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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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mother’s prayers

diary of a prayerful dawn

I’m sitting on my porch this morning, the morning sliding in on silver moth wings over the river, and I’m trying my hardest to find the good. The silver lining. The moth wings on sunrise in the wake of all the darkness.

It’s 37 degrees. Fog lies heavy over the river. The trees are twisted in shrouds of gray. The grass in the neighbor’s lawn is slathered in dew. The birds are trilling their way towards the day.

And I. I am trying.

But yesterday was hard. And the day before. And the day before. I need, we need, all of us, all of humanity, need some miracles.

My daughter has been furloughed. Dentists’ offices are hard hit right now. All those mouths, all those caves of corona potential. So she’s home, on unemployment, for the next ninety days. It’s not the same. Nowhere close. And she’s nowhere close for me to help with much more than money. And while money helps, it just isn’t the same. We need the storm-to-be-calmed kind of miracle.

My other daughter. She’s working a floor where I just learned of multiple confirmed and presumed positive cases. And for the last ten days, she’s made rounds there with no masks. Checking patients without proper PPE — because hospitals are forced to make tough choices right now. Sacrificial choices. Rationing protective gear for higher risk areas. Because no matter what we hear from the oval office, there just isn’t enough to go around. We need a fishes and loaves kind of miracle right now.

And my students. We learned yesterday we won’t be returning to school. Not to the building, at least. And while on-line learning is taking place, it’s just not the same. I want their faces. Their boundless energy. Their spirited answers, gentle ribbing, and endless jokes. Their impromptu sing-alongs at the end of class. I want their contagious joy and youthfulness. I’ve aged a gazillion years in the last three weeks and I cried a gazillions tears yesterday afternoon. We need a water-into-wine miracle.

All the children of mine — and they are all, indeed, mine — are hurting. When one hurts, I hurt. When they all hurt… the pain is unbearable. We all need a healing miracle.

And then there’s my boys. Blissfully unaware, blessedly naive. They hunker down with us here in our home and relish the privilege of having us 24/7. And it is definitely a privilege. I know that. There are so many parents out there worrying over kids home alone without school, without supervision, without food, without support. We need a feeding of five thousand times a hundred thousand miracle.

There’s so much worry and uncertainty. I don’t know how much more of all this hurt I can handle before I break. Before we all break. All of us.

As I type, the sun just keeps climbing the sky, gilding the leaves and banishing the fog and cold. As I type, my phone alerts me to the multiple overnight submissions from my beautiful students, gilding the hardness with resilience and grace. As I type, my youngest son cracks the porch door, eyes twinkling from his fresh, springtime sleep and gives me a smile.

And as I type, I pray.

I pray for a miracle. I pray for life to return.

I pray for an Easter miracle.

Depression Doesn’t Care: Success & Suicide, One Year Later

One year ago this week, there were two prominent suicides in the headlines – prominent because the names attached to them were celebrities. The word prominent means important, so the phrase is problematic to me. Because, it’s their lives that were truly important. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain — and all the other lives that were lost this year, this lifetime to suicide —they have all been truly important. And as a society, we have failed them all.

I have never had a Kate Spade bag – indeed, I’ve never spent more than several dozen dollars on my purses. I’m a schoolteacher. I can’t afford that kind of luxury. I’ve been in one of her shops – an outlet shop at that – precisely one time. I really didn’t know that much about her… just about her bags. (Even in an outlet, those bags were way out of my league.)

Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand… I knew him well. Well enough to call him Tony…  when I saw him… on TV. Which means, I guess I really didn’t know him at all, despite being a devoted follower. I adored his irreverence, his passion for the “F” word, his bawdy, unshaven charisma. He made me laugh; he made me want to try bone marrow (I will. It will still happen.); and he never made me feel out of his league.

Both these celebrities left young daughters behind. And that fact hit me really hard. Because while they are not as young as the Spade and Bourdain girls, I too have daughters And I love them so incredibly much. So much so that I would face demons and slay dragons if I had to in order to protect them.

But Spade and Bourdain faced dragons they couldn’t slay. They could no longer face their demons. And that tells me the darkness they felt was way beyond anything I could ever possibly comprehend. And that terrifies me.

Because one of my beautiful daughters struggles with demons of her own.

She struggles with depression. She struggles valiantly. She struggles openly. Nevertheless, she struggles. And despite the national and international dialogue that has recently opened with regard to mental health, a stigma still exists. And so she struggles with stigma, too.

My oldest daughter is a surgical resident in one of the most competitive, prestigious surgery programs in the nation. She has just finished interviewing for a fellowship in the most prestigious, competitive programs in the nation. Indeed in the world.

She is beautiful. She is bold. She is successful.

She is smart. She is kind. She is important.

