Class of 2020 – Covid Chasm

Avery was 4 when he informed me of his plans to move out when he grew up. He said, “Mama, when I’m big I’m going to have a house that’s just mine, but you will have a room.”

“Oh? Ok. What will my room look like?” I asked, playing along.

“It will have rainbows and butterflies,” Avery responded.

“What will your room look like?” I asked.

“Duh, mama. Skulls,” he answered.

It was precious at the time but I couldn’t help but be surprised at his forethought. His older siblings had declared they wanted to live with mommy “forever”. Yet Avery already had a life plan independent of being cared for by me. 

As he grew I imagine he hated every moment of being forced to try fruits and vegetables, take naps, brush his teeth, wear appropriate footwear, clean his room…but now he stands before me as a man who is fiercely independent, making his own way. I find myself searching for ways to care for him without undermining his independence. Now the ceremony of all ceremonies up until this point in a person’s life has been put on hold or cancelled – I get stuck, as a mom, in this place of self-pity and wishing things were different. I was looking at his cap and gown we ordered months ago with full certainty that this week would be the week we celebrated his achievement of high school graduation. I would have been shuttling family from airports and planning a party to honor my son. Instead we have been allotted a time for him to walk alone across a stage. Don’t get me wrong, I understand, but the gap still exists between expectation and reality. 

As we, and especially our class of 2020, mourn the loss of normalcy, it’s ok to be disappointed. Today was supposed to be different than it turned out to be. Today our BSHS Class of 2020 should have been gathering together for one last time as seniors in high school before moving their tassels, tossing their hats and stepping off the stage as high school graduates, ready to move to the next chapter in life. But God has chosen this class to endure and overcome, as they will. He will fill in the gaps between expectation and reality, and if we let Him, He will pick up each of us and gently place us where we are meant to be. 

Class of 2020, you don’t have to have it all figured out, because your Creator already does. As each of you moves forward in your journey, allow Him to lead you in every decision. And my precious Avery, I simply could not be more proud of the young man you are. My heart is full as I watch you fulfill your dreams of independence. It seems like yesterday when we had that conversation, your sweet chubby little face excited to tell me all about your future, yet here we are, on the doorstep of that very dream and I struggle to let you go. I will miss you, sweetheart. No matter how old you are, wherever I am is your home. You will never be alone, and you will always be loved. Congratulations, Avery and congratulations Class of 2020!

Wait…

The first day of kindergarten I got off the bus to my mom waiting for me with Alyssa, a preschooler, and Jon, a toddler. My siblings had clearly missed me all day as evidenced by their excited chatter, running toward me asking questions about my disappearance. My mom tried to hug me but I froze, my body stiff and my eyes shooting daggers. We walked home in tense silence as everyone wondered what was wrong with me. When we got to the house I went to my room and slammed my door – that was the last straw for my mother.

“That is ENOUGH, young lady! What is the problem?” 

My eyes welled up and tears spilled down my little cheeks. My voice quivered as I began to unload my unbearable burden… “I didn’t learn to READ!”

I can distinctly remember the way mom’s eyes changed from angry to relieved to amused. She spoke more softly this time, “Honey, it’s only the first day of school. You have to be patient.”

Everything. All at once. Right now. Not only is it our culture, it is also our human nature. And then, as if out of a science fiction movie, it all changed. Now we wait, forced to comply with regulations and wait out a virus whose identity is veiled at best, challenging the world’s tops minds as it morphs, mutates and changes the rules at its whim. Even Amazon has been affected. (What do you MEAN my Pink Lemonade lip gloss is not essential and I have to wait 5 days even though I pay for Prime membership?) 

I’m not scared. I’m genuinely not. I’m being cautious and respectful of the rules and I trust those in power because that’s what I’m called to do, but I am not afraid. It’s not because I’m arrogant or irreverent, but it took a cumulative 15 miles of hiking over a few days to realize the reason for my confidence – God is bigger than this. He knew it would happen and He knows when it will be over. And it WILL be over. 

