Motherhood

Dear Mom [Week 7]

Hi mom,

It seems every time we have talked on the phone lately , I’ve put you in the position of giving me a pep talk, and I should be the one giving you the pep talks! I guess that means we are both mothers. Ha. Oh, how I love you, mom. Thanks for keeping me going, even when you may not want to keep going. You are such a strength to me at this time in my life. Thank you. Now, the tears are forming again. It’s a good thing we aren’t on the phone.

I’ve been an emotional wreck lately. It’s not just that I am tired. And, oh, how I am tired. It’s because I’ve got so many emotionally draining issues going on simultaneously. I know I don’t have to rehash that here because you already know all of them. It’s amazing how much it helps to hear, “Oh Alice, try to stop worrying, I promise it will all work out. I wasted too much of my life worrying.” Because even when I am reminded that everything has a way of working itself out at every turn, I still have a hard time believing it. Plus, I want it to work out the way I want it to. And it never does. Even when it works out better than I thought it would, it’s like I am still mad that I didn’t get my way.

Yielding Our Hearts_edited-1.jpg

I went to the internet to look for the “It will all work out” picture above, and when I saved it noticed it was titled, “yielding our hearts.” Yeah, I really need to get better at that.

You know, it’s funny how life gives you perspective that can lead to greater faith, if you let it. For so many years, we all worried about Adam and Renee, and they are doing so good now. It really did work out for them. If you ask them, they would probably say it hasn’t worked out completely, but a lot has worked out. I have to remind myself that a lot of my own life has worked out, too. I hate being a perfectionist and an idealist. I just need everything to be worked out. And NOW. I have to learn to be happy in the moment and in the storm. There is always so much that still needs to be worked out, and I let it drag me down. Maybe by the time I am your age, I will have it figured out.

So, I want to write briefly about our conversation of your hopes that dad will visit. I loved your story about your friend’s deceased husband who didn’t visit for five years. Then the moment she started lamenting, he disappeared. It didn’t surprise me one bit when you said your newest goal is to not be in mourning because you want dad to be able to visit. I chuckled because the thought of you not mourning is comical. Not only because it’s an impossibility, but because you’re totally convinced that it’s the only way to see dad again and you want it ASAP. So, you are determined to make it happen. I’m sure you will succeed.

I haven’t lost a lot of loved ones, but from the people I have lost, I have learned through experience that we will do just about ANYTHING to see them or feel them close. In a dream. In a coincidence. In a voice. We just need to know they are still living. The thought of just being dead is horrible. I don’t know how anyone survives life with that kind of outlook for their finality.

So, really quick, I want to tell you about three cool experiences I’ve had in the past few weeks that are my own little tender mercies in knowing dad is alive and well.

First, this construction site right down the street. One day I was stopped in front of this house-build waiting at the stop sign. I looked ever and was watching the workers and my mind took me straight back to dad’s hospital room when we all looked out the window. You may not be able to see it, but they had those framing boards that dad explained were super expensive. Remember, they were slathering them with oil, and dad told us that they use them over and over again? Anyhow, I started talking to dad and telling him how much I wish he was still here. And, I am not kidding, mom, just then, a white dove flew straight toward my driver-side window, and just 1/100th of a second before hitting my window, it shot straight up. I’m pretty sure dad wanted me to know he is still close, and watching over me. It was a really hard day and that dove did more for me than 12 hours of sleep ever could.

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The next story is just silly, but it still meant a lot to me. Another day, another hard day. I checked my e-mail, and the only e-mail waiting to be opened was this random invite from dad to connect on his Linkedin. I know it is just a glitch from the website, but even if dad appeared himself at that stoplight, where I was trying to find the energy to keep moving forward, it wouldn’t have been more helpful.

linkedin

You will love this last story. I won’t mention any names here publicly, although I don’t think she would mind, but this happened with an old Carlsbad friend. She has left the church and lives in Hawaii. Two days ago she shared an article on Facebook and suggested that if members of the church would read it, it would help them have more empathy for those that have left the church. Well, that baited me in. Because, of course, I try to have true compassion, understanding, and empathy for other people.

Anyhow, I only read a few paragraphs of the article because when it started talking really disrespectfully about Joseph Smith, I couldn’t swallow anymore. I told the friend so, and told her I tried to read it, but couldn’t do it. “I still love, you, and respect your right to feel how you feel,” I said. She was nice about it. Some of her friends got onto me a bit, but I didn’t let it bother me, as they know nothing about me, and were just acting like a bunch of trolls. Anyhow, the friends didn’t bother me, but the little content that I did read kept pestering me. I questioned, “Am I wrong to believe in a latter-day prophet?” “Do I really belong to a cult?” “According to the articles standards, don’t all Christians belong to a cult for worshiping Jesus Christ?” You know my mind. It was just tumbling and turning with all kinds of facts, figures, and questions. I just wanted them to go away as I already had a million others things running around up there, and my brainwaves were feeling like Toys-R-Us on Black Friday. I was seeking the quickest checkout line and fastest route back home to my comfortable bed.

