Advent Reflection – A Mom’s Tears

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Ask any mother and she will tell you that the tears we weep for our children are like no other. They are tears that come from deep within our souls as we cry out in pain, either for them or because of them. They are the tears we weep in solitude when our daughter has faced her first break-up. At that moment, should the boy be present, we would possibly commit a crime that locks us up, unless the lawyer can use the grounds of love, impulse and passion to convince a jury that we are not dangerous.

They are the tears that we shed when our pre-schooler is not invited to the birthday party that every other kid seems to be attending. They are the tears that come when we know that we are helpless to make life better for our children, that the days when we could control who comes and goes from their lives are now gone. They are the tears of rage when we feel wronged or misunderstood by these products of our womb, when the path they are taking is leading to a place that we know will cause pain.

They are the tears of agony when we know they are in deep pain, pain they can’t share with their moms. They are also the tears of unspeakable delight and joy at weddings and graduations; tears of admiration as we are invited to participate in their world; and the tears of happiness as we realize how proud we are and how much we love them.

One of the Orthodox icons depicting Mary, the Theotokos or God-bearer, is an icon that shows Mary with seven swords going into her heart. The icon is called the “Softener of Evil Hearts”. In Orthodoxy, these seven swords are seen as representing the immense sorrow that the Theotokos experienced at the foot of the cross; the sorrow that was prophesied by Saint Simeon when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple.

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”*

I had been a mom for many years before I first heard about, and then saw, this icon. I thought about it for a long time. Here was one who understood far more about a mother’s tears then I could ever imagine. Sitting there at the foot of the cross, helpless and watching her son die, she did not yet know the full picture. The resurrection would be three days later. Her heart was pierced by a sword many times over before she saw the risen Lord on that Paschal morning.

I think about this icon as I shed tears for my children. Though we know but a fraction of this pain, our hearts too are pierced. We shed our tears and we too, wait; wait for the God of resurrection and miracles to comfort and strengthen us.

We wait for our souls to heal, for wrong to be made right. And we press on.

*Luke 2:34-35

Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

 

Remembering those First Days of a Newborn

It’s my daughter Annie’s birthday today.

Annie is our firstborn. She ushered us gently into parenthood 32 years ago. On day two she slept so long that we sat around her woven Moses basket like we were humans examining an alien being.

The conversation went something like this:

“She’s so perfect.”

“Yes. She is SO perfect.”

“Look at her tiny hands.”

“Look at her nose.”

“She is so tiny.”

“She is so beautiful.”

“Do you think she’s sleeping too long?”

“I don’t know. Do YOU think she’s sleeping too long?”

“I kind of think so.”

“Me too. Maybe we should wake her up?”

“Do you think we should wake her up?”

“I kind of do.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“It’s been so long since she’s nursed.”

“Yeah. Let’s wake her up.”

“Okay.”

“How?”

“Well, maybe if we pick her up she’ll just wake up.”

“Okay.”

“You do it.”

“No. You do it.”

“Okay.”

Sigh.

“But she looks so peaceful!”

“I know but I think she needs to wake up. She needs to nurse.”

“Okay.”

“Look at her feet!”

“I know. They are so perfect.”

“Look at her rose-bud lips! Look at how they are quivering.”

And so it went on and on and on.

Finally, we woke her up. And then….well, then we couldn’t get her to sleep. She was the wide-awake baby girl.

So the conversation continued.

“Do you think she’s still hungry?”

“I don’t know. I think she nursed a lot.”

“Do you think anything is wrong?”

“Maybe we should change her diaper again.”

And on, and on, and on. Because we were smitten and all we could do was talk about our baby. The most perfect baby in the entire world.


There is something about those days with your first-born child that you will never, ever forget. Your whole being is raw with love. Your heart is on the outside of your body and there is no protection for the arrows that come your way. You marvel at every tiny move, expression, furrowed brow, slight smile. You hold the tiny thing close, afraid to let it go. Your nights and days are no longer your own, and they swim together, closing in on each other. You have never known that kind of exhaustion. You thought exhaustion was about research papers in college, but you now scoff at that exhaustion. That exhaustion is kid’s play compared to this real, grownup exhaustion.

You can’t get enough of this little human. When you play charades, this little baby is your favorite person to act out. First touch, first smiles, first tooth, even their poops and peeps are cause for amazement or distress. And your conversations? You hide it from your friends but when you’re alone together, all you want to talk about is this little baby that now consumes your life.

Today I remember those first days and I smile. My first-born now has her own first-born and I delight in watching the two of them. His face lights up when she enters the room and his smiles brighten her world, just as her’s did mine.

In the dance of parenthood, we have left the slow dance of the beginning, with it’s long moments of sheer wonder. We are now in the era of jazz, where you agree on the notes, and then you improvise. Slow jazz plays in the background, but this dance of parenthood is no longer the central part of our lives. The furniture is rearranged and sometimes the house echoes with empty. We miss them but we have raised them with wings to fly and they exercise those wings well.

But still there are those moments, especially on their birthdays, when we are taken back to the beginning.

We remember and we smile.

Happy Birthday Annie! Being your mom is an undeniable gift.


Note: The above dialogue went on for much longer than it took you to read it!

My Ramadan Baby

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The Islamabad sun, hot and bright, burned down on my mom and I as we walked to the hospital with my first-born – Annie – in a stroller.

It was May of 1987 and it was Ramadan, only a couple of days before the huge Eid celebration that would mark the end of this long month of fasting for Muslims around the world. We had been living and working in Islamabad since January and I was 9 months pregnant with our second child.

After a false start a couple of days earlier, my mom and I headed out to my  regularly scheduled prenatal appointment.  After examining me, my doctor said “Sometimes we need to push the horse and cart!” Which was code for “I’m going to give you something to speed up this delivery.” I was more than willing to oblige.

It was a text book induction and just after midnight on May 25th I gave birth to a gorgeous, blue-eyed, fuzzy-headed baby boy. I was smitten.

I wrote about my Ramadan baby 6 years ago, when I was a new blogger. As I reread the piece I wrote, I realized it communicates the story exactly as I remember it, so I have reposted it below in honor of my Ramadan “baby’s” 30th birthday!

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was toward the end of Ramadan and this showed significantly in the absence of staff in the hospital. Earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry aloud that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a pregnant woman in transition (me) and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered, we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

As the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came (and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night) two babies made their way into the world.  The last azaan, calling the faithful to prayer, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast. At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains.

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a good hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toed, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff in by two’s to see “the white lady who had her husband in with her during the delivery,” something that was unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebis, barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras. This ensured a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. 

We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy which, from a cultural perspective, was a huge thing to acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes – and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.

Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.

Some Thoughts on Parenting and Goodbyes


“All the world feels caught in these goodbyes, goodbyes that bruise and hurt but remind us that our hearts are still soft and alive. For a dead heart doesn’t hurt with a goodbye, only a heart alive to others feels the pain of that goodbye, the difficulty of leaving….” From the Goodbye section of Between Worlds page 202

On Sunday we said goodbye to our youngest son at the entrance to Hellenic College, a college that has shaped him through academia,service, friendship, and most importantly – faith. 

We said goodbye in early evening, when the sun still had a long while before it set, reflecting golden rays off of Jamaica Pond. 

We said goodbye to the many years of college that come with five children. We said goodbye to the joy we had in watching a child grow to be a man. We said goodbye to those who came into our lives through him. 

A short while after we said goodbye, he boarded a plane to Albania; from there his plans include travel and study for the next year. We raised our children on travel and the uncertainty that comes with frequent moves, so there is a deep satisfaction knowing that he is choosing to grow through travel. 

Letting go of our children is a series of stages that begins early in their lives. We proudly, but fearfully, watch as they make their way onto buses or across playgrounds, their first venture into a world we can no longer control. Each stage and step gives them a bit more independence until we face the reality that we are ancillary to their adult lives. When we began the journey of parenthood, we created their world, we were their world. But through the years we gradually step aside and let them shine, apart from us. 

And our son – he shines, and it is the work of God. 

The gratefulness I feel is complicated by post-surgery exhaustion and the tears from saying goodbye. It comes in waves, and I try not to overthink, over analyze, instead allowing myself to just be, to feel what I’m feeling without defending or accusing. 

