A Mother’s Love

Mother’s Day just passed, according to my Instagram feed we show love to Mom flowers, cards or chocolate. It could also be shown through vacations or experiences together. My children chose to write cards with heartfelt messages that claimed “You’re the best mom in the world.”

In our culture, a “Mother’s love” spoken of in almost sacred terms as a constant that never fades. An instant connection from that first moment you look into those tiny newborn eyes. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t really feel an instant connection- I felt terrified. How on Earth was I going to manage to keep this tiny little human alive when I felt so awful? I absolutely adore all of my children now, but it took a while to get to know them.

It still scares me, the responsibility of being a mom. Probably because looking at the family tree – mom’s haven’t necessarily done so well. There’s the Great-great grandmother who’s daughter bore her father’s child. Also, the story of a Grandmother who slapped her daughter’s face and said “Never say anything like that again” when her daughter brought up being molested by her father. I still remover the shocked expression and statement that “Some people just bruise easy” after I shared my opinion that leaving bruises on a child is abusive. Those are just the stories I know. I wonder what pain was simply ignored or silenced out of family loyalty?

What does love for my children really look like? It can be enduring vomit filled, sleepless nights. Sometimes it’s working together on spelling words or math problems for what feels like hours. It can be helping with projects that are fun in a child’s mind but also great tests of parental patience. Love is making sure food is in the pantry and the electricity stays turned on. Parental love doesn’t always come from a biological parent, sometimes it’s just a person who is willing risk getting involved, when a parent isn’t around to give guidance and encouragement.

In over 20 years of working with youth and children, I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want the best for their child. Unfortunately, some parents are pretty adept at being clueless about what is best. We tend to see as normal whatever our own experiences were. We keep our children from the horror that we endured- yet the trauma that slips through the cracks of our protection can still be devastating.

None of us are all good, or all bad. That’s what makes love so tricky. I’m simply in the middle- trying to raise my children to be better people than I was raised to be. I try to look past their occasional angry accusations, knowing that emotional angst is just part of having teenagers (or toddlers). I try relish the moments they share appreciation. Remembering it’s a process, while we may still have a long way to go- it’s been a heck of a journey to get this far. I don’t need to be discouraged with where we are today.

When it comes down to it, I think love is simply going through life together, holding your breath when a child says “I’ve got it Mom” and helping them up again if they fall.

Life’s Intricacies

It seems to me that life’s intricacies are a bit like the lines on this page- drawn purposelessly from point to point without rhyme or reason. There was no aesthetic plan, no pre-set goal to be achieved, just a blank page to be filled. Colors clash, and lines aren’t evenly spaced. Looking back, I couldn’t tell you how it morphed from original idea to current composition. Creating plans really isn’t a strength of mine.

Perhaps it’s because planning often seems an exercise in futility. Things change.

Plans ≠ Reality

Life, when I plan it, rarely goes according to that plan- I’m not the doctor I planned to be at 19, nor the author I planned on at 15. The world is blessed beyond measure that my 9 year old dreams of being a singer never came to pass.

My children are beginning to learn ways to negotiate around my distaste for firm plans and commitment. They say things like “Not today, but sometime could we….” I’m okay with a vague requests, but try to nail down the time when we will actually bake blueberry scones together – my mind instantly goes into overdrive with what might happen to prevent the activity from happening.

What if we don’t have butter or blueberries? Or, what if the baking time is to long and we have to do something else before they’re finished? What if I say “Yes” and then remember something I was supposed to do a week ago for work that has to be immediately rectified? What if…. My ability to think of unique reasons I should avoid committing is outstanding.

The obvious solution to those who give me advice is to write down all appointments, due dates, schedules and such in a planner. I’m not against the idea. Every year, I buy a new planner. Its pristine pages lure me into thinking this is the year I’ll actually be consistent in writing down my plans. I stand mesmerized in the aisle staring at the variety of accessories that promise to improve my organization. I normally buy a few.

