What Makes a Mother?

Mothers give birth…and sometimes they don’t. I know this because I am currently a mother to two girls I did give birth to–and more recently, to two babies I did not give birth to. There are birth mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, grandmothers, and step-mothers…and they are all important in the life of a child.

Mothers make elaborate, organic, fulfilling meals—and they also microwave leftover pizza. I know this because last night my children exclaimed, “Oh no. Pizza again!?”

Mothers wear high heels and lipstick and fancy dresses—and they also wear sweatpants and spit up and weary smiles. I know this because last Sunday after I finished getting ready for church, my four year old told me no less than 27 times that I was “so pretty”. (Despite the fact that I was only wearing jeans and a shirt. I think she was just overcome by the fact that I was not in pajamas.)

Mothers smell like perfume and sunshine—and they also smell like laundry-that-was-left-too-long-in-the-washing-machine-because-no-one-remembered-to-move-it –to-the-dryer-and-now-it’s-sprouted-mold-spores-and-smells-like-a-boys’-locker-room. (It doesn’t help that my washer and dryer are the dingy basement and I have to carry the girls’ loads down three flights of stairs, okay!?)

Mothers snuggle and color and play Barbies and Legos—and they also shut their bedroom doors for an hour to secretly catch up on The Good Wife. I do not know this from personal experience, but I can imagine there are mothers out there who would do this. (wink)

Mothers have one child—or they may have twelve children. It is not the number of children you have that gauges your worth as a parent. As my own mother recently reminded me, “You can be a great mom to one child or a terrible mom to one child. You can be a great mom to twenty children or a terrible mom to twenty children. It is not the number of children you have that makes you a good mother.”

Mothers laugh and tell stories and whisper words of encouragement—and they also scream and rant and complain. If you haven’t ever yelled at your kids…just. go. away.

Mothers worry about germs and goodbyes—and they also worry about boyfriends and driving privileges. It doesn’t matter what age our children are, we will surely be worried about something.

It’s not what you do that makes you a mother. It’s not how you cook, how you discipline or how you survive. It’s not the number of children you have, nor is it their stages, ages, talents or abilities. It’s not whether you have a clean house, an organized pantry or a scrapbook full of memorable trips. You are a mother because a child needs and loves you.

You are a mother because you need and love that child, too.

We like ta move it move it

As we enter the month of June, excitement and dread are hovering above me like a swarm of gnats. We close on our new house on June 14th, which means these next two weeks we’ll be packing up everything we own–from Magic Bullets to Magic Fairy wands–only to unpack them two weeks later. We are taking a week in between to remove some crazy kaleidoscope wallpaper and paint as many rooms as possible before we officially move-in to the new house.

Moving in-and-of-itself hasn’t been overly stressful for me–this will be our fifth home in nine years. The most stressful part is not having a “home” for a few weeks. I find it almost therapeutic to sort through every nook and cranny of our home and effectively start with a clean slate. BUT…I’ve never moved with multiple children before. Our last move, I was 7 months pregnant with Ally and Rae was only two years old. Packing was simple…I put her in her play pen as I packed up the whole house in under three days. So I’m already dreading this move–three kids means three times the mess and stress as before.

This past week was supposed to be our last week of relaxing before this house turns from a home into a den of boxes. So wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to have a few days in our “first home” with nothing to do and nowhere to go? Boy was I wrong. Here’s how my relaxing week turned out…

TUESDAY morning–I hopped on facebook while I was drinking my morning cup of coffee around 7 am, listening to the girls play upstairs in their room. After a few minutes, I decided to go check on them. When I got to the top of the stairs, I noticed little tufts of blonde hair floating on top of the hallway’s hardwood…”NO NO NO NONONONO!” I yelled, eyes frantically searching for the scissor-wielding savant. And there, hiding behind the bathroom sink, sat my three year old, whose long, single-length locks were now cut into a perfect…Mullet.

Mullet Mayhem

If you had TRIED to cut a mullet on a child, you couldn’t have done a better job than she did. With nicely shaped bangs (which she did not have before), feathered sides and a long tail trailing down her back, this child looked like the offspring of Joe Dirt and Uncle Jesse. I laughed, took a few pictures, rushed her to the ER (the Emergency Repair at a local salon), and she ended up with a cute stacked bob.

But out the door went one relaxing day–from trips to the salon to sweeping up hair tumbleweeds, Tuesday was not exactly what I’d pictured.