A few years ago I wrote these words, and today I repeat them: 

…the best thing I do as I pack him off and say goodbye is place him where I have placed him countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his beloved children.

While the journey of parenthood continues until the day we die, there are pivotal turning points within that journey – and this is one of them. So I say goodbye with open arms, a glad heart, and tear-filled eyes. Somehow, all of those emotions belong to this moment. 

We become parents with no guarantees. Whether biologically birthing or adopting, parenthood is a journey of faith. Today I get to celebrate. Tomorrow I may have to cry. But that’s what this is: A long journey, a journey of faith. From A Long Journey, A Journey of Faith 

Isolation or Exposure?

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Is God’s protection realized, not through isolation, but through exposure? 

We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when our son Joel slipped and hit his head on the sharp edge of a bed.  He sustained an open cut right above his eye. With Joel screaming and bleeding profusely, we somehow made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile. A kind doctor took care of the wound, sewing it up with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.”

I went over the scene in my mind many times. If only I had realized how sharp the edge of the bed was; if only I had made a ‘no jumping on the bed rule.’ If only I had been there. If only…..

At heart was the underlying realization that I wasn’t there to protect my son. I couldn’t protect my son from the fall.

When I look back at parenting small children, that is not the only time when I couldn’t protect. I sometimes take in a sharp breath at the memories.Not because anything tragic happened, but because tragedies could have happened, and many times over. From croup that sounded like a wounded puppy in an isolated area with no medical help, to high fevers and salmonella, you cannot parent five children without several ‘catch your breath’ moments.

I think about protection; about how much we want it and need it and pray for it. Protection. Preservation. Safety. Shelter. Refuge. Strength. So many words associated with protection. From the minute our babies are born we are endowed with a fierce need to protect. Our babies are the gap in our armor, the place where an enemy can send a sword and pierce us, sometimes fatally.

Protection. Protect — “[pruhtekt] to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult,etc.; cover or shield from injury or danger.”

But babies grow up and as they grow, our ability to protect diminishes by thousands. No longer are we with them night and day. We let these babies out of our sight. We share them with people, some worthy and others unworthy. We know that this is what makes a healthy adult, but it is not without fear that we release them.

If we are honest, we know that even when they are small a certain amount of danger in the form of germs is a good thing. A healthy immune system is not born of protection but of exposure.

Is the same principle true for life in general? Is a certain amount of danger a good thing? Is a bit of risk necessary? Is God’s protection realized, not through isolation, but through exposure? Do we develop a healthier spirituality through struggle, not through calm? 

Just as we cannot protect our children from everything, we cannot protect ourselves as we go into the unknown of the year. We don’t know the paths where we will trip, the places where we will shudder under the weight of fear.And fear is bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

Last year my oldest daughter gave me a book by Eula Biss titled On Immunity: An Innoculation. The book comes from the personal experience of researching vaccinations when pregnant with her son. In the first few pages of the book, Biss recounts the familiar story of Achilles. So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed.

The point is clear. There is no way we can shield our kids or ourselves from all the danger, sadness, and hurt that comes our way in life; no way we can protect ourselves from the same in this new year.

Instead, I must hold my arms opened in surrender and humility.  The year will come, just as last year did, with joy and with sorrow. It will hold things I will love and things I will hate. There will be times where I feel completely exposed and vulnerable to all that can harm me. But despite the exposure, the potential or probable danger I encounter, I will never be without the presence of God. There is no place that will be hidden from his presence or from his love.

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”*

Those many years ago, as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident while the doctor stitched up his wound, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.”

I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough. 

[Note – This post was revised from one posted one year ago.]

Foundations & Generations 


We traveled to Los Angeles this weekend for an early Christmas with our son and daughter in law. It was a beautiful weekend with sun and palm trees, the warmer temperatures a welcome change from an arctic freeze. Our East coast cold can chill the bones and the soul. 

From eating our fill of great Mexican food to sharing an early Christmas, we made the most of our short time. 

As parents, we watch our kids exit our homes to create homes of their own with nostalgia and some tears. Memories of toddler kisses and bedtime stories will never completely fade.  Instead they remain, packed into the boxes our minds create for these things. But there is incomparable joy in watching our children “become.” That is what we now get in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.

As I grow older and watch my children enter into adulthood, I ponder a recurring theme of foundations and generations. This circle of life depends on both to be successful. To function well as adults we need secure foundations; foundations of nutrition, of physical nurturing, of spiritual guidance. A healthy new generation will not grow without a solid foundation. 

Moments of connection with adult children are both hopeful and nostalgic, seeing a new generation ‘become’on the foundations of the past. 

When we are in the middle of building foundations, we make mistakes. There are times when we fail our kids and we fail ourselves; times when the foundations seem shaky, built on sand and not on rock. Still other times, by grace we get it right. We shake our heads in disbelief and amazement – it worked! The foundation is strong and secure, the next generation can build on what came before. But only a foolish parent takes full credit, refusing to see that this is all grace. 

We travel back on a lonely Sunday night flight, the plane full of weary travelers, perhaps others like us who have traveled to see a new generation springing from an older foundation. 

I look at the man by my side, and I am so grateful. We’ve navigated some rough waters together, some that threatened to drown us. But they didn’t. Instead we travel together, united in our prayers and love for this next generation. 

And so it is, foundations and generations–as old as the human race, reminding me that our journeys matter. 

To the One Who Got Pregnant too Soon

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I woke with a familiar pressure on my bladder. It was the middle of the night, and I needed to go to the bathroom. I came back to bed in tears.

“I think I’m pregnant.” I whispered to my sleepy husband as I shook his shoulder. “That’s ridiculous” he said as he turned over and fell back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, stayed awake. I knew I was pregnant. We had a toddler and a baby who was six months old. I was exclusively breast feeding and hadn’t yet gotten my period back after the pregnancy, so my husband’s response was completely reasonable.

But when you know your body, you know these things. Nine months later we had a beautiful baby boy, born two weeks earlier than his due date. He was 6 lbs and 10 oz of beauty and joy. But the inbetween time was not so much. People who saw me pregnant would look at me in astonishment and say “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” thinking it was the previous pregnancy gone on too long.

Yes – I actually had given birth to THAT baby. This one was a different one. This one was THIS baby. That one was THAT baby. Sheesh.

There were a few things that I discovered about myself and about other people during that time. I offer them here in this space, knowing that your situation may be different, but hoping that you will feel some nuggets of encouragement.

