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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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mother’s fears

Slimes and Smells and Streptococcus

Never leave a hot dog on the stovetop to ferment in its own juices for three days. Never. The scum that accumulates on the surface of the water is nothing compared with the slime that surrounds its circumference upon extracting it. Not kidding, here. I made the mistake of taking it out of the pot with my bare hand and the slime slipped over it like a mucous-y, amorphous blob. It just kept sliding and slipping until it nearly covered my  wrist. So much slime for such a small, seemingly innocuous hot dog. Mike almost threw up. It was like something out of Ghostbusters or Nickelodeon. But it was nothing — I say nothing — compared with the slime that has sluiced from the boys’ noses this week. I wish I’d thought of bottling it up and sending it to Universal Studios to lend some authenticity to the Kids’ Choice Awards this spring.

It all began on Monday — doesn’t it always? The boys had slept terribly, if you could even call it sleep. There’d been multiple coughing fits and periodic wailing virtually all night long. There’s this feeling I get deep in my mommy marrow when I hear my babies – any of them, whether it’s my girls in their twenties or the boys in their twos — cough that raw, rattily cough. It’s a maternal, visceral reflex – like someone has taken a potato peeler to my womb and is shaving off slender curls of it while I’m simultaneously plunging from a tremendous height. That’s what it feels like — except worse. Because I would rather have someone scrape my uterus with a peeler while simultaneously freefalling than to hear that cough coming from any one of my babies’ chests. Needless to say, Monday morning, even before my alarm went off at 5:30, I decided that I was taking the day off and taking them to the doctor. I figured it would be ear infections – our old, familiar foe.

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Now taking a day as a teacher – particularly a teacher in Bartow County – is no easy feat. The first order of business is finding a sub, and finding a sub in our district is akin to unearthing the Holy Grail in the kitchens of Hell. The task has not always been so daunting… Our county used to subscribe to a computerized system that allowed teacher to post their needs online and allow open and able substitute teachers to log in and select a job at will. That was long before systematic budget cuts and various and dubious central office expenditures. Now, we must call subs ourselves – from an alphabetical sub list that also includes interspersed but clearly-marked food nutrition subs in the mix… and let’s just say, woe to the unwitting teacher who accidently calls and wakes a food nutrition individual at 5:30 in the morning for a CLASSROOM position… Now procuring a sub wouldn’t nearly be as Sisyphean a task if the subs were allowed to work more than three days a week in our county. You see, if a sub works more than three days a week, our school system would then be required to provide benefits. (Heaven forbid! and Thanks, Obama.) So the subs naturally work for other systems when they can, and only take Bartow jobs when the pickin’ is slim. And apparently the pickin’s were bountiful this past Monday morning because I called close to forty phone numbers before I found a taker – almost an hour later. But at least I had a sub – and a work comrade, who just so happens to be my best friend and department chair, willing to leap tall buildings and run copies and keep an eye on my classes. So I had that going for me…

Now chalk it up to Monday morning and being sleep deprived, or to just plain old twinility (the disease I contracted immediately upon turning fifty with twin toddlers), but when Mike asked if he should call in late and give me some help getting the boys to the doc’s I said, “Honey, they’re two-and-a-half now. Surely they will walk themselves into the doctor’s office these days. It’s no big deal. We’ll be fine.”

I should’ve just said, “I can do this hard thing…”

Because hard it was. And do it, I did — extricating screaming twin toddlers, terrified of getting yet more shots from that pesky pediatrician, out of car seats and into the office building, all the while avoiding giant SUVs and juniper hedgerows. Each boy was saddled up on a love handle, and the diaper bag and my handbag were slung across my back. I looked like a pack mule from Nepal. Parker managed to stay in place as I trudged to the entrance, but Tate slid ever-so-slowly down my thigh until I barely had him off the ground, his arms straight above him, his legs kicking wildly as he shrieked like a child sacrifice. I’m sure the white-haired octogenarian who held the door for us thanked her lucky stars right then and there that she was past childbearing days as I bore my children past…

Once we were actually in the office, the clinginess ended (for a little while, anyway) once they spied the vast row of empty waiting room chairs lining the back wall. There must’ve been fifteen of the vinyl-clad things, just waiting for some lads like them. Like American Ninja Warrior wannabes, they promptly began inch-worming up and over one chair arm and under and through the next, giggling like the healthiest, happiest toddlers alive. Nary a cough could be heard. “Can’t you at least LOOK sick while you’re cavorting?” I pleaded.

