Fa La La La La

Deck the halls with empty wrappers…fa la la la la la la la la! Tis the season to be slobs, fa la la la la la la la la. Don we now our fresh, clean laundry, fa la la la la la la la la. Because our mother is an enabler, fa la la la la la la la la…

Aaaahhhh, Christmas…the most wonderful time of the year indeed. I should have been born in the North Pole. Buddy the Elf must be my brother, Clark Griswold has to be my dad and I’m pretty sure I’m somehow related to Cindy Lou Who. My visions of Christmas grandeur begin well before Thanksgiving as I plot and plan exactly what the house will look like as well as what I will wear on which day from my extensive collection of Christmas-related clothing; I begin listening to and watching intently the people whom I love to see what would delight them most to receive and consult the all powerful Amazon Prime to make dreams come true. I plan elaborate get-togethers to gather all our friends and family to partake of the joy that is Christmas, painstakingly planning everything down to the tiniest detail. My expectations are high. The pressure I put on myself is slightly sadistic, but totally worth it when I pull it off and I can sit back and relax. And that’s when it happens. The Post-Christmas Depression.

Christmas evening a swift and merciless flood of sadness enveloped me like a fog as I sat alone amidst the chaotic remnants of the fleeting excitement of the morning, the sounds of giggling and tearing wrapping paper echoing in my ears and nothing to look forward to but cleaning, undecorating and the hollowness of my house, depleted of children. The dog offered little in the way of comfort as she wrestled with her Christmas Llama and then whined to go outside. Christmas evening has taken this form for many years, as my children would leave in the afternoon to spend the remainder of the break with their dad. I would take solace in visiting with, and then after she moved, talking with my mom Christmas evening and telling her about all the things the kids got. She would always tell me how great of a shopper I was, how lucky my kids were to have me as their mom and warn me that I better spend the money she gave me for Christmas on myself, although she knew I never would. This Christmas marked the first I was unable to continue that tradition. I found a tiny Santa hat and placed it on her urn. I’m sure she would appreciate my irreverence. 

Sadness never lasts long in my heart these days, however, as I have much to be thankful for and many amazing adventures to look forward to in this new chapter. I bought Addison, newly 21, a Sangria last night, for instance; as I ordered it the earth was spinning like the time Buddy the Elf found out he was human, the realization that my first born is legally old enough to drink competing with the image of her as a toddler asking for juice indelibly etched in my soul. But there I sat with this young woman whom I raised, who has not only survived having me as her mom, but somehow is thriving and of whom I could not be more proud. We came home to a pot of soup made by Ayden so his sister and I could have dinner – the same kid who, when I would ask for one of his Doritos, would break me off a 1cm triangle. Avery’s last year at home is swiftly coming to a close, and it has been such a privilege to watch him grow into the young man who insists on being financially independent (except when he needs a new tire) and who washes and dries his own clothes (folding will happen soon, I can feel it). And then there’s Aubrey, who at age 14 is a model of compassion and obedience, respectful behavior and self-sufficiency. Her room is always clean, she never complains and her tone of voice brings about my full cooperation.

I almost got struck by lightning…

2020 is going to be fabulous, despite the hiccups of adolescence. If the first 3 are any indication, this too shall pass and one day the memories of a house full of children won’t trigger sadness, but instead thankfulness and joy for the privilege of getting to be a mama. 

I love this new chapter. I hope this book never ends, even if some of the chapters involve pain and suffering, because the ink with which it is now written is consecrated in divine purpose. Proverbs 19:21 – “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

It’s NOT a Bird, or a Plane…

I woke up to take Aubrey to school, grabbed a sweatshirt, went to put it over my head and realized Day Two after a gymnastics party for a seven-year-old is painful for people who arrogantly believe they can swing from a horizontal bar without any conditioning. At all. Ever. 

Yesterday I was so proud of myself as I marveled at how I must be in great shape not to be hurting from pretending I was Mary Lou Retton. Day One after gymnastics is extremely misleading. I imagine my muscles making fun of me as the lactic acid built up and waited to ambush like ninjas in parts of my body I didn’t even realize could hurt. I went from patting myself on the back yesterday to wincing with every swipe of deodorant this morning. 

While being in pain is not pleasant, I am reminded every time I inhale, or exhale, or reach for a pencil, that not all of me is strong. In fact, most of me is not. I have run through life sometimes like I don’t need any help. I’ve bought the lie that asking for help is a weakness, and I am guilty of the worst kind of pride – the kind that shuts people out and creates distance. It has all been counterproductive, to say the least.