  1. You owe nobody, I mean nobody, an explanation. When people say things, when they comment about your pregnancy you don’t have to tell them anything that you don’t want to. When they ask if you were planning this, if it was a surprise, if you’re happy …. those are intimate questions, and you don’t have to let people know the answer.There will be people that you can share with and cry with, but the average bystander and acquaintance is not worthy of your explanations. Whether you used birth control or not – it’s none of their business. Whether you were planning this or not – none of their business. Don’t feel any pressure to give people a response.
  2. Your baby is not a mistake. Your baby may be unexpected; your baby may be a surprise — but your baby is absolutely NOT a mistake. Mistakes are supposed to be erased, they are supposed to be corrected. Surprises are unexpected and take some rethinking and adjusting, but ultimately you do adjust. There is a massive difference between a mistake and a surprise.
  3. You need safe people. You need people who will listen to you, judgment free as you rant and rave about your body, your mother-in-law, your oversexed husband, your life in ruins, all of it. You need to be able to say that you want to run away to safe people who know that these feelings will pass. Safe friends who will love you and protect you from a world that feels overwhelming are a gift.
  4. Be okay with asking for help. I made a vow that hurt me for years when I got pregnant unexpectedly. That vow was that no one would ever see me out of control. It was such a mistake. I carried such a heavy burden of having to keep it together. People who knew and loved me knew that I wasn’t keeping it together, but I tried to hide it under the vow that I had foolishly made. When I finally broke free of that, I cried and cried, ending the crying session with a soul-deep sigh.I was finally free to admit my need for others, my need for help. Don’t be like me. Ask for help.
  5. Routine could be your best friend. When you find yourself pregnant and you have a toddler in the house, routine is a wonderful gift. Routine means you can say “No, I’m sorry – I can’t do that. It’s nap time.” Routine builds security in you and your children. Routine gives you time to recharge and drink tea. Routine is not binding – it’s freeing.
  6. Be okay saying “No.” “No – I can’t make a dessert for the women’s brunch.” “No, I can’t chaperone the preschool field trip.” “No, I can’t baby sit your kids.” “No, I can’t work those extra hours.” “No, I can’t fill in for a sick nurse, or a sick Sunday school teacher, or a sick anyone anytime anywhere.” No. No. No. For some reason, I was an easy yes. I remember one time sitting at someone’s house helping her fold her clothes and make apple crisp. Suddenly I thought “This is ridiculous! I’m the one with five kids! I’m the one who needs to fold clothes and make apple crisp – AT HOME! I realized that I needed to put healthy boundaries around my time.
  7. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need everything that western society says they do. They don’t need hundreds of outings, they don’t need a bunch of different play groups. They need you. They need Grandma if she’s around. They need security and safety. Self-actualization is way far away on Maslow’s hierarchy. Don’t worry about it. If play groups help you – well then, have at it. But if they don’t – then don’t worry about “socializing” your child. Believe me, there is a lot of socialization that your kid can do without.
  8. On days when you are so tired, and you just can’t do it anymore, there’s always tea and reading time. Put quiet music on in the background and read to your little ones. Then, put them in their happy places while you read yourself.
  9. One day you will get your body and your sleep back. It won’t be the same, it can never be the same. That’s the price we pay for having these little humanoids who grab our hearts with their vice-like grips and create a gap in our well-oiled shiny armor. But there will come a day when you put on a little-maybe-big(ger) black dress and go out with your true love again. There will come a day when you have a full night sleep. There will come a day when all of your children – even the surprise ones – are potty trained. There will come a time when you watch your own television shows and movies. There will come a time when you miss your kids. But it won’t be for awhile.
  10. Allow people to celebrate for you. You may think this is the worst thing ever, the timing is all wrong, you were going to go back to school to get a masters degree, you had finally lost all your baby weight, your husband is looking for a new job, you just started back to work — there may be all kinds of reasons that you have for not being able to celebrate. But others can celebrate for you. When I arrived in London, unexpectedly pregnant with my fifth child, no one in Cairo knew. I hadn’t told anyone. I arrived in London and my best friend met me at the airport. I hugged her and then burst into tears. “I’m pregnant!” “You’re so lucky!” she said. She had had a couple of miscarriages and she knew what it was to be gratefully pregnant. It was perfect. No – I didn’t feel lucky. No – I felt totally overwhelmed. But her reaction was so wonderfully spontaneous and lovely that I began to feel a measure of hope with her response.

You could still be wondering why you are pregnant when you are in labor and about to deliver the baby – but once you see that tiny, little person, you will be in utter awe and the heartburn will be gone.

So to you who got pregnant too soon – I hear you. I’m with you. You join the multitudes of us around the world in that special “I got pregnant too soon and I realize I can’t control my life club.” It’s a club that humbles you and grows you up quickly. No one intends to join the club, but once you’re in it, you realize that it’s a pretty great club after all.

Surviving Summer!


In this two part series Robynn suggests ways to successfully survive summer! 

School is about to get out here in Kansas. For many moms that’s a sweet joy. They anticipate leisurely time with their children, afternoons at the pool, evenings in the park. For the rest of us summer is a stir-fry of a wide range of emotions. We feel joy, panic, loss of routine, guilt, anticipation, dread. These are the moms I have in mind as I write this. I am that mom.

  • Gauge your expectations

I think it’s really important to think through your expectations for the summer. Are you expecting some lazy days? Are you hoping to get a lot of home projects done? Is this the time you’ve set aside to teach your kids to cook? What’s your energy level like? Do you need to plan in extended quiet times? Is your family planning on traveling this summer? Think it through. Be honest with yourself. Schedule a family meeting. Communicate with one another what you’re hoping for from this summer. Monitoring expectations in your own heart, but also in the hearts of your family members is key to summer success. Expectations can dash and disappoint or they can serve to create anticipation and joy.

  • Grace, Grace, Grace!

This is your summer. This is the summer you’ve been given. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It can be as unique and interesting as you and your family. You can nap, or run, or hide in your bedroom for a few yours every other day. You can cry when your kids cry, scream when they scream, giggle when they giggle. This summer belongs to you. If a day goes awry —that’s ok. There’s grace wide enough for that. If you have a moment with your teenager that you regret–apologize, receive forgiveness. If you forget that you’re the adult for a spell–shake it off, choose to switch gears. There’s grace deep enough for that too. If nothing get’s done on your summer project list, don’t sweat it! There’s mercy that lingers for today and is new for tomorrow. You have what it takes to do this parenting thing with courage. Just show up. Pull your chair up to the table. Live in the grace that is present in each moment.

  • Resist Pinterest; Stay away from Facebook

I recommend severely limiting any type of social media that fosters comparison and secret maternal competitions. Seeing that your friend took her kids to an art class and the masterpieces they each produced makes your attempts to hand paper and paints and brushes to your kid with instructions to go outside seem minor and ineffectual. Watching your cousin’s vacation videos only serves to stir up envy and shame that you’ll never be able to afford to take your family to the same places. Even pictures of other families playing board games show the laughter and the joy, they don’t reveal the kid that storms off in anger, the older sibling taunting the younger for losing. Ugly moments don’t tend to get Instagrammed!

  • Screens aren’t as evil as they say—everything in moderation

Nothing brings on shame in parents quicker than admitting that their kid spent 5-7 hours watching TV or Netflix that day! I know because I’ve had that day. There’s nothing wrong with a little screen time. With Netflix and cable TV and a library full of movies we have endless options of good programming. Setting limits is probably a good idea but do so with grace and flexibility. Each day has enough worries of it’s own.

  • Books are better than screens

There really is nothing better than a good book. I love having my nose in a good book. I love it when my kids are all reading good books. Most local libraries have summer reading programs but if you don’t have access to a library or if your library doesn’t promote a summer reading program create your own! Set prizes and rewards for reading books. I know, theoretically the book itself is reward enough…but I’m not beyond bribery to help a kid live into that fact. We’ve even paid our older teens to read specific books on managing finances and creating budgets! If you’re stumped to know how to help your child find a good book there are countless lists available on line.

  • Summer Bridge

Early on when we first returned to North America I discovered Summer Bridge workbooks. These workbooks help a child stay tuned into math and reading. They prevent brain paralysis over the summer. Knowing my kids were spending fifteen minutes a day thinking made me feel better as a mom—and really, who are we kidding, that’s what matters!

  • Slow yourself down

This brings us full circle back to attending to our expectations. I think it helps to deliberately slow yourself down. It’s hard to herd cats. It’s hard to rush kids—of any age! Breathing slower. Relaxing your own pace helps significantly.

  • Boredom Busted!

Don’t fall for the Boredom blues! Boredom might likely be an indicator of a lazy brain or a restless spirit. One of my (many!) pet peeves is the line, “I’m bored!” Several summers ago I implemented the Boredom Buster jar. Every time a child of mine lamented, “I’m bored!” I pulled out the jar. In the jar I had written every conceivable chore I could think of –most were jobs I’d been putting off for ages, things I really didn’t want to do myself! Clean the ceiling fans, sweep the front porch, pull dandelions, empty the fridge and wipe it down, wash the stairs. For the first two weeks of that summer I got so much work done! After that the kids paused before singing the old “I’m bored” chorus, they found things to do on their own. My Boredom Buster jar encouraged creativity!

  • Plan in adult conversation

This is key! No matter the ages of your children, it’s vital to your sanity to ensure you’ve planned stimulating adult conversation into your week. Meet another parent and their tribe at the park. If you have older kids is there a mom out there with younger kids that you could connect with? Have your kids babysit her kids while the two of you connect over ice tea or frozen lattes. Plan it out. Knowing this is on the calendar will give you hope in the middle of another conversation about Sponge Bob Square pants or Dora the Explorer.

