s song so aptly named ‘I get high all the time’)” Umm . . . no, I just switch the station whenever that song comes on.

taylor swiftOr how about the new Taylor Swift (my girls love her–a model for young girls??) song about hooking up with a guy for the weekend because he looks good ( not because he is good, nope, just looks good) and she doesn’t really care if it lasts or not (song named “Blank Space”) so long as she has a good time. . . do I want my daughters to think that sex has no deeper meaning than if you find someone good to look at or not?

Or how about all the songs that objectify women. That’s fun. “Oh, honey, this song is just about how a woman’s only value is in how she looks and whether or not a guy can get her into bed . . . ” I’m not ready for that conversation yet!

The tendency for Hip Hop and Rap to throw around the “bitch” word and refer to women in all sort’s of sexual ways is notorious, and frankly, those songs are never playing on my radio, so let’s look at the genres that do get played in the family car…

sexismHow about Keith Urban and his “Little Bit of Everything.” For those of  you who haven’t heard it, here’s part of the first verse:

“I want a cool chick that’ll cook for me

But’ll dance on the bar in her tan bare feet

And do what I want when I want and she’ll do it with me.”

Nope, not sexist at all. :/ Is that what I want my daughters to think a healthy relationship in the 21st century looks like?

The lookism that is rampant in our culture, the objectification of women, is sadly something that I have become numb to on a conscious level–I don’t notice it that often except when it hits me over the head.

Having my precious, sweet, innocent daughter ask me what a song means was one of those “hitting me over the head moments.” Knowing that my tween daughter is about to walk into this ugliness, where her creativity, her innate goodness, her bright inquisitive mind are all going to take a backseat to her pretty face and a body about to blossom kind of pisses me off. My daughter is amazing, and so much more than how she looks! She is so much more than whether boys think she’s hot or not.

But this is what we do to our girls. This is adolescence for a female.

aibileenI want to wrap my daughter up and keep her safe from the ugliness out there–but I can’t. It’s our world and she has to live in it. So, I need to figure out how I can combat all the negative messages she receiving on a continual basis.

I just recently got around to watching the movie “The Help” (a truly outstanding movie with so many rich ideas I might have to devote a blog to it at a later time). What Aibileen said to that little girl–on repeat–really stuck with me. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Notice that she doesn’t say she’s beautiful– though she could have. She doesn’t mention how adorable she looks–though she certainly did look adorable. She focused on what that little girl really needed to know about herself. That she was kind. That she was smart. And that she was worth something.

That is what I can do for my daughter. I can remind her of who she is and what really matters.

Three boys playing tug-of-warMy son is a very handsome little fella. Every once in a while someone tells him that.

More often, he is told that he is smart, that he’s athletic, that he’s got potential. When he gets compliments, they are things about him. It’s not that he’s not good looking–it just doesn’t really matter that much for a boy. I mean it helps, but it’s not what’s most important.

My girls on the other hand, the vast majority of their compliments are about how they look. They continually hear that they’re cute or pretty or skinny–but much more rarely do they hear that they are kind or smart or talented, though they are all these things and more.

Their father and I tell them that they are smart and good and funny and talented, but the world around them focuses on how they look. Are our voices enough to make a difference?

Back in my dating years, I was always floored at how deep and intelligent guys who should know better were drawn to the pretty faces of shallow and flighty girls. This always stumped me.

peny-and-leonard-leonard-penny-32729301-1224-792Half of the guys I crushed on were just sort of  “meh” in the look department. It didn’t matter that much to me. It was their minds or their wit or their passion that drew me, not what they looked like. Don’t get me wrong, there has to be attraction, but attraction was so much more than what they looked like!

Nearly every guy I knew thought he deserved a drop-dead looker (even if he was a less than stellar specimen of the masculine race). And so many of them wouldn’t consider going out with an amazing girl because she was plain. This never made any sense to me.

papertowns2John Greene in his book “Paper Towns” puts it so well. “[It’s] always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.” It makes no sense, but when it comes to females, that is what society (and guys) tell us is the most important factor when it comes to date-ability.

He furthers this idea in his book when he refers to a character who is popular and sought after by the guys in the protagonist’s school. Greene states about this girl: “She may be hot, but she is also 1. aggressively vapid, and 2. an absolute, unadulterated, raging bitch . . . [we]have long suspected that Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished children”– and yet, the boys came swarming. Here was an awful, hateful girl, but her good looks made all that was negative about her disappear.

What is wrong with us?

I always marveled when I was young at how important it was for me, and for us as girls, to hear affirmation about how we looked. What did I do to contribute to how I look? Was it some great fete? Did I expend great effort? Was this a great achievement on my part. No, no and no. It was simple genetics–something I had no control over, and yet something I am told over and over again, is the most important part of who I am.

According to this idea, we are set up from the beginning to succeed or fail and nothing we do is really going to alter the outcome. Doesn’t really seem fair to me.

As a parent, it makes me angry–and it makes me feel so futile, the one voice in the noise of a society that says that how they look means so much less than who they choose to be.

helen of troyBut this isn’t a new problem, it’s not uniquely 21st century and it’s not uniquely American–though perhaps the prevalence of the idea is more oppressive because of this age of social media. This is a problem that is as old as time, and for all our gender equality, we don’t seem to be making any inroads on this particular facet of the problem.

