Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Embracing Ella

Last week, I took my princess and two of her princess friends out to lunch. We dined where all royalty (and all of Middle Tennessee, for that matter) go...Chick-Fil-A. Now, between the three girls combined, they have 30 years. Do the math. As I waited for the food, they asked if they could go play in the play area. “Sure.”

Now, I’m a cool Mom. I got them a table, wiped it down with Clorox wipes so they could eat a relatively germ-free meal on it, or we could do an impromptu surgery, and then I walked away. It was only eight feet, but I found a little two-seater across the way so that I wasn’t a Glommy Mommy but I could keep one eye on them at all times. They sat there eating their waffle fries and laughing and talking and I thought how adorable they were, how much potential they have, how special the friendships they’re forging are.

Then I heard this from a woman seated behind me:

“Did you see those girls over there? They were in there playing...with Jordan. Jordan was in there. How old are they? Did they drive here?”

I discreetly pivoted in my chair to get a look at this beast and see what it looked like. Imagine my surprise when I turned around...and saw myself. It was me, eight-and-a-half years ago, sitting in a Chick-Fil-A with a friend, with our toddlers seated beside us, dropping as many fries and they were eating. There sat Jordan, all 30 pounds and 2 years of him, wearing a t-shirt with a dump truck on it.

I wanted to despise Jordan, his loud mouth Mom, and the horse the two of them rode in on. But I couldn’t. Because it hasn’t been so long that I don’t remember being that over-protective, judgmental mother. I can remember vividly how ecstatic I was when Little Bit first gained the confidence and physical prowess to navigate a fast food restaurant jungle gym. And, almost simultaneously, I vowed to protect her from any and all possible threats inside this labyrinth of slides, crawling spaces, mesh and puzzles. If someone had a runny nose, she got relocated to another area. If someone was aggressive, throwing things, or hadn’t learned to share, I would passively-aggressively say something like, “whew, someone needs a nap!” I gave any unaccompanied male, and really anyone whom I deemed untrustworthy dirty looks and kept my eye on them the whole time, lest they should entertain the idea of an abduction. But the one occurrence, which I never understood (until now) and that really got my goat was the “big kids” who would insist on playing in Playland on top of my princess.

I can remember being at a McDonald’s and there was this girl named “Ella.” Now, at the time, Ella was probably 6 or 7. My baby was 2 or 3. Ella probably looked like this:

But in my mind, this is what I saw clod-hopping around my girl:

I looked on in horror as Ella tried to go up the slide the wrong way and ran around the tiny, enclosed area like Frankenstein. Towering over the other two-year-olds, she made them look like Lilliputians. Her mother would quietly chide in a sing-songy voice, “ careful with the little ones, sweetie.” And I thought to myself, or maybe out loud, “did Ella drive here?” And now here I am with not one, but three Ellas. I felt terrible. But at the same time, I wanted to freeze this time between child and adult. In my mind, as long as they can play in Playland, I can protect them. Once they no longer play in fast food restaurants, they’re no longer mine, but the world’s. They’ll have their hearts broken and be grounded. They’ll have curfews and term papers. They’ll have to deal with mean girls and mean teachers. They’ll be their own person, no longer needing nor wanting me, even at a table eight feet away.

So here I am, with one foot in two worlds, embracing Ella and all she is and all she will be.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Let the Games Begin

I thought about writing an end-of-school-yay-summer-is-about-to-begin post and even drafted it in my head during those crazy, hectic final days of school this week. What stumped me was the title, of all things, as I thought I had a pretty clever one:  Summer's Eve. It took me about two seconds to realize that wasn't going to work. Then my mind started weaving a new take on the classic "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," but then I remembered a forgotten teacher gift, some clothes that were left in the washer (gag), and wondered if I'd left the dog outside and there went my post.

