The Mom at Chuck E Cheese

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We went to Chuck E Cheese for a birthday party yesterday. This sort of breaks one of my big rules in life – going to Chuck E Cheese at all – but we were invited to a cousin’s birthday party and it seems like a good idea to have the boys grow up with family. I grew up this way, and Steve did, but as we’ve gotten older, our families have scattered and we often “do our own thing,” like so many families these days. We’re all so busy, right?

I used to call Chuck E Cheese the worst place on earth. But I’m older now and I have new definitions of the worst place on earth. Watching my mom die in a sad old nursing home and spending any time at Children’s hospital pretty much made me realize that Chuck E Cheese is a breeze. So, we went.

The boys ate pizza and cake and watched the little show they put on with the big furry robots, which Lincoln loved at a distance and hated close up. Incidentally, this reassured me that he is smart. Then the boys ran wild with the games and the coins and the tickets, having fun with all of the noise and the chaos and being allowed to act accordingly. Hence why I hate it. Because I’m a control freak, you know? Plus, I’m also a germaphobe and there are a million kids there eating and playing all at once with their snotty little noses and I’m pretty sure we could start the Bubonic plague again out of one of those places without trying hard at all.

On this note, I used the bathroom there, which also kind of breaks my rule but it was necessary. A young mother came into the bathroom as I was washing my hands. She was holding a big chubby baby of maybe 6 months old. The mom kind of peeked around as if there might be somewhere to put the baby and then went looking for a stall. I realized she was just going to do her thing with her baby in her arms.

Go ahead, freak out about the gross factor here but let me tell you that every mom has had this moment. Where you just have to pee or whatever and the baby is with you so you make the most of it. I almost didn’t ask her if she needed my help, but then I did, because I’ve been practicing using my instinct and not my crazy questioning mind.

So I said “Do you want help?” over the sound of the hand dryer. But she didn’t speak English. She cocked her head and raised one hand as if to say she didn’t understand, and kind of like why was I talking to her when she had to use the bathroom.

So I said, “Help?” and I held my arms out to her in a gesture to take the baby. And her face fell in relief and she rushed over and handed me her most prized possession. Her most prized person and her most precious anything. The one she made from her body but needed two minutes away from to take care of herself. She handed me her baby and I took her.

Big, dark, dark brown eyes and big dark lashes and the sweetest little head full of dark hair. So very different than my light-skinned, fair-haired babies, yet she had the same lazy, chubby baby body of my 3rd baby. And that amazing baby smell that every baby on the planet has. She warmed my heart from the second she hit my hands.

I thought briefly that she might cry when her mom left her sight but she didn’t. She let me hold her and looked at me like I was new but not scary. I said, “Well hello, little friend,” and she looked at me for a few moments and then laid her little head on my shoulder. I leaned my cheek into her dark hair and I was so thankful. Just bursting from top to bottom with thankful. Because this baby felt safe with me. And thankful for being a mama and knowing how to make a baby feel safe. And thankful I could help this mom, who didn’t know me but knew that I was offering help and not more problems. Just… Thankful.

It was a little moment. A blink. A fraction of the day and speck of sand in the grand scheme of my life. But it meant something to me. To know that there is trust out there. To know that there are mothers willing to take each other’s hands for help. To know that we have a connection that goes deeper than language or words. Some magic that speaks merely between the beats of a mother’s heart.

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Thoughts From a Mother’s Heart

 

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Me with my mom, 1974.

 

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My oldest and my youngest, 2014.

I didn’t hand pick my children. They came to me as they were, with imperfections and sweetness and the smell of baby. And I loved them with all of me from the start. This is true of all mothers, I think. It feels built in and huge and primal to love them so completely, even though they aren’t some perfect fine china that I went out and selected. They come as they are.

This is very similar to life. We don’t choose ours, at least not our starting point. We get dropped in with parents in some house or city and life and we don’t know any different. By the time we can really think about it at all, our lives are merely our lives. Normal to us.

On this note, I think often about how privileged I am. I got dropped into a home with heat and running water in the cold Wisconsin landscape in 1974, a privileged time to be born in America. I had clothes and plenty of food and Christmas presents and good schools and parents who loved me. My life has never been perfect and I’ve had my share of hard times, like most of us. But I was set up for thriving in the place and time that I was born.

