She spends 9 years as a Mother but then

My almost three year old is lying in my arms. She’s my very last baby and I feel her aging acutely. We are on the master bed watching Sesame Street. She’s singing along with Elmo.  And clapping. 

“What’s the letter of the day?” *clap clap*

And she’s completely naked. 

Her fine blond hair is thickening. And curling. Her body is lengthening. Baby fat is gone. A few mosquito bites dot her thighs. Her bathing suit tan lines show how much time she’s spent playing outside this summer.  

Oh my God. She looks like a preschooler!

Now she’s laughing at Grover. 

Real sadness is foreign to her. Her older siblings dote on her every move. She falls? At least two other people swarm her with love and kisses before mommy even blinks. I haven’t lifted her from her crib in the mornings since school ended because her siblings always get to her first. 

Now she’s somersaulting across my legs. 

She knows nothing of heaven nor hell. She knows nothing of life. Nothing of what lies spread before her. 
The social angst of adolescence. The struggle of achieving academically in high school. The apprehension of choosing a college. The exhilaration of a first kiss. The soul-blinding chest squeeze of true loss. The fierce competition of the workforce. 
Beauty. Self-doubt. Marriage. Divorce. Religion. Government. Employment. Taxes. 

She’s just in the moment. 

Laughing. And naked. 

I do what I can to protect her. Shelter her even. Give her a happy childhood to reflect back on when life finally dumps on her. But my time is limited. 

Watching her age is different than when my eldest was this age. I’ve had time to reflect. Practice. Change my style. Correct mistakes (Sorry, Jack). The journey through our parenting years is certainly a soul-shaping mind-bender. 

Yet, after 9 years as a mom, I still don’t know if I’m doing the right things. Sit and talk with adults and many of them either have strained relationships with their parents or none at all due to some issue the offspring has with the way they were raised. What if that happens to me?

So I still feel inadequate at times. 

An imposter in the game of motherhood. 

How do I instill in her everything she needs to be a successful adult?

Even worse, how do I face myself when she is an adult dealing with issues I failed to address during her childhood?

Surely someone else is far more equipped than I to raise this tiny human, so full of happiness and light. 

The pressure not to screw her up bubbles like a lidded pot on high.

Those Were the Days

An infant’s wail shattered the morning.

My eyes dart up from the last bite of chicken biscuit and settle on a couple frozen in place 15 feet away. The crying persists.

An old, familiar tingle rises in my chest at the unexpected sound of a baby’s cry, forcing me to wrap my arms around myself. It’s been over a year now. I alternate sips of coffee and Chic Fil A peach milkshake. Some days call for more sugar than others.
“I miss those sweet, wonderful days!” I say to my mother who is sitting to my left. She doesn’t catch my comment.
“When do you pick up Maggie and Jack?” she says instead.

“Camp gets out at 12:30 pm.”

My father sits across from me eating a bagel. Caleb and Juli are playing inside the playground. I glance back at the couple with the baby.
A tired 20something woman with dark hair in a messy bun stares back at me as she stands beside their booth smoothing out her wrinkled clothing. I shift in my seat, adjusting my own blouse and teal stone necklace. Her chest heaves as a deep breath escapes, and her right hand shifts to her forehead pushing escaped frizzy hairs away. They fall back down aghast at her attempts to tame them. Angling her back to the booth, her countenance clouds. Brows knot up. Dark circles hint of sleepless nights. Her face, bare and natural. Lips, pale. A few light stains dot the shoulder of the maroon t-shirt covering her postpartum body. The skinny man sitting across the table turns wordlessly to the covered carrier and fiddles inside. The carrier begins to rock under his hand. Uneaten food lay spread on their table, crowded by an overflowing diaper bag.
“Mommy, I’m ready to go to the store now!” five year old Caleb says, interrupting my thoughts as he and Juli climb up beside me.
“Do you still have your three dollars? I will give you two more if you help clean!” my mother tells him.

“Yes! Hurray!!” He begins clearing the table with her, gathering trash for the tray and wiping up crumbs. I catch him and kiss his cute forehead, leaving a small lipstick mark just above his eyebrow where his blond surfer bangs fall. His wiggles and giggles.

“I lub you, mommy!”

“I love you too, Caleb.”

My parents and Caleb leave together hand in hand once the table is cleared.

“Back? Back?” Juli questions me, standing in the booth seat. Holding a milkshake, coffee, and the kids’ sweet tea, my hands are already full. I shrug and sit back down. Barefoot Juli brushes her hand over my freshly flat ironed hair, hops on my back and giggles her sweet two year old giggle. My dangly owl earrings catch her attention and she begins flicking one gently with a finger. Her little legs wrap tightly around my waist. Her shoes lay somewhere back at home, forgotten in the morning rush of herding four children out the door.
“I have a secret! Who does mommy love?!” I ask her as we pass the tired couple with the lone infant. The mom is still standing on the far side of their booth, her back to him. I notice a green pacifier bobbing on his now quiet lips. His eyes are big with curiosity.
“JUUUUUDY!” she squeals.

