The Unexpecteds of Motherhood

Fourteen years ago today, I wasn’t a mother. I was only days away from motherhood that day and yet I had no idea. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the difference between a full term baby and too many burritos. It was that I wasn’t pregnant. I wanted to be. Badly. I had wanted to be for almost 4 years. But God had other very good plans for me and I had to be set on the path to motherhood by another vehicle. Someone else’s stomach.
Someone else’s sacrificial love.
Someone else’s miracle handed to me—placed in my arms—in Gainesville, FL. A girl with a pure complexion and a dimple and hazel eyes that caught the light from the hospital window gave me the best Mother’s Day gift I have ever received.
Her son.
My son.
Andrew.

So fourteen years ago today, I didn’t know that my life was about change. And I didn’t know HOW it would change. I had my pictures in my head. They were awesome pictures. I looked about 105 pounds and 5’ 10”, wearing clothes from Ann Taylor and flitting like a gazelle. Always in my head, I would be leaning over my future imaginary child blowing bubbles with them and smiling. I was usually wearing an apron and holding a basting brush. As if. Occasionally I’d tap the child’s nose or rub a curly little head. In these fantasies, I never yelled at anyone. I never melted down. The child never melted down. No one ever vomited or marked their territory in a line 14-deep at Costco. I was never exhausted from 6 weeks of consecutive night terrors (not mine…a kid’s) and my fantasy child ate green vegetables. I never struggled to establish and enforce rules and I certainly never went back on them. Nobody in my head pictures ever disobeyed. I mean, why would they? I was the perfect mother. In my head.

It was a lovely space. But nobody rents that apartment, because it isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. It’s too bad I didn’t know that 14 years ago. I could have saved myself, my husband, and my four babies a whole lot of trouble.

After one adoption, 3 pregnancies, and a whole lot of shattered fantasies later, I think I now understand it. I understand the whole motherhood thing. Each day I understand it a little more, but it is never what I expect.

I never expected that I would walk into a consignment store with two girls to buy ONLY CLOTHES and have the youngest talk me into the dumbest $7 toy ever. If you had told me that I would be such a lily-livered pushover ninny, I would have told you to get your own fantasy. Crazy person. You got me all wrong.

We were shopping for church clothes…today, mind you…this is not a throwback Thursday story. The youngest, getting bored by the scene because I wasn’t finding enough in her size, walked over to the toys and found a wooden toolbench thing with a hammer and screws and other ridiculous accessories. It was perfect for a 3 year old boy. Not for her. No, I said. No way. Put that up. We are NOT getting that. I am absolutely not getting that. It’s a baby toy. We didn’t come here for toys. I will not change my mind about this. No.

I bought it for her.
Her sales job was magic.
I have trouble with infomercials too. It’s a whole thing. If you keep at me, I crumple like a piece of paper. Fourteen years ago, I didn’t know that. I was a tower of strength then.

I certainly never expected to have two girls raid my Tupperware cabinet on the same Saturday (also today) to take pets for themselves: one, a slug from the front sidewalk and the other, a baby lizard rescued from the swimming pool. And I could not have predicted that the Slug Pet Owner would borrow my phone and look up the proper way to care for a slug. She came to me in the driveway while I was participating in very important motherhood-related tasks and said, “I need to microwave some soil.”

Hold up.
What did you say?

You heard me, mom. I need to microwave some soil. (This conversation was never in my daydreams.)

Why? (I opted out of sarcasm this one time just to get an unadulterated briefing of the facts here.)

Because that’s how you take care of a pet slug. You have to sterilize the soil.

No, you don’t. That’s crazy. He came from the sidewalk. It wasn’t microwaved. He doesn’t need sterile soil.

Your phone said he did. I have to do this.

No. No soil in my microwave. It’s a rule. They say this in the manual. No soil.

Please, mom. The website said I have to. He has to have microwaved soil to live.

I mean, what do you even say? It was like talking to Charles Manson. You can’t argue with that. So not only did soil go in my microwave less than 3 minutes later, I also lost a perfect clean Tupperware container to the soil.

It is now a very homey slug habitat.