Wednesday After dinner the next night, Hubby and I were in the kitchen catching up on our day, when Rae came running down the stairs laughing and screaming, “Oh no! Wait till you see what Ally did! BaH HahaHaha!” Hubby and I followed her up the stairs only to find Ally sitting on top of her dresser, head-to-toe covered in diaper cream (which if you’ve had any experience with, you know is basically like smearing Crisco all over yourself.) I asked her, “WHY on earth did you do this!!!?” She tearfully replied, “I wannna look like a princess, but me no look like a princess now.” Well she got that right! She looked more like the abominable snowman!

Friday and Saturday were spent OUT of the house, with fun trips to the museum and my parents’. Thankfully, nothing of major consequence occurred. But this afternoon, I heard a knock on the front door. When I answered it, my neighbor timidly pointed upwards and said, “Um, I thought you should know that your girls are crawling around on the porch roof.” Apparently Rae had figured out how to open screen windows, and they decided it would be fun to climb out and say hello to all the passers-by.

So as I enter this crazy week of boxes and packing peanuts, there’s definitely a part of me that would like put my children in one of those boxes. If you think of us, please pray for me. And pray that my kids will be able to breath through cardboard.

Why I hate Pinterest

For months after a friend proudly showed me her pinterest account, I denied it entry into my life.  I wasn’t sure how it all worked, and I certainly didn’t need one more thing to keep track of. But last fall, when I wanted to throw my daughter a Horse-Themed 5th birthday party, I finally succumbed to the inevitable–the initial encounter with the ultimate internet bulletin board.  I quickly searched and created a board about Horse Parties for little girls, complete with pictures of cowboy boot cookies, doily trimmed tables, and impossibly expensive favors. And for about a month, that was the extent of my experience on Pinterest.

Then came Christmas. OH bright and merry Christmas boards, with your trees and trimmings and tinsel and toys! So I added another board with pins on how-to-make-your-own burlap stockings and jingle bell garland and Egg Nog (which, ironically, happened to be Egg-free, Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Soy-free, Gluten-free, and Vegan. Seriously. I’m not kidding.)

Egg nog *not!*

While I had nagging questions about these “Pinterest People” (like “How do they afford that!?” Or “Who has the time for that!?” or even “Seriously! Who does that?!”), I shrugged off most of my concerns because Pinterest is–well, ultimately–helpful. I’ve found great ideas for games and crafts with my kids, delicious and healthy recipes, additions for my spring wardrobe, and cute, cheap projects for around the house.

It wasn’t until recently that these doubts turned to hatred.
We are moving in a month. Compared to my current home, this new house feels like a mansion. I’m so excited to be there. But in my excitement to remove wall-paper and paint trim, I’ve also begun searching for ideas on Pinterest. I’ve searched for bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. I’ve searched and seen it all…glowing sunrooms, cozy fireplaces, inviting sofas and lush green lawns. And now I can say, without a doubt, that I. Hate. Pinterest.

I hate how superficial all of this is. I hate that these moms can put on their plastic smiles and with their perfectly manicured nails point to their perfectly organized closets and perfectly well-mannered children. Because we all know that nothing…and no one… can be that perfect.

Sure, I might paint a chair like it shows in the picture, but mine’s going to have drips of paint and sticky fingerprints on it. And I might try a pair of those pastel skinny jeans like the stylist recommends, but my thighs are going to rub together. And I might organize my pantry with fancy jars and labels, but my three year old is going to cover them with stickers and then spill the lentils all over the floor.

And the thing is, I DO have proud moments as a mom (like today, when my five year old tried to make a new girl at Sunday school feel welcome by offering to let her wear her bracelet). But even with those moments to look back on, as soon as I hop on Pinterest, those grateful moments disappear and I’m left feeling inadequate and overwhelmed!

I don’t want to suffer from Pinterest Perfectionism. And I certainly don’t want my children to grow up thinking that they have to be perfect, either. Hey, I’m not saying it’s wrong to get ideas or even to appreciate beauty. But it is wrong to think that you can and should be able to “do it all.” So I’m going to stop spending so much time worrying about these Pinterest People and start spending more time with the people that are actually IN my life. Because at the end of the day, I won’t remember pins about chalkboard paint and coral wedges–but I will remember the pleasure of those precious little sticky fingers wrapped around my hand.

Who’s the Boss?

Now that Ally is three and Rae is five, there’s been more sibling rivalry in our house the past few months.  As Ally learns how to better express herself, Rae is resignedly relinquishing more of her throne, bit by bit.  It’s been difficult to watch–and even more difficult to referee.  Both of my girls are bosses. 

