Fearless

I had no intention of doing any more than dangling her little feet in the water.  I thought the newness of cool waves lapping at her feet, sand squishing between her chubby toes would suffice.  It was early evening, so I hadn’t even changed the baby into her swimsuit; the sun would go down, and no one would want to swim. Instead, I found myself struggling to pick up a baby who had doubled over my arm reaching towards the water.  When I tried to straighten her and carry her, she allowed her body to transition from completely limp to completely tense–whichever would successfully allow her to slide beneath my grasp.

I marveled that evening as she moved through the water, determined to keep traveling ahead.  She was undeterred by the small waves that would meet her and pressed on.  Her orange tank-top dragging across her body with the weight of water, she continued to crawl with a small grin on her face.  She purposely dipped her head into the ocean to feel the cool on her cheek, only stopping momentarily, and then she continued.

Watching her move with such grace, I thought to myself how free she looked.

Fearless.

I envied her.  To be able to look at something so vast, so huge, yet jump in without hesitation is not an action to which I can relate.

I can relate more to my son who, upon seeing the ocean for the first time since he was a baby exclaimed, “It’s too scary!  It’s too scary!”  I was surprised by his reaction.  He went on to say that the ocean was so big, but almost immediately, he, too, braved the scary sea.

My second-born wanted to be brave; she wanted to run towards the waves, but her fears kept her dancing along the shore.

Until the next day when she gripped the back of her daddy’s neck, wrapped her legs around his waist, and allowed him to carry her through the waves.  I watched as cries left her open mouth, but then gradually the black hole I could see from afar began to close.  She trusted her daddy.

And why should any of my children have been afraid?  If they turned their heads away from the sea in front of them, they would’ve noticed a creased brow over the eyes of one watching with concern, not turning her eyes from the fearless babe unaware of how easily a wave could knock her over.  They would’ve known as soon as they took their first step into the deeper water, their mommy would’ve been right behind them.

Or behind the lens, capturing their every move, their brave moments in the waves, stood their Daddy. With each click of the camera, a smile spread across his lips from the joy of watching his kids play.  He stood proud, cheering on his children with each memory he preserved.

And when I turn my eyes from the vast sea in front of me, I am reminded that I no longer need to fear.  I look into the eyes of my Father and know He is guiding my every step as I pick up my foot that has sunk into the sand and push through the water lapping at my ankles.  I walk and feel the cool on my calves and then the back of my knees.  As the first waves splash around my thighs and more are forming in the distance, I turn back with worry written on my face.  But the eyes of my Father speak, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

It is then that I begin to play in the water and splash until I taste salt on my lips. It is then that I know that I, too, can be fearless.

Sleep

“Daddy, the sun’s outside!!!” she hollered in excitement from the top of the stairs.  “It’s morning!”  Little feet began to scamper down the steps.

In fact, it was 7:40 p.m., and yes, outside was still light, but the sun was not shining.  Hannah Grace was doing her best to avoid bedtime.  Her brother and sister were already tucked away for the night, sleeping peacefully, but this little girl had no interest in sleep.

“I’m not tired!” she insisted, as I walked her back up the stairs her hand in mine. She probably wasn’t tired.  She had snuck away with her sister’s pacifier into her own room at 11 a.m. that morning and proceeded to take a three hour nap.  I thought about waking her up, but I knew she was exhausted, having still not recovered from her overnight visit a few days ago to her grandparents followed by dinner at her other grandparents the next night.  She reminded me that night of why I no longer allow her to take naps.

I joined Matt again at the table, and we tried once more to enjoy our bowls of baked ziti.  I pushed around my pasta and noticed my own tiredness creeping in.  Perhaps I would go to bed early that night.

We talked a little bit about our days and what we wanted to accomplish with our evening.  I was beginning to enjoy the quiet when we were interrupted once more.

“I see the MOON!!!  It’s time to wake up!”

Clearly, if seeing the sun wouldn’t get her out of going to bed, then seeing the moon had to be the answer.  Matt pushed back his chair as I let out a sigh.  And so the bedtime game would continue.

