Jelly Toast, Coffee, and Humility

Jelly Toast, Coffee, and Humility

  I have Bible study tonight.  It’s something I started with some of my neighborhood friends three years ago, and it’s still going strong. We meet once a month to discuss different books, each with a faith-based plot.  Anyway, I’m feeling a little sluggish, and I know I have a long night ahead, so a cup of coffee sounds perfect.  As I’m waiting for it to brew, I reach instinctively for the bread.  As I get ready to make a piece of jelly toast to accompany my coffee, a memory resurfaces.  I’m standing again with my Daddy, waiting for the toast to pop up. I’m almost nine months pregnant.  Mason will be here in a matter of weeks, and I am suffering through the worst cold of my life.  I’m about 8 days into a virus which is depriving me of the one thing I need the most:  sleep.  When I lay down, the drainage down the back of my throat begins and so does the coughing.  I swallow over and over, trying to prevent it, but that only exasperates the heartburn I’ve had this entire pregnancy.  Chest on fire, flames climbing up your esophagus heartburn.  If the old wives tale is true, this baby will have a full head of hair. In an effort to stop the coughing and ease the heartburn, I sit up.  It helps with the cold symptoms, but it does nothing for my exhaustion. I’m alone downstairs.  I’ve moved from my bed, to the recliner, to the couch, hoping to find a place where sleep will meet me.  I’m feeling miserable.  I’m feeling pitiful.  I’m feeling angry.  I’m feeling like a big ol’ hormonal, sleep-deprived cry. I hear footsteps and the small light above the stove goes on in the kitchen.  I wait to see who else is seeking the elusive peace of a good night’s sleep.  My Daddy steps into the light.  I watch him for a minute.  He doesn’t know I’m there; the darkness of the living room conceals me.  I try to take in every nuance of his movements.  I try to memorize the expression on his face during this rare, unguarded moment.  I try, as I have for the past eight months, to cram as many memories of this man into my mind as I can.  As he shuffles around the kitchen, getting what he needs to start a pot of coffee, I know what keeps his sleep at bay.  I know why he’s making coffee at 3 o’clock in the morning. I speak to him. “Hey Daddy.” He startles for a moment, then that warm, ever-welcoming smile breaks through the worry I saw on his face moments before. “Well, hey girl.” “Well, hey girl,”  an expression my daddy’s said to me forever.  A short, three word phrase which has come to hold so much meaning over the years. Well, hey girl……interpretation, I’m happy to see you. Well, hey girl…..interpretation, this is a welcome surprise. Well, hey girl….interpretation, it’s about time.  It’s been too long. Well, hey girl….interpretation, welcome home, I’ve missed you. Well, hey girl….interpretation, you’re still my little girl and I love you. So when Daddy said, “Well, hey girl,” to me there in the kitchen, he didn’t have to say anything else.  I got up and went to him, walking into his open arms and placing my head below his shoulder, letting it rest just above his heart.  Feeling his warm hug, my emotions broke, and I began to cry.  I cried a big, blubbering, hormonal cry while Daddy just patted my back and asked what was the matter. And here’s the thing, I wasn’t crying about my stupid cold and my annoying heartburn.  I was crying because the shame I felt in that moment was overwhelming.  While I wallowed in my own self-pity about a cold which would heal eventually, my dad stood before me with a terminal cancer diagnosis.  While I tossed and turned, unable to sleep due to a simple virus, my daddy tossed and turned because a life-taking mass had returned eight months earlier.  As he held me, as my nose ran and my tears fell onto his shirt, recurrent pancreatic cancer waged war inside my daddy’s body. Daddy knew why I cried.  He knew my tears were for him.  He knew and I knew that this moment and moments like it were numbered.  That knowledge caused us to hold on just a little bit longer, squeeze just a little bit tighter than we normally would.  When the tears stopped, Daddy gave my back one more pat and moved on to the one form of comfort every southerner...

