image

He left this morning, this oldest boy of mine. I should have been zipping him into a bright red snowsuit, kissing him on the nose, and sending him outside to play with his brothers. Instead, early in the morning, I stood in an airport, tiptoed up to kiss his bearded cheek and whispered I love you into his ear. Time really does fly.

I had him for three wonderfully ordinary weeks, full of the glory of doing nothing special. Yesterday, though, I felt the temptation to make the last day meaningful. I’ve made this mistake before.

Nothing ruins precious time more than the pressure to BE MEANINGFUL.

I’ve learned it’s better to spend the days with open hands, letting the time run freely through my fingers until there isn’t any left, and I am gentle with myself and my few tears, because I’m his mom and I love him and it’s all so very precious without me having to make it so.

 

IMG_8038

It’s been looming, that corner up ahead that I’ve known I’ll have to turn. But seeing it in my inbox, the email confirming it, trips me up. Knowing something and KNOWING something are two different things.

So here we go, baby girl. A goodbye is coming. I’ve written and deleted a thousand words – painful, mommy-sad words dripping with emotion and hurt – but the truth is, those aren’t the words I want to release. These are, instead…

You know what? I like your mommy, and I am glad she is better. I’m glad she is clean and sober and trying to stay clean and sober. I know she loves you so much, and I know she wants to be the one to raise you and love you and watch you grow up. She should be the one. She’s your mom. I’m sad, but not because she gets to raise you. I’m sad because I have to let you go.

I can be happy for her (and you) and sad for myself, at the same time. This is the way it goes when you love people, you see. You never get to keep them all to yourself.

You have been a gift and a joy and our precious princess, and I can’t quite imagine yet what your leaving will do to my heart. Hearts get beat up a little in this life, that’s for sure.

I wouldn’t trade a minute, though. I’ll take a battered heart over an untouched heart any old day.

I’ll find better words later, maybe. But today, in the freshness of the knowing, I’ll just say this.

Gubba loves you.

IMG_0831

Once upon a time my son helped paint a mural on the wall of a family health centre in the inner city community of Regina, Saskatchewan. His art portrayed a mother eagle feeding her babies. Sometimes, when we go to the city, we drive by the painting, just for fun.

The day I picked him up, after he’d been painting for a week, was sign-your-work day. We drove over to the sight and I stood in the parking lot with my camera while he added his name to the names of the other artists who contributed to the project. He was happy and proud to do so, and I was happy and proud to witness it.

I think about that moment from time to time. It was a beautiful mural when all was said and done, completed by several artists and volunteers. But it was watching him put his name on it that choked me up, that day in the parking lot.

There’s a story told about Michelangelo who, after his sculpture of the Pieta was installed in St. Peter’s Basilica, returned in the night and carved his name on the sash running across Mary’s breast. He’d overheard someone suggesting the artist must have been someone else. He was twenty-four years old and it was the only piece of work he ever signed. The translation of the inscription is, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made it.

Maybe one signature was enough for Michelangelo. Maybe he became so popular and so well-known he never felt the need to sign anything ever again. Maybe he regretted that impulsive first signature. I don’t know.

I guess I hope my kid – my artsy-fartsy kid with his bluegrass-music-loving heart and his piles of history books and his paintbrushes – will spend his life doing things he’d be proud to sign his name to. I hope he paints his life with relationships and jobs and ministry and experiences and choices that contribute to the masterpiece that he was created to create.

And when he doesn’t, well, I hope he’ll own those times, too. Claim them and restore them and forgive them and redeem them.

Sign your work, Son, and be proud. Because it’s all beautiful if you let it be.

I walk into the living room and it’s not even that bad. A few books scattered and some sheets of music on the floor and a drinking glass left on the shelf, and some of the clutter, honestly, is mine. But I walk in and see them sitting and relaxing and it boils up in me and the words rush out at them. Immediately I’m sorry. I’m wrong and I know it, and I try to make it right but the words are already out there, lives of their own in sarcastic syllables.

I know I’m tired and it’s been a long couple of weeks and I can give all the reasons why, but it doesn’t matter. They’re tired too, and they’ve been working hard and pitching in and I had no right.

I apologize and we try to find our footing again. It’s the middle boy, all sixteen-year-old wisdom, who says the words.

I think you’re just too busy, Mom.

They cut me, these words, but I know the truth of them. He’s right. I’ve let it happen. All these good things, crowding out these good children.

I stop right there and I put them first. I write a new list and I put their names at the top and I tell them so.

IMG_0882

To be honest, it helps. When the list is ordered right, when the most important are made the most important, the rest falls into place.

There are a few online chat thingees that I’ve signed up for. I browse them once in a while, interested in the questions posed and the commenters that try to help or answer or advise. I’m struck, often, by how public we’ve become. How much more open we are now, about our parenting, our choices, our lives, than we have been in the past. It’s kinda cool, and it’s kinda creepy at the same time.

