Unready, Unsteady

I spent last week sorting through thousands of family photos, which explains this week’s burst of parenting poetry. As I told my Aunt Lisa, the writing keeps me sane. I’m posting as I write, so no doubt this will see some editing in the future. I write a lot about vulnerability, so I’m trying to practice what I preach and put it out there. Maybe there is a parent in the thick of it who will relate.

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Unready, Unsteady

I wanted it, wanted you

Wanted to know

If I could love

If I could matter

 

The flutter surprised

A minnow released

In the quick changing bump

Of my young, nervous belly

 

Only thirty-six weeks

Not the forty they promised

I was unready – really

Who could be ready?

 

You took what I had

My time, mind, and sleep

What was left of my confidence

A trembly beginning

 

I did what I could

Did most of the things

Rock, sang, and fed

Did I love? Could I?

 

Worried and laughed

Tested and read

To understand need

To plan and protect

 

There is no place safe

In this world for a child

I watched them hurt you

Steal my favorite smile

 

Sat outside your door

2:30 a.m.

In a panic because

Your shell was too thin

 

Oh it was too thin

And your heart was too large

Your mind was too sharp

Taking everything in

 

You wanted to die

I understood why

I wanted to join you

My love was true

 

Love stays that hard

No relief, small reward

But most days we live

And most days we want to

 

~Alyson Hinkie, February 25, 2019

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The Hive

Parenting teens is not for wimps.

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The Hive

In close quarters of

The place you call prison

It is bound to happen

 

The wrong day, the wrong room

The wrong dress, the wrong face

A smile full of freedom

 

Angry hive, unattached, waiting

To land their desperate sting

A swarm with no queen to guide them

 

You stumble out

Alive but marked by

Fear and weak poison

 

Knowing tomorrow I will send you

To fly the same path and I

Will say ridiculous things

 

Like

 

They’re only bees

Lost insects – no mission

Thinking their job is to sting instead of

 

Spreading beautiful things

And I’ll say to you, “Love them,” for one day

They will make honey

 

~Alyson Hinkie, February 24, 2019

Pay It Backwards

Hey sweet Mamas – I’m paraphrasing my favorite author here – “The day you delivered your sweet little bundles, you brought them into a crazy world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen to them. Do not be afraid.” – thought borrowed from Frederick Buechner.

Other human beings will hurt us. We will hurt some of them. The question is what to do with the pain. Of course, there are different levels of pain. What I’m thinking about today is the small-to-moderate variety of human-on-human hurt. And with the start of the school year, my mind is also on my kids.

My middle kid, 8th grade girl, got my attention yesterday. I asked her if she had any particular hopes or goals for 8th grade. She said, “I would like to be more focused and present in class, but really, I just want to try to be kind to 7th graders because I wish 8th graders had been more kind to me last year.”

We hear a lot about paying it forward, but she wants to flip pain on its head and pay it backwards. What a sweet picture of redemption.

I’ve watched the same thing with my senior. He experienced a ton of rejection from 5th grade through last year. Now most of the kids who dished that our are gone, and he seems intent on making sure every kid he comes in contact with feels accepted and respected. He is investing time and energy encouraging younger tennis players, to help their hearts as well as their tennis game.

Our hearts are drawn to redemption stories. We eat up redemption movies. It is because we all understand brokenness. The thought that we could be mended, that relationships could be healed, goes to the very depths of us.

But to live a redemption story means that you must experience pain.

Brutal Redemption

This is not intended to be a brag session on my kids. Don’t worry – we have plenty of whining, door slamming, and eye rolling around here. And I have cried myself to sleep many a night knowing my kids were in pain because of social rejection.

But what an awesome thing to help our kids consider how they can take rejection, flip it around, and pay the beauty of redemption back to younger kids. This works for me, too. I had a lot of internal pain and anxiety during my years with babies and toddlers. Now, years later, how do I flip that around and give back to the Moms who are in that season now?

What does this look like for you?

 

 

Supermarket Mayhem and Master Mamas

Dear sweet young Mama from the Kroger line –

Mercy me, you’ve got your hands full – full with your middle baby – one of three – with a wild tuft of white-blonde hair and the Snow White princess dress she obviously lives in. I wonder if you give her Benadryl once a week just so you can pry it off and wash it in the the middle of the night.

