Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Last Jolly Rancher

          Retrieving random items out of pants pockets, turning off lights, flushing toilets; mothers do these things in endless repetition. We never give them much thought; they’re just part of our daily routine.  We wonder if we will ever walk upstairs after everyone has left for school to find all the lights turned off, or into the family room without finding dirty socks and shoes on the floor.Occasionally, we get overwhelmed and annoyed; we foolishly try to wish them away - the socks and the broken pencils in their pockets, the routine. Along the way, wise women who’ve traveled before us have warned us not to wish such wishes, but we recognize their wisdom too late. Before we can say, “Wait! I didn’t mean it!” our wishes are granted.

            A few days ago I stood in my laundry room staring into my hand. Two pieces of candy lay in my open palm; Jolly Ranchers, the ones Mrs. Smiley hands out. Mrs. Smiley is one of our favorite teachers and Jolly Ranchers are her calling card. She always has a full jar on her desk. She throws them at her Jr. High students whenever they get an answer correct in class. She hands them out generously and with a huge welcoming grin to younger siblings who stop in her classroom for a visit or students who help her with projects after school. Mrs. Smiley taught each of my children in turn. By the time Peter was in her class, he’d been dipping into the Jolly Rancher jar for over a decade.

            Peter graduated from the 8th grade this week, so I’ve washed my last Holy Spirit Catholic School uniform. I’ve enjoyed the transition to high school with my three older children; I know the experience will be a good one for Peter too. It’s letting go of the little moments that tug at my heart. The final “I love you” every morning in the car pool line and thousand “Hi Mom”s in the parking lot after school. Holding hands as we walked in together into kindergarten. School plays and room parties and field trips, the way their faces lit up when they saw I was there. Hopes and wishes and disappointments, shared over hot chocolate afterschool, these are the moments I wish I still had to look forward to.  

        It is those small voices I miss, the ones whose bad day could be made wonderful by something as insignificant as a Jolly Rancher in their pocket. It's that presence, the connection and shared experience I wish I could hold on to. I miss every moment of every stage, every toothless grin, stained uniform shirt and homework battle. I miss all the things I used to worry about and nag them about and the even friends I didn’t want them to associate with. Those older women, the ones who warned me, were wise indeed. Now I’ve joined their ranks.

As I indulge in a few tears and an overly sentimental blog post, I realize I am the luckiest of women, because I have so much to miss and so much to look forward to. I would like to express my gratitude to God for blessing me with my children, Emily, Allison, Andrew and Peter. I thank each of them for letting me share in their lives. I thank them for allowing me come to lunch and recess and for the chance volunteer in their classes. I thank them for not complaining {much} when I took an endless stream of photographs of any event that could’ve remotely been considered memorable. They didn’t disown me when I wore costumes to their Halloween parties and talked with my friends 'forever' in the parking lot after school, and truly I am grateful. Eighteen years as a “Holy Spirit Mom” and the charitable nature of my children, has provided means for more wish fulfillment than I could ever have imagined.

                More memories than I can count are now the Jolly Ranchers in my pocket; they are what I cling to when I miss the “children” my kids used to be. They fill me with gratitude, hope and expectation. Kids, I love you all – I wish we could do it all again. Peter, I’m keeping the red Jolly Rancher, it’s cherry. You can have the green one. Love, Mom

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Ties that Bind: Mother's Day 2010

           When I was four, my grandmother gave me a patchwork afghan. The blocks are comprised of fabric cut from garments worn by family members. As I grew, she would add more rows. Each block is filled with one leg of panty hose and secured in the middle with a knot of embroidery thread. When she would visit, my grandmother and I would finish the blocks and she would let me tie off the knots, as she told me stories about the fabric's origins. I knew which had been my mother's blouse or my grandmother’s favorite dress. I loved snuggling up under that afghan, each block sparking my imagination; each block a story. 

             I don’t sew, but I do take photographs. Photos are my historical afghan, they inspire and encourage me. They remind me of what has been passed on to me through my heritage and the hope the future holds. As I reflected on Mother’s Day this year, certain photos came to mind. They represent the threads that bond my family and its continuity. 