No one had any way of knowing my torment. But, dad did. And just like he always used to do when he was here, he eliminated it with one swift punch. Oh, mom, he has always been my hero. How lucky I have been to have a man that has always understood me in my pride, stubborn, obsessive, foolish ways. In a lot of ways LG is different than dad, but in the way of loving me, I married probably the only person capable of loving me like dad did. And LG is all the better because he doesn’t even think like Dad and I do, and he’s so patient in trying to understand.

Sorry, I got sidetracked from my story. Anyhow, in less than 24 hours after the initial reading of this article that had me shaken up, the same friend, who lives in Hawaii now, shared this photo on Erick’s Facebook wall. Of all the people for her to see, she ran into Connor at Costco. Yes, our Connor. Elder Wills. Serving a mission, in Hawaii, to teach people about Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith.

Dad knew. I don’t know the circumstances of Connor being at Costco or my friend being there at the very same time, but I do know it was a really dynamic way for dad to stop my brain from running me off a cliff. Or maybe it wasn’t dad. Maybe it was actually my other dad. My Heavenly one. Either way, I like to think that the two of them work together for my benefit now.

connor

So, there you have it. Maybe dad hasn’t come to visit us personally yet, but he is repeatedly showing me that he isn’t far away. He’s still my hero. Probably always will be.

Hey, mom, for some reason, this just popped into my mind. Remember how you guys used to always play the movie “I’ll Build You A Rainbow” at our baptisms? It seemed so morbid to me to watch a movie at a baptism about a mom that died. I remember feeling really traumatized from that show. I was also always really confused what in the world it had to do with baptism. Well, I just felt a little nudge from my eight-year-old self saying, “Hey Alice, this is the moment your mom and dad were preparing you for all those years ago.” Baptism has everything to do with your eternal family.

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He’s building us a rainbow, mom.

“If I can’t see you, how will I know you are there?”

Families are forever. And there is only one place on earth I know that doctrine to even be claimed. That’s why Connor is in Hawaii. And that’s why dad didn’t let my harmful obsessive thinking last longer than 24 hours. He’s visiting us every day, mom. We may just not be able to see him. But, we will see him. Yes, we will.

 

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Dear Mom [Week 6]

Hi mom,

Wow, it amazes me at how much your voice has become a healing balm for my soul. I wish I would have recognized that more for dad before he was gone. Thanks for my pep talk on Wednesday night. Oh, how validating it is to just talk with someone over the phone who can see straight through the cellular airwaves. “Alice, you sound so tired. I hope you can get to bed  early tonight.” Even if I didn’t, just hearing that you wished it for me gave me greater strength to endure. Thank you, mom. For Wednesday and all the thousands of other times just like it. How fortunate I am to have you in my corner.

I was out walking Olive last night at 10:30 PM and a truck hauling a trailer full of stuff drove by. I had to sit down on the curb for a bit because my heart and mind felt like dad had just passed by showing me that he is still hard at work and happy. Then, I had a dream last night. It is my first I’ve had of dad since he passed away. I was showing a friend a video of my dad of how healthy he was on the day he died. He reached out from the cell phone screen jumping and hopping, waving and smiling. He was laughing. I never recognized the  full value of his smile until he was gone. While I dreamt, his smile filled my whole soul with light. It illuminated from his eyes and mouth to his face and everything beyond.  I woke up so happy. I felt like dad was telling me not to worry because he is right back to his old healthy happy ways. How much fun we always had with you and dad! Compared to our neighbors’ possessions, we had next to nothing, but we sure did have everything. I felt like we really got the best of both worlds. A third-world country carefree closeness combined with so many first-world conveniences.

I’m sorry these letters are getting harder to decipher.  I am so tired all of the time, and it is hard to write. I can’t even seem to think straight. When you called last Friday from the DI crying, it truly broke my heart. I wish I could take away your pain, mom. I hated (and still hate) that you were (and still are) lonely, but then when you said, “I feel better, just hearing your voice,” it made me so humbled and grateful that even though I can’t take it away, I could provide a little comfort in the moment. I am so glad Adam could come visit. I am partially jealous that he has the kind of freedom to do that, but I am more grateful than anything. I need to make it a priority to come visit very soon, no matter how crazy busy I am. Adam is just as busy, if not more so.

It’s Friday, therefore I should be getting homework done. It’s 1:13 PM, and I have yet to even start. I’ve had a great day. I woke up and listened to President Uchtdorf’s talk from Women’s Conference, and consequently I just wanted more. I then listened to Elder Holland’s talk from the Priesthood Session. In between my new visiting teacher came over. God has been with me today. He answered my prayers. He never answers in the way that I want Him to, but He does answer. I’ve been really preoccupied with LG and Abigail lately. One of my questions going into conference was how I could help both LG and Abigail with their individual struggles. I get so impatient, and I know a majority of the time I just exacerbate stuff. When I asked the question, I hoped God would tell me exactly how I could MAKE them do what I know is best. Ha. God has never answered me one time, in all my almost 43 years, to tell me anything about anyone else. Today, has been true to God’s pattern.

