You Are Not My Mother

Closing the door to his closet, I turn slowly as he nonchalantly says, “Mom, I don’t know why I call you mom.  You are not my mother.”  My pulse quickens as I face him, his lean body secured beneath the covers, like a well-wrapped burrito.  He is not angry or mad.  He is matter of fact.  And nothing is out of the ordinary on this evening.  This is our nightly routine.

Luca’s thoughts about his adoption seem to come out of thin air; random ruminations that don’t logically connect to the conversation we were having just a second prior.  I imagine what he allows to escape his lips is the tip of an iceberg, the bulk of which drifts far beneath the surface, sometimes lost in a silent sea, but other times colliding with something artificial, exposing its rough edges and pushing it to the surface.

He has known his story since he was able to understand English.  Paul and I have been intentional about explaining his providential path.  I sang it to him, in fact, every night.  A homemade lullaby about the power of God’s plan, and two crazy kids who boarded an airplane for a far away, mystical land.  As he aged, we discussed the fact that he did not come from my stomach, but another’s.  A woman who loved him enough to give him a chance at life.  Surface, but truth.  Every time we celebrated this fact, I watched for his reaction.  Mostly silence.  Not dumb silence, either.  Thoughtful, pensive, inward.  No questions.  No anxiety.  Just a resolute contentment.  He was mostly quiet, in fact, until last year.  Last year, he became un-quiet.  And out of nowhere, like stray bullets, his thoughts penetrated the silence.

“You are not my birth mother.  Someone else was.  Did you ever meet her?”

“What does she look like?”

“Does she have a strange face?”

“What if she is not a good person?”

Believe me, I read the book.  Or books . . . yes, all the books.  Adoption books.  I’ve written about them before, in fact.  They are helpful, useful and important.  The problem is that all the books in the world cannot account for each individual journey to this truth.  Every soul has to come to terms with this familial arrangement in its own way.  In its own time.  And every stage of Luca’s life will bring a new revelation of his needs.  Needs I might not know, until he is ready to tell me.  Until that iceberg reveals itself inch by frozen inch.  I’ve just got to have the patience to wait him out and more importantly, the grace to listen.

“Luca, I did not give birth to you.  That is true.  But let me ask you this.  What is the definition of a mother?  What does it mean to be a mother?”

He ponders for a moment, “Someone who takes care of you.  All of you.  All the time.”

“So by that definition?” I ask.

“You are my mother.”

 

I love you, Luca.  Always and forever.  No matter what.    -Mom

 

 

 

Scars

Dear God, make me an oak.  I’ve written that before.  And this last few days, I’ve meant it.

Two nights ago, we had an accident in our home with our new puppy, Boo Radley.  After some additional complications, Boo didn’t make it.  The images I have from that moment will stay with me for a long time, suspended in my memory . . . especially those of my son, who had finally found his “puppy brother.”

My husband and I found out about Boo’s death before Luca, and so we carried that knowledge around with us yesterday at work, dragging it like a cumbersome millstone.  I went through the motions, all the while knowing that I was going to sit down later and rob more of his withering innocence.  Indeed, the afternoon Luca would look very different from the one I had kissed on the head that morning.  I played with the wording, the syntax, the semantics all day, urging my sense of articulation to find a way to soften this blow.  However, when I saw his face running to the car, eagerly bursting with excitement over any news of Boo’s improvement, it simply spilled out of me, right there in the parking lot.

I watched his face twist in agony, and I heard the simultaneous wail, something akin to an injured animal.  I opened the door just in time for him to melt into my arms.  I rocked him, just like I used to do, and in the powerful rush of emotion, I traveled in my mind to the seashore, feeling the intensity of each wave strike my legs as I struggled to stand.

In a moment it happened.  Clarity.  As I breathed deeply and slowed my heart rate, I said to myself, “Be the center.  Be his center.”  I knew instantly that I was his buoy in a raging sea.  Tethered by those moorings, Luca needs me to be okay even though he is not.  The security I provide him as a parent isn’t an insulation from the pain.  It’s the panacea.  All day I had been trying to protect him, shelter him, shield him.  As strange as this sounds, that’s not really my primary job.  My principal occupation is to assure him that even when (not if) the tornadic winds shake our home, the foundation is sound.  We can always rebuild.  Rooted in strength, he has to be certain that the infrastructure is stable, that pain, although searing isn’t lethal, and that in the days ahead, he will feel hope spring again in his heart.