Again, I did nothing to earn this. Like a lighting strike, all factors came together and I came to be. If there is more to it than that, I have yet to prove it.

I’ve been feeling actually sick about the Syrian refugees. Because like me, they didn’t hand pick their children or their life, but I have to believe they love them with the same ancient old mother’s heart that beats through all women. (Yes, all women, even those that aren’t mothers, because we all have it. We are born from it. )

So I’m thinking of these moms trekking across treacherous landscapes and oceans with their babies. You know, the babies that they love like we love ours? Of course they do.

Only they didn’t get born into white middle class America. Or even poverty level America, which is more sad and terrible than anyone understands but it is still worlds better than what these refugees are going through.

But they aren’t refugees. They are people. They are mom or dad or brother or sister or cousin or friend. They are human beings.

Are there bad ones among them hell bent to cause hurt? Maybe. But there have been 750,000 refugees let into America since 9-11, and not a single one turned out to be a terrorist. This statistic makes me say there’s not a real worry there. We, the people of this once great nation, are causing the problem. We are bathing ourselves in fear and throwing it around. And we are leaving innocent people behind because our fear is more important to us.

And this causes hate. And I’m so freaking tired of this hate. I’m tired of everyone pointing fingers and blame and not doing their part. Really, other than posting memes on Facebook, what are you doing to help this world be a better place? Ask yourself that.

I see people stand behind Jesus like He’s an excuse for bad behavior. Or others who swing poor Jesus around above their heads to swing Him at folks, like He’s some form of punishment. Only that isn’t what Jesus was, and I do know that. I was taught about Jesus since I remember anything, plus for all the rest of my childhood. And the Christianity of today, the one that that fills our media with hate and has everyone pointing to reasons to be unkind, this religion does not remind me of Jesus at all.

I don’t know how to fix anything, but I do know that we’ve got to stop being enemies. All of us. With our Facebook wars and our drama-causing gossip. Especially since we’re standing here on our high horses in our warm homes on this rainy November day. Especially since none of us are aware of what won us the cosmic lottery, allowing us to be safe reading this on the internet while families are bombed out of Syria. Especially since the US sent like 8000 of those bombs. But no one wants to lay claim on that little coincidence.

All this hate in the name of terror. And it’s working. We’re so scared of the enemy that we forget we are not each others enemy. We’ve forgotten that we are all human beings with a responsibility for each other. Isn’t that what our children and our aging parents are here to teach us?

Be a human being today.  Do something nice. No judging, no fighting. No borders and religion. No us versus them.

Be thankful for your life and your privilege. Because this world needs some human kindness.

 

A Syrian refugee hugs her crying baby after arriving on a raft on the Greek island of Lesbos, October 27, 2015. Photo Credit: Giorgos Moutafis / Reuters

Looking for Light

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Every morning, now that the seasons are changing and the morning brings a crisp bite to the air, Lincoln and I head out looking for light.

We start out with Brice on his bike, half a block ahead of us, soaring down the hills from our house towards his school. I do all I can to not scream at him to be careful. But he is. I’ve taught him and he’s careful. He stops at driveways and long before an intersection. He goes as fast as he can and then slams on the brake and fishtails. He looks back to take in the black mark he created on the sidewalk and then looks at me with a huge smile. He gives me a thumbs up and I give one back. Lincoln waves.

We drop off Brice at school and we visit with a mom or two each morning. It’s a lovely way to start the day. Brice takes off with his friends and then heads into school in a single file line when the bell rings, so Lincoln and I head off, me on foot and him in the jogger.

We used to have a plan, a route I’d take based on the day and how much time I had to walk. We’d head up towards Tahoe Park and walk through the grass, chasing up geese and looking out at the ski ramp before it was brought on land for the winter. We’d head down Haskell past where my cousin Frank and his wife Suzanne used to live, and then over the dam and wind our way through downtown. Some days we headed along the lake through the green manicured lawns of the subdivisions along the water, then up the secret sidewalk and come back home on our own street. It depended on the day, but usually I had it mapped with a clear route.

But these cold mornings leave me wanting to head back home to sit on a warm radiator, so instead, we walk wherever the sunlight hits. At the end of each block, at whatever intersection we find ourselves, we head toward the light. It warms our faces, and hopefully Lincoln’s head and hands, since he throws hats and mittens like baseballs. Instead he holds my hand as I lean over the jogger, and I try to keep them warm.

