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.

Two Words to Define Your Parenting Legacy

What two words describe the legacy you hope to pass on to your children? 

In other words, if someone asked your children years from now “What were your parents were like?” or “How did they make you feel?”, what would you want them to say?

MINE: “Supported. Exposed.”

I want my four to remember the laughter. 

The floor under their feet. 

The hand in their hand. 

The person behind them. 

The experiences. 

The smiles. 

The sense of wonder. 

Car rides. 

Conversations. 

I want them to remember that no matter what we did, we were there for them. 

Together, as a family. 

When they tick back through their childhood memories of activities and events, I want them to remember their parents’ faces glancing back at them. Their siblings cheering them on from the side line. 

The roughness. The tiredness. The fullness. The variety of experiences. 

Because to me, support empowers children to become better adults. A solid foundation of support, alongside a legacy of exposure to different ideas, customs, and experiences provides a wealth of tools to make it through adulthood. 

Or at least, I hope it will. 

I Quit my Job at Uhaul

I quit my job at Uhaul.

The treacherous roads that weave who we believe we are, who we strive to be, and how we behave in day to day life are full of pot holes and detours through mountainous terrain. And at times we find ourselves brakeless, on a 45 degree downgrade, at 2 am with no headlights during a January blizzard.

And then we crash and burn…..

I come from a tight knit family. Poor, humble, loyal. My mother’s family of nine children, born between 1939 and 1955, hails from a small shotgun house in the Mill Village of Winnsboro, over in Fairfield County. My father’s West Columbia family of five children, born from 1939 to 1947, grew up in a 700 square foot cinder block house with cement floors, a large pot belly stove for heat and four square rooms with no interior doors. An indoor bathroom was eventually added by my grandfather. One bathroom. Five children.

And then children grew up, as children often do.

Grandchildren arrived.
But not too many.
(Funny how generations collapse and expand as each wave of new life seeks unconscious shelter from their parents’ experience!)

I was the second to last grandchild on Mom’s side. Last on Dad’s. Neither of my parents had even wanted children. Mom was 40 years old when I surprised her with my appearance. My first night at home was spent in a drawer padded with blankets beside their bed. Neither of them were sure what to do with a baby!

My earlier memories have me playing on a tall pile of soft, golden red builders sand in the front yard during construction of our 900 square foot, two bed, one bath home – the first and only home my parents ever purchased. And I remember sitting with my back against the newly installed front door, sharing a Pepsi with my Daddy. I pulled my knees up, intentionally mimicking his posture and glanced up at his face with the black 1970s mustache, topped by Sonny Bono hair.
“That’s going to be the bathroom!” he smiled down at me on that hot June day in 1986, pointing towards the open studs that wrapped the middle of the house. I was three years old. My parents had been married fourteen years. “And that will be your room!” This time he pointed through the studs to the area further back to the right. I was very excited!

Because he was so excited.

And sharing a Pepsi with my god of a Daddy (who I was convinced knew the secrets to the universe) was exciting too. I adored him so. He was so silly and could make me laugh like crazy.

As a child, I didn’t understand the intricacies of wealth. Nor the lack thereof. My father somehow put me through thirteen years of Christian private school. My mother stayed home with me full time.

So I was sheltered. And very content.

Until I wasn’t.

Life status and The Joneses eventually pierced me.

By Junior High, I noticed an acute difference in the old, battered vehicles my parents drove and the brand new models belonging to the younger parents at school. And I felt embarrassed by the unstylish thrift store clothing I wore and the name brand, fashionable clothes my fellow students wore. So I began working at age 14 to secure my own money and “fix” what I then perceived as a major problem.

I remember my first paycheck from my $4.75 per hour job at Daycare. I eagerly spent $24.00 on a gorgeous ankle length tan wrap skirt at Cato’s store over in the old West Plaza shopping center down from the current Hobby Lobby.

And the very next day a girl at school made fun of it.

I never wore the skirt again.

But I continued working.

When college time arrived, my parents didn’t understand my desire to go. Neither of them had gone nor was it ever encouraged. They were more worried about Vietnam and funerals of friends-turned-soldiers and hunger during their latter teen and early 20s than they were about higher education. They were trained in trade instead. My mother had worked as a professional seamstress in the mill. My father was a self-employed fence installer like his father and brother before him. So I was actively encouraged not to go to college.

But I continued working.

I had earned valedictorian of my high school class. I planned to secure a PH.D in Child Psychology. And I dreamed of developing my own franchise of early childhood education centers someday.

Of making a true difference in the life of a child.

So I continued working.

I paid my own way through two associates degrees, purchased a little blue house, married and was eleven months shy of an Early Childhood Education BA when I walked away from eleven years of employment and my education goals to give birth to Jack at age 25. And thus my children became my entire world.

They are now 8, 6, 4 and 2 years old.

And for two years I’ve been running, seeking the high achiever I use to be.

Certain people I met over the past few years profoundly affected me….
Their expansive accolades.
Their vast career achievements.
Their community status.
Their official job titles.

Everything I’m not.
Everything I’ll never be.

Tonight, at 8:15 pm, my 74 year old mother was released from a four day stay in the hospital. My father, her husband of 45 years, had spent every second by her side in room 795. She weighs 95 lbs now. She’s endured a mastectomy. Her hearing is nearly gone. Her sight destroyed by macular degeneration. And in the past four years, two of her younger siblings have passed away.

As I drove them home in silence, Mama in the front passenger seat, Daddy directly behind her, I listened to her gasping breaths. It’s hard for her to breathe now. Her lung collapsed a few days ago during her second biopsy in two weeks.

I thought of her unwavering devotion to raising me. And I thought of my own children who, since my mother’s sister died in January, began pleading for me not to leave them every time I walked out the door. My 25 hour weekend absence over the past six months saw my family unit unravel at its seams.

And then I pulled into the drive of their Little Yellow Home. The same tiny home I grew up in, now 31 years old and, like my parents, aged and oh so very tired. It took a while for them both to scoot out of the car. Then Mama thanked me for picking them up.
She called me Baby.
And said how much she loved me.

And then I backed out of their drive.
Alone.

Turning up Rock 99.7 to the highest decibel, I let Beastie Boys drown out my screams and tears as I traced a slow route in the dark down past the private school where I spent thirteen years of life.

I turned right, bumped over the railroad tracks, past the old Piggly Wiggly building, and down the road where the 1940s cinderblock home my father’s family owned from 1951 to 2002 still exists.

Another family owns it now.
Lights were in the windows tonight.

Further down, I passed our Little Blue House, the home where Kevin and I spent our first ten years as a married couple and where all four children formed their earliest memories.

Our renters live there now.
Lights were on in the windows tonight.

I drove out to the college where I spent two years cramming in eight courses per semester while working full time.

And then I traced my route back through streets I can drive blindfolded, back into the Avenues of Cayce. Back to our current house where my family was eating Little Caesars Pizza because an evening meeting at school ran a bit longer than anticipated. My sobs still mimicked by the rancid screams of heavy metal bands on Rock 99.7 FM.

You see, after Juli weaned from nursing, I thought I was ready to move forward and be “me” again.

And I assumed my increasing absence would not be noted.

I was wrong.
Dead wrong.

And then something happened that forced me to remember who I was.
And that my purpose in life has always been to make a true difference in the life of a child.

So three weeks ago I made a swift decision.

I deactivated Facebook.
I left my volunteer committee work with Children’s Trust.
We left Cubscouts.
And we removed soccer from our life.

……and I quit my job at Uhaul.