The first is of my grandmother and her first born, my uncle Kenny, taken in 1921. My grandmother looks so young and happy. She was a college graduate and didn’t marry until she was 26 years old, practically a spinster in those days. Widowed with five young children when my mother was four years old, my grandmother was able to provide for her children and raise them independently: she never remarried.

 I was blest to have had time in college to visit with her one on one. I was new to the Christian faith, and she shared with me her deep belief in the truth of the scriptures. She lived her life by that truth. I don’t know that she and I would share exactly the same theology today, but I am very proud of her integrity and intelligence. I’m confident she is continually surrounding me and my family with prayer now that she has the inside track. 

This is my favorite picture of my mother and I, and here again I think it’s because she looks so happy. I’m the third child and the only girl. My brother’s were five and three years old when this was taken and Mom is probably just relieved she has one she doesn’t have to chase. My brothers or “The Boys” as they were most commonly referred to were rambunctious to say the least. By the time I came along the only role in the family left available was “Good Child”; at least until the teen years emerged.
I have so many favorite pictures of my children, but I‘ve always grouped this one with the other two; it seems to best represent the family legacy. Emily is my first born. She inherited my mother’s and grandmother’s blue eyes. This picture was taken in 1987 on her first birthday. I like this picture because Em looks precious and I look calm. I haven’t looked calm in a family photo for decades, but I like to look at this picture and remember that at least initially, I did.

Mother’s Day is all about paying tribute and I have so many women who have mothered me along the way that it would be impossible to mention and adequately show my gratitude to each one. A blog a day would be fitting, but for heaven’s sakes, I’m a mother, where would I find the time?  This week I encountered a mother in need of our prayers. I’d like to share the small edge of Nadine's story that I was allowed to participate in and hope it will kindle a spirit of prayer in all of us.

I’m not sure what exactly Nadine was doing last Sunday morning, but I’m guessing like most of us, she prepared breakfast for her kids or got them ready for church or other activities. I’m sure of one thing though, she never imagined in her wildest dreams or worst nightmares that by Sunday evening she would be sitting in her living room praying with our parish priest because her nine year old son Paul was dead. I thought about that Tuesday night after I left Paul’s funeral to try to catch the rest of my son’s baseball game.  I wondered if prior to Sunday, Nadine’s calendar for Tuesday was penciled in with a baseball game, a cub scout meeting or a karate class. According to the eulogy, Paul was an active, involved third grader. I’d not met him, but even lying in the casket with his baseball uniform on, you could see he was a boy who’d lived life fully. 

Tragedy strikes when we least expect it. Mothers, more than anyone, are aware of this. We persevere in our attempts to protect our children from all the potential dangers that lurk about them in the world: we pray, we hope, we plan and we organize. I didn’t know Nadine and her son Paul, but they are members of my church family. It is impossible for me not to remember her as I count my many blessings this Mother’s Day. Her story, along with so many others has become part of the patchwork afghan God is constructing in my life.  These are the blocks we could not bear to complete without God’s grace, without the story of His mercy lived out on the cross.

My afghan is held together by the thread of the life of Christ, and his Mother Mary. She was both the Ark of the New Covenant and the altar on which His sacrifice was honored. She was chosen to bring His physical presence into the world, and knelt at the foot of the cross, cradling His lifeless body. This photo, of The Pieta, which I had the privilege of seeing in Rome, is also an integral block in the patchwork of my motherhood story.  I draw strength in times of deep sorrow from the knowledge that Mary also grieved for the loss of her son. I draw strength from knowing that even though they have been allowed a grief that seems beyond comprehension, mothers like Nadine and Mary are precious in God’s eyes. “"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matt 5:4

I’m grateful to God this Mother’s Day, that He chose to create us in families, and that we mothers have a special and holy place in His plan for salvation. Thank you to all you “Mothers” who’ve become the fabric in the patchwork of my life. You are my comfort and warmth when I’m weary, and the bright patches of color in times of joy. Amen