Mama Bear Monday: Why You’re A Mama, Even If You Aren’t

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I have a good friend who survived three miscarriages in two years.  One evening, after a day spent hanging out with a handful of our mutual mama friends and handfuls of all our own children, she called with a confession.

“You know when you refer to all of us as ‘the mamas’?”

I have a habit of using the term to direct my children when we’re in the group.  You’re sippy cup is over there—no, near The Mamas.  Don’t go near that wasp nest, stay close to The Mamas!

“I wanted to tell you that it’s triggering, and it hurts, when you use that language around me.  Because I don’t have my babies, and I’m not a mama.”  Her voice softened and shook.  The most recent miscarriage Love-sledgehammered every last piece of her heart.

“I’m so sorry.  I don’t ever mean it like that, it’s just, to me you are a mama.  You help me, and all of us moms, mother and love our own children.”

“I know,” she replied.  “Which is why I also want to thank you.  You’re the only one who’s ever referred to me as a mom.”  The softness in her voice and heart melted and dripped down her cheeks in the form of salty, silvery prayers.  “I know I haven’t held them,” referring to the three, “but they’re still mine.  And even though it’s hard to hear, I love being a part of the community of mamas we have.”

“Hug.”  I said over the tear-soaked phone.

Something I joke about to those close to me is that, while I LOVE being a mama, I’m not a fan of parenting.  Parenting involves the training-up of a child who probably shares your DNA.  And when something shares your DNA, it means they also stir up all the shames and self-hatreds inside you, the parent.  At least that how it works for me and every human I’ve spoken to.

Growing up, I had four women who served as my stand-in Mamas, and without them I would not be standing here today.  God gave me a woman on each side to help protect the pieces of me that my own parents could not.

Parenting is different than mothering.  Mothering implies the more tender mercies of the job, not that it’s easier—my four mamas held heavy things.  But they didn’t snuggle into bed at the end of the day dripping with shame & regret over the numerous behavioral and emotional ailments they passed down to me.  They weren’t tempted with thinking, if I had just done this or that differently.

You are a Mama if you hold a piece of a child that a parent can’t protect.

You are a Mama when you whisper (or scream) prayers for a baby, regardless of what the birth certificate says.  If there even is a birth certificate.

You are a Mama when a kid gets more excited to see you than her own mother.  (Yes, it’s happened to me.  At first, it stung.  Ooooh, I must be doing something wrong.  Lucy loves Nana more than she loves me.  Then it hit me, No, I am doing something right.  I’m letting other Mamas help protect the parts of her that I cannot.)

That same friend met her first-born son a few months ago.  All the pieces that God Love-sleghammered began to mend when she breathed in his sweet-smelling breath.  The ooze will stop, and scars will remind her of the years she joyfully spent as a Mama, begging Jesus for the gift parenthood, too.

I give you permission to claim the title of Mama, even if you’re not a parent—if you want it.

Lord, thank You for all the Mamas out there.  Thank you for providing surrogates to help bolster up all of my broken bits, and the brokenness of us all.  

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When Your 5-Yr-Old Notices You Are Fat

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Now, in the little turd’s defense she was merely asking a question, stating facts, and inviting me into some nice dinner time discussion.

Kindergartner:  Did you know that I am skinnier than you are?

Saying a prayer and tucking my fangs away with my tongue I replied, “Yes, you are.  What were you thinking about that made you say that, Sweetie?”

“You take up more room than I do.  I was thinking about how you take up more room in the chair than I do,” said my 5-year-old body shamer.

Inhale.  Exhale.  I smiled with sincerity and gentleness, because I feel honored that she feels safe enough to state such things.  “That’s true!  But you know what Babe?  I’m perfect, and so are you!  And so is everyone!  Also, we never ever get to say anything about anybody’s body, okay?  Because—”

“Because God looks at the inside.”  She interrupts with her high-pitched sweetness.

“Yes, because God looks at the inside.”

A few weeks ago I offered up the spare change chattering around my car console to a homeless man.  I would’ve offered my Nalgene full of filtered water, but I had already passed it along to a woman holding a sign saying anything helps in black Sharpie

“I have some change if you want it.”  When our eyes met the shame-y scales on his irises frightened me. Nodding no, he said, “you should really lose some weight.”  And I was even wearing my skinny outfit.

