Park Moms

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I stood on the outskirts of two different playgrounds today watching my children. I sat and listened to their voices bounce around as they chased each other and created imaginative games, peeking their freckled noses out from the highest places.

We spend a ton of hours at the playground. We always have because parks are free, there are limited rules and they provide a near-perfect environment for energy release and all sorts of growth. I’ve sat on grass, benches, pavement or turf. I’ve often played “tag” or chased my boys. Or I’ve stood on the edges, shivering, perhaps chatting with other moms, nannies and grandparents. Recently, when a fellow mother of boys’ mom friend of mine and I ran into each other at a new park, she said, “we used to go bar hopping, now we go park hopping.” Yes. We save a lot of money and our livers nowadays.

Some of our kids used to need help, a boost or a mama’s hand going down the slide or crossing the monkey bars. Not anymore. Now, they need the open space to run, yell, climb, jump, tag and play. They still need to show off their mad climbing or monkey bar skills, “MAAAAAHM! Watch me!” Occasionally, if other kids are not around, my boys will ask me to play “dog monster” where I run around bark-growling and attempt to catch them. It has gotten harder and harder for me to win the game.

There are so many different seasons of motherhood. I have always tried my hardest to cherish each and every fleeting one. This has been one of the greatest teachers of having a chronic illness: be present, be grateful, enjoy this time. Today. Right now. This doesn’t mean I don’t have moments or hours or days I wish away. I’ve truly wanted to embrace and experience all of the chaotic, innnocent, simple, and breath-robbing moments. I don’t want to have big motherhood regrets.

I had so many meaningful playground conversations today. I talked with other mothers who stood or sat with me. I listened as mothers spoke of both the loneliness and the beauty of motherhood, the many ways kids grow up, and how they need moms in different ways. I had the opportunity to share my own stories of trying to take a relaxing bath or needing a bit of space in my closet or crying in the parking lot, shower, or kitchen.

As our children exhausted themselves, we, the mothers, filled each other back up. We needed to hear each other’s honest stories. We needed to hear each other’s laughs. And feel the collective mother sighs. The moments not glorified on social media. The moments of real unfiltered life. We needed to look compassionately and sympathetically into the eyes of another woman doing her best as a mom. We needed to see our reflection. We can be so hard on ourselves until we hear our own honest stories being told by another mother.

Our kids need us.

And we need each other.

Because it’s true. It takes a constantly growing village.

I’m grateful for the diverse community of mothers surrounding me, whether it be a stranger that talks with me for twenty minutes about her thirty year old son as she shares her motherhood journey or the familiar face of a friend that regularly sits on the outskirts of the playground, just like me.

Women need other women. Like us. And different from us too.

And sometimes, on playgrounds or in kitchens or in grocery stores or online, moms need to be mothered from time to time. By other moms who just get it. All of it.

Jesus and Mama Tears

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There is something extraordinarily healing and powerful that takes root inside of me knowing that Jesus wept.

The other night I had my head bowed in shame as I sat at the kitchen table. I had just overreacted to one of my boys climbing on the outside of the steps, resulting in a broken thrift store umbrella holder. After I cleaned up the mess, I sat there alone and began crying so hard that my tears dropped down onto the kitchen floor. I think it could have been classified as “weeping.” I mentally backed myself into a corner and beat myself up about all the ways I fail as a human being. As a mother. As a wife.

Because isn’t that we do? Beat ourselves up when we don’t have the strength to go grab a Kleenex or some toilet paper to soften the blow of our tears. And when the tears of guilt flow, they sure know how to awaken the dried up wells of inadequacy, loss and despair.

In my heightened emotional state, I texted my husband and a friend letting them know what an asshole I had been. They each kindly offered to help me out of the pit of doom. I thought it may be helpful if I created a hotline for parents, “1-800-ILOSTMYSHIT.” The operator could have a file folder ready to remind you of all the other times when you handled chaos better, a bit more gracefully. The kind person, probably a volunteer, on the line could perhaps console you and tell you about a time that they also overreacted to routine kid chaos.