Between Sunny (my visiting teacher), Holland, and Ucthdorf I got three witnesses all telling me that same thing. I need to have more faith, I need to love better and deeper, and I need to be patient and kind. They all sounded just like you, mom. Maybe someday Abigail will actually write me a letter that says, “Hey, mom, thanks for telling me what I didn’t want to hear. I know you love me. And, you were right. My entire life.” Well, there you go, mom. There is everything you ever wanted to hear. You know me well. I know that you love me. And, I hope I can learn to love like you do, more devoutly and patiently. Why does it have to be so hard? I wish I could just make everyone else change to my liking, instead of having to work on making myself more like-able.

As I sat pondering how I could make the changes I needed to make, I saw a video a friend of mine posted on facebook. It was a song by Andrea Bocelli and Katherine McFee called “The Prayer”. As I watched and listened to the beautiful lyrics, I started praying along.

I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know

Let this be our prayer
As we go our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

I pray we’ll find your light
And hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night
Remind us where you are

Let this be our prayer
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

We ask that life be kind
And watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
Another soul to love

Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Needs to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

Need to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

I almost felt like I was praying to both God and dad. I hope that doesn’t come across sacrilegious. When I got to the part where it says, “Let this be our prayer, just like every child, needs to find a place” I got a fourth witness. It was an answer from God, about me, about you, and about dad. It was jetted straight through my skin and brain and arrived straightway to my heart. “Create a place for every child, just like your mom and dad. Be their place. Be their safe place.” That means, I have to do that for everyone. Not just my kids, but my husband, too. It’s a daunting message. How can I ever do that when I am still such a child needing such a place? But, I will try, mom. I will try. How I love you and dad. You both have issues, but you both keep trying. You are children who need a safe place, but despite your own needs being met or not, you always created that place for others. You know how to love. Thank you for showing me what that looks like. I will try to be like you, mom. And like dad. Because ultimately I know I will end up looking like God.
Two more songs followed as I typed to you just now while listening to “The Prayer” again trying to muster my strength to get up from my laptop. I don’t want to. I just want to stay here where it is safe, and I won’t mess anything up with my controlling, impatience, criticism, or aggressiveness. The songs were “Time to say Goodbye” and then “Hero.” I could hear dad’s voice singing. He told me we will go together again in a ship, and that even though he knows he’s my hero, he was just an ordinary dude who kept trying and loving. I could hear him say, “Alice, you can keep trying. You can keep loving.”
It’s not Wednesday night. You aren’t on the phone. It’s Friday morning, and for the second time this week I got a pep-talk from my parents. My dad called all the way from heaven. How about that? I didn’t even have to ask you to talk to him. He just knew I needed him.
I love you, mom. Until next week… here are the lyrics. I hope you get to hear dad telling you about the ship you will sail again, too.

 

Excerpted from “Time to say Goodbye”
When I’m alone
I dream on the horizon
and words fail;
yes, I know there is no light
in a room where the sun is absent,
if you are not with me, with me.
At the windows
show everyone my heart
which you set alight;
enclose within me
the light you
encountered on the street.
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer,
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you,
I with you.

“Hero”

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt
Will disappear

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time
You’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you

A Simply Marvelous Life

caroline-harpWhile going through old class notes for my current paper, I found this story I wrote last spring. I remember how it made the student that presented after me cry. I felt so bad as she approached the podium upset. She explained that my story was especially tender to her because her dad had passed away recently. How was I to know that within months I’d be in the same “dad gone” boat?

I remember telling my dad of our plan to take a gift to the orphan boys and how he loved it. He wholeheartedly sanctioned it to my kids and he shared an inspiring story of his own. He cried. What a tender memory. He believed in the art of compassion. He lived the art. How grateful I am for him and his  example. He inherently knew that the true joy of life was within our relationships with others.

I am grateful to have come across this story today. I’ve been in a school slump, not feeling up to the writing task. Today’s discovery reminded me of the importance of storytelling. Even if I am not the most eloquent storyteller.

A Simply Marvelous Life

“Those poor, poor boys,” Mother said loud enough for the room to hear as she read the newspaper. I asked her, “What boys?” She explained. Twenty years before she used to work with this guy. They were nothing more than acquaintances. “But still, it’s just so tragic.” He was dead now among the remains of his personal jet. It crashed on take-off in Colorado. The crash also killed his wife, and two of his five children.