Yesterday was the last day of school for us and Little Bit had a sleepover to kick off summer last night. So, my gift was a quiet house this morning. I awoke when I wanted to. OK, when one of the dog's wanted to. I made a pot of coffee and drank my two cups while they were still warm. And then I piddled, which I affectionately but never sarcastically call "livin' the dream," because I couldn't think of a better life. Seriously. I picked up. I took the trash out. I looked through a memory book Little Bit was presented with yesterday encompassing her elementary school years. I washed some clothes. I mowed the back yard. I've played with and watered and fed pets. I watched morning news and my TV vice, "Kelly and Michael." After all that, the house still needs work. I still need a shower. There are weeds to pull. And I need to get those clothes in the dryer so we don't have another repeat of "what's that smell?"

I'm now heading out to pick up what's left from the sleepover. It will be a little sunburned and hungry and grumpy. It will have three days worth of dirty clothes and one wet beach towel, even though it was only away for 19 hours. But that's OK. It's mine for the next 12 weeks. And I plan to soak up summer with this girl like no one's business.

Happy Summer to each of you. All three of you. I hope your summers are filled with dirt and sun and water and laughs and a little laundry just to keep you honest.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Close Call

I’ve had two close calls this week where, had things gone just a little differently, my life would have forever changed.  

Two days ago, I was running errands and throwing down a quick snack of grapes while in the car. Ever since I can remember, when I eat grapes, I peel them with my teeth first and then eat the meat of the fruit and the skins separately. I swallowed wrong and a flap of grape skin fell over my windpipe. I coughed, knowing something was amiss and trying to correct it, but to no avail. 

With no beverage on hand, I felt all of my internal sensors sounding alarms almost immediately. My heart rate increased, my head started hurting, and I felt my lungs futilely trying to get new air, all within a millisecond. Since I was driving, I was faced with having to make a decision, perhaps my last on this earth. Should I just allow myself to black out and then wreck the car? I didn’t want my family to have to deal with me, in whatever state I was found, and have to deal with a broken car. I also didn’t want to crash into and hurt someone else in the process. I considered just slowing to a stop in the middle of the road and hoping someone would stop to check on me. I considered running off the side and slowly crashing into a fence, thinking I would get some attention while keeping the damage to someone else’s property to a minimum. 

I wanted to scrawl a note to my family and maybe the paramedics saying, respectively, “I love you” and “skip all of the preliminary checks and look for a grape skin on the victim’s windpipe.” But who has that kind of time? In the meantime, I kept driving, even running one last yellow light just for good measure and in an effort to keep traffic moving. A final,  hard, scratchy cough dislodged the grape skin and I was able to swallow in several big gulps of air. Save for a scratchy throat the rest of the afternoon, I was spared. But it definitely makes you think.

Then, today, I almost took out a bicyclist. They’re not my favorite. I won’t lie. I know we’re told to “share the road” and that we should applaud these folks for “keepin’ it green,” but, frankly, they get on my nerves. I know you shouldn’t stereotype a whole group of people, but I feel it’s more the norm than the occasional instance for them to disregard both traffic laws and social convention. They make lanes where there aren’t any, run red lights, park illegally, and dart in and out and in between moving cars. They insist on riding on narrow, shoulderless, two-lane roads, forcing me to slow down in preparation for passing to a below-safe speed, and causing myself and other drivers to have to swerve to miss them. This could be a whole, other post. Saying all this, though, I would never hurt anyone, hippie cyclist or otherwise, on purpose. 

I was driving down this road today and passed a little farm. Out front in their idyllic pasture, was a beautiful, old barn, some pretty, tall grass replete with wildflowers, and three cows -- a mama and two calves. As I was taking this all in, the two calves took off running ahead of mama and it was just the cutest thing I saw all day. I had only looked over for a half second, but it was long enough for me to come upon a biker before I knew it. At this exact moment, he had gone to take a drink from his water bottle, tipping his head back, and swerving out into the traffic lane from the shoulder. A quick correction on my part saved the day. And his life. But, again, it’s one of those things that makes you think. How much different could the rest of my day (and my life) have been in the matter of a split second? What would my afternoon have looked like if, instead of leading my final Girl Scout meeting today, I was at the police station giving a statement?