There are things we mourn during this unprecedented time in human history. I have personally mourned the loss of Avery’s senior year to the point of tears and losing actual sleep. He will never get the chance to try for state champion again. I had him pegged for Prom King, like his older brother. But then today happened. 

This morning I remembered with such stinging clarity the feeling of saying goodbye to my 30-hour-old baby, kissing his tiny head before they loaded him into the ambulance, unsure of whether or not I would ever get to hold my son again. 

I recalled the feeling of panic, a mere 16 months later, of finding him in a pool, floating, eyes open, his little boots soles up…screaming as I fished him out and sobbing with relief as he took a breath. I can close my eyes and still feel the weight of his body, the texture of his soaked jeans, diaper and flannel shirt and how he felt in my arms as I held him to me on my knees thanking God from the deepest depths of a mother’s heart that he was ok. 

Either one of those memories could have been my last of him. Right now instead of grieving what would have been his senior year, I get the privilege of lamenting a much less solemn reality. That is a privilege I will not take for granted. So while we mourn of the absence of normalcy, it took today to put it into perspective, as some would give everything they had to live through this uncertain time with their loved one. 

We don’t know when our last day on earth may be, but He does, so we are called to live this life like every day could be our last. As inconvenient and disquieting as this situation seems, it may be just what we needed to refocus and pour into the lives of those closest to us, given to us not by accident, but by Providence. 

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27: 13-14

Aubrey Elizabeth

Aubrey Elizabeth June came into the world screaming, her tiny red face clearly unhappy about her current circumstances. Her unhappiness was still evident 4 hours later. Nothing I did could make her stop crying. I contemplated sending her back, but it was not allowed, so I rocked her and prayed for hearing loss. It wasn’t until her siblings came in, all adorable in their “I’m a big sister/brother” t-shirts, and crowded around her bassinet that she stopped crying. They poked her like she was a science experiment and talked simultaneously but it was just what she needed. And so life with 4 children began.

I’ve had people ask me, “After you have three, what’s one more?” Well, it’s one more whole entire person. She’s not a hamster, or I’d agree with that sentiment. Luckily, she was a very agreeable little human, and integrated into our established routine with ease. Ayden used to carry her (as an infant) tucked up under his arm like a football. Alyssa saw him doing that and looked at me and spoke sternly these words: “Like an egg in a jar, Summer”. She was referring to Aubrey’s developing brain. I was in a sleep-deprived stupor and thought to myself, “I’ll take my chances.” 

She survived infancy and moved into toddlerhood, where her true personality began to shine. She became deathly afraid of any doll with hair and called all of the boys’ dinosaurs “monsters”, which she also did not like. Nanny always had gum (it’s a grandmother requirement), and Aubrey named the spicy gum “mean gum”. She only liked “nice gum”. Aubrey was a small person with a big personality. At that age she planted kisses on any baby she saw. It almost seemed like she didn’t believe she, too, was a baby. She became our tiny little dictator, and we catered to her every whim because it was cute. We were a bunch of fools.

Toddlerhood gave way to the age of the preschooler. This was the time of massive meltdowns because I refused to let her wear her bikini in January – she locked on to certain outfits and wore them constantly, like she was a cartoon character. Her preschool teachers loved to see what outfit she would put together for the day. Aubrey was a delightful source of entertainment in that respect. She simply knew what she liked, but with no concept of time…(After being told to clean her room as a 4-year-old: Tiny fists balled up at her sides -“I will clean my room YESTERDAY, mama!”)

School days brought an end to some of her strange wardrobe choices, but opened her up to the magical world of education. She is like a sponge, and it’s exciting to see her continue to blossom into such a wonderful student. I loved to hear all about elementary school drama and how she tried to fix it even when it had nothing to do with her personally (“Matthew told Justice he was smarter than her and she cried so I yelled at him and I got into trouble!”). I bet that was fun to deal with for the teachers. 

On her 9th birthday she invited 3 of her friends for a birthday sleepover. The party began with Aubrey giving them “the rules” and ended with my hissing in my scary mama voice for her to be nice to her friends after I witnessed less-than-ideal friendship behavior from the tired little dictator. Not much has changed 5 years later; she still believes she in charge and we clash on a whole new level much of the time.