In her book “Reviving Ophelia” Mary Pipher states “In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability. Attractiveness is both necessary and a sufficient condition for girls’ success. This is an old, old problem. Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker. Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.”

She goes on to say that “America today is a girl-destroying place” and that “Girls have long been trained to be feminine at considerable cost to their humanity. They have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much . . . girls are trained to be less than who they really are.”

I don’t want that for my girls. I don’t want my girls reduced to less than the dynamic individuals they truly are. I don’t want them to look for their value in how the male gender perceives them. I don’t want them to think that sex is something to approach casually or that it has no real meaning attached to it.

Somehow I need to fight this tide and help my daughters know that they are amazing, brilliant human beings, and not just pretty girls.

tween girls

It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, women, and human beings, to let girls know that their worth is in who they are–not in how they look.

When Dinosaurs and Fancy Nancy Go the Way of Puff

Parenthood is such a rollercoaster of emotions. The happiest day of my life was the day my first daughter was born–and the worst day of my life was the day I found out she was going to leave us.

Most parents (thank God!) don’t have to experience that lowest of lows, but there are still plenty of moments of pain, sorrow, disappointment, and frustration in every parent’s life. There are also the moments where your heart feels so full of love that you can barely breathe. Moments when you look at them and think, “This is what life is all about!” The moments that you want to hold on to forever and never let go.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my children at every age. I enjoyed them as babies, as toddlers, and as kids. But now, I find that I need to adjust to them as tweens. The problem is, I wasn’t ready for this transition. I thought I had more time.

Parenthood is a series of doors opening and doors closing, pretty much continually. I’ve recognized that from the very beginning. Because I understood that, I savored the moments, stored them up–like a squirrel with his nuts–deep in my heart, so that I could take them out, remember them, gaze at them, knowing that I had made the most out of every one of those moments.

You never know when a door is going to close. My daughter always called “Joe’s Crabshack” Crabshadrack (for years!), until suddenly, one day she didn’t. The door had closed. She was a big girl, and she could say the word right. It was a bittersweet moment for me.

For years my son has snuck into our bed at night, and for years, despite the fact that I often don’t sleep as well with him there, I have told myself to hold on to the moment–snuggle, enjoy his closeness–because one day he will stop coming, and he will never come again. That special bonding moment will be gone forever, lost to adolescence.

Ironically, Gavin still occasionally crawls into our bed at night, but Arabelle stopped coming a long time ago, and had I known on that last time that it was her last time, I would have hugged her a little closer, and snuggled a little longer–savored it a little more. But I didn’t know, and that door closed, never to be opened again. That moment lost to her growing independence.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not mourned the transitions–at least, not exactly. The truth is, one of the things that I think my husband and I have done exceptionally well is to foster our children’s independence and individuality. We have never been helicopter parents, hovering around, fearful of any misstep. In fact, we’ve always recognized that it takes some missteps to learn how to do it on your own. And we’ve always recognized that healthy children are children who are independent, but also well-supported children.

We’ve always felt very strongly that, despite how much we might want them to stay little, we need to encourage them to feed themselves, take that first step, run, take that big slide though they might be terrified (and maybe so am I!!), etc. etc.. I believe that it creates confident, independent children. They know they can come to us for anything, but they are also sure that they can take on this world and succeed.

Up until now, though my heart broke a little each time, I graciously handled the closing doors: the last time I breastfed each of my children, when they no longer needed help at bathtime or brushing their teeth, when they could take the big slides without a nervous glance at me–desperate for my encouragement, when they no longer needed me to tuck them in at night, when they started spending more time at friends’ houses on summer days than they did at home–all of these, though a part of me did not want them to happen, though I wanted to create “little pills” to keep them little so I could see Gavin’s happy dance one more time and have him crawl up into my lap to snuggle a little more, still, despite what I felt, I celebrated the open doors even though it meant some doors were closing.

I was proud of them. I felt a surge of joy at who they were becoming. Though it saddened me that Gavin’s obsession with all things dinosaur just disappeared one day, I embraced the new. Though a part of my was saddened to see Belle slowly neglect her Strawberry Shortcake dolls and her My Little Ponies, in exchange for Monster High and American Girls, I accepted it. I embraced it. Until now.

gav dinosaur

My husband always laughs at me. I’m very analytical. I think about things, I ponder them, and yes, sometimes I even obsess over them. I often do this years in advance. It probably has helped me with those closing doors. I anticipate the closing door, and so, think to myself, “Any day may be the last day I breastfeed my child. This could be the last time we have this particular kind of closeness, this particular kind of snuggle” and so, because I have anticipated it, I feel somehow ready–I know I have treasured it.

Despite all my forethought, somehow this whole “tween” thing really blindsided me. I knew it would happen, and I knew a little bit about it, but I thought I had more time. I wasn’t exactly shocked when Gavin, who is ten, started showing some signs of this transition (though diving straight into things like porn and dildos–yes, for real!! was a bit much). However, right on the heels of Gavin, Arabelle, who is only 8, started acting differently. She is still my sweet little Belle! I am not ready for her to step across that threshold into tween-ness! No! She is a little girl! She is my sweetheart! She is a child and no where close to being a teenager!!