Your words to me, “I don’t get out much.” Yeah – I didn’t either. It’s particularly wearing on a woman’s soul not to get out much, to be removed from both adult conversation and the quiet of nature. And then you do get out and 90 percent of the words you utter are “I’m” and “sorry”  as your little tornado does her thing before and behind you.

I wish I knew who your were so I could send this to you – because I guarantee we had a vastly different perspective about those furious five minutes in the check-out line. My fascinating middle one is a young woman now. My firstborn is about to fly the nest.

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When your little girl was grabbing every candy bar within her reach, tearing the corners of the wrappers and deciding which one to secretly stow in your purse, you were mortified. I watched in wonder and thought, “Dang – that kid must have a high I.Q. I wonder when they will decide to test her for G/T”. If she’s like mine, she’ll be “gifted with a glitch”, but that will make her far more interesting.

When she wandered away from you as you fumbled to pay for your groceries – don’t worry, I had your back – she had this look of pure joy as she picked up every single Disney coloring book with her sticky fingers (candy quest!). Fancy fonts and color and art captured her spirit. This child is going to create; I know it. All you knew is that you had to pay an additional $5.95 for her favorite one – the one that was now missing its front cover.

Then… the hissy fit of the year! Oh my gosh – can she please be in my band when she grows up? A natural performer. Spinning in circles on her back avoiding your reaching hands like a little ninja. Impressive! You saw a stubborn, willful, difficult girl. I saw strength. I saw a baby who will one day be a young woman who will know who she is and what she stands for. I saw a future leader.

And I wish you could have seen, in the midst of your horrific embarrassment, the grace that surrounded you. You were in front of ME! Me, who prayed for your tender, tired heart, who silently blessed your precious hellion, who remembered the years when I “didn’t get out much”.

And then the precious cashier! He wanted to dump the entire stupid candy display in your cart, free of charge, and give you a big high-five on the way out (no wonder Moms don’t get out much – they make the check-out area a freaking nightmare). He didn’t quite know what to do with your baby, but he was full of compassion, not an ounce of judgment.

You were beautiful, full of patience. No yelling, no swatting. You just wanted to hit the rewind button and leave mini Snow White at home! The milk and eggs (and candy bars and coloring books) could have waited.

What you don’t know is that you also gave us a brief moment to practice patience and find our laughter and try our best to bless you in the midst of the chaos. We got a glimpse of a promising future that your current vantage point can’t give you quite yet.

You are a Master Mama, and your baby will shine. I know it! I can’t give you a hug because I don’t know who the heck you are. But for anyone reading this that knows one of these Master Moms in the thick of it, hunt her down and hold her tight. Chase her crazy Snow White or Ninja Turtle for as long as you can handle, and let her take a nap – or a shower.

Some people freak out about the whole “it takes a village” idea, but the strongest future-grownups require more supervision than 1 or 2 humans can possibly give. One day, in a vastly different phase of life, a young Mama may very well look at your strong, beautiful young woman of a daughter and ask, “What is the secret?” And you can say with humble triumph,


“The standard ingredients are love, grace, and mercy. The secret ingredient is pain. The pain is the reflection pool for the other 3, so that not an ounce of the good stuff goes to waste.”


As for today – I pray for you – I will call you Master Mama – I pray you will continue to be surrounded by merciful moments of grace, even when you are too tired to notice. Hang in there and try to keep her safe. The future is much closer than you realize.

Bubble-Wrap Free

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Some days I wish I had special bubble wrap for my kids – material that was impermeable to hate, yet love-breathable – so I could send them out into this beautiful creation to soak it in without the terrifying risk that entails.

It would also protect their hearts from the damage they are capable of doing to others – for all the wrongs done to me, bundled together, have caused me far less distress than the wrongs I have done to others.

Beautiful, Terrible

Yet, I know that it is new experiences that will give my kids breadth, and it is pain and struggle that will give them depth. So I send them out the door every day bubble-wrap free, and I pray and pray and pray they will return safely to me so we can ponder the new things they have seen and repair the damage done.

Stitches


And then I pray some more for the strength and courage to do it all over again.

Is Your Heart a Fixer-Upper?

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This is where I stood last night – between to 2 small rooms housing 2 not-so-small-anymore children struggling with heavy hearts.

One awaiting the potential consequences of an innocent error – an accidentally missed school deadline that could have extreme consequences.

The other caught out in disobedience that struck her sneaky, tender heart to the core.