And despite all of these things, she struggles… with feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of hopelessness. She feels incapable and unlovable in this harsh, often unforgiving world. Not all the time. But often. And all alone.

And even though I her see brilliance and worth – even though I know how far she is from inadequate and hopeless and incapable and unlovable, I can’t help her see it. Because when she is inside that darkness, when those demons are commanding her mind, she sees nothing else. And that terrifies me.

Being a surgical resident can be isolating and debilitating. These young doctors work themselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. The schedules, the expectations, the demands that are put upon them are unforgiving

And the stakes are so high. Life and death rest in their hands – literally. Surgery can be debilitating for both patient and surgeon. It can ruin lives and it can end lives — on both sides of the scalpel.

Surgical residents have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Competition within the field isolates individuals. Everyone is jostling for accolades, for fellowships, for attending acknowledgements, and for attending positions.

In no other place in her life has my girl ever felt so very disconnected.

And what makes her situation even more complex is the relationship she has with her occupation. Love-Hate would be an understatement. She loves her job. She feels tremendous pride in her program and her abilities. The operating room is her wheelhouse and her respite. She is cloistered there. Time stops there. Her destiny unfolds there. She feels no pain; only passion. She feels one with her mind and her body and soul. Her hands are trained; her skills are seamless; her mind is taut.

But when she steps away from the cocoon of that OR, all the demons are back at her door. Howling.

It’s comparable to an unhealthy, abusive relationship. It builds her up. It knocks her down. The highs are super high. The lows… indescribably low. And the constant push-pull of it all wreaks havoc on her mental health.

As a mother, this breaks my heart and causes me endless worry.

I know she struggles. But thankfully, her program knows it too. She has not kept it secret. She advocates for herself and for others who may be feeling the same.

She helps lead a wellness committee for fellow residents, working to promote healthy scheduling and healthy dialogue between administration and her peers.

She tutors adult GED students every Tuesday night at a local library, connecting with people outside the research lab and operating room, spreading love and hope even as she so often feels neither.

She is a member of a book club, connecting with colleagues both socially and cognitively on issues more abstract than tissue and tumor.

Most importantly, she has seen a counselor – a mental health provider who has given her tools and techniques to fight the good fight.

Yes, my daughter works hard to stave off the demons, to grapple the dragon, to defeat the disease. As a mother, I would fight it all for her if I could. But I cannot. It is all hers to slay.

And my daughter is capable. I know that. She is kind and loving and genuine-hearted. She is capable and strong and talented and tender.

I just pray every day that she sees it too. That she can see through the darkness.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain could not.

People with everything can find themselves feeling depleted and defeated. Suicide knows no demographic. It knows no bounds.

Talk to your loved ones. Acknowledge your loved ones. Make sure they know you see them and you get them. Love on your loved ones. And then make sure they get the help that they need.

The American Opioid Crisis: Why Parents of Even Young Children Should Stay Vigilant

My family and I (three toddlers, a preteen in braces, two adult daughters, two husbands and a too small budget) just got back from the beach for a quick weekend get-a-way.

While there, I stressed about all the normal things a mama worries about when taking her kiddos to the beach: sharks, jellyfish, sunburn, drowning, strangers, lightning strikes… and not necessarily in that order. All are typical mama bear worries. But I stayed close and vigilant, and I felt secure in the knowledge that I was taking all the proper precautions.

What I did not worry about was an opioid overdose.  I mean, why should I? My boys are three – hardly in the demographic danger zone. And my adult daughters do not use and never have.

Turns out, I should worry. An opioid overdose could pose a very real threat to all of us, despite none of us being addicts. I’m not talking drug abuse anyway. I’m talking overdose.

But just what does that differentiation matter, if none in my family is a user anyway?

Apparently, a lot. Because this morning I saw a story on the news about a 10-year old boy in Miami who died of a Fentanyl overdose on June 23rd. Yes, 10, and yes, Fentanyl.

And while there have been other stories seemingly like this one — of young children, toddlers and elementary aged — who have died of overdoses after accidentally ingesting controlled substances, those stories are usually followed up with accusations of parental drug abuse. And arrests. And pictures in case files of crack pipes and needles and mysterious powders on the premises.

This was not that kind of story.

This boy’s mother has not and will not be charged. His parents are completely innocent of all wrong doing. Their child  did nothing wrong. Did nothing risky. He had simply gone swimming and played in a neighborhood park.

Authorities believe he inadvertently came in contact with the highly-lethal Fentanyl either while visiting a neighborhood pool or afterwards on his walk home. It would’ve only taken a milligram or two sitting on a towel or park swing, which he then either absorbed or inhaled or ingested after unknowingly touching the synthetic substance.

