This morning on my walk, I stumbled upon a Monarch butterfly struggling in the grass. I wondered if she, too, had just dropped her kindergartner off at school. She kept reaching out with one of her legs to find the next piece of grass but she couldn’t quite get there. I pushed the piece of grass closer to her and she moved. She flopped her wings. I looked to see if one of them was broken. I pulled my dog away from her. Perhaps, she was dying. Did you know that Monarch butterflies have hairy backs?
I decided to pick her up without touching her beautiful wings. So delicate and vibrantly patterned. As I held her on my hand, she flew away. I nearly cried. Then, I started thinking about how God is here. In everything. He sees the broken-hearted mamas and he lifts us up. He changes our perspective. He shows us that we weren’t meant to be down in the grass. We are meant to fly.
For nearly twelve years, I worked with hospitalized kids and families enduring horrible traumas, never-ending sicknesses, and unimaginable accidents. I’ve played with orphaned siblings and cried with grieving mothers. I’ve found blankets for lifeless children. I know for a fact that every single one of these families would have given anything to see their children walk into elementary school, middle school, and high school. Growth is a beautiful thing. Growth is an honor. It’s a privilege.
But growth is still hard on a mama’s heart.
Especially this mama’s.
My older sons walked their little brother into his kindergarten classroom today. He didn’t need me, his mama. On day two. I watched their three backpacked bodies walk away. Their little healthy lives flashed before me. Their giggles. Their first steps. The enthusiastic ways that they jump off of the couch onto the pillow forts they have created below. Suddenly, as I walked away, I laughed at the goofy way Patch, our dog, runs through tall grass. I smiled.
Then, I looked down and saw the struggling butterfly.
One of mine and my boys’ favorite memories of my grandma is when she held a flower from my mom’s garden and suddenly, a butterfly landed on that flower. Today, a struggling mother, me, held a struggling butterfly. It’s undeniable proof that God can use the most fragile and tiny creatures of this world to shift our perspective from the dirt to the clouds.
I have broken into the extra school supplies, especially the boxes of Kirkland kleenex. I have sat in my Grandma’s chair and cried with the dog staring awkwardly at me. Yesterday, I told my husband that I was not going to share my writings because when you’re vulnerable and raw with your emotions, some people try to proofread your feelings or predict or edit them altogether. This really hurts and can feel like someone is rubbing alcohol or lemon juice on an open wound. He said that’s not everybody and that’s not fair and that I have to keep writing. He’s right, I suppose. Thank you for those of you who say comforting things like, “I’m sitting beside my mama. The mother/child bond sure is a strong one.” I will keep sharing for those of you who do the hard work of feeling emotions deeply and as a result, sometimes feel like a paralyzed butterfly.
You’re not. You may just need to be gently lifted up. You’re beautiful and capable. You have unique and extraordinary wings and you will be flying again soon.
I tend to get a little sentimental and/or sad on my children’s first and last days. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the birth of my third son. But tonight, I’m secretly grieving the last day of having a five year old. He came running into the kitchen with his older brother’s costume on. Ahhhh. Peter Pan. Well, it was supposed to be Robin Hood but he changed it to Peter Pan. It was a bit too much on my aching mama heart. He proudly placed the blue heron feather in his hat that we found at the creek. I took a picture of him standing in the kitchen. His shadow even hopped into the shot. All I could think of was Peter Pan and why, oh why does this sweet one-dimpled smiling boy standing in front of me need to grow up?
Because “All children, except one grow up.” Thanks, J.M. Barrie.
Every birthday, starting school year, or developmental milestone, we, as parents, are reminded that our child will not be the exception. Growing up is extraordinarily beautiful. It’s a joyful ever-changing gift. A privilege. Yet, I still console myself. Because it’s also tricky. Unknown. Ever changing. New. Challenging. A bit heart grasping, tugging, pulling, and twisting. How many ways will my beautiful boy change and grow over the next year? Will he stop saying, “You blunked!” when he wins a staring contest. Will my right hip finally get a break because he won’t need me to carry him when his “legs are too tired to walk.” Will his smile forever change with the loss of his baby teeth? Will he lose a bit more of his innocence as he encounters unkind children or adults at school? Most likely yes. And yes. I know this.
