Category Archives: Parenting

You Are Once in a Lifetime

What is even happening.

There is no way — no possible way — ten years has passed since a chunk of me broke off and started wandering around on this earth apart from me.

Something happened on this day, ten years ago. In one fell swoop, my heart shattered and grew, staggered back against the wall and braced itself, captivated by the miracle of redemption and purpose, of lavender skin and buttermilk lips.

And I feel like my wrecked heart is still recovering, still shuffling back into an upright position only to be knocked back down with each passing year, every inch stretching him closer to eye level. This boy has had me, heart and soul, for a full decade now (and then some), and I am all the better for it.

I panic sometimes, when I consider my role in preparing him for the world and the world for him. I freeze solid, often in mid-lecture, because who am I to usher this brilliant, funny, affectionate child who has managed to figure much of it out on his own?

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And I freeze solid when he is difficult, and I am so sure of the kind of man we are training him to be, and he is resisting gentle correction and then not-so-gentle correction, because I think, are my words even landing? Am I failing? Am I running out of time?

So I don’t move; I can’t even blink or breathe, because this task is so great and he is so, so important and I am so uncertain, and none of the things I am sternly grumbling or declaring or shouting makes sense in the face of such heavy weight.

But I press anyway. Sometimes rightly, more often wrongly, nearly always with the whisper tugging at me, Do not fail him, and at the end of the night, every now and then, my TEN-year-old might still ask for a tuck-in.

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I made the mistake of looking through old photographs of him. After puddling onto the ground in a pool of nostalgia, I remembered those moments in the snapshots. I remembered the grand and the mundane. Birthday parties, Christmases, family vacations, along with days at the zoo, sunny afternoon walks, play date picnics with little friends.

But what the photos don’t tell you are the moments that happened in between.

His pink, plump face when they plopped him onto my chest for the first time, his tiny nose speckled with white freckles. And I knew then, through a haze of ambien and exhaustion, my life had shifted gravity; ten years later, and his pull is even stronger.

My first clear memory of motherhood, when they rolled him back into my room after the tests and dressings and measurements, he had been swaddled professionally but had somehow wriggled one hand out, his curious little finger stuck in his nose, his eyes wide and eager; ten years later, they haven’t lost that wonder.

The way he used to laugh in his sleep as an infant, a hiccup and a smile, then completely relaxing back into the deep. My mom would say he was playing with angels; ten years later, he hasn’t stopped laughing.

He was an early smiler, an early roll-over-er, an early sit-up-er, and crawler, and then walker. Despite being held constantly, even through feedings and naps and through the whole night, he was ready for the world, for adventure, for finding and leaving his mark; ten years later, he barely slows down to catch his breath.

You won’t meet a more tenderhearted boy, though he disguises that kindness in the rough-and-tumble and the wise-cracking and the joke-telling and the silly-song dancing.

He loves to laugh and to make other people laugh. He loves video games. He loves to run and sweat and go full speed. He loves a good challenge. He loves history. He loves to read. He loves to learn. He loves his sister with an openness that staggers me. He loves people, all people. Oftentimes I see all of this about him and wonder. How did I get so lucky, and how can I move out of his way?

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He began this world with eyes wide open, and my prayer is that he never loses that wonder. My prayer is that the world is ready for him.

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Happy birthday, Bug-a-roo.
You will change the world, and I am blessed to be the one to watch you do it.

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Until My Heart Caves In

At first I had no idea what sound she was making.

Something high-pitched, somewhere between a whine and a battle cry, her hands spread and ready.

“What…was that?”

She put her hands down and looked at me, disappointed.

“That’s a karate noise, MOMMY.”

OH, OF COURSE. CLEARLY.

She was still stark naked and sopping wet from her bath, but I grabbed her to my chest all the same. “My little three-year-old.” It was a whisper and a prayer, half in reverence, half in hope I hadn’t missed anything crucial in these nearly four years now.

And today, it is four years.

Yesterday, Bean was three. Today, she is four.