The thing is that I usually can cry it out, apologize to my boys and hope and pray for their forgiveness and God’s strength to do better next time. Then, we move on. To the dog park or to a game of checkers. Or whatever. My boys, thankfully, have this crazy awesome ability to forgive me and love me through my guilt and shortcomings as a mother.

In hindsight, like a few days later, who really cares about a thrift store umbrella holder? Obviously not the person who donated it to the thrift store. I don’t want my boys to be wreckless and purposely break stuff, but if anyone should understand breaking stuff accidentally, it should be me. I realize that I had some built-up, constant mud and mess-cleaning up anger that I should have released at ripple glass therapy.

Sadly, and not so sadly, sometimes, those we love the most intensely get to see the yucky, jagged and broken sides of us. Inside of our homes. Our cars. Unfiltered, not touched-up, the raw ugly-cry moments. The moments when we feel exhausted, sad, hopeless, helpless and burdened by our own imperfections. The difficult and painful moments of growth, roots shifting or branches getting pruned.

As I did my Lenten sharpie marker art this morning, I realized just how grateful I am to cling to the belief that Jesus gets me the most. So, I am reminded to grab on tightly to the hope offered in the extra soft, aloe-infused Kleenex He hands me. Time and time again. Today, I’m humbled and gratefully aware that his grace daily protects, strengthens, and carries us.

Amen.

Spring Break Snowflakes

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I held our new shivering puppy, Patch, tightly as I watched and listened to my boys race up and down the slippery slides at the school playground. They all giggled nonstop as the cold wet slides launched their bodies onto the turf below. Time and time again.

“This is FUN, Mama!” they shouted.

I looked down in amazement and wonder at the beauty of the snowflakes that landed on Patch’s black fur. How can each one be so different? So beautiful. So perfect. The tiny, intricate, unique patterns and designs of the snowflakes that became gently trapped into the hairs on his back. He nuzzled his nose under my arm.

Each of my boys ran over to pet him or attempt to temporarily shield him from the snow. Their pink cheeks, grown-up front teeth and their bright eyes quickly peered into mine from beneath their stocking caps. They each tried to tell me something different. I can’t remember what. They looked so happy, so perfect. And then they each ran off.

I sat there, temporarily stuck in the moment, mesmerized and overwhelmed by their existence and the beauty held in their precious freckled faces. I will never tire of looking into their big brown innocent and smiling eyes, framed by their gigantic snowflake-trapping eyelashes.

“Do you feel the snowflakes trapped in your eyelashes?” I asked one of my boys.

He responded by blinking. The snowflakes melted or disappeared. Gone.

I will always thank God in these outside, overwhelmingly peaceful and joyfilled moments. I will count them. My boys. My blessings. Over and over and over again. I will marvel and wonder and nearly implode with thankfulness for the gifts of their lives. I can’t help but feel a varying combination of being utterly humbled, confused, worried, imperfect and beyond grateful for the privilege, the honor, and the responsibility of being their “mama.”

And then, most likely, later in the day, I may be tired or short-fused, perhaps even close to near-exploding at their fighting or complaining. But I promise myself that I will take a deep breath. I will gently tap myself on the shoulder and whisper in my head,

“Hey, you tired mama. Remember sitting at the picnic table earlier watching your boys like the most proud mom in the universe? With the spring snow flurries drifting down. And a new puppy on your lap as the confused birds sang, the highway traffic buzzed, and the irresistible sounds of those three rosy cheeked, giggling boys bounced around….”

I will tell myself to remember the powerful moments and my prayer of thanks. And I will shape up. I may even need to take an extra deep breath or two to activate my secret stash of patience.

Spring break snowflakes.

Remember their beauty, the quiet power they possess. They disappear too quickly.

I will slow down and remind myself to notice, to pause and to embrace the ever changing, beautiful and raw moments of motherhood.

“The Birds”

*This is a guest post written by my eight year old son, Asher. I sat across the table from him this morning as he gripped his pencil tightly and excitedly wrote and wrote these words down. I felt my eyes well up and my mama heart nearly explode with joy and pride as he passionately filled his page. Please leave any comments you have and I will happily share with him.