 

A Note to Moms who Work Outside the Home:

You women are amazing! Here are a couple of things I want to say to you in particular:

  1. Learn to marinate your soul in a daily GRACE wash. You are a good mother. Your mothering is broader than this summer.
  2. Arrange good childcare for your kids. Do what needs to be done to provide safe and healthy care for each of your children. It might look different for each kid each summer.
  3. Communicate that plan to your kids without apology.
  4. Don’t skimp on self-care and rest and adult conversation. This is vital to you continuing on in your mothering role with any amount of joy!

 

A Primer in Parenting–Part 3

Part three: Don’t burn your Bridges – A Home to Come Back To
This is the final segment in a three part series Robynn has called, The Spelling Bee. “Lowell and I squeezed hands. Connor seemed to hesitate. There was a long pause. The audience had time to spell out the word in their heads several times over. Still Connor seemed to struggle silently…He was grasping for the spelling of his word. Until hesitatingly, falteringly, he began, Gospel. G…..O…..S……P……E…..L? Gospel. Altogether, parents, teachers, students exhaled. He had spelled it correctly. The Principal of the school, sitting just in front of us, turned and said with a smile, “Wouldn’t that have been awkward to have the missionary’s kid go out on ‘gospel’?!” It’s an amusing little story but the truth is I really don’t want my kids to go out on the gospel.” Join Robynn has she shares more from the unwritten list she and Lowell try to employ as they parent their children toward a vibrant faith.

  1. Live separately.

A couple of years ago I was talking to another mother of teenage boys. She was frustrated that her son had decided to not do well in school. She and her husband couldn’t seem to find a way to motivate him. Her emotional response to her son’s academic apathy was discernible. As a Spiritual Director I wanted to help her push into her own anxieties. “Sherry, this is not your D,” I told her. “You made different choices and you didn’t get a D in math.” It’s important to live separately from our children. My children are not extensions of me. We must resist the urge to parent based on popular opinion or the opinion of others. I can’t take their rages against me personally. I love them too much to argue. As their mother, I have to separate myself emotionally and yet not be emotionally distant.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

If I really believe, and I do, that Jesus is the only thing that matters…then I want my kids to pursue Jesus. I imagine because of the personalities of our children and because of the counter-cultural ways we’ve taught them to think that one or more of them will follow a different “straight and narrow” path to Jesus the Good Shepherd than through the protestant evangelical path we’ve stayed on. I’d rather they find Jesus cloaked in Orthodox clothes, or Mennonite simplicity or Charismatic Catholic garments than not find him at all.

  1. Pray like crazy!

At the end of the day, I hate to tell you but, we are completely out of control when it comes to parenting! I had to smile when another friend, a mother of two, was telling me that she had quit her ministry so her kids don’t hate God or the church. I wasn’t sure if I should break it to her or not…but there are no guarantees. We cannot control the outcomes. The sooner we admit that to ourselves the better. The sooner we acknowledge that God alone has access to the insides of our children, he has admittance to their souls, the sooner our parenting will be another admission on our part that we are not in charge. We are not in control.

Our own faith has great opportunity to grow through parenting. We recognize, quickly, our humanity, our selfishness, our desperate need for the help of Another. And we turn to our own Father, who generously gives wisdom to all who ask. He doles out parenting advice. He reassures our own fears. Simultaneously he handles our own hearts full of anxieties and insecurities and the hearts of our children full of insecurities and anxieties.

We pray often: little thank yous, little cries for help, little petitions for their souls, little celebratory yays when they’ve made a good choice. We pray through our own emotional responses that overwhelm us, our memories, our own horrors that surface as we watch our children grow through the retroactive lenses of our own upbringings. Quickly we learn to pray without stopping as parenting drives us to the very edges of who we are.

  1. Don’t shy away from suffering.

I have often prayed that God would do whatever it takes so that my children know Him, so that their faith is their own, so they know that Jesus is relevant for here and now. Surely that will involve suffering. Suffering is a theme in scripture that we cannot ignore. Suffering purifies, transforms, deepens our faith. Suffering is a privilege. As horrendously hard as it is, I have to resist the urge to protect my children from all of their sufferings. I’m not suggesting that I stand by and do nothing if I discover my children are victims of evil. But I am saying that it is tempting as parents to want to rush in and fix the disappointments and pain our children face. We want to make it better. We want them to be ok. We need to be careful here. Suffering can be the tool that God uses to make His presence known to our kids. His comfort goes deeper than ours ever can. He understands the complexities of their grief and their sorrows. He walks with them through it. We can trust him to shepherd their souls in the midst of the sadness and suffering they experience.

I don’t want to mess that up.

  1. Be the Father for them…a place to come back to.

Several months ago I was having lunch with a couple of friends. One friend’s older children are making poor decisions. My friend, in processing that, said something really profound, “At this point in my relationship with them I don’t want to burn any bridges. I want them to have someone to come back to. When they’re done being stupid, I want them to know they can come home to me.”

The story of the Prodigal son is one of my favourites for so many reasons. I love that story. The prodigal makes a really offensive request. No one is surprised by the question (–the youngest are always coming up with ridiculous ideas!) but everyone is surprised by the Father’s response. He lets him make, what to the rest of us who are sane seems like, the stupidest decision of his life. The youngest walks intentionally, deliberately further and further into his folly. He packs and moves away and wherever he goes he wastes his money in a series of bad decisions.

When the younger son is hungry and comes to his senses, he knows where he can go for food and forgiveness…but mostly for food! He goes home. He returns to his dad. And the dad is there waiting and eager to have him. The welcome is wondrous! The father doesn’t hold back. He embraces the son, decks him out in the most extravagant clothes and jewelry, orders in the richest cuisine and throws a party.

The father was there, the person the son could come home to. I want to be that parent. There was no shame or guilt heaped on the son, no pleading and nagging for details, no tears, no manipulation. There was welcome and grace and love.

I want Lowell and I to be there for my kids to come back to. I want to celebrate every return, every pivot point, every desire to come back. I want them to know they are always welcome here at home.

 

And that’s our list. That’s how Lowell and I have decided to guide our three precious kids to Jesus. We have no idea if what we’re doing will work! Every day feels a little risky. Every parenting decision feels somewhat precarious. And yet we step out in faith, believing in the Good Parent who loves us, his children, deeply and who is more committed to our children (who are also his children) than we could ever be.

 

A Primer in Parenting–Part 2

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Part two: Bible Trivia. Shmible Shnivia.

Robynn continues unpacking the list she and Lowell have followed as they’ve attempted to raise their children in the Faith. “I don’t want them to lose faith or to abandon God. We’ve made ourselves a sort of silent checklist…an unspoken, yet agreed upon “How To” guide…to help us parent our three. I have no idea if this stuff works—we’re still very much in process…but here’s the frame work Lowell and I are using, in hopes that, by God’s grace, our kids will not go out on the gospel.”

  1. Bible Trivia. Shmible Shnivia.

If you put your kids up against my kids in a Bible trivia game my kids will lose. They don’t know the Books of the Bible song. I don’t think they’ve ever played Bible Sword Drill in their lives. Some of the things they spout from scripture are horrifying, mixed up names, confused stories. However if you think about it that’s really not what we’re trying to do as parents, is it? We’re not wanting to raise Trivia Pursuits champions; we’re wanting to raise children who understand the overall story of the Bible, the story of redemption, the story of a God who seeks after them and their neighbours and the world with relentless love and compassion. Bible knowledge is certainly important. But knowing God and being known by God are infinitely more important.

  1. Try not to freak out at their doubt and their questions.

We’ve raised our children to be thinkers. We want them to ask questions, to explore, to wonder. We don’t want them to accept things at face value. It’s true with the media. (I want them to question the messages their served up).

But it’s also true with the church. Here too, I want them to cogitate, contemplate and consider. I want them to dig deeper. I long for them to see past the cultural costumes we’ve clothed our faith in. I want them to own their faith…and in order for that to happen they have to take it deep inside their souls and shake it out, and try it on for size. As difficult and time-consuming as it is, I need to resist the temptation to treat their questions as moles that pop up in that arcade game popular at state fairs. Sometimes I want to whack those moles back into place. It’s more convenient. But I think the healthier option is to engage the mole, calmly let it look around, and ultimately let the mole give voice to his curiosities.