Mother seemed obsessed over the three children left. It was hard to understand how complete strangers to her sabotaged her heart for months. She talked about them to everyone. Her friends. Her kids. Sometimes she would even talk to random strangers about how grateful she was to be alive. “Shopping with a toddler is hard, but it makes it easier when I think about how blessed I am to be alive.” When the family knelt in the family room every night, mother would sometimes pray out loud for the family. “Bless those boys.”  When I complained about chores or homework or getting my phone taken away, she would remind me to be grateful. “You have both your parents, and all of your siblings. Remember, life is marvelous.” When Christmas neared mother told us that in the quiet of one morning she heard a voice in her mind. It was a woman begging, “They must have a gift from us under the tree.” Asking our forgiveness mother said she hoped we’d understand her stealing from us. She had withdrawn from her Christmas account, upsetting her carefully budgeted plan, to buy something for the orphans. She apologized and explained that we might have a little less this year. “But, I just feel it my duty to provide a gift for them from their dead mother. I can hear her voice as clear as day. I can’t ignore it.”

As Father drove us to the next town over, Mother watched her five elves stretch and giggle among the large sack of gifts in the back. The wrapped gifts would be left anonymously. “Because that is the best kind of giving,” mother said. The boys’ names, the ones their mother gave them, were monogrammed on their blankets. A note was included reminding them of their mother’s love, all the way from heaven. “She had found a way to hug them, through the mind of a stranger.”

Mother had done some serious sleuthing to get the names and address of the boys, but could hardly believe her eyes as they pulled up. When they verified the house number to the information on the paper in mother’s hand, everyone voiced their utter shock. A chorus of “no way” echoed the yelps of surprise as the vehicle reached the top of the mountain. The boys lived in a literal mansion. Mother laughed. “What in the world?” We all told her we should take the gifts back home, but she directed her elves to drop the gifts on the doorstep. “Be quiet. Don’t let anyone see you. Hurry up before someone calls the police.” As we sprinted our way back to the modest minivan that cowered under the massive gate, my little sister spared a glance for a golden harp glowing through the windowed fortress. We jumped in. The tires peeled. My baby sister described the harp’s shine to her amused mother. How badly Caroline wanted a harp. She had even written to Santa for one. She didn’t know what I knew.  Santa had already bought her a harpsichord. It was the last Christmas purchase she had made right after the wrapping for the boys’ blankets.

We never knew it, but in those first few moments driving home, mother deeply questioned the meaning of helping where help didn’t seem to be needed. Those boys had more than she or hers ever would. The answer came quick, at the traffic light on the way home. Flashing behind her eyes, red and green, it spelled one word. C-o-m-p-a-s-s-i-o-n. Mother turned to dad and said, “I guess tonight we got to help meet an emotional need, not a physical one.”  Yes, compassion knows no class structure. Or biases. Only pure love. And that night both mothers had managed, from separate realms, to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

The next day mother listened as her baby girl, surrounded by her parents and four siblings, transformed our family’s condo into a two-bedroom castle with music from her harpsichord. As Mother closed her eyes to enjoy the marvelous moment, a familiar angel voice spoke to her mind one last time, “It sounds just like my harp.”

 

For the heavy-hitting moms

I sat behind a friend’s family at church two weeks ago. She has A LOT of kids….just how many you will see in the poem I wrote below. Their family got to church before ours, and her kids were super well-behaved through the hour-long service. I was in awe. I wrote a poem.

For all you moms out there, especially you heavy-hitting ones with a bunch of kids, this is also for you. When you gather up all your kiddos and take them to church, so they can give their Heavenly Father proper respect, you are doing something that God can’t do himself. I’m pretty sure He is super happy with you, and He knows the struggle. It’s oh so real.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Some Sundays are not as ideal as others. I’m sure my friend Anjella has known many that didn’t go so smooth. Like  probably every single Sunday when at least one of her kids can’t find the right shoe. Or when they didn’t make it on time because someone puked at the last minute. That maybe happened six weeks in a row. Or when the kids aren’t well-behaved, for an entire two years straight. But, I firmly believe that when we do our best, God takes care of the rest, and helps in every way He can. We are revered. We are partners with God in raising His children. He must be so grateful when we remember Him, and even more grateful when we teach our children to do the same.  We are all poem-worthy.

Disclaimer: the dad in the poem had a name-tag on his binder
under his chair that said, “Hello, my name is crazy.”

Revered

9 little heads of hair:
5 crew cuts, and
1 cascades to the chair.
Two bows,
and a fishtail braid

9 feet.
Each has a match
encased in the finest.
A closet-full of oxfords,
cowboy boots, and sandals.

9 bodies
outfitted pristinely.
4 dresses,
5 white shirts with vertical ties
and one horizontal striped.

9 pairs of hands
tiny to preteen,
turning the hymns,
clutched in contemplation,
and combing mama’s hair.

9 sets of eyes
look to mom,
glance at dad,
proliferate the chapel,
missing nothing.

9 hearts in need.
9 mouths to feed
9 sets of skin
to wake, wash, and love
over and over again.

