Saturday, May 8, 2010

This Mother's Day...

I write a lot about the people in my life and have posted stories of individuals that were on my heart.  Really, it is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are so many in my life that move me and influence me, it will take the rest of my life to write of them all…which of course is my plan.

Right now, I am very moved as I think of my three children – Shay, Job and Anna.  I have talked about them in previous postings but want to go into more detail.  The idea for this started out as I began scanning old pictures of Shay to post on Facebook.  She wanted some pics of her as a child for a FB “look alike” week.  As a child, she resembled a young Natalie Wood and every Christmas when “Miracle on 34th Street” ran on TV, she was hit with “Did you know you look like that little girl in the Christmas movie?”   


I started looking through my myriad of pictures stored in boxes and albums for pictures of Shay.  I had already begun sorting through them a few months before and had separated many of them into categories…individuals, family, events and such.  So, the biggest challenge of the task was already done – I knew where they were!

As I sorted through the hundreds of pictures, memory upon memory collected over the years began to surface and come alive.  Births, parties, outings, bad haircuts, poverty, friends, joy and sadness…several lifetimes strewn before me in a sea of moments caught on film.  All of them stored away in my heart and mind, but the pictures bring them all back, as if they just happened yesterday, instead of 30 years ago.  It made me think of my children and what having them has meant to me and how it has changed my life.

So on this Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate my children.

We talk of parents and the lasting impact on our lives – words from our childhood can either help or haunt us forever.  But I wonder sometimes if my children know how much they influence me and the impact they have on my life, even though all are grown.  There are way too many things to list in this format, but here are some things that are close to my heart.

Does Anna know I reach for my tin of “Rosebud Salve” to put on my lips before any other chapstick because she likes it so?  That every time I see the blue tin with the red letters I think of her in her apartment in Brooklyn, standing in front of her full length mirror, “Rosebud Salve” in hand saying to me “You have to try this  mom, I love it”, as she extends her arm, pointing the round tin toward me.  She repeated this several times on that visit until I finally said yes to the tin of pink “goo”, and as I apply it to my lips she is pleased and says “isn’t it great…I love  this stuff!”

And yes, I do like it, but bought it mainly because it makes me think of her.   Does she know that one of my favorite gifts ever was the green scarf she gave me several years ago, and that every time I wear it, I think of how thoughtful a gift it was since it is green (my favorite color) and I love long, wide scarves.  Sometimes I will put it about my shoulders just to think of her when I miss her being closer.

Does Job know that many times when I cook, I have him on my mind?  As I look through my recipe books or new magazines, I see recipes and I think “Job would love this” and that in him I feel I have finally found someone who truly appreciates my cooking.  Not that others don’t, but with Job, because he is a chef, a foodie and enjoys creating for himself – he “gets” it.  Does he know that when I call him up to ask his advice on a recipe or ask him to help me prepare something, I don’t do it just to humor him or make him feel good, but I do it because I respect him and totally trust what he says.  That when I tell him his bruschetta is the best I have EVER had, I do mean it.  Does he know how proud I am to cook with him for events or just a family dinner?  I tell him all the time, but I wonder if he really knows.

There are so many things I could say about how Shay impacts me...her caring for others, her mothering, her biting words when I consider a purchase that does not sit well with her (“And what are you going to use THAT for?”).  But because Shay is my firstborn, made the biggest impact at her birth…well, really at her conception - as the beginning of her was the end of many things in my life - which was a good thing.  Of course, she had no control over that, but I credit her just the same.  I cannot negate her influence even though she had no say in the matter.  And the impact of the beginning of her lasts to this day.   I gave birth to Shay, but she gave life to me.

Shay's story has been told on many occasions.  But it is a fine story and bears repeating.

What started out as something that seemed could only lead to disaster, became the defining moment of my life and put me on a path that led to greatness.  I gave birth to Shay at the age of 14.  In the day of 2010, not such a rarity, but in 1973 in my circle of peers, it was unheard of.

I was a damaged, broken girl when Shay’s dad Dave came into my life.  I was a glue sniffing, cigarette smoking 7th grader that went from a straight A student in grade school to flunking out in middle school.  I had little confidence and went with the “wave” of my friends….which at the time was skipping school and the afore mentioned smoking cigarettes and sniffing glue.  It is well known that sniffing glue destroys your brain cells and Shay’s dad credits himself with saving my brain, as he introduced me to marijuana - and with that new introduction I exchanged one drug for another and gave up sniffing glue.  I must agree with him on that one, because the after effects of weed versus glue - really glue was not what we were sniffing, our chemical of choice was lacquer thinner, but I digress - were significantly less.  And I needed all the brains I could muster for the days ahead.