I cleared the table while Matt stayed in Hannah Grace’s room, using his body to barricade the door.  As I rinsed our bowls spotted with red sauce, I checked the time.  8:40 p.m.  I pulled out the bottom tray in the dishwasher while doing a mental inventory of all the tasks I needed to complete before 24 and those I could accomplish while watching the show.

The truth is, I had no interest in the show anymore, but 24 had become somewhat of a tradition in our marriage.  After our first Christmas as a married couple, watching the season one box set while spooning on the couch, we had continued to watch every season together.  I wasn’t going to abandon the ritual with three hours left in the series.

The dishes rattled as I pushed in the tray and quickly moved to the laundry room.  I just needed to throw the clothes in the dryer, take a quick shower, and then we could sit together and watch our show.  I could upload pictures while 24 was on and write my blog.  My mind was blank, but I knew I wanted to write; I hoped inspiration would hit once I started typing.

I finished the chores and swiftly went up the stairs, allowing a huge yawn to escape my mouth. I met Matt in the hallway.

“I don’t think she’s asleep,” he said, “but she’s quiet.”

“Okay, I’m just going to take a quick shower before 24.”

I started to walk away when,”Daddy, don’t leave. I’m not asleep, yet,” came from the two-year-old’s room.  I kept walking, not wanting to get sucked into the bedtime drama before getting my shower.  Thank goodness for DVRs–it was already 9:00.

Hannah Grace eventually went to sleep, and Matt and I eventually made it to the couch to watch TV.  I, half-heartedly, listened to 24 while uploading pictures to Flickr so that I could order them from Snapfish.  I really only wanted our most recent family picture from Easter to send to our sponsored child, but my gift card would cover a lot more prints.

“Okay,” I thought. “I’ll just order a few more prints and then call it a night after 24. I’m too tired to write.”

I didn’t want to leave a job half-finished, and I did need to print our daughter’s first birthday pictures–no, not Chloe’s. Hannah Grace’s–the daughter who turned one almost two years ago.

24 was over, and I only had $10 worth of prints uploaded.  My gift card was for $20.  I proceeded to spend another hour selecting each picture that would find a spot in my half-empty photo album, empty slots that begged to be filled with images of laughter and babies, birthdays and loved ones.  I sipped the chai tea Matt had made for me, knowing it was decaf but wishing it would help pry my eyelids open.

Why did I insist on continuing?  Couldn’t I go to bed and finish tomorrow?

“No!” I scolded myself.  “That’s exactly why I don’t have any pictures of the kids in albums–it always gets pushed off until tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll still have chores, and I want to write.  I can’t keep letting days go by without writing.  And I can’t get any of this junk done during the day because the kids don’t nap.  I don’t get free time. This is my free time.  Midnight.”

I felt my blood pressure rising as I argued with myself, the good angel telling me to walk up the stairs to bed, the little demon pressing me to continue.  After all, Matt had been trying to get the wireless printer to work for the last two hours, too.  Neither one of us was ready to call it a night.

I finally made my last selection, confident that I was close enough to that $20 mark.  Tax and shipping should get me there.  I scratched off the back of the gift card, little silver flecks falling in my lap, revealing the coupon code.  I carefully entered the numbers in the box and hit enter.

Snapfish did not recognize this coupon code.

Okay. I tried again, pushing each number key with my index finger, double-checking my entry as I went along.

Same error message.

I flipped my gift card over. Shutterfly. The gift card was for Shutterfly, not Snapfish.

At that moment, the fatigue knocked me down like a wave crashing to meet the shore.  I had spent two hours, arguing with myself the whole time, in an attempt to accomplish this task.  Just something.  I wanted to accomplish one thing that wasn’t related to housework or kids, yet I had nothing to show for my effort.

I angrily packed up my laptop and woke up Matt.  He had snoozed next to me on the couch, giving up on his own venture a few minutes before.

As I wearily walked up the stairs, I thought to myself, “Why do I do this?  Why do I fight sleep?  I’m no different than Hannah Grace….”

I, just like my daughter, had searched for every excuse to stay up when my body was begging sleep:

“The sun’s shining!” ” There are dirty dishes!”