9 children
with just one mother
and a dad named “crazy”.
They meet each need
before their own.

9 is monumental
more than possible
for just two sets of hands.
Oh wait!
There’s 2 more.

The 2 oldest
joined the rest
after serving
the Lord’s supper.
1 more week of power.

The moment we dread. And after.

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My oldest daughter will be a senior in high-school next year. Look at her. Isn’t she just every mother’s joy!? I find myself in the middle of the day just rummaging through her things, trying to learn more about her. (I hope she doesn’t read this or that might kind of freak her out.) When she is zoned in on her phone, I sneak in more peeks just because I can. I think of her, and mentally check to see if I have her memorized. I think about the cans of Spaghetti O’s she forages. I mentally replay her body in motion racing around a track. I trace every line of her hairdos. At homecoming. That choir concert. That morning when she just got out of bed.

Favorite candy=hot tamales. Check. Most proud moment=hmmm. I’m not sure. I better ask her. Favorite color=green. Check. Biggest fear=birds. Bigger fear=being judged as less than. Talents=soccer, design, hair, fashion, math, anaylzing, singing. There are too many. I think about her voice and how it sounds when she sings next to me at church. I smile. I think about her voice when she was 10, 5, 2. Then I have to stop because it hurts too much.It makes me cry, knowing that she will never sound like a two-year-old ever again. She will never give me sloppy kisses again. She will never come crying because she just scraped a knee and she believes my kisses will make it all better. She will never navigate a new high-school or be at the wheel for a first time or learn to walk.

I don’t want her to leave. I don’t ever want her to go because part of me will go with her, and I am not sure how I will manage having part of me wherever she ends up. I know from observing others that I will figure it out. I just don’t want to. Not at all. I want to keep her all for myself. But, there is a world that needs her. A world I’ve prepared her for. A world that she needs. There are things she can’t learn from me. It has to be someone else to teach her physics and quantum life. I don’t know that stuff. There are jobs just for her. There are people waiting to know her and love her. There are people she is meant to love. There are little monkies of her own that she gets to recycle this  life experience with. All I can hope for is that she lets me visit once in awhile. Maybe she will even come home when she can,  and give me a hug. I will like that.

But honestly, every time we part ways, I will feel a little like Jane Goodall. Appreciated. Happy. Proud. And in excrutiating torment to see her go. She will take a part of my heart with her. And the day I die, after giving her one small piece at a time for decades, I will leave the last piece of it with her, so she will have more heart to give to her own monkies.  And I will wait in heaven to hug her on the other side when she comes stumbling through the veil with her own empty heart. And when we hug, in the touch, somehow, our hearts will miraculously ressurect. And the torment will be no longer. All that will remain will be the Pride. And the Joy.

Reverenced

Red hair, black shirt.
Sitting at a short table.
Food in front.
Ocean spray juice in a plastic bottle
with a blue lid.
I can smell the pasta
from my circular booth.
Marinara.
It shouts at my nostrils.
I’m cheap. I’m microwaved.
I’m in a flimsy black bowl.
It all sits still, untouched.
Laid out neatly
as if waiting for a queen.
Drink on left.
Pasta in the middle.
Napkin and plastic fork on the right.
Her head bows.
Reverencing her meal
in contrast to her hair.
Her bright pink hair.
It’s not red.
It’s pink.
Bright pink
like a darker-dyed flamingo.
And it fades and ombres into
Cindy Lauper.
All the way down her back.
She is bowing.
Bowing.
It’s been a minute.
At least a minute.
She is still.
She is grateful.
She is reverent.
She is praying.
With her pink hair.
Her flaming hair.
The hair that screams
rebel.
I’m a rebel.
I’m a rebel queen.
And I have a Father.
A Father God.
And she stands.
Her belly is bulging.
A princess is waiting.
Her hair may be pink.
Just like her mother.
Her rebel mother.
The Queen
with a Father.

The Day She Finds Out Why

woman's life

Meme enlightenment here.

Moms get depleted much like the water cooler on a family camping trip in ninety degrees. One need at a time. One cup at a time. Over and over and over again. Teenager needs to wash her face. Preteen needs to brush her teeth. Old child needs a drink. Little child needs to wash off the stickies. Baby needs a clean bottle. Mom offers everything she is with arms outstretched as her children learn and grow. She beams with pride and selflessly provides one ounce at a time. It turns into gallons and then bushels, and then whole bodies of water. They age and she does too.

Then, out of nowhere, a child presses the release button expecting the water he’s come to rely on, and nothing comes out. He tips the cooler and gets a trickle. This is usually mom’s warning signal to go and refill, but sometimes there are two other children waiting behind. She gives off another trickle, and another. Then she tells the next one to open her lid and pour out the very last drops. She does that a few too many times more. The next thing she knows, she just wants to cry, but there is no water left to form the tears.

