A story of two types of mothers

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She was an only child born on a summer afternoon. A shy sort, she stayed close under the wing of her persnickety mother — the “helicopter” type who constantly fluttered about over her young one.

If little one wandered, she quickly corralled her. Her body language said: it’s a dangerous world out there. Little one heard the message loud and clear. Little one didn’t stray.

Three months later, little one’s sister was born — a darling thing with the sweetest face you’ve seen. This was a half-sister, born to another mother, from the same father. Surprise twist, you see.

However, the little sister’s mother was another sort. She was a gypsy-soul with oil-black hair and an appetite for adventure. When her baby was born, she followed her cues and nudged her gently, saying: you can do this, go on, go on! 

Well, time has gone by — and the story is quite predictable.

The first only child, never allowed to stretch her wings — she still stays cooped up, most comfortable within the confines of the only world she knows to be safe.

The half-sister, though, she’s grown into her own. A self-confident girl ready for what life throws her way.

And where is their father, you may ask? I knew you’d ask about him. And all I can say is what anyone would say who knows him: he’s a cocky sort.

A loud-mouth, really.

Seems to think he has it all figured out.

But what else would you expect from a rooster?

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What she would have said

Have you read the news story about how after a mother gives birth, her baby’s fetal cells stay hidden within her body forever, acting as tiny super heroes that promote healing and protect her from all sorts of diseases?

Not only is that a beautiful example of God’s design, but also just a hint at the many profound ways motherhood changes us.

In fact, I was thinking today of what 23-year-old me would say if I had told her over a latte: hey, in a decade or so, you’ll have almost half a dozen kids (and over a dozen chickens).

You’ll homeschool and homemake and homestead and wear the constant perfume of baby spit-up.

You’ll live on borrowed sleep and yesterday’s clothes and tomorrow’s prayer that you’ll be able to do all you can for these little people who are pieces of your heart walking around outside your body.

And you — who still shops at Abercrombie & Fitch and sun tans — you’ll one day wince at those pop lyrics you used to sing out loud.

You’ll mute TV commercials and turn around smutty magazines in grocery store lines and fight for a culture of goodness.

You’ll search for and believe in your values — what’s right and wrong, beautiful and deceitful, what sacrifices are worth it or not.

And you’ll realize that your actions are now on profound display. That tiny humans are watching you, all the time, with huge, blue eyes and little parrot mouths ready to repeat to you what you’re proud of —

and what you’re not.

I wonder what she would have said if I told her that everything she’s looking for — the peace and purpose and joy she longs for — would be found not in “finding herself” in some moment of glory, but in giving herself away.

She probably wouldn’t know what to say. Because she was there and I am here and there is no way of getting from one place to the other without living.

Without waking up, day by day, to a first-born baby and then a second. To sleepless nights and ER visits and first haircuts and a Down syndrome diagnosis. Life moves in seconds and minutes and sometimes jumps in leaps and bounds and before we know it, we have changed our mind, our hearts, our entire lives; we have grown.

The gift of children is that, if we’re lucky, we become better as we strive to give them even half of what they give us.

As we try to create a world as good and true and beautiful as they are.

As we fail and try again and aren’t afraid to say, “I’m sorry.”

As we try to live out a love that is patient and kind and always persevering.

Motherhood is heroic.

It is humbling.

It is the most important work of all.

The day my son was born, I simultaneously died and was reborn. Every day before that day, my life had been about me and what I wanted the world to give me. Every day since, my life necessarily has been about what I can give to someone else. And that, I think, is why the world needs more children—and more parents.”  – written on the side of a Starbucks cup

 

What I stand for

I stand for off-white linen curtains that fall beside morning windows, which are smudged with the curious fingerprints of a 7, 6, 4 and 2-year-old.

I stand for zip-up sleepers that cover the chilly toes of my gurgling, chubby baby.

I stand for hot, fresh bread made from 6 ingredients, topped with yellow butter made from cows who eat grass.

I stand for Autumn days.

And Spring ones, too.

And Winter mornings when the sky is icy grey.

I stand for dark, stormy afternoons that give full permission to stay inside under a blanket and read Harry Potter.

I stand for kissing my husband when we say goodbye — and hello — and excuse me, I need to reach my cup of coffee —

And oh, I stand for coffee. With real cream and something sweet.

I stand for friends who know you and love you anyway.

And for taking care of each other.

For bringing leftover cake to a neighbor’s doorstep.

And bookshelves stuffed with books.

I stand for the hypnotizing, contagious, world-peace-inducing grin of a baby.

And the joy of a full dinner table.

I stand for standing up to offer help.

And also, for sitting down.

I stand for dresses on sale from Anthropologie and imperfect, homemade gifts.

For cello music.

And The Sound of Music.

And singing out loud in the car to Adele.

I stand for faces instead of screens and long, good conversations that keep you up way too late.

I stand for Sunday brunch and mimosas.

For picnics under trees.

And for family reunions that make you feel like a kid again.

For the simple things that have nothing to do with power or fame or whatever it’s so easy to think is so important.