I think I feel a little bit like Puff might have felt when he started to realize that little Jacky Paper wasn’t going to be coming back for much longer–in fact, he wasn’t going to be little Jacky Paper anymore. Instead, he was going to transition into someone different, someone simply known as Jack. Puff probably felt proud, but he also likely felt incredibly sad as he realized all those special moments of childhood had moved into memory, and those particular kinds of moments would be no more.

puff_the_magic_dragon_by_anubis3021-d4lru2v

I might protest it all I want, but the change is happening. One door is closing and another is opening, whether I want it to or not. She is spouting things like, “I need my privacy” and “I need some alone time.” She is posting “Keep out” signs on her door. She listens to her ipod rather than hanging out chatting with me and her father. She is pulling away–just a little bit, but it’s the beginning.

belles note

This time, I am not ready. I am not ready to put away all things little girl. I’m not ready to see the end of dress up and Fancy Nancy and tea parties at Grandma’s house. I am not ready for my cuddler to stop cuddling in exchange for “alone time.” I am not ready–but it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not. It’s not up to me. My sweet, people pleasing daughter is ready to begin spreading her wings and asserting her independence, and though it might break my heart, I want her to fly! I want her to find who she is, and I will certainly not be the one to hold her back.

Still, I know where big sister goes, little sister is soon to follow. Lily will not wait long before she starts to emulate her sister.

But that is a thought for tomorrow. I cannot bare that thought today.

Today, Lily still clutches her blankie and sucks on her finger. Today, Lily thinks the whole world is her friend. She still climbs into my lap every morning and evening. She still plays with barbies and loves princesses. She loves dress up and tea parties. Today, she is still little, and I am going to wrap my heart around that littleness.

tea party

 

And I’m going to make the most of every one of these magical childhood moments and treasure them while I still can!

I made a right turn at love, a left turn at happily ever after, and ended up in Oz

Sometimes lately, I feel like I’ve made my way into someone else’s story. There’s nothing wrong with this story; it’s just not my own. It feels like some great cosmic trickster picked me up and dropped me into a life I never planned on living, and yet, here I am–going through the motions.

Have you ever watched a movie and drifted off for a couple of scenes and when you woke up, nothing made sense? You weren’t really sure how the characters got there or what it all meant? That’s what my life feels like. Like I drifted off for a while and when I woke up, I found myself in a world not of my own choosing, one that I never planned to live–an alternate reality of sorts.

It’s kind of surreal. Like I’m on a cosmic caoursel that just keeps moving, turning and turning, never slowing down, never stopping. Around and around I go . . . no chance to get off and to get on the ride I’m supposed to be on. And yet, all my choices led me here. . . Or have they?

carousel

 

We all set out with a destination in mind. When we’re young, the world is wide open, our minds are full of dreams. There are things we know we want–marriage, children–at least sometime down the road. Some things, we think we want–but when it really comes down to it–we don’t really want them at all. Others, we want, we pursue–but then life gets in the way. These are our dreams deferred, delayed, and sometimes, our dreams forgotten and lost forever. They drift into the land of “should have been,” “could have been,” and “if only.”

When I set out on this journey called “life on my own,” adulthood, or whatever you want to call it, I had it all plotted out. I knew what I wanted: where I wanted to go, who I wanted to become, the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw it all as a story, and I was the heroine. My life was progressing from one logical chapter to the next logical chapter, and it all looked just how I wanted it to be.

outline

But then I met my husband.

He was part of my story, the story I wanted, the one I had planned. He was, but still he changed it–my story veered, turned, took a side road. The destination appeared to be the same, but it took a different route. He rode in with his charm and his own story–and a pile full of plans and dreams of his own, and so, he changed my story forever.

He was one of the characters I wanted, one I dreamed about, but the thing about life that is so different from a story is that it’s not written by the mind of one, but the mind and wishes and plans of many. Even though our dreams seemed to be in alignment, I was no longer making choices based only on myself–and so the story changed.

And after marriage, of course, come the children. That’s when you really start seeing the unfamilar territory. Road blocks, no outlet, detours. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t get rid of a single one of them (well, at least most days!). They are my joy, but, though we know in theory how much those little people are going to change our lives, the reality is so much more than we can understand until we live it. Nothing in our world is ever the same. It’s not the same story–we’re not even the hero anymore. We become a supporting character so that our children can be the hero or heroine in their own story.

The reality is that we can plot out our lives and outline our story, but life doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t follow our plans, and it certainly doesn’t consult us. Life is messy. Chaotic. Life is filled with the unexpected–disappointments, doors closing and doors opening. It is filled with heartbreak and loss, new birth and growth–and change.

life map

We think we choose our paths in life, but, in so many ways, we really don’t. It chooses us. In the past, they attributed it to fate or the cosmos. Today we sometimes say it is God or maybe mere chance–luck or unluckiness. Whichever way you want to term it, the reality is, so often our choices are few, and sometimes, even when we think we are choosing, our choices are really being chosen for us.

I recently read Lauren Oliver’s trilogy because my students are reading her book Delerium for my class. (I loved that book, btw! So much better than I expected!) In her final book  of the trilogy, “Requiem,” she makes a statement that puts it so well.

“They wanted the power to feel, to think, to choose for themselves. They couldn’t have known that even this was a lie–that we never really choose, not entirely. We are always being pushed and squeezed down one road or another. We have no choice but to step forward, and then forward again, and then forward again; suddenly we find ourselves on a road we haven’t chosen at all. But maybe happiness isn’t in the choosing. Maybe it’s in the fiction, in the pretending; that wherever we have ended up is where we intended to be all along.”