This is horrifying on every level. Everyone knows toddlers and children everywhere touch anything and everything. And then their curious fingers wind up in their mouths way more often than any mother is comfortable admitting. But up until now, the fear has been strep or staph or the common cold on those doorknobs and monkey bars and tabletops. Not highly lethal doses of drugs. I can’t imagine that was ever a consideration. Up until now.

I watch the news. I’ve seen the stories. Our country is in a major opioid crisis. Deaths from overdose have risen 110% in some parts of our nation. Fentanyl is one of the reasons.

Now, I know first responders have to be cautious. I know they use gloves and carry Narcan. I know they are trained to spot the symptoms of overdose — in others and themselves, as they are at risk of coming into contact with the drug and its users every single day. Of course, they have to be super cautious.

But I never thought I had to. As long as I am careful about who comes into my house and whose house I let the boys into, I assumed we were all in the clear. Clearly, I’ve been wrong.

So what do I do now? How do I protect my children, all of us, from such a dangerous and almost invisible substance? Protect them from a drug that can kill in doses as incredibly small as grains of sand? From a drug that has no smell or taste? From a drug 100 times more potent than heroin? From a drug that can cause an overdose in mere minutes?

The stories and statistics send me into hyperventilation and hypervigilance. I already wipe down buggies at grocery stores and tables at restaurants. Now, I will be on the lookout for strange powders, I will carry wipes with me everywhere I go, and I will swab any and every available surface — whether it looks clear or not. Lysol stock will soar from my diligence.

And sadly, playgrounds and public toilets will receive my most earnest attentions. Addicts use these places. I’ve seen movies. And, if that weren’t enough, I’ve seen evidence that points to this reality.

While travelling this weekend, my husband and son were forced to use an Atlanta gas station restroom. Not necessarily our first choice, but when a newly potty-trained toddler tells you he has to go – you’d best proceed to the nearest available option. (We used the lawn of a small country church on the way home – much cleaner, and we knew God would understand.) But back to that city gas station — Security knocked on the door when Mike and Parker were in there for longer than the allotted two minutes posted on the door, revealing to me how very naïve I truly am, and how very dark our world truly is.

Because as a mother, if I see a father and his young son go into a restroom and take a little longer than what would be deemed normal, I think “mom-of-toddler” thoughts. I automatically assume that the poor dad is in there juggling britches and Mickey Mouse underpants and that toy dump truck the kid had with him, while helicoptering his tyke over the toilet seat away from the dangers of e coli bacteria. I do not think “security-guard-in-urban-setting” thoughts. I do not automatically assume that the grown-ass man in the toilet with the toddler is either: 1) up to no good with a sweet, little innocent, or 2)  he’s up to no good with a sweet little innocent in tow. Either way is horrific and apparently, a very real occurrence.

I guess there are a hell of a lot more things on this earth than are dreamt of in my rose-colored philosophy. So while I was vigilantly keeping an eye out for sharks, jellyfish, sunburn, drowning, strangers, and lightning strikes, I didn’t realize that there are potential dangers lurking out there far deadlier than sharks and far more random and lethal than lightning strikes.

But I will be taking proper precautions for those now, too.

And I will pray. A lot.

Four Toddler Tragedies Over Memorial Day Weekend; A Cold Start to Summer

I was sitting drowsily on the couch this Memorial Day weekend watching our boys play. The four of us had just awakened from a blissfully long nap. Each boy was playing quietly – a rarity in our house – in his own separate corner. One with his alphabet puzzle; one with his police cars. Occasionally I caught the blur of cardinals and wrens from the corner of my eye as they swept in for seeds from the feeder off the deck. School was officially over, Mike’s and my summer was two days old, and we were slipping into it like a pair of favorite flip flops: light, easy, unencumbered. All was sweet with the world.

Then I saw the news. The first of four horrific stories I would hear over the weekend. All involving toddlers our boys’ age. I saw the first on a small, local news source: a three-year-old drowned in a pool at a local neighborhood. My heart wobbled. My eyes welled. My thoughts went out to that poor family. That precious little girl and the fear she’d faced all by herself, her loved ones not knowing until it was too late. My heart cracked along with my voice as I asked the universe, WHY?

The next news came two days later. This one, even more horrific (how can that be possible, you ask?) because a felony murder charge and four counts of cruelty to children followed in its wake. Yet another three-year-old, this time a boy, had drowned in a pool. And this time, the sweet baby not only fought his way through to the other side alone and frightened, but had pretty much been fighting his way through to the other side, alone and afraid, his entire life. The only ones ever there to comfort him most days were his three other siblings: a four-year old and a set of one-year-old twins. On Monday, they’d been left alone in their home for over fourteen hours, needing food, diaper changes, and comforting. But most of all, needing love. A parent who cared. My heart cracked wide open. This time I begged the universe for an answer to WHY?