Exhilaration and Exhaustion

Exhilaration and Exhaustion

My son Matthew and I started a special way of swinging when he was around two.  It was late spring; I remember the leaves in the big maples had almost completely returned.  The canopy created by a large gum tree offered much needed shade from the hot afternoon sun.  We often retreated to the back yard during this time of the day.  Refreshed from his afternoon nap, Matthew was always ready to get outside and play. After a few trips down the slide, Matthew pointed to the swing and asked me sit down.  I knew he was ready for our special swing.  I settled into the curved plastic seat and held out my arms to him.  He climbed up, facing me, and placed his little legs on each side of my hips.  Grasping the blue, plastic- covered chains, he happily said, “Ready Mama!”  With that, I walked backwards a few paces and began the count down.  Three, two, one, blast off!  We soared forward, and Matthew’s happy squeals joined the loud chirping sounds of the birds around us.  I stretched my legs forward, pumping us higher and higher.  As I did, Matthew was lifted up into the air, hovering over me for a few seconds before the swing moved back again, lifting me into the air.  His hands squeezed tighter as he shifted down and back a little, looking up at me.  Back and forth, up and down, our own little version of a teeter-totter. The special swing was a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion.  The speed of the swing, the heights we reached were exhilarating.  The sight of his happy face, the sound of his bubbling laughter, they were exhilarating. Holding on as the swing dipped down and maintaining the back-and-forth movement were exhausting.  My arms burned.  My hands ached. After a few minutes, Matthew became tired too and let go of the chains.  He collapsed against me.  Placing his little head on my chest, wrapping his arms tightly around my sides, he rested for a bit while I let the swing slow to a gentle sway. I often think the ups and downs of the swing, the exhilaration and the exhaustion which accompany this childhood past time, mirror our journeys as mommies.  Those first days and weeks after finding out you’re pregnant are exhilarating.  Knowing a new little life is beginning to grow is unlike anything else.  It’s miraculous; it’s momentous; it’s mind-blowing.  We long for the little bump, the first sign of the baby’s growth.  We anxiously await the first ripples of movement.  We cry with an abundance of joy as we listen to the first heartbeat and see the first peanut-shaped images of our baby on the sonogram.  It’s the exhilaration that moves us forward through the next few months. But as we near the end, as we tick off those last days before our due date, exhaustion begins to set in.  It’s impossible to find a comfortable way to sleep, so we toss and turn, moving our huge bellies from one uncomfortable position to another.  Our walk becomes a waddle.  Our breathing is labored because our lungs have been shoved up and squished to allow for the baby’s final growth spurt.  We huff and puff after a short walk to the milk case at the back of the store.  We’re exhausted! And then we go into labor.  For some, the water breaks. For others, contractions begin.  For a few, an induction is scheduled.  Regardless of the path which gets each of us there, those first moments in the delivery room bring back the exhilaration.  We’re on the upswing. The baby we’ve grown to love, the little person we’ve seen a thousand times in our dreams is almost a reality.  We’re pumped.  We’re ready.  We’re running on a mixture of adrenaline and fear.  Following every instruction, we feel empowered.  We’re ready to get it done. Ten hours pass, then eleven, then thirteen.  And the exhaustion begins to set in.  We’re dipping low on the swing, holding on as tightly as we can.  Every body part hurts. We push and breath and push and breath.  As we work to bring this baby out of our bodies and into the world, we begin to feel like it’s an impossible feat.  Just as we’re about to give in to the fatigue, the doctor asks for one more big push.  We summon all of our energy and PUSH.  There’s a release, and we collapse back against the pillows, giving in to the exhaustion. But the exhaustion only lasts for a moment.  The upswing begins again.  The baby’s first cry pierces the air, clearing the...

Faster, Faster

Faster, Faster

I’m standing rooted to a spot on my living room carpet.  My three year old daughter has demanded authoritatively that I not move.  Knowing too well the feisty aspects of her personality, I don’t dare disobey her.  Instead, I watch amused as she backs up slowly, keeping a cautious eye on my feet.  She makes her way a little farther and a little farther away from me. I know the distance is only temporary.  I know the routine.  In a moment she’ll sprint forward, a huge grin on her face, arms outstretched, ready to catapult into my waiting arms.  I’ll start to spin.  In between her squeals of delight, she’ll beg me to spin faster and faster.  And though my feet will comply, my heart will protest.  Each beat an echo of this mother’s wish: slower, slower.  Can’t we please go a little slower? As a child, I failed to understand one of my dad’s favorite phrases: time flies.  In an effort to turn the abstract into something concrete and understandable, my little mind often pictured a clock with wings, moving rapidly across the sky.  A literal interpretation of all things figurative, this is the truest expression of a child’s innocence.  But life happens, we grow up, and the literal lens through which we view our language and our world evolves.  It becomes dimensional. Metaphorical. Symbolic. There’s a quote by Elizabeth Stone which captures the experience of being a parent perfectly.  I loved it so much, I placed it in my son’s baby book.  It says, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” The symbolism is clear.  Children steal our hearts from the moment they’re conceived.  Our love for our babies fills our hearts to the point of bursting.  Suddenly, we can’t imagine a life without them in it. The cruel irony, though, of having children exists in the realization that one day our babies will grow up.  One day they will become completely independent.  At some future time, they will forge their own paths, make their own way.  They will leave us. In fact, the very goal of parenting is to prepare our children for their flight from our nests.  We are working in that direction from the moment we bring them home.  We mark the important milestones in their baby books: first smiles, first words, first steps, first teeth, and more. From the beginning, we parent with the goal of creating self-sufficient individuals. Helping them to sleep in their own rooms.  Teaching them to feed themselves, go potty, and tie their shoes.  One day we’re holding them on our laps to go down the park’s slide, and the next we’re standing at the bottom encouraging them to slide down on their own. As adults, as parents, we’re completely aware of the literal interpretation of the expression “time flies.” We know time’s characteristics. We know it’s continuous.  We know it’s unstoppable. We know it’s finite. Yet, we often wish time had a pause button, a way to slow things down, even if it’s just for a little bit. Yes, I see now how time flies.  I see it every day. As my son takes his first steps into my waiting arms.  Time flies. As I tuck my daughter into her big-girl bed.  Time flies. As I wave back to my son from his window-seat on the school bus.  Time flies. As my daughter enters her preschool class without looking back to me.  Time flies. As my son and daughter swim on their own.  Time flies. As more birthday candles are added.  Time flies. As play time with me is replaced by play time with friends.  Time flies. My daughter has reached her starting spot. She positions herself, and looks up expectantly to my face. With a Ready, Set, Go, she’s on her way. I bend forward, open my arms to her, and smile that big, open-mouthed-mama-smile reserved for moments just like this. She leaps into my arms and wraps her legs firmly around my waist.  Once her tiny arms are securely around my neck, I start to spin.  She throws her head back and squeals in delight. Blonde hair flying, hands squeezing tighter, she’s holding on. Deep down, I know I’m the one holding on the tightest.  We’re both laughing as she begs me to go faster and faster. Knowing this moment is fleeting, I...

