10 November 2014

this woman's work

last week i stood on a stage and gave the following talk before a room full of strangers and friends. this is my story. personal and honest. it's not meant to be a rubric or remedy. the topic of the talk was faith and work. this is about my work. 


let me tell you about what happened last week. on thursday my 13 year old jumped the fence after our dog jumped the fence. one made it over, the other did, but sustained a broken arm. the next day whilst i was driving this dear 13 year old to the doctor, i got a call from my oldest's son's school telling me he had fallen and needed medical attention. so my husband took two boys to see the orthopedic surgeon. and you know what? only one ended up needing surgery. that was halloween. a mess. and speaking of a mess.

i am nothing if not a mess. a fully flawed ridiculous unpredictable dormant volcano that could spew volcanic ash in the form of expletives at any moment or sit down cuddle up and read a loving bed time story. in other words, i am a mother. 

and as a mother, it's not like i planned to wake up one day and pull my oldest child out of one of the most desirable suburban schools in one of the best school districts in the area (which i did) only to move him and his brothers to one of the lesser desirable neighborhoods in the inner city (which i did). it's not like i decided that after nearly 10 years of homeschooling, the school the oldest would attend, was the one that just happens to be across the street from where we live and was once considered to be one of the most dangerous schools in america (which i did). that wasn't my plan. but that's what happened. even though i didn't plan it. i am not much of a planner really in fact...

as i was preparing for this talk, i sat in front of a white screen. for a like a long time. trying to think up what i had to share. i had so much swirling in my mind to share. to narrow it down seemed daunting and somewhat impossible, but as i was driving away from my childhood home with my darling 13 year old after tending to my terminally ill mother, i knew. 

i told him to look at the sunset in our rear window. and it came to me. one chapter of my life is setting. the one in which i am a daughter of a mother. 

i find myself in a surreal place right now. sandwiched in between taking care of the one who mothered me and taking care of those whom i mother. 

i remember when i was in college studying the women who were caring for their parents whilst caring for their own children. it seemed like that demographic was older. much older than 43. but here i am. driving in between tending to my dying mother and tending to my lively boys. and it's just well, weird.

i didn't choose to be somebody's daughter, but i chose to be somebody's mother. 

in my talk tonight i want to make two things clear. one, i think we need to change the definition of what, yes i said what, a mother is. i think we can all agree it is more that a woman in care of a child. it's more broad.

and here's why i say that. you see i have been mothered by someone, my friend jacqueline, who is younger than me, and she would love to hear me acknowledge that. and who does not have children of her own yet. being a mother isn't about hierarchy or birth plans. i've been taught about what makes a good mother by women who are without children in their care and may never "have" children. 

i consider a woman who seeks to leave the world better than she found it by remarkably and altruistically looking out for her fellow man and woman, a mother. that's broad i realize, but so is the job of motherhood. broad. not 9-5. there is no retirement package with a gold watch either. are you following me?

and the second thing i want you to know is i didn't become a mother because i didn't have anything better going on. it was not a last resort. it was a first resort. 

i approached motherhood, or rather it approached me long before i had my first child.

like most vocations, it was something i knew from early on, i am talking like 4 years old, that this was what i wanted as a career. to be a career mother. it was what occupied me so it became my occupation if you will. 

my story of motherhood is a little like a drunk fest. sometimes i feel like i woke up with four kids without any recollection of how they arrived (sorry, honey). and i feel hung over. a lot. i sometimes still feel like that 18 year old teenager waiting for the parents to come home. only they never do cause i am the parent. 

i think it is because i felt so much of the weight and joy of mothering even way back when i was working in the nursery at church, babysitting and teaching school. children have always held my gaze and my passion. other's children first, eventually my own. 

i have to say after living almost 16 years with children i feel no better at being a mother no better prepared for what is to come.

as a family, we hike. and motherhood is akin to a hike. adventurous and beautiful, but it can be horrible and daunting. and much like a tricky hike, once you reach what you assume to be the summit, you are shown that this is just a base camp. so you arm yourself with an extra tank of oxygen and continue the sojourn. 

when two of my boys decided they wanted to jump off the trail of homeschooling for a more traditional public school experience, i breathed deeply and went with it. and on those trails, one to high school, one to middle school, i saw a lot. much like a naturalist, i captured conversations and samples of family dynamics of their classmates. 

it continues to prove to be one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. being called "mother" by children who have painful relationships with their own mothers. watching my oldest son thrive in a school where he is challenged academically yes, but where he is challenge in even more beautiful and redemptive ways. ways i think he may be completely unaware of. like being a minority, having friends who are in pursuit of academic excellence like he, but who may be of a different race, socio economic background, living in homes with different family dynamics. 

i remember introducing some of his cross country team mates to pumpkin muffins. after they got over the initial shock of eating a food that was orange, but not neon orange, they asked me to bring this homemade goodness to each and every cross country meet.

i remember stifling laughter when another of his classmates asked, "why is there grass on my chicken?" he was referring to the rosemary we had sprinkled on his chicken leg before we set it on the grill. 

motherhood has schooled me. still does everyday. what i have learned is motherhood isn't about shaming-myself or my children. it's about instilling. it's about knowing what you want and knowing how to ask for it from yourself and your children. 

motherhood isn't about protecting as much as it's about equipping. motherhood isn't about always having the right answer. there is courage and wisdom in saying, "i don't know."

being a mother isn't as much about reaping as it is about sowing. it isn't about saving the day as much as it is just showing up.

it's not about hiding behind an embankment that can become our children. it's not about hiding at all. it's about being known. and being known can be terrifying. motherhood is like an excavation-digging to find treasure. to see good.

but here's the thing. some days, like a lot of days my thoughts on becoming a mother are less "hallelujah" and more "shit! what was i thinking?"

there is a tension i straddle between the lord's prayer of "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" and the promise, "it is finished". living in my neighborhood, being in my oldest son's school, i am reminded of how hard life can be and knowing how the story ends helps me metabolize hard stuff. i know that in the end the good guy wins. and that is my comfort as i raise men to leave this crazy world better than they found it. 

and the way i do that is by teaching them to root for the underdog cause guess what we are all the underdog and the one whom my boys and i follow was once an underdog. 

so i scramble around with my brood of boys, seeking justice which means i have to get up off my sofa and go out into the world. i aim to love mercy. so we leave our four walls and go out into the world to kick up some community. and my heart is to walk humbly with our god by stirring the stick in the proverbial camp fire. to light a torch for those who are apt to adopt a stranger as their mother and call her out at tailgating event. or maybe that that just happens to me. and boy and i fortunate to have that happen. i know that. just like i knew nearly 40 years ago that i wanted to be a mother, anybody's mother.

god used motherhood to make me a living witness of his goodness. especially when i find myself caring for a dying mother and boys with broken bones. 

this is my story-
and i'm sticking to it,
xo gf

1 comment:

Kirsten C said...

"it isn't about saving the day as much as it is just showing up."

Goodness, yes indeed to this! That was exactly what I needed to read today, as I've been in the midst of what could be kindly labeled "challenging" period of mothering my very spirited almost-eight-year-old -- this idea that I don't have to be perfect, I just have to show up and do my best and just be here, through thick and thin.