Sometimes this empty cooler makes desperate pleas to people around her. Please, can I borrow a cup? Does anyone know where the easiest route to the filling station is? Can dad take a turn for a minute? Sometimes her pleas are more subtle. It takes special angels to see them. They come in the form of tears disguised as condescension during a church meeting. Trying to escape from the camp-sight all together. Hoping for the magic camouflage of a chameleon. Or maybe just angry complaints. Only other water coolers notice the dangerous existence.

Other coolers call out encouragement which the mom vessel appreciates, but she can’t transfer the advice to give her legs energy. She needs to walk to the watering hole, but she is frozen in fear and emptiness. Other times mom can’t see anyone or anything offering her anything at all. In fact, often the surrounding tents, chairs, and fire-pits laugh and stare. They say, that poor cooler, she should really get a better job. Then, another cooler comes, straightway from the spigot. She wraps her arms around the empty one and hugs tight. Magically, water begins to appear inside the cooler. One drop at a time. Until she is full. A tenacious drip appears. Drops of grateful tears sustain her previously barren spout. The drops heal. The children line back up.

The 5 phases of moms’ back-to-school blues

Dear moms,

Whatever stage of parenting you are in, on the first day of school, know this:

You will survive.

You might not have five kids, like I do, to place your phases into neat little categories, but it only takes one time for us to share the back-to-school bond.

So, if today is your first time, read below, and cry away. If today is your third time, please enjoy it for me. If today is your 15th time, accept my deepest respect.

Most importantly, (and I’m saying this for myself as much as I am for you) all phases are perfectly acceptable.

We will survive.

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Phase 1:

On the first day of school, CHILD#1 was all dressed up in a perfect outfit selected just for the occasion. The brand-name pink dress matched her personalized pink backpack and chic brown leather boots.  The boots were adorned with flowers that were the same two pinks of her backpack and dress. The detailed accessorizing was absolutely necessary. Her “look” had to equal her worth. Perfection was the only option. Her long hair was styled in flawless pigtails with stationary bows; everything was doused with hairspray to perform their duty throughout the long school day. She couldn’t get to her classroom fast enough. As she walked into her kindergarten class she greeted her teacher with a handshake, a hand-made note communicating her excitement to learn, double school supplies, and a carefully wrapped teacher’s gift. She already knew how to read, write, and do simple math. She was just there to show off and tutor her new friends.

Her mom would sit stoic through the parent separation meeting where the teacher read “The Kissing Hand.” Her permanent squint barricaded the threatening waterfall of tears. She would go home and bawl while praying for her baby to be safe. This daily ritual would last all year.

Phase 2:

On the first day of school, CHILD #2 was in the outfit that her mom gently guided her to choose from the clearance rack at Target. She didn’t really like the red polo top, but her mom said it made her look smart, especially with her new glasses. Her jeans were gently worn, and her tennis shoes were double-knotted so that the teacher wouldn’t have to be bothered to help her re-tie them later. Her hair was cut short to make it easier in the mornings. Between the glasses and the headband it would hopefully stay out of her face for the rest of the day. She clenched her mom’s hand and was barely dragged along to her classroom. She greeted her teacher with a bowed head, a forced smile, and a backpack full of supplies that her mom hoped she wouldn’t be forced to share. She had a few extra boxes of Kleenex for her teacher. She could write her name, read a few words, and surely her puzzle mastery counted for the math. She was there because she wanted to be a big girl like her sister, but she was scared to death.

Her mom would not listen at all during the parent meeting because it was just easier that way. She willfully forced herself from the school dragging her large cement slab of worry to the car where she would sit and cry with the toddler in the back. The next day would be a little easier, but her aching would last all year.

Phase  3:

On the first day of school, CHILD#3 wore the outfit her sisters told her was the cutest at one of the fifty stores where they went back-to-school shopping. It was a plain combination of a shirt, skirt, and matching shoes. The clothes were new and she was ecstatic about owning something that no one else wore before her. Her shoes did not have shoelaces, but velcro fasteners. Even though her mom had always sworn her kids would know how to tie their shoes by kindergarten, she had changed her mind after a hundred unsuccessful demonstrations. Her hair was mid-length in two messy pigtails. She gladly skipped along side her mom. After all, this school was her second home. She was poised and familiar with her teacher: she’d known her for a year already. Inside her backpack was everything from the supply list except for the unnecessary things that her mom knew that the teacher had never gotten around to removing from the ancient list. Her mom carried a whole case of Kleenex as a gift for the teacher. Teachers never have enough tissues and this kid had an allergy-induced dependency on them. She could write her name and sit still for a story, but that was it. She gave her mom a tentative hug and told her to hurry and leave before she embarrassed her further.

Her mom left the parent meeting in a hurry. She had a date with the local bakery for breakfast. The freedom would last all year even though she occasionally worried for the sanity of her kids’ teachers. The only crying would happen that morning while eating her quiche: a single tear would roll down her cheek because of the touching plot-line of her book.