We start out choosing, but so often those very choices are dictated by the pushing and squeezing of fate and the cosmos. So few of us really end up where we intended at all. We come to terms with where we are. We might even love where we are, but it is not where we set out to go in the beginning.

narrow

Maybe this is where I was meant to be all along, even though it’s not where I intended to go. Maybe I ended up here because of random chance and a good dose of both luck and unluckiness. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the life I was supposed to live, but it is the life I am living.

Maybe I’m just having an early mid-life crisis and no one else has every felt this way or knows what I am talking about at all . . . 😉

Or maybe, life is about rolling with the punches, accepting the role of fate and making the most of the choices that God–life–fate–the universe–allow us to make.

Teetering on the Verge of Insanity

         This is part two of our journey after losing Serena. If you missed part one, feel free to click here to read the first blog titled “Is God Just a Big Cosmic Bully or What?”      

 

           Usually when a woman gets pregnant, it is a time of excitement and of joy. It is a time of the high pitched squeals so characteristic to women. Usually the news of a baby on the way brings a flurry of hugs and well wishing. There is an aura of elation that overshadows any lingering fears you may have about parenthood or the pregnancy. It is an emotional high. Usually.

            For us, after Serena, it was something quite different. At the best, the news of our pregnancy brought a weighted silence followed by a “Well, we’re there for you.” At the worst, it was greeted with accusations “How could you be so careless!” and recriminations “I will never forgive you if you make me walk through that again!” (The extreme irony of the latter comment floors me to this day ! What this person felt in grief at the loss of Serena was the palest shadow of the hell we experienced and yet her concern was not at what we would have to go through all over again, but what she would go through!)

            When I found out that I was pregnant with Gavin I think I went numb. I swear my heart stopped beating for a second and my blood turned cold. When my heart started again and the blood resumed pumping, it all rushed to my head and I felt like I would faint. God help us! The decision had been made for us and I felt by turns a numb hope and a bone-crushing fear.

            I told myself it would be okay. It had to be. God wouldn’t make us walk through that again, not so soon? I mean, He wasn’t that cruel, right?

            But, I was by no means certain. Walking through what we did with Serena had shown me that I really had no idea of what God would or wouldn’t do. I had learned the hard way that He cared a whole lot less about my happiness and comfort than He did about some overarching big picture which I couldn’t see much less understand. I had experienced the very real lesson that being a Christian does not exempt us from pain and hardship. I could not say what God would or wouldn’t do. I felt like I was standing on the edge of some great balck nothingness that was going to swallow me alive.

            So, in my lack of faith that God would take care of it, I appealed to Fate and to Chance. Yes, there was  a 25% chance that the baby would be sick, but the odds that we would roll that number twice in a row . . . no one could be that unlucky, could they?

            I remember sitting at our table and rolling a four-sided die over and over again trying to convince myself that the odds were with us. It didn’t work, especially since I had met a mother online who lost four children in a row to SMA. (And she was a Christian too by the way!) God didn’t stop her from walking through hell over and over again. Why should I be any different?

            We were referred to a geneticist who walked us through what SMA really was, how it worked and what we were looking at for the pregnancy. We would need an amniocentesis at 17 weeks. The sample would then be sent off to one of the two labs in the country capable of analyzing at the DNA level. They would look to see if there was at least one copy of the gene necessary for reproducing neurons. If at least one of us gave the healthy gene, the baby would be okay, if not, well . . . .

            The assumption was that if the baby wasn’t healthy, we would abort it. If anyone has ever had a reason to consider abortion, it was us. We had walked through the pain, the grief, the absolute hell of watching our daughter get weaker and weaker. We had watched our daughter stop breathing and felt our hearts stop right along with hers. Time and time again my husband had breathed the life back into her little body to give us more time . . . until eventually there was no more time. If anyone had a case for abortion, it was us.

            And yet, we barely needed to discuss it. It wasn’t an option. To abort this baby was to say that Serena had never deserved to exist at all, that the days she had were meaningless. Serena had lived and she had loved. She had known happiness and joy in her brief days. She may not have had many of those days, but could we deny her the few she was given to spare us grief? Could we do that to another baby?

            The idea of walking through it all again was unbearable, but the thought of taking away even the few days given to our child was simply unconscionable. We needed to know if the baby was healthy, but we would have it regardless.

            It took a month to get back the results of the DNA test. I lived on the brink of a panic attack. I could barely breathe. Luckily, two weeks before we found out we were pregnant I had started a new job and I had started my graduate program. I immersed myself in the busyness. If I was too busy to think, I would be too busy to let the emotions in, so I tried to box up the grief and fear and I put it somewhere in the back of my heart and I kept moving, one foot in front of the other.

            In the moments between classes and work I found myself listening to the song “My Immortal” by Evanescence on repeat. The words of that song seemed to express my grief in a way I couldn’t. I remember sitting in my car singing that song and sobbing, briefly indulging my pain before drying my tears, squaring my shoulders, gritting my teeth and willing myself to go to work, smile and pretend that the world was still good.

            At one point in one of my classes we had to take a stress test. It looked at all the things that are considered stressors, added them up, and then told you where you were at. My score blew the top off the test. In fact, my professor asked if anyone had scored over a certain point and I raised my hand sheepishly. The whole class just stared at me when I shared the score. I shouldn’t have been functioning. They didn’t even know what to say.