And there is a baby lizard living in another one of my food storage containers out on top of the barbecue grill. His name is Lizzy. I don’t even know how she got him out of the middle of the pool without jumping in. I had already lost control of the entire out-of-doors situation. As of 5 p.m., Lizzy was missing his tail.

It’s probably in my laundry pile.

This wasn’t the motherhood I pictured.
It’s grosser. And weirder. And so much better.

To my mother who taught me first how burp and hold and change and love a baby, I am grateful.
To my mother-in-law who raised my husband to be the leader and lover of our family, I am also grateful.
To the pure-hearted birthmother who trusted me to raise the first love of her life when she was not in a place to raise him herself, how can I say thank you? She will never truly know the fierce love and gratitude I feel. It’s in every breath I take.
To the God and Father who first gave me Andrew and then gave me three more, I will try to give them back to Him…as I try with all I have to teach them to love Him for all He is and all He has given us.
To anyone who isn’t yet a mother, but yearns to be with angst and pain and emotions that cannot be quenched, don’t give up. Sometimes it’s a bumpy, twisty, ugly-cry road, but at the end of it, there’s a Tupperware container with a slug in it.
And a baby lizard.
And a missing tail.
Blue Ribbons of Motherhood.
Don’t ever give up.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Musings

Today was LONG. And tiring. And a little bit funny at times. I’m going to just ramble for a few minutes as if it hasn’t been months since I last posted. Go with me. Or don’t. No biggie.

I was up a lot last night with the child that has always had ear problems. At nine months, she had tubes put in and adenoids taken out. After they brought her out from those procedures, I thought for a second that she’d been switched with another, much uglier, baby. Minor surgery plus a LOT of screaming can make a baby look pretty smashed-pumpkin. In case you didn’t know.

Anyway, I’m ALREADY off topic. Her ears are not as bad as they once were, but she still tends to go that direction when congested. So she was up crying a lot last night and in and out of her bed, my bed, and no bed. We told stories about some crazy kid in the first grade and laughed at things that had happened recently. And then, shot from no sleep, we headed to the doctor this morning. We ended up at the Walgreens clinic because her pediatrician was slammed today. This is always a risk. Showing up to wait at Walgreens without an appointment is like I imagine it would be to spend 5 minutes playing slots in Vegas. Lose-lose.

We got there at 9. As we were signing in on the touch screen, which took 8 times longer because she wanted to sign herself in, the message popped up, “There are FIVE people ahead of you in the queue.” FIVE? That’s like a whole platoon! That’s a day’s worth of patients, man. I knew I was in for it. But my choices were this and this, so I sat down in a sea of other queued patients and waited. For 90 minutes. When we finally got called back, we were introduced to Dan, the very perky nurse practitioner with an odd nose and palate. Just odd. Ask my daughter about it sometime. She’ll tell you. He reminded me of a local dentist who calls your teeth “little rascals.” He was very perky, very talkative, and much, MUCH too enthusiastic to be treating an ear infection.

After a few minutes of paperwork and sech, he asked me what meds I had already given her.

“Just ibuprofen,” I answered.

“HEY!” he replied, much too exhuberantly. “Good call, Mom!” Then he looked at my girl. “Your mom did GOOD. She’s super! That was EXACTLY the right call. Gets that inflammation right down.” Insert hand motions for helping inflammation. At this point in my typing, I am laughing. You probably did have to be there to appreciate this, but this guy was SO OVER THE TOP on the ibuprofen thing. There was no rocket science behind my choice last night. Either I gave her the ibuprofen for the pain or I stayed up ALL NIGHT telling stories about weird kids in first grade. And at 2 a.m., man, I’m tired. I’m not above some marker sniffing at that hour. Yes, I am. Really.

Anyway, that Dan guy was weird. And he praised me for the ibuprofen enough to fill a 5-paragraph essay. Enough so that my 8 year old thought it was disturbing. But he fixed us up with something better than grape markers, so I’m cool with it.

I sat a lot today. In waiting rooms. Pharmacies. Cars. In so doing, I checked Facebook maybe 50 times. (Not enough going on today. Help a girl out, why don’t you.) That’s when I saw the picture with 25 comments of the cutest little boy ever. One of the comments was simply, “Previous.” I love that. I love it when someone comments “Previous” and never realizes they did it. Even though I know what they meant and that their phone likely came up with it, I still read it as “Previous” in my head and go on my way, merrier than before. Reminds me of the time I asked my friend if they were going to the park rectally. Not directly, mind you. Which was what I meant. Good, good times.