Later that night, my eldest daughter texted Mike and me with a simple request: “Don’t let the boys around lawnmowers.” We were putting the boys to bed and I didn’t have time to respond. But I knew it wasn’t going to be good. She was on 24-hour call.  As a surgeon on trauma, most of what she sees isn’t good. Especially on holidays. I was afraid to learn the story behind her plea. I snuggled Tate a bit harder, as we finished his lullaby. Then I slipped him in amongst his blankets and kissed him goodnight. Mike had Parker in the other room, and I knew he was doing the same.

It wasn’t until later that I learned the full story. (Trauma call doesn’t give surgeons a lot of time to make phone calls.) But when I heard, my hand flew to my mouth. I fought back the urge to scream. Yet another three-year old. This one made it, thankfully. But he lost a leg. To a massive, zero-turn lawn mower. It chewed and hacked at him until there was nothing anyone could do to save it. But they could save him. And they did. This time, the boy’s father had been there. He’d borne witness to the carnage.

And then the final news. Again, from Monday. Again, on Memorial Day. Because the cold, callous universe took full advantage of the beginnings of summer and all the seemingly joyous things that should come with it – family reunions, pool parties, greening lawns – to delve roughshod into innocence and destroy it. Again, on Monday, a father, arriving home after a quick trip into town for BBQ supplies… he backed into his driveway and unknowingly pinned his toddler son between his truck and the house.

This is a story that keeps repeating itself. I’ve heard it so many time. Two times in the last year, it has reached the national news. Children of former NFL stars, both three-years old, were accidentally run over in the past year. One by a parent. One by a family friend. And now this toddler (who thankfully lived). All three cases have been accidents.

As all these over Memorial Day weekend have been accidents, even the one with the murder charge. No one intentionally set out for any of this to happen. And I can’t imagine the guilt that they all feel (yes, again, even that mother). They know they were negligent — one criminally so –but they were all negligent and they know it.

And please believe me, I’m not casting stones here. Not at all. Because we’ve all been there (though most of us haven’t been in the place that the second mother was. I don’t EVEN understand how anyone can ever be in that place). But as for the others, we’ve all been there. I for sure have – a fact that rips through my heart and wedges deep in my conscience.

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t gotten off her cramped, sweaty knees and stripped off my gardening gloves to go see where my three-year-old twins have wandered off to. Just three more minutes. Three. That’s all I need to plant two more marigolds. What can go wrong in three minutes?

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t put proper latches on the basement door because the boys know – they’ve been told time-and-time again – not to open that door unless Mommy and Daddy are right there. They know those stairs – those sixteen, crazy-steep stairs — are dangerous. But they’re good boys. They listen to their parents.

I’ve been the parent who gets preoccupied with my phone while the boys are playing in the yard and their daddy is due home. Even when I know – and they know – he’ll be backing down the driveway any minute. They’ve been taught to stay out of the way of moving cars. Never mind their fascination with all motorized vehicles. They know better.

But here’s the thing with toddlers (and, honestly, kids all the way up to age 25, when the rational part of their brain finally matures — but especially toddlers) — we can say they know better, but they really don’t know better. Because they don’t know. They really don’t.

To “know” means to have the facts and information and skill sets to understand a situation; to have an awareness gained by experience. And our babies don’t have that awareness, those skill sets, that experience. What could happen means absolutely nothing to toddlers.

They only know they want to swim in that pool – that same pool they played in with their mommy last night. They only know their daddy is out there on that great big lawnmower. They love that lawnmower. They sat on it once while it was parked under the deck and it was a memory they cherish. Just like they cherish daddy. Oh, how they love him. So of course, they want to run out to greet him as he comes home.

And from a toddler’s mindset, how could any of these things be dangerous? They’ve played with them all. They’re not like the outlet that jolted them when they put a fork in it, or the hot stove that blistered their thumb last week, or the bumblebee that stung their pudgy foot last Wednesday in the clover. There’s nothing to fear with these fun things. They really don’t know any better.

As parents, we’re the ones who have to know better; we have to do better; we have to be better. It’s a big responsibility, and one we can’t put on our toddlers. It requires diligence and vigilance.

And yes, accidents happen. All the time. I hear the stories constantly. And when I think of all the horrors that can sweep in and destroy families in a single breath, it stops me cold. I shudder in horror. And of course I ask WHY? Because there but for the grace of God is not just a saying. It’s the truth. All these young victims have been my boys’ ages. Almost all had parents just like me: loving, caring, trying to do their best. But our best can be better.

So, as we slip on into the summer season – and then later fall and winter, and then back into spring and summer again on this endlessly spinning planet — let’s be attentive to our babies. Let’s live in the moment. With them. Because that is where they reside. In the moment. And those moments fly by. And soon enough they’ll be grown. Or else they won’t.