And then came the destroyer of every wall I had and the soldier on guard, protecting my heart and guiding me through my foolishness with a voice I can hear – a voice wrapped in love and genuine concern for my future, ever respectful of my need to prove things to myself, never asking for me to be anyone other than who I am. Here I stand, disarmed and as emotionally naked as I have ever been. There was a time when this state of being was my worst nightmare. All I could ever envision vulnerability being was dangerous, when in the correct context it is the embodiment of security. 

As parents we want our children to be with people who value them, challenge them to be the very best versions of themselves and love them unconditionally. Initially we, as parents, are those people, but eventually we may have to transfer the responsibility to their significant other. I can only speak for myself, but as a mother my heart will be at ease when I know the precious hearts of my adult children are cared for properly. God is the only One who can fill every hole in our heart, but He uses us to fill some of those holes in one another. 

Our greatest superpower is our ability to love and BE loved selflessly. Pride prohibits this kind of love. Foolishness gives this kind of love to the wrong person. It is only at the excruciatingly painful crossroads of complete surrender and repentance that we are able to rise from the ashes and become who we need to be to not only give the kind of love our Father wants us to give, but also receive the kind of love He desired for us all along. 

“See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.” Song of Solomon 2:11

#HoCo2019

“Homecoming is here! I’m so excited to spend money on a dress my daughter will wear for 4 hours and never wear again!” said no parent ever. Add in the shoes, jewelry and any alterations, and we are in the hundreds. PLURAL. For freshman Homecoming. So imagine my reaction when the 14-year-old declared that she needed me to make a hair and makeup appointment for her. It was something along the lines of hysterical laughter and a firm, “That’s a negative, Ghostrider”. 

Don’t misunderstand. I know it’s a thing and lots of my friends’ kids have appointments for their daughters. I’m just not ready to pull the trigger on that yet. There are circumstances where I would be glad to get my daughter some help in that department, but she meets none of my criteria. She’s not inept, primarily. She is the kid who watched 17,000 hours of makeup and hair tutorials to learn how to do her own cheer competition hair and makeup. You got this, girl! I believe in you…and the educational power of YouTube.

I’m not new to this rodeo, either, so I’m acutely aware that these dances are essentially just a photo shoot. I love the Facebook posts as much as the next girl, but I have 20, 237 pictures of my kid already. The novelty is gone. Granted, they are all dressed up, so the setting is a little different, but not “I’m going to pay for your hair and makeup” different. At least not this year. 

At the end of the day, I am blessed to be able to provide nice things for my children and I do not take that for granted. It isn’t about the financial cost. It IS about the expectation – the entitlement – however, and the pressure of “EVERYONE ELSE is doing it”. So I said to my daughter what my mother so often said to me: “I’m not EVERYONE ELSE’s mother.” 

As parents we all have to pick our own battles. They are unique to our situation and our child’s personality but in the end serve to build in them resilience for all life will throw at them. If we can get them to adulthood with the right tools, not only will THEIR lives be easier, OURS will also be easier. Our specific battles will not always be the same, but our end goal is, and for that to work we have to stand united and prepare these children to GET OUT and navigate life. My oldest daughter told me a few days ago, “I like being financially independent. I know I can come to you if I need to; I don’t feel like I’m untethered in the universe, but I enjoy making my own way.” God knew I needed to hear that. There are days I swear I have NO IDEA what I’m doing as a mom. Not a clue. Those days have been plentiful lately, so to hear that at least part of my parenting strategies worked with the oldest (aptly named “EXPERIMENT ATCL 12-12-98”) was music to my weary ears. 

So let’s hang in there together. We can do this. One day our kids will come home and offer to do the dishes just because. They’ll ask us how OUR day was and even though it would be tempting to answer them how they answered us all those years (“Fine”), we won’t. Mostly out of pure shock. We will get there. It takes a village, and we’ve got a great one right here. 

As a side note, contrary to the deeply held conviction that her older brother is my favorite, I do need to point out that for the price of one Homecoming outfit for the freshman, I got two Homecoming outfits for her brother, a senior, that he can wear again in practical scenarios, like college and job interviews…or my funeral if parenting kills me. 

Alyssa Morgan

You crashed my party a mere 3 years and 4 months into my role as “only child”. I don’t remember much about you as an infant, but I distinctly remember mom walking in to the farmhouse from the hospital with you all bundled up in your tiny little blanket. She told me to sit down and placed you in my lap. I think I thought you were my gift – that you belonged to me and I could do with you what I pleased. And then you started to cry and I realized I liked my quiet babies way better than this loud, wrinkled one. Yet you remained.

