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Thursday, February 13, 2014

I Miss The Oohs And Ahhs



I feel fruitless today. My head aches with boxes unchecked. My appetite is gone. I am a spindly tree that is blowing around in the storm of circumstances I have no control over, branches about to crack. (My sisters will probably call me after I write this, concerned that I'm either a nervous wreck or that I am over-sharing, but here I go anyway...)


Motherhood does not always feel like it is this healthy, growing upward fruit-bearing experience. Particularly not to an "I-should-feel-so-blessed-to-be-able-to-stay-home-with-my-kids" mother like me. And I have a feeling that God wants me to share the low-down, rotten, moldy days just as much as he wants me to share the fruitful ones. The pale-faced pictures where I don't have my crap together are much more interesting (don't you think?) that the ones where I try to make you think I'm a supermodel mom who doesn't miss a single blessing. 

Truth: I am not smiling all the time, not a picture of a beautiful tree-like mother praying peacefully throughout the day, using gentle words at all times with my children. I do not look like I'm in my early 30s. I do not post many pictures of myself on Facebook because they would horrify most audiences.


Last month when I told a hard-working friend that I couldn't remember what day it was, she replied, "Oh, you probably don't need to know the days because you don't work!" Stammering, I tried to bumble out that I do, in fact, need to know the day of the week in order to deliver my shining stars to school with homework complete, bags packed appropriately, have the home-schooled one ready for the right class that day, have the other one off to dance class, the other to swim practice, get those valentines completed by that day, purchase the groceries, respond to those ten emails about various volunteer commitments, feed myself something in the middle of it all, run like hell (because I feel like I am not able to breath so I better get some exercise,) and then get that one picked up from here on time, being sure not to forget the other one over there. 

I do need to know what day it is. Damn it.

As a designer/illustrator I miss having my own business, being creative every day, getting all dolled up, giving presentations, hearing the "Oohs and Ahhs" for making concepts come to life, and then getting paid for them. I loved those Oohs and Ahhs. I miss having somewhere important to go. More important than Whole Foods. I miss looking somewhat cool too. I used to look like an artist, not a gym-clothes-wearing, SUV-driving MOM.

And let me be clear, I wouldn't have been humble enough to leave the "oohs and ahhs" and paychecks (not that they were that high) if I hadn't been given a very sick newborn eight years ago. After his birth and then open heart surgery, he has needed me near him every day. His needs have not lightened over the years-- they have been the calling of a lifetime. And through becoming sensitive to his "high needs" I have learned how much my other two children need me around, too. So I have stayed "at home" with them.

Giving my career and my independence to my kids has been a long, lonely trail for me. I feel isolated, dependent on my husband (I HATE this part), and in all honesty-- valueless on days like today. I can write you an essay about why I am NOT valueless. And why every mom (working or stay-at-home) is not valueless because, of course, taking care of children is one of the most important things we can do in our culture today. Giving and receiving love. But the truth? I FEEL valueless. 

Which brings me back to God. I know, I know, I know...God! Bad Amy. I'm not supposed to value myself according to the empty standards of this world. What God offers me is so much bigger than paychecks, Facebook photos, Oohs and Ahhs, Cool Clothes, Big Important Jobs, and Prestige. 

What is my value? I suppose my value is as tiny as the hearts I helped my 5-year-old cut at the lunch table today. It is as minuscule as the time I spent listening to my 7-year-old tell me how he feels about boys who hurt him at school. Or as significant as the moment I had with my 8-year-old yesterday when we casually chatted in the car about the definition of marriage and how and why some people have babies before they get married.

Value=relationships. Value=having time to listen. Value=love.


But I still feel like dirt.

So God, seriously, please help me and other moms out there to be nourished by your acceptance, your value, your love. Feed us the rich fruit, the tiny slivers of motherhood that are as precious and valuable as diamonds. I pray you keep us strong, especially on the days when we feel worn out and fruitless. Shape us with your values, straighten our way. Help us to be honest with you and with each other that although motherhood is beautiful, It is damned hard.

Amen.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Exploding The Box



"Don't touch me!" he wailed. "Give me space!" his arms flailed around him, grasping and hitting at the air. He appeared to break an invisible box, grasping for his own space. Slowly breathing, I backed away, knowing that though we were late to school, my eight-year-old needed a flexible mom (rather than the type-A me.) He needed to escape the eat-breakfast, brush-teeth, coat-on, out-to-car, on-time box we live in every morning. Over the years, my ADHD boy has taught me that pressure, shame, or reprimand when he has lost "my way" will shove him further into chaos. If I look carefully, I'll see the light of the son God designed, not the eight-year-old Stepford robot son who fits my shallow space.

Beeeeeeeep. A 7-year-old boy I'll call Sam leaped from his grandfather's car last week (ironically a metal box on wheels) ran across a street toward the Lego store, and was hit by an oncoming car. He flew out of his shoes, sliding across the pavement. Three teeth broke, his collar bone snapped, and his body was scraped and burned by the pavement. Though traumatized and suffering, Sam is alive, thanks to God for putting a slow driver behind the wheel of the car that hit him. 

Last year in kindergarten Sam was thriving at my middle son's small school. Though he was disorganized, he made people smile with his giant glittering soft eyes and sweet nature. He appeared to love learning, plus he was super smart. It was clear to me that he wanted to do well and was liked by all. 

But starting early this school year Sam's first grade teacher found him distracting and an obstacle for her plans in the classroom. Rather than creating solutions for Sam, she started sending him to the principal's office regularly. Often his mom would receive complaints and calls asking her to pick him up early. Academic problems? No! He was advanced. Hurting or offending others? No! But he didn't fit into this teacher's classroom box with his disorganized verbose behavior. So in a period of three months, the complaints, criticism, dismissals, and (I think most importantly) the lack of love for Sam and his mother wore him down. He became a child consumed with anxiety and self-hatred, and not surprisingly his symptoms worsened. At Christmastime his single mother who cares for her sick parents was asked to pull him from the school and place him in public school. The pressure unraveled him (and his entire family, which further undid him) to his current state of almost zero impulse control and self-esteem. 

Still, I learned, boxes can be even more literal for kids who don't fit the mold, after the head of a special needs school on the East Coast told me just this week about a traumatized student. He came from a school where his teacher repeatedly put him in a cardboard box in the hallway to make him stop moving around in class until another student reported it to a parent. 

Or boxes can be literal prison chambers since, believe-it-or-not, another director of a different school confidentially told me this week about a hyperactive boy she is helping through PTSD after he was repeatedly put in a locked "scream room" (think box with light) with two "guards" outside at a public school.

Needless to say, I have cried more than a couple of times this week over these images. So what is going on here?

Here's what I think-- soon the only thing that will differentiate human minds from technological devices will be in our ability to smash, stomp...EXPLODE the robotic boxes we put around people, particularly our children, around ideas, around our world. 

We need to think like God, like an artist. Stop separating ourselves from one another with manufactured, robotic, code-like expectations. But instead I pray that we can look, listen, empathize, problem-solve, communicate, collaborate, and simply love each other. Override tight schedules, lesson plans, budgets, and stereotypes. Look upon God's living creations, young and old, with eyes wide open, relating to every molecule and shade of humanity. Living, breathing flesh is not box-like. 

I pray that teachers, parents, grandparents, friends, you, and I can break down the tiny enclosures that keep us dark and separated. There is great light to be found when we can see our children, educate them appropriately, and love them for who they are. There is a loving future that (I believe) awaits us if we make the effort to truly take in and respect those whom we are blessed to know. A magnificent world where all little boys and girls can discover their own light, their pattern painted by God, and share it with joy.