“I love you, and you don’t have to be so angry,” was my reply.  If only Lucy hadn’t heard the words, but she did.

Maybe that started some new wheels turning?  Maybe that excelerated the spinning of wheels already in motion?  Maybe I’ve been distracted and more volatile lately and she needed a little release, a little Mama jab to help ease her hurting heart?

Driving away from the man (who was himself on the portlier side), my quiet tears watered that inside soil, softening my rage, and I started thanking him.  Because he spoke out loud the words I speak to myself often as I flash by the mirrors and big glass storefronts that fill my days.  I was given the gift of my negative, hateful self-talk coming to life:

“You should loose some weight.”

How rude?!  How dare I speak those things to myself!  The homeless meany?  He is wounded, not wicked, and probably in need of some very focused psychological attention; I can let it slide.  He puts a smile on God’s face, so he can put a smile on mine.

But me?  I am a throughly-therapied beloved child of God.  How dare I?  I am without excuse.  Thank you, homeless sir, for holding up a mirror to the body I’ve tried so hard to make better, whatever better that means.  Thank you for showing me what those words look like in motion, and for changing the discussion I have with my reflection.

My whole life I’ve tried to take up as little room on chairs as possible.  The problem is that I’m almost six-feet-tall, I have male athlete muscle mass, and my feet are a size fourteen–mens.  God never intended for my size, my presence, to go unnoticed.

The same goes for you.

When the sweet little five-year-old voices, or the hurtful homeless voices, or the scared Self voices start pointing to our imperfections–our humanity–we simply smile respectfully and remind them that God looks at the inside.  And on their way out the door, we give them the finger.

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Here’s What Your Kid Wants For Christmas

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Great Grandma K doesn’t have much to spare, she’s lived a simple life, raised five children, stayed married for decades, and prayed—a lot.  She still prays, even though her kids are grown.  When David and I opened our wedding gifts seven years ago, her $20 donation to our new together life meant more than anything else we received.

Last Christmas I sent an email to the gift-giving family members in our tribe and politely begged them to refrain from buying more toys for our kiddos.  Here’s what I’ve learned about toys: kids don’t like them as much as people love giving them.  Which is sweet and great and I get it, it’s Christmas/Birthday/Half-Birthday, that’s just what we do—buy things to help make the day more exciting.

The toy sometimes fills a hole in the giver’s heart, and creates a need the recipient didn’t even know they had, or needed to have.  What if we decided to bless instead of dazzle?

Plus, I have zero room for more toys.  Please tell me I’m not the only one to secretly snatch all the little knick knacks that accumulate in the corners, under beds and sofas, and in closets and toss them in a donation bag.  Or in the recycle bin.

Instead of toys I asked for experiences.  My aunt bought us a zoo membership.  Nana bought them lots of coloring supplies, a special date to go see a play, and family games.  My dad sent them IKEA gift cards so they could go and pick out anything they wanted.  Rae veered toward trains, a rug, and new bedding, while Lucy insisted on a new wardrobe to house her clothing.  Atticus went straight for a kitten puppet.

They each got the experience of picking out bedroom furniture, or getting dressed up for Beauty and the Beast, or playing the matching game for the 20th g-damn night in a row.

I will send out a reminder this year.  Coloring books, puzzles, games we can enjoy as a family, gift cards to pick out clothing they like, zoo/museum memberships, special days, books–but please no toys.  Hopefully by the time they’re eighteen we won’t have a single trinket left.

Grandma K sent an empty red balloon to one of the kids for their birthday last year.  Think about that, a red balloon in a simple card plastered with animal and angel stickers.  No packaging to fill up garbage cans, no assembly required, no batteries or beeping sounds; the balloon was an experience.

It was the best gift they’ve ever gotten, and I am stealing the idea.  Hardcore.

The floating orb lasted for a few days before I scissored it to death, and they still talk about that one time a red balloon came in the mail from “Nana’s mama.”  Great Grandma K didn’t care whether she received credit for the balloon, she just sent what she could.  Which, when birthed from Love, will always be enough.

Simple and real is better than loud and plastic.

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