Truth be told my heart is breaking a little tonight. I’ve jumped the gun. False start. I’m thinking about tomorrow at 3:00. I’m starting to switch between rapidly blinking and a wide-eyed stare to prevent my mascara from running. Though it’s almost midnight and it doesn’t matter if I look like a raccoon, while drinking my beer and eating lemon cookies. I just neatly arranged my boys’ baseball pants, socks and cleats on the bench for their first baseball game tomorrow. Their first ever real live baseball game. And I won’t be biting my nails and cheering them on from the stands. I will be working. Cue the sad faces, sympathy “ahhhs” and awkward pats on the back, if it were possible.
I know. I know. I am not the first person or parent to ever miss out on something special and important because of other obligations, specifically work. I just need my little pity party, my moment in the guilt-infested sun. It’s been raining here for weeks. Will it rain out my boys’ baseball game tomorrow? Most likely not. I have left my boys notes in the back of their baseball pants. But it’s not the same. Before going to bed, I had them promise to call me when the game is over so I can hear all about how they played. In reality, I’m sure I will hear about the snack they got at the end. I told them how sad it made me to not be there. I made their little almost four-year old brother promise to cheer really loud for both of his brothers.
And I am certain that my heart will break a little more tomorrow when they page me at work. I will probably need to go somewhere where I can sit and listen while big, slow tears scoot down my face because I didn’t get to see for myself their excitement, their efforts, or their sweet little six-year old eyes looking for me in the stands. They will have their dad, brother and most likely both sets of grandparents there to cheer them on. I should be happy and grateful, but I’m just not. I’m a little resentful and bummed.
Yes. They will most likely have a million other sports events, school events, etc. that I will have the privilege of being present for, but those aren’t all happening tomorrow. Just their first baseball game is. It just sucks sometimes. It sucks to be the only one not there. “Where’s their mom?” Not finishing up surgery, but maybe blowing some bubbles. Nothing is more important to me than my kids knowing that I love and support them. And that I am so proud of them. All the time. More than anything else.
I played sports as a kid growing up and even into college, and I just felt more relaxed when my parents were there. Both of them. I have no idea how they did what they did, with seven kids to watch. My mom would typically be knitting while keeping stats up in the stands, it was her nervous habit. And my dad typically arrived late, straight from work, and would be cheering in his suit, with his bag of popcorn in hands. Always the popcorn, probably his dinner, that awful concession stand popcorn. Now, as a thirty-five year old mom, I get it. I understand what they felt like when they couldn’t be there. For every thing. The older I get, the more I understand about the sacrifices you make for those you truly love the most. And sacrifices just suck sometimes.
Yesterday, on Mother’s Day, I heard a mom say, regarding her teenage son, “he’s gonna ruin my special day.” The reality of the situation, from my perspective, was that she appeared to be ruining every day of his life. I recognize I’m an outsider looking in, seeing a piece of the puzzle, but to belittle, name call, shame and repeatedly hurt the child that, ironically, provides the reason you’re to be celebrated at all seems wrong to me. I’ve never been huge on Hallmark holidays. I’ve worked every Mother’s Day since I became a mother. I’m not trying to earn a martyr ribbon. Typically, none of the moms that I meet at work planned on spending Mother’s Day in the hospital, with their sick child. I know I will work, every weekend, and I get paid to be there. That’s not the case for the mothers of patients.
I guess, when given the choice, I would rather be celebrated, appreciated and loved equally the other 364 days of the year. So, I’m a little needy perhaps. High expectations. However, I will never scoff at flowers or leave chocolates unopened very long, but if you brought them to me with a thoughtful card on say, a random Tuesday, I would smile and be joyful that you cared. On that Tuesday. And I actually was spoiled on the morning of Mother’s Day. I got sprayed down with three different perfumes by three over excited little boys. I also came home to some really cool porch lights, thanks to their dad.
I don’t have teenage sons yet. I’m sure they can be difficult, like all children of all ages. Frustrating. And draining at times. That mom reminded me of how selfish we, humans, can be. It’s typically all about us. All of the time. Even when we try really hard to be aware of the selfish eyes we filter everything through.
It’s a challenging, humbling thing to not take everything so personally. No matter how conscious we are of our own egotistical tendencies, our initial reaction is hard to tame. Why would she do that? Just to make my life miserable, I’m sure. Wait…We have our thoughts, our experiences, and our beliefs about others and we tend to think we know what everyone else is thinking. Especially when they never tell us, using their own mouth and words. I react. And a lot of times, it’s in the form of jumping. To conclusions. Making it about me. When it’s definitely not. That hindsight can be a phenomenal teacher. If we ever venture into her classroom. Ugghhh. I typically think how something first and foremost will affect me. My over eager pride calls “shotgun,” always wanting to be right up there in the front seat. Ready to be the first wounded passenger when things get out of control. After all, pride never wears a seatbelt. Obviously. It doesn’t need a seat belt. It’s. Pride.