“The moon’s out!” ” I must print some pictures!”

“I’m not tired!” “I’m so tired…but”

I fight sleep in a quest to feel productive, in a quest to elevate my worth.  The more things I can check off my to-do list, the more examples I can cite for my excellence as a mother, as a wife.

I fight sleep so that the next day I can fight with my children and my husband, my body full of fatigue, my mind empty of patience.  I fight sleep so that I can fight with God about the way I should act, about how hard my life is, about why I can’t concentrate when I pray…yawn…

I fight sleep…when really…I should just go to bed.

Wax and Wean

When she was brand new, her little hand would hug my pinky as our tummies touched.  As she grew, she let go of my finger to slide her hand on my side, a hand that was always cold and would cause me to catch my breath and arch my back for a brief second.  I would then relax and watched as she was soothed to sleep.

In the early months of her life, we would drift to sleep together.  I’d catch myself, jerk awake at the pain in my neck from sleeping upright, to see she had unlatched and was sound asleep.  Now, she stays awake and yells, “No!” when I begin to sing, my indication that bedtime has commenced.

For months, I have threatened my husband with plans for my weekend alone:  “I’m leaving as soon as Chloe turns one!”  Once one, I could begin to wean her.

One happened a week ago, and I have found myself ambivalent.  How I want my freedom, yet, how I don’t want to stop breastfeeding my baby.

People say that breastfeeding produces a bond between mother and child unlike anything else.  I’m not going to make the experience out to be something more than it was.  There were definitely times when I felt an amazing warmth and closeness toward my baby; I can still remember the first time all of my babies successfully latched on to me.  The apprehensive moments before, wondering if we would succeed, and then–he did it! She did it! She did it!  We’re nursing!  I knew I was blessed.

However, I know a mom can feel an amazing bond when feeding her baby with a bottle, too.  To hold one’s baby and watch as she drinks, gulping down the milk that will produce those endearing dimples in her squishy thighs–how could one not fall in love?!

The magic of breastfeeding for me, though, was knowing that God had equipped me with everything my baby needed; she became chubby solely off of what my body produced, and she depended on me alone to nourish her in that way.

And so that magic day has passed, and I sit.

For five days I didn’t even make a game plan as I had with the other two babies–until two days ago.  I was watching a friend’s two-year-old, in addition to my two-year-old, and the mid-morning nursing session would have been a little complicated.  So we didn’t do it.  Chloe was fine; she was distracted by all the fun of a new friend, but my heart ached a little.

Then, yesterday, we skipped that meal again.  Caleb and Hannah Grace had their last-day-of-preschool picnic during the time I would normally nurse, so we didn’t.

And I look at the clock now and know that in a few minutes Chloe will wake up from her nap, and I don’t have any distractions for her today.  She will want to nurse, and I will want to give in.  Or maybe she won’t want to nurse, and that fact might bother me more.

Motherhood can be crazy–we long for our babies to crawl and walk and talk, loving the excitement each new age and stage brings, yet when they’re four, a small part of us wishes that they were still that chubby bundle of giggles that didn’t mind if we squeezed them and rocked them in our arms until they fell asleep on our chests.

I could postpone weaning–there’s no rule that says I must stop today–but how I look forward to no more days of children drinking ketchup and maple syrup out of the refrigerator while Chloe is drinking something a little more nutritious. I look forward to scheduling appointments based on the day that I’m available, not when a baby needs to eat.  I look forward to a small taste of freedom.

And I feel so selfish admitting that fact, but I know I shouldn’t.  For almost five years I have been pregnant or nursing; I only stopped nursing the other two when fitting them on my lap with a competing baby bump became uncomfortable.  My body is ready to rediscover normal.

But to my heart, what I’ve done for the last four years is normal, and my heart knows that I might not experience this normal again.

So as I sit and tear up a little thinking about my baby growing up and how she might be my last to nurse, I also say a silent prayer to God, thanking Him for this experience.  I’ve been blessed with three children who easily nursed and shared in this beautiful bond with me, but more importantly, I’ve been blessed with three beautiful children.