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Now I’ve known our pediatrician since Caitlin was not even a year old. He treated both my girls until they were out of high school and well into college because they refused to see anyone else. He is a longtime friend and trusted advisor, and I prayed he would remember that I’m generally a smart and intuitive mother. That I’m not the mom who brings her utterly healthy and hyperactive tots to the doc for no good reason and who, therefore, in the most ultimate of ironies, exposes them to some serious seasonal scourge. Every mother’s maternal marrow is bound to be wrong every now and then, right? I just prayed he would remember that while examining my apparently healthy and histrionic twins.

We were only in the waiting room for a few minutes before we were called back. It’s amazing how quickly a toddler twosome can go from charged electrical currents to fixed static cling. They glued themselves to my calves tighter than the compression hose I’d worn while pregnant with them.

Dr. Payne smiled his hellos as he readied his stethoscope for the first squirming, screaming son in my arms. Between the two of us, we managed to pin him to the table so he could get a good listen and look. It was at that instant that not just one, but both boys decided to make the smelliest of deposits. The sound was raucous; the stench was hellacious. It was like I’d fed them both radioactive waste — radioactive waste simmered in cesspool broth. The whole room reeked of it. I swear, I could see the stench shimmering off their shorts. Dr. Payne just laughed it off and pressed on. I did notice he didn’t do any genitalia checks, this time around…

My fears and misgivings proved warranted. My maternal marrow rang true, once again. The boys’ strep tests (which I think they now hate more than the dreaded vaccination needle) came back positive. My diagnosis had been wrong, but my instincts were on point. Their diapers (which I was able to change between the actual swabbing for strep and the final results), came back to haunt me a few days later when I unearthed them from the diaper bag where they’d been festering and fermenting, forgotten, in the back of my van.

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As I pen this post, my hair is greasy, my shirt is caked in snot smears and curry stains, and I’m in dire need of a shower. It’s been a long and exhausting week of sleepless nights, antibiotic-filled syringes, nebulizer treatments and forgotten hot dogs. But I learned two things about myself this week. Ok, maybe three. One: trust my instincts, no matter how hard my children try to prove me crazy. (I should never have doubted myself… I’ve already raised two girls who are quite skilled in coercion and diversionary tactics, after all.) And Two (and Three): hot dogs and dirty diapers do not resurrect well after three days and three nights of sitting in their own juices.

 

 

For my Four Babies. And my Thousands More…

Motherhood is a fearsome and wondrous thing. It is a paradox of ginormous proportions, full of sacrifice and salvation, hazards and hallelujahs. It requires strictness and softness, discipline and wild abandon. It is both bright and beautiful, and dark and draining. It is savagely, insanely strong, and it is fragile and insanely frightening.

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Right now in my life, I am two kinds of mother. I am the up close and personal and the long-distance devotional. Up close and personal motherhood demands wide arms and an even wider lap. There must be snuggles, and tickle monsters, and story time chairs, the occasional cupcake for breakfast, lots of crusty snot kisses and all manner of privacy lost. Long-distance devotional motherhood brings late night phone calls, biweekly FaceTimes, and random text marathons. There are Easter, birthday and Christmas goodies to be mailed, numerous road trips to be made and blessed reunions to be had. Both types of motherhood come with daily prayers, loads of laughter and plenty of tears. But the recipe for each is unconditional love for all of eternity.

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This week, after reading several heartbreaking and anger-rousing personal narratives by my students, I have been reminded – once again for perhaps the two hundredth time or more as a teacher – that my definition of motherhood is not everyone’s definition of motherhood. And this crushes my mother’s heart to its very core.

In my sixteen years as a secondary teacher, I’ve seen battered teens, homeless teens, molested teens and drug-addicted teens. I’ve seen young adults haunted by all manner of familial demons. They’ve ridden the storms of failed marriages, felt the trauma of ripped families. They’ve suffered the stigma and shame of home evictions. They’ve borne the weight of sibling deaths and parental suicide. Some are bitter; others blame themselves. Some are searching for love in proverbial dead ends. Others are hardened to love and are angry. If they are lucky, the anger is redirected into extra-curriculars that are sanctioned by society and school. But that’s not always the case. So many young men and women have taken up the cross of rejection and dejection, denial and guilt at a very young, very impressionable age.