Previous.
Read that however you like.
I’m going to bed now.

Motherhood

Today is a day of rejoicing in my blessings far more than it is a day of rejoicing in me. It was not always this way. Back when I was still pretty stupid, I expected a lot. Perfect church behavior. The perfect after-church restaurant experience. A present that was clearing a home-run off eBay.

Brother.

I’m glad I got over that. It’s exhausting to be such a pain in the neck. Trust me. Today I am reflecting on four little people; four love letters from God.

The best way I can share how thankful I am is to post a few thoughts I have written over the years.

Thursday Morning in May, 2010
Dearest Son,
Happy Birthday. Happy.Birthday. When we brought you home nine years ago and spent 5 full days staring into your face, I couldn’t have imagined I’d still be staring in awe in 2010. I thought I’d eventually get over you. I haven’t. Tonight you were coughing so enthusiastically that I was afraid you might lose something you were going to later need, like a tooth or your uvula. So I kept you home from church. As you began to settle in for sleep, I rubbed your buzzed little head and said, “I am so lucky to be your mom. So lucky.” You opened your eyes and said, “Why, Mama?” As I told you then, I am telling you now. There are hundreds of reasons. You were the first best thing to happen to our family. You were chosen. You are the perfect oldest brother in a family who needs you. You love to read. You love animals. You love the outdoors. You’ll eat absolutely anything. You have a smile that captures hearts even when you are trying not to capture anything! You reach for your baby sister’s hand during the mealtime prayers and she squeezes you across the table. You try hard. You are everything I ever wanted. When your eyes pop open in the morning, it’ll be all about the anticipation of gifts and after school swimming. Right now, in this moment, it’s all about the God who brought us together and a life that is nothing short of spectacular.
Happy Birthday, Boy.
Love,
Mom

My third child bears a name that means “Bringer of Light” and never has anyone been named more appropriately. She’s a darling that I couldn’t describe if I tried. She is very different from her brothers in her interactions with me. Though I consider the boys to be sweet and affectionate, it is rare that they are still enough to be attentive and receptive to a serious snuggle. This girl likes to be swaddled, even at 18 months, after getting out of the bath. I wrap her in a towel and cradle her until she is ready to get into pajamas. At this point, she just looks into my eyes and talks. It’s a special type of communion that only happens after a bath when she’s wrapped in that towel in my arms. And it’s a special time that only happens because she’s willing to be still and quiet and because she so enjoys this time with just me. It made me consider the difference between her and the boys. It made me consider my own relationship with God. So often, I am like the boys. They love me, but they are racing through the house at break-neck speed with pirate swords, too busy to stop and look into my eyes and take anything away from me. I love God, but how often do I stop and rest against Him so that we can share REAL time? I think the crazy pirate games are great and most of life is made up of such things. But there’s a place for quiet communion. I need to resolve to swaddle myself away from my distractions and let God speak. Thank you, girl, for the lesson.

2011

Dear Baby,

I have written you so few letters in your 3 years of life and yet you are everybody’s darling.

I remember and relish your birth like it was a free trip to Disney with a stay at the Grand Floridian. Though you were extracted from my body through surgery and my accommodations included mu mus and catheters, it is still one of the greatest times of my life. There was a singularity of purpose to it. A peaceful wash of “this is exactly what I should be doing right now.” For a brief 2 days, there was no pull of guilt that I wasn’t spending enough time with your brothers and sister. There was no thought of what I should cook for dinner. I just knew a French dipped sandwich would be steaming and soggy under a tight plastic wrap, alongside a cup of apple sauce.

I didn’t wonder any of that. I did wonder who you’d be. You were perfect. I also thought you were normal and very quiet. I thought perhaps, by some stroke of chromosomal luck, your dad and I had canceled each other out and had a nice, normal baby. This is clearly not the case. We’ll talk about that later. Right now I’m praising you. 🙂

In those early peaceful moments between just you and me, I marveled at the perfection of you lying swaddled in my arms under a dark head of curls and got a chill up my spine as I thought about anything that might have prevented me from arriving at this moment. I’m so very thankful that God always knows what we need and when we need it. We needed you. Happy Birthday, Dear One.