The trouble is, I start writing plans, reality hits, and everything has to be adjusted. Honestly, even when circumstances stay the same – I forget to check my planner to see what’s written – because it’s so rarely correct.

Yet, every year I buy a brand new planner.

“You’re An Okay Mom“

One of my lovely daughters made this comment from the backseat during a slightly heated rant in the car the other day. My husband and I immediately began trying to hide our laughter. It was one of those moments when you know laughing is only going to escalate the situation but the irony was so intense all you can do is laugh.

I don’t even remember what she was upset about at the time. I mean, we’ve reached the stage of parenting where crazy rules are formed, like “You can’t express anger at someone for looking at you.” Note, the rule concerns expressed anger- actions not feelings- parenting four has taught me to be explicit with word choice.

Really and truly, I was so impressed to have improved so much in her eyes that even in a moment of anger, I was still considered “okay.” I’ve been called much worse during prior arguments. I think I’ve decided that to be an okay parent is fine.

I no longer aspire to instill a love of language and extensive vocabulary, in all four children. The classics of my childhood have mostly been rejected as boring. But, if we can get them to read the occasional book, (despite the high use of Disney+, Netflix and YouTube). It’s okay.

I look at the entire shelf of processed foods and white bread that gets packed daily in school lunches. I remember the whole wheat carob chip cookies of my childhood. My mother even ground the wheat berries to get flour for the bread she baked from scratch each week. When I bake bread, it’s normally by popping open a can. I’m still okay.

Now as an adult, I see one of the truest expressions of my mother’s love was the Pocahontas costume she made for me in first grade, and the wedding dress we sewed together. My children’s Halloween costume options are determined by what’s in stock at Target or available with Prime Shipping. Still, I’m okay.

I guess really, I want my children to trust me enough to vent their frustrations – even though I often mistake venting as request for a solution. I want my children to be able to share their hurts and the growing pains of changing relationships. I want to be who they text with good news. The one who can be counted on to celebrate the small everyday successes.

Ultimately, I want my children to know I will always love them as they are. That would be spectacular parenting though and I’m dealing with the emotions of children pre-kindergarten to high school. This is the messy middle where I’ve tried parenting suggestions, read books and research and really all I’ve found out is my children don’t consistently follow the formulas in books. In fact, they follow very few. So, I’m not trying to be spectacular, as long as the arguments end by bedtime- I’m doing okay as mom.

Today

Today I hurt. I remember the hurt and it still feels real. The pain of being ignored and unprotected. The pain of rape and abuse that went unseen when every part of me screamed inside to be seen. To be noticed. To be loved. I just wanted love. Acceptance. To know that I wasn’t the problem that I wasn’t worthless. To be told that I mattered, my body and opinions of how it should be used mattered. To be intrinsically valuable. My mere humanity creating my worth.

Today I hurt to remember the child I was. I look at my 11 year old daughter and wonder how on earth someone could be so messed up that they see her as a sex object. She is a child. I remember that was me- but no one stepped up to protect me. The harm was hidden and behind closed doors. My heart breaks at the kind of pain that would put into action the plans that were commonplace. Plans to take my life. I looked at the blades but I never put them to my wrists. Today I remember the pain of the past. It reverberates through every part of my being.

I hate to think of of the hidden pain that drives a child to attempt to take their life. I hurt to know that pain is in so many, so close to me. How do we as adults explain the overwhelming emotion? How do I equip my students and children to ask for help? How do I ensure their whispered cries are heard? How do we as adults teach our children to articulate the feelings, to give voice to the confusion inside?

Value

I had a conversation with some friends recently about values. Not like “This we believe…” values, but more like how do you see that others value you and how do you show others they have value.

It raises the eternal, internal question – what is my worth?

Is my value to others transactional? I matter to you simply because of what I can do for you?

I’d really like to believe that my value is intrinsic. Value tied simply to my humanity. Every member of the human race is worthy of respect.