            The test hadn’t taken into account the effort of will. How did I keep functioning through what should have paralyzed me? I wasn’t a quitter. I could barely breathe, but I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to let life win. I was going to keep walking. Somehow, I was going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I lowered my head and just kept moving. I was too stubborn to give up! I may not have been living, but I was existing and I was faking the living part really well!

            Every time the phone rang, our hearts stopped. We would stare at each other. Neither of us wanted to answer it. As much as not knowing was torture, to know, if the news was bad, would be hell itself. Was it the call we were waiting for? With bated breath we would answer and with part relief and part frustration we would answer the phone to find one of our parents or a friend on the other line.

            Every day, for an agonizing month, we waited with our heart in our throats, until finally, one day, after class, as I was about to leave for work, I got the call. It was a boy, and he was okay.

            I couldn’t stop sobbing. I tried to call Aaron, but the truth is, I probably scared him half to death because I COULD NOT STOP sobbing. I tried to call work to tell them that I was going to be late, but I couldn’t stop sobbing. I just couldn’t stop.

            I was going to be a mother again, and this time, I wouldn’t have to watch my child die. This time, I would get to see him grow. I would get to hear him say “Mama” and I would get to feel his little arms around my neck. This time I would get the joy of motherhood, not the sorrow.

            The truth is, my heart was too broken for joy. I didn’t feel the same rush of elation that I had felt when Serena was born. I felt like Humpty Dumpty. I didn’t know if “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” could ever put my broken heart back together again.

            The reality is that my heart is still not put back together. There are still craters and fissures and barely healing wounds riddling my heart, but every time one of my children tells me that they love me, every time I feel their warm little arms around my neck and their soft cheeks nuzzling mine, each day I get to see them grow a little bigger, my heart heals a little bit more. (As if on cue, the cutest little three year old just came and whispered in my ear that she loves me . . . her little lips brushing my ear. Like I said, it heals a little bit each time! :))

            This is Gavin now. He just turned eight!! He is an enormous blessing. He held our marriage together. He kept us sane. He was counting on us. We couldn’t allow the grief to swallow us because of what it would do to him. We weren’t ready for him, but God knew we needed him anyway!

            Finding out that Gavin was okay, was not the end to our journey of fear. We had two more children after him, and the truth is, our journey with Lilian was the scariest of all in many ways, but that is a story for another day. 🙂

Is God Just a Big Cosmic Bully or What?

            Yesterday was my son’s birthday. Every year on his birthday, I find myself reminiscing about him and my second chance at motherhood. It was a day that I never thought I would have. It was a day I longed for, hoped for, but was too scared to believe could really happen.

            You see, though I’ve been pretty up front about our journey in losing Serena, I don’t talk about the journey to our second family very often. I’m not quite sure why that is. Maybe there was just so much pain that I spend most of my time focusing on the biggest source of it or maybe it’s because the journey to our second family ended up having a happy ending, as unlikely as that should have been.

            The day Serena was born was the happiest day of my life. The rush of joy, complete and utter bliss, that I felt in that moment is simply indescribable. I was so in love with my baby girl and with my husband. It seemed impossible that anyone could be so perfectly happy, but I was.

            Motherhood was everything I had hoped for and more. I didn’t mind the sleepless nights or the toll that being a caretaker takes on you. The few times I could be pried away from Serena, I missed her instantly. My favorite thing to do was to watch her sleep. I was enthralled.

            In my darker moments I’ve wondered if my very happiness was too great a temptation for fate. I’ve pondered the idea that there is some great cosmic balance that says so much happiness needs to be balanced with an equal portion of pain. Sometimes I’ve even wondered if God is simply sadistic. I think it was something far simpler than that actually. I think we were just unlucky.

             That day, that horrible, nightmarish day when we found out that our perfect, beautiful girl was going to die, we found out something else as well. Any child we conceived could have the same genetic defect, in fact there was a 25% chance that any child would have it. Not only were we going to lose our only child, but having another child came with the unbearable risk that we would have to walk through the same hell all over again.

            The five months between when we found out Serena was sick to the time she died were consumed by her. Those moments were spent in keeping her alive and treasuring every moment we had left. We were numb, on auto-pilot and consumed by anguish in turns. We waited in horrified anticipation of the day we could not prevent. We couldn’t think; we could merely exist.

            Then the horrible day came when Serena left us and time started moving again. We were left with a void, a complete absence of purpose. I had spent every moment of the last year taking care of this little person, straining to hear the sounds of her alarms in the night, and suddenly, my whole purpose for living was gone. Into that absence came the very real possibility that I would never be a mother again. I can’t even begin to explain the double agony of this realization!

            I was angry, incredibly angry. I felt certain that God was a sadistic bully who liked toying with my heart. How else could I rationalize a God who allowed me to taste motherhood, fall in love with it, only to rip it away from me and deny it to me forever? 

            I became bitter. Looking at other mothers, especially the ones who didn’t deserve the name, made me fume. Expectant mothers were like a knife in my gut. I begrudged them their happiness. They didn’t even know how lucky they were. They took it for granted. The injustice of it was eating me alive.

            We wrestled with our grief and it felt to us like everyone watched in judgment of how we handled it. Our parents were so worried that our anger would destroy our faith in God that their concern became stifling. We had to grieve, and anger was a part of that process, so we ran away to Europe.

