Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Mothers...All the Time

Oh, how I love mothers. Every day, of every second, I love mothers. I love the mother in the checkout line with the toddler screaming; the mother in church collecting flailing toddler limbs and struggling to stay serene; the mother with teenage daughters at the mall haggling over an item of clothing; the grandmother patiently awaiting the arrival of children and children’s children back home.  I love them all. Everybody has a mother; everybody loves their mother. And on this day, I particularly love my own mother; my mother-in-law; my grandmother. The women who have loved, cuddled, collected, controlled, haggled, struggled, forgiven, enlivened, encouraged, and nourished me. It has taken me far too long to say so.

An older mom friend told me recently that she can “wait 20 years for the thank you” from her teenage daughter; for now, said, she’s the mom. For now, her mission is teaching, training, diapering, bickering, nigh-waking, cuddling, loving, and moving through all the ups and downs of pouring oneself out. I’ll wait, she said, smiling.

Twenty years. That’s a long time. I’m sorry to say it has taken me even longer. Now that I’m doing it myself, I suddenly look back and think – wow, these women were good at this! How did they enforce the green beans like that? Make bedtime so fun? Now that I’m in the midst of engaging in battles over bathtime, the cover has been lifted. Oh, I think, looking back. I guess I shouldn’t have done…all that.

Now that I am a mother, I am repentant. I realize: I should not have put my clean, folded laundry back in the dirty laundry. I should not have stuffed my vitamins in good hiding places all over the house. I should not have tried to climb out my window with a jump rope. Twice. My mom used to say to me (in warning?), “someday you will have a little girl just like you!” And it’s true: I see myself all before me now in a bundle of blond ponytails and flashing brown eyes as my own daughter flies down the stairs in her pajamas and a princess cape, telling me she’s ready for school.

“How was your day,” my mom would ask when I returned home, her eyes on the paper, appearing uninterested, but now I know that she was OH SO INTERESTED but playing it cool, because looking eager for information is something the Mother must not do.


And that’s all she’d get until bedtime. And I’m pretty sorry for it, because now I look in the rearview mirror at my little ones and listen to their “good” and I want to pull the car over and extract every memory of every moment of our time apart out of their beautiful little heads. But what did you DO? What did you THINK? What did you SAY? Now I wish I had told my mom everything. But she would make me a snack. And I would not say thank you.

I think about this in hindsight, and I hope it gives me foresight.

My mother is now a beautiful Grandmother, doting dutifully on her quiver of adoring grandchildren, spoiling them with treats and gifts and time spent reading on her lap. I watch my mother now, and I have to think hard, because I don’t want another thirty years to pass by before I once again look back and think – oh no, I missed it again. I missed her again. Her presence. Her advice. Her listening ear, her commiserating look, her laughter.  I don’t want to forget to say thank you for the ways she is my mother now, even that I’m grown. I’m not sure, but I think I’m still a handful.

We can take our mothers for granted, because unlike the rest of the world, the mothers will always care.  Children will always scream in all the wrong places. They will always whine about combing their hair. They will wheedle and beg and sometimes make scenes in the checkout lines. But even as I fume inside as I haul my little balls of fury to the car, to time out, to the Potty Chair AGAIN with soiled clothes… if I give it five minutes and a dimpled smile, all wrongs are gone. Cleared. Wiped Clean. I love them; they are mine.

So I look this Mother’s Day at my mother, and at my mother-in-law, and my grandmother. These remarkable women who have never stopped caring, stopped giving, stopped wanting the best for their own. Sometimes it is hard to stop and see the person who is always standing there in front of you, who is there -- all the time. Sometimes we mean to say thank you, but we’re pulling the groceries out of the car with one hand and holding the phone with the other while grabbing for the baby teetering off the hip. Sometimes we think that people know how we feel, so we don’t say it. But now that I’m a mother, I think this is wrong. Yes, I can wait 20 years to hear it from my daughter. (It’s only fair, after all.) But I can’t wait another 20 to say those oh-so-important words now.
To the Mothers in my life:  I love you. I appreciate you.
Thank you.
And for that thing I did when I backed the Jeep into the Minivan - I really hope I don't relive that.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dangerous (but Blessed) Business Going Out The Front Door

Woody Allen once said that 90 percent of life is just showing up. Many - or most - days, that feels like all I've got: I drag my body out the door. I do so -- with one kid over each arm...(and each leg); with one foot in front of the other; with lunch bags, diaper bags, grocery bags; with Elmo on one side of my brain and work spreadsheets on the other; with dinner time, bath time, bed time; and then -  repeat. I know every drive-through Starbucks within a 30 mile radius.

In the midst of such movement, such constant nurturing and loving and sheltering and can feel impossible to have a thought or conversation outside of the minivan.

A few weeks ago I had one of those weeks. I was working on two deadlines for two different contracts; the house was absolute chaos; and I had somehow volunteered to have a group of women from our new church to tea. This would have been delightful had I been inviting people over to someone else's house, which would clean, and organized, and not smell at all like burnt popcorn.

But they were coming, and I was hosting, and I had not yet convinced the toddler to change out of his pajamas. I glanced at the clock on our wall. One hour. I unwisely checked my work e-mail. More edits to the previous draft I had submitted, and "could I take care of this now?" I could feel my blood pressure rising.

And then, a remarkable thing happened. Nothing got done. I decided instead to open the door and engage with my children. It was cold and snowy outside. We baked.  Nothing else got done. The house was vacuumed but that was it. The writing was left until the afternoon, and I stopped trying to squeeze the two year old out of his elephant footies. I poured a cup of coffee (wisely), sat down with the lincoln logs and toddler, and the smell of baking bagels, and waited. And the ladies came, and we talked, and it was wonderful.

Coincidentally, we talked about the feeding of the 5,000. Now, in hindsight, and in the light of these frenetic activities, I have been considering all those people -- those random, un-named "5,000 plus women and children" people who traipsed themselves out of bed one day, children in tow, across a lake, up a hill... to listen to Jesus and see what would happen next. These people hit the baseline denominator -- they were there -- and still, these people were fed. They were not next to Jesus, as Susana or Joanna were; they were not carrying the baskets of bread or witnessing the miracle; they might not even have known how it came about that they were fed. But that's just the point: regardless, they were fed. Many days I feel that this is also where I'm at: I am on the outskirts of the crowd, wanting to seek Jesus, hoping to press in, wanting to love my children and engage with them and play and meet their needs, but at the same time I'm tired, and distracted, and chasing little footsteps and listening to who hit whom and thinking about what type of toast we need and wondering WHERE we have put all the matching socks. It feels impossible to get up close, to do ministry like the apostles, or like the other women who are Right There. And yet, I see that this is okay, or even appropriate for this season of life. When I have left my own wants and needs behind to love someone else, I am following Him. I am making the attempt to cross the sea with the children, to leave my comfort behind, to not think about all the practical excuses not to do so, and to follow Him up the hillside. And there, admist all my other duties and requirements, it is when I am in His Presence -- even if I am in His presence with sippy cups, granola bars, and half a focused brain -- He feeds me. He gives me exactly what I need, even if I don't know it.

And so I resolve to keep showing up. One foot in front of the other, out the door, even it if it is just out the door of myself. And this week, I resolve that these some of these steps during the daytime will lead me into the Sanctuary. Yes, by myself, with the toddler, with the baby, maybe even with the Kindergardener and Pre-schooler, just to be there. I'll sit in a pew, it will be noisy, and I will say Thank You. And then I'll pick Thomas the Train Engine off the church floor, and carry on.