Black Clouds and Sunshine

Black Clouds and Sunshine

Hey there my other half.  I realized something today.  We’re on the right track with this parenting thing.  I know we often wonder if our efforts to raise our bits and pieces the right way are paying off.  I know it often seems, amid the fussing and temper-tantrums, the back-talk, and the out-right defiance that our cluelessness has taken us down a road of no return. The black clouds of doubt start to gather, and we think back to every moment we’ve spent raising these precious jewels, critiquing every word we said and rethinking every consequence we gave.  We start to feel guilty and responsible.  We start to wonder if we’ve failed.  And then something happens.  The sunshine breaks on through. We have spirited children, that is for sure.  Our sweet boy.  Even-keeled, rarely taking a swing on the pendulum of emotions to the extremes of joy, anger, or sadness.  Smart, my goodness is he smart!  I know we both want to claim that one.  I often think back to those months before his second birthday when he’d play for hours with a deck of UNO cards, pulling one-at-a-time from a plastic baggie, saying the color and naming the number.  He wasn’t even 2! I see so much of you in him.  Not only does he look just like you, but he has your amazingly forgiving heart, something I admit I struggle with more on this journey of ours.  He has my patience, I think, and my optimism.  He has our athletic prowess, and your ability to analyze sports.  I’m amazed when ya’ll talk football.  He knows every NFL team, their helmet, mascot, division, ranking, record, and all that other football stuff (he’s only 6).  He even beat you a couple of times in our family game of “predictions” (every Sunday we predict the winners for the games that week). He is one fine boy, as his Paw liked to say. Yet he is spirited.  At times, he is stubborn to the point of exasperation.  He has mastered the art of selective hearing.  Tell him to get dressed, the bus is coming soon, and there he is, 10 minutes later, still in his jammies.  Tell him to get dressed, we’ll be leaving for his ball game soon, and he’s in his room and dressed before we’ve finished the sentence! I’ve learned how to combat his readied response of “but Mama, I didn’t hear you!”  Just suggest we may need to visit the doctor since he clearly isn’t hearing me even when my voice has become, uhhh-hmmm, a little louder. Just make like you’re heading to the phone to call up the doctor, and suddenly he can repeat every word!  Determined and competitive, inquisitive and observant, all qualities that will serve him well on his journey, I think.  Our Boppy, our Goose, our sweet, sweet boy. And then there’s Little May.  Our girlie-girl.  Lord, she came into this world with a wild mess of black hair, screaming and crying, giving those nurses a run for their money as they tried to clean her up.  But do you remember what happened when you spoke to her?  She settled right on down.  I remember watching from the bed as the doctors worked to wrap everything up with me, and when she quieted, I told you to keep talking to her, knowing she recognized your voice from the womb.  You did, and she stayed calm, until they started to give her the bath.  Even our voices didn’t work for that one!  Not until they placed her in your arms, all swaddled up and smelling that new-baby smell, did she settle again. Our spit-fire. Our zero-to-sixty.  She is all spunk and spirit.  She takes a swing on that pendulum of emotions multiple times a day.  When she cries, the whole neighborhood probably hears.  But when she laughs, there is nothing like it.  All rolling and bubbly and free.  She is brave, standing up for herself and others if necessary.  Her moral compass is already strong and steady, leading her to correct people, including adults (to our embarrassment) and her big brother (to his frustration).  She also looks just like you, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that frustrates me a bit.  After all, I carried them for nine months, yet they pop out looking just like their Daddy!  She has your big heart, your silliness for sure.  She has my feistiness and my empathy.  She, too, inherited our athletic prowess, though probably more along the lines of anything involving flipping, jumping, climbing, leaping, twisting, and spinning.  Yes, I think we’ll definitely stick with the gymnastics. Yet she...

Pin It on Pinterest