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I wanted everything to freeze so I could stay in any given moment my kids are still ages three and nine. Maybe the moment I watched my son give his little sister a piggyback ride around the living room, their bone-deep belly laughs bouncing off our walls. Or the moment when I caught my daughter singing Puff the Magic Dragon in the bathroom, or rather, the chorus she knew over and over. Or any one of the sort of dull, quietly poignant moments that happen early on a lazy Saturday morning when the four of us are all under the same blanket for a little while.

I want to capture it all. I want to capture my now-four-year-old just as she is. And I do, often. I capture her smile, her laugh, the certain way she says things.

But try as I might, no matter how hard I squeeze my eyes shut and just be present, I cannot fully capture the feel of her tiny hands pressed against my neck. Or the way she will stop what she is doing to hug my knees and call my name until she has my attention, only to say, “I love you.” Or the sweetest little gap between her two front baby teeth that jolts me every time she smiles wide enough to see it. Or the precise softness of her skin, the dimple in her right cheek, the whisper-faint freckles across her nose, her scent — oh, her scent.

I want to store all of these things up to pull out and savor on the days I am most aware of how quickly she is growing. I want to never forget all the things she said or did to make me laugh, the unintentionally funny expressions she makes when she is oh, so serious, the pitch of her voice when she calls for me in the middle of the night searching for reassurance, the exact smallness of her hand folded inside of mine.

It isn’t fair.

Time should take twice as long to grow these babies, or at least my babies, because one day, one sunrise to tucked-in, lights-out, isn’t nearly enough to get my fill.

I want years to hear her toddler laugh, her way of saying “turquoise,” her stumbling over many-worded songs, her squeal over puppies and cupcakes and twirly skirts.

But instead I get what everyone gets, the same amount of time and turns of the earth, and my heart caves in, overwhelmed by the weight of melancholy and delight, nostalgia and the anticipation of the magical girl she is growing up to be.

Instead, I watch her sleep and don’t even try to stop myself from touching her. Instead, I press my nose against the curve of her cheek, even if she might stir or, worse, squirm away from me, and convince myself I will remember every single moment.

Happy birthday, Bean, you are breaking my heart.

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Desperate for Grace

There are probably more than a few life lessons I’ve learned from being a parent, one of the most important obviously being how to eat a doughnut so the kids don’t catch me.

(The secret is you can’t hide when you eat one. It’s like they can sense sneakiness. I think it’s related to the fact that I can announce with gusto and clapping and eye contact, “Time to clean your room!” and they one hundred percent don’t hear me, but if I communicate to my husband with sign language and lip reading and the occasional mime, “I’m going to go take a bubble bath,” Bean is all like, “BUBBLE BATH?! I WANT TO COME!”

Life Lesson: Dance like no one is watching, and also eat a doughnut like you don’t mind sharing.)

But then this whole parenting thing catches me by surprise, somewhere in between hiding the chocolate covered cherries (they were in my Christmas stocking, okay?) and willingly saving the last two Reese’s cups (I MEAN…organically grown apples?) for my little buggers.

It’s surprising because I mean, who shares Reese’s cups?

But it’s also surprising because, all of a sudden, I am pressed against the earth, crushed by the sheer weight of raising this young man and young lady, crippled into stillness by the magnitude of what it all must mean to be their mother. I build them with my trembling hands and uncertain words, hoping they will become Kind and Compassionate and Thankful, Well-Rounded and Well-Educated and Well Aware.

But this is what you miss: I fall short, daily and knowingly, filling in the cracks with all good things from teachers, friends, and fellow parents, my palms poised and ready to smooth in the rough spots whispering “grace” like a prayer.

photo 2I am tougher on my Bug than anyone else. And I grow tougher still with every inch notched higher on his doorframe. His size and his wisdom and his intelligence fool me, convincing me he is very nearly grown, and should certainly start acting like it. I find myself panicking, watching the clock and the days crossed off on calendars, worried and aware my time to teach him is short, that he is already halfway out the door toward adulthood. I am running out of time, and I know this, I know this, so I speak louder and faster, and I push harder and firmer, and maybe one day all the tears and tired muscles will be worth it.