We need people who can tell us our faults. Open our eyes. Remove the debris. Help us out, without fearing the repercussions. How rude for someone to remove our planks only to have them hurled hysterically back in their direction. I tend to gravitate towards people who will tell me I have mascara running down my face. Or will flat-out say “you have something green in your teeth.” Or much harder, they will say that I’m overreacting, over feeling, or being selfish. I think we all want to be better versions of ourselves. It just takes the right people to help us on the journey. I hope if I ever did something, said something, or didn’t do or say something that hurt you that you would know that you have an open invitation to my front seat. I want to be better. You may just have to sit on or shove that pride out-of-the-way. And that’s fine with me.
I watched a baby bird clinging to a branch. Just one bird, scared and out of its nest. Her mama waited on the ground. If that baby bird could hop back up into her nest a couple of branches above, I think she would have. Her mama was saying something, over and over again. I think I heard, “Come on. You’re ready. You can do it. I’m right here for you. I believe in you. Nothing will harm you. Its safe. Your wings are strong. You can fly.” That baby bird looked at me peering in on her. I think I could have reached into that tree and held her. She looked paralyzed. By fear. Of the big, big, unknown world. The world beneath her and the world above her.
I’ve never been a mama bird gathering vigorously the sticks, strings, and pieces of other materials worthy enough to create a nest. In hopes of nurturing new life in that homemade nest. I think I can relate though. I have gathered up experiences, moments, hard times and happy times, meaningful words to create something for others to read. I have built the words into sentences, paragraphs, then sat down. Rearranged it, often in the middle of the night. Read it over and over again. Left it alone. Wondered if it would help others, or if it might hurt others. Wondered if anyone would care. Hoped that someone would. Even just one person.
I let my baby bird go this week. I paced around. I got so scared. Maybe she wasn’t ready. Or maybe I just wasn’t ready to let her go. What if people hurt her, shamed her, threw stones at her? Or even worse, what if people ignored her? I panicked. I would never know everybody that came in contact with her. Maybe, hopefully, others would let me know, “I saw your baby bird flying. The wind was strong. She was stronger. She just flew and flew and flew. You would have been so proud. She couldn’t have been more ready to leave your nest.” My baby bird was a piece of writing that represented an unashamed, braver, less fearful, more honest me. I hoped that if I gently pushed her out of the nest, that she would fly and that I would feel like I helped set her free.
That’s all I could hope for. All I could do. I couldn’t create something really small, a baby bird that possessed hope, youth, fearlessness, strength and the ability to fly and then force her to stay in my nest. No matter how many hours her nest took to make, it was not meant to be her home forever. Thousands have seen my baby bird. And I can’t begin to know all of them. See their faces when they met her. Many have written to tell me that she empowered them, educated them, and impacted them. Just a tiny little baby bird of mine. I feel proud. I feel uncertain. I feel a little naked. Who knew my baby bird held such power beneath her new wings? Not me. I guess we can never know where the things we create will go if we never give them the opportunity to leave the nest. Fly away. Thank you all for encouraging and cheering on my baby bird. Thank you for sending me postcards to let me know that she is beautiful. And strong. And filled with hope. You have turned this strange, empty, anxious feeling into the feeling I could imagine a mama bird possesses when she watches her baby bird soaring.
My six-year-old son asked me this when we arrived home from the park, the park not just around the corner. Its thirty minutes away.
“Nope, buddy. Do you not have your shoes?” I am well versed in this shoe hunting game conversation.
“I left my shoes at the park. Under the bench.” He confessed.
Partially responsible due to being the adult and parent, I remembered that in my attempts at getting four boys into the car, to leave the park, I failed to notice that one of my children had not put his shoes back on his feet. Everywhere we go, the first question my boys typically ask is, “Mama, can I take off my shoes?” Sometimes I say “no” but usually after the hundredth time, I just give in. They would rather be barefoot. Always. And so would I. They have not hurt their feet in a freak barefoot accident at parks. Ever. And we go to the park all the time. Knock on wood. So, I don’t fight them on this bare-footed tendency. After all, they are part monkey and I think shoes most likely hinder their superb climbing capabilities. Blackened toenails much? Yes. I will most likely be the mother (sneakily) washing her child’s feet off in the sink of the ER if we ever land in there with a broken limb. Or barefoot related accident.
I negotiated with my six-year-old son. We would drive back to the park, thirty minutes away. Oh, I already mentioned that. To teach the old “time is valuable” lesson, I would require him to help with housework for the amount of time spent driving to and from the park to retrieve his lost “glow-up”shoes. Well, they actually weren’t lost. They were forgotten. Left behind. Poor Sketcher glow-up (too small) of shoes. I honestly doubted they were even going to still be there. However, it presented an opportunity to teach a few valuable lessons.
His twin brother opted to hop out of the car and stay home with his dad. And his little exhausted brother fell asleep in the car on the way back to the park. I got to have a meaningful conversation with my six-year-old son. I recognized that earlier he had befriended a little boy at the park that nobody was playing with. My heart swelled up. We talked about how important people are. And how he included that little boy. And that I was proud of him. I told him that people matter the most. Always. I told him that shoes cost money and it’s important to take care of them, but they can be replaced. I told him that he mattered WAY more than a lost pair of shoes. That we could buy another pair of shoes. I looked back in my rearview mirror and he had tears in his eyes and said, “you can’t buy another Julian.” Yep. 100% truth. I normally would not have been so even keeled and carefree about the time spent driving back to the park but I had unexpectedly gained eye-opening, heart aching perspective from earlier in the day.