As a mother, I am not blameless. Not by a long shot. I flung my own two beautiful daughters into the howling, painful abyss of a failed marriage. They know all too well the agony of a home ripped to ruin and the struggle to balance a broken family. I take my job as mother quite seriously, I always have, and yet I have done irreparable harm. Even the most careful and conscientious among us does. Add into the mix all of the hardened, the jaded, the marred, the scarred, the vicious and the cruel mothers out there, and I’m amazed the world still has any goodness and grace left in it. I honestly am.

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Motherhood is tough. I know it. I own it. At times it feels impossible. So much is out of my control. Then on top of motherhood, add the calling of teacher — with so many more lives entrusted to my care, along with so many more restrictions, so many more unknowns and so many uncontrollable origins and angles and — suddenly — I’m overwhelmed, I’m terrified, and I’m inept.

This week, two former students — now mothers themselves– suffered mightily at the hands of a callous universe. One was a vibrant young mother taken way too soon, leaving behind a precious, precocious toddler. I taught this young mother. I knew her. Her life was hard. Her path was littered with difficulties, with uncertainty, with confusion. She was torn asunder in the push and pull of it all. She left Woodland’s halls and my classroom walls several years back, and I immediately lost touch. Did I do enough? Could I have helped? I’m haunted by my inadequacies. She was bright. She was talented. She had such potential. I feel that I failed her.

The second is a beautiful, strong, spiritual mother who has had to face more in her young life than any mama sixty years her senior should ever have to face. In just over a year and a half, she has lost two of her three children to an incurable and mysterious illness. Twice she has held tiny hands and kissed tiny noses while praying mammoth prayers amidst tubes and wires and ports and invasive medical procedures. And twice the prayers and the tests have accomplished naught. This week she said goodbye to her beautiful baby girl. Her wide arms and wide lap have suffered two unspeakable losses. I can’t fathom her pain. I can scarcely breathe when I even imagine her loss, her agonizing, mother’s grief. Yet her faith has never waivered. Her strength and her confidence in God and His Will is always intact. Again, I am haunted by my own inadequacies. I am a mother, and I am a teacher, but I am nowhere near the mother and teacher that this young woman is. I never had the privilege of teaching her, but she has taught me so very much about the grace and love and strength of a good mother. I am in awe of her.

Motherhood is a fierce and fragile and frightening thing. I pray every day that I am doing my absolute all to nurture and mold these four precious gifts I have been given. It is a tall order. Two are out of my nest and far from my loving arms. I can’t wrap them up in hugs and kisses anymore. Not physical ones — at least not very often. But they make me proud on a daily basis. And I worry over them on a daily basis. And while my arms and lap aren’t THAT wide, my love IS – it is deep and wide enough to travel the distance so that my girls feel it when they need it. It is always with them. I hope they never forget that.

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And then there are these boys. Whew! I’m new to boys. They challenge my patience and my perseverance every day. They keep me hopping, that’s for certain. But my arms and lap are here for the here and now, always ready for a snuggle, and a story, and to wipe away snot.

And then, there are my students. For I find teaching to be a responsibility closely akin to motherhood. So I suppose I am THREE kinds of mothers right now in my life. And my students challenge me daily, as well.  Can I ever be enough? Do enough? Care enough? to truly be a help in this, their hour of need?

To be given the opportunity to mother my babies, both born to me and gifted to me in the classroom, is a responsibility I take very seriously. I try every day to be worthy. Some days I fail. I would like to believe that on many days, I win. I pray that I have enough. Enough love to show them that they are beautiful and perfect and worth only the very best. Enough strength to offer stability in their tilting, whirling worlds in Dallas, in Knoxville, in Euharlee, and in Woodland High. Enough joy to help them find sunshine beyond their personal raging storms. Enough wisdom to teach life and not just lessons, so they might learn independence and discipline, autonomy and connectivity, outspokenness and humility. Lord, help me to have enough, to be enough, to love enough.

For all of my babies. For them all.

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A Mother’s Prayer: stop hurling hashtags and hate and understand that Humanity Matters

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I penned this one year ago today, and I am sad to say that the racial strife and violence has not gotten any better. This is still one of my most fervent prayers. I wish we would all see each other’s humanity — not skin and uniform color. The shooting of the San Antonio police officer Miguel Moreno earlier this month and the recent jury acquittal in the Philando Castille murder trial are two recent examples of how we are still so divided. I believe in the power of love and empathy. Humanity Matters. 

July 8, 2016 “A Mother’s Prayer”

How do I possibly write warm twin mommy morsels when my heart is so very bruised and battered this morning? How do I dare think of my boys and their future when I see how horribly dark and diseased our world appears to be at the moment.