But the thing is, at nine (and a half) years old, this boy is already better than I’ll ever be. He is witty and quick, comfortable in his own skin and spiky hair. He loves without apology and laughs without reserve. He has baby cheeks and bruised shins, every inch of his body moving a hundred miles an hour.

I cannot fail at this. And knowing I do anyway? It paralyzes me.

But then he sleeps, cocooned beneath the blankets and twisted around action figures, and I sneak in to kiss him goodnight. I hold his hands tucked under his pillow, and in his sleep he holds mine back. I run my fingers along his lashes, his nose, his jaw, and that is when I feel it. Somewhere inside my nine-year-old is a man with a strong chin and stronger convictions, and I feel it in his bones and in his grip.

I have failed. I do fail. I will fail.

photo 1My daughter is full of beauty and spunk. I often wonder if these two things together won’t make her too terribly difficult on the world. And I worry this world might break her of it. So instead, I try to teach her when to yield and when to stand her ground, but the balance is fragile and to her everything on earth is a challenge to be won.

But where she is good at fighting for her way, she is even better at figuring out when she was wrong. She will run away and pout, shutting me out while she mourns. Sometimes I let her go, less because I am honoring her decision and more because my lack of attention is a kind of punishment in itself.

But other times and not often enough, I get it right. Those times I scoop her up and hold her, letting her know in language she understands how life can be frustrating and difficult, but I am constant. Those are the moments it won’t take long for her small, sweet voice to say, “I’m sorry, Mama, do you forgive me?”

The answer is of course, baby, always of course, because this little spitfire has shown me what it means to swallow pride and let loose faith, and just like that my anger or annoyance or sense of Manners or Rules or Appropriate Behavior is insignificant in the face of such great grace.

And it’s the thing for which I am most desperate in this calling of mine. It is grace spun into a silk fine and feather-light covering over the multitude of my sins. And even though I do not parent them perfectly, oh, how I love them fiercely, and the grace my children wear so well is eager to stretch across that gap.

And at the end of the day, it is grace that wins us all.

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A Letter For My Children

To my Bug and Bean, my boy and my girl, the pieces of me that make up my heart:

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What a wonder you both are. I think that often, and I remember to tell you that sometimes, but writing that down means you will one day read it, and that you will know.

Some days I am conscious about this thing called parenthood. I am fully alive to it, and fully present. I remember that you are worth it, that I will never get my fill of you.

And some days I would much rather hide in the pantry and eat all the chocolate and let you two figure it out on your own if it means I never have to vacuum the carpet again.

For those days I am sorry.

I’m sorry for the times I make the world feel more frightening than beautiful, that curiosity can be dangerous when it leads you away from me. It is your job to wonder, and mine to be diligent. So let your feet wander, and I’ll count your steps for you. Find the awe in all things, and invite others to search with you. Look closely and for the big picture. Discover what’s inside or underneath or above or below. While you marvel at the world, I will marvel at you.

I’m sorry when I use all the wrong words to describe you. You are not noisy, you are filled to bursting with life. You are not incessant, you are interesting, and interested. You are not bossy, you are a leader, natural and visionary. You are pieces of me, and of your father, and of all the wonderful people who came before you, traits that have not yet been dulled by growing up or watered down by fitting in, strands woven together to make something — someones — completely different and brand new. You are intricate.

I’m sorry for the times I make you feel small and forgettable, brushed aside or less than. It’s a feeling that sinks in your stomach and can take root in your soul. It’s a sucky feeling to have, and I’m sorry when I make you feel it. But we are small and forgettable in this great, big world that is also small and forgettable in this great, big universe, and knowing that — instead of feeling it — puts things in perspective. I’m sorry when I forget that perspective and make a big deal over of the juice you spilled or the plate you broke.

I’m sorry when I think doing the dishes is more important than having a tea party or playing basketball in the driveway. I’m sorry when I place you somewhere on my list of priorities, of Things to Do, like parenting is a set of boxes to check off. I’m sorry when I forget that parenting is an animal cracker safari and not the crumbs left on the floor; that it’s a dozen chalk-drawn hopscotches on the sidewalk and not the colored dust they leave on your new dress; that it’s a few extra chapters even though you can read perfectly on your own and not the minutes stretching past bedtime.