  1. Talk about our values.

Our kids hear us talk all the time. They hear us talk about the books we read. We’ve debated policy issues and dissected political issues. They hear us rant about issues of justice. They’ve seen me cry for the pain of the suffering or the plight of the poor. We’ve talked at length about money and faith and climate change; about war and education and equality and a fuller definition of redemption. We talk a lot at this house… and most all of it reflects our values. The other day our 16 year old was wanting (again) to play a video game that is known for its violence. In exasperation he retorted that when he’s on his own he’ll play whatever game he wants to. I replied (almost) calmly that it was our job as parents to pass on our values to him but he could ultimately choose which ones he keeps and which ones he sets aside. Certainly they’ve heard our hearts and the things that are important to us. Maybe (hopefully) some of it has stuck.

  1. Modeling…lots of modeling.

Our kids have seen us seek out Jesus. Each morning when they rise they see us sitting in our chairs with our coffee and contemplations in full swing. They’ve watched us volunteer at the church and in the community. We are gentle activists and they’ve had a front row seat to our activity and our protests and our push for justice. I can only hope that some of it has changed them. I pray that they see us and they’re taking some of us inside of who they will be.

  1. Expose them to great people.

We go to a great church. We rub shoulders with interesting people who do interesting things. We want our kids to know these people; to experience their passions and personalities up close. These great people have so much they could teach our kids. I want my kids to have that opportunity. I also want them to be surrounded by a community of caring adults in case they ever need someone. If our relationships ever sour I want them to know the safety of a larger circle of people that have lovingly encircled them since they were very young.

For Part 1 of the series go here.

Stay tuned for Part 3 on Friday.

The Spelling Bee–A Primer in Parenting

Over the past several weeks I’ve met several moms that are, by their own admission, floundering. They love their children but they experience moments of great rage. They love their children but they long for quiet times without them. They love their children but guilt falls thick when they experience other longings.

I want to write more for these moms. I am one of them. I understand those wide ranges of emotions connected to maternity. In thinking about pieces I’d like to write–on grace, on truth, on self-care, on pursuing other dreams simultaneously—it struck me that it might be beneficial to start again at the beginning. This mini-series on parenting really addresses just the basics. I’ve posted these before but it’s some of the best that I have to offer these moms.

Part one: The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

When Connor was in 6th grade he was in the school spelling bee. He had won the class bee. He had won the bee for all of 6th grade. And now he was in the all school spelling bee.

I quickly decided that as a mom, attending spelling bees is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. You sit there quietly in the audience and wait for the word to be announced. Once you hear the word, you spell it out in your mind, quietly, slowly and then, still in your mind, loudly, insistently. All of your brain tries to will the spelling of the word to the mind of the young speller. It’s agonizing. When it’s your child standing, waiting for the word to materialize in their heads, it almost hurts you as a parent spectator to watch. It’s excruciating.

E.X.C.R.U.C.I.A.T.I.N.G.

Younger spellers were quickly eliminated. Soon there were only 6 spellers left. Now 4. It was Connor’s turn to spell. The word he was given was ‘gospel’.

Lowell and I squeezed hands. Connor seemed to hesitate. There was a long pause. The audience had time to spell out the word in their heads several times over. Still Connor seemed to struggle silently.

Gospel. Can I have it in a sentence please? Can I have the definition?

He was using all of the familiar spelling bee participant’s stall tactics. He was grasping for the spelling of his word. Until hesitatingly, falteringly, he began,

Gospel. G…..O…..S……P……E…..L? Gospel?

Altogether, parents, teachers, students exhaled. He had spelled it correctly. The Principal of the school, sitting just in front of us, turned and said with a smile, “Wouldn’t that have been awkward to have the missionary’s kid go out on ‘gospel’?!” We all chuckled with relief!

It’s an amusing little story but the truth is I really don’t want my kids to go out on the gospel. I don’t want them to lose faith or to abandon God. We’ve made ourselves a sort of silent checklist…an unspoken, yet agreed upon “How To” guide…to help us parent our three. I have no idea if this stuff works—we’re still very much in process…but here’s the frame work Lowell and I are using, in hopes that, by God’s grace, our kids will not go out on the gospel:

  1. It’s time to simplify!

It really is time to strip down our Christianity back to the simple Jesus underneath. Really the only thing that matters is Christ. It doesn’t matter what my kids wear to church, or how they do their hair. Their choice of music might be obnoxious; the volume might be too loud. But at the end of the day Jesus is the only thing that matters.

Connor came out of youth group several months ago fuming mad! Someone had said something that infuriated him. As he climbed into the car he spouted, “I hate Christians, I hate the church, I hate all of Christianity.” Admittedly I was a little alarmed. What had happened to provoke this type of visceral response? We talked it through on the way home. As soon as we walked into the house, Lowell asked how youth group had gone. I repeated what Connor had said when he got in the car. Lowell, in response, casually said, “Well Connor, what do you think of Jesus?” Connor’s reply was immediate and full of conviction, “I love Jesus very much.” “That’s all that matters then,” Lowell said. I was a little flabbergasted at Lowell’s nonchalance. I had gotten a little bit more worked up about it. But Lowell is right. Really, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that our children embrace Jesus. Only Jesus.

  1. Remove the measuring sticks.

We’ve never forced our children to read their Bibles. We’ve never forced them to have a “Quiet Time”. Growing up in boarding school, especially when we were younger, there was a time for “personal devotions” –we were supposed to read our Bibles and pray. To help us in that feat we were given little Scripture Union devotional books. First you worked through the red one and then you could graduate to the Blue one. There was a green one and yellow one and I think, even a purple one. Spirituality became a competition all based on which little workbook you were in. When we were older, I remember reading my Bible in less than private spaces to ensure, subtly, that others might catch a glimpse of my devotion.

Lowell and I could set up a system. We could offer rewards. But I don’t want to raise “white washed tombs”—I want children who want to know God. I don’t want children who look like they want to know God. When Connor makes his bed, he pulls up the top bedspread only. The rest of his blankets lay in a nested mess at the foot of his bed. I don’t want his faith to be like his bed –only one blanket deep and thinly veiling the hypocrisy and mess underneath.

  1. Don’t be afraid of the slippery slope.

It’s scary to parent without the measuring sticks because we have no idea what’s really going on inside the souls of our children. We are out of control. If we have those types of rules in place we know if they’ve been obeyed or if they’ve been broken. They allow us to feel better about ourselves as parents. And without those rules, those mile markers, the measuring guides we have no way of knowing what’s going on. Not only are we out of control but there’s nothing to contribute to our sense of well-doing.

There is a prevailing idea in Christendom that suggests that we can’t completely throw out the law or the rules. Those suggesting this insist we need a balance. Too much grace leads to permissiveness….before you know it you’re on the slippery slope. A little bit of law regulates our behavior in good and productive ways. This type of Christianity results in us controlling behavior; it’s really just sin management.

And it simply is not true. Grace is generous and complete. The law has been erased. The only rule that remains now is the rule of love.

Our worst fears lie on the other end of the slippery slope. Sin. Licentiousness. Paganism. Hedonism.

Jesus calls us to camp out on that slope. To trust ourselves and our children to the depth of his grace. We are called to love: the Lord our God, our neighbours, our families, ourselves. If we do sin, grace pursues us and welcomes us back. We need to remember nothing is wasted by God. He takes the meanderings, those mistakes and he uses them for His glory in our story. We can know he does that with our children too.

Dear New Mom – Part 2

  
Dear New Mom,

A year ago I wrote a letter to you. I saw you on the subway, and you had that amazing look, a look I know so well — the look of a woman in love with her newborn.

So I wrote to you, and I meant every word that I said. Now, your baby is just over a year old, and the glow is gone, but it’s replaced by more maturity and tenacity. A year in and you know some of the work this thing called motherhood takes — it has its moments, doesn’t it? Still, each step, each word – it’s all amazing.

And of course, if you didn’t know before, you know now that every writer, blogger, researcher, celebrity, and Russian babushka has an opinion and expresses that opinion about everything from tummy time to tuna.