It’s every parents worst nightmare. Or one of them anyway. Somehow your child gets lost or separated from you. In a place where people are around. You panic. It’s a heart ripping, pounding, agonizing feeling. There are cars coming and going. The world should just stop. Everybody should stop what they are doing and help you find your child. Cars full of people pass by. Strangers, who don’t know your child. They don’t recognize that you’re out of breath, searching, thinking the worst things, as you look frantically, maybe yelling out your child’s name even though you cannot see him. Or her. Anywhere.
I witnessed a kindergarten classmate of my boys heading down the hill, a biker, on her last day of school. My boys pointed her out from the car. That wasn’t her. She never came this way to school, I thought. My boys were right. The crossing guard hunched down to talk with her. School traffic eased by. She tried pushing her bike down the steps to the school entrance but she was sobbing. Something was really wrong. She was alone. That wasn’t right. I dropped my boys off and got out of my car and went over to her. She began telling me that she lost her daddy. They had come a new way to school and she got lost from him. I tried to calm her, telling her that he was probably looking really hard for her and I told her to head into her classroom. I knew that she was safe, yet really sad and scared. I reassured her that I would go drive around and find her daddy. I would have him come to her classroom when I found him. I knew I would find him. I had to. I thought that he must be sprinting, with his stroller, panic-striken not knowing where his daughter was. I began driving around the neighborhood. I saw him finally, though it was probably only minutes, I am certain that it felt like hours, or days for him. The relief flooded his face entirely when I told him that his daughter was at school and safe. I told him that I promised her when I found him that he would go see her in her classroom. Not that nine layers of security could begin to stop him from going to hug his sweet daughter.
Kids get biking too fast. They get focused on playing so hard and they wonder away. We once temporarily lost a child at a school carnival. It was awful. He had snuck off to a bounce house. It still hurts to think about. And remember that panicked feeling. Kids can focus so intently on what they are doing. Or where they want to go. This characteristic can be really amazing and it can be completely terrifying, as a parent.
Driving back to the park for a pair of old shoes that may or may not be there seemed tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of today’s events. Even if we didn’t find the shoes at the park, I know that I would have been grateful to have an hour-long car ride with my deep thinking, sensitive and big-hearted son. I think he knows that people matter the most. They don’t listen or hear me a lot of times, but today I think he heard me. There were no brothers to interupt. Just me and him talking about really important stuff. I hope and pray that should one of my children ever get lost or separated from me that someone will notice and do everything in their power to help. I can always buy another pair of shoes. But never ever could I buy another Julian. Or Asher. Or Colby.
I want you to know something because I love you and you, unknowingly, hurt me. I can be careless, insensitive and unkind too. With my words, thoughts, and attitude. And my actions. I don’t want another person, like me, feeling sad, angry, shameful, or embarrassed, especially not a child or a teenager. Or a mother or father. Or anybody else.
I hope that I would rise up pretty quickly if it was my sister, friend, niece or mother you were talking about. I know I should defend myself, but it can be hard to do. Attention-drawing of the kind I dislike. Hot angry tears well up. They’re ready to fight, typically without gloves, and this can lead to an untranslated message. You remember the crying, not the words I was trying to say. I usually don’t like to solicit negative attention, in regards to Crohn’s disease. Or any health-related problem, really. It’s difficult to balance truthful explanations without adding too many hard-to-hear details.
I have the disease. It doesn’t have me. Complaining or whining can attract pity. No thanks. Writing has been helpful because people can read about some of the feelings that exist, the side effects of the disease. It is a disease that has taught me an infinite amount about myself, others and those who love me. Over the past seventeen years. I think it has made me more sensitive, compassionate, and understanding towards other people, too.
There is not a day that goes by that I forget that I have Crohn’s disease. I rarely have to take medicines, but I have had to be in the hospital a lot, mainly for surgeries. It is a disease that affects each individual person in a different, life-altering way. Most of us can walk around with no one even knowing we are “sick.” This can be good, and also really hard. Our foreheads aren’t tattooed. We look healthy, most of the time. We may be some of the most amazing magicians you never knew that you met. That’s why I thought I should try to reveal something to you that is very close to, well, my belly button.
I have an ileostomy. Pronounced “ill-e-oz-toe-me.” It’s a bag. On the outside of my body. It does what your large intestine and rectum, your pooping parts, do for you. Something you most likely take for granted, like breathing. Unfortunately, that’s what we tend to do. We often take the things that come so effortlessly, and naturally for granted. Until they stop working the right way. Your body works. You don’t have to worry too much, I assume, about taking care of your guts. I do have to worry about and take care of the part of my small intestine that’s coming out of my body, my stoma. It’s “my bag.”
I have worked in the hospital setting for over ten years. Most people I work with have no idea what I have endured, in regards to the countless surgeries, for Crohn’s disease. I have witnessed some really cruel faces, attitudes and unkind words being said in regards to irritable bowel diseases and specifically, ostomy bags. There is an unfair and painful stigma that surrounds them. It’s no surprise that when I try to talk with women who have no quality of life and desperately need surgery, they are terrified and do not want to get a bag. Ever.