“Yes! Now hang on tight and mommy will be a horse!” I tell her. Then she laughs, wide and deep, as tiny hands grasp my neck, leaving me to feel as if she will always be this small.

Mama, 75 Years Old

Today is my Mama’s 75th birthday.

Her name is Priscilla. The second of nine born to a mill village worker and his beloved wife in 1942 era Winnsboro, SC. The United States had just entered World War 2. Pearl Harbor was bombed when Mama was in utero. Her earliest childhood memories involve air raid sirens, Hopalong Cassidy on the dime store TV display, walking 6 miles to church and doctors with black bags making house calls.

She goes by “Cill”. Her sisters call her cilly and sissy. Her four grandchildren call her Grammy. Occasionally when we are having a row, I’ll call her Mommy Dearest. That makes her laugh and she threatens to beat me with wire hangers. Old film buffs will understand.

She suffers from Meniere’s Disease and Vertigo, the same ear condition that is rumored to have propelled Vincent Van Gogh to cut his own ear off. As a child I remember watching her fall to the floor when a dizzy spell struck her while she was washing dishes. I remember my dad picking her up, cradling her like a baby, carrying her to bed. And she’s a breast cancer / mastectomy survivor. On occasion, unfairness of life will slap us in the face. Watching my mama go through hospital after hospital stay reeks of unfairness. Cancer rains on both the good and bad alike. The past few years she has also developed osteoporosis and macular degeneration, a degenerative eye condition that slowly blinds from the center out.

She’s been married twice, but only had one child. Me. She had already lived a full 40 years old by the time I accidentally showed up.

Deciding to make the best of her new role as mama, she decided that Time was her best offering. So she stayed home with me. She read to me. Night after night. Story after story after story. My first memories are of snuggling with her listening to her read. Every day after school, promptly at 4:00 pm she would have a homemade meal on the table for the three of us. Her specialties were spaghetti, vegetable soup, salmon stew, baked chicken, garlic biscuits, and sweet tea.

She’s never been on Facebook but she still never ever forgets someone’s birthday. And family ties are blood oaths in her mind. Family means everything. During my lifetime I’ve watched her lose her mama, numerous cousins, her brother, brother-in-law, and most recently, a sister. Watching the giants in our lives crumble under the weight of age, life progression and loss can be profoundly debilitating.

How do we support those who have always been the ones to hold us up?

Tonight we brought her favorites -pecan pie, banana popsicles and ice cream- over to her house to celebrate. When we arrived at her house, her sister Mae was just leaving. And a while later her brother arrived with a watermelon and bouquet of flowers.

“They’re very bright with a whole lot of colors so I figured you could see these easily!” her brother said to her.

How wonderful it is to have a sister and brother who can drop in on your 75th birthday!

Often, growing up as an only child, I found myself desperately wishing for a older brother or a twin sister.

But never once have I wished for a different mama. I love her dearly.

Stolen High Heels

There’s a certain pair of my high heels that Maggie keeps stealing.

The four inch ones.
Dark brown.
Peep toe.
With silver studs.

I often catch her clunking around the house with them on. It always annoys me. And I snap at her. I tell her to stop. To leave my shoes alone.

Because shoes are supposed to stay in the mud room!

Because she could ruin them!

Because they’re my shoes and I already share my entire life with them – must I share my shoes too!

Because shoes in the house lead to a bunny trail of sand, dirt and clutter strewn everywhere!

Because I get exhausted picking up after kids every minute of the day!

This morning while the kids were packing their school snack, I walked into Maggie’s room to turn her fan off.

And tripped over those dang high heels.

The high heels that were in the mud room yesterday.

The high heels my six year old wears while playing pretend.

And I heard Maggie and Jack out in the kitchen helping Juli pack snack, even though she doesn’t attend school. Because they know she wants to be included.

And I hear the words of my daughter ringing in one ear: “Because I want to be like you, mommy!”

And I hear the words of my mother ringing in the other: “You’re raising a human. Not a house.”

So I turned off her fan.

And walked out the door.

Someday, maybe I’ll borrow her cute shoes too.

On the Trampoline Under a Pink Moon

Did you know that the full moon in April has an ancient name in Native American culture? It’s called the “Pink Moon”. Last month was the “Worm Moon”. Next month is the “Flower Moon.”

I didn’t know this. It’s 4:25 am. I’m outside. Staring into space. Smushed in between my family. It’s getting chilly. The back of my phone case was damp with dew when I awoke and picked it up thirty minutes ago to google Full Moon facts.

To my left, Kevin snores. To my right, Maggie, Caleb, and Jack dream, snuggled deep in sleeping bags. And we are on our backyard trampoline. Well, except for Klaus. He’s asleep under the trampoline. On his back. Like all good dogs.

Around 9 pm, after tucking Juli in her crib, we headed out back with creature comforts and crawled in the trampoline, zipping the net closed, blocking out the world and its troubles. The kids have been begging to camp out here for weeks.

We jumped around. Flipped. Ticked. Giggled. Told ghost stories. And happy stories. We sang with crickets. And listened to an owl. Daddy and Caleb even had a burping contest.