Yet, so often some are marginalized. There are those who are ridiculed for the obvious; race, religion or sexuality. But, also those who are shown contempt for ignorance. For lacking expected skills. Or, for just being different.

Do we value others enough to look beyond what is visible and recognize there might be a void that’s been overlooked?

Do we value others enough to acknowledge the “elephants” in the room? I work in United States 4th largest city. It is a major hub for sex trafficking. My route to work every morning for years took me past prostitutes walking home or finishing up their nightly quota. I never bought gas in my neighborhood – unless it was early morning. In the evening, I would drive 15 min. to a neighboring suburb before I was willing to stand outside my car and fill it up.

The stories I read indicate many prostitutes were first sexually abused as children. Statistics say 1 in 5 girls will be sexually abused as children. The most common age for child sexual abuse to occur is 7 to 13 years. (National Center for Victims of Crime)

I’ll never forget the day my view of prostitution changed. It was fifth period, after lunch, and I was welcoming students into chemistry class. One of the girls talked about how she skipped lunch to make some money off a John across the street. My heart broke when I realized she put her worth at $20 for a quickie in a car. Her value seemed so much higher to me. Yet, for her that was a normal way of earning extra cash.

How do we show value? How do you communicate that sex isn’t just a strategy for quick cash or cheap entertainment? How do you teach that real respect doesn’t come from a pimp? Or even, how much you earn per trick. How do we break out of a middle/upper class bubble and actually address the pain of those living in the margins?

Self-worth, value, it’s all tied together. How do I show value to those who live in the margins of my life? The security guard who always says hi, the officer who directs traffic, the displaced who sell water asking for donations, or simply sit-sleeping under a bridge? Who do I value? How do I demonstrate value to them?

Perservence

I heard the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare at a youth camp. I was probably in middle school at the time and looking back, I was pretty miserable. I’m sure there were some good times, but mainly I remember middle school being a time when I never seemed to fit in. I was awkward and lonely, when I looked at my peers, I just didn’t know how to dress or keep up with fashion. I couldn’t ever seem to own the right brand of jeans or shoes. I was super skinny, with flat stringy hair when big curls and tall bangs were in. I felt like I was always on the fringe, the outside of a group but never really part of a group.

It was in the midst of this emotional turmoil that I found myself sitting on a hard metal chair listening to a story that changed my life. The story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Our speaker said during his own adolescence he felt a lot like the tortoise – slower than others, left behind, or just left out of the popular group. That completely described how I felt. Like I was always trying- but never quite measured up.

When I think about the tortoise, I think about someone who from the outside looks to be at a disadvantage. Someone who doesn’t have the natural skills or abilities of those around them. Someone who does not look like a winner. I think at some point of our lives, all of us could identify with that tortoise.

The tortoise in the story brings me to a scripture from Ephesians “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13) Sometimes the best thing we can do is just keep trying. Even when it’s harder for us than others, I mean turtles weren’t designed to run races. But the turtle won the race simply because he kept trying. He kept standing. It’s the last part of that verse that really speaks to me. “After you have done everything, to stand”. After you’ve done what’s right and you feel like you’re the only one choosing to do what’s right. Keep standing.

The tortoise won the race that day, not because he was skilled, not because he was talented, but simply because he never gave up, he persevered. Perseverance is what makes the difference between failure and success.

There’s another character in the story though, the rabbit, or hare as he’s called. The rabbit had a chance. He had a really good chance. He was designed to win races. He was destined to go fast. But he didn’t. He got distracted, he made choices that took him off track and sometimes our choices can take us off track as well.

One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 24:16 “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” I know it might seem simple, but to rise again after falling seven times means you actually fell down seven different times, in the Bible seven frequently represents the number of infinity. What this verse is saying is that a righteous man is not righteous because he’s doesn’t ever mess up, he is righteous because of how he responds to those lapses in judgment. How he responds to mistakes. Righteousness, or right standing before God, comes from what happens after we mess up. It does not come from being consistently perfect.