Parenting.  It will undo you.  It will shake you to your core and test your mettle.  And there are no merit badges, although there should be.  There are just scars.  Wonderfully redemptive scars that instantly bring to mind where you have been and what you have already conquered.  Each jagged line a reminder that you are stronger than you ever knew.

 

 

It’s Good. Except When It’s Not.

This is going to be short and sweet.

It finally happened. I’ve been waiting, anticipating, planning, articulating my beautiful three point sermon with a tiny, but life changing poem in my head. And then, boom.

“Momma, I think it’s weird that you and Daddy didn’t have any real kids.” Luca said, nonchalantly last night as I tucked him into bed.

“But, Luca,” I said. “You are our real kid.”

“Oh, I know, Momma. You really do feel like my momma and Daddy really does feel like my daddy, but I have other parents, you know.”

You see, up until that very moment, Paul, Luca and I have largely lived our adoption story inside the pages of a sweet, preferably Christian, storybook. An angel with feathery wings, hovers above a beautiful, chubby-cheeked boy, whispering words of affirmation in his ear, singing to his soul the truth of providential appointments and God’s divine order. Page turn. Adoptive mother serenely strokes adopted child on the cheek, singing the prayers of her heart and the appreciation she feels for his birth mom. Page turn. New family runs together, hand in hand, in a field of daffodils, while creation watches in wonder. The End. I know that book. I have that book. It’s on the shelf in Luca’s room in seven varieties. And that book is good. Except when it’s not.

I opened my mouth to say all the things I am supposed to say in that moment. God brought us to you. The judge declared to all the land that you are our boy. We loved you before we knew you. All the things. Yet, the whole time I was thinking to myself. This wouldn’t have been enough for me. At 8, these words would not have been enough. If I were him, I would want to know why I wasn’t with her. Why she cast me aside. None of this. No, nothing would make any sense until I had answered that question.

And, let me get this part straight. I am not offended by his line of questioning. I KNOW I’m his mother. I have bandaged wounds. I have cleaned ungodly messes. I have wiped . . . it all. I have paced the floor over a crazy high fever, more than once. I have prayed, cried, and celebrated. I have held him to me in the moments of his deepest, wildest desperation. I have disciplined. I have stood as sentinel over a table filled with homework. And the pancakes. Good grief, the number of pancakes I have made. Nobody has worked harder to earn the right to be called his mother, but me. Nobody.

What I am is hurt. I am hurt that this is his cross to bear. I am hurt that this question will linger. That this will be his fight, and there is nothing I can do to change it. And as I was considering the depth of my hurt over his hurt, I got my moment of clarity. I am always trying to make Luca’s pain about me. But this one. This isn’t about me. It’s not about infertility or inadequacy or inability. This is about him. This is about his story. This is about his destiny. He doesn’t need my pity. He needs my strength.  That way, he will know that he will be okay when the storm of pain subsides.

So I got in my car this morning on my way to work, and I asked God to make me an oak. To cut out my heart. To make me as strong as the tallest tree in the forest so that he never feels like he can’t tell me that he sometimes misses her. And then I cried a little.

Real life is not a storybook. It’s tougher, but it has such a better plot.

 

Pinterest: The Downfall of Modern Motherhood

Pinterest, I hate you.  Sincerely.  If there were ever a threat to my status as a respectable mother, this “social curation” is certainly it.  You see, I work.  Both inside and outside the home.  That doesn’t make me special or somehow better.  It just makes me really busy.  However, no matter how busy I might be, that intrinsic drive in the soul of every woman to be mom of the year is always there; rearing its ugly head at all times of the school calendar: birthday parties, Thanksgiving luncheons, Easter celebrations, teacher appreciation week, Christmas pageants, field trips . . . you get it.  We all want to pack the best lunch, provide the hippest snack.  I don’t care who you are.  At one time or another on our parenting journey, we all have wanted to be “that” mom.