I love you,
Mom

On this Mother’s Day in 2013, I can only say humbly and simply: Thank you, Lord. It always was and still is Your doing.

Music

It is 1:13 a.m. on Wednesday morning and I have a thousand things I should be doing. But at this moment on this night, I am sitting under the soft light of a single lamp and listening to “Never Saw Blue” by Shawn Colvin. I almost can’t listen to this song without getting weepy, because in one instant I can travel back almost 12 years to a life with only my firstborn boy (that’s Calvin Fletcher to you now, people. Get used to it. :D). He slept in a nursery upstairs that I poured my heart into for months. He came as a result of much praying, many heartbreaks, and years of searching. And as he would sleep upstairs, I would prop up in bed at night with an ancient laptop and download music that made me think of him. Those were the days of free music and I was a Napster expert. Propped up in my bed late, late at night, I would listen to these songs, think about my tiny baby upstairs, and cry.

And the most amazing thing about music is that it can utterly transport you into another place in time. Tonight I am 30 and my boy is a month old and these are the lyrics of a really great song. Before Cal, I never saw blue like I see it now.

I hope I’m still 30 in the morning…

Never Saw Blue Like That by Shawn Colvin
Today we took a walk up the street
And picked a flower and climbed the hill
Above the lake

And secret thoughts were said aloud
We watched the faces in the clouds
Until the clouds had blown away

And were we ever somewhere else
You know, it’s hard to say

And I never saw blue like that before
Across the sky
Around the world
You’ve given me all you have and more
And no one else has ever shown me how
To see the world the way I see it now
Oh, I, I never saw blue like that

I can’t believe a month ago
I was alone, I didn’t know you
I hadn’t seen or heard you’re name
And even now, I’m so amazed
It’s like a dream, It’s like a rainbow, it’s like the rain

And somethings are the way they are
And words just can’t explain

Cause I never saw blue like that before
Across the sky
Around the world
You’ve given me all you have and more
And no one else has ever shown me how
To see the world the way I see it now
Oh, I, I never saw blue like that before

And it feels like now,
And it feels always,
And it feels like coming home

I never saw blue like that before
Across the sky
Around the world
You’ve given me all you have and more
And no one else has ever shown me how
To see the world the way I see it now
Oh, I never saw blue like that before

Back to school

Oh my.
There are a lot of things and situations and injustices and states (Louisiana) that I hate. I am often quite verbal about these things. But there is little that I detest more than the Back-to-School shopping trip. Two columns of supplies for each kid. Three kids. That’s SIX COLUMNS of supplies. To make it MORE challenging, since SIX COLUMNS is not challenging enough, I had to go to a new Walmart for my new country locale.

I programmed into my smart phone GPS that I needed the closest Walmart. It began to route me to it, speaking to me as it went. It was almost like having a flat little companion on my shopping trip with me. But then–a call came in. Someone I hadn’t talked to in awhile. I answered. Now what? I was going to end up lost. And then, as the drops of confused sweat poured off my brow, my phone whispered something to me. In .5 miles, turn left on County Road 579. Aha! She speaks to me softly even when I am speaking softly to someone else. Rock on!

I got a little off track. Back to the Back-to-School shopping. When you walk into a store for this yearly shopping trip, there are bins and folders and sales and paper and scissors and rocks. I’m supposed to get centimeter graph paper, but the package doesn’t say what size it is. Should I be able to eyeball a little block and just KNOW that’s a centimeter? Well, I couldn’t do that, so I located a ruler, which I needed to purchase anyway and measured that sucker. Seemed like a centimeter to me.

I understand the bins and sales and groupings and all of that. But they do not understand that I am buying for 3 or 4 kids in a pop. So if I were Sam Walton or his great nephew, and if I were going to open a store that sold Back-to-School supplies, I would get rid of all the fluorescent lighting and massive amounts of colored bins. So many choices! I would put in a few 25-watt lamps. And I would pipe in some classical guitar music and have a couple of coolers at end caps where back to school shoppers could share a tasty beverage. Occasionally, I would have a nice person wander by to say nice things to the shopper…things like: Hey, good job on all your shopping. Looks like you are really making progress. Or maybe they could compliment the shopper’s outfit or something. Maybe even place a few people in my store who could assist the weary shopper.