            Like Sabrina from one of my all-time favorite movies, I packed my journal, my camera and my drawing materials intent on sitting on the various bridges of Europe (not just Paris like she did, but that was one of the stops) and writing/drawing until everything started to make sense again.

            One of our main topics of conversation on the trip was if we should stay together and if we should ever try to have children again. We contemplated separating. That would be an easy solution. The chances of us finding another person who was also a carrier were only 1 in 40;  surely we couldn’t be so unlucky as to fall in love with another carrier?

            We thought about it, but, the problem was, we still loved each other. We were best friends. We didn’t want a family with someone else. We wanted it together.

            That brought up the second part of the conversation, could we, should we, take the risk of having another child?

            I was so desperate to be a mother again that I was willing to try despite the risks, but Aaron was not, and he couldn’t say that he ever would be ready to take that risk again. We talked, we fought and I agonized, but he wouldn’t budge. I told myself to be patient (something I can be incredibly bad at!) and to give him time, which I tried to do (and failed miserably at!). And I waited.

            Despite trying to respect Aaron and taking the steps to prevent a pregnancy, we became pregnant about a year after Serena died. I had been willing to take the risk in theory, but when that choice was taken out of my hands in actuality, I found that I was nearly paralyzed with fear. Imagine feeling like at any moment the axe is going to drop and you are going to find yourself back in hell . . . yep, that’s pretty much what it felt like. Sheer terror.

I’ll blog the rest of the story in a couple of days . . . it’s just too much too put in one blog! Nobody would read the whole thing! 🙂

Move Over Red Shirt, and Make Way for the Heroine!

There is so much of being an adult that isn’t what I expected. I’ve always considered myself a fairly rational person (despite my idealism . . . maybe I didn’t have a very real picture of myself after all . . .).

Maybe I should blame it on being such an avid reader. After reading so many stories that follow the same basic principle, maybe my subconscious actually started thinking it would work that way.

You know, the heroine, misunderstood and under estimated, meets the boy who sees her for who she really is, they fall in love and walk merrily into the future hand in hand where everything comes up roses and sugar blossoms. Happily Ever after and all that.

Like I said, I do have a fairly large rational streak, and I certainly never thought that is how it would work, in my head at least, but my subconscious expectations, well . . . maybe they weren’t so rational after all!

I guess, whatever it is I expected, this wasn’t it. The normalcy of life, the hum drum progression of days where each one looks pretty much like the one before, this is NOT what I expected. The endless succession of ordinary tasks . . . getting the kids up for school, getting them out the door, cooking cleaning and cleaning some more only to start over with the same list of “to dos” the next day . . . . I have more in common with a scullery maid than the heroine in a story!

And see, there is the rub. I used to feel like the heroine in my own story. The same feeling I feel at the beginning of a good book, that feeling of potential and anticipation where the unexpected, the magical could be waiting for me just around the corner . . . I lived life in that charged place.

And like a good story, insecure, underestimated girl did indeed meet the boy who helped me believe in me and who swept me off my feet. I heard the swell of Andrea Bocelli in the background and felt the fireworks in his fingertips. I had my story and I was the heroine and it was glorious.

Next comes the happily ever after part, right? Like I said, I was too rational (and too smart!!) to really believe that. I knew that life in the real world was something very different. What I didn’t expect was that I would stop being the heroine of my own story.

These days I feel much more like the red shirt in my story rather than Captain Kirk. Aren’t I supposed to be the protagonist in my own story?  I feel like an insignificant extra. I feel like when I had my children, my story ended and theirs began.

Maybe a good mother would be okay with that. Maybe a selfless person wouldn’t think about it  twice. Certainly June Cleaver never would have spared a second for such selfish thoughts! But, then again, I am no June Cleaver! Though I am a good cook, even Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals are fancier than I tend to cook. Not to mention that when it comes to housework, well, I am simply an abysmal failure. All my extended education did not prepare me for the impossible task of balancing the endless mountains of laundry and the messes left by some of the world’s messiest people! And I always thought that I was so good at multi-tasking! Hmpf!

But I digress. Maybe it is pure selfishness that makes me so crazy about not being the heroine of my own story. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me. Maybe a good mother is content to fade into the back story and live her life through her children.

But I don’t think so. Shouldn’t we all be the heroine of our own story? Should our sense of potential and anticipation disappear just because girl has already met boy? I don’t think so! My story is not over at 35! I won’t allow it to be!

Ah . . . but then there is the guilt. Shouldn’t this be enough? Shouldn’t I be perfectly happy just as I am? My husband is hot and he is my best friend to boot. I have three amazingly beautiful, smart children when genetics should have kept me from having any at all. Shouldn’t this be enough?

My family is my world and I would die for any one of them in a heartbeat. I know I am a good mother. I do put my children first and I suspect I always will, but that doesn’t mean that I need to play the role of martyr either.

I think the modern mother walks a difficult road. We have left the role of June Cleaver behind, but we see the error in the career mom who is an absentee mother. We long for balance. We want to be the heroine in our own story while teaching our children at the same time to be the hero/heroine of their own stories.

Most days it leaves me feeling like there is an internal tug of war being waged inside of me, and sadly, most often, it leaves me feeling like a failure at pretty much everything.