Before Pinterest, “that” mom was mortal.  Her blood ran red.  However, she never had night sweats.  She never applied the searing pressure of “the claw” on her child’s cheeks right before walking into a social situation.   Her hormones have been and will always be perfectly balanced.  Despite her lack of menopausal symptoms and aberrant fits of rage, she was more like one of us.  Normal.  She sometimes took her children to school without make-up . . . in sweats.  She packed nutritious lunches in brown paper bags and added her special spice by including a sweet note, reminding young Timmy or sweet Sarah that they were loved to the moon and back.  She volunteered to be room mom, coordinated events, provided transportation . . . all the kinds of things we all wish we had the organizational skills to pull off.  At class parties, she looked put together, unstressed, and petted her generally well-behaved, compliant child on the head as he or she moved judiciously throughout the room spreading good cheer to all the other students.

Pinterest mom is another animal altogether.  She has made a new category of parental perfection that is virtually impossible to achieve.  I bring seasonal Double Stuf Oreos to class parties.  I usually pick them up the morning of said event and deliver them through my child still in the bag from Kroger.  Pinterest mom created a board for the class Christmas party in April.  She has been posting “cutsie” ideas for the food buffet and gift exchange from all over the world, taking note of color schemes, organizing paint swatches for the table cloth and crafting a life sized Christmas tree with only deco-mesh ribbon, zip ties, and a tomato cage.

Pinterest mom sends a gluten free snack in bio-degradable packaging.  I’m not even sure if the Cheeto’s Cheese Puffs I send with my child are bio-degradable.  For lunch, Pinterest mom has sent sandwiches in the shape of the child’s monogram, fruit and veggies with hummus, and water filtered with indigenous moss into a stainless steel, BPA free water bottle with a retractable top.  She also included a Valentine’s heart napkin and a hand crocheted cardigan, a design she found on Crochetholic’s Pinterest board,  just because she had extras and the classroom might get cold.  I sometimes send my child to school with a Lunchable (I just heard the Internet gasp), but more often than not, he eats a “hot lunch” (code for I didn’t have time to pack him a Lunchable).

Pinterest mom looks good in yoga pants, works out in a fake gym with light bulbs that tan you without dangerous UV radiation.  She made them by hand with tiny crystals she harvested in the diamond mines of Sierra Leone.  Her house looks like a photograph from an interior design magazine and her custom built-ins under the staircase double both as a children’s playroom and as a command center for her Pinterest empire.  Most importantly, she has a label maker, and she knows how to use it.  My house looks like an episode of Hoarders meets F-5 tornado.

So, what are we less than average moms to do in a world where Pinterest makes ideas more accessible than hours in a day to bring them to fruition?  Well, as for me, I’m off to Kroger.  Halloween Double Stuf Oreos are half price this week.

 

My Sweet, Little Megalomaniac

“Mom,” my son whined loudly as I handed his dad a Father’s Day card, “I wish there was a Son’s Day.”

“Got news for you, Luca,” I shot back.  “Everyday is Son’s Day.”

It’s summer.  That is a good thing.  Long, hot days filled with unscheduled time.  No worrisome alarms.  No nagging deadlines.  For a teacher, June and July are a part of the package benefits.  So, why do I feel my skin crawling and my anxiety rising?  Perhaps it is that little mercenary of personal pleasure sitting in the backseat of my car.  Propped up in his booster seat that generally doubles as a throne, this egomaniacal dictator of self-interest strategizes his next move like an elaborate chess game.

“If I eat ALL my food at Cracker Barrel, can we just get ONE thing in the store?  Just one, little thing.  Like one piece of candy.”

“When we get back home, will it be morning or afternoon?  Can I see if Addison is home?  Wait, can I see now?  Why do I have to go to the grocery store with you?”

“If I am really, really nice, will Grandma give me just one prize or do you think I might get two?”

“I don’t have to go to bed right now, Momma, it’s the wrong eight!  It’s the other eight when I go to bed.”  (For the love of all that is holy, what does he mean?)

Oh, Luca, I remember when I wished you could talk.  How short-sighted of me.

Seriously, how can one human being . . . one relatively under-sized human being work so tirelessly for his own gain?  If I stop at Publix, he wants me to pick up the sugar cookies with blue icing.  If I swing through the Starbucks drive-thru, he soooo needs a cake pop.  If I get the mail, he wonders why nobody sent him anything.  That’s it.  I’m raising a megalomaniac.