I have had an ostomy on and off again over the past seventeen years. You can learn an awful lot about other people’s insecurities when you try to be honest. Lose the shame. Empower yourself. I’ve had people say the most ignorant, and painful things to me. “Does your husband still want to have sex with you?” Wow. And yes, all of the time. Although, I don’t remember ever talking to you about your sex life. I’ve also had friends who have wanted to see, learn more or who just make me feel pretty damn proud and awesome. One of the single most irritating things is when people use a rude, snarky tone and call it a “shit bag.”
I work in a children’s hospital as a child life specialist. I help explain procedures to kids and families, normalize the hospital environment through providing play, and provide distraction and support throughout the hospital admission, in a nutshell. One day, I walked up to two nurses sitting outside of a patient care area. I had an intern who was shadowing me to better learn the role of a child life specialist. One of the tasks assigned to her was to ask nurses to define medical terms. She asked these two nurses if they would help define a few medical terms. She gave them one that stumped them a little, they weren’t too familiar with it due to not working with that specific population. Next, she asked them to define “ostomy bag.” Both of these nurses looked at each other, smirked a little and in unison stated, “Shit bag.” My heart dropped. My stomach flipped. And my impressionable intern wrote down, “shit bag” in her notebook. I felt like a coward. I felt ashamed. I don’t want to feel that feeling anymore.
I wrote the following piece as a response to their insensitivity. I would want to know if I hurt someone, unknowingly. Really, what would be ideal is if everybody would have the same reaction that my family and close friends have. Specifically my three young children. It’s normal. Not a big deal. It’s all that they know. And they have always loved me wholeheartedly. So, here it is. My (lengthy)response to my bag being called a “shit bag.”
It’s not called a “shit bag.” Well, you can call it what you want to. That is, when you experience all of the pain, frustration, shame and uncertainty that comes along with having one. When your life gets altered for more than a few minutes or hours. Then, you get that small luxury. The tiny luxury of calling something that you actually have, on your body, whatever you want. You do know that this is not the result of an elective surgery, right? You should. Because when I was dying as a strong-willed, stubborn 18-year-old, you are the exact person that I feared. An insensitive, all-knowing, ignorant jerk. I get it. If I were your wife, your best friend, your sister, your daughter or even your mom, you would know better than to call it a “shit bag.” You would know to walk cautiously, talk sensitively and act sympathetically. You would remember how I looked when I couldn’t eat for weeks. When I had no quality of life. You would remember how I lost my spark, my smile, and my laugh in that hospital room. And you would have done anything to take away some of my pain. You would remember all that I have been through, all of these years. Seventeen years, to be exact. And you would be proud.
People say, “you always have a choice.” Well, I haven’t felt that way when it comes to this disease. Or maybe I’ve been forced to answer a multiple choice question when all I wanted to do was fill in the blank. Write my own answer. Miraculously be healed from my guts beating themselves up. Okay, so maybe I did have a choice. Die. Or live with an ileostomy. Or on another occasion, have shit coming out of my vagina. Or have a bag. A “saved-my-life” bag. That’s really what it has done. I didn’t bleed out, like others who waited too long. And as a result, died. Yes, died. You probably didn’t know that because I didn’t want to tell you. I didn’t want to console you. You haven’t earned my trust. If I want to call it a “shit bag,” then I can. And I do sometimes. The thing is, I can call it whatever I damn-well please because I have earned that right. Through failed surgery after failed surgery after failed surgery. And all of the painful recoveries too.
I have tried to be honest and open with friends and family who I value, love and trust. When people say unkind, hurtful, shame-promoting things, it causes me to put up a few walls or privacy fences. Outsiders. You can see in, but not all the way. You may hear the laughter and even smell the smoke from the grill. But, you have to earn your way into my backyard. All you have to do is genuinely care, show a little sympathy, not to be confused with pity, and bring your curiosity. I welcome your questions, your thoughts, and your opinions if they come from a place of love. Please don’t stare at me that way when I tell you. Don’t let your eyes go from looking at mine to looking below my waist. I can hide a lot of things, if I want to. Especially from people like you. I do it everyday. Because, in this world, we can be cruel and unkind and insensitive to people, especially when we don’t know what they have endured. Or we don’t understand. Or we don’t choose to understand. Or we don’t care. Just imagine me as your sister, your mother, your wife, or your favorite person in the whole world. Then, think what you would say and how you would say it.
I haven’t always been so confident and loud, but something changed in me. I rather unexpectedly and miraculously gave birth to these three precious, kind-hearted and fully accepting little sons. They have only known me one way, with an ileostomy, a bag. No other way. I am their mom who has loved them from the first glimpse of the positive pregnancy tests. I’m pretty sure that they would have accepted me, from birth, had a looked like a dump truck, a wicked witch, or a strange monster. Afterall, it’s not what you look like, it’s how you love. Kids get that, and they live that way, until we, adults, change them. I love my boys in a most enormous, breath-taking, go-to-great-lengths-to-protect them sort of way. They think I am pretty awesome, and that’s a big deal. The biggest deal. They say things bluntly, honestly, matter-of-factly, and innocently, like:
“Boys have a penis. Girls have a bag.”