As we settled down, I pulled out the Skyview augmented reality app to search for constellations. The kids were entranced as we spied Virgo, Ursa Major, The Big Dipper and Leo the Lion so high above us. We even found Jupiter. No moon though. It hadn’t risen yet.

“Mommy, you know you can never count all the stars in the universe?” said eight year old Jack.

“I’m gonna try!” said six year old Maggie.

Their birthdays will be here again in a couple weeks. Another year gone. Both childhoods, halfway complete.

We all finally dozed off, one by one.

My children’s faces are now bathed in a pale translucent glow, as if melted platinum spills from heaven onto them. A passing train nearby sings us a mournful lullaby. I even hear it’s wheels clacking in time.

But I’m wide awake. Of course.

Perhaps it’s my lifelong insomnia.

Maybe it’s just a mom thing.

Or it could very well be the lonely Pink Moon calling to me from an inky sky above.

Of Vienna Sausages, Cuties and Waffles

I hear Jack and Maggie whispering in the hallway. 

It’s just the five of us at home. Me and the four kiddos. Severe thunderstorms over the past couple days have my lineman husband pulling eighteen hour shifts with the power company. It’s hard when he’s gone. We rely on him. I rely on him! 

And, today is my third child Caleb’s fifth birthday. He hasn’t seen his Dad in forty eight hours. 

Caleb asked all day when Daddy will be home. And when will have cake at Papa and Grammy’s house. “Sorry, K-Cat, Daddy is working late. And we aren’t going to Grammy’s until tomorrow night, remember?” I explained. My mother was sick again this week so we put off our family birthday dinner until the weekend. 

Throughout the day I tried creating special moments for him. Dozens of balloons were scattered all over the room. We played games. And he got to watch anything he wanted on TV – which meant a full day of YouTubers cracking open egg surprises, beating minion apps, and talking over Angry Birds Go. 

“When will Daddy be home?” he asked again during school carline. As Maggie and Jack scrambled into the car, bookbags falling to the floor, Caleb, seated in the third row, shared his excitement about family birthday dinner tomorrow night at Grammy and Papa’s house.  

“But I wished it was tonight,” he said sadly. 

And now here it is 5:15 pm. 

Caleb picked dinner so I’m making waffles with hot fudge and nut topping for everyone. Oh, and buttered popcorn. I may him drink from the two liter Cherry Pepsi bottle too. He always laughs so hard when he gets to do that. 

And now I hear Maggie and Jack whispering in the hall. They’ve disappeared together five minutes ago. I wonder what they’re up to?

Silence. And then….

They both yelled excitedly, in sync, “Caleb come here!!”

Caleb hopped off the couch where he had been stationed in front of another Egg Surprise YouTube video, ran through the living room, down the long hall, and found them in den. 

“Surprise!” I heard them cheer. 

And then they sang Happy Birthday to Caleb. 

I peeped in the den just in time to see them present him with a plate full of Vienna Sausages and Cuties oranges. 

“It’s your favorite treats ever!” Maggie said in her animated six year old way. “It’s not as good as Papa’s house but we can pretend!”

And then he smiled at them. And grabbed them both in a group hug. They were giggling as I snuck away unnoticed. After all, I had waffles and hot fudge to tend. 

The Light Keepers

9:23 pm. Tuesday night. Before the storm.
The streets are dark. Clear. No traffic.
Silence is disturbed only by an occasional dog barking at a stranger on her bike.

I spy Orion.
Regal. Radiant. Reliable.
Three dots for a belt.
The entire sky is full of stars tonight but I hone in immediately on him. As a child he was the only constellation I could ever pick out. My penchant for “forgetting” my thick-framed 1980s grey plastic old lady glasses Mama picked out at the eye doctor may be to blame. The world surrounding me before LASIK was often blurred by the severe astigmatism I was born with.

A friendly constant for decades now, Orion winks down at me. I salute him, and almost crash. (Did I ever mention I’m not sporty?)
These late evening starry bike rides through the Avenues are calming. Invigorating. Mature azaleas, crepe myrtle, palmetto, oak and pine thrive in this mid-century neighborhood landscape known for its gridded alphabetical and numerical streets. Such intentional beauty designed by generations long ago! And the southern Spring season (save for an occasional two hour snowstorm and random tornado) makes for perfect bike riding weather.

The GPS app yells out that my average speed is only six miles per hour. I tell her to hush. It’s ok. Marathons aren’t my goal. This two mile slow route offers time to think. And as long as I keep both hands wrapped tightly around the handlebars my clumsy self can think just fine!

The houses with lamps lighting the windows fascinate me. So much so that I almost crash again as my eyes drift side to side, away from the road ahead of me. Each of these homes hold a story. A life. Multiple lives. Rich, intricate woven tales as complicated and in-depth as the one I live. The one you live. Full of passion, regret, hope, and plans for tomorrow night’s dinner. A mere thirty feet away.

Yet we may never cross paths… the unseen keepers of the window light and I.

Perhaps one day we will.

But for now I have to get back to my own lighted window. And the people inside.