So don’t waste or regret a single moment.

pool

Four Toddler Tragedies Over Memorial Day Weekend; A Cold Start to Summer

I was sitting drowsily on the couch this Memorial Day weekend watching our boys play. The four of us had just awakened from a blissfully long nap. Each boy was playing quietly – a rarity in our house – in his own separate corner. One with his alphabet puzzle; one with his police cars. Occasionally I caught the blur of cardinals and wrens from the corner of my eye as they swept in for seeds from the feeder off the deck. School was officially over, Mike’s and my summer was two days old, and we were slipping into it like a pair of favorite flip flops: light, easy, unencumbered. All was sweet with the world.

Then I saw the news. The first of four horrific stories I would hear over the weekend. All involving toddlers our boys’ age. I saw the first on a small, local news source: a three-year-old drowned in a pool at a local neighborhood. My heart wobbled. My eyes welled. My thoughts went out to that poor family. That precious little girl and the fear she’d faced all by herself, her loved ones not knowing until it was too late. My heart cracked along with my voice as I asked the universe, WHY?

The next news came two days later. This one, even more horrific (how can that be possible, you ask?) because a felony murder charge and four counts of cruelty to children followed in its wake. Yet another three-year-old, this time a boy, had drowned in a pool. And this time, the sweet baby not only fought his way through to the other side alone and frightened, but had pretty much been fighting his way through to the other side, alone and afraid, his entire life. The only ones ever there to comfort him most days were his three other siblings: a four-year old and a set of one-year-old twins. On Monday, they’d been left alone in their home for over fourteen hours, needing food, diaper changes, and comforting. But most of all, needing love. A parent who cared. My heart cracked wide open. This time I begged the universe for an answer to WHY?

Later that night, my eldest daughter texted Mike and me with a simple request: “Don’t let the boys around lawnmowers.” We were putting the boys to bed and I didn’t have time to respond. But I knew it wasn’t going to be good. She was on 24-hour call.  As a surgeon on trauma, most of what she sees isn’t good. Especially on holidays. I was afraid to learn the story behind her plea. I snuggled Tate a bit harder, as we finished his lullaby. Then I slipped him in amongst his blankets and kissed him goodnight. Mike had Parker in the other room, and I knew he was doing the same.

It wasn’t until later that I learned the full story. (Trauma call doesn’t give surgeons a lot of time to make phone calls.) But when I heard, my hand flew to my mouth. I fought back the urge to scream. Yet another three-year old. This one made it, thankfully. But he lost a leg. To a massive, zero-turn lawn mower. It chewed and hacked at him until there was nothing anyone could do to save it. But they could save him. And they did. This time, the boy’s father had been there. He’d borne witness to the carnage.

And then the final news. Again, from Monday. Again, on Memorial Day. Because the cold, callous universe took full advantage of the beginnings of summer and all the seemingly joyous things that should come with it – family reunions, pool parties, greening lawns – to delve roughshod into innocence and destroy it. Again, on Monday, a father, arriving home after a quick trip into town for BBQ supplies… he backed into his driveway and unknowingly pinned his toddler son between his truck and the house.

This is a story that keeps repeating itself. I’ve heard it so many time. Two times in the last year, it has reached the national news. Children of former NFL stars, both three-years old, were accidentally run over in the past year. One by a parent. One by a family friend. And now this toddler (who thankfully lived). All three cases have been accidents.

As all these over Memorial Day weekend have been accidents, even the one with the murder charge. No one intentionally set out for any of this to happen. And I can’t imagine the guilt that they all feel (yes, again, even that mother). They know they were negligent — one criminally so –but they were all negligent and they know it.

And please believe me, I’m not casting stones here. Not at all. Because we’ve all been there (though most of us haven’t been in the place that the second mother was. I don’t EVEN understand how anyone can ever be in that place). But as for the others, we’ve all been there. I for sure have – a fact that rips through my heart and wedges deep in my conscience.

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t gotten off her cramped, sweaty knees and stripped off my gardening gloves to go see where my three-year-old twins have wandered off to. Just three more minutes. Three. That’s all I need to plant two more marigolds. What can go wrong in three minutes?

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t put proper latches on the basement door because the boys know – they’ve been told time-and-time again – not to open that door unless Mommy and Daddy are right there. They know those stairs – those sixteen, crazy-steep stairs — are dangerous. But they’re good boys. They listen to their parents.

I’ve been the parent who gets preoccupied with my phone while the boys are playing in the yard and their daddy is due home. Even when I know – and they know – he’ll be backing down the driveway any minute. They’ve been taught to stay out of the way of moving cars. Never mind their fascination with all motorized vehicles. They know better.

But here’s the thing with toddlers (and, honestly, kids all the way up to age 25, when the rational part of their brain finally matures — but especially toddlers) — we can say they know better, but they really don’t know better. Because they don’t know. They really don’t.