I want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s normal, universal to them. They don’t care. They don’t judge. They are patient and compassionate with me. They never have made me feel ashamed of something I didn’t really choose to have. They love me to the moon and back every single day of the week. And to all of the stars too. They accept me for who I am, not what I look like on the outside. They make me so proud that I made the choice to live. Truly live. With a bag.
It can be hard sometimes. Some days, I hate this bag. I blame this bag. I resent this bag. Some moments. Those moments don’t begin to compare to the gratitude, joy and love I embrace the rest of the time. Life is completely worth it. And if I can encourage you to think of a little boy’s mama or a friend that you love, before you speak and beg you to choose your words more gently, than it is worth it for me to put myself out there. My whole self. I am confidant that there are scared and insecure girls, women, boys and men out there. Wondering, hoping, praying that they will be accepted. Bag and all.
I happen to know these three spunky blonde-haired boys who would set you straight pretty fast if you tried to say any thing negative about their mama. Or her bag. And they’re only 6, 6, and 3 years old. You don’t want to get their daddy involved either. He happens to like me a lot too. He may just think I’m the most beautiful woman, inside and out, that he’s ever known. Bag or not.
You see, it’s never been about what I look like on the outside to the people who really matter. My dad sat next to me on my hospital bed and said it best when I felt completely defeated, exhausted and scared as an invincible teenager, “If somebody is not going to love you for having a bag, then that person doesn’t deserve to be a part of your life.”
I try to remind myself of this oddly disguised gift. A built-in people filtering system, installed numerous times by several of the kindest and smartest surgeons. It’s not Coach, Kate Spade or even Prada, it cost even more. I owe my life to this bag. I will have it forever. And most days, it’s for better. Not for worse. And even on those “worse” days, having people who care and authentically, whole-heartedly love me helps me get through. And reminds me that life will always, always be worth carrying an extra bag around.
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A couple of years ago, I was flipping through the channels and I heard Joel Osteen saying, “Ladies, you need to go get you something from Victoria’s Secret….” He continued on, in his southern accent, with a somewhat creepy fake smile on his face, talking about how you needed to get all dolled up for your husband. My blood pressure started rising. I’m sure I was covered in numerous bodily fluids of my children at the time. Sorry, it was just bad timing, Joel. I began talking back to the TV, then I realized I could magically change the channel. To something less annoying. I’m not sure that Jesus would be urging all women to get to Victoria’s Secret. But I could be wrong.
Randomly, this morning, I was telling my husband that I still wear a bra that I got as a high school graduation present. Class of 1997. Arsenio Hall style Whoop, Whoop, whoop? Thanks to my Aunt Shae. My husband had a hard time believing me and thought it was rather funny. And I do too. Also a little pathetic and sad. It doesn’t speak that highly of the power of my boobs. My boys can rip holes through all sorts of sweat pants in a matter of weeks. I can’t break a bra in over a decade. He said, “You should go buy another one of those bras. If they can last that long, how many years is that…Then I would say that’s a pretty good bra.” I did the math, it was eighteen years ago. That means my bra could legally buy cigarettes. I bought it with a gift card from a Victoria’s Secret in Chicago. It was a really, really thoughtful gift. Who likes to spend money on bras? And belts? Not me. My husband admitted that it was somewhat sad that he has repeatedly bought me lingerie that doesn’t get nearly the wear and (not so much) tear of the daily bra wearing ritual. He learned today that in the future he should probably just buy me a new bra. I like this trait about him. He’s not afraid to laugh about and admit small failures. He listens and learns from his gift buying mishaps. He recognizes what’s best for him may not be best for me, like a new bra, instead of the string tying, hard to tell what’s the top and what’s the bottom, complicated tiny piece of lingerie. A little fabric and a lot of money. And so much work. I’m not too good at figuring out tricky clothes. Having to ask for a tutorial to get into the lingerie somewhat ruins the presentation. Can I have a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops, please?
One time I had to take one of these lingerie gift outfits back to Victoria’s Secret. It took some serious pep talking. The horror. With a breast-feeding infant in tow. I hate going into that store, as a mom, about as much as that random man in there buying a gift for his lady. He’s like my dad. It’s awkward. I always feel judged. Partly for my lack of attention to my make-up, nails and of course, for my small boobs. Why are all the small bras and big shoes always gone in stores?? It’s just not right. This time, I had rehearsed my “return excuse.” I walked my medium-sized milk jugs into the front of the store. The main reason was that the see through outfit just didn’t fit and I didn’t want to wear it in my postpartum state. I just silenced the sales associates with, “Do you guys sell any nursing bras?” Nope. Thanks for our money back. Fastest return ever. I’m sure that money probably ended up getting spent on diapers or mall carousel rides.