Mainly it’s cool.

So, I’m reading a homeschooling Facebook page for a group that I’ve joined. It’s interesting, because it’s membership is not based on ideology or religion or homeschooling style, but on geography. Which makes for a diverse group and some interesting conversations. I admit I mostly lurk, but in an interested, you go girl, kind of way.

Yesterday, though, I was troubled. Here’s the skinny.

A woman posed a problem/question to the group. She described herself as the mom of two children of  young elementary school age, and a couple of babes. She was homeschooling the two older children and was frustrated with how things were going. The children wouldn’t do the work she assigned, wouldn’t come sit at the table when asked, and the home was full of tension and anger and frustration. She was asking the group for suggestions and indicated she wondered if it would be better to just send the older kids to school where teachers could deal with them educationally, and she could be just a mom and have some peace in her home.

This was the jist of it, anyway, as I understood it.

And lovely homeschooling moms offered lovely advice.

Evaluate the curriculum you are using to see if there might be a better fit for you.

Try X curriculum.

Try unschooling, it saved our family!

Be consistent.

Take breaks.

Be gentle.

Be tough.

And to each suggestion offered, the mom would respond in a defeated way. Either she’d tried it, or was already doing it, or she didn’t think it would help.

Really, I think, she was seeking permission to send her kids to school.

And if she makes that decision, then, you know, you go girl!

What bothers me about this whole conversation though, is the fact that it’s still September. She’s only been doing this a few weeks, and she’s ready to give it all up. And I just want to whisper to her, as gently as I know how,

ARE YOU CRAZY?!

I mean, really, did you think it would be easy? Did you think it would be pie-in-the-sky, pollyanna every day, sunshine and rainbows?

I actually laughed out loud when I read the comment one mom left in response to desperate mom’s question. (Bad, I know.) I don’t know most of these women personally, mind. What I know about them comes mainly from the chatting that takes place online. And the impression I’d had of the mom leaving the comment was that she was experienced and active in homeschooling her children. Because she was on the page a lot, had lots to say, and offered lots of advice.

Anyhoo, she responds to the question by relating that she, too, is struggling in similar ways with her oldest child and that she had in fact already contacted the school about enrolling him. Oh, and he was in grade one.

Grade one!

This woman has spent more time reading about homeschooling and planning to homeschool and choosing curriculum than she’s actually spent doing it!

I’m not a militant homeschooling mom. I don’t think it’s for everybody. I support whatever education decisions you make for your children. But whatever the decisions are, know that there will be hard stuff. Whether you choose traditional school or some version of homeschool, it is not sweetness and light all the time.

It’s hard and it’s wonderful and it’s hard.

And whether you are the mom of schooled children or homeschooled children, the answers to the hard times are (usually) internal. I mean, diet or curriculum choice or whatever can all be factors, but the bottom line is that it’s not (usually) about what you do, it’s about who you are. It’s relationship. Always, always, always.

Always.

So from one mommy to another, hang in there. Make the choices you need to make, celebrate the wonder of being a parent, but accept as well the hard stuff that goes along with it. Ford the rivers, climb the mountains, slay the dragons. Work it through. Work it out.

It’s worth it.

Really.

You, and your children, will be stronger for it.

Mother’s Day is always a bit of a challenge for me, because I know (and I know you know!) that I haven’t always been the Hallmark card mother. And while I know that is true for all of us, I’m the one who remembers the look on my baby’s face the first time I yelled at him, or the time I sent my boy to bed with angry words, or the time they saw me fighting with their dad. Those moments are mine, and they do not fade with time. This is my family and these are my children, and I own these memories.

My sweet boys.

It’s the day after Mother’s Day, and this morning the roses from church and the card from the boys are pushed to the end of the table to make room for breakfast. And we sit, my husband and I, for a few minutes with the coffee and the conversation, until he leaves for the day and I clear his plate and make breakfast for the children.

And then it is time for the bowls and the boys and the morning scripture, and we talk a bit about poor Saul who lost his way. And we smile over David, the youngest son of Jesse, the future king, and I pause for a minute at the  glowing with health description of the boy – glowing with health from his days spent with the sheep and the slingshot and the harp.

And I look around the table at my own boys, growing bigger with each heaping bowl of morning porridge, and I thank God for them and their days with the animals and the fields and the guitars. I thank Him for the boys they are, and the men they are becoming, and I think, I must have done a few things right. Their dad and I, we’re doing our best.

I grab my phone and snap a few pictures until they say enough already! and start acting silly.

And I feel all motherly, in the midst of my messes and failures and mistakes, as I look around my kitchen table on the day after Mother’s Day.