I have an embarrassing story to tell. And not the embarrassing type of story like when I hobbled in on crutches post knee surgery into our high school gym to watch our basketball team play our biggest rival only to be run smack into by the referee. My legs went higher than my head before I landed and the entire gymnasium gasped and went quiet. That was mortifying. This is more of the embarrassing type of story that falls into the appalling category.
It was just a week or so after selling my business and my dad and I had gone to the Tennessee football game together. My dad has sat in these same seats for forever and along with him is another die-hard fan, named George. Shortly after getting there George turns around in his seat to say hi and although he’s met me a slew of times now he always needs a reintroduction before he remembers I’m Eddie’s daughter. At this particular re-meet, he asked, “So, what do you do?” The problem is no one had asked me what I did since I sold my business and became unemployed. The options of “what do I do” cycled quickly through my mind and I almost said, “I run an online photography school.” No no… “I’m a photographer.” No no… “I’m an entrepreneur!” (But was I anymore?) And so I said the only thing there was left to say:
“I’m… I’m just a mother.”
George replied like any smart human being would reply to such an asinine statement and said, “Oh that’s it? Just a mother?” as his head leaned every so slightly forward and his eye gave me a wink.
I don’t believe in shame because shame is never from God so whenever I feel it I tell Satan to eff off. But in this moment, I felt a shame that my gut had given me. Because I imagined the faces of my children and the value I hold in their lives and how saying that same statement to them when they’re grown – Charley… Lola… I’m sorry all I did for you was be your mother – would be a complete and utter tragedy. Because if they decide to become a mother one day and continue to work outside of the home I will celebrate their every decision and if they make the terribly hard decision to step off the career path for awhile in order to be at home more I will celebrate that decision just as much. And I'll tell them that being a mother is the greatest, hardest work they will ever get to do. And if they ever put just in front of mother I'll yell at them like I do now when they color on my walls.
There have been several defining moments like this in my life. Like the time I resolutely decided to quit wrestling with God on whether or not he was real. That didn’t mean I would never have doubts again about what his grand plans are, but I would no longer sway back and forth between full faith and a total lack of it. The Bible, I decided to fully believe, was God-ordained and if the Bible was God-ordained than I would read it, believe it and let it change me.
Thanks to George, added to my defining moment list was making the choice to never underplay my role as a mother again. Because if I’m a mother I’ve been given a divine opportunity and if I’ve been given a divine opportunity I’ve been filled with a divine fire. And, if I’m filled with a divine fire then I deserve as much honor and respect and admiration as every other mother who responds to the call they've been given by getting out of bed every morning and showing up for their children that day. If I can't have honor and respect and admiration for myself how can I have it for other moms? And how can I expect my own children to have it for themselves when they wake up as mothers one day.
What do you do?
Wow! Where should I start? Let me see…. well, when I first brought my baby home she slept in a bed right next to me and every few hours, when the rest of the world was sleeping, I joined all the other moms in the dark and I fed her a warm bottle before I burped her, changed her, rocked her back to sleep and passed out again for another 90-minute stretch. When she became more aware of her surroundings she had a harder time napping on her own during the day so I would go to the mall and in a sleep-deprived daze order a large coffee from Starbucks and walk her around wrapped tightly against my chest so that she could sleep long and hard to the sound of my heartbeat. For weeks she had a bad case of colic that always hit right when the rest of the family was eating dinner so I would turn on the sound machine loud and hold her tight and as she screamed furiously in my arms I would pray with the same intensity I did when I begged God for her when her birthmom had changed her mind and decided to parent her. And then I would cry right along with her until she stopped and I would wipe my tears away and take a deep breath and re-join the family for dinner. When she started rolling she could only roll to one side so as soon as she got to one end of the room I would flip her around so that she could roll back to the other side of the room. In the interim I would run around furiously trying to get anything accomplished for the sheer sake of feeling even slightly accomplished. When she moved to her big girl bed I would lay with her until she fell asleep. And any time she woke up in the middle of the night unable to find her lovie I would stumble as quickly as I could to her side to help her look for it. When she learned the magic the outdoors holds I would take her outside as often as I possibly could which meant that oftentimes work was left undone until I could return to it after everyone was asleep. When I decided to get fit again I would take her, the giant exersaucer, a multitude of snacks and toys to the Crossfit gym and as I ran laps or lifted weights or did burpees I would play peek-a-boo or practice waving with her. When she got just a tad older she started doing all kinds of mind-blowing things like painting and making houses out of blocks and building mountains out of Play Doh. And I marvel at everything she creates and sometimes I save it for her daddy to see or I hang it on the wall. And so far I’ve yet to break one of my own rules which is if ever I’m asked to snuggle I stop everything I’m doing and I snuggle with great intensity wherever we may be…. in bed or on the couch or on the kitchen floor. And every day she’s learning more and more of our world and I’m teaching her the importance of being a good listener and speaking kindly and noticing people by looking them in the eye and asking them their name. I’m teaching her the fun found in spontaneity and in road trips to visit friends that live in different cities and how traveling via plane can be a real inconvenience, but seeing the world is the best way to experience God and develop a love for people who are not at all like us. And every other day I show her that I’m human and that it’s okay to wear your imperfections like a badge of honor. Because we're not God and we're not asked to be. I show her that I screw up, too, and have to ask for forgiveness. And I show her that the best of my arms and my eyes are for her and her daddy. And in all the other days I make myself emotionally available for her (the hardest job in all the world is being emotionally available for someone, you know), always willing to offer her whatever it is she needs, even if it’s to set a boundary or give her space to be sad or mad without trying to fix her.
There’s a good chance I will push her too hard in some areas and not have high enough expectations for her in others. And, I won’t always sign her up for the right extracurricular activities or make the right decisions when the going gets tough. I’ll disappoint her and misunderstand her. I’ll lean in too much at times and not enough at others. I won’t have all the right answers and I’ll undoubtedly have a few things I wish I had done differently when she’s grown and gone.
But with all those inevitables, I can promise her that every single day I’ll show up for her. And I’ll use my head and my heart every time I make a decision on her behalf. I’ll always have her best interest at heart and when she’s old enough to make her own decisions I’ll support her, even if she chooses differently than I would have. I won’t try to put her in a box or live vicariously through her. I’ll teach her everything I know and take her along with me as much as possible when I explore new areas of our world. I’ll teach her the importance of not judging people who aren’t like her, but instead allowing God to use them to teach her. I won’t always know what she’ll need at any given moment, but I can promise her that I’ll stay in contact with God and trust Him to guide me where needed or show up for her when I’m unable to show up myself. And finally, I promise her, thanks to George, that I’ll never put my role as her mother in the “just” category again. I’ll promise her as soon as I start feeling like I’m not doing enough I’ll tell Satan to eff off. And, instead, I’ll hold my title as mother high and operate in my role with equal amounts of humility and confidence and never hesitate to declare that I’m worthy of the title I’ve been given. Because it’s not because of what I do or don’t do for her, it's because of whom he’s ordained me to be.
What do you do?
I’m a MOTHER.