We wind through town mostly, past tiny little ranches and huge old Victorians and everything in between, the sun on our faces. We walk just as long and just as far probably, but we wander in a zig-zag in search of light and the warmth it provides.

I wouldn’t have done this, had it not been for the chill in the air. I’m a planner, you could say, and I like things in order. I’d have stayed on task and created a specific route.

But what if this is better? To have a goal in mind but not be really picky about the exact path that gets me there?

I’m planning only a block or an hour or a day ahead, because that is where the sun is shining right now. I’ll walk in the shade if we have to, because sometimes that’s all there is. But if I can, I’m choosing the warmest path, the one where the light is shining.

Lincoln the Shrieker

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Lincoln has been shrieking. A stupid loud, high-pitched noise that could make your ears bleed. He lets these rip for 20 seconds at a time, for a variety of reasons. It’s become like a habit. I’m not ashamed to say this to all of you: I HATE it.

I do. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. All the nails in a 2nd grade glass. Like that.

I don’t know when it started. Weeks ago, maybe? A month? A loooong time. And it only gets worse. He’s gotten smarter and he knows how to use what little devices he has in the world. So now the shrieks are a weapon.

In the midst of preparing to have my ears removed to solve this problem, I heard my mom say, “Just ignore him. He’ll knock it off.”

I hear her, in her nonchalant way, because with kids she just knew what to do. And I instantly knew that she was right.

She does that, tells me what I need to hear when I need to hear it. Little things, like how to finish a recipe that I can’t find or how to stop a 5 year old (momentarily, anyway) from being annoying. Or big things, like how to find my way when I feel lost in this roller coaster of life. I am convinced that she is still with me. Convinced in the same way that I know that the sun will go down this evening.

And the best part? As I miss her less, I feel her more. Like she could call out to me anytime from the next room.

And I won’t say the shrieking has stopped, but it’s wayyyy better.

Happy 1st Birthday to Lincoln!

My Lincoln.

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One year old today.

It’s surreal, this fact.

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This is us, one year ago this morning.

7 pounds 6 ounces, my biggest baby by over a pound.

My longest labor by over a mile.

Lincoln felt like a baby horse inside of me rather than a baby human, so I wasn’t surprised to see how strong he was right after birth, lifting his head off my chest while we laid there skin to skin. Eyes open, taking it all in, not even crying. So much like he is today. My mellow fourth baby who got the memo that he is not the center of the universe, just an equal part like the rest of us.

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Lincoln is all smiles. He cuddles with pillows and pets and people. He is a charmer, a sweet, daring little soul who cruises the staircases in this house like a pro. He crawls from room to room, chasing cats and the puppy and dragging trucks along with him, calling for Brice. He thinks I’m the funniest person in the house, which is nice. All my other babies thought someone else was funnier.

I noticed a family of four out on a bike ride in front of our house this week while I was working in the yard. I counted their kids and thought, “Four kids. That’s nuts!” And then I remembered that I, in fact, have four kids and I felt kind of ashamed for judging, not to mention silly for not remembering. My life is just my life and I think that I get caught up in the living of it that I forget to keep track of details. Like how many children I have, apparently.

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I remember when I was leaving Georgia to go to the hospital and deliver Holly, I was just convinced that I could not love this new baby as much as I loved Georgia. How could I? It didn’t seem possible, because we learn a whole new kind of love when we become mothers, don’t we? But when Holly was born, I realized- our love multiplies in direct proportion to how many kids we have, like magic. There is always more than enough. Even with four, there always seems to be at least enough. I may forget how many kids I have, but there is lots of love.

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And though it feels that I am lacking sufficient time for it all, I try to remember that my life is supposed to be full of needs right now. Lincoln will only be a baby so long, and babies fill your days with moments. Messy moments, needy moments, tender moments. A baby fills your life and your arms. There is room for little else. As they grow, they play and explore more on their own. They reach out to the next room and then the yard, to friends’ houses and school and sports and activities, and pretty soon they have moved right out of your house and life. They create a life of their own. It happens in the blink of an eye. I know this.