Ten Reasons to Join a Gym

10. You’ll spend so much money on your gym membership each month, you won’t have money to eat fast food.

9. If you love looking at yourself, especially when you’re not wearing make-up, the gym’s plentitude of mirrors will not disappoint!

8. When your kids are acting crazy, you have a babysitter for an hour or so–assuming you can actually get your crazy kids ready and in the minivan before childcare closes.

7. The thrill of competition!  Keep moving up the speed of the treadmill every time the person next to you does.  It’s always fun to find out that the lady 20 years your senior is in better shape than you.

6. You can make friends, that is if you go to the gym consistently enough and at the same time to meet up with the other 1% of people who keep a set routine.

5. You no longer will have an excuse to be completely uninformed about the state of the world–the news on the TV and the disgruntled man on the bike next to you will give you all the soundbites you need to engage in a thoughtful conversation.

4. You’ll get a great aerobic workout walking laps around the gym while looking at all the weight machines you’d like to try when everyone else leaves.

3. After a great workout, you have justification to eat the huge bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese waiting for you in the refrigerator.

2. The gym’s a great place to try the technique of “muscle confusion“–you know, go to the gym one week, then skip the next.

1. It sounds impressive to say, “I know I need to clean this nasty floor, but I’m going to the gym because I really want to stay healthy and fit for my children.”  Whatever works, right?

Join ohamanda for some more TopTenTuesday fun!

Civic Duty and the Crazy Old Bat

Caleb, Chloe, and Hannah Grace looked on as their mother visited with their kids.  She sat with a stern look while the children obediently, albeit reluctantly, engaged in polite conversation.

“Grandma, I hit a double last night and got an RBI.  We ended up winning our game,” said Caleb’s son, the most talkative of the grandchildren.

“Very good,” his grandmother nodded. “Your father was excellent at sports.”

“What about you?” the old woman directed her question at the pretty blonde girl.

“I’m still dancing, Grandma.  I have my jazz recital coming up in a few weeks. You can come, if you want.”

“Hmmph,” snuffed her grandmother.  “If I wanted to watch half-naked girls dancing all over the place, I’d turn on HBO.  I can’t believe your mother lets you get up on stage looking like a floozy.  Thanks to the girls who went to Woodstock, you teenagers think you need to take off your clothes all the time to impress people.  Well, you’re not impressing me!”

The pretty blonde turned her head slightly so that she could roll her eyes, crossed one leg over the other, and cupped her chin in her hand.  They had all heard this story a million times, and she wasn’t interested in learning about the beginning of the downfall of society any more.

“Looking back, do you think Mom ever showed signs of having dementia–I mean, earlier on in life?” Chloe asked her brother and sister.  She tucked her legs under her and shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position on the long green couch where she had been resting.

Hannah Grace looked up thoughtfully from her place on the couch, but it was Caleb who spoke first.

“I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  And I don’t know why, but this one event always stands out in my mind.”

Of course, Caleb jumped right to the end of the story, not knowing or understanding the thoughts in his mother’s mind that led to this one moment.  He didn’t remember the events of the day that helped create his mother’s state of mind. If he had, this particular event would’ve taken a very different spot in his memory than it did.

There wasn’t anything special about this day many years back in the old woman’s life.  In fact, she would’ve told you the day was anything but special.  The 30-something year old woman was convinced she was raising little elves, grappling at her knees, whining their high-pitched requests all day long.  No one was listening to her, and she was so tired–not just physically tired but mentally exhausted.

It was one of those days when she doubted her ability as a mother.  She wondered many times, “Am I doing my children more harm than good by staying home?  Should I just a get a job and make all of us happy?”  Of course, she didn’t want to go back to work, but she felt ineffective.  She tried to discipline her children, but nothing seemed to stick–time-outs, they were pointless; swats on the bottom–they made her feel guilty.  How could she correct her children’s behavior if she didn’t even know in which method she believed?

When she heard her husband’s car pull into the driveway, she left the dinner she was attempting to prepare to meet him.  She gave him the baby that was on her hip and left the two little elves that were following at her heels.  Amidst the cries of, “Daddy, Daddy!” she fled to the mailbox.  She pulled out the stack of mail and began flipping through the long envelopes.