It’s not that I don’t spend money on things. I do. I even got some new hair cutting scissors, some Norwex cleaning cloths, and a hot pink bucket today. It’s just a lot of difficult steps to purchase a new bra. You really have to be determined and persevere. It’s not even like my back is hurting from this 1997 bra. Can’t some friendly bra-selling woman (not creepy)come to my house, fit me, and maybe bring us some milk too? This may be too much to ask. I know. Or it may cost a bazillion dollars. In that case, I will just keep semi-rocking this 1997 keepsake until it breaks. Or it turns 21, a legal adult bra. Then, it will surely move on to bigger or just better things. Although, sadly, I think a thrift store would probably be its only realistic aspiration. I would never allow it to go in a garage sale. How wrong.
Oh man. My right arm hurts. I would have been as frustrating of a student for Mr. Miyagi as I was for my college guitar teacher. I’ve been doing this window cleaning dance. Inside. Back outside. Nope. The smudges and new smears are definitely on the inside. Back inside I go. Back out again. I’m just bad at cleaning windows. Surely it’s my technique or the products I am using. I think I spray way too much stuff on. Wax on, wax off, Daniel-son. That’s all I know. Adapted from Karate Kid. So, I decided to just sit down and I stare out at the lake. The lake, the beautiful lake. Wow. And the blue sky. The sun bouncing off of the water. Why did I not do that first? Go outside. Sit there and just relax. In its beauty and peaceful inviting existence. I got too obsessed with cleaning windows. Ughhh.
I can look past the smeared up windows even with the hyped-up sun beaming in. It would help if the sun could just go under a cloud for a bit. It appears to be a sort of mother figure, standing over my shoulder, highlighting all of the places on the window where I have failed. The handprints are gone but now I’ve created new distractions. All over the place. And most are up way too high to be credited to the kids. I really feel like the windows are silently laughing at me, while trees around the lake are all crying. I’ve used far too many paper towels. I’m beginning to think I should have left those windows alone. I should have called in for help. Some better cleaning helper reinforcements.
I’ve been trying to clean my in-laws house, specifically their beautiful windows. Not because they asked me to or anything. After my shotty work, they may kindly say,”No, really you shouldn’t have.” And mean it. They are coming back into town for the summer. We visited their lake house several times while they were away and I wanted to hide the evidence. Not that I needed to. They generously welcome our visits but I just hoped to leave the place cleaner than we found it. Ha! Nice thought. They have an amazing view of the lake. Most days, I don’t tend to mind handprints or pollen or other window gunk but it’s not my house. I also don’t have a lake in my back yard. My view, comparatively speaking, doesn’t need a professional window cleaner. Even I noticed my boys’ hand prints all over the lake house doors and their giant windows. Their windows are gorgeous, huge and everywhere. I think my brain tends to strategically overlook handprints, floor gunk and awful paint jobs. Especially at my own house. I think it’s a kind of effective way to conserve brain energy. “Don’t focus on that weird blob on the kitchen floor, Amelia. Or the handprints. Unload the dishes.” Nice. Thanks, brain.
As I’m cleaning the windows, obviously not engrossed in the task at hand or my expert skills, I got to thinking about the two sides to windows. And how it doesn’t matter if I clean the inside of the window if the outside is covered in dead bugs, pollen, and sun juice. And vice versa. So what if I get the outside gunk off but fail to clean the sunblock hand prints, boogers, and juice box drippings off of the inside? You really need to clean both sides. Unless you want to make yourself crazy. I ran out of paper towels and had to leave the inside semi-cleaned but the outside untouched. What a waste of time, it seemed, as I looked out at the lake water. Ahhhh. That’s it. I’m trying to get the windows clean so I can better see the lake. The big picture. Windows really aren’t worth cleaning if they have no view. Or if you’re never going to go and look out of them because you’re too focused and knit picking on the glass.
I also think that it doesn’t quite matter how good we make ourselves look on the outside if we haven’t worked on the inside too. We aren’t see through, so to speak, but there is something completely people-drawing and freeing in transparency. You know what you’re going to get. I don’t like to see one side of a person only to be completely surprised by the inside. We are all going to have proof of our existence, our human imperfections, no matter how hard we try. There are going to be smudges, smears, fingerprints, perhaps dead bug prints. All of my kids have also fancied licking the sliding glass door, at some point in their toddlerhood. Tongue prints, I suppose. Strange behavior. Come to think of it, maybe they just wanted me to let them inside.
The lake house windows could use some cleaning after my cleaning. And I could use some expert tips. Sorry, Mr. Miyagi. For the next time. I still feel guilty about all of those poor paper towels. I just couldn’t stop. No conscious. I will most likely think strongly about planting several trees. I will also try to use the door handles more often. I don’t think my big hand prints are nearly as cute as my boys’ knee level prints. I will also try to think about the smudge prints I have on my outside and on the inside too. And try tending to both sides. Even if I do it in an imperfect way. In hopes that I can better see the big picture.
Growing up moments can be happy and sad at the same time. My big boys’ last full week of kindergarten is this week. Sometimes the habitual, daily routines like getting boys ready in the morning can become hum-drum tiring. I have tried to embrace and appreciate the morning moments before dropping them off at the back “kindergarten” entrance. Next year, they will not be the littlest there. They will enter the school, perhaps getting lost in the crowd with gigantic fifth graders. I will not get to pick up their busy bodies at noon. They will go to school all day long. That makes my heart hurt a little. And I already start to miss them and worry about them…next fall. When they will be first graders. Then, obviously, I start to miss them when they head off to college. And then I stop and remember that they are only six and a half years old. The hours in the days of parenting can be long, really long sometimes, but somehow the years seem to soar by. In a blur. So fast. It can’t be right. Didn’t my boys just learn to walk? With their arms up in the air, giggling, rocking back and forth, side to side, taking those tiny shuffle grandpa steps. I thought that happened last week. Or maybe it was the week before.
