Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Mommy Cries at a Parade

To my children,

It has become a tradition each year to return to the small town where I grew up and attend the Memorial Day Parade.

You are always excited to see "princesses" (pageant winners), "karate heroes" (local martial arts classes), soldiers and "the horses that come at the end and poop all in the road." The highlight for you is probably the extraordinary loot of candy that you always bring home, tossed from classic cars, trailers full of sports teams being pulled behind trucks, and tractors.

There comes a time in the parade each year when a hush falls over the crowd and no candy is thrown. Somehow, even though you are all still young, you know to wait quietly while this group in the parade passes. You can't read well enough to understand yet what this group represents. If you looked behind you during the moments, when the only sound is shuffling feet on asphalt, you would see me wiping tears from my cheeks and you might ask, "Mommy, why are you crying?"

If you turned and ask me that, my loves, I would answer:
The signs that they hold as they go quietly by are the names of the recently fallen from our state. They are names of soldiers, warriors, mommies, daddies, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends who have given everything in the name of freedom.

Some were boys recently graduated from high school, going to see the world and make a difference.

Some were fathers and grandfathers who devoted their adulthood to serving our country.

Some were sisters keeping a commitment they made to help pay for school.

I'm sure each one had a different reason for joining the fight to ensure freedom, but they all had the same commitment to give whatever was required.

These tears come for many reasons.

They come for the families and friends left behind.

They come for the soldiers who fought alongside these in their final moments.

They come because there is still a need to fight.

But most of all, my love, they come because you and I have been protected by these.

You fall asleep at night without fear of attack.

You don't know the sound of mortar fire or machine gun.

We worship when and where and how we please.

We come and go, buy and sell, speak and think, learn and grow in freedom because of those who are willing to fight on our behalf.

So the tears are tears of gratitude; a quiet offering of thanks to those who are willing and able to do what I cannot.
These are the reasons that Mommy cries at a parade.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Wonder About You

Sometimes I wonder just who you are, bumping around inside of me.

I feel like I know you, and yet, we've never met.

You are mine and I am yours and we'll always somehow be a part of each other.

There are others, here on the outside, that belong to you, and you to them.

There is your Daddy. I'm pretty sure you know him already, because each evening as we lie in bed and he reads or we talk, you seem to do a little dance, or at least a series of calisthenics.

There are your siblings. They may be rather indistinguishable right now, but theirs are the voices you hear, muffled by my belly, calling greetings, "Hey, baby. It's Nicholas/Mackenzie/Annie. I love you." They ask me often what you might be doing "in there" and they regularly rub, poke, and push my belly to see if you'll reciprocate from within. Sometimes you startle them, when they're sitting close and we're reading a story, then suddenly you stretch or begin rhythmic hiccups. They giggle and wait for more, begging me to "get the baby to do it again".

I hope that you know just how much we look forward to seeing your face, hearing your voice, feeling your grasp. You are already ours, and we are already yours, but what we've shared so far is only a tiny part of what our stories will be together.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


"You are a unique person, just like everyone else." -Warren Miller

I value what makes you different.
I appreciate it.
I'm amazed by it.
I wouldn't have you any other way.

You are not me.
You should not be me.
You are you and that is the way it was always intended.

The way you talk, the way you look, the experiences you've had and will have, the way the world looks through your eyes, those things are all yours and part of you.

If I try to make you me it won't work. If I try to be more like you, it won't work.

We are us, here together... learning from and with each other, sharing strengths and weaknesses, struggling, working, toiling, and grasping for victory--the ability to overcome.

We are different, you and I. Different isn't better or worse. Different is often exactly what we need to fill in the gaps and make the rough spots smooth.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Early May

I love Georgia in early May when the sweet smell of honeysuckle and magnolia in bloom finds its way into windows left open to let cool evening air move through the house.

I like sitting out under a starry sky and hearing what my grandmother would have described as the "lonesome sound of a whippoorwill" calling out into the darkness.

I treasure the excitement in my children's eyes as they come into the kitchen with dirty hands full of clover and dandelions, begging for a glass of water for "the flowers we picked for you".

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Weight of Motherhood

It is mother's day and I've been thinking about how being a mother changes things.

During my first pregnancy, I remember being overcome at times with a variety of new feelings and the extraordinary weight of motherhood. Of course I gained pounds and inches as my body became the primary residence for someone besides me, but that's not the kind of weight I'm referring to.

I'm talking about the weight of knowing that another being was completely and utterly dependent on me. Every choice I made had a direct impact on someone's health and survival. And this was all before my baby breathed his first breath.

Once he was born, there were more questions, more choices, and more decisions. Is he getting enough to eat? Is he crying too much? Is he not crying enough? Should I let him sleep until he wakes up? Should I wake him to feed him again? Does that cry mean "I'm in pain? I'm hungry? I need a diaper change?" Does he need more stimulation when he's awake or less? And they go on and on.

I survived the newborn stages, gaining confidence and comfort with each child, but there's always something new to navigate and there are always more questions and doubts.

