I'm sitting in my dark, quiet living room enjoying a cup of coffee that is mostly flavored creamer. In just a short while, I'll drive 20 miles across town to pick up my children so we can spend Mother's Day together. I've got some fun activities planned, and my camera ready, and I'm sure it's gonna be a special day.
Before I absorb myself in being a Mother, however, I'd like to spend a few minutes explaining why this Mother's Day is so significant to me. I'd like to define what I'll be celebrating.
This ties in to the topic of my last post: honoring dreams. In that post, I mentioned that I had no idea what truly lies at the bottom of my lake. Something HUGE came to the surface a couple days ago, and if it's alright, I'd like to share it with you, and pay my respects.
Several years ago, my first marriage shattered in a brutal, heartwrenching way. It had been dying for a long time, but it didn't go peacefully, and it's last moments were sheer agony. In the months that followed, I shoved much of my grief and hurt to the side, and concentrated on looking forward. My big focus was the three children that I left with my ex-husband, and the baby I was carrying inside me. My goal was simple: get on my feet and get stable enough to petition the judge for shared custody. I wanted to live in the same school district they are in so I could ask for a week with me, a week with their dad.
Over the last couple of years, this goal has been challenged at every turn. Financially, there have been multiple setbacks, and I've struggled deeply with the feeling that I've failed them. Yes, I'm in their lives. I'm close enough that they can come and stay with me for weekends, and I can make it to school programs and special events. But in my mind, it's not enough. I spent months convincing them that, just because I left their father I wasn't leaving them. They seem to have healed from that, but I just realized that I never did.
When the screen door slammed 3yrs and 2 weeks ago, more died than just my marriage. My identity as a mother died too. Not that I wasn't still their mom, but what that meant to me; how I defined myself and my role, that died. In the slam of a door, I went from being a full-time mom who was there to dry every tear, listen to every story, and schedule every dentist appointment, to being a "sometimes mom" who would pray fervently that her oldest daughter doesn't start her cycle until it's my weekend so I can support and guide her.
When my son was born, I worried that my other three would resent him for getting to be with me all the time. I have wobbled back and forth on a tightrope of guilt and sadness that I am not the mom to them that I'm "supposed to be", and confusion and self-loathing that when they are here, it's loud and messy and just plain exhausting to be the mother of four. I've berated myself time and again for loving the silence that settles over the car after I've dropped them back at their dads'. I've wondered what's wrong with me, that I get worn out after a weekend, when other moms, real moms can handle it 24-7.
Jared's recent diagnosis of AIDS has added some new ingredients to the concoction. First, there is a tangible reason to be thankful that my custody dream hasn't come to fruition. See, if there is one person who can't EVER know about this, it's my ex. He will hit the stratosphere if he knows that his children are around someone with AIDS, and he won't come down. He will allow fear, rumors, and his own opinions to consume any shreds of common sense, and he will do everything in his power to take the kids away from me completely. There will come a time when Jared is feeling better and AIDS isn't center stage in our lives. But right now it is, and it would be impossible to keep it a secret from the kids if they were here day in and day out.
Then there's this. My three older kids didn't resent their new brother, in fact they adore him! Never has a little boy been so spoiled as when he has three older siblings fussing over who gets to play with him! It has been such a joy to watch them love on him. But because there is a significant age gap, and because they aren't here all the time, Jared and I wanted another one. I had a wonderful relationship with my siblings, and I want that for my baby too. Someone close enough in age to hide in forts with, share toys with...you get the idea.
With the miracle of my negative HIV test, another dream died. The blood test that would confirm my immunity is thousands of dollars, and not covered by insurance. Jared and I are in awe at God's blessing of protection on me, but we are not willing to take risks. So here is something I have learned. Many times, when a woman experiences a miscarriage, or can't get pregnant, or the adoption doors slam shut, people don't understand the depth of her loss. When Mrs. Dugger recently lost her (18th) pregnancy, I heard comments like, "She's too old to be having kids anyway." "She already has too many." And you know what? Those comments made me mad! And I cried for her. Because if there is one thing I do understand, it's that mothers hold their babies in their hearts long before they hold them in their arms. There are physical miscarriages. Those are heart-wrenching. And there are emotional and spiritual miscarriages. And those are equally heart-wrenching.
Although I believe this, I have struggled with how to grieve this baby-who-won't-be. And in the struggle, God showed me something. It's not enough to let that dream die. I also need to acknowledge the death of the Mother I thought I should be. The Mother I wanted to be. Who I was as a mother to my children died on the driveway the day I left. But instead of grieving those dreams and expectations, I have been lugging them around with me, day after day. As a new mamma tries to emerge, I hold her up to the ghost of the old one, and criticize her for being different. I look at the other mammas around me, and hang my head in shame that I'm not that kind of mamma anymore. I freely give grace and understanding to other women who get tired of noise and mess, but I won't give that grace to myself because my way of being a mamma is different than theirs, and in my tortured soul, that is the only good kind of mamma there is!
So. All this nasty stuff came floating to the surface last week. I listened to this song:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WnAq0o2Xl8 and I cried. I finally cried because I'm not the mother I wanted to be. But in those tears came release. It's okay! God has this facet of my life in His hands as well. He knew how my decision to leave would impact the kids. He knew all of the doors that would close as I tried to make my life the way I thought it should be. He knew my heartache and anguish, and as I allowed myself to cry for that dead mamma, the guilt and the heaviness washed away.
I replayed the song, and as it finished a second time, a peace that I thought I would never have settled over me. New mamma timidly lifted her head, and for the first time, I smiled at her through my tears. She is worthy. She is enough. She loves my children fiercely. She answers the phone when they want to tell her about their day at school, even if she was just about to watch X-files. She shows up at school conferences, arranges testing for a struggling kiddo, makes all the phone calls, and sees the process from beginning to end. She teaches them how to shave their armpits, buys them female supplies, and sings dumb songs with them even when her head hurts. Her job, any mamma's job, is not to dictate the path her children travel. It's to cheer them on, take their hands when they reach out for support, and show them how to see God in whatever they face.
So this Mother's Day, I am celebrating being a new mamma. I am wiping away a tear for the Mother I thought I would be, and I am laying her to rest. She's gone. And it's a little sad. She was a good mamma. But my children don't need a shame-filled woman who can't accept her unique contributions. And, my sweet, beautiful, friend, neither do yours.