My kindergarten boys are excitedly counting down the days until summer break. Eight days left. Woo hoo! School is out! Summer provides the perfect setting for a kid’s dream life. Swimming in the pool, in the lake, in our backyard. Non-stop playing. Baseball. Water balloons. Lemonade stands. Ice cream, popsicles, and snow cones. Straight up outdoor life. Long hot summer days. Bedtime: optional. Sleeping in….until August rolls around again. When the reality of my kids getting older and life moving at a quicker pace than I can sometimes emotionally keep up with sets in.
All you want to do when you’re a kid is grow up, be bigger, do more. My boys keep talking about all the things they will get to do when they “turn eight years old.” I think I told them they would be responsible enough at 8 to get a pocket knife. Probably for zombie attacks. Whoops. It’s quite the opposite for me, as an adult. I want to pause time, “grow down”, donate my responsibilities, and re-ignite that careless, instinctual child-like ability to live in the present moments. One of the greatest gifts kids unknowingly offer is the pure joyful and innocent ability to live precisely in the moment. Only the present moment. Completely engrossed in the rolly poly crawling up their arm. Totally focused on climbing up the branches of a tree. Wrestling with their daddy, not thinking about anything else, giggling those contagious hysterical laughs the whole time. I want to capture it all with my eyes, my ears, into my thoughts, and sadly, on my phone. So, I can replay it over and over.
It can be difficult to let go or loosen up the grip when you’re juggling bills, jobs, housework, the future and all the rest of the grown-up stuff. Some things are going to slip, slide, and not get done in the most effective and timely fashion. I have tiny summer goals to not let my boys’ reading skills, math or handwriting skills decline. I’m going to think of some fun learning games too. Or I may ask experienced friends for help. I’m also going to try to put my phone down, and away, until night-time when they go to sleep. If they ever go to sleep. That’s my summer goal to help me be more like a kid. To be truly present and engaged in the fun, happy summer moments with them. Asher says occasionally, “MAHHHHM, your phone is mind controlling you.” A lot of times, I will be texting someone, but other times I will be on Facebook or Instagram or writing something down. I don’t really even know where he learned the term “mind controlling.” Probably from a super hero show. Sounds like something one of the bad guys would try to do to stop Superman or Batman. Anyways, I don’t want to be mind controlled by my iPhone. Or my kids to think that way anyways. I would much rather it just be lost somewhere with my keys. Maybe I will have one of my kids hide it everyday. I’d like to think that’s how things usually get lost anyways. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t put my keys in the deep freezer with the Popsicles. That would just not make any sense at all.
“Mama, can I sleep with something that smells like you?”
Ahhhh. My heart so full, yet so painfully aware of this fleeting moment. This overwhelming, outspoken love my boys show me everyday.
“I get to sit next to mom when she reads my book.”
Pushing and shoving to be closest to me. One of the only forms of fighting I gladly tolerate. A competition for my affection. I rearrange these three lanky boys, in hopes of making them all feel as loved as they make me feel. I wrap an arm around each, one on my left and one on my right. Then, there’s the youngest that gets to sit on my lap. And somehow, I can still manage to read the book, and turn the pages. God gifted me with these awkwardly long arms and big hands. For holding these three boys all so close? Yes. Tonight. They used to be one of my strengths on the basketball court. So useful for tipping rebounds in my direction or deflecting passes from going where my opponent intended. But now, they gracefully maneuver these oh, so lovable boys on my lap. By my side. Growing up much too fast. Pause time. Please, let me indulge in and remember these moments where I feel overwhelmed. In the most beautiful way. Overwhelmed by love.
Most days, I rush them to grab their shoes, get to the car, buckle their seat belts. We are always running late. Slow down time. Let me live in the moments where words can’t begin to describe what my heart feels. Where big soft tears trickle down my face. There’s not enough time to wipe them away because the next round comes too quickly. So, tonight, I sit here listening to their deep sleep breathing. Needing to move them to their own beds.
But, it’s hard. Lately, every time I move their sleeping six year old bodies to their own beds, I wonder if this is getting close to the last time I will carry them. Without waking them. Tonight, they sleep clutching a shirt of mine that I have sprayed my perfume on. So, that it will smell “like me.” The funny thing is since having these boys I rarely wear perfume, except to go on dates with their dad. So, maybe they associate the smell with me leaving them. Rushing around to make dinner and get ready to go out. The babysitter arriving. Us leaving. The smell of my perfume lingering?
I just can’t move them. I won’t move them tonight. “You have a really big bed.” They always say. Little bed thieves. Well, they are right. Afterall, it is a “king size” bed. They can sleep in their own beds tomorrow night. I just need to listen to them breathing a little while longer. And just feel. So overwhelmed. In the best kind of way.