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I stood there because I could not sleep. My forehead against each door, I prayed for their minds to find peace, for their bodies to sleep, for their hearts to recognize that individual moments cannot name them.

There is only One who names them in truth and love. He names them according to their whole story – or rather their place in His grand story.

As my tears hit the wood floor, it occurred to me that my love shows up bigger when they blow it. It’s not that the love wasn’t there moments before, but their struggles pull my fierce-ancient-mama-love to the surface in a hurry. When my kids mess up, I might get sad or mad or temporarily discouraged, but what I feel the most is crazy, hopeful, passionate love for them, for their story, for their future.

Last night as I secretly, silently loved on them through the sheetrock, I had a flash of memories. I saw in quick succession numerous failures and heartbreaks of my own. I remembered being curled up alone on my bed feeling like the world was caving in on me. And I see now that God was there, right outside the door of my heart, not barging in, but waiting, loving, hoping, knowing that there was so much more to my story, calling out to me by my real name – not the horrible ones I was calling myself.

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-From the first part of Isaiah 43 in The Message

 

My love for my kids in that moment filled me to bursting. That love is the biggest thing I’ve ever experienced. And I have a Father who loves me like that, but multiplied beyond any exponential factor I can imagine. Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.56.41 PM

The friends I enjoy most are living reconstructed lives. That means they first had to experience deconstruction – the breakdown of dreams, love, security, pride, family, and self. Piece by piece, they have been – they are being – put back together. But this time, all of those pieces are infused with GRACE, and it oozes out of them as they interact with others.

As much as it hurts me to see my kids hurt, I know what I want for them is the kind of reconstructed lives that only come through suffering and surrender. I know that on the other side of the suffering is a life full of real love, life that is vibrant and joyful and authentic. Embracing the deconstruction/reconstruction process is the only doorway to such a life.

HGTV has become one of the top cable channels. The biggest episode of all time for them? Fixer Upper – no surprise. We all love to see beautiful things emerge from the rubble, and Joanna and Chip can work some magic inside a broken home. They are pretty cute making it happen, too. On a much bigger scale, the Creator of the universe can work miracles in the secret rooms of our hearts.

I told my son this morning as he walked out the door to learn the fate of his AP English grade:

“You are a character in a grand and fantastic story – your story – and all of us who are watching your story unfold are rooting for you to find your way and get the girl, no matter what crazy plot-twists you have to wind your way through.” 

This morning, his teacher showed mercy and grace. She saw him, the real him, and I hope he remembers.

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This Ain’t a Vacation, But It Is a Vocation

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I loved my work before kids – the mental challenges, adult conversations, the interactions with community leadership.  I received a modest but respectable paycheck from my non-profit agency. I had the opportunity every day to positively influence the lives of my staff members and the kids we worked with. I enjoyed it so much that I fully intended to work, at least part-time, after I had kids.

But then there was a tough first pregnancy, bedrest, early contractions, preeclampsia, delivery at 36 weeks, 7 ear infections in the first year, and a baby that slept an average of 7 hours total each day. Combine that with the fact that my husband was gone most of the time as a fairly new airline pilot, reality set in and I resigned from what I thought would be an ideal part-time continuation of my work. And I never went back.

That decision has given me the fullest joy I have know in this life but also a deep struggle with my identity. I defaulted into stay-at-home-mom because of circumstances, and 16 years later, I am finally learning to fully embrace it with a spirit of gratitude and wonder.

My kids all somehow made it out of diapers and started walking and talking, but every time I had a newborn, the experience felt alien to me. I loved those tiny, squirmy humans as much as I knew how, but I had to grow into it.

I remember holding my screaming 5 month-old firstborn in the middle of the night begging him to quickly become a real human I could relate to, and at the same time, begging God to grant me the mercy not to fall asleep walking and drop him on his head. I was lonely, and no one gave me a paycheck for doing 3 times the work I had been doing just a few short months earlier. Every time I filled out some stupid form and had to write “homemaker” in the blank, I was tempted to staple my feeding schedule and to-do list to the back.

9 months in, I was being called “Mama”, but I had no certain sense of a calling to be a Mom.

Frederick Buechner in Secrets in the Dark:We can speak of ourselves as choosing our vocations, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of our vocations choosing us, of a call’s being given and lives our hearing it, or not hearing it.