“Bosses” have gotten a bad wrap in our society.  They are seen as the scapegoats, the self-righteous, the smug. Part of the damaging effects from our “every-road-is-wide” and “don’t-ever-offend-anyone” culture, is the widespread distrust for those in authority and dislike for anyone who dares to share an opinion that could affront. As the pleasers and appeasers push back on the leaders, Bosses become fearful of being themselves.

This has had a ripple effect on our “don’t-tell-me-what-to-do” society. Parents can no longer define their roles, other than providing food, shelter, and clothing. Children have no idea why they are special or what their place is in the home or the world. The respective roles of husband and wife, male and female, have become so overly blurred that many men and women don’t know how to live fulfilling lives. Chivalry points to chauvinism. Kindness means your nosy. And forget responsibility–that just shows everyone you’re holier than they are. Where or where have all the bosses gone?

Both Hubby and I are first-borns.  When we were first married we fought tooth-and-nail over every minor decision.  We are both natural leaders–and we are both bossy.  Throughout my childhood, I went to “leadership” camps and started clubs, and sought out volunteer work and ministry, never understanding why people always told me I had the “gift” of leadership.  I did NOT like being a “leader.”  Being a leader meant that in school, the teacher always picked you to organize the group, which meant that you had to listen to everyone’s complaints and try to make the slackers actually do their work. Being a leader meant that in church, the youth pastor always counted on you to organize the elder appreciation dinners and fill in for last minute Sunday school cop-outs.  Being a leader meant that with friends, when no one would speak their mind about where they wanted to go or what they wanted to do, all eyes turned to you to make the call. 

And whenever something went wrong, the “leader” was the one to blame. So I couldn’t understand why people saw leadership as a gift. 

Until I had children. 

I love that Rae marches to the beat of her own drum.  I think it’s marvelous that Ally has opinions about everything.  I want my children to be “bosses” because I want them to stand up for what’s right. I want them to unswervingly defend justice.  I want them to be counted on and be responsible, and when no one else will speak up for truth, I want them to shout their beliefs from the rooftops. Because this world could use a few good bosses.

Now if I could just get these two bosses to share…

Mess or Marvel?

Image

We are trying to sell our house.  The goal is to move to a better school district and hopefully a little bigger of a house as well. 

We had our first showing last night…Have you ever tried to keep a house looking “perfect” for an hour with three children and a dog?  I literally followed the girls around picking up left-behind toys and books and coloring and crumbs only to turn around and find a trail of muddy dog prints on the kitchen floor because someone was “helping” me by letting him in. 

I am stressed by mess.  I wish it weren’t so, but it is what it is.  I wish I was more like the mother of Benjamin West, a painter around the time of the American Revolution.  As the story goes, his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his little sister, Sally.  In his mother’s absence, he happened upon some bottles of ink and began to paint Sally’s portrait.  In doing so, he made quite a mess, spilling ink and leaving blots everywhere.  When his mother came back, she saw the mess, but said nothing.  She walked over to the painting and exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” and stooped to kiss him.  Benjamin West used to say, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” 

I love Chuck Swindoll’s take on this issue…

“Too many of us parents are far too mess-conscious to see the emerging artist.  All we see are ruined carpets, stained clothes, cluttered desks, sticky fingers–one more unpleasant task added to an already busy day.  We’re so quick to see the depravity that we’re blind to the marvel that God made and put in our care.” 

I pray God would open my eyes to the artist in my child…that the daily mess wouldn’t blind me to the marvel.  Someday I’ll know why Rae doesn’t care if her hands and clothes are a muddy, sticky mess and why Ally stressed about a stuffed animal gone missing.

God is taking these messes and making a marvel.  And I’m so lucky to have a front row seat.

Mom Guilt

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It’s snowing outside.  And I’m in sweats, snuggled under a fleecy blanket, reading Jodi Picoult…and coughing my brains out.  This cold (such a trivial name for a virus that has the capacity to knock you on your butt for a week) has made its way around our family, and I’m still reeling from it. 

Want to know what I did today?  I got my kids breakfast and lunch, and I cleaned up a few toys.  Yep.  It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and that’s all I have to show for an entire day.  No shower, no make-up, no work, no laundry—I don’t even remember if I brushed my teeth or not.  