I write about my boys often, but you all know that I am also the mother of two amazing twenty-something daughters. Being the mother of girls is a worrisome thing. I stress about the intentions of others toward them each and every day. They are beautiful and they are strong and they are passionate, but there are predators out there — predators who are attracted to their strength and beauty and passion because they want to own it, control it, damage it. All girl parents know this fear. Are they home safe? Are they making wise choices? Are they being cautious or are they being carefree while out in this world of breathtaking beauty and breath-taking destruction?

Worry for a mother of any child, male or female, is a very real thing. We all know the saying about having a child—about making the momentous decision to have your heart forever walk around outside your body (Elizabeth Stone). But these last few days, in the horrific aftermath of all of the violence being reported, I have tried to put myself in the place of terrified black mothers everywhere and I have tried to put myself in the place of terrified cop mothers everywhere.

I am not the mother of young, black sons. I know fear, but I don’t know that I can truly understand THAT fear. My child doesn’t venture out into the world every single day and willingly walk into a world that so often despises them for the color of their skin and the youth in their years. I have never had to worry about that fear with my daughters. Or the fear that some people will judge my child as a threat because she’s wearing a hoodie. Or that someone will twitch and shy away from her as she walks down the sidewalk. Or that someone will assume she is a troublemaker because she has a concealed carry license. Or that someone will assume bad things about her because she wears a baseball cap and carries a bat. All mothers have fears, and many of those fears are the same, and some of those fears are unfair and unimaginable and almost impossible to breathe through.

I also am not the mother of police officers. I know fear, but I don’t know that I can truly understand THAT fear, either. My child doesn’t suit up at the oh-dark-forty hours of the morning and willingly walk into a world that so often despises them for the color of their uniform and the symbol of their authority. I have never had to worry about that fear with my daughters. Or the fear that some people will judge my child as a threat because she’s wearing a badge. Or that someone will twitch and shy away from her as she drives down a side road. Or that someone will assume she is a troublemaker because she has a state-issued firearm. Or that someone will assume bad things about her because she wears an officer’s cap and carries a nightstick. All mothers have fears, and some of those fears are the same, and many of those fears are unfair and unimaginable and almost impossible to breathe through.

I am not the mother of black sons and I am not the mother of police officers. But I am a mother. I know and understand what it feels like for your heart to walk around outside your body. I know and understand THAT worry and THAT fear. As mothers, we all want the same thing: peace and respect, love and goodwill toward our babies. How can we protect all of these mothers’ hearts making their way through the world as it spins on its insane axis? I’ve taught thousands of mother’s babies in my career. I teach the children of afraid, black mothers. I teach the children of nervous, targeted officers. I see and hear these concerns every year, hell, every day. I see and feel these pains every day.

#BlackLivesMatter #BlueLivesMatter. All of this hurling of hashtags (which I’ve done, quite recently too) seems to only exacerbate the violence. Black and Blue. The colors of bruising. And we’re bruising one another. Even worse, we’re killing one another. And I don’t even like #allLivesMatter because it has become a band aid to slap over an open wound. It is causing even further divides. Love one another. Respect one another. #HumanityMatters.

There are bad guys on both sides. And there are good guys on both sides. And the good guys outnumber the bad in every direction. So what can we do so that all the good guys win? God I wish I knew. But I do know it has to begin with empathy. Empathy: putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes as best we can. Listening to their stories. Hearing their feelings. Understanding their needs. Acknowledging their fears. Respecting their lives.

Our fears are all different, and our fears are all the same. It’s Einstein’s theory of relativity. And the physics doesn’t stop there. Newton’s third law comes into play, too: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And right now, the action has been violence. And the violence begets violence. The injustice begets injustice.

We need a sea change – in other words, a major transformation. And without empathy we’ll never get there. It takes one empathetic soul at a time to bring about change. And one feels like such a drop in the ocean. But with every drop, with every person who tries to understand, to put themselves in the “other’s” position, the tides can change.

Now I know that practically no one ever changes his or her mind through political FaceBook posts. I know people like their opinions (and only THEIR opinions) in sound bites – and this has been far longer than a sound bite — but I’m hoping someone out there has heard. One soul. Because first one and then one and then one and then one… and suddenly empathy has met Newton’s third law, and we have a Sea Change. Or should I say, we See Change. God knows we need it.

This is my Mother’s Prayer.

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