My grandma, Darlin, was my dear friend and a wonderful woman. She loved baking, thoughtful gift-giving and note-writing, black jelly beans, her Catholic faith, and being classy. She always felt her best in nylons, heels, hairspray, big sunglasses and big earrings. I will never forget the time I slipped getting on the escalator shopping with her in L.S. Ayres and as I started to fall she managed to catch me- high heels and all- without missing a beat. She was my hero, and I felt like she was always there to catch me with her steadfast love and prayers through every phase of my young life. (But I am still scared of escalators :)
Darlin was still alive for the first several years of my motherhood. She rarely offered advice, but if she did it was always worth remembering, like "You know, Jen, sometimes babies just have to cry!" It was always humble advice, because my grandma would be the first to admit that she wasn't a perfect mom. She raised four girls in the 1950's-70's as a military wife, living all over the world. Over family dinners my aunt and mom would occasionally tease her as they told stories about the some of the conditions that they lived in growing up or the foods they ate or their general lack of supervision. As we all laughed, my grandma would say defensively, "I did the best I could with what I had!" She said it so much that it was a running family joke. If anyone criticizes you in our family, you just say "HEY! I DID THE BEST I COULD WITH WHAT I HAD!" and remember Darlin as you do.
And for me, that is the biggest lesson. Despite the big glasses and perfume and nylons, she wasn't a perfect glossy magazine parent. Who is, really? I am sure if she could have gone back there would have been some things that she did differently. She was just trying to do a good job with the resources available to her. She had a small military income, a frequently absent husband, four very young children, was often half a world away from her home in Buffalo, NY, and wasn't able to drive a car. I think it's safe to say she had some things stacked against her. But she did the best she could with what she had. . .and what more can you do?
I say this because a lot of times mommy friends and I are chatting and I hear the weight in their voice of "mommy guilt." I can't put my finger on it but I sense it is an overall fear that we share that our kids watch too much TV, don't eat enough vegetables, should be doing more crafts, love processed foods too much, are too attached to their pacifier, don't sleep through the night, are still having potty accidents, haven't learned another language or insert any other insecurity amplified by what others are doing on Pinterest and Facebook here. We can easily look around and feel like everyone else has it all together and we are messing everything up. But the truth is, you're just doing the best you can with what you have. I am, too. And so is most everyone else. We all have a different set of external and internal resources to match up with the demands of our daily lives. We each have unique gifts, talents, circumstances, people, finances and personalities that impact the way we parent and live. And NO ONE, I mean NO ONE, no matter what they blog or pin or facebook or even tell us to our face, does all of the things "right" all of the time. Whatever those things even are! I sure as hell hope doing things right means feeding your kids lots of hot dogs and cueing up the PBS with a big smile on your face, because that's how I roll. We can trust that we won't get everything "right" all of the time, but that we can get the important things right. God knows just what those important things are, and they are different for each of us. If He wants it to happen, it's gonna happen! Who can stop our God? Who can limit Him? If we give God our best, he's going to make that not only enough, he is going to make it abundant. If He can feed five thousand people with a few loaves and some fish with enough to spare, He can bless and break what we have to offer, too.
The very last thing our kiddos need is a mama who is beating herself up because she perceives that she is not giving her kids the "best". If we are giving our people our true, honest selves, we are giving them the best! You're the best!! You are the best mom for your kids, just like I am for mine, and Darlin was for hers. We're doing the best we can with what we have. You don't have to be perfect to be the best. Darlin was a living testament to that. People can and will love you just the way you are, just as we loved Darlin. . .and still do.
Happy Birthday, D.
"Society is asking so much of parents and caregivers in today's world: "Make sure your child is safe and healthy"; "Develop routines"; "Set Limits"; "Read to your child each night at bedtime"; "Help your child feel secure and loved." And all that is added to the other things we are already doing in our lives. Many adults feel that they are falling short in one, if not all, of the "assignments" of their lives. They often feel they are failures. Well, people are not failures if they are doing the best they can. If parents are managing to cover most of the important bases most of the time, they have every reason to feel good about who they are and what they're doing. Our performance doesn't have to be measured against anyone else's- just against our own abilities to cope." - Fred Rogers (from the book Many Ways to Say I Love You: Wisdom for Parents and Children from Mister Rogers)
I can always tell when Daniel gets off the bus if something is on his heart. Much like his parents, he doesn't hide his feelings super well so what you see is what you get with Sunny D. When he's not sunny you know something is up right away. Instead of his usual joyful lumbering gallop down the bus steps, he'll poke along as the last one off then sort of plow himself into my side headfirst as a half-hearted attempt at a hug. Tuesday was one of those days, and the words pretty much poured out of the floodgates after my first teeny-tiny question, "Is something wrong, buddy?"