I listen to my own mom, having done this "job" for more than 35 years, and she still voices questions about whether or not she did the right thing at the right time. I think of my grandmothers during their final weeks of life and how I heard each of them express, in her own way, concerns about if she had done well and "been a blessing" to those she held most dear.

And today, on mother's day, I sat in church and watched a video of a mother who contracted HIV when she became pregnant. She didn't know that her husband had the illness and once her baby was born, she learned that both she and the child were HIV positive.

I sat, in tears, and thought, "Lord, this is too much to bear. The weight of all these things is much too heavy a burden for me."

The video continued. The mother began to smile as she described how she went to the local church and "by God's grace" they helped. She and her daughter have been provided with medicine, proper nutrition, the assistance they need, not just to survive, but to reinvest what has been invested in them.

And that's when it hit me. This weight of motherhood that we bear was never intended for us alone. "By God's grace" we have the help we need.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Saying "goodbye" to comfort

Sweet Annie,

Today your pacifier "broke" and you placed it into the trash can before nap time and reminded me that Daddy promised you a new baby doll from the store to mark this milestone.

I then helped you get cozy in your crib with your favorite blanket, walked out of the room, and listened to you cry and call, "OOOOHHHHH, DADDY.....Oooooohhhhh, Daddy..." for the next hour and a half. I came in periodically to offer a little hug, dry your tears, and help you get cozy again. Then I would walk away, still close enough to hear your discomfort, but far enough that you managed to calm yourself until you could sleep.

This wasn't easy for me, but I know it's what is best for you in the long run. I've done this before, many times, with you and your older siblings, and I'm certain that I'll do it many more times before you are all grown. I make a conscious choice to put aside temporary comfort for long term gain. I weigh the "opportunity cost" and I decide.

Today it's the loss of the pacifier and the instant comfort that comes along with it. With your big brother it's removing the training wheels from his bike, watching him swerve and fall in frustration several times, before he finally masters riding a 2-wheeler independently. With your older sister it's working through the uncomfortable and sometimes awkward silence while I wait for her to respond to someone's question or greeting.

I know it would often be easier, for the moment, to just get a new pacifier and let you drift to sleep quickly, put the training wheels back on the bike to avoid skinned knees and frustration, or answer the question while someone looks timidly from behind my leg.

For you, I don't just want what seems easiest. I want what is best. I want you to learn to deal appropriately with discomfort when it leads to growth. I don't want to intentionally cause you to suffer, but I won't protect you from suffering when I know there is a greater benefit just over the horizon.

Like today, when you are uncomfortable and suffering, I will be close.

I will experience your discomfort as only a parent can. I will wait, as you work through it. I was there today when you finally lay still, except for the occasional shudder, with your eyes closed over tear-streaked cheeks.

I will celebrate when you reap the benefit of persevering.

This was not easy. This was not pleasant. This was not fun. But, this was good.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's most definitely NOT like putting your sons on the baseball field

I recently read an article in a regional parents' magazine about little girls in beauty pageants. The article describes the different types of pageants ("natural" and "glitz"), typical costs of each kind and potential prizes in each.

I'm not anti-pageant, but here is where I have a problem. The article has quotes from interviews with some parents that encourage their little girls to compete in these pageants. There are also pictures accompanying the article.

On the first page of the article there is a picture of a girl with hair and make-up done, lips in a bit of a pout, and eyes looking into the camera with a "come hither" expression. The entire look could easily go onto the cover of Vogue or Cosmo along with headlines of "How to Make a Man Happy in Bed" and "Secrets Every Woman Should Know." The girl in the picture I describe is a preschooler.

I know that some people would argue that little girls love to dress up and dance around. I have little girls. I know they like to dress up and dance around. My girls are very expressive and some of their facial expressions are priceless. I've been around a lot of preschoolers in my life. However, I have never seen a preschooler make "bedroom eyes" and a sultry pout without the coaching of an adult. It simply is not in a young child's background knowledge and doesn't come naturally to them.

In this article, the mom of the 3-year-old pictured (whose family is scheduled to appear on Toddlers & Tiaras) says (my paraphrase), that having a little girl in "glitz" pageants is really no different that having her sons on the baseball field.


According to "The Pageant Expert", glitz pageant contestants typically have fake hair, use heavy make-up, spray tans, fake eyelashes and teeth, and sometimes colored contacts. The "Expert" also says, "facial expressions tend to be exaggerated with lots of eyelash batting, tilting of the head from side to side, and blowing kisses...[These pageants] are very popular and easy to find for children under the age of 5."

How is that like little league baseball? When was the last time you went to the local ball field and saw a bunch of little boys completely altering their appearance before the game? When was the last time a coach and all the parents in the stands were encouraging the team to shake their hips, wave, blow kisses, or flirt with the umpires? When team and individual pictures were made, did the photographer touch up the photos as if for a magazine? Have you ever heard a coach say, "Just go out there and look good."?

I'm sorry, mom from the article, glitz pageants and little league baseball are not the same. The messages your children receive, directly or indirectly, are not the same.