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.