I love having friends come over to our house. The problem is that I am not the greatest housekeeper. In other words, I would rather do a million other things than tidy up. When I set out to clean the house, my brain thinks of a lot of other things I should be doing. More fun things. As a matter of fact, when the house is a disaster, I tend to escape. Go somewhere else. Everybody out….we are going to the park! Maybe it will magically clean itself while we are gone. This hasn’t happened. Yet.
The little rascals running around don’t help much. They like to get every single toy out of the room that I just got finished picking up. Or they spill drinks on the clean kitchen floor. How rewarding, that lasted all of two minutes. Ahhhh! Why can’t they just sit still and not play with anything for a few hours? Doesn’t seem like too much to ask of two six-year olds and a three-year old. All boys. My mom offered to come help me out. She knows this routine, having had seven children of her own to destroy the house on a daily basis growing up. And now she has close to a bazillion grandkids. When we were young, my mom used to have us all pick up one hundred things. Yep. That’s 700 things. I usually cheated. I think the rest of my brothers and sisters did too. Come to think of it, maybe I’m being punished for all of those times I dumped the unsorted sock basket over and then (re)picked them up, counting all of the sock misfits as my “hundred.” 1-2…skip a few, 99-100.
“Hello. Is this Amelia? It’s Karma calling.”
Leave me a message, please. I’m too busy trying to clean up my house.
I asked my mom if she would take my boys out for lunch. That way I could focus on getting the floors cleaned. My boys always harass me while vacuuming, by either asking constantly, “Mom, when are our friends coming? What time will they get here? Who is coming? Do they have kids? What are their names?” Or they love to play this painfully annoying (but kind of fun)game where they all try to “battle” the vacuum. They use their swords, legs, Nerf guns, and whatever else to attack the vacuum. With the dog barking, trying to bite it with his scraggly teeth and the three boys going ape-shit, it’s just too much. These factors are the sole reason my boys rarely see me get out the vacuum and when I do, they automatically say, “Who’s coming over?” Sad truth.
My mom arrived to our house in the midst of me filling my hummingbird feeders with homemade sugar water. Another attention-deficit cleaning up trait I possess is that I tend to hyper focus on things that guests will surely never notice. “Oh, you have a hummingbird feeder…I hardly noticed the urine all over your bathroom wall.” I asked my mom where she thought I should hang the hummingbird feeders. Then, I realized something as I walked around the backyard with my mom, trying to find the best spot for the hummingbirds to hang out while sipping on their sweet life juice. The older I get, the more I become like my mother, in a lot of ways. My siblings and I have always poked fun at my mom’s passion for taking care of the birds. Often times, she asks one of us to water her plants and feed her birds when she is out-of-town. I can’t sew to save my life. Stapling is how I hem pants. I can’t cook like my mom. I can’t keep plants alive, especially the pretty non-weed like plants. But, I have grown to love playing hostess to the birds coming to eat at our house. They are gracious guests. Always hanging outside, not ever staying too long. I got to thinking how my boys would fit in really well as hummingbirds, if they ever needed to change species. They have psychotic amounts of energy, they are constantly moving and they absolutely would love a diet that consisted of sugar-water. A dream come true. They would fly away and never look back.
My mom helped me hang my hummingbird feeder while talking on the phone to the nurse who cares for my grandmother. She then loaded my three boys in her car to take them to eat lunch and go to the bookstore. Master multi-tasker. No one can do what she does with a smile on her face and that pep in her step. Grace oozes out of her and we all sneak up next to her, in hopes that it would somehow rub off on all of us.
I had the whole house to myself. I started vacuuming the floors and the tears moved to their starting blocks. No boys attacking the vacuum. No dog barking incessantly. Just me and that vacuum, that appeared to not be sucking anything up. The filter! Yuck fest. I started crying. Just feeling completely humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude that slid down my face in the shape of happy tear drops. I just love my mom. I’m not quite sure what I did to deserve such an unselfish, generous, and loving woman. For my mom. Why would I not hope to be like this woman? To this day, I have adult friends who meet my mom and tell me how awesome she is. And it’s true. Her face and name should be in the dictionary under “mom.” She’s that good. She mothers the world. Her own children, her grandchildren, the mothers in the grocery store, the children in the hospital, the frogs, birds, opossums, rabbits and creatures that come to her yard. Every child deserves a mother like her. And if every child had a mother like her, the world would be a more loving and joy-filled place.
So, I’m a little excited now. A lot. I can’t stop staring out my kitchen window. I just cannot wait for my first hummingbird to come. And when that spunky little bird comes whizzing up to my feeder, I will remember the strong sensitive woman who taught me to love on and nurture the beautiful tiny creatures that God has so graciously put on this earth. With us. I will also probably say, “Hurry, boys! Come quick! There’s a hummingbird at our feeder.” And I will quickly kneel down, put my arm around them, pointing to the feeder, touch their hair and hopefully remember the moment until I die. I will be forever grateful of a mother who loves everyone, and every creature, in the way that God intended. Unconditionally. Generously. Selflessly. Beautifully. In an exhausting and whole-hearted way. I love you, Mom.