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.

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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.

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.

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.  . 

Oh the Bins!

Right now my husband is in the basement building shelves to hold what can definitely be called “our plethora of bins”.  Does anyone else feel like they are overwhelmed with bins?  Bins to hold baby clothes, bins to hold maternity clothes, bins to hold college books, Christmas decor, and candles.   We have blue bins, gray bins, transparent pink bins.  Bins of all shapes and sizes as far as the eye can see!!!

Now, although I’m very glad that he has embarked upon this task with such gusto (perhaps now I will be more inclined to enter the dungeon and won’t procrastinate the laundry as often), I do feel a little overwhelmed at the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated in less than 10 years.   Now, I realize that most of this stuff can be attributed to being “thrify”–for example, I’m not going to throw out Rae’s clothes when Ally could certainly use them–but I find myself wondering “What did people do before the age of THE BINS?!”

I suppose they used boxes.  But I can’t imagine how well something made of paper would hold up in a damp basement.  And I hate the smell of moth balls, which are inevitable if clothes are being stored in cardboard.  So I am thankful for BINS.  And I’m thankful for the stuff inside the bins, for the the room to store the bins, and for a husband who’s almost as OCD as I am and cares enough to at least try to “make the bins look pretty.”

Stop growing!!!

Sometimes, when my daughter looks at me, I swear I can see what she’s going to look like as a teenager.  The pouty lip, the attitude in the hips, the slight squint in her eyes that says, “I totally know more than you.”  And I fall in love with her all over again.

But a million questions fill my head…what WILL you be like as a teenager?  Will we be close?  Will you hate me for not letting you wear makeup till your 13?  Will you think my jeans are old-fashioned and my hair out-of-date?  Will you be embarrassed to hug me in front of your friends?  Will we have special dates together, just me and you….and more importantly, will you WANT to?  Will we talk about boys and love and God and faith?  Will I be worthy to have you as a daughter?

I cannot know the future.  Which is a good thing, I’m sure.  Because it forces me to take each day, moment by moment, relishing all the tantrums, giggles,  eye-rolling, and hand-holding.  And although I’m anxious to see what she will look like, act like, talk like, and think like, I can still take her in my arms every day and whisper into her hair, “O, my love….stay just the way you are and you’ll be just fine.”

My little relentless alarms

This morning I had fleeting sentiments of the days before children….

Ah, those whimsical day where if I stayed up late, I could sleep in, snuggle my husband, or push snooze on the alarm.   Where the sheets smelled of fresh linen instead of baby spit-up, and where sometimes my wake up call was simply the sun streaming through the window.

But with two little ones, those days are now just passing memories.  I’m awakened every day, Sunday through Saturday by 6am  (7 is now considered sleeping in).  My little relentless alarms.  No more weekends, no more lazy vacation days.  Either my baby girl is crying to be fed, or my almost 3 yr old is wearing her little plastic heels clip, clop, clip, clop all over her wooden floors, singing at the top of her voice “HOW MUCH IS THAT DOGGIE IN THE WINDOW…”

And some mornings, when I wish I could roll over and go back to the sweet dream I was having about splurge shopping, I force myself to think of those days before children…not the beautiful sleep I did have, but the things I didn’t have.   Things like early morning giggles, or warm little bodies to hug, or the smell of Honey Nut Cheerios with bananas.   And I’m reminded that there really is no better way to greet the morning than with a loud, “MOMMY! I AWAKE!”