I know a bunch of sweet Mamas that knew they were “called” to motherhood by the time they were just out of diapers themselves. They loved the cooing, cuddling, and nursing. They loved the blasted maternity clothes, of all things! I felt completely mystified and was pretty sure I had not been called like they had. But I was dead wrong. I might not have sensed the same calling on an emotional level, but I was “named” the moment that each new life was conceived.

Just like any career, my parenting career has had its ups and downs. I have probably been too lenient and disorganized, sometimes woefully lacking in follow-through. I have had my own personal crises and griefs that have sidelined me on occasion. But, I have stuck with it. I have learned new skills. I’ve watched the experts. I’ve stumbled through difficult conversations and had occasional moments of brilliant insight.

I can see how my own brokenness might add to my children’s struggles, but I can rejoice in the fact that, just like my gifts, my brokenness is part of their stories. My mistakes keep me humble, keep me on my knees. My blunders give me the opportunity to teach my kids how to say, “I’M SORRY” and “PLEASE FORGIVE ME.”

As my kids quickly approach adulthood, it is tempting to look back and despair about all the things I missed or could have done better. But what I’m trying to do instead is to remember that this is MY JOB. It still has not paid me one pretty penny, but I am starting to see that there is no paycheck that could equal the dividends that this investment will realize.

Understanding this work as a huge part of my personal vocation softens the angry slamming of doors and keeps me settled when eyes roll. It gives me strength for teary, late night heart-to-hearts, and makes me savor the youngest one waking me up in the middle of the night to snuggle after a bad dream.

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I have other vocational dreams with writing and music, but I don’t feel rushed or pressured by that. My hope is that embracing motherhood, not just as an occupation, but as a vocation, will just give me more joy and wisdom and heartache and adventure to write about.

My friend, Len Woods, also wrote about this concept of vocation this week (Here is a link to the beautiful blog he writes with his amazing wife):

“Life includes a holy call to do something hugely significant.”

It’s hard for me to imagine anything more significant than raising up the next generation. 

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Dear Kids,

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Now I see. We are still children when we become parents, and that is true in some ways no matter how old we are when our children are born. And now you are almost raised and gone (at least #1), and I have finally grown up myself, mostly anyway.

I realize today that I love you all in ways that are new to me. I don’t think it’s a bigger love – it’s more like an ancient love that has been stored in a treasure chest. It always belonged to me, but someone finally gave me the key. The treasure within is astonishing. It fills my heart with joy, yet somehow it fills my heart with sadness at the very same time.

How is this possible? I am so thankful that I am capable of this feeling – no, not feeling – this place – this place of love. But it makes me want a time machine. I’ve never longed so deeply to time travel.

I want to go back to so many things and have a do-over, to see them through these love-rich eyes. So many things I would do slower, more thoughtfully, so many things I would never do at all. Much of my life up to now seems extremely careless – and it literally was – I cared less than I do now.

But I don’t have a time machine, dang it! The only time I can visit is this right-now moment and every moment I am granted hereafter. And I plan to wake up tomorrow and live like a mother who loves you more truly than she did yesterday. But I know me and I know life, and I am terrified that I am going to be typing a similar note 10 years from now with all kinds of new regrets spinning in my head.

My love for you is pouring out through a very broken vessel.  There are cracks, and my love leaks out into places I don’t intend it to go. Thankfully, I call upon a God that can keep it flowing into me. He never runs out.

So when my little love fails you, it is my deepest and most honest prayer that you will turn to the only place where you will always find love waiting. 

Out of the Toddler Trenches

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For my 2 amazing Dalton sisters-in-law, Emily and Antonia, and for any other young moms who needs a little pep talk:

If you think you might be losing your mind, you just might be. Your life is crazy hard. Throughout each day, little bits of you are constantly pulled and pried away. Every time your name is called, it is because someone wants a piece of you. And when you think they have drained every last drop, there is no mercy. At 4:00 p.m., they are just getting started.

To make things even more interesting, you are tasked to begin each day with half of your usual energy supplies because you are only allowed 3-5 hours of broken sleep each night. Consider the war movie interrogation scenes. The first move of the interrogator is to make sure the prisoner is thoroughly sleep deprived. This ensures mental anguish, psychological weakness, and almost guarantees that the prisoner will say things he regrets.

