Thinking about my own mothering moments makes me feel 16 feet tall at times. But today, my thoughts are with my friend Kaylen, who is celebrating her first Mother’s Day. She came into motherhood the hard way — not through nine months of anticipation and body oddities followed by “Labor Day,” but merely by falling in love with a man who already had a child.
I tried to warn her.
“It will be like entering the Witness Protection Program,” I said. “You’ll change your name, your address, your profession and more.” (She did.)
“What’s more,” I had told her, “you will join an established household — and while your ideas and personality eventually season what’s established — you will have to embrace and support what exists.”
If one word could summarize my underlying meaning to Kaylen, “sacrifice” is it. Motherhood, especially “step-motherhood,” is a sacrifice. Before marriage, it is “willing sacrifice.” Many days in the marriage, it is “worthy sacrifice.” But sometimes the adjectives for “sacrifice” are less flattering: exhausting, unappreciated, never-ending, painful…
Trading singleness for union and instant family, I easily discounted the sacrifice. I was willing.
“It will be a perfect opportunity for personal growth,” my then-fiance had told me. He was a widower with 4 children ages 9, 8, 5 and 3. I had been widowed before I had the children I’d always wanted. Marrying Steve and his four children seemed like a match made in heaven (and was).
Plus since I assumed myself equipped and not needing much of the promised “personal growth,” I readily, willingly accepted the challenge and married him.
“When can I stop growing?” I whined — just months later. (He still laughs about it.)
My first Mother’s Day
But on my first Mother’s Day, I basked in the fact that four children I hadn’t even known a year before were calling me “Mom” and wishing me a happy Mother’s Day. That I spent the day taking my daughter to the doctor for strep throat and struggling to make my first pork roast mattered not at all. I was a mother, after all. That’s what mothers do.
Stephen, my oldest son had made me a card on which he wrote “I love you” four times, five if you count the construction paper hand with fingers cut to the shape of “I love you” in sign language. (Yes, I counted all five.) He also gave me a coupon book of things he’d do for me — all his regular chores! Ben, my second oldest, made me a T-shirt and wrote me a letter thanking me for a number of things I’d done and telling me I was a “great mom.” (I think I’m blushing.)
Laura, the 5-year-old, had indicated I was “16 feet tall” in her card (apparently my “personal growth” was showing!). She’d also said I weighed “003 pounds.” Since I didn’t think she was dyslexic, I wasn’t bothered by being 003 pounds. My first youngest son, 3-year-old A.J. (he was the youngest child on my first Mother’s Day), had cut a flower from construction paper and smiled his biggest grin, minus 1 front tooth, for the Polaroid image inside his card.
Today is the 23rd time I celebrate Mother’s Day as a mother — and my children are 33, 32, 28, 26 and 22. (We added one more to the original four.) They made me feel 16 feet tall today, a real tower of blessings.
A.J. just spent his lunch hour with me, bringing me a beautiful bouquet of fresh daisies and lovely conversation, sorry he’d missed his siblings who had provided me with lunch after church today.
My lone daughter had roused the troops on my behalf, but I was sorry that the mother of my grandson had to work on a day also honoring her.
“That’s OK,” 22-year-old Adam had told me when I mentioned that to him. “She’s got lots and lots of Mother’s Days ahead of her to enjoy.”
Which made it sound as if maybe I didn’t? Which I voiced aloud, so Adam hemmed and hawed his way out of that as we drove to church together. I love parenting.
The growing continues
My dear husband still reminds me that parenthood is a perfect opportunity for personal growth — after I’ve whined about some new area of “personal growth” parenting has forced into a spurt of maturation.
“Cherish this time,” the older ladies — usually perfect strangers — had often said to me when they’d see me holding an infant surrounded by my adorable crew of children. “It goes by so fast.”
Many, many days, that’s what kept me going — not the wistful thought that I should “cherish this time” but the thought that it “goes by so fast.”
It does and it doesn’t. Infancy, “terrible twos,” the “why? why? why?” stage, potty training, the line of firsts (tooth, steps, haircut, day of school, skinned knee, broken heart, graduation, college acceptance letter…), the unmarked series of lasts (bedtime story, tucking in, ride to school, baseball game…) — these all go by relatively fast.
But parenting doesn’t end. It has no finish line. Like marriage, it is “’til death do us part,” and even longer, because knitting hearts together forever changes them. Children do “leave the nest.” (Sometimes happily; sometimes only under duress.) And while it’s easier to handle parenting at a distance, these beloved children have a tendency to take your heart with them.
Because love doesn’t end either.
Children become adults over whom you have no earthly authority. A simple scolding or a look are no longer tools to stop or start a behavior. (Even if you are a towering 16 feet tall, you can’t “look” an adult child into doing what you want.) You also can’t kiss a boo-boo and “make it all better.”
You’re left with cheering their successes and bathing their not-so-successes with prayer and waiting — for an invitation to advise, for life’s hard knocks to say what you can’t, for wisdom to win the day — and loving, actively loving. Even when they don’t interpret what you’re doing as love.
Because like me, my children, these people who walk around as individuals with the power to inflict supreme joy and pain to my heart, have “an excellent opportunity for personal growth.” I had always had that “opportunity” before Steve “hired” me for this position, but parenting has a way of making me see my shortcomings and bringing character issues to the forefront.
I am thankful for my five children — and not just for the good character (and additional 10 feet in height) they’ve forced me to develop. I’m thankful for the joy in this journey and for the adults they have become. I love the friendships we share, the wisdom they impart — and for the fact that one day our roles may change, and they will “parent” me in love. (I hope. More so, I hope I never need them for that.)
I’ve always said that I wouldn’t recommend my choice to anyone else — marriage to a man with children — but that I wouldn’t not have made that choice either. Love is messy. Parenting is hard. Personal growth is painful. But all of it is so, so worth it. (And not just because I get to feel 16 feet tall. Those extra 10+ feet? Maybe that’s me “walking on sunshine.” Or maybe that’s joy. Or pride. Or some towering personal growth.)
And since Kaylen started at 4 foot 11 inches, well…
Happy Mother’s Day!