Once you were old enough to play (and by play, I mean follow my directions), I started to see a use for you. It was entertaining to stuff your footie pajamas full of pillows and push you down like a weeble wobble as you laughed. Or maybe I was the one laughing…it’s fuzzy. You endured years of little sister hazing, and to your credit, you rarely told on me. We had the greatest imaginations, hunting dinosaurs in the back yard, making stews out of pine needles, moss and mud, pretending to be grown ups and smoke fake cigarettes (cue banjo music), creating Barbie houses out of cardboard and letting Jon’s cars live there too…you let me pretend to be a hair stylist with your actual hair, a decision we both regretted for very different reasons; we figured out together that pressing crayons against the wood stove created spectacular rainbow wax drippings down its side – a decision we would both regret for the SAME reason. 

On October 2, 1991, we were both officially teenagers and for the next several years nurtured a mutual hatred for one another. Our peaceful times were few and far between as we jockeyed for the attention of our parents by misbehaving and blindly navigated life to our own detriment many times. It felt like we would never again be friends, and then Addison and Cecilia happened. Not only did those girls save our lives individually, but their presence also gave us a shared experience from which to build what we have now. Although unplanned by us, our girls served a divine purpose in both our lives. I believe without them we would have spiraled down a path much worse than the ones we’ve found ourselves on. Through every self-created crisis, every instance that brought us to our knees through no fault of our own, every difficult circumstance, we had something bigger than ourselves to live for and a friend with whom to share both our grief and happiness. 

You are my constant, my best friend, my confidant…my little sister. Today I celebrate your kindness, your quirky personality, your humor, your beauty, your inability to focus, your obsession with throwing things away…I honor the sacrifices you have made for your girls, the authentic love you share with all who know you…I admire your tenacity, your intelligence, your gift of communication, your child-like faith. I kneel at the foot of the cross with you, Alyssa, and I thank God for allowing me to be your big sister and your forever friend. We both want so much to just get life right for once, but I think maybe in many ways we already have. Happy birthday! I love you. 

My Ayden

I remember the day I went into labor with you. It was exactly 2 weeks before your due date and I wasn’t quite prepared. Your big sister was 21 months old so explaining your arrival to her wasn’t easy, but I think she understood that mommy was going away and bringing back a brother for her. Nanny came to stay and finished the preparations exactly as I instructed, down to the last detail. She was so excited to meet her first grandson. 

We walked in Walmart for a while before going to the hospital because there was time. You were either going to be named “Ayden” or “Avery”, and I had the cutest little outfit picked out for you to come home in. Your nursery was Uncle Jon’s childhood bedroom and I painted it light blue with a blue jean teddy bear border. I still have the first teddy bear I ever bought you to go with that room. Your furniture matched beautifully. All your tiny clothes were perfectly folded, ready to be worn. I even found you and Addison matching pajamas. I couldn’t wait to bring you home. 

After you came into the world (I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it was not pretty), Nanny brought Addison to meet you. Paw Paw lifted her up to the nursery window and pointed to you. She promptly replied, “No, I want THAT one,” and pointed to another baby. I should have taken that as the omen it was.

When I was pregnant with you I obsessively worried about how I could love you as much as I loved Addison, but the moment the doctor placed you into my arms I finally understood what everyone had been telling me: my love didn’t have to be divided, it was simply multiplied. How I adored you from the first moment. 

The cuteness faded as you refused to sleep more than an hour at a time. My sanity was tested with two children in diapers. But I remember sitting back and watching the two of you interact – I watched Addison become a big sister even though she herself was only a baby. I adored you both from the depth of my soul. But you, my Ayden, were my rock. You followed such a schedule. I could set my watch by your waking and eating patterns. You brought a sense of stability to a very unstable time. God, as He always does, knew what He was doing. 

As you’ve grown I have counted it a privilege to be your biggest fan. I remember when you refused to wear anything but your red cowboy boots (from Nanny, btw) to preschool. I remember picking you up from kindergarten every day and you running full speed ahead into my arms. I remember aching to the bottom of my heart missing you as I stayed in Morgantown when Avery was born sick, and the relief I felt when I finally got to hold all of my babies. I will never forget you running off of the bus asking for “your baby” when Aubrey was little, and having to convince you to wait until your baby woke up from her nap before you could play with her. 

Hundreds of baseball, basketball, football and soccer games passed. Years of convincing you reading was a skill you would actually need, hours of homework and projects, playing games with you, getting you to do chores, watching as you became the person you are still becoming…it’s all nothing but a blessing in hindsight. While some of it may have been trying, the struggle was worth it, honey, because I could not be more proud of you, my son – a man who stands before me with a plan for his life, a purpose and a drive that I admire. And to be your mom is the greatest privilege. 

You, my sweet boy, will forever be the tiny human who holds my head in his chubby baby hands and says, “I love you, mama” in my eyes. But I know you have a world to change, and I want you to know, Ayden, that I am your biggest fan. Happy birthday, sweetheart. Mama loves you right back. 