And his process mirrors that of a five star general.  He starts off with a simple, although self-deprecating request.  “Momma, I’m guessing you’re going to say no, but dot, dot, dot- fill in the blank with an outrageous request that caters only to one.”  After I invariably do, he begins his systematic assault.  He produces his baby like whiney voice at the precise decibel of annoyance.  He seems to intuitively know the exact tone that sets my nerves on blast.  “But momma, whyyyy???????  Why  can’t we go to California today?”  (We live in Tennessee.)  It starts low and slow, increasing in strength and stridency the longer I ignore it.  In my head, I sing through two verses of “My Favorite Things” from Sound of Music and the next thing I know, there is an explosion of caterwauling in the back seat.  Now, he brings his best assault, anger with two guns ablazing, gathering all the fortitude his eight year old lungs can sustain, demanding that I pay attention to his humble and easy to deliver request.  My internal temperature rises like a menopausal hot flash, and before I know it, I have whipped out my “Momma’s gone crazy” voice.  Screaming into the abyss and threatening all manner of disciplinary consequences, pressing on the gas pedal for effect, I have an out of body experience.  I can see and hear myself, but it seems only from a distance.  Then, the echoes of my anger reverberate off the back window, falling to the ground complete with the shrapnel of a military counter-attack.  Head drooping low, eyes and mouth squished together in despair, my opponent is defeated.  “We will NOT be going to California today,” I silently congratulate myself.

And then, just as I gather my sanity, a small, puny voice emerges from the backseat, a phoenix rising from the ashes like the villain in a horror film, “But, Momma, why can’t we go to California today?”

Dear Hardee’s

Before you dismiss the next few moments as some fluffy, middle aged, prudish, past her prime, woman’s rant against young twenty-something females who have bodies for days and sex appeal that sells, don’t. I am, in truth, a fluffy, middle aged woman who has never considered herself anything but sometimes cute and mostly clumsy. My sense of fashion never developed past the “I’m in college, and I like to wear Umbro shorts and flip flops everyday” stage, and I have a tendency to find one outfit that works, and just stick with it. That being said, I am definitely not begrudging any young actress her body or appeal. In fact, I believe the female frame is one of the most artistically appealing renderings by the Creator, destined to be noticed, to be pursued, and to be desired. Forever an object of the male’s attraction, it is both incumbent upon each female to understand the power she possesses and to learn to treat that power with the same sensitivity she would when holding a live grenade. With great power comes great responsibility.

So, in your most recent advertising campaign, when you chose to put scantily clad, mostly wet, lanky legged models sliding around on hot rod vehicles while taking extra wide bites of one of your specialty burgers, I got it. I understand that you are trying to boost the profit margins for your company. Let’s face it. Fluffy biscuits purchased by senior citizens on Saturday morning just don’t pay the bills. And even in your hey day, when you were a new, shiny penny among the tarnished coins of the fast food industry, you were always, well . . . you were always Hardee’s. And I’m sorry about that. I really am.

However, just because we all understand that you are inexplicably attaching sex to hamburger meat doesn’t help me explain what is happening to my seven year old when he is watching television during a time of day or early evening when seven year olds watch television. And before you say, “just turn the channel,” I can’t. Your assault on the senses lasts 30 seconds. And admittedly, I am just not that fast.

So, let’s get this straight once and for all. Quit it. Seriously, stop it. Go back to “where’s the beef” or try to get that guy that talks faster than the speed of light to explain to us why we should buy your subpar fast food in an industry that is markedly subpar. And if you need to be weird, steal that creepy, plastic monarch that slinks around people’s houses and shows up in unexpected places eating a Whopper. There are ways to herd the dumb sheep, also known as the American consumer, into your half clean establishment without making us all feel like we need to take a shower first. In case you forgot, we are the most obese culture on the planet. We will eat anything, literally. So, please don’t sacrifice the souls of our young boys . . .our children, future husbands and fathers, on the altar of pornography before they even understand they are sexual creatures. There is an entire host of moms out here fighting a battle, outnumbered and oftentimes dismissed. We would love for our sons to grow into young men who value and enjoy the beauty of a woman while respecting the integrity of her heart and soul. As it stands right now, I’ve got to review 65,000 television shows on 7000 channels, check common sense reviews for 40 movie releases a year, scroll through browser histories, verify the age appropriateness of one million apps, and understand the ratings system of thousands of Wii, Xbox, and Nintendo games. Please, for the love of all that is holy, please don’t make me waste my precious time policing cheeseburger commercials. You’re better than that. Well, wait a minute. I forgot you’re not. But can’t we just pretend?