What struck me just now, watching the snow come down, is that six years ago—before the blessing of motherhood stamped her apparent approval on me—a day or two of “vegging” wouldn’t have bothered me.  I loved lazy, lingering summer days, reading a book in one sitting.  I looked forward to cold, house-bound days with nothing to do.  Once, a newly-wed Hubby and I even watched an entire season of 24 in 24 hours!   But all of that’s changed…because now I’ve somehow become host to Mom Guilt. 

Mom Guilt is the pressure to constantly be on the move and never sit down (Look at my check list—isn’t it grand?); it’s the apprehension when you’re on a date with your spouse (What if the babysitter lights the house on fire?!); it’s the remorse of not measuring up to your own expectations (I can’t believe I gave the kids chicken nuggets for dinner two nights in a row!); it’s the hesitation when you’re driving to meet a friend for dinner (I really shouldn’t make my husband do the bedtime routine all by himself!); it’s the nagging petulance that there’s so much to do, so much to do, so much to do…

And once Mom Guilt enters, she never leaves you alone.

Why does she enter in the first place?  I’m not sure.  Maybe she comes knocking the first time our newborn cries and we’re just too tired to get out of bed.  And then she walks in the front door when we yell at our two-year-old for drawing all over the hardwood floors.   And she kicks her shoes off and sits down when we let the kids watch tv for two hours because we’re sick of their fighting.   And she makes herself a cup of coffee and smiles, feeling right at home, every time we think of all the little things we do wrong and compare them with how little we seem to do right. 

But I’m only six years in and I’m tired of her.  I want to announce that she’s not welcome here!  I want to explain to her that I’m not perfect—but no one else is either.  I want to tell her that I am allowed to sit and read a book for an hour—even on a day when I’m not feverish or coughing up a lung.  And I’d like to remind her that even though I do a lot wrong, I do a lot right, too.  And maybe she’ll leave me alone long enough for me to enjoy watching the snow fall. 

The Lonliest Mothers

This picture has recently been floating around facebook:
soap mom

Mothers have always felt pressure to look and play the part of the perfect mother, but today’s mothers feel that strain more than any preceding generation.

Maybe this is partially attributed to facebook and the interminable need to post amazing pictures of your family (whether it’s your kid’s first day of school or the first time he uses the toilet), or to think up witty comments (that can’t offend, but should be slightly edgy and give the appearance of a genuine thought), or to illicit praise because of some great accomplishment (whether that be your son scoring the willing soccer goal or the first time your daughter tries a green bean).

Or maybe this tension goes deeper than twitter.

I have a friend who grew up in the Philippines. Whenever her mother comes to visit, she comments about how American mothers seem to hold it all together–working, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. In the Philippines, as in some other non-western cultures, many mothers have “help.” They have servants. And while it might sound taboo to our democratic ears, it’s not taboo to them–it’s just a matter of life and death. The poorest of the poor rely on their employers to care for them in return for their service. So “the help” cooks and cleans and the Filipino families feed, clothe and shelter them in exchange.

Okay, I am not advocating for a culture where servants are necessary due to extreme poverty. But there must be other means for help!

Take the Amish, for example. They are some of the most hard-working, disciplined people on the planet. And while they don’t have servants, they do have help. Because everything in the Amish community is done together. For instance, many mothers will gather together on a “work day” to make applesauce, can peaches, or plant a garden. They help one another accomplish life’s menial tasks. And they do it within the context of community.

Contrast that with today’s mothers. When is the last time you had another family over for dinner, let alone helped a girlfriend churn butter?! Instead of slowing down to enjoy an honest day’s work within authentic community, we hurry and bustle about, making sure our house looks “just so” and our children behave like little angels, and our meals are prepared with wholesome, organic, gluten and preservative-free ingredients. And all the while feeling…well…lonely.

Gone are the days when households bustled with half a dozen children, neighbors stopped by for a cup of coffee, and family members gathered for Sunday lunch after church. Instead, our families are divided all over the country, our neighbors are strangers, and Sundays are just one more day to squeeze in our kid’s football practice. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

Gone are the days when families sat around the fire in the evenings chatting, reading and playing checkers. Instead, we are on our own separate ipads in our own separate rooms. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

Gone are the days when mothers regularly gathered for tea or Bridge or picking strawberries. Instead, we gulp down coffee down on the way to work, spend 90% of our energy there, and hope that last 10% will get us through the rest of the evening. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

So instead of looking forward to the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning with a sister or mother or aunt or friend, we rush to get it all done ourselves so that we can look like Supermom. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

But hey, at least we have facebook right?