I’m sorry when I expect so much more of you than I should. I’m sorry when I forget you aren’t yet a man, and that I am only partly responsible for what kind of man you should be. I’m sorry when I make you feel like you should be so much more grown up than you really are. I know that day will be here too soon and, in spite of my meddling, will be greater than I could ever have intended.

I’m sorry when I am not the best role model you see. I’m sorry when I buy the lies that I am not beautiful, that I was not created intricately and with purpose. I’m sorry when I cringe at my reflection or frown at my waist, forgetting you are watching, forgetting that you look more like me than anyone else in the world. I teach you to be kind to everyone but sometimes forget that includes our Selves.

I will always love you thoroughly, even if it is imperfectly. Even when my heart wants to explode just from the sight of you sleeping, I can’t love you the way you were created to be loved.

But I promise to point you to the One who does.

Love,

Your so, so, so blessed mom.

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Will Work for Money

So it looks like my stint as Trophy Wife may be coming to close. Bean is now three years old, and potty-trained, and sweetly (if not psychotically) SUPER attached to me. Plus, she hasn’t been getting the enrichment of being in preschool with other kids and child development certified grown-ups. (Read: she is clingy.)

We’re BFFs. We have been for three years. Half the things out of her mouth are verbatim quotes of mine. (She has been known to tell her brother to, “use your words!”)

No, I do declare preschool shall do my little copycat good.

And now that I’m coming to terms with re-entering the work force (Read: you mean I’m mandated an entire hour for lunch? Can I eat by myself? Do I have to cut up anyone else’s food? Will my food still be hot/cold/the proper temperature?), I’ve been polishing up the ol’ résumé. And the three-year gap on it is mildly threatening. I’d like to just paste pictures of my kids under Work Experience, but I’m not sure how professional that will be. Maybe if I use pictures from our Sears Portrait Studio session.

So what would a Stay-At-Home Mom résumé look like? SO GLAD YOU ASKED.

Stay-at-Home Mom, Buttram Residence, May 2010-present
• Answered on average 10,000 questions per day.
• Gained forty pounds in months leading up to employment in order to grow a small human.
• Utilized my mathematical knowledge to balance personal bank accounts, allotting revenue for Educational Books and Toys, Healthy Snacks, and After-School Activities, while enforcing budget cuts on Fast Food.
• Performed regularly the ability to lift 20+ pounds on a daily (hourly) basis, sometimes while it’s kicking and screaming.
• Practiced significant life skills on a regular basis such as patience while teaching how to not pee in your pants, grace during trips to the grocery store with two cranky children, and steadfastness when being asked a minimum of twelve times for candy ten minutes before dinner is ready.
• Utilized my ability to think creatively by completing numerous puzzles, Lego kits and Transformers (I hate those things).
• Ensured availability around the clock, including during shower times, lunch breaks, in the middle of the night, and when I just sat down with a cup of coffee and a book.
• Utilized my ability to multi-task while preparing meals, straightening up the work environment, assisting with after-hours educational endeavors, and placating a needy toddler.
• Provided safe and timely transportation to and from school, church, and all other numerous sports-and-leisure activities.
• Managed all parties’ divergent schedules, ensuring all doctors’ appointments, play dates, sports games, and church functions were well-attended.
• Enforced the Rules of Arguing between heated conflicting parties while remaining objective, arbitrating justice and ensuring sensible resolutions.
• Utilized my organizational and time-management skills to ensure all parties maintain a balanced and stimulating schedule, diet, and intellect.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, right? That is a pretty impressive list, if I don’t say so myself. (I do. I do say so.) Not to mention how demanding our employers (kids) can totally be (YES, your grilled cheese is ALMOST READY). They’re also much grosser than America’s typical employers I hope (PLEASE FIND A TISSUE, I DON’T NEED TO SEE YOUR BOOGER).

And while they are painfully cute and sweet and surprising and heartbreaking, they don’t pay very well (unless you count sticky kisses, which are completely unbankable. Believe me, I’ve tried).