This past week, I found myself sorting through old pictures and just like that, I was taken back to a time when I was you — watching this little person become. So I thought back to the letter I wrote last year and I’m adding my voice to the chorus. I ask for you to forgive me when I get it wrong.

First off, there are those who tell you that you really don’t know what it’s like to be a mom since you only have one child….AS IF!! That’s just crazy talk right there! Yes you do my friend! Okay, you may not know what it’s like to be a mom of five, but you sure know what it’s like to be a mom of one. We just have to stop this crazy comparison talk. Just because I have five, doesn’t mean a mom with one doesn’t know what it’s like to be a mom. A mom with six kids is not more of a mom than you are. A mom who adopts is not less of a mom! If you have a child, you’re a mom and that’s it.

Don’t be afraid to travel with your child. Take them early and often. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but you will feel like superwoman when you’ve gone on even a short trip with them. It’s  amazing. I remember traveling to Greece with four kids under six, the youngest was four months old. Two of them got chicken pox on the airplane. I learned that I could do anything, anything if I could do that! You’ll feel the same traveling with your toddler! You will know that you are superwoman!

You’ve likely now had people give you the “first year advice.” It may have been over supporting your baby’s head while you were holding her; it may have been over not keeping them warm enough, or because you made the mistake of breast feeding in public, or pulling out a bottle of formula. Likely you could sometimes laugh, but other times it felt so hard and destructive, and when you got home you dissolved into a puddle of tears. It’s so hard, right? You don’t want to be rude, but you really need to be given space. Remember how in last year’s letter I told you about safe space? Know your safe spaces and your safe people – be nice to others, but don’t let them into that space. I learned to listen to some people, and to others, I had to quietly blow words away. To make it fun, put away a dime for every time someone gives you advice. You will get rich so quick – it will be awesome.

You are smart! Sometimes the loud voices forget that we are smart, and that we are capable of figuring this out for ourselves without a 24-7 diet of information. Trust your intuition because you are probably right.

If you want to dress your kids like they belong on wedding cakes, then you do it! I don’t regret one bow tie or ruffle. It was so much fun dressing those kids, and believe me, the time will come when they will have none of it so just enjoy it while it lasts.

Enjoy the process. It’s so easy to wish our lives away and forget the moments. And I am going to be annoying here and say this: It goes really fast. It doesn’t feel like it does, but as I looked back over my pictures, I was lost in the smiles that good memories bring. We had so much fun. Fun at bath time, fun on picnics, fun on airplanes. There was a lot of joy in the midst of all that growing.

I have to say new mom, that you are my favorite! I am so on your side, and I apologize from my generation for making you believe that you can do it all – because if there is one thing I know — you can’t do it all. Something has to give, and unfortunately it’s usually us. So go with grit and grace, there are a lot of us older moms on your side.

Love, Marilyn [yes – that IS me in the picture – I always made sure I had a nice bathrobe for pictures like that.]

P.S. I ate tuna while I was pregnant.  Lots and lots of tuna. And it’s likely that your child will be potty-trained when they are 13, so don’t buy into this “They aren’t potty-trained yet?! (said with incredulity) Mine’s been potty-trained since ___!” And the point is….?

 

No Child Should Have to be the Firstborn….

 

Firstborn children have the joy and burden of being first. The joy of newness and expectation, the burden of insecure parenting and wanting to get it right. No child should have to be the firstborn. But someone has to, and they deserve special applause as they teach their parents more of what it is to parent, to grow, and to love with an indescribable love.

In our family that someone is Annie.  Today, that infamous day when buildings fell and people wept so many years ago, is her birthday. So today I pause and write to our firstborn.

Dear Annie,

You turn 30 today! I can’t believe it until I look in the mirror and see the laughter lines and tear marks disguised as wrinkles on my face. And then I know – yes indeed! I have a 30-year-old.

No child should have to be the firstborn — and yet, you were. After a long labor, you ushered us into parenthood with hardly a cry. “Is she okay?” we asked anxiously. But you were fine – all six pounds four ounces of your tiny self with your bright blue eyes. You were perfect.

We took you home in baby pajamas that were three sizes too big for you. They were yellow with “Le Petite Bebe” embroidered on the front. During those first few hours at home you slept and slept – and we looked over your Moses basket with worry: “Should we wake her up? I don’t know. Do you think she’s okay? I don’t know.” We decided to wake you up.

That was a mistake. From then on we adhered to the mantra “Never wake a sleeping baby.”

Two weeks later, we moved and this began the trajectory of your life. From a Chicago apartment to a house in New Hampshire to rose gardens in Pakistan; from bustling Cairo to small-town Essex – you have lived in apartments and houses and more apartments and learned to call each one of them home, even when they hurt you.

We look back at pictures and you are so little and we are so young.

You grew up knowing airplanes and airports, thinking that Saturday morning cartoons came in two-hour videos, eating kebabs and curry before you had teeth, having more stamps in your passport at five than many do in a lifetime, and believing that Arabic is the language of the world.

You were so gentle as you taught us about parenting. You were our naiveté and our idealism; you were our youth and our mistakes; you were our uncertainty about curfews and our ignorance about boundaries; you were our energy and our travel; you were our reentry angst and our struggle to fit in the new world we found ourselves.

You have given us so much grace on this journey – and we thank you.

You are a reader and dreamer, you are a shout for justice and a ready made party. You are a writer, an artist, a doula, a friend.

You are daughter of our youth and our heart, and we love you. And so we raise our glasses to you the firstborn – resilient, beautiful, talented, funny, irritating, brave, engaging, and lover of all things champagne on a beer-budget.

Happy Birthday Dear Girl!

The Last Child

Jonathan and Stef at Stef’s Graduation from college in May

Last night we moved our youngest to an apartment. While normally at this time of year we move him to his dorm at college, this is different. This time it feels permanent. He has really left home. With his leaving, a sense of goodness and joy has gone. My daughter and I sit on the porch feeling a bit lost and not a little sad.

I wrote the words below a couple of years ago, and I read them again today, wanting to remind myself that the best thing I can do is pack him off and place him where I have placed him countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his children.

**********

Like most parents I feel a mixture of pride, nostalgia, and relief. We’re given our children as gifts with no guarantees and no exchanges. I’m grateful for this– I’ve no doubt my parents would have traded me in for a better model several times over.

There are times when you feel in your marrow that you’re failing your kid, when you stay up late into the night pleading for mercy and grace. There are other times when you’re downright cocky thinking “I’ve so got this parenting thing covered!” only to fall flat in the next breath.

The last child gets the parent who picks the pacifier up from the floor and pops it in baby’s mouth, hoping no one sees them but pretty sure they wouldn’t care even they were seen. They get the parent who is weary of curfews and just wants their child to be quiet when they sneak in at 2am; the parent who looks at them and softly admits they wish they had tried pot in high school. They get the parent who knows that every picture their child paints is not a Picasso masterpiece, but can still look at it and say “my, isn’t that a lovely shade of blue!”

They get the parent who knows more about grace than they could have ever imagined and can say without hesitation that parenting is “but for grace…”

An opinion piece in the Washington Post written by Michael Gerson eloquently articulated many of the emotions I feel.

“Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.” From “Saying goodbye to my child; the youngster

So there you have it. I am but a ‘short stage’, a blip if you will, in the life stories of my kids, but a blip who loves them with a fierce, protective, God-given love. A blip ordained by God to share in the awesome and terrible responsibility of parenting.

So the sun sets on the stage where I see my son most every day. Where life is lived in family–in the morning through shared coffee and silence, in the evening through shared meals and discussion.

In all of this I am reminded of the Father who loves with an everlasting love, a love “utterly trustworthy and completely unpredictable”. *

And the best thing I do as I pack them off is place them where I have placed them countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his beloved children.

The Urban Disadvantage – State of the World’s Mothers 2015

state of the worlds mothers 2Every year around Mother’s Day a report is released from Save the Children called the “State of the World’s Mothers.” And every year, I write about it.

Because it is so important to me. If I could spend all day every day with moms and babies, I would. There are so many reasons for this – but partly its because I have five of my own and I learned so much from those younger days. I know what helped and I definitely know what didn’t help. Healthy moms and babies are critical to a healthy world.