Phase  4:

On the first day of school, CHILD#4 wore something.  It may not have matched because if her mom told her it didn’t and she insisted that was what she wanted to wear, her mom relented. The clothes may have been from the rack at the thrift-store or from a bag of hand-me-downs in the garage.  Either way they were new to her and she felt fancy. She was the first one in the family to wear sandals on the first day of school. It was warm enough, and her mom figured the easiest way for her to learn that she didn’t want sod trapped between her toes at recess was to get the experience over with. Her hair was brushed. She didn’t need her mom to walk her to her class. School was exciting, but not nearly as thrilling as Disneyland. Her mom insisted on walking her to the front door of the school and then again insisted on a hug before letting her sisters walk her the rest of the way. Inside her backpack was nothing but an emergency change of clothes in a ziplock bag. They’d get the supplies later. For the teacher there was a gift-card to Wal-mart, but it hadn’t been purchased yet. She knew how to write her name, but the “a” was always backwards.

If there was a parent meeting, mom hadn’t heard about it. She waddled from the school and hurried home for a nap.  She only had ’til noon to pick her kindergartner back up, and there was only two weeks before her next baby would be born. The noon pick up would remain her largest source of frustration for the rest of the year especially when she had to wake up the baby from his nap. Some days she would cry about it.

Phase  5:

On the first day of school, CHILD#5 wore a t-shirt, some cotton pants, and a dry diaper. He was lucky she hadn’t left his pajamas on. He was shoe-less. He didn’t walk. His hair was brushed with some baby lotion to mask the musky baby boy scent. He sat in the stroller waving at all the energetic kids lining up outside the school. They would occasionally wave back when his sister pointed him out. School was a place where mom would take him from time to time. He and mom both waved to sister as she hugged her teacher and walked inside, but she didn’t turn around or wave back. His mom threw caution to the wind that morning and had brought him to the school without a bottle or a diaper. Really, she was just in a hurry. He couldn’t write his name. He couldn’t even say his name.

Mom conducted a parent meeting as she walked back to her car. She hurried the stroller past the other moms in her running clothes saying: “I was almost free. Lucky for me, this guy is going to keep me company for another five years.”  After her run, when she got home, she refused to cry. She plopped the baby in the highchair with some cheerios and opened up her laptop.

You should collect kids instead of coins.

My kids don’t get what other kids get. Because there are so many of them they kind of get the shaft. I have five little clones and there just ain’t enough to go around. Ever. The shaft is not limited to my time. There ain’t enough of anything around here. Except kids…there are plenty of those.

So tonight, as I was brushing my teeth, I was thinking about my kids. (I always think about them when I’m brushing my teeth. Cavity bugs and kids have a lot in common…they sneak up on me every night at 1 AM.) Anyhow, I was thinking about how shafted they really are. When I compare what we give to our kids to what so many other parents give their kids it’s actually a little embarrassing and perhaps criminal.

It’s just impossible for us to give our five children what other people give their one, two, or three children. Maybe four is pretty even, but for argument’s sake let’s just skip four. Knick knack, paddy whack, give a dog a bone. (You double-figure families are a whole other story.) From me and my hubby, my kids may never get a European tour, a cruise, college tuition (much less room and board), ski passes, equestrian pursuits, private music lessons, designer clothes, sports camps, unnecessary shoes, to fly (anywhere), and/or a lot of other things.

I’m not judging you that do have fewer kids and/or can afford the finer things in life…more power to you. (Although, one warning: the therapeutic boarding school I worked at was full of kids from really wealthy families. They had a lot of “stuff” but not enough of what really mattered.) I’m also not writing this for you to feel sorry for me or my kids. I am just trying to paint a picture of what it is like to live in a large family. Let’s face it, when a couple chooses to have many children (I’ll let you define many, but I would definitely say our family is large) they know they are choosing family over wealth.

Interestingly, last month, in my environmental writing class I learned this FACT: When societies are more successful economically their family sizes drastically reduce…so, of course the opposite is generally true…when families are large there is typically less of a focus on materialism. In my family size I know I’ve chosen the better part. All one has to do is spend some one-on-one time with my kids to see that they trump any amount of money, possessions, or leisure I could ever stockpile. (Do not judge my opinion over one of our family dinners, with all the noise, you’d never possibly agree.)

So, as I was circling the bristles onto my gums encasing my molars I got a grand notion: instead of focusing on what I am NOT giving my kids, maybe I should start pondering on what I am giving them.

After all, they are amazing kids. They really are. I must be doing something right. I might as well give myself some credit.
what they getCome to find out, I am actually giving my kids a lot of pretty amazing stuff.
As part of a large family here are what my kids get.