B is for Back to School

Last night I was washing the dishes my WVU sophomore bought himself, preparing for move-in day tomorrow. On the top of the box he directed me to sat an innocuous assortment of silverware and what looked like red plastic cups from the olden days of Pizza Hut. As I washed those I dug further into the pile and discovered 3 beer glasses, 5 wine glasses and a cocktail shaker set. Suddenly I was forced with the tangible reality that Ayden may not just be keeping Gatorade in his mini-fridge, a delusion I’ve chosen to indulge until that moment.

I sent a picture to my best friend who commented, “Way to go Big A!”

That was not the correct response. 

This revelation followed two solid days of the youngest child behaving like she had been body snatched and replaced with a demon. 

I corrected the manifestation of her bad attitude as it spilled into the seams of mine and everyone else’s day. Her response – “You OBVIOUSLY don’t understand how stressed out I am about everything I have to do.”

Don’t I, young spawn? Let me remind you that this is not my first rodeo and you are not my first hormonally imbalanced teenager, sister. Oh, and just to be crystal clear, you have had all summer to do your honors packets. ALL SUMMER. 

Then after orientation the attitude took a small break and the actual sweet kid I raised returned. Ah, but it was too good to be true…I informed her that I would be picking up school supplies this afternoon and she became indignant.

“Don’t pick out any dumb colors. I wanted to go to Target for those and pick them out myself.”

Excuse me while I go bang my head against a wall…

Ok, I’m back. What exactly ARE “dumb colors”, anyway? Seeing as I’m not a monkey, and you are the fourth child of mine to attend high school, I am fairly certain I can choose some folders and notebooks that won’t make you a social pariah. And if you’d like to press the issue, darling, ask your sister who dressed up as a T-Rex on her campus her senior year. I still have the costume. Don’t push me.

Contrasting her completely this morning, I asked her brother, a senior, what kind of school supplies he needed.

“Um, I don’t know. A notebook, a folder…a pen?”

Way to be invested in your education, Avery. 

Addison, you are my new favorite. Congratulations. 

Happy 2019-20 School Year, Everyone! God help us all. I’m off to buy supplies in non-dumb colors. 

Made Pure

I used to be the girl who would do things she didn’t actually want to do just to be liked. Sometimes I would lay in the arms of a guy I was lukewarm about, or even barely knew, just for that split second of feeling like I mattered. I was also the girl who did things she wanted to do but knew she shouldn’t, and after years of ignoring that little voice, I became deaf to it and went about my merry way down a path of sin and self-indulgence that lead me to nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. I hated myself. My only value came in the way I looked, which I obsessed about to an unhealthy degree, eating only enough food to keep me alive and exercising like an actual athlete. And then one day before I could do the wise thing and walk away, I was pregnant with my first child. I had a choice, and for the first time since I was a sweet little girl, I chose someone other than myself. 

That was my first step toward God and I didn’t even know it yet. Through all the babies, all the ways out He gave me and all the times I stepped back in when I should have run screaming, He remained, and that little voice I had once ignored gained volume and called me home. Little by little I stepped off my path and on to the one He laid out for me. The steps were so small they seemed insignificant at the time. I was invited to go to church, so I went. It wasn’t the church God wanted for me, but it started a thinking process challenging me to consider how I wanted my children to be raised and spurred me on to find a church in which to raise my family. At the time that was the only consideration. It was purely a parental decision. But it was another step.

Suddenly my relationship with Christ, that I’d had since I accepted Him into my heart at age 7, became an actual relationship instead of a vague notion or a Sunday ritual. The people at this church didn’t judge me, or care about my past at all. They simply loved me. They took care of us, spiritually and physically.  In less than a year, my heart was so drastically different that my life would never be the same. Each day I surrendered to God’s will was another step toward all that He had for me. 

Fast-forward 20 years. I wish I could say it’s been easy; that I’ve never gone backwards or made mistakes. But once you enter into a relationship with Jesus, you really never are the same person. That’s a good thing, by the way. He allows us to be people it wouldn’t be possible to be without Him. So now, if people know me and think I’m good in any way, I give all the glory to God. When I am able to think beyond my immediate wants and sacrifice my desires for the benefit of others, it’s because of God. I’m nowhere near complete, but I’m certainly transformed beyond that WVU party girl in ways I would never have dreamed possible – every path I’ve taken, as misguided as some were, has led me directly to this moment. And let me tell you, it was worth. every. step.

There’s a lie out there that says you have to have it all together before you can come to God. The whole premise of that lie negates the very thesis of Christianity. Come now. Come in your mess. Come in your sin. Come angry. Come broken. Come skeptical. It’s ok. Because guess what? You won’t leave that way. It’s not my promise, it’s His. 

P.S. Babies are NEVER accidents. Never. No matter the circumstances. Someone needed to hear that. Every person is here because God created them for a purpose.