As he proudly holds up another finger on his second hand to tell his age, six, we will keep on loving him and encouraging him and praying for him. We will continue to do our best to protect him and teach him and learn from him. We will hope and pray that we provide an environment where he will grow to his potential. In the midst of the long, short, chaotic or melancholy days, we will never cease to be fascinated, humbled and completely overwhelmed by him and by his growth.
Happy two handed birthday to the most persistent little(big) mama’s right hip hitchhiker, the always eager to sit-on-the-kitchen counter helper, the first to volunteer for any-boring-old errand runner, the greatest question asker and late night conversationalist, the sweetest middle-of-the-night snuggler, the most perfectly timed one-dimple smile-turned-giggler, and the most accommodating little brother. And even though he sometimes claims he doesn’t like to “always be third,” he’s a better third than we could have ever imagined.
We all love you so dang much, Colbs. Thanks for giving me the best job in the world, being your mama.
Patty Griffin helps me work through my kids birthdays. All the feels.
As my legs pushed his lanky giggling body into the air, he glanced down at me. The gentle breeze swayed the branches on the trees and rustled the gorgeous fallen leaves back and forth. I stared up at his freckled nose, his bleached-out hair and I asked him an important question,
“Will you stay five years old forever?”
In the overwhelmingly beautiful and perfect moments of motherhood, I want to freeze time. I want to run around the back yard laughing as we have stick fights. I want to “bahmember” as he says, his sweet voice forever. I want to capture the simple ways that he looks at the world through his giant, greenish brown eyes. I want to always be able to snuggle him tight after my legs give out from “rocket launching” him into the air. I want him to always ask me to push him on the swing.
I want to never forget the sound of his voice, “Mama? Where are you?”
He’s so breathtakingly perfect in these unexpected moments. The surprise gifts of uninterrupted time together. He notices the tiniest things like bees pooping or the sounds a bird makes. He laughs nonstop when a bug lands on my nose. He thinks the moon sometimes goes to visit other houses too. He unknowingly teaches me how to happily live in the present moments. He helps me forget about a stack of bills, a dead vehicle, and a dirty house.
“Yes.” He answered me. Afterall, he doesn’t yet know what it means to grow up.
And so it’s a Monday mother-son deal. For today, he will stay five forever.
As I carried my big boy around Costco and pushed the empty cart, I mentally prepared myself for somebody to make a comment about him being too big for me to carry around. Because sadly, it’s happened many times before. I awkwardly reached for a pineapple and some mangoes and then I felt his weight change. He got heavier. I knew he had fallen asleep but I couldn’t see his face. I started to notice people kindly waiting for me to push my shopping cart past or smiling as they saw my fast-asleep long-legged four year old boy.
On a Monday, like today, I might respond to someone’s unsolicited comment by saying, “he’s been missing me at work all weekend and this is how I know it…he asked for me to hold him.” I know that I don’t need to provide an explanation to anybody, much less a complete stranger, of why I carry my child who is no longer a baby, who has working legs. I carry him most Tuesday through Fridays, too. I carry him because he politely asks me (most times) in the sweetest voice, “Mama, could you hold me?” He used to demand, “hold you, me.” I carry him because today, I’m strong enough to carry him. I carry him because I love him and he loves me. Because I love to hold him and he loves for me to hold him. I carry him because I held several babies and toddlers at work this weekend and it made me miss my own kids that aren’t babies or toddlers anymore. Those are a few of the reasons why I do it.
And if you truly wanted an ear full, I would tell you that I believe that too many parents want their kids to grow up. Too fast. They want them to do too much before they’re ready or big enough, physically or emotionally. I would tell you that growing up has it’s limited perks and that once you leave childhood, early or later, it’s hard to go back. And it’s hard to make up for lost time as a parent. Practically impossible. I would tell you that I will never regret holding my kids longer or carrying them asleep on my shoulder, as I awkwardly shop for groceries. Honestly, there’s a pretty selfish reason too. I don’t think they will ask me to carry them much longer. It feels pretty good to be important, needed and loved on by these incredibly beautiful children. And I don’t worry that my teenage sons will ask to be held so they can take a nap on my shoulder on a future Costco run. I do worry that they may be lifting more and more food into my cart. That they will help unload.
When I pushed my cart to the checkout line, a woman behind me saw me hold my big sleeping child wrapped around my hips the best that I could manage him while unloading my groceries. She thoughtfully asked me how she could help me. I nearly cried when she said, “I remember those days.” Because it’s Monday and I saw the look in her eyes. And she didn’t tell me he was to big to carry around. She got it. She understood. And that meant the world to me, especially on a Monday.