So I play with the baby and tend to his needs and this fills my life. And I write a paragraph or few pages here and there. The book I’m writing waits more patiently than a hungry kid. Some moments this is easier to take than others. Writing is part of who I am. I miss it when I can’t get there.

But before I know it, the time will be there for me to write without interruption. I have done this whole baby thing enough times to know that the fog and storms of life with small children do eventually lift.

So for now, the computer sits open to Word, waiting for me to finish something. Lots of things. And it will wait. I nurse my baby. I celebrate the gift of his presence in my life. This little everyday miracle that I lug around on my hip. My fourth. Dare I say, my last? Watching him leave babyhood right before my eyes feels nearly bearable, even though it truly feels like it’s time to be done. The tradeoff of no longer having a baby in your arms all the time is that you no longer have a baby in your arms all the time.

Happy first birthday, Lincoln Thomas. I love you with my entire being and you fill my heart with joy.

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Meet My Mess Monday — March 23rd

My current mess, at least the one that I’m tackling at this moment, is my dining room table. My whole dining room, really. It seems to be spreading.

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But I have a good reason for the mess. We’re taking a trip this week to New York City to see Georgia. We are so excited to see her school and take photos in the city and just have a nice vacation. And truthfully, I LOVE New York City. I love it like some old boyfriend that you just never quite get over.

So this is why my dining room table became command central for the seeds I’m planting and the wash I’m folding and the bags I’m packing. It’s nuts around here. But after I wade through all I feel obliged to bring, we’ll be heading to NYC!

As always, feel free to post and share your own messes, so that I don’t feel so alone in my own. Cause we all have messes, one way or another. 

The Little Voice

There is a little voice inside me. She whispers things like,

“Slow down.”

“Take it in.”

“Be thankful.”

Sweet and gentle, like a mother would speak to a young child. Some small encouragement in tough moments, or to remind me that I’ve done a good thing. It’s a great little voice. She says to be patient with my 4-year-old because he has no concept of time. It tells me that his dawdling pace is a good thing, as he will grow fast. He already has.

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“Slow down and look around. And listen.”

I try to listen.

But her voice gets buried underneath the craziness of my day. Her quiet whisper gets lost in the din of Paw Patrol episodes in full color through the TV. A squealing baby. The thunderous hooves of my horse-like puppy chasing the cat through the house. And the “to do lists” on the counter and in my head, adding items all day long, no matter how fast I cross them off. The cat with his paws under the bathroom door, or the baby with everything in his mouth, or a kid yelling for applesauce. Not five minutes of peace, at least not until Steve is home to help wrangle them.

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The alarms and calls for assistance, butts to be wiped and dogs to be taken out. They keep my day going, breathing me in and out like tides from dishwasher to the email to nurse the baby before nap. The day and weeks and months disappears with these moments, and I chase them all, once in a great while stopping to hear the soft voice tell me to be present where I am. Trying to remind me that chasing never got anyone anywhere.

This is hard to do. I am once again overwhelmed by the ride that is a couple small kids in the house. I do remember from my girls that it passes. I will wake up one day, just like that, and I will wonder where the hell a few years went. And I will sigh with relief, realizing that I can speak in full sentences or even paragraphs again without being interrupted. I can sleep through the night. Hallelujah! Everyone can wipe their own everything! The ride will slow and the kids will start growing up. Just as we grew up. Just as our parents grow old and die. Stop and notice or not, life marches on.

“We are but links in the chain,” whispers the gentle voice.

It’s a work in progress, this journey. Maybe we circle through over and over, the same battles and dreams, and that’s why they seem so familiar. We ebb and flow like a tide. Sometimes strong and bold and authentic and present, and other times curled up, bobbing along, just trying to make it through. It depends on the day, the part of life. As for me, I listen better some days than others.

“We are all doing the best we can.” She whispers calmly.

I believe this.

Right in this moment, where we are at today, we’re doing our best…

The lady who cut you off and then gave you the finger when you had the audacity to squeal your brakes as you swerved to miss her. She’s actually trying her best, too. She may very well be doing it badly, but I think she’s doing her best.

When I stop for 10 seconds and take real breaths in and out and make time to be still and be quiet and do yoga and be right here and now, then I remember that. And the world is a remarkably nicer place.

I hear her little voice and I remember that.

I have to choose to listen. She refuses to scream over the crazy.

She will patiently wait until I’m ready to listen.