But probably if I really, really, really loathe the Back-to-School shopping session (and I do), it’s not likely I’m going to want to open a store that partakes in such. Maybe I should open a massage parlor next door and offer specials to the glazed eyed mothers that exit the school stores with a cart full o’ chaos.

It’s not really called a massage parlor, is it?

I’m skating tomorrow night. You can stick that in your quidditch broom and smoke it.

General stuff

Monday night we returned to Texas at an hour that was horrid even by mountain time standards. The kids were finally asleep in an actual bed by 1:45 a.m. For me, the sleep nazi, this was hard to swallow. However, two of the kids slept until 11 yesterday. The two that did not sleep until 11 were a little more fragile last night. So the girls made a plan that would surely work: go shopping at 4 places. Little kids love that. Especially when they are insanely exhausted.
I regretted that somewhat.
But the thing I regretted most was ever picking up the two headbands in Ross and asking for a price. I’ve seen organ transplants that were less complicated than that whole process. Never again. Ever.
But then I went to Kohl’s, which is an oasis in a Ross-created desert, and got two typical-of-me t-shirts for $2.93. Be impressed. Those two t-shirts together were cheaper than the headband that chipped 6 months off my life.
But no matter, because when we got home and the kids got in bed at 9:50 (yes, I KNOW), little J uttered the words so many mothers long to hear.
“In the morning, I want to go shopping. And I want to buy shoes and shoes and shoes.”
Oh dear.

Things that make you go “hmm…”

I had six kids today. So in the interest of reducing chaos and causing disease, I took them to McDonalds with the Play Place. On a day when I bought 30 minutes of sleep with pop tarts, McDonalds seems to fit the theme. I’m not proud of this. You can scoff quietly to yourself. I do have a backyard garden. There’s just nothing alive in it right now.

At any rate, we all got happy meals because it’s $1.99 day.  And then the kids ran off to climb in the tubes. I was watching them and spacing just a little. It apparently doesn’t pay to look away from your table in a spacy way, because when I looked back over, there was a squatty toddler eating one of our happy meals.

It was a strange moment.

“Hey!” I said. That’s all I said. It’s all I could think to say. His mother was at the next table, engrossed in her smart phone. I do mean ENGROSSED. She never looked up. Her older kids were watching the younger ones. Or not.

I guess that’s what you get when you go to McDonalds.

When I got home, I forced all six kids into some role of cleaning the chicken coop. This was way, WAY more disgusting than eating a stranger’s happy meal. Honestly. Chickens. I had no idea…not one…what I was getting into. Did I think they were going to take showers and cuddle with me? Did I really believe my kids would remain interested in them after 90 minutes and help me take care of them?

What I would actually have is a new task that no one would help me with. I’d have poop, pecking roosters, and maggots. Yes, maggots.

Ick.

So I decided to google how to keep a coop clean. I figure I’d let some experienced chicken farmers help me out. So I began my research.

I read. And I read. And my eyes grew large. And then squinty. And I kept reading.
Finally, I stopped. Because it became apparent that, not only do I not keep a quality chicken coop, I don’t even know the correct vocabulary to discuss keeping a quality chicken coop. Manure box? I don’t have one of those. Laying mash? What is that?

Here’s a quote from one site:

My hens always have plenty of fresh water and quality laying mash. I supplement with greens, fruits, and vegetables every day for treats. Any uneaten treats also go into the compost bin. Chickens love their protein, as much as their grain. Do not be alarmed if your chickens eat a mouse, small lizard, grasshopper, snail, worm…these are also perfectly natural foods for chickens.

She gives her chickens treats. Her chickens have a manure box and laying mash and fresh bedding in their nesting boxes. My chickens have the ground. And the thing they sleep in. And that other thing.

Ground and things. And no treats.

I think I need to find a more remedial website.  Or just get my eggs at the store like other posers.

I did make the kids help me do things all wrong, though. And somehow, for today, that makes it all right.