Comfortably Me

I’m pooped.  And I only have one child. So all of you moms out there juggling the youth group that is your family, go ahead and snicker. But seriously, I am running on fumes. I have played more Xbox games with one hand on the controller and the other on my phone checking Facebook than I care to admit. I have played more rounds of Old Maid with one eye on my hand and one eye on the Today show than should be allowable. So, after strategically purchasing a couple of new “single” player Xbox games the other day for Luca, you can sense my frustration when he caught me on the back porch long enough to ask, “Mom, can you watch me play?”

“Are you serious,” I thought to myself. Out loud, I said, “Luca, when I was a kid, and my parents got me a new toy, I couldn’t wait to just go play with it. I didn’t need to get anybody to ‘watch’ me; I just ran like the wind.” My husband, sitting nearby, jumped in for reinforcement. “That’s right, Luca, your Mom and I didn’t need anybody watching us play.”

Looking down at his hands for a minute, I watched his countenance slowly cloud with thought. He raised his eyes, and there it was, “Well, I’m not like either of you guys. It’s okay to be different, you know.” He’s seven.

Parenting is a crapshoot. It really is. On our best day, we are all just, by faith, shooting our arrows in the dark and hoping that the best of what we have informs one centimeter of what our children will one day become; thereby, leaving those things about ourselves that we know aren’t worth the paper they are wrapped in to fall quietly to the cutting room floor. God knows most of us are really just inflated imposters masquerading as the ones who have it all together.

Something in his tiny response hit my soul like a brick against plate glass. I felt the same way when I was his age. Different. At seven, it made no sense that anyone would sit inside for any length of time and dress dolls. There was too much running, jumping, throwing . . . competing to do. Why waste time bothering with make up and nails when there was a chance to break a record or break your arm? At recess, I played football. At home, I wrestled with my brother and found every opportunity to be outside. With my Buster Brown haircut, I was sometimes mistaken for a little boy, and for the most part, I was okay with that. Boys had more fun, as far as I was concerned.

Comfortably Me

Until the day I was invited to a dress up party. The invitation was simple. Wear your mother’s finest. My response was simple. Outrage. A dress? Jewelry? Make-up? No way. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that! I’d rather eat mud than wear a tiara. Looking through my adult eyes at the heated discussion I had with my mom that afternoon, I can see now how she must have wished at that moment for a little girlie girl . . . one she could doll up for all to see, one who relished in the world of feminine accoutrements. But instead, she had me. Very different me. And what she did next made an impression in my life that lasted. She reached in her closet, pushing past the skirts and dresses, and pulled out her best pair of jeans. Rolling up the bottoms, I stepped into my mom’s finest denim and after pulling on a beautifully soft sweater, she brushed my hair, wiped the dirt from my cheeks and said, “How pretty you look.” In that instant, she put herself away for the moment so that I could be comfortably me for an afternoon.

So, why at every turn do I feel the need to mold my son in my own image? The truth. He wasn’t made by me or for me. He is God’s boy, a reflection of the Almighty. And I would cheapen that snapshot of perfection with my own convoluted ideas of what he should look like? He’s a gift. Sometimes wrapped in pretty paper that surprises and delights. And, sometimes wrapped in a paper bag complete with a note and a flame on the front porch. Either way, his life is on a divine trajectory, of which my involvement includes managing the launch pad, praying for good weather, paying attention to the clock, looking out for obstacles and using what intelligence I do have to prepare him for blast off. I am living my chance to be comfortably me because my mom had the good wisdom to resist re-making me in her own image. My son deserves the same opportunity.

 

Big Papi

Little League.  Coach pitch.  Age 6.  Today was the first day that Luca had the game riding on his shoulders.  The only problem:  he had no clue.