I’m not saying I would have done anything differently in either of these circumstances. I will always peel grapes before eating them and I hope I’m never too busy or distracted to take pleasure in something like two baby cows romping in a pasture. If anything, it caused me to be grateful...both for the near misses and the absolutely, positively, couldn’t-have-Smurfed-that-up-more-if-I’d-tried times.

"When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it:  admit it, learn from it, and don't repeat it." 
 -- Bear Bryant 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothering: To Live It Is To Love It

There are some things in life that you can’t truly appreciate and grasp until you’ve seen it firsthand. Hunger comes to mind. I went on a mission trip to Uganda, Africa and saw hungry orphans up close. I played games with them and held them in my lap. They don’t look like the commercials on TV.

At one orphanage, the children all had bowls. Some were crude, wooden vessels, but others were lidless Tupperware or just a non-descript, plastic tub. Others were old margarine containers. But each child had one and it was theirs. It’s amazing when a person only owns four our five things (two of which are a shirt and a pair of shorts), how they care for their belongings. They keep up with them and there is a tangible respect and need for them. It will cause our first-world materialism to make you physically ill. 

We visited this one orphanage mid-morning one day -- that time when the sun is high, breakfast is a distant memory, and lunch is still a couple hours off. Our main goal was to build beds for the residents. We brought in and assembled bunks (complete with mattresses and blankets and mosquito netting) where there had been only a dirt or concrete floor with scatterings of torn blankets. A secondary goal was to spread the Gospel. As it turned out, we Americans weren’t sharing the Word with these Africans. They already knew and loved Jesus and it was they who wound up testifying and sharing Light with us. A third and final mission, tertiary in all respects, was to simply play with the kids. Entertain them. Get their minds off of the horrible hand they’d been dealt in life for an hour or two. We played baseball and soccer and card games and painted nails and just talked.

But through all of this, wherever they were and whatever they were doing, their little bowl was right by them. Never did a child come up and say, “have you seen my bowl?” Not once did two children get in a fight -- “his bowl is bigger than mine.” “I wanted the blue bowl.” There was no whining. But occasionally, you’d see a couple of dirty fingers dip into the bowl, scoop up something and eat it. On closer inspection, it looked like paste. They called it porridge but it looked like a thick concoction of corn flour and water. It’s lacking in every possible way...taste, nutrition, the ability to make one feel full. It’s the bare minimum to keep a human alive, give or take. But it’s all they had and they were appreciative of it and they cherished it. Each child, whether 15 or five, was responsible for their porridge. They could consume it all in one minute and six bites in the morning when it was dolled out, or, like most chose to do, they could take little swipes of it throughout the day. In all, it probably was about half a cup per person. That’s all. That’s hunger.

This was a long lead-in to something else you don’t really grasp, comprehend, or appreciate until you’ve done it -- motherhood. My mother went on to her great reward two weeks before I became a mother myself. In all the ways this crushed me and made me sad, what was especially cruel was figuring out I couldn’t thank her once I realized what this mothering was all about. 

I’m blessed with an amazing mother-in-law who provided all kinds of support and answers and best guesses. I had friends going through the process at the same time, and books, and the internet, and an amazingly supportive and involved husband. My sweet Daddy became a grandfather and proudly donned that hat immediately and was (and is still) a favorite babysitter. But I didn’t have Mom.

I was robbed of the ability to ask, “did I do this when I was her age?” There was no one to answer how old I was when I got teeth, learned to walk, learned to poop in a potty. And I couldn’t say, “thank you. I get it now. Thank you.”

When I had a mother, motherhood to me looked like this:

Now I know, it’s more like this:

It's experiencing being a child again. And giving up (possibly forever) any concern over what you look like.

It's comforting a sick toddler and your only prayer in the world is for a number to go down on a thermometer.

It's putting on birthday parties. In August. Outside.

It's going to see the live bunnies every Easter and, every Easter, saying, "no, we're just
here to look at the bunnies. We can't buy one."

It's having the phrase "pool fun" become an oxymoron. It's becoming a pack mule, hauling enough gear to actually build a pool, then getting there and finding you don't have her hat or you only have one water wing. It's saying "no running" ad nauseum, praying they jump far enough out that they don't hit their head on the side, and wondering if it's time to reapply sunscreen.