She began her slow walk back towards the house and stopped suddenly.  Mr. Davis looked up from the children gathered around his ankles and headed down the driveway towards her.

“What’s wrong?” he questioned, concerned by the look on his wife’s face.

And it was at this point in the story that Caleb began.

He described how the crazy old lady bent down and scooped up her daughter, swinging her around.  She then grabbed Caleb and gave him a huge kiss on the cheek.

“Nothing,” she answered, smoothing the hair on the baby’s head, a smile forming on her lips.  “Nothing at all.”

She turned this particular envelope around to show her husband the dark letters that stood out through the plastic window. She actually had tears in her eyes.

“I have jury duty.” The words left her mouth like a sigh of relief. She continued on into the house, a slight bounce in her step.

“Caleb,” Hannah Grace chimed in, “I don’t think Mom’s being excited about jury duty had anything to do with her dementia.”

“I know,” Caleb said.  “I guess her reaction seemed strange to me, especially later on after I learned what jury duty was.”

Chloe looked over at the kids.  Caleb’s son had just said something to annoy the pretty blonde, and she slapped him hard on the arm.  “Maybe,” Chloe said.  “But I think I understand.”

If you’d like to read more short stories in “The Crazy Old Bat” series, click on “Crazy Old Bat” in the tag cloud or the links below:

The Elephant in the Room: A Short Story

New Year’s With the Crazy Old Bat

The Crazy Old Bat and Football

The Heart of the Matter

In honor of Mother’s Day, I am linking up with Lisa-Jo, a.k.a. the Gypsy Mama, to explore why moms matter. If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to visit her website.  Not only is Lisa-Jo an incredible writer, but she has wonderful insight into pursuing a relationship with God.  You will be blessed by your encounter!

I know full and well the importance of Mom.  When I taught high school, I watched teenaged girls crumble under the weight of their grief after the loss of their mothers, unable to focus on schoolwork, maybe just not caring.  After all, how did Language Arts even compare to a day without their mothers?  I remember a friend from college who went to the doctor every time he had the slightest cold; his mother had died from cancer when he was 13.  And even after 16 years without my Nana, I see the longing in my own mom’s eyes when she talks of her mother.

Some friends share delightful stories of their mothers, while others are consumed with bitterness for the wounds their mothers created.  No matter the story, all have a place in their hearts that wants to hold fond memories and affection for the women who bore them.

My youngest just turned one.  Lately, I have spent a lot of time looking back over the past year, and I find many moments of ambivalence. In one moment I love deeply as my baby lay her head on my chest, the next I struggle to suppress the desire to yell at my children in frustration.  In one moment, I thank God for the gift of my new daughter, the next I question why we ever thought having three kids in three years was a good idea.  I look at my writings from the past year, many used as a method to unburden my soul and work through my own guilty feelings, equally as many filled with smiles as I laughed at the follies of myself and my children.

When I think about this past year, there is so much I want to do over. I don’t want my children to remember me losing control, not showing them tenderness and patience. I want the day I die to be filled with tears over losing the mother who created the delightful stories, not the mother who created the wounds that never healed.  Yet every time I find myself dwelling too long in guilt and despair, the kindness of God softly nudges me like a cool breeze, prompting me to move away from that place that He did not create for me.

This week, I searched my mind for why moms matter, and writing from the perspective of a daughter, I could fill pages and pages of why my mom matters to me. However, I had a much harder time writing from the perspective of the one who matters.  Why do I matter?  And because I couldn’t answer without falling into that place of guilt, God spent time with me so that I could answer this question.

When God chose to save humanity, He did so through His Son, Jesus.  Most of what we know about Jesus is from the start of His ministry when He was around the age of 30.  God’s plan could have started with this God-Man sent from heaven at age 30, dropped in the middle of the desert, suddenly appearing before John the Baptist to get baptized. Yet we know Mary carried Jesus in her womb, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling numerous prophesies about the Messiah.

I don’t pretend to know the mind of God,why He chose to send Jesus as a baby, but this week I couldn’t stop thinking about Mary.  Whenever I think about Mary, I think about this woman God chose to carry His Son, calm and mild, the perfect mother.  But she wasn’t perfect; she was just chosen.