You make it through a day with these sweet little terrors and, just in time, your knight in shining armor sweeps through the door to the rescue – hot bath and glass of wine, here you come – or maybe not – maybe he wants a hot dinner – and maybe he wants a little hot “dessert”. And that is such a relief because that is precisely what you have been dreaming of all day – another person touching you.

When he asks in that pretend-nice voice, trying unsuccessfully to mask his astonishment at the mess that surrounds him and the fact that you are somehow still in the same clothes you were wearing when he went to work YESTERDAY, “What did you do today?”, you don’t know if you want to scream, run away or hug/ring his neck.

The tears start to prick your eyes when you tell him that you managed a shower (you smell like a guy because you used Axe body wash to clean your hair since you are out of shampoo and you only shaved 1 leg before your 3-year-old had a meltdown and your clothes are the same because everything else is dirty). Oh, but one of the kids brushed her teeth, you swished with mouthwash, and everyone, including you, had a protein-packed lunch of leftover Chick-Fil-A nuggets and mac-n-cheese. You hit this day clean out of the park, girl!


Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you wrote down every tiny task for one single day, line for line, starting with the first diaper change and ending with the last pat on the back, that list would be longer than Anna Karenina!


 

And, no, your man doesn’t understand. I don’t even fully understand anymore, and I’ve been there. I remember pacing the floor of my house at 3 a.m., crying out loud begging God to help me not drop my 5-month-old, screaming, colicky boy on his head. I remember sobbing in the exam room – ugly sobbing – when my dear Dr. Rick showed me his neat little chart and said so calmly, “Actually, a baby this age sleeping 7 hours a day (TOTAL) is in the normal range, the lowest end of normal, but he’s fine”.

The fist 13 years did a number on me, no doubt (and, yes, of course it was worth it!) But I don’t work in the church nursery and I don’t babysit my neighbor’s toddler unless it’s an emergency because I am absolutely spent from the season you are in the middle of.

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Anna wins -- up with Mom at 5 a.m.

Even your friends who are in the trenches with you don’t always understand – not your kids – not your particulars. When you feel very alone, often it’s because you are. Even if you had someone who really understood what you were feeling, it’s hard to find the time to tell them about it.

Friends during this stage are tricky. Often the things that are very difficult for you seem easy for them. I had a picky eater and it seemed like I was surrounded by Moms who had their toddlers happily downing organic kale chips and wild salmon while my little one munched her rainbow Goldfish. We watched a lot of Thomas/Dora/Diego/Teletubbies/yes-Teletubbies while friends read The Chronicles of Narnia – all of them – out loud – to their preschoolers. Not one of mine was fully potty trained before 3 ½, nursing never went as planned, and it never made me feel more cuddly or bonded. Yes, my gallon-sized boobs could have fed the village, but the thought, “This is what I was made for,” never went through my sluggish head.

Facebook didn’t arrive for me until my firstborn was almost 7. It was for spying on your high school classmates and posting links to your unedited Picasa web albums for the grandparents. Now – OMG! – you awake to posts from FB, Twitter, Instagram from 6,000 friends with their creative, strategically angled, cropped and filtered family photos with the backdrop being their perfect Pinterest birthday party for their 2-year-old. Seriously, someone give me a Xanax before my heart explodes.

You know IT”S NOT REAL – oh… but what if it is? Or what if they find out your news feed isn’t exactly showing the whole picture? You would be utterly exposed at the first play date. Social media can be the perfect magnifier for loneliness and insecurity, yet it is often the first place we turn when we are lonely and insecure.

I offer no magical solutions for your struggles. Seriously, I’m just trying to recover from your stage and figure out moody teenagers and the deep mystery of my own heart. But I would suggest that you find a woman like me and fake an emergency so she will be guilted into babysitting your toddler. Then hopefully she will remember and she will have mercy on your soul and she will come beside you and just sit there as a testament that she is still alive on the other side. Maybe she is still married to the same husband and can tell you their story of survival (God bless mine for still coming home to me) – or if not, she can tell you what she might have done differently. After a hard day, you could write her a ranting email instead of gawking at your friend’s latest Instagram masterpiece. Give yourself a break!

One last note to my forty-something pals.You might be suffering acutely from our own form of P.T.S.D. (Post Toddler Stress Disorder). The last thing you want to do is hold a snotty, screaming 2-year-old. But what if we all adopted just one young Mom and cheered her on? What if we establish a new pattern so they don’t have to do it all alone? Who might you rescue?

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