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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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.

Thankful for the “to do” list

wpid-2014-10-06-22.17.39.jpg.jpegI woke up today with a “to do,” list a mile long. A shower to caulk, which I’ve never done before and didn’t have the supplies for, so add, “learning to caulk,” and going to Menards with a  20 pound 4 month old baby to that list. A yard full of bushes needing to be dragged to the back yard. A sink full of dishes and a dishwasher that is thankfully clean, but full. Laundry on the steps and in the washer and dryer, another three loads waiting to be folded. Three kids going four different places today that need me to pick up and drop off. A party here to get ready for this weekend. Georgia to get organized, to take shopping and help pack and reserve a hotel for, as she leaves for college on Tuesday.

And then there is my job, which I sort of think doesn’t exist because I work from home, but it is still work. There are always photos to edit and send to customers, emails to answer, or phone calls to return. And my book to promote. But the book is not on fire so the poor thing gets neglected the most. I do what I can til I’m exhausted. Then I start again. And it’s okay, because I love my life. But it’s a lot some days.

Do you see why I’m all set to feel sorry for myself this morning? But then something happened and I couldn’t really do that anymore. The whole big freaking list I just made suddenly became small and insignificant, full of blessings brimming beneath the responsibility.

A woman in our town passed away suddenly. She was the mother of some friends of my girls. Just like that, she was gone, leaving kids behind to mourn her passing.

We live in a small town. The degrees of separation almost don’t exist. We are all connected. Our kids are in the same plays, the same school, the same choirs. I was not friends with that mom and we barely spoke but our lives travel the same concentric circles around our kids. She may not be someone I know, but in a town this size, this hits too close to home. Makes me feel like I dodged some random bullet flying by. Because in the blink of an eye, she’s gone and her kids are motherless. And I am still here, with my to do list a mile long, caulking my tub and hauling bushes through the garage with my four year old, dragging the baby nearby in a stroller. Thankful.

I have to believe that there is a lesson and a purpose in everything. It’s harder to do in the face of such raw horrific sorrow. But in the moments when we have to face the tragedy of fleeting mortality, we get to see that we are still alive. That we get to do dishes and laundry and change diapers and run errands. We get to kiss skinned knees and put crabby kids down to nap. We get to learn something new and collapse at the end of the day against a husband that we love.

We get another day to be thankful for.