There is much more involved in the telling of that story, but I just wanted to set the tone so you can get a feel for the significance the “beginning” of Shay had.  Two very messed up kids, 14 and 16, hooked up; having no idea of how to make wise decisions in their own lives, let alone a child’s.  

But from the moment I realized I was pregnant, something changed in me.   I am not sure of all the emotions I felt, but I know I experienced a rebirth of sorts.  My life seemed to have found purpose and I felt responsible for this new being immediately.  I was aware, even at 14, that anything I did from that point on would have an impact on this baby.  Now, I was scared shitless, but scared or not, I began to change.  I stopped smoking both cigarettes and weed…we both did, her father and I.  And we started making plans for this new life we had created.

I no longer looked at life through my eyes only, but began to think of life with a child.  A great sense of responsibility took over and I went into “protection” mode and wanted to make sure our child would be taken care of.  Dave started saving money from his job (he had quit school) and we were making plans.  Now, these plans were crazy, because they included running away (to avoid the wrath of my father) and Dave delivering the baby at home (which was to be in St. Louis), but they were PLANS nonetheless and we began thinking of someone other than ourselves.

We did end up running away (what some refer to as “The Wilderness Story”), but I skip forward to her birth, which thankfully occurred safe and sound in a hospital in South Bend, Indiana (not St. Louis) after we were married.  She came out so fast after just one push in the delivery room that the doctor almost did not catch her and that really set the tone for her life. Shay always makes an exciting entrance and impact!
I wonder if Shay knows that her opinion is very important to me.  I trust the way I raised her and know that she has good sense and good instincts.  Does she know that I think of how she saved my life almost every day and I am grateful?  That even though the birth of her was the end of my “childhood”, but I really don’t mind and have never regretted it?  That the sweetness of her spirit was evident from the moment of her birth and that it encouraged me daily.

Of course, I have told my kids many of these things.  But sometimes people really don’t grasp or even believe it when they are told they changed someone’s life.  They just think you are being “nice” or telling them what they want to hear.  If my kids know me at all, they know that this is not my way…the word “nice” is not in the bible and I feel no compulsion to be nice for the sake of being nice.  I pretty much say what I mean and mean what I say.  So these words are true and they are heartfelt.

I honestly feel that if I never did anything else in my life from this point on, I would have no regrets because so much of my life has been spent raising my children.  Of course, I have a million things left I want to accomplish, but I am just saying that if some calamity came and took me from this earth, I know that I have walked out an eternity changing life by raising my three kids.  I have never felt anything was more important to do than that. 


Starting out having kids so young was a very interesting experience.  We definitely had to make some things up as we went along, since “How To Raise A Child” was not in our reading list at that point!  We were both strict and lenient at the same time, since we were teenagers and the desire for freedom was very strong in us, yet we also both drew on our upbringing to discipline.  

Add to that the element that we both accepted Jesus not long after we got married and you have a very interesting mix of 70’s Hippie/Jesus/Josh McDowell going on.  I thank God that Shay was my first because she was pretty easy going and helped keep the door open to want more kids because of our experience with her.

We truly settled into family life.  I learned how to cook and bake so we would not starve, but was never very adept at housekeeping.  When Shay was a year or so, we purchased our own home and decided to expand our family and Job was born.  Having a very active boy was a different experience from the “girly girl” Shay was and we became familiar with emergency rooms to get stitches and mend broken bones.  

One of Job’s favorite things to do was imitate
“The Incredible Hulk”.  He would go around the house stomping and roar, then rip open the front of the K-Mart purchased, flannel button down shirts he wore and buttons would fly.  I baby sat for a cute little girl at the time and she would run and hide screaming “Don’t kill me Hulk, don’t kill me!”  I knew when I heard it another shirt had bit the dust.