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The birds have colors that are mixed together like yellow and orange. Mixed it makes beautiful. The colors make you feel relaxed. Have you wished to fly? I have wished if I could fly. Soaring through the air, the wind up in the sky is soft. And the birds make a great song. It calms you down. It makes you come outside. It is high.

We have a big window and tons of birds come to the window to get some seeds and sugar water. My favorite bird is the hummingbird. It is one of the coolest birds to me. It has beautiful colors like red, orange, yellow together. One time, my mom had one fly so close to her.

The hummingbird could hover. I think that it is cooler that it could fly upside down. But keep bees away from hummingbirds because if a bee stung a hummingbird, it would die. So keep bees away from hummingbirds. One time, a dog saw a hummingbird on the sidewalk. The dog wouldn’t let his owner go so the owner picked up the hummingbird and took the hummingbird home. They found out the hummingbird was alive but he wanted the hummingbird to stay. He feeded the hummingbird sugar water. He trained the hummingbird. I was so amazed. I could watch it again.

When we saw hummingbirds, we would call them super heroes like Flash and Green Lantern and Batman and Robin. We called them those names because they had red and yellow for Flash and green for Green Lantern. Black for Batman.

DSC09510My second favorite is the cardinal. It has light red and black. It is funny that some male cardinals have mohawks. I think it makes them look cool. Some of them have black spots on them. My favorite colors are red and blue. Red and black are cool mixed together.

The blue jay is light blue with some white and some black. It has a cool beak. It has black close to its eyeballs. It looks like it has pretty scales on its wings. It has cool designs. The white with the blue looks beautiful.

I have seen a ton of birds in my life. Some are blue, red, green, yellow, pink, purple and a ton of colors that are beautiful. One of the hummingbirds has light colors. How hummingbirds got their name is because when you listen closely, you hear a humming sound.

Some woodpeckers sometimes peck on our house. Do you know why? Because they get worms out of trees. Have you went on a trail? You see tons of birds and you hear tons of sounds. But when it becomes winter, all of the birds have to go because they can’t survive in winter. Its too cold. But in a couple months, they’re back and maybe you see the same ones!

 

I’m sorry, Brownies

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I’ve learned that when the hummingbirds migrate for the winter, brownies are my best friend. You know the Ghiradelli kind, of course, the ones with triple chocolate chips. They are unlike any other. Warm. Gooey. Messy in all the right ways. But lately, I feel I like I purposely lost my half to our best friends necklace. I’m sorry, Brownies. We have to friend break up because I learned that I have an amoeba infection. Apparently, the microscopic amoeba bastards like sugar. A lot. It appears that I have been providing them with the perfect environment for an orgy of sorts. They have been getting it on like rabbits. Or amoeba, I suppose. I don’t want my body to be a fancy vacation rental home for amoeba whose credit card is declined. I don’t want the pain of cramping, the annoyingness of diarrhea, sleeplessness and fatigue that amoeba tend to carry in their duffel bags.

So, I have now been eating a no sugar diet for ten days. I think. It’s not like I am counting the days or remembering every dessert that I have had to no longer leave room for in my belly. You see, for a girl like me, dinner has always been the home-town opening act of sorts. And well, dessert has always been the headliner. My Justin Timberlake.

Ever since I was a kid, my brain focused on one thing. “Must. Get. Dessert.” Do whatever you must do to get dessert. I would sneak food in my pockets, under my napkins, in my mouth (to go spit out in the toilet) and so on. One time, I remember cramming some food under the coffee mug at a Cracker Barrel restaurant on a family road trip because, “if you don’t eat your dinner, you don’t get dessert.” I should probably write an apology letter, decades later, to the waitress who had to clean that up. But, did I get dessert? You bet.