"Oh, Mommy," he wailed. "I'm never going to get picked for Athlete of the Day! Everybody has gotten picked. EVERYBODY. And they get their name on the board and everything! And Phil got picked today! He did so good. And I try really hard but I'm not fast and I like never get as many points as everybody and everybody got the ball more than me and I just know I am never, ever going to get picked!"
Tears were pooling in his eyes as I sent Josh and Phil running ahead of us to the house. I hugged him close on the sidewalk as he continued to pour out his heart, thinking about how he had been holding this inside all day and also my own athletic ability (or lack thereof) which Daniel has definitely inherited. (Sorry, buddy!!) He makes up for it with heart, as he absolutely loves P.E. class and idolizes his teacher, and plays soccer at recess with such passion that he ends up in the nurse's office more days than not with skinned knees. But I knew that even more than the athletic side of it, Daniel really, really wants to be chosen. Plain and simple.
Poor D, as the middle child it is probably hard to feel like the chosen one. Also funny because of all of my children, Daniel was the only complete and total surprise! When I found out I was pregnant I might have dropped the test on the floor in shock. Paul's first words might have been, "Um, are you sure?" But I have always felt so deeply that Daniel was truly chosen just for our family. I felt it from the first time I held him in my arms, and I feel it over and over again every time I go in to look at him at night after he has fallen asleep, his light blonde hair curling a bit around his sweet face, a little cherub statue in Lego Star Wars jammies. There is just something so special about him, an angelic quality caked in little boy energy and clumsiness and messiness, a humor beyond his years, and a tenderness in his spirit for the "least of these" among us. If I can manage to teach him to use a Kleenex and put his clothes in the hamper and brush his teeth without just chewing on the toothbrush and staring into space, I swear this kid is going to grow up and change the world with his smile. I always tell Daniel he was my happiest surprise, the best surprise I have ever gotten in my life. Chosen just for me. No one could be better.
I took the opportunity to tell him that, too. I know how it can hurt to be the last one picked for a game, or when you aren't invited to that party that everyone is talking about, or your friend chooses to sit with someone else on the bus and you are left alone. Even as grown ups we can have those feelings! When someone doesn't friend us on social media, or there isn't room for us in the circle, or someone else gets the place of honor,wins the prize, earns the award, gets the promotion, we start to feel a little less than inside of ourselves. Why wouldn't they pick me? Aren't I good enough? It can feel like everyone has a special place besides us. The hurt feelings take over and make us start to doubt our inherent worthiness.
But then there is the truth underneath, which conveniently, I had just been reading about that afternoon. (Good timing, God.) I was so grateful to have Henri Nouwen's words on belovedness right in the front of my mind to help my little guy at that moment.
"Daniel," I said. "You know who chose you before the world even began?" Daniel looked up at me with a glimmer of recognition like, "Ohhhhh, here she goes again." But he didn't seem too annoyed so I got right down next to him and kept on going.
"Daniel, God made you just the way you are and you are JUST RIGHT. He will always choose you again and again. Even if your friends or teachers don't choose you, God chooses you. And I choose you, too."
I gave him a hug. We went inside I made him a bowl of ice cream and by the end of snack the sugar-induced wind was right back in those little sails. He pounced down the basement stairs to play Legos with Phil, Athlete of the Day sadness left at the door right next to the stinky PE shoes.
This morning I was unloading the Take Home folders (conveniently just in time to sign them) and found this.
Phil wanted Daniel to feel chosen, too.
(Insert Mommy heart explosion.)
Since I am not God and cannot bust through the ceiling of the school with a giant beam of light and be all like, "THIS IS MY BELOVED SON!! LISTEN TO HIM!!" I need to just give my boys that chosen feeling in their heart as best as I can in my own feeble human imperfect way. So when the world may not choose them, they'll know that no matter what, he's always "in" - with God AND with me. You are, too. I hope you know how chosen you are today. No matter what the world tells you- that you have to do better, feel better, perform better, earn your place. . .you are just right exactly as you are.
"When we can hear that voice, trust in it, and always remember it, especially during dark times, we can live our lives as God's blessed children and find the strength to share that blessing with others. In the Kingdom of God there is no competition or rivalry. The Son of God shares his chosenness with us. In the Kingdom of God each person is precious and unique, and each person has been given eyes to see the chosenness of others and rejoice in it. " -Henri Nouwen