I’m not sure how to fix this. It’s a broken culture. A culture saturated with self and bought into business. But maybe if we could figure out a way to slow down–even just a little bit–then maybe we could alleviate some of this pressure. Because I certainly don’t want to be the loneliest grandmother.

Behold what manner of love…

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the sons of God!

1 Jn 3:1

It’s been three months since she came to live with us.  There are so many things we have thought and felt and changed and mourned since then.  But as so often happens, God takes the things of this world and is using them to shape us and refine us. 

This is the thought that has repeatedly resonated with me:  How could God, righteous and just, pull me, wretched and selfish, out of this life of sin?  And then–and this is what astounds me even more–despite the muck and chaos, He choose me and calls me his daughter!  He loves me.  He revels in me.  He wants me. 

Because the choosing was hard–knowing that our lives would change and her life would change and everything would change–was hard.  And the doing was even harder–mourning the simple life we had and fearing the storms to come.  But the hardest part is exactly where we are right now.  The loving. 

To take in a child who has no one to care for her only requires pity.  To feed and foster that child, clothe and care for her, only requires benevolence.  To discipline that child so that she can be wiser and stronger and someday be an influence for good only requires morality.  But to bestow love on that child?  That’s the work of God.

It is not by chance that the Spirit lead me to re-read Knowing God, by J. I. Paker over these last few months.  This is what I read today…

In the ancient world, adoption was a practice ordinarily confined to the childless well-to-do.  Its subjects were not normally infants, as today, but young adults who had shown themselves fit and able to carry on a family name in a worthy way.  In this case however, God adopts us out of free love, not because our character and record show us worthy to bear his name, but despite the fact that they show the very opposite.  We are not fit for a place in God’s family…

Adoption, by its very nature, is an art of free kindness to the person adopted.  If you become a father by adopting a son or daughter, you do so because you choose to, not because you are bound to. Similarly, God adopts because he chooses to.  He had no duty to do so.  He need not have done anything about our sins except punish us as we deserved.  But he loved us…And throughout our life in this world, and to all eternity beyond, he will constantly be showing us, in one way or another, more and more of his love, and thereby increasing our love to him continually.  The prospect before the adopted children of God is an eternity of love. 

For none of the choosing, the doing, the caring, the disciplining–none of it matters without love.  . 

Hug

(I expected to embrace my baby.)

Wet from womb,
both of us crying,
shaking hands bring skin to skin
and hold on tight.

Rocking, swaying,
on the tree top,
I coo, caress, and kiss away cries
and hold on tight.

Boo-boos and Band-aids,
skip, kick, and trip;
I dry both cheeks and ice both knees
and hold on tight.

Bedtime monsters
creep out from closets;
I scare them away and dare them to stay
and hold on tight.

But then came the day when
she
held
me.

Pulled head to chest,
I breathe quietly and count heartbeats
while two small hands encircle me

and hold on tight.

Thy will be done

With adoption continuing to move forward and fears continuing to loom, I still find myself questioning “Is this really what God wants for our family?” “Is this really His will for us?” For it’s certainly not what I had planned out.
Most of us would say we want God’s will for our lives. But what if that will is to take us through tragedy to gain our trust? Or what if it means walking through pain to get closer to His heart? Would we really want that…Really?

Last night I was talking with a friend about some of my fears and questions about this thing God has asked us to do, she was so kind, listening and working through it all with me. Then she said, “It’s just so hard because first and foremost you’re a mom to the two children He’s already given you.”
And the words came tumbling out, aching but firm, and I couldn’t have grabbed them even if I’d wanted to because they weren’t my own…
“No. That’s not true,” I said (heart breaking, hands hurting from grasping for control of my own life, which is not my own), “I am and always will be, first and foremost, a child of God. He always comes first. Before I’m a mother or a wife or a sister or a daughter or a friend–I am a child of the King. And I’m called to obey. So if he asks me to do something, what else can I say but ‘Yes’?”

The words of the hymn “In the Garden,”echo in my head strong and pure…

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.”

So today, as I prayed, asking God for wisdom and a word of encouragement, I should not have been surprised when He gave me Colossians 3:23. Because when I looked it up, I was humbled when I saw the words…

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

When you enter this the world, it’s you and Him. When you depart, it’s you and Him. And when you fold shirts and make meals and buy milk and drive and shower and talk and breath…it’s still ultimately about you and Him.
Because if it’s not, then why are you doing it at all?