Someday you will not be near me. Someday you will cry and I will not be there to hear you, to see your face turn splotchy or watch as your tears slide down your cheeks. I will not be there to witness your gigantic bright brown eyes as they turn to the beautiful mossy green when they fill with the hurt, frustration, sadness or painful tears that change them. I won’t be close enough to witness your enormous eyelashes cling together from sopping up a tear here or there as you blink, plead through labored breaths and say, “I don’t want to be “it.” Or “Why do I always have to be thiwd(third)?”
This pains me to think about because as much as I hate to see you cry, I always want to be there for you. Always, as in forever. Like I have always been with you. And you have always been with me. Through everything. I want to hold you, carry you, hug you and look you in the eye and help you understand life’s frustrations, both the big hard-to-comprehend ones and the tiny, yet completely unfair ones.
I never realized that sadness could be so beautiful until I looked into your eyes that day. You came running over, then stood in front of me with your body slouched over, crying with your head pressed up against that giant tree. You looked so small. Again. The sun must have hit your face perfectly. And that’s when I saw your big tears transform the color of your eyes. They did the beautiful color changing trick, in a dramatic way, a way that I had never seen before. I think I will hold that picture of you in my heart forever. Your dark brown eyes turned green. See-through-green, like the moss growing above the tree trunk that cradled your head, only a million times more beautiful. I knew your brown eyes always had green in them, like mine, but with your head rested up against that tree, I stood trying to comfort you mesmerized.
You hate when your brothers run after only you and tag you in the game of “hide and seek.” You hate to be “it.” You’re a little scared to count by yourself. It seems unfair. Because they’re older, taller and quicker than you right now. Because you are third. Please don’t hurry, slow down. Don’t grow up so fast, my sweet youngest boy.
Yesterday, in the car, you asked me,
“Why did I gwow up third?”
I answered, “You were in my belly third.”
Then you added in your precious, figuring out-the-world voice, “Because it was so warm in there and I wanted to stay in there.”
It was too precious to correct you. You are my third child. My third son. You possess so many breathtakingly beautiful characteristics that impact the world for good. I hope one day when you cry without me there that you will always remember how important you are and that you will always, always carry my love with you in those beautiful brown eyes. And in the green eyes too. But most importantly, stored up inside that tiny mighty heart of yours.
I hear you breathe. Deeply. In. And out. You told me you didn’t need to take a nap, you silly boy. I saw your head bobbing and your eyelids getting too heavy for you to hold open. Your fingers held onto the tiny toy in your hand. I made eye contact with you through my rear view mirror. Holidays can be exhausting. For kids and grown-ups alike. I carried you into the house. I may regret the decision to let you late-afternoon/early evening nap later on tonight.
But in this moment, I’m happy for your stillness. I’m grateful for your inability to defeat the nap monster. I’m perfectly peaceful resting with my eyes open. Right next to you. In moments like these, I’m overcome with love for you, my beautiful growing boy. No longer a baby. You’ve barely tiptoed past the toddler years. My preschool boy. Yet, still innocent and little enough that you fell asleep gently gripping the toy you played with right before your eyelids succumbed to the pillow.
You play hard. It’s nonstop. Going. Doing. Running. Hiding. Wrestling. Pretending. Building. Arguing. Crying. Giggling. You have the greatest dimples when you smile. And you ask a million questions a day. You want to know why residents at your great Grandma’s like to say “hi” to you or touch your hair. You want to know why elephants have such big ears. You even ask hard questions about God and Jesus that I don’t know the answers to. Like why did God make rats. You’re curious. And smart. And alive. So alive.
I’m constantly amused, perplexed and grateful for the thoughts that readily exit out of your tiny mouth. I miss your sweet voice when you sleep. I miss you saying things like, “when my eyes get hot, they cry.”
I love you when you’re sleeping. Because I can stop and think on all of the beautiful reasons why I love you So incredibly much when you’re awake. It’s easy to forget sometimes or get short-fused and distracted by the busy monster and your endless energy. But it’s really what I miss the most when you’re gone or I’m gone or while you dream.
Wake up soon, my long eyelashed, perfectly beautiful sleeping boy. There’s a toy in your hand, ready to be played with the moment you awaken. And there’s a mama, a daddy and two brothers that have missed you. While you were napping.