To “know” means to have the facts and information and skill sets to understand a situation; to have an awareness gained by experience. And our babies don’t have that awareness, those skill sets, that experience. What could happen means absolutely nothing to toddlers.

They only know they want to swim in that pool – that same pool they played in with their mommy last night. They only know their daddy is out there on that great big lawnmower. They love that lawnmower. They sat on it once while it was parked under the deck and it was a memory they cherish. Just like they cherish daddy. Oh, how they love him. So of course, they want to run out to greet him as he comes home.

And from a toddler’s mindset, how could any of these things be dangerous? They’ve played with them all. They’re not like the outlet that jolted them when they put a fork in it, or the hot stove that blistered their thumb last week, or the bumblebee that stung their pudgy foot last Wednesday in the clover. There’s nothing to fear with these fun things. They really don’t know any better.

As parents, we’re the ones who have to know better; we have to do better; we have to be better. It’s a big responsibility, and one we can’t put on our toddlers. It requires diligence and vigilance.

And yes, accidents happen. All the time. I hear the stories constantly. And when I think of all the horrors that can sweep in and destroy families in a single breath, it stops me cold. I shudder in horror. And of course I ask WHY? Because there but for the grace of God is not just a saying. It’s the truth. All these young victims have been my boys’ ages. Almost all had parents just like me: loving, caring, trying to do their best. But our best can be better.

So, as we slip on into the summer season – and then later fall and winter, and then back into spring and summer again on this endlessly spinning planet — let’s be attentive to our babies. Let’s live in the moment. With them. Because that is where they reside. In the moment. And those moments fly by. And soon enough they’ll be grown. Or else they won’t.

So don’t waste or regret a single moment.

pool

A Tale of Two Mommies

Why does the world spawn so much violence? How is it that so many people house so much hatred in their hearts? I find it incomprehensible. It leaves me feeling overwhelmed and broken. Which is ridiculous when I consider the ones who literally are overwhelmed and broken.

I was planning on writing about all our Christmas plans for the upcoming week and the ensuing traditions that will unfold. But instead, watching the morning news and surfing my social media sites, I’m finding that such a blog post is entirely too saccharine, entirely too unpalatable amidst all the vitriol and violence technology has brought me this week.  The cyber bullying of a teenage boy; the terrorist attack in a Berlin Christmas market, the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, and, most heart-wrenching of all, the Aleppo refugees struggling to find safety and loved ones in a war-torn life.

I can’t even.

One of the first unfair, unjust developments of this holiday week hit me on Saturday morning when I became aware of the twitter tirade against our beloved Canes quarterback – a high school student and the top junior player in the nation. He’s just a kid, folks. And while he’s not, technically, still a babe in arms, he’s a baby with an arm and he should not have to brace himself against the nastiness spewing from computer screens and smart phones simply because he chose to go play football at a college that he believes will be the very best fit for his life and his future. Key word here: HIS.

Now I know he has the stature and statistics of a man. I know he’s the number one recruit for 2018. I know he’s been heavily touted and scouted since he came up from the eighth grade. I know he breaks records and slings laser beams. But in the end, he’s still just a kid. He loves sour patch kids and his baby sister. He can’t buy tobacco or drive after midnight. He should be dealing with group projects and impending Senioritis. NOT with cyber bullying on a global (or at least Southeastern Conference scale) just because he picked an ACC school.  He’s a KID, for goodness sake’s! Heck, he may even still believe in Santa Claus. And all of this hatred is being spewed over a GAME! A game designed to instill joy and an escape from reality on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons. My mother’s heart aches for him.

But if I’m being honest here, it aches the absolute most for his mama. Because when somebody attacks your baby – no matter how young or old – it tears a mama’s heart into brittle, jagged confetti. When my girls were growing up, I’d get all kinds of bent out of shape if anyone so much as looked at them sideways. I remember being ready to sucker punch a school bus bully when my baby girl was a kindergartner. I refrained. But I was ready. And just last year, an arrogant asshole of an attending said some hurtful things to my eldest, and I was ready to tear out his external carotid artery with my bare hands. But, again, I refrained. I don’t know how in the world I could refrain if there were basically thousands of ill-tempered SEC fans bad-mouthing my baby on social media for all the world to see. And it’s not limited to social media. Yesterday, while out and about town doing some Christmas shopping, my husband and I – proudly sporting our Canes championship shirts – had to listen to not one, but two negative nellies pontificate on our quarterback’s decision. I was thunderstruck. Really? Who are they to presume to know what’s best for him? All they had in their minds was what would benefit them and “their” team. (As if they truly had anything more than season tickets (maybe) and a college diploma (even more unlikely) and jersey purchases invested in those teams.) And that got me thinking — if WE had to listen to those zealous fans politic for their team, how many more have he and his poor family weathered over the last five days – and indeed the entire season? His mom’s grace is made of firmer stuff than mine, that’s for certain. I admire her poise and her polish. Her motherhood is paved on the high road, and I stand in awe.