As I mentioned, Shay seemed the perfect child and was sweet and minded pretty well.  I just thought she could do no wrong…until kindergarten.  All of a sudden my image was shattered when she lied to me.  For some reason she decided she no longer wanted to go to school and told me one morning that school had been canceled.  Knowing this was not the case, I gave her several chances to “fess up” and tell the truth.  I went so far as to walk over to the phone and say “I am going to call your teacher right now and ask her”, very confident that this would stir the truth and she would confess the error of her ways.  No go.  She stood there firm, and said, “OK”, calling my bluff.  I had to put the scare tactics aside and just say straight up I knew she was lying and that she in fact did have school that day.  I think the issue was a little girl that was bullying her and she was afraid.  Shay was just barely 5 years old and very small.  Thinking that some big girl bully was harassing her caused mother bear to rise up inside and so I walked her to school (yes, there was a time when schools were within walking distance of your home) and had Shay point her out.  I just knew it was going to be some huge girl that had probably repeated kindergarten and was taking it out on my little baby.

I was surprised when Shay pointed to this little girl, no bigger than Shay who for some reason decided to use Shay as her anger outlet.  Being the young zealous Christian, I walked up to the girl and introduced myself and explained that people are not made to hit and be mean to, but to love and show kindness.  I talked firmly but lovingly to her and she listened, stone faced and not seeming to care.  I walked away thinking that it was probably a waste of time and hoping she would leave Shay alone.  Not long after that, I chaperoned a field trip with Shay’s class and guess who did not leave my side the whole trip?  That little girl…her face no longer a stone, but was smiling.  She held my hand all day and fell asleep on my lap on the bus ride back to school.  It was a lesson I have never forgotten…people respond to love and attention.

Shay grew into a loving, caring woman and all through her school years befriended the friendless.  On several occasions she brought home the stray soul, the young girl that no one else liked and needed to have a friend.  I have always loved that about her.

Job grew out of his “hulk” stage, but kept the superhero heart.  He was a very sensitive young boy and like Shay, had a heart for those who needed help.  On more than one occasion he stood up for someone who was being bullied by his classmates.  One of these times, when he was in the second grade, he was hurt badly by a mentally disturbed girl that had been held back more than once and was a lot bigger than even the boys in the class.  He stood up for someone she was bullying (throwing rocks at I believe) and she decided to throw him to the ground and strangle him.  The incident left him bruised in body and soul.  I had a teacher tell me that the girl was so strong that she could not physically restrain her alone.  Thankfully, it was the last day for the troubled young girl at that school.

Job’s desire to cook came pretty young and one year he decided to surprise me by making dinner.  I believe it was ravioli with wine sauce…the only problem was we had no wine, only rum and because it was a surprise, he did not want to ask 

 any questions. So, thinking alcohol is alcohol, he substituted the rum for the wine and proudly presented his meal to me.  It was quite a taste that creamy rum sauce, but being the proud mommy I ate it and smiled the whole way through.  And today those efforts paid off as he can cook like nobody else and makes some of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten.

Anna was born when Shay and Job where older – Shay was 11 and Job was 8.  They were excited about having a new baby and Shay quickly became her second mommy.  Anna’s beginning started with difficulty, something I wrote about in a previous post entitled “Queen Anna”.  She was very ill in her early childhood and she was small.  This inspired Shay one Halloween to dress her up to make her look like a “Raggedy Ann” doll and then set her on a shelf in her room among her other dolls and took her picture. Unfortunately, the only copy  I found was a bad one, but you get the idea.  I was always being asked if she was a "preemie".  Funny, as she has grown taller than both Shay and I!

It is amazing the impact that children have on your life always, not just when they are young.  Even though all of mine are grown (36, 33 and 25) they still influence my decisions and choices.  And, even though they are grown, they still remain my children.  Don’t get me wrong, they are adults, but there are times when they still look through the eyes of a child and expect “parental” behavior from me.

About 11 years ago, after their dad and I got divorced and Bill and I began dating this fact became clearer than ever.  Shay was newly married and 24, Job was living on his own and 22 and Anna 14 and still at home.  The divorce was probably hardest on her since she was the only one left at home and had only herself to commiserate with. So, her dislike of me dating (and then planning a marriage) was very understandable to me.  I was not prepared for Shay and Job’s dislike of it however.

So, after I heard through the “grapevine” that my kids were not happy (a good friend who had the sense to tell me the truth) I decided to sit my kids down, just “us” and let them rip…I wanted to hear exactly what they were upset about.