I wondered if she ever cried herself to sleep at night, overwhelmed by the task put before her.  Did she ever cry simply because she had a bad day with her children? Did she ever wish she spent a little more time hugging and kissing and less time allowing frustration to consume her?

I picture Mary going about her daily tasks while a young Jesus looked on. He saw a hard-working mother, a mother who loved her children and wanted to please God.  He was a recipient of her affection.

And as all children do, Jesus carried a special place in His heart for His mother, so much so that some of His last words on the cross were for Mary, ensuring she was cared for after His death and Resurrection: “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home'” (John 19: 26-27).

I have found comfort in the fact that Jesus belonged to a family.  As God, He already knows everything, yet by coming to Earth and, in the great mystery of our faith, clothing Himself in humanity while not losing His divinity, He experienced the mother-son relationship. He witnessed and received the blessings of a good mother, all the while being the source from whom we receive blessings.

When I find myself discouraged and disheartened, I remember that He knows. I receive strength and comfort knowing that my Lord took on the role of a human, felt the emotions I feel, saw the struggle that mothers have, and tasted the joy–the joy that a mother brings to the heart of her child. That joy is where He wants me to focus.

I may not be perfect, but I, too, have been chosen.  God chose me to be the mother of Caleb, Hannah Grace, and Chloe, a calling I do not take lightly.  It is a calling I am worthy to take because I matter–I matter to God, and I matter to my children.  And when it comes down to it, nothing else really matters.

Happy Mother’s Day.  May God give you the strength to fulfill your calling with peace, joy, and laughter.

A Poem to My Daughter

I was nervous before your arrival.

The frustrations and fears I was carrying as I carried you–

could that tension pass onto you?

You didn’t give me time to think–

sudden pain, a few pushes, and then

perfection.

Your sweet cry, little fingers and toes,

I loved you before I knew you.

With each month that passed, reassurance came.

While craziness circled around us,

you exuded peace and calmed my soul.

Each night we rock, each night I feel your little hand on my side.

You have grown, filling my lap and my heart.

As I count my blessings, I remember your smile,

a smile that has filled my chest with warmth and peace

when I have felt undeserving.

You, who I didn’t know,

completed the picture.

Each day I drink of the joy on your face,

and I find the desire to begin again,

the desire to face the day anew, washed clean of yesterday,

determined to hug a little more and frown a little less.

The lessons from a baby well-received

as you trust me, relax in my presence, giving

your Smile, God’s grace to His daughter,

a mother, humbled by His wonderful gift.

Happy Birthday to my sweet Chloe.  You are my treasure!

10 Parenthood Mysteries

10. It is possible for a child to spend nine months in your womb, carry half of your DNA, and somehow emerge not looking a darn thing like you.

9.  You can take your child to the doctor with a 105 degree fever and be told, “He’ll be okay.  It’s just a virus” and that actually be true.

8. The grandparents swear that your children are angels EVERY TIME they spend the night, which is interesting since they turn into demons immediately upon their return home.

7. The same son whose teacher  refers to him as ‘nurturing’ and ‘loving’ to all the little kids at preschool has a daily habit of purposely plowing over his toddler sister.

6. Your child amazingly does not suffer from malnutrition, even though the last time he ate what you cooked for dinner was two years ago.

5. Your children fight naps every day, yet you would give up your gall bladder in exchange for a nap once a week.

4. Somehow your child’s 15 minute nap in the car takes the place of his three hour afternoon nap.

3. When your kids stay up two hours past their bedtime, they wake up one hour earlier than usual.

2. You were sure of how you would handle every situation before you had kids thanks to your parenting books.  Now, you want to return the books to the author, along with your kids, for a long weekend.

1. Even though your kids drive you crazy every day, it is inevitable that you will miss them and call them at grandma’s before the night is over.

What mystifies you?

Top Ten Tuesday this week is hosted by itscome2this while OhAmanda is traveling as a blogger with World Vision to the Dominican Republic.

Stay tuned this week–another Crazy Old Bat short story is in the works!