In the last 60 plus years, the number of city dwellers in the world has increased by over 20%, so that half the world’s population now lives in the city. While this creates incredible advantages for many of us, there are many others who live in extreme poverty where disease is prevalent, nutrition poor, and violence high. The World Health Organization (WHO)estimates that nearly a billion people live in urban slums, shantytowns, on sidewalks, under bridges, or along the railroad tracks.” One of the worst places in the world for a mom and a baby to be is in a city slum. 

state of the worlds mothersThis year’s report is on mothers in urban settings and is appropriately called “The Urban Disadvantage.” Here are some summary findings, taken directly from the report:

“Every day, 17,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Increasingly, these preventable deaths are occurring in city slums, where overcrowding and poor sanitation exist alongside skyscrapers and shopping malls. Lifesaving health care may be only a stone’s throw away, but the poorest mothers and children often cannot get the care they need.”

  • The world, especially the developing world, is becoming urbanized at a breathtaking pace. Virtually all future population growth in developing countries is expected to happen in cities, resulting in a greater share of child deaths taking place in urban areas.
  • In developing countries, the urban poor are often as bad as, or worse off than, the average rural family, and for many rural families, moving to the city may result in more – rather than less – hardship
  • Few countries have invested sufficiently in the infrastructure and systems, including water and sanitation, which are critical to addressing the basic health needs of the urban poor. More countries need to adopt universal health care as a national policy to help address the unmet needs of the urban poor.
  • While great progress has been made in reducing urban under-5 mortality around the world, inequality is worsening in too many cities.
  • The poorest children in almost every city face alarmingly high risks of death.
  • High child death rates in slums are rooted in disadvantage, deprivation and discrimination.
  • Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of deaths of children under 5, leading to over 3 million deaths each year, 800,000 of which occur among newborn babies.
  • Among capital cities in high-income countries, Washington, DC has the highest infant death risk and great inequality. Save the Children examined infant mortality rates in 25 capital cities of wealthy countries and found that Washington, DC had the highest infant mortality rate at 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. While this rate is an all-time low for the District of Columbia, it is still 3 times the rates found in Tokyo and Stockholm.

Here’s the good news: We know what works! This is huge. Save the Children looked at six cities that, despite significant population growth, have made strides in saving children. Again, from the report:

The cities are: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Cairo (Egypt), Manila (Philippines), Kampala (Uganda), Guatemala City (Guatemala) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia). These cities have achieved success through a variety of strategies to extend access to high impact services, strengthen health systems, lower costs, increase health awareness and make care more accessible to the poorest urban residents.  1) Better care for mothers and babies before, during and after childbirth; 2) Increased use of modern contraception to prevent or postpone pregnancy; and 3) Effective strategies to provide free or subsidized quality health services for the poor. 

The yearly report always ends with recommendations, and this year is no exception. As a public health nurse, I am always encouraged and discouraged about this report. On the one hand, the statistics are depressing and overwhelming. On the same hand, its all well for a group like Save the Children to talk about what needs to be done, but it is completely different convincing country, state, and city governments that money needs to be given to these efforts.

So where’s the good news? The good news is in places like Heartline Ministries in Haiti. I’ve never been there, but feel like I know two of the midwives who work with Heartline – Beth and Tara – through our email and online interaction. They are two of my “sheros.” Heartline’s mission statement is “Intentionally walking alongside the impoverished men, women, and children of Haiti during their life journeys, meeting critical physical, emotional, financial, educational, and most importantly spiritual needs.” Their maternity center exists to provide prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care to women in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. If you want to know where your money is going to, and want to make a difference, I highly recommend this group. Connect with them on Facebook here.

And the other place I’ve written about before. Shikarpur Christian Hospital has met the needs of moms and babies for years with little recognition and a lot of perseverance. Pakistani and Western staff work hard to give great care to moms and babies in Shikarpur and surrounding areas.

In my public health heart, I know that for real and lasting change to happen, policies are needed at the highest levels. I know that some things are completely impossible without the support of local government. I know in my soul that for real and lasting change, hearts have to change. But while some may say these places are bandaids on a gushing wound, I would say that until we live in a perfect world, thank God for the people who are willing to put on bandaids.

Photo Credit – https://www.pinterest.com/pin/13370130120653125/

The Boy Behind the Speech

The Boy Behind the Speech by Robynn

Connor has been chosen, by his peers, to give a ten minute speech at Manhattan High School’s commencement. The selection process was a little intimidating—or at least it would have been for me. Connor had to submit a written piece to the administration. He then had to deliver a two-minute speech to his classmates (all 400 of them) who then voted. And Connor’s was chosen.

Lowell and I are very proud.

And to be honest, Lowell and I are also a little nervous!

It’s remarkable to me how our Connor is all grown up. It’s unbelievable, really. How did that happen? Other people’s children grow up steadily, at an even pace of development. But not Connor–he’s exceptional that way I suppose–he just zipped up! Swoosh! I don’t know what miracle or scientific anomaly happened in our family but yesterday Connor was in grade six. He had his first job as a paper boy, saved up his money and bought a Wii. The day before that he was a seven year old resisting showers and personal hygiene of any kind. And just the week before that he was crawling around on his hands and knees on cement floors making this hilarious duck sound. Now, at age 18, with only 14 days of school left, he’s graduating from high school.

The only reason we’re nervous is because of other things we’ve heard come from this kid’s mouth.

 When he was nine years old and having a particularly bad day he mumbled this,      “Every kid has one childhood and you’re ruining mine.”

Personal hygiene was always a struggle for Connor when he was younger. He resented every shower, every scrub brush, every washcloth. Once when he was seven, I reminded him to take a shower and indicated which body parts he should remember to wash, his response was loud and impassioned, “Pits?! I have to wash my armpits?? I’ve never washed my pits in my whole life!” Another time, around that same season, I asked him if he had changed his underwear, to which he exploded, “Change my underwear?? Really? You’re killing me, Mom!”

Connor was always an articulate boy. He said what he felt and he said it with conviction. When he was eight years old he was fed up with the games his sisters played. He thought they were meaningless and lacked substance. In a heartfelt moment he confessed, “I’m so disappointed with God. I prayed for a baby brother or a dog that talks and he hasn’t given me either.” This was the same boy who wrote me a note when I went to the hospital to deliver his youngest sibling. The note read, “If the baby’s a boy I’ll have a lot of fun. If the baby’s a girl I’ll have another sister.”

We never knew what Connor might say and when. One time we had a group of pastors visiting mutual friends in North India. We offered to take them out to lunch on the Sunday they were in town. Midway through the meal, Connor leaned over with something significant to offer the conversation. He began with a question, “What’s a lesbian, Mom? He then turned to the pastors by way of explanation and said, “Late at night, after me and my sisters go to bed, my parents watch adult movies. That’s where I heard that word.” (For the record, ‘adult movies’ meant anything that was not Disney!) Lowell and I nearly choked. The three men with us burst out laughing!

This same young man when he was ten declared, “You are the worst mother in the whole world.” Not thirty minutes later he said, “You are the best mom in the world. I love you.”

These quotes and quips came from the boy. Connor is now a man. He is worthy of the trust his classmates have in him. He is a person of faith, he’s intelligent, well–spoken, and passionate. He has a great sense of humour. Politically engaged, civic-minded with a strong sense of justice, Connor has what it takes to leave his classmates with a little comedy, a little inspiration and a great challenge.

Never mind what you’ve said in the past, Connor —you’ve got this, Son!

Mothering Matters

  

Mothering Matters by Robynn 

 

We have this precious picture that sits on Lowell’s dresser upstairs in our bedroom. It’s one of the rare professional pictures we had taken of our children when they were younger. I love it for how it captures their personalities. Each of them: Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn are present and the photographer caught their essence. I also love it because it brings back memories of one of the best days I ever had in India.

 

For whatever reason the children had the day off school.  I remember agonizing over how we would spend that day. There were obligations that I could have attended to. There were certainly things that needed doing. But there was also list of things that I had been wanting to do with the kids. Things we had talked about for a long time but never done. We decided that would be day!  