This verse is super encouraging to me because one of my greatest strengths is the ability to make stupid mistakes. There are a lot of times my personal decisions resemble the rabbit who got distracted in the middle of the race.

Unfortunately, many of my mistakes were simply times when I acted before thinking. I clearly remember a car ride during my college years when a friend and I were going down Highway. I was driving my Mazda Miata – You have to understand my relationship with my car though- it was my first true love. This car was my baby. I mean I would wash it three different times a week if necessary but I would never let it stay dirty. Years later, I even made sure the car was included in some of the photographs from my wedding. On this particular day, the weather was nice but we had started driving with the top up. So, I thought to myself – “It’s a nice day, we should put the top down.” Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me that driving down the highway at 60 miles an hour might be a little fast for the roof mechanism to work correctly. The whole relative motion thing you learn about in middle school physics of feeling like you’re not really moving when in fact you are moving, because you’re moving at the same speed of the car- I didn’t really get that concept yet.

I told my friend to undo the roof clip on his side, and I would undo the one on the drives side – obviously we were not really “good” friends – because he agreed to this without any question or hesitation. We released the roof clips and the roof slammed down faster than I could have ever imagined. At that moment it entered my brain that maybe, just maybe that was a bad idea. I’m pretty sure I did actually pull off to the side of the road at that point and while evaluating the roof I saw that my rear window had completely shattered. During the conversation with my Dad afterwards he looked pretty incredulous that I could have ever thought it was a reasonable idea. Unfortunately, many of my ideas seem “reasonable” to me but end up not turning out quite like I anticipated.

Like the rabbit in the story, I really try, I have every intention of doing the right thing at the right time in the right way- it’s just that so often the reality is I mess up. I mean, I’m the only teacher at my school who managed to drop a bowling ball in a glass aquarium (during a density experiment gone wrong) flooding the room with about 20 gallons of water all at once. That, like putting down a convertible roof at 60 mph was a mistake I haven’t ever made again.

It would different if I could just succeed in just never repeating a mistake. I might feel better if each time it was something different that I messed up on. Unfortunately. I also repeat the same mistakes all the times. For example, getting students names right. I don’t how it is I could tell you so many personal descriptors about a student- but the first name out of mouth is rarely right. Losing my wallet, my keys, or forgetting something vital to my lesson at home. Those are mistakes I repeat on a regular basis.

If we let them, our mistakes can derail our progress. Distractions and mistakes, like they did for the rabbit, can keep us from reaching our goals. They can prevent our success. They don’t have to. But they do have that power.

That’s really where perseverance comes in. If we go back to that verse in Proverbs, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” It’s not the stumbling, it’s not the messing up, that would put you in the same category as the “wicked” who are overcome and can’t recover. It’s just not getting back up that is the problem.

Some days we might feel like the turtle, incompetent, incapable and somehow just not as skilled as everyone around us. I want you to know you’re not alone. Others have felt the same way. Others are feeling the same way. Really all we have to do to keep doing- is taking the next step. Success comes from not giving up.

Other days, we might feel like the rabbit, like we have the skills and ability to be successful but still fall short of winning. Either way we’re trying, but success is hard work and despite our best efforts we fail.

The verse in Ephesians really speaks to me in times like that. It’s talking about how God’s armor can help us in difficult times. It says“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” That last part, it really says it all. Having done everything, you stand. Truly that is what perseverance is, it’s standing.

Perseverance is when you’re feeling like the tortoise and like you’ll never finish – perseverance is taking the next step. Or, when you’re like the rabbit and you just keep messing up – perseverance is continuing to try. True success in life, eventually comes – as long as you don’t give up. Sometimes it takes a long time for us to see it. But I can promise you – as a survivor of middle school- you really just have to be willing to take the next step. Willing to get back up from a fall and keep trying.