Thursday, May 10, 2018

Five things I wish I had known.

With Mother's Day 2018 right around the corner -- my 21st day of celebrating motherhood and all the joy, tears, and work that goes with it -- I thought it might be a good opportunity to make one of those "things I wish I had known at the beginning" lists.

1. Motherhood rarely looks like what you imagined it would.

A little me and my mom.

A long time ago, in a childhood far far away, my mother loaded an intercontinental plane with a one-year-old on her hip and flew to meet my Dad in Germany where he was stationed in the U.S. Army.  After being turned down for medical reasons for military service multiple times, my Dad had been drafted into the Vietnam War when I was six months old. My mother had no idea her early years of motherhood would consist of moving to a country where she didn't speak the language. She would find housing. She would work. She would attend church. All while keeping me on her hip.

My first Mother's Day -- in the University of Chicago Neonatal Intensive Care Unit -- the babies were finally healthy enough to get all three together for our first family pic.

My mother's tenacity in Germany gave me the fortitude to begin my own not-as-I-imagined-it journey into motherhood when my first baby turned out to be three babies and those teeny-tiny loves were born three months early. It never occurred to me that I wasn't up for the challenge. I was raised by a woman who did what had to be done. I quickly learned to do the same -- and threw away all the "parenting" books that had no idea how to help me!

That tenacious mother -- now a grandmother of not just my four but SEVEN! --
has continued to teach how to face life's challenges!

2. Motherhood will develop strengths that you never knew you had.

From the first days home from the NICU, my lap was stretched as wide as my heart. I quickly learned to love three babies at one time and to hold those three loves in my lap simultaneously!

And when I had caught my breath and knew how many bottles to fix a day, we switched gears and I had to learn how much food to prepare a day. And when that became routine, we threw in hip braces, orthotics, walkers, power sticks and a myriad of other things I had absolutely no prior experience with. If the threesome's goal had been to ensure I never got bored, they accomplished it and then some.

But just to be safe, just to be completely certain that I was on my toes, we added another little bundle -- a single one this time -- with red hair and personality galore! And all of a sudden, I had to learn to juggle triplets plus one -- to balance the older with the younger, to balance the therapies with the fun, to balance those who know a lot of things, with the one just learning.

If motherhood had looked like I imagined it would, I would never have needed half these skills -- or become the woman God wanted me to be.

3. No one has all the answers required of mothers. Some things you just have to wing along the way.

When one triplet brother has a really really cool Batman mask, but the other brother's preferred Superman costume didn't include one, a mother learns just how much she can do with felt, elastic and sewing skills she thought she had long forgotten! And lest relaxation seems a thing in her future, the little princess of the crew will decide she simply can not cover up her Cinderella dress with a coat and young mom will HAVE to find the right under-garments to keep princess warm and yet, not lose any of the style. (Yes, the iconic-Cinderella choker is on the OUTSIDE of the turtleneck!)

I will never forget sitting in the Occupational Therapy room watching the amazing Susan try to get my boys to reach for Mardi Gras beads. She would work and work and coax them to grab the colorful beads from her hand as she dangled them. I heard myself urging and coaxing right along with her though I had no idea why. And when I couldn't stand it anymore, I blurted out, "Why aren't we working on sitting, crawling, walking? Why do we keep trying to get them to grab these necklaces that they have no interest in!" And dear Susan, the absolute perfect Occupational Therapist for this mom, gently looked at me and explained that the boys HAD to learn to reach across mid-line before they could do anything else. With tears running down my cheeks, and matching tears coursing down Susan's, we turned to these precious little boys with a re-newed determination to coax, to teach, to urge them to reach across mid-line.

No one has all the answers required of mothers. We just have to wing what we don't know until we do -- and pray boldly for God to place those in our life who can teach us with love.

I couldn't leave the Little Red out of the costume photos...
besides I said we have to wing it -- right? 

4. The main job -- the job most important of all the jobs of motherhood -- is to cheer those entrusted into our nest to the finish line of their own personal best. 

Physical Therapy at the Mayo Clinic.

When the triplets were just days away from their first birthday, a doctor looked at Wade and I and very coldly informed us that the boys had Cerebral Palsy. I remember everything about that day in great detail. But thankfully, the thing that stands out the most is not the bad bedside manner of the doctor, or the questions I would ultimately have about the boys' future. Rather, the thing I remember the absolute most is the profound epiphany that I have no doubt God gave me: My job as mom of Benjamin, Mason and Claire had not changed. It had not changed a bit. My job prior to that diagnosis and after: To help the three of them reach their full potential. My job is to knock down walls and build bridges. And my job is to cheer like crazy as they work toward their own goals, toward reaching their personal bests!

At music class with little Benjamin -- helping him reach his goals.

Cheering includes finding ways to make the goal a reality -- Mason needed stability. There is nothing in the competitive archery world that will hold lower limbs steady so the upper body can shoot. We found a solution and tied his knees down. And then you know....learned not to cheer loudly so that we ruined his concentration! ;)

And sometimes cheering means finding a path. When Benjamin said he wanted to work on Ralph Northam's campaign to be the next governor of Virginia, I will confess to being unsure of how to make that happen. But then we made a plan, loaded the van and headed to Virginia. Cheering is an active verb. Sometimes, it involves the hardest of work. And sometimes it involves 16 hours in a  van.

And sometimes, cheering requires us to get out of the way and just actually you know, cheer. So when the one born by herself, climbed into the van asking if she could join the boys football team, there was only one response: I will cheer you in what ever endeavor you choose, with every breath I have.

It is my job.

5. No matter that it is the goal, no matter that it is the thing you prepared them for their entire life -- when our baby birds soar from the nest, it hurts. It hurts like the devil. But it is also amazing.

 If given the choice, this is exactly where I would keep my babies, cuddled close and with eyes that only see my face. Sigh.

But that isn't really true, is it? We are entrusted with these loves, but if we are cheering, learning and teaching, then we must also be preparing them to fly our nest, to leave our safe space and soar.

Three of mine are spreading their wings in college.  Every single day I battle between absolute pride in their grades, their success, their accomplishments and the desire to have them back under my roof needing me immensely.

Benjamin was on the Homecoming Court at Belhaven University this Fall!

I have sent Mason on a plane to the Yucatan of Mexico, New York City, and even Walt Disney World for school assignments. This summer I will send him to Spain. I don't know how many time before it gets easier.

Claire is spending the semester -- the whole entire four hundred months-long (ok, not really, really it is just four months) semester in Argentina! My heart thought it would completely burst putting her on that plane.

And though I threaten to fall apart, though I attempt to re-construct history and tell them all the things I taught them growing up about traveling and service are a lie.....I know that this is who I raised them to be. And so while it is hard -- harder than learning how many bottles to prepare for triplets, or how to make a mask out of felt -- I really thank God for the adults that are busy soaring from my nest.

Motherhood does not look like I thought it would. It requires skills I never imagined I could learn and the ability to wing it when I don't have the skills required. It is often beyond my emotional-capability and harder and lovelier and more amazing than anything I ever imagined.

May God bless -- and mightily equip -- all the Mothers.

Carol - The Blessings Counter