But sometimes as a mom I need to say “I hear you”. I hear your heart, I respect your ideas and I pray one day you will fully understand why you can’t be in charge yet. (You know, after you’ve survived being a teenager specifically BECAUSE you are not in charge.) This is a tough season of life as you continue your childhood without your siblings with you every day. Know this, sweet girl – we WILL get through this. You will come out on the other end just fine. I can’t always give you the answer you want but being your mom is my greatest privilege and I promise to do my very best. Unfortunately sometimes that means we won’t agree.

There is truly nothing about you I would change. Your heart is tender and full of love for your family, friends and Jesus. I could fill a book with the most adorable prayers you have prayed since you could talk. When you were 3 you prayed, “We do not eat our friends”. The day after your birthday sleepover was a simple “Dear God, please help me get better at sleepovers”. As you get older the stakes get higher emotionally; I wish I could protect you from every heartache, but we know the One who can, so never stop praying, honey. I can look at you and not only see the baby you were, but also the woman you are quickly becoming, and I am honored to be a part of your journey. No matter what, I am your biggest fan. 

Such a Time As This

“On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…” Women of Faith, 2011…a stadium full of broken women yet somehow we became more than the sum of our parts. We became whole, woven together by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are meant to live in community. I got a powerful reminder of that truth this week.

“My parents make bad decisions.”

“My daddy touches my pee pee.”

“Is it bad if my dad lets my baby brother drink beer?”

“Daddy takes pictures of my privates.”

“If I tell he says I’m going to the devil.”

“Tell the court I don’t want to be his mother/father anymore.”

“Don’t leave me alone with him.”

“I’m scared.”

“Help me.”

There is unfathomable pain in this world. All the aforementioned quotes are only a fraction of the words I have personally heard over the years from tiny faces of innocent children and hopeless mothers and fathers. My reaction to these realities is such a dizzying feeling of complete helplessness. Emotionally I imagine myself trudging through a blizzard, frozen shards of snow whipping past my face, cutting my cheeks as I attempt to walk in snow up to my thighs, the wind pressing against me, impeding my progress and tempting me to sit down, give in and succumb to the counterfeit warmth of hypothermia. 

When I think back to the amount of time and energy wasted on worrying it makes me sick. And crazy. Lately I have let my foolish need for control unravel me like a string inside a ball of yarn until all that is left of me is a haphazard pile of Summer Strands…frazzled, tangled and emotionally unstable. Information about things I wish I didn’t know bombards my heart almost daily and for some reason I take off the armor of God and attempt to handle the enormity of the brokenness alone in a pompous display of stupidity until I break and the people who love me are left to pick up the pieces, shaking their heads wondering why I tried to handle this alone when I’m a child of God surrounded by people who love me.

His hands are big enough to hold all of us – all the children whose lives are being negatively affected because of the decisions of the adults in their lives, all the adults who are hurting and making bad choices as a result, all the helpers, all the perpetrators, all of everyone. He is enough. So why do I fall for the lie that my strength is sufficient when it CLEARLY is not? In my need to protect the people I love I sometimes inadvertently cause more harm. It’s not up to me to fix the problems outside; it’s up to me to fix the problems from within, but I even need help with that. I was reminded today that needing help is not a weakness. In fact, knowing when to reach out is a sign of strength and maturity. We begin life dependent on others for everything. We do not then transition to independence, even though that makes sense logically. Instead we progress to interdependence. Who knew my brain science research for work would provide the exact light bulb moment I needed.

It’s not scary that I can’t fix everything. In fact, it would be scary if I could. It isn’t up to me. It never has been. It has always been up to Him. Every now and then I need a reminder. Eventually my brain will develop to the point where I can avoid a mental breakdown. But this is who I am, and God meets us where we are. I’m so glad that I don’t have to worry, and even better is the truth that when I find myself tangled up in a giant ball of my own absurdity He is right there to pluck me out, dry my tears and wind up my string.

I want nothing more than to be exactly where I am…this is where I belong. I was created for such a time as this. 

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.