There are only a few sugary things I have missed out on this past ten days. Most of which, I have strangely chosen to make from scratch for my family. Similar to the weird and addicting trend to watch somebody play with toys on Youtube, I have found some amount of comfort in watching others eat sugary foods. I am also pretty competitive so I have inner dialogue with the amoeba folk. “You think I can’t make chocolate chip cookies without eating one? You’re on, amoeba bitches.”

Then, I show them who is boss. Self control, I need you now tonight. And I need you more than ever. Once upon a time I was falling in love, now I’m only falling apart.

There’s nothing I can do. It’s a total eclipse of the heart.

It’s me. Not them. I’m in charge. It’s my body. And my body belongs to me. The party is over, sugar addicts.

I thought I should jot down my sugar diary lodged in my memory into a bullet format:

  • I have baked brownies which is my go-to dessert move. But this next one was new, I made homemade caramel sauce for said brownies. Then, I scooped ice cream. Brownie sundaes. Duh.
  • A few days later, I made chocolate chip cookies. Holy hell. Do you know how hard it is to NOT taste-test the batter? Thank goodness, my five year old could do it for me. I should have YouTubed it.
  • To celebrate Mardi Gras, I made two cinnamon King cakes. We had friends over so there could be an even bigger crowd for me to watch eat the cake. Maybe I have a problem.
  • Later in the week, I thought we should use those free Lamar’s donuts coupons. And I may be in withdrawal and hearing things due to the lack of sugar, but I am pretty sure I heard several of my favorite donuts crying behind the glass. I turned my back on them.
  • Oh man, at a family birthday party, I even had the self control to skip out on my mom’s homemade strawberry cake with it’s best friend in tow, Costco vanilla ice cream.
  • Typically, when I pick up laundry in my boys’ rooms, I usually snag a piece or two of their candy (don’t get all judgey. It’s kind of like I imagine them giving me a tip in candy form for doing their laundry. “Thanks Mom, for picking up those clothes right next to the hamper. Here’s a snack size twix bar.”) I haven’t eaten any of their candy. In ten days. Doing laundry really sucks now. Maybe my husband will accidentally leave a five dollar bill in his jeans pocket. A girl can dream.
  • Enough of these bullets. This is getting more sad than I intended.

The point is, if I must have one, that it’s really hard to change behavior, make sacrifices, stand out or do things differently. It’s challenging to alter the way we think, feel and act. Eating is a huge part of our lives. Physically. Emotionally. Socially. Spritually. We plan our next meal, think about food, indulge in food and perhaps, as I have learned about myself, over-indulge in food. I have had my momentary pity parties, but for the most part, I have kept a great attitude because I truly feel better. Just don’t tell Brownies yet. It has helped tremendously that I have a supportive husband and sweet kids to cheer me on. Stevia, (the only sugar substitute I have approval to use) has not helped. That stuff is just nasty. I will take my coffee black, thank you very much.

When my 21 days of eating and drinking a no sugar diet are done, I hope to stay in tune and conscious of my sugar intake because I think it’s a healthy practice for my body, mind and soul.

In breaking fickle best friend news, my current new best friend is Bengal Spice tea. Celestial Seasonings doesn’t play around when they make their tea. They must have people on sugar-free diets in mind. All the flavor, no sugar. No caffeine either. Say what? Get ya some.

Shattered. The healing place.

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I will meet you at the place. The place where it hurts.

I will meet you in your pain. I will hold you through your grief.

I will meet you in the place where your dreams shattered off the wall.

I will join you in your tears. I will drop my hand gently on your back when you’re sobbing. When you’re curled up into a ball with your back turned away from the world.

I get it. I understand. The rest of the world should be crying too.

I will journey to that place with you.

The hurting place.

That place where I have been before.

I know the way.

I don’t need a map.

I see you. Your eyes. I hear you. The words you don’t have to say. I feel you. Your pain. The after shock.

I recognize your broken eyes. I can sense your empty, crowded brain.

I can help you take a breath.

I can tightly hold your hand.

I can hug your shaking body.

I can sit up against the wall with you.

If you only will let me in.

I’ve been to the hurting place many times before.

I know it can be an awful, lonely and scary place especially if no one ever comes to knock on the door.