I don’t need to be the center of the universe. I don’t even need to be the center of my little family. But I do need to know that there is more waiting for me around the corner than Saturday’s soccer game. I need to know that I still have a role to play in this crazy story of life and that my role is more than just being the expendable red shirt.

I need to know that I am indeed the heroine of my own story, and that my story is not over, not now at 35, not at 55, not even at 75.

I think we all have a duty to step up and be the hero in our own story, to not sit back and let the story happen, but to find our role, to be an active participant.

Ever hero has to overcome, ever heroine has conflict and crisis that must be met. If you don’t have conflict, if you don’t have crisis, you’re not living your story.

Or, if you’re like me, and have had lots of conflict, always remember, the hero always has a choice; he can rise to the challenge and overcome and live the story he was created to live, or he can sit back and be the forgotten red shirt.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a red shirt! I won’t be a forgettable extra in my own life! I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m going to keep trying to find that line, the line of being the best mother I can be while at the same time being the best me I can be.

How a Lake Full of Turtles Made for the Perfect Day!

Spring is my favorite time in Texas. The sky is blue, the temperature perfect, and there are flowers everywhere. If it weren’t for the several months of spring, I don’t think I could tolerate the absolutely awful summers!

This year we haven’t had much of a winter, and yet I still can’t help but get almost giddy at the fledgling steps toward spring. The spring here is filled with long lists of fun activities to do with the kids and I find myself filled with excitement just like I use to feel as a child at Christmas time. The sunshine and the gorgeous flowers that will soon carpet the ground make every day feel better and a little brighter.

So, though it isn’t really spring yet, the days are teasing us into a feeling as if it’s here. In honor of its soon arrival, we decided to do one of our favorite spring time activities and go hiking this weekend, all of us.

It might sound crazy taking a three year old hiking on tough terrain, but I am mother to a very, not ordinary three year old. She is more like “Super Toddler!” I tried it for the first time last fall, by myself with all three kids, and was amazed to find that not once did Lily ask me to carry her. The most I had to do was hold her hand to steady her in the rocky and steep places.

So, much to my husband’s dismay, the kids decided to, once again, not take the easy trail, but to take the moderate trail, and then to make things even more interesting, they decided to take on the difficult trail as well.

I have to admit, even I had a fair amount of trepidation when seeing just how difficult the difficult trail really was. What kind of mother took her three year old on a 3+ mile hike on steep and rocky terrain? I had to remind myself that this wasn’t just any three year old, this was Lily.

It wasn’t enough for her to just make the hike, she wanted to be at the front of the pack with her big brother. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched her scurrying after her brother trying to keep up with his longer legs. At one point, in trying to catch up to him, she wasn’t being as mindful as she should have been. She tripped on a root and went down flat on her face, hard. She didn’t cry out much less cry. All she said was “Umpf!” pause, “I’m okay! I’m okay!” and she bounded up, brushed herself off and hit the ground running.

Arabelle is the complete opposite of Lily in so many ways. Where Lily is intense, Arabelle is gentle. Where Lily wants to take the world by storm, Arabelle approaches it quietly with her arms wide open. For her, the exertion of the hike is to be born only because of the company she’s keeping and the flowers and butterflies along the way. So, where Lily sprinted ahead, Belle and her Daddy followed along in the back, chatting amiably along the way.

I stayed in the middle, trying to keep an eye on the two darting far ahead without being out of ear shot of the two dwindling behind. I found my heart bursting with pride in the tenacity of the two in the front while my heart warmed at the sounds of Daddy and his little girl strolling along chatting in companionable conversation. It was one of life’s perfect moments.

We took a break about midway through the hike to break out snacks for the little people and to gaze at the little lake that was the goal of our hike. It was a beautiful day and the little lake glistened in the sunlight and for a moment we all just gazed in silence, one of those truly rare moments with little kids!

But then, as it so often will with little people, the moment took on a fun and playful twist. Gavin was the first to spot the turtles, and then as we looked for turtles we spotted hundreds of fish just below the surface. Gavin decided to try an experiment. He tossed in one of his crackers to see what would happen.

The fish began to fight each other for the cracker. The turtles in the distance, seeing the cracker, swam for it with one objective, to steal the cracker from the fish. It was hilarious to watch! Of course, the girls had to get in on the action as well, so they began throwing crackers to the fish and soon all of them were giggling uncontrollably at the antics of the fish and turtles.

The day was so much fun that Gavin, who, as most little boys his age, loves video games declared, “I can’t believe I’m saying this but . . . I think I like hiking even more than playing my video games!” Even after an over 3 mile hike, he wanted more! Though, Super Toddler though she may be, we felt like that might have been asking a bit much of our little toddler super hero! 🙂

One thing the day ensured is that we will certainly be going hiking a lot this year. It was good for all of us. The sunshine, the company and the physical exertion all combined to make for the best weekend we have had in a long time! It also helped me to begin looking toward the fun we can have in the future with our growing family. Though I will be sad to leave the fun of the quirky toddler years behind, how much I am going to enjoy the company of these three little amazing people that I am so lucky to have in my life!

Post Christmas Comatose

            I am sitting here, with my third cup of coffee, trying to get myself to think clearly, much less get motivated. My brain feels sluggish and my reflexes seem slow. I think Christmas gave me the beat down!