I stand for hand-writing letters,

And hand-making pretty things,

And rich, black dirt under too-short nails from digging up the sweet potatoes.

For backyard chickens,

And front-porch sitting,

For writing and snuggling and praying and knitting.

And for lip gloss. I also stand for lip gloss.

I stand for the pursuit of truth and justice —

And for dark chocolate after lunch.

For telling stories and hearing stories and writing stories that matter.

I stand for a world where we can all be

exactly who we were made to be:

people who create art

and love each other

and eat cake

and act silly

and think deeply

and who live a life

that stands for something.

 

 

The gift of knowing her

In the early days after my daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, I would look at pictures from the weeks and days before she was born.

Of my maternity photos in that magenta ruffled shirt…

Of the photos of my mom cutting open the gender-reveal cake on a hot summer porch to show powder-pink sponge cake inside (it’s a girl!)…

And I would think of what I didn’t know.

I didn’t know she had Down syndrome in that picture of me eating banana pudding with a big pregnant belly at my husband’s 30th birthday party.

I didn’t know she had Down syndrome in that blog post I wrote the night before I would be induced with her. 

I didn’t know that the little girl who kicked me in bed and waved at me in that sonogram picture and completed my Halloween costume of “Baby Spice” would arrive with life-changing news.

It was — in those early days after Kate was born — as if time were split into Before-Down syndrome and After: there I was at the pumpkin patch a week before her birth. And here I was, a month later, trying to figure out what it meant to be the mother of a beautiful, precious child with a scary diagnosis.

But oh, how we learn.

Because now, 6 years later, I look back on those postpartum pictures of a tired mom with sleepy eyes and her hair pulled back holding a tiny newborn as sweet as sugar —

And I think about what I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that 6 years later, that little girl would be the best big sister to three younger siblings, her best friends in the world. That she’d love to gently kiss her youngest brother on the forehead while he slept. That I’d hear her singing lullabies to her sister when they played “family.”

I didn’t know how incredibly fun and silly and smart she would be. That she would cackle like an old woman when her sister tickles her belly; that she would love to re-enact The Sound of Music and run barefoot with glee in the rain.

I didn’t know how the diagnosis of Down syndrome would go from being a scary, unsure thing to a source of incredible gratitude. That it would change our hearts and our lives and our perspectives of the world for the better. That it would become as natural to us as the butterflies in our garden in the Fall.

And that she — like a butterfly herself — would go from being that snug, swaddled baby in my arms to a radiant source of joy and beauty whose life reflects the sunlight.

I am still learning so much about motherhood and all of my children — and God willing, I will continue to do so as this life is long. But during this October, Down Syndrome Awareness Month, it is an honor to share just a little of what I do know now —

The incredible gift of knowing her.

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Because just yesterday

This isn’t a cliche commentary on how fast time goes —

Or maybe it is.

Because just yesterday my oldest boy was the same age as this newborn here, with tiny fingernails smaller than the eraser on a number 2 pencil.

And now, my oldest boy is holding this tiny one and looking into his grey-blue newborn eyes with a protective joy emanating from him like beams of pure sunshine. And how did that happen?

And how did it happen that just yesterday I was a 2nd grader playing Barbies on my parents’ lanai in Hawaii. And Barbie loved Ken and Ken loved Barbie and they had a dream house and a Ferrari —

And well,

I don’t have a Ferrari, but a dreamy home, maybe. Because even though it’s often as messy as the bun on my head and loud as that rooster out back, it’s so very full. Of life and purpose and reminders that God exists. How could he not?

Because just yesterday (last month, really) I pushed forth my fifth-born whom I hadn’t met until that day — but yet, as soon as he arrived and filled his lungs full of air, I felt as though he had always been here. We exhaled together and I laid him to my chest and I was his and he was mine as if it had always been that way.

And just yesterday (literally, this time) I was in the grocery store with just the brand new one in a carrier around my waist and a man walked by, looked at my newborn, then pointed to his 4-year-old and said to me smiling: It won’t be long.

And I smiled back a smile that said: And don’t I know it.

And not because I know much of anything — but because not long ago, I gave birth to my first-born who is now old enough to teach me how the light switches are organized in our house (“The one closest to the door is always the overhead light” — and now why didn’t I know that, living here for 3 years?) And suddenly, I’m carrying my 5th born through the cracker aisle and am as close to 40 as I am to 30.

Does time really creep in minutes and hours or does it just jump forward every once it awhile when you finally get the chance to actually sit down and look around?

They will grow. I will grow. We all will grow. And one day we’ll look at each other and say with a smile: now how did that happen? “Because just yesterday…”

I’ll always be their Mama, even when my eyes are as cloudy and wrinkled as a newborn baby’s. And they’ll always be my children, just like this soft, sweet new boy that sits warm in my lap sleeping. As much as we change, we never do.

But this isn’t a cliche commentary on how time goes so fast; rather, an ode to joy. A song of praise that we have any time at all to fill with life and love and each other.