It's having a little girl who fully embraced princesses. She wore her Cinderella costume to her first dentist appointment. But when she was invited to a princess, dress up birthday party, she'd have none of it. It's understanding that motherhood is constantly evolving and about as non-sensical as it gets at times.

It's trying new foods. And then never trying them again.

It's quiet moments when you're off script. The unexpected joys.

It's standing over your child in a hospital bed.

It's doing things that, literally, make you sick. Just for their happiness.

It's appreciating little moments. It's knowing the only thing there is more of than
back fat is the number of pine needles and ornament hooks on the floor and not caring.

It's going to a make-your-own-pancake restaurant when neither of you like pancakes.

It's wondering if there's such a thing as "hay fleas" and being pretty sure they're in your pants.

It's closing down a Disney park and waiting to ride just one more ride.

It's smiling when you'd rather do anything else. This picture was taken at Thanksgiving several years ago. We were all mad at one another and had been fussing all morning long. I actually spent a little while in the bottom of an empty closet in a beach house, crying. We'll call this a "dark period."

It's going on a canoe trip and tipping over at the first rapids. It's realizing the fragility of life and how it could be taken from you in a million different ways in a sliver of a second.
It's realizing your child isn't so much of a child anymore. That they're almost as tall as you. But they still fit on your lap and in your embrace. And in those moments when they still let you hold them, you hold on with everything you've got.

It's only having a handful of pictures left from your childhood. It's finding one and remembering when it was taken vividly, though you were only 4 or 5. It's remembering how your Mother smelled, the softness of her cheek. Yes, she may have been in the bottom of a closet crying before this picture was taken. But that's OK. I get it now.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Blame Game (a.k.a. Misplaced Anger)

My daughter suffered a pretty bad bicycle wreck this afternoon. I was partially to blame. Maybe fully. And I feel terrible. Whether intentionally or not, I distracted her, causing her to look back over her shoulder. She ran off our aggregate driveway into the grass, lost her balance and fell with all of her knees and all of her palms onto the rough driveway.

I knew as soon as we passed each other that she would fall. I knew weeks ago when, at the age of 10 and she finally decided to learn to ride a bike, that she would fall. I knew she was falling as a scared voice called, “Mommy!”

I laid my own bike on its side and ran to her. Her Dad carried her into the house and we washed and bandaged her up. It took a while before we knew the full extent of the injuries -- one cut palm, one really scuffed palm, one knee with a scuff and a scrape, and one knee with a gash surrounded by dangling, mangled skin.

As I cleaned her up, I fought back my own tears. I hurt for her. I knew it was scary. I know how bad a scraped knee feels and especially one with a good cut on top of a scrape. I know it’s scary seeing blood run from you. It’s almost as scary as seeing blood run from someone you love, someone with whom you’d gladly and immediately trade places.

But the most hurtful injury she suffered wasn’t to her body, but, rather, her bike. Her brand new, shiny bike. After I got her calmed down and somewhat comfortable, I had to break the news that the bike, too, suffered an injury. There’s a quarter-sized hole now in the side of her seat, marring what is otherwise a perfect specimen. For this, she looked me squarely in the eyes and uttered some words I said to my own mother, words that will cut you deeply, though no blood pours forth:  “Why? Why did you let it happen? I hate you.”

There’s not enough Bactine in the world to take the sting out of that.

She later apologized for speaking angrily, but my love for irony didn’t let me miss this moment because I actually said something like that earlier. See, as we were riding through our neighborhood today, I, like I do every time we ride, said a quick prayer: “Watch over her, and keep her safe, please.” And it was I who was so quick to think, “what happened? We had a deal. Where were You? Did You look away for a minute? I thought You had my back? And if not mine, at least hers. Why did You let it happen?”

Then I heard a reassuring voice. “I was there. She’ll learn something from this fall and maybe you will, too. But I was there.”

And, so, as it turns out, you can learn from skinned knees at any age, and, if you’re strong of mind, and body, and character, you’ll get back on that bike the first chance you get.