            Don’t get me wrong, Christmas was great! It was a total success in the kids department despite our finances being so tight this year (thanks to craigslist and thrift town!). Seeing Arabelle’s excitement about Santa was priceless. She even got the bike she asked Santa for thanks to her aunt and uncle who didn’t mind letting Santa get all of the credit. My dad bought me a brand new Bunn coffee pot so I’m back to having a truly excellent, hot cup of coffee in the mornings for the first time in months. My husband even gave me a morning to myself. Overall, Christmas was a total success!

            Still, two days after, I feel like I have brain fry and that Scrooge did a body snatch in the middle of the night. My kids are still flying high from excitement and sugar overload, while I seem to have crashed and need about two weeks of solid sleep to recover. The bickering that is the norm when all three kids are home has me feeling downright grumpy!

            I guess I never realized how much work moms put into Christmas. I never really noticed all that much despite the fact that I’ve been a mom myself for a decade. We deserve some sort of award!

            The mad rush to get everything ready for Christmas was huge this year. Then you have the explosion on Christmas day. Now I am left looking at the after math of a house torn apart and guess who gets to clean it? Yep, yours truly. I think I’ll just ignore it all and go back to bed!

            I never realized how much my mom did to make Christmas magical for me year after year. I wish I had realized then so I could have let her know how much I appreciated it! Still, belated though it may be:

Mom, thanks for making my childhood so magical! I understand now all the time and energy you put into it, and the warm, happy memories I have are testimony to what a great job you did! Thank you!

           I suppose someday my kids will understand too and I’ll get that thank you I’ve been looking for! Until then, I’d better get another cup of coffee because this house isn’t going to clean itself and my kids can’t seem to go a minute without needing me to come to the rescue for something or other!

Update: Gavin just came up to me and told me I’m a good mom . . . maybe they do notice . . .at least a little bit! 🙂

Here Comes Trouble!

            As most avid readers would, I read all the books I could get my hands on about what to expect when having a baby, toddler, and later a child. I followed my pregnancies week by week (month by month just didn’t cut it for me). And I read about every behavioral and developmental stage before my children were even close to reaching them.

            Not really surprisingly, parenting seems to be one of those things that all the preparation in the world really can’t prepare you for what’s in store for you, as I’ve found out every step along the way with my kiddos!

            Case in point, whoever said that girls are easier than boys (actually I did!), has yet to meet my youngest child. She looks like a cherub. She even has a way of cocking her head to the side and smiling that seems to confirm the angelic nature that would appear to be contained in her cherubic façade. Oh, Nature what a trickster you are! Looks are most certainly deceiving in this little one!

            I thought my son was as big of a handful as anyone was like to have. The other moms who knew him when he was little, tended to agree with that assumption. I often heard comments such as, “I have never seen a child that busy!” or “He makes my girls look tame!” etc.. He was climbing out of his crib by the time he was fifteen months old, he didn’t learn to walk so much as run, and he could climb absolutely ANYTHING! He was everywhere at once and chasing after him for an afternoon was likely to leave you exhausted.

            My idea that it was testosterone overload seemed to have merit when our middle child entered the scene. Arabelle is . . .  well, imagine Strawberry Shortcake with honey colored hair and hazel eyes and you have a good idea of my daughter. She was (and still is) the easiest, sweetest child in the world. So, she proved that girls were easier than boys, right?

            Not so much. Lily (such a small pretty name for such a large, headstrong personality!) entered the scene seeming set to outdo her brother on absolutely EVERYTHING! IF he could do it, she could do it sooner. She started crawling out of her crib by fourteen months old and she was running by about ten months old. She literally hit the ground running.

            One of Gavin’s favorite stories about himself was about how he pulled down a small Christmas tree when he was just a baby. Lily, not to be outdone, pulled a full-sized Christmas tree down on her head.

             Gavin, who is tall enough to ride the Texas Giant at Six Flags had the sense to realize that just because he can ride it, doesn’t mean he’s ready to ride it. Lily, with a half sneer, announced that she wasn’t scared to ride and asked me, “Are I big enough to ride it Mama, Are I?” and when I responded in the negative, she looked at me with a look of shock, pointed to herself and stated, “Look at me! I are big enough! I are!” You get the idea, right? Larger than life and convinced she’s already sixteen!

              She thinks she has as much say on how things are going to be as we do. She bullies her big brother and sister, and they actually listen to her half of the time! If she decides that she wants to fight for something, she’s likely to win despite how small she is. This is one tenacious, determined little person!

Though she hardly looks, it, does she! 🙂

             She totally stumps me from a parenting perspective.

             We had hard times with Gavin when he was younger (and of course, still do sometimes!). He disobeyed. A lot. But he was rarely defiant. He wanted what he wanted and he didn’t care about the consequences, be they reward or punishment. It took a couple years before we found an incentive he wanted enough to get him to correct his behavior. He often argued, or tried to reason us to his way of thinking, but he never dug in his heels just for the sake of defiance. That is Lily’s territory.

              My parents say it’s pay back, though even they admit that she is worse than I was and at a younger age. And so I’m left scratching my head about how to handle this larger than life personality that happens to be housed in such a little package.

             When it comes down to it, all the books in the world can’t prepare you for the individual personalities that so often break the mold of “normal”!

              Ah, well! As with so much, I guess life is learned in the trenches, not in the library! For every rule there is an exception, and my Lily is definitely an exception!