So there’s that mama’s pain.For her, it’s been the best of times and the worst of times. But that mama’s pain pales in comparison to the anguish of the mama I saw on the nightly news this weekend. The mama who lost all her babies beneath the all-too-real onslaught of bombs and ensuing rubble in Aleppo. For her, it’s been the worst of the worst of the worst of times.

She was covered in dust, blood parting her swollen face like a Picasso portrait. She wandered aimlessly around a makeshift hospital crying in anguish. But still she finds the tenderness to comfort a toddler boy, hands and bare feet caked in chalk, forehead marked in blood. Both of them are marked in blood —  the blood of the scapegoat that their people have become. A people punished brutally for the sins of others who care nothing for them or their plight. This sweet toddler boy (a boy roughly the age of my own toddler boys) is devoid of tears, his pudgy face paralyzed. Almost. If you look closely, you’ll spy the tiniest, quivering lip. He bites it instantly. He’s learned early to hide the hurt. But the mother – the mother who is not his – she wails. Her tears trace through the dust and drip to the floor, a floor smattered and smeared with blood and grit. All of her babies, lost. All. And then, she’s joined by a young teenage boy (a boy roughly the age of our young quarterback), and he’s carrying his infant brother. A baby brother who did not survive. These three broken humans huddle together, searching for comfort that cannot possibly come. As the reporter proclaims, they are “exhausted beyond words by a life beyond description.”

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My mama’s heart agonizes for them. This Syrian mama, this mama whose pain is unreal to me. Cannot be fathomed by me. Pain that is the result of real weaponry, the result of deadly weaponry so far beyond the rantings and ravings of selfish cyber bullies that it seems ridiculous to discuss the two situations in the same blog. This young Syrian teen, this teen who, rather than throwing bombs into end zones, has been on the receiving end of bombs that have ended whole families. This precious toddler, who faces an existential lack and want and void that God-willing, our toddler boys will never, ever encounter. I cannot fathom the pain. My soul runs from the comprehension. It does not want to know. Does not want to understand. It would break me.

As a mother and an American, I feel guilty. Guilty for being so privileged by destiny that I live without such incomprehensible pain and loss. Guilty for uttering my previous, selfish, “God willing” statement. Guilty that I cannot do more than pledge a donation and remember these broken members of the human race in my prayers. Guilty that I am able to sit here, drafting this blog amidst my Christmas lights and wrapped presents, while making road trip preparations, drafting Christmas dinner grocery lists, and doing last-minute, on-line shopping. How can this world be simultaneously benign and oh-so-malignant?

A mother’s pain is a jagged, cutting pain. I have never felt pain like it before. And while I have felt a mother’s pain, I have never felt pain like either of these mothers’ currently feel – my football mama’s pain and our Aleppo mama’s pain. Both pains are torturous; but one is debilitating.

And I am helpless in the wake of their respective pains.

In this season where Christians celebrate a young virgin mother — a mother who also felt the pain of a world that turned against her son, a world that despised and destroyed him — I am saddened that we have not come very far and we have not learned very much. We are still doing terrible things to our sons. And to our daughters.To all fellow humans. We tear each other apart for our own selfish gains. And so often, we use God as the impetus. We destroy in the name of God the Father…  or the god of football. Which is the more ridiculous? I do not know.  I am disheartened.

But I am still hopeful. Because despite the fact that we are all inherently selfish, I know we are not all inherently cruel.

So I offer up words of kindness, words of prayer, and pledges of money and solidarity. It is all I know to do.

But I pray it will be enough. If enough of us do it.

 

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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An Exercise in Fertility

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Three years ago this week was a big week for us. Huge. Monumental, even. On August 3, 2013, bright and early on a Sunday morning we drove the forty some-odd miles down to the Georgia Perimeter to Georgia Reproductive Specialists because it was egg retrieval day and time for Mike to make his dutiful “deposit.” We were both nervous wrecks. It was a seminal moment – on so many levels. The other day, when reminiscing, I borrowed heavily from one of my favorite poets and penned a little “Red Wheelbarrow” parody:

so much depends

upon

a sterile dixie cup

glazed with hard

swimmers

beside the petri

dish

Because so much did depend on that day and that cup and that petri dish. And luckily, Mike’s swimmers were reliable little guys. And don’t get me started on the generous and steadfast nature of our donor and her eggs. I wish there were a way to explain to you and to her how truly indebted we are for her incredible sacrifice. I know it wasn’t easy. She endured hormone shots and blood draws, ovarian hyper-stimulation and surgical egg retrieval — which I understand was hardly, as the old song goes, “Easy Like Sunday Morning”– which was when she drove to our clinic, just after daybreak, to tender our eggs. She is my hero… and I will never know who she is.