I am going to be honest.  In general, I am bad with names.  After 40, I have trouble keeping up with my own.  But memorizing the revolving door of Luca’s teammates at this age is virtually impossible.  As a result, Paul and I have a tendency of nicknaming them based on their abilities.  This nicknaming game is simultaneous necessity and entertainment.

So far in Luca’s illustrious career as a baseball player, he has been a Cub, a Pirate, and this season, a member of the Braves.  Right now, it is hard to know if Luca “enjoys” baseball as a sport.  I mean he kicks the dust less, he picks daisies in the outfield less, he throws his glove in the air less . . . he is ever so slowly conforming to the notion of team.  However, I wonder sometimes, as he is twirling in the outfield, if he is asking himself what in the world he is doing out there.  Sometimes I catch him turning to stare at the line forming outside concessions, and I know he is formulating a secret plan to start his own tab.  What is even more difficult to bear is that he has a natural athleticism that he seems to be completely unaware of.  Any time he concedes strength or agility is when he is imagining himself as the Incredible Hulk.    He has yet to see any use for these skills outside the realm of imagination or the world of a super hero.

Now say what you will about Luca being “only 6.”  There are some men on his team this season . . .with full beards and deep voices and manly baseball ready stances.  Two of them are left-handed hitters able to find the lefty sweet spot just like Mickelson on a Sunday.  They are nicknamed Bruiser and Big Papi, respectively.  When Big Papi comes to the plate, he is all DiMaggio, with his baseball hat turned backwards, the bill peeking out from under his batting helmet.  His lip is bulging with a wad of Big League Chew somebody shared with him in the dugout, and he pronounces his arrival with two swift but punctuated taps on home plate.  This kid NEVER misses, and when I say NEVER, I actually mean NEVER.  I am shouting this right now.  He generally hits it to the fence and a triple is under shooting his potential.  Today, however, Big Papi couldn’t find the ball with a shovel.  The kid was in a slump, a big one, and our team was needing him badly.  The A’s had us down 5 to 0 when Luca strolled to the plate making the Grand Canyon behind him by dragging his bat.  After a short comedy routine to the crowd, he put his stick on the ball, bringing in our first run and starting a major rally.

Bottom of the 6th, tied at 5, one out, man on third . . . Big Papi races from the dugout to home plate.  “We got this,” I whispered to Paul.  “Big Papi doesn’t know how to lay off.  He will be swinging for the fences.”  Sure enough.  He swung for the fence exactly three times, missing all three.  “He’s out,” squeaked the teenager masquerading as umpire.  Having no sense of the batting order, I turned to a parent behind me and uttered, “Well, at least we have one more try!  No way we won’t get that man in from third.”  Swiveling back to the field, I peered over my fake Ray Bans to find our savior in waiting.  Who was this little big man who was going to lead the Braves to victory?  At once, I spied his multi-colored laces; red on one cleat, blue on the other.  It was Luca.  He practically danced to home plate, smiling that toothy grin at the crowd, looking embarrassed and semi-determined all at once.  The game was on his bat, and he didn’t even know it.  All the sudden, my stomach turned to knots and Paul’s color drained from his face, both of us nervous for our son who hasn’t figured out how to be.  First pitch.  Strike.  Second pitch.  Strike.  Third pitch.  Luca doesn’t like it.  Fourth pitch.  Foul ball.  “Way to keep fighting,” I yelled.  “Get mad at it!”  “Follow through.”  Fifth pitch . . . slow motion . . . strike.  “He’s out,” the pimply umpire yelled.  All the air in my body escaped as the look on Paul’s face reflected my disappointment.

And then I looked up and something magical happened.  I caught Luca dancing his way back to the dugout.  Dancing.  He had no idea that he just had his moment in the sun.  His opportunity for hero status.  He had no awareness that this time at bat was different from any other.  No searing disappointment.  No tears.  Blissful ignorance in motion.  He just wanted a hug from his momma, a blue Icee and what he always wants, the game ball.  Just for a moment, I was at peace, resting in the knowledge that there is a shred of innocence left.  All the drama of the day created by the adults.  On this day, I learned something.  Luca remained oblivious.  And for once, that was okay.