 

Adelaide needed new shoes for school. We stopped at the Bata shoe store and found a pair of black Mary Jane shoes with shiny buckles. We met my friend Ellen and her two girls for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. I can’t remember what we ate but I can imagine it—all spicy and gravy yumminess with fresh roti to scoop it up. I’m sure the kids had sweet lassis. I’m sure I had chai.  After lunch we popped into an “Archies” store-–India’s Hallmark equivalent and then into a neighbouring bookstore. We browsed the toys and booksPerhaps Connor got a new Tintin book to add to his collection. I can’t remember.

 

We hopped on to a cycle rickshaw and continued into our beautiful day. Just as we were passing a large cinema, the kids squealed let’s go see Lage Raho Munna Bhai and I said, shockingly, sure! The kids ran ahead, as I paid the cycle wallah. I met them at the ticket counter. We hurried into the darkening theater and found seats. It was a great movie—full of silly slapstick, occasional dance scenes, blinged up saris and lehengas. There was colour and music, laughter and tears. At intermission the men came around with crates of pop on their shoulders. We indulged and had pop and maybe some numkeen.

 

From the cinema we made our way, again by cycle rickshaw, to the photographers studio. This had been my one thing I really wanted to have done. We arrived a little hurriedly, afraid we were running out of time. The kids, all three, were glistening with sweat dulled only by a little grime and left over movie giggles. I spit-shone an orange Fanta mustache off Connor. I tried to smooth Bronzi’s sweaty bangs to the side. Adelaide attempted to rub some dirt off her capris pants. The three of them bounced on to the bench. The photographer giving them instructions in Hindi, they scooted closer to each other, tilted their heads according to his demands, sat up straight as he indicated. And then it was over. I admit, I was hoping for a little more session and a little more photo from our photo-session. But the photographer just tilted his head to the side and nodded that he had what he needed. We could come back in a week to collect his masterpiece!

 

Next to the photographer’s studio was a small corner store. I ran in and got cold mango “Frootie” juice boxes to keep the kids hydrated. Humidity and heat were part of the day’s adventure.

 

The sun was beginning to dip low on the horizon but there was still one more promise to be fulfilled. We took an auto rickshaw halfway across town so that the girls could get their ears pierced. The beauty salon was clean and cool. They were pleased with their pale faced clients. Bronwynn opted to go first. She sat, brave and four, tiny and focused in the big chair. Holding my hands tightly in her little fists she didn’t breath. Her little nose squinched up into her forehead as the pain registered. Adelaide, watching it all, decided she didn’t quite want her ears pierced anymore. She would wait. We stopped for ice cream and a few groceries on the way home.

 

As we tumbled into the courtyard, spilling our stories all over daddy who sat waiting for us under the mango tree, there was so much joy. We had had a good day.  I couldn’t stop smiling. I had been a mom that day. I hadn’t tried to juggle ministry responsibilities or team expectations. I had shaken off all guilt and had immersed myself in the day with my children. It felt like a dream day.

 

Even now the kids all remember bits and pieces of that wonder-day. Adelaide, then 7, remembers ice cream and how Bronzi didn’t wear the matching outfit to hers (I think Bronwynn probably had it dirty before we left the house)!Bronzi was only four but she remembers the juice boxes and the ride to the beauty salon. She remembers the auto rickshaw and seems to think the auto walla drove past the salon and had to turn around. Nine year old Connor remembers how much fun we had that day. He remembers the movie: it was a comedy, set in Bombay, with music. He remembers going to the studio for pictures. His face lit up as I asked him about it.

 

During those years in North India I battled seemingly conflicted roles. I never felt I had the freedom to just be a mom. To be fair, it was my own agonies that made this an issue for me. No one else was demanding anything else of me. I was determined to mesh my mothering with my other passions and responsibilities. In the end I fear I downplayed my maternity. My children got the brunt of this “philosophy”; they were the ones that suffered. They endured my leftover bits of energy at the end of full days with other people. When my best was given to those who came to my gate, or those who called on the phone, it was my little people, my tiny loves, that saw the grumpy side, the impatience, the inconsistent temperament. I regret that so keenly now. I wish I had known so many things back then, most importantly, I wish I had known how very much mothering matters. Those other things–teammates and ministries, work responsibilities—those matter too. But I really wish I had known how much mothering matters.

 

And so this picture reminds me of an immensely happy mom-day. I’m pleased the kids remember the day too. That matters to me somehow. We’ve had other good days too. We’ve laughed lots. We’ve had other ice creams and countless juice boxes. We’ve shared lunches with other friends and we’ve been to other cinemas to watch other films. But I’m grateful for the sticky sweet memory of this mothering day in September some time back in 2006.

Dear New Mom

mom n baby

Dear New Mom

I can tell this is new for you. You have that glow of joy and uncertainty as you readjust the blanket around your tiny baby. You protect with your arms against the crowds that are pushing around you in this crowded subway space, and you respond tentatively to the occasional smiles from strangers. For who doesn’t love a baby? 

I wish I was sitting closer to you so that I could strike up a conversation. So many things are going through my head. I’ve given birth to five babies on three continents – I like to think of it as a kind of record. I remember so well those beginning days where all the world was colored baby.

What would I say to you new mom? Right now you’re either basking in the glow of new motherhood or hating that everyone thinks you should be basking when all you want to do is sleep and cry. Sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s so hard to do but it’s so important. Don’t spend energy cleaning the house or going on social media or instagramming your life. Sleep.

Take advantage of the space people will give you for a short time. For a short time, the only time in your life, people will expect nothing from you other than to be with your baby. Don’t pass up this opportunity. I promise you will never get it again. If you have the chance to sleep until ten in the morning with your baby, do it. You will be so glad.

Your baby will cry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. Babies cry. They just do and it can be so hard. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself if it gets too hard. Put ear plugs in and separate yourself for awhile. Sanity is critical and there may be times when you think you are going insane. So step away for a time if you need.

A bit of sadness is normal in those first days, and periodically it may surface. But if it continues, go seek help. There’s postpartum sadness and then there’s postpartum depression. They are two very different things.

You are not weak for asking for help. The Western world does this baby thing all wrong. Away from moms. Away from friends and sisters. Isolated in suburbia or not knowing your city neighbors. New moms and babies are created for community, for help. Find yours.

That mom that asks you if your toddler is potty-trained yet? Best stay away from her. Because it will continue into higher stakes and bigger comparisons. And it will be beautifully, camouflaged passive-aggressive behavior. First it will be about potty training. Then it will be about talking. Then it will be about grades and sports. It will end with her daughter marrying a “good Christian boy” and you will have to confess that you want to kill her. It’s not worth it. Competition is never-ending and it will not help you. Break the madness. Live above and beyond competition.

When you have an uneasy feeling that your pediatrician is wrong – they probably are. So gently or forcefully push them. Same with that teacher who misjudged your child – don’t be afraid to speak up. The one that thinks your child is going nowhere? You’ll be sending them a copy of their college report with all A’s. Trust me on that one.

But also know that your kid is not perfect. And they probably did bite the other toddler in the church nursery. If you accept early on that your kids are not perfect, it will be easier when others let you know in clear language.

Know that the playing field levels when they are teens or young adults. That’s when parents with perfect children go into hiding, or at least get a little quieter. Because it’s hard to maintain a perfect image past those wonderful middle years.

Remember that well-oiled and shined armor that served you so well when you were single and newly married? It now has a soft, sweet-smelling crack in it. Arrows from others can find their way straight through the crack. Know your safe people and cry and laugh with them. Be kind to those who aren’t safe but don’t let them into your sanctuary.

Above all remember, there is so much grace needed in this journey of parenting. Grace for your kids. Grace for your husband. Grace toward in-laws. Grace toward the well-meaning and clueless. Grace to yourself.

That baby that you cuddle so close will one day be an adult. An adult who you drink coffee and laugh with, an adult who you cherish. And there is little sweeter than enjoying a relationship with your adult child.

It’s your subway stop now – but wait, you forgot your diaper bag. The first of many things you will forget. Goodbye new mom. I wish you joy and grace. 

Picture Credit:http://pixabay.com/en/baby-mother–arms-legs-mother-arms-164583/