But I know that she is strong. I know that she is selfless. I know that she went through pain and agony and tremendous risk to incubate new life for a couple she didn’t know, would never even meet. Ever. And she delivered – like the Stork; like Santa Claus; like the sunrise; like the rainbow . She delivered little bundles of promise and beauty and perfection and joy aspirated through a needle into plastic culture dishes. Science and nature. Miracles and medicine. Magic and mathematics. To God be the Glory – and talk about Amazing Grace. Our donor has it. She lived it. She is it.

We had arranged with GRS to do a shared cycle, which meant that the clinic would receive half of the eggs she produced and we would receive the other half. It was kind of a BOGO deal with a twist: Buy One, Give One — the only IVF plan we could feasibly afford on teachers’ salaries. It was a gamble that paid off beautifully, thanks to our donor and the quality of her fierce follicles. We ended up with five beautifully round and robust little embryos. And it turns out we only needed two. Our donor was THAT good. And to give credit where credit’s due, so was Mike’s baby batter.

We received our first pictures of our boys on August 8, 2013. Their bubbly little personalities shining through, even in that first portrait. Every anniversary, I’ve stacked that first photo on top of a current one, and this year is no exception. It’s amazing how two such distinct and brilliant little people can come from such microscopic origins.

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Parker Isaac and Tate Michael.

We knew we wanted names with symbolic heft. From the moment we decided to pursue IVF, we christened a boy Isaac, as a nod to the grace of God and the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah. If you aren’t familiar or in case you’ve forgotten, it is the tale of God’s promise to a barren couple that they would have a son, even though Sarah was ninety at the time. If not for modern medicine and miracles, I would’ve been beyond childbearing age myself (though nowhere near 90, thank you very much). So Isaac was a given from the get go. We also knew we wanted a Michael — to pay homage to Mike and his father and grandfather before him. And Tate was my grandmother’s brother and a name I have always loved, so that was an easy one, too. The fourth one, though, was a bit harder to come by. We rooted and rummaged through Nameberry, voting and vetoing as our little guys grew from the size of newts to arctic puffins before finally deciding on Parker — a tribute to Mike’s Korean heritage, where Park is a common surname. So there. We had names. Now to decide who would be whom…

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We didn’t want the firstborn to have Michael attached to his name for a very important reason. There is a tradition in many Asian cultures (and to be fair, Judeo-Christian societies as well) where the Number One son receives the birthright and the blessings and Number Two plays second fiddle (or second gayageum, I guess, if we’re talking Korean here…) Anyways, we were more than willing to part ways with such unjust, blatant favoritism. So we knew that Baby B would be Tate Michael and receive the honor of his father’s name. And Baby A would be Parker Isaac and receive the honor of biblical promise. Both boys would receive beautifully perfect namesakes.

Now apparently the boys battled it out in utero to determine who would be — not firstborn — but last. In typical “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” fashion, Tate, who had been Baby A (which simply means, the baby closest to the cervix) for more than seven months, scrambled up my ribcage like a set of monkey bars at the last available second and grabbed tight, therein winning the title of Tate Michael. Parker, who had been Baby B for almost the duration of the pregnancy saw the world a whopping one minute earlier than his brother and won the moniker, Parker Isaac.

In keeping with that Korean surname first name, Parker’s eyes are more Asian, like dark-roasted almonds. His smile is deep and wide and his skin is the color of moonstones. He is our gentle giant, giver of bear hugs, open-mouthed kisses and truck trivia. He can tell a backhoe from an excavator, a car transporter from a semi and he LOVES to share his knowledge. And he is his father’s mini me.

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Tate, on the other hand, looks like me (or at least that’s what people tell me, and I’ll take it– even if it is technically impossible). And just like me, he loves books. From the time he could clutch one, he’s had a book in his hand. And a song on his lips. He sings from sunup to sundown – or at least AT sunup and sundown because we hear it on the monitor. There is no sweeter alarm clock than hearing such classic toddler tunes as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus” … although hearing them at 2:20 AM if he accidentally wakes up can be a wee bit spooky.

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So this week is always a huge week for us. On August 32013 Mike did his fatherly duty with a few minutes of hard labor and a plastic covered remote control. Five fizzy, fertilized, egg-splitting days later, on August 8th, our beloved fertility doc, in his white coat and hair net, siphoned our embryos into the core of my being, where they immediately took up residency in my heart and soul. I became a mother again for the third and fourth time. And for the first time to boys. Mike became a father. The girls became sisters to brothers.

August 8th is legendary.

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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