And I can honestly say I’ve never had to wipe a co-worker’s bottom. (PROMISE.)

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The Bean Sprouts

She is curled against my shoulder, tucked in the very same spot so many times, sometimes for minutes, sometimes half the night, this shoulder belonging to her for just three years now, and it seems impossible to fit the largeness of this feeling inside a time so small.

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I should know by now, honestly, even if I cannot fully understand it, that time is a magic trick, an optical illusion, relentless and perfect at catching me by surprise. I gasp and marvel and wish I had paid better attention, because the infant who once spanned the length of my forearm is a little girl now who dances and somersaults and tells me when she is happy or sad and carefully holds her pinky down with her thumb announcing, “Me too three now!”

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She is startling and enthralling, in ways I never even imagined when I held her for the first time. There is something in her that captivates, a quiet, subtle something that surfaces as she is growing. There are moments when I can’t take my eyes off her and I find myself staring, unwilling to miss even a breath.

She is curious and headstrong, with an all-too familiar stubborn streak woven wide within her. She is kind and deliberate, silly and affectionate, often bossy but always full of grace. She is an extension of myself, never more than a shadow’s length away, and I am all the more grateful for it.

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You could say that I am weathered now; I have learned how quickly the months and years dart past. I look away for just a second to notice the smoke and mirrors and when I remember where to focus the newborn I was holding against my shoulder fits much more snugly, long legs wrapped clear around my waist; and we are hip-to-hip before we are eye-to-eye and I cannot move for fear of shattering.

I dare not blink, lest something like this should happen:

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Happiest of threes, my bean sprout. You are lovelier every day.

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I Am Not Okay

My third grader came home from school Monday afternoon and told me all about their school-shooting drill they had that morning, how they’ve been prepared with special hiding spots, how he was chosen to be in the group that gets to climb to the top of tall shelves, how the bell will ring when they are in Lockdown Mode, how to survive something that has knocked this country to its knees.

I wept. Or I should say, I weep. Because I haven’t quite stopped since Friday.

When he showed me how they were taught to hide in bathroom stalls, curled into tight, tiny balls on top of toilets, a fury boiled within me. The tears I cried then were hot and red, righteous in their anger.

I am not okay.

I sift through the senseless and scavenge for meaning, for justice, for change. I listen as my heart beats a subtle unsteadiness as we near the school doors where I drop my son off and away and into the world ripe with heroes and villains, with uncertainty. I fight the urge to stay put just outside those doors, my arms poised open and ready to grab him back, molding him into my chest where it is safe, where I am not blood and bone and breakable but steel and unyielding, where no one will claim him from me.

My daughter twirls clumsy pirouettes in her favorite skirt, and the beauty of it, of her innocence shatters me. The brittleness breaks through and I am sobbing at the sight. Her cheeks are pink and feather soft, her hands warm and sticky. I tuck her under my chin for as long as she will let me, spreading kisses all over until her skin smells like my breath. I don’t care that she has crumbled pretzels in my bed or trailed crackers up the stairs. She is vivid and alive and that is enough.

I am not okay.

My children, with tiny nail polish-chipped fingers and growing feet and apple-scented faces tasting of caramel kisses, are subject to the brokenness and the meanness of this world. And with that I am not okay.

I wonder how this could happen, how black this world can be, and then my hatred and my bitterness grow fierce, my judgment unwavering, my wrath filled with poison, and that is when suddenly I know. I crawl through the tunnels of my own darkness and realize the only thing that tempers it is love.

I am not okay.

In the lulls of constant chatter, at stop lights, when they wake up, when I tuck them in, when I make them grilled cheese sandwiches and ignore the pile of vegetables untouched on their plates, when I read their favorite story though it’s thirty pages long and well past their bedtime, with every fresh box of new crayons, in every squeeze and kiss and touch and fingers tickling backs of knees and in between ribs, I love them. I tell them over and over and in every which way, I hold them until they squirm, I whisper it when they’re sleeping because I never want them not to know.

I try to make that love louder than the noise that threatens to drown it out, the noise that circles the earth and prowls outside their windows and roars inside my own temper.

If I love louder, then maybe it will be okay.

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