They get to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them.
They get to learn how to make do.
They get negotiating skills.
They get a model of two parents who value family more than “stuff”.
They get communication.
They get never-ending support.
They get to live vicariously.
They get first-aid proficiency.
They get “do-it-yourself”.
They get trade secrets.
They get friends for life they also call siblings.
They get respect for the institution of marriage.
They get respect for the organization (or chaos – however you see it) of family.
They get a master’s degree in child development before heading to college.
They get to learn selflessness.
They get make it from scratch.
They get more psychology, human relations, and sociology than most people.
They get others to divvy with the responsibility of aging parents.
They get to know how to share.
They get a greater understanding of the opposite sex.
They get a greater understanding of the same sex.
They get goodnight John Boy’s and Maryann’s.
They get how to take care of a baby.
They get their place in a bigger plan.
They get to serve.
They get to survive living with a hormonal teenager before ever having one of their own.
They get gratitude for the little things.
They get cooperation and collaboration.
They get “fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
They get emotional know-how.
They get respect for difference of opinions.
They get empathy.
They get joy in the little things.
They get real appreciation for anything and everything given to them.
They get frugality.
The get homemade.
They get love.
They get even more love.
They get so much love, they don’t want anymore.
They get real connection.
They get patience.

After writing this little piece, I am now believing that all of our societal woes are actually based in the shrinking family size. Also, I came across this video that expresses the four most important things that a parent give to their child. 1-Time 2-Education 3-Spirituality and 4-Love

I guess I am doing a pretty decent job after all. My kids now sound like the luckiest kids alive. And, well, maybe they are…even without the expensive vacations.

Next time I will write about what I get. I’m sure it’s way better than any coin collection.

Egg-xactly. That tradition is so Egregious!

Egregious adj. – Conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible

So, you mean to tell me that every year you oblige your kids in the traditional Easter egg hunt? And you don’t feel completely insane while at it?  Personally, I feel outrageously bad and reprehensible before, after, and during participation.
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Why? I’ll tell you why.

First, let’s review the steps of easter egg huntery:

1- Gather your very large bin of plastic eggs you store for annual insanity. (If you aren’t as prepared, you will be forced to your local Walmart where you’ll fork over a minimum of $20.)

2- Prepare the candy. (We do that by taking our twelve bags of variety and dumping them into a pile and mixing them together on the living room floor.)

3- Fill the eggs.

4- Hide the eggs.

5- Find the eggs.

Now, this is where it really starts to get to you. You must sit patiently with a smile on your face, as to not ruin the tradition’s fun for your children. Just look happy as you watch the kids do #’s 1-3 in reverse order.

6- Dump out all candy from the eggs, back to a pile on the floor.

7- Reorganize the candy back into it’s original sorting so that you can literally place it back in the bags from where it came.

8- Take the refilled storage bin of empty Easter eggs back down to the basement for next year.

I’ve been obliging my family for fifteen years with Easter egg witchery. I’ve implemented every way around the frustration. I started with saving the eggs from year to year so I didn’t have to purchase them over and over again. (You’re welcome Mother Earth.) I advanced to requiring the children to do the work….more every year. Fifteen years ago they just had to do the finding. A decade ago, I started making them fill. (I kindly informed them there would be no finding without filling.) Five years later, they had to start hiding the eggs too. This year all I hoped to do was buy the candy. I tried to get them to do the whole thing without me, but they guilted me into believing that a mom’s participation is essential for the fun.

I snapped.  I’m so ashamed. I started screaming, “WHY? WHY do we do this every year? Just eat the candy! Just eat the candy!” Tears started streaming down my face. My maniacal laughter must have startled them, but children…they just can’t see the error. It’s like their corneas have been rainbowed over with egg-dye and bunny candy poop. They were in a trance just going through the motions like an Energizer bunny with faulty programming. I tried waving my hand in front of their eyes, they just held their arms out stiff in front at 90 degrees and mumbled, “We must get Easter candy.”

This is my plea to the American public. We must find an immunization for this nonsense. And we must do it before next Easter. Please help me! We can’t all convert to Judaism, even though they are obviously the most sensible of the religions.

Maybe my parent’s solution can help you start thinking outside the egg. They just opened the bags of candy and threw them around the house and called it good bucking the eggs all together. Easter morning, their seven children would scramble like starving field-working immigrant children experiencing their first pinata. We never even knew to complain, we didn’t know any different. I think by keeping the plastic eggs out of the house they saved us from the trance all together. My only regret is that even though we lived in Southern California with perfect Easter weather, we only celebrated outdoors once. You see, we all learned the hard way that this method didn’t really work outside. When attempted, the morning dew sogged up every last piece (especially the chocolate) leaving me traumatized for life.

Although, I’m telling you, I would take eternally sogged up candy over one more year of the dark side. We must stop the madness. I’m afraid next year I might need a straight jacket. Maybe I can just start sporting one so my kids will see that my hands are tied?

My only consolence is at least I don’t live in Germany where I would be expected to hang 10,000 eggs from a tree.