Let me help you. Hold you. Hear you.

Let me in.

When you’re ready, I will lift you up. We can take one step and then another. Or we can stop and take a break.

I will be with you. You don’t have to look up. Yet. You will know that I’m there. We can journey to the healing place.

I’ve been there before too.

I will show you the different paths that I have tried.

Maybe you will see a different way. We can journey together.

Next to each other.

We will make it to the healing place.

Undressed Emotions

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I guess I will get my emotions dressed up for you. You seem to handle them better with make-up on. All nice and pretty and seemingly unaffected by the storm of life happening around me. I don’t like to pretend but I can’t handle the pain of my feelings being used against me. So, I will disguise them in humor or unrealistic optimism and perhaps a bit of exhausted joy just for you. Then, you will feel better about me. And my diseases.

Every day I wake up, in the middle of the night, like tonight, and I live my life with diseases that let their presence be known. Always. Every single day. I don’t forget that I have them. Ever. My body won’t let me and neither will my heart and mind. That’s the definition of chronic. But I make a conscious decision daily: I choose to rise above the pain, the frustrations, the inconveniences, and the disabilities. It’s an extremely delicate balancing act which is difficult because I’ve always been a bit clumsy. If I talk about it too much, I’m perceived as letting the disease control me or define me. If I don’t talk about it all, I’m somehow resilient yet I feel ashamed, dishonest and like I’m denying myself of tiny, yet powerful everyday kind-of luxuries that I grant to those whom I love. When I say luxuries, I mean vulnerability, compassion, grace, forgiveness and honesty.

Most days, if you looked in on my life, you would never know the burdens that I carry. Because I probably don’t want you to. I don’t want your pity, your hopeless looks or your unintentional alienation. I also don’t want to feel so damn different that I become the chameleon who is awkwardly late to adjust to her new surroundings. I know I’m different. But I also believe that, thankfully, we all are. There’s no possible way that nearly twenty years of chronic disease cannot impact your physical, mental and emotional well-being. It affects who you are, how you relate to others and all the ways that you live your life.

If I show you or tell you about a horrible experience or a day that will make you want to cry, it’s because I trust you to handle my disease in a dignifying way. Or perhaps I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of my pride or privacy in hopes that you will grow in your understanding, compassion or sensitivity to others around you. I’m not trying to gain attention to boost my ego. But is it helpful when people who I value encourage me? Yes. Especially in the moments when I’ve been wounded so deeply that I’m tempted to never speak of this disease again.

I will pull myself back up again and remind myself that oftentimes I speak for a group whose voice has been muffled or lost or ignored. Or misunderstood.

I will write for the mothers who are too damn tired because I have strength in this moment. I will write for the daughters who are scared and hopeless and feel excluded. I will write for the boys and men who have been told they should keep fighting yet that they’re not supposed to cry. I will write for anybody who has ever been momentarily bullied by life. I will write for all those who feel the shivering, aching presence of grief. I will always write because the light, the good, and the extraordinary capabilities of the human spirit triumph all of the shit. Time and time again.

Life is rarely a bowl full of cherries but that doesn’t mean that it still can’t be something pretty great.

I guess I have changed my mind. And my heart. Again.

I will not dress up my emotions and feelings to make them prettier or easier for you to handle. They are real. Raw. Truthful. Difficult. They are joyful. They are powerful. And they are practically impossible to conceal. I spent many years pretending and hiding and being truly myself to only a handful of people. Fear had a tight grip on my shoulders. I didn’t fully trust God’s beautiful awesome power to use the bad to cast a spotlight on the good. Thankfully, I have adapted and evolved over the past twenty years. God continues to perfectly place people in my life who fill me and strengthen my soul with hope.

The beautiful, rare and unexpected gifts that accompany pain and chronic illness will always loosen the ever-present restraints. I breathe easier with an adjusted perspective, overwhelming gratefulness, a heightened awareness of mortality, and the undeniable presence of being surrounded by unconditional love. Thank God for the camouflaged gifts and for all of those who graciously give my heart more space to grow through it all.