Turns out that they were still hurting over the divorce and really did not understand why it happened at all.  What was painfully obvious to me in my marriage (constant fighting, totally different goals and directions, a husband that was not thrilled about being married to me – just to name a few) they were oblivious to.  I made the mistake of thinking that because Shay and Job were “grown”, that they looked at it through adult eyes.  But as a wise friend told me at the time “No matter how old the child, they still look at you through the eyes of a child”.  So, to them, the bickering and such were business as usual.  As Job said to me in that sit down session “It was always that way”.  So, while I finally got fed up with it, they had grown accustom to it.  This is not to say they liked it that way, it was just the way things were.

Allowing them to be honest was hard, especially Shay; she has her mothers “way” and her cutting was the deepest as her words were sharp and to the point - she had some very strong opinions on this recent engagement.  With the help of God’s grace, I sat there, listening without too much protest, reliving once again the pain of divorce, which I honestly have to say I was quite pleased to forget, or at the very least put aside...something I had been able to do with the new love that had entered my life through Bill.  I was in love and giddy with it all…I really did not want to think anymore about the pain of the past.  The words they spoke brought me back down to earth and the reality of the world through their eyes…that was a very different perspective.  So, once again, my “mommy” genes had to kick in. 

The guilt, the sense of failure, feeling responsible for causing my children pain – it all flooded back in as I listened to their side.  There were so many unanswered questions for them.  So, together, we went through the divorce, why it happened, how it happened and so forth.  Information we had tried to protect them from came out and it helped to shed light I believe.  In the end, Job paid me the greatest compliment I ever got I think by saying something like “Hey mom, I have made a lot of mistakes in my life but things always seem to work out for you, so I think you know what you are doing”.  In that statement I think he was saying he respected me…and that means a lot.  In a very short time they accepted Bill, love him and he has added to their life and they have added to his.
And as much as I love my children and wanted them to accept my marriage to Bill, if our “sit down” did not change their views, I still would have married him.  Because while raising them has been one of my greatest accomplishments, it is just that, something that has been accomplished.  I was not seeking their approval for my marriage, but wanted to hear why they were opposed and try to bring understanding.  Thank God it worked.  We are never “done” being parents, but our focus changes. I raised them to be responsible, caring and able to make their own decisions as adults.  I was walking out what I had taught them.  They had begun their own lives that did not depend on mommy.  After raising kids for 25 years, mommy was now beginning a life that did not depend on her kids.  It included them, but was not centered around them any longer.  I had begun to look to my future, without kids at home, realizing that in a short time, my nest would be empty and theirs was just beginning to fill.

It’s the double edge of being a parent…you parent your children with the purpose of preparing them to be on their own and be able to care for themselves.  You love them with all your heart just to let them go.  Children have the same challenge…one day their parents will (hopefully) decide that raising kids is not their primary purpose any longer and may move away, start new careers, go back to school.  We love each other enough to let go to be able to walk out the adventure that is our life.

Investing in someone’s life is one of the reasons we are placed here on earth.  We bring glory to our Creator through our love, care and commitment to His creation.  He entrusts us with the power to create offspring and if we are wise, we realize just how grand that is.  I say again, that if I do nothing else in this lifetime, I am assured that I have changed the world and invested in the future by what I have in my children.  I have taught them that to love is to live, that as a parent there are times you put your needs aside to give your children what they need, that to discipline them is to love them, that life isn’t always fair and when it isn’t look for the higher road and that in their lives they have the power to change another’s life.

Our family has been broken, mended, blended and expanded.  It's never been easy, but has always been an adventure.  We have our disagreements at times, but we get over them quickly and have learned we don't always have to see things the same way. We love, enjoy and respect each other.  Life goes forward and the next generation begun.  I am fortunate to be alive and well to witness it.

So, this Mother’s Day, 2010 I say to my kids I love you. When you become parents, you understand the depth of this love. I am so proud of you all and not only love you with a mother’s love, but I like you.  You are fun to be with and I enjoy your company.  I admire each of you and know that the world is a better place because of your lives.  Your ideas, thoughts and dreams are a part of me and important to me.  I chime in with my opinion when I think it might be helpful and try to keep my mouth shut when I sense it is best to do so.  And even though you are all grown, on your own and well able to take care of yourselves, I would fight anyone or anything to the death to protect you from harm. 

Hopefully you understand some of the challenges your parents went through and look back and can say we did our best.  Many mistakes made, that is a fact.  But I don’t regret it, laugh at much of it and treasure all of it.