My babies are my tattoos. When I gave birth to them, my flesh ripped and I was left with beautiful, forever scars. I’ve been branded. Altered. These tattoos are a display of the divine artist who chose the intricate motions that would sear my skin and create the unique patterns of each child. Like a fresh wound, motherhood leaves you vulnerable and exposed. Motherhood sensitizes you to pain, but also to raw joy.
I’ve been complaining a lot lately. About children’s tantrums, humiliating tasks, “lost” time, wasted gifts, mundane moments, tiredness and the general humdrum of motherhood. But here’s the thing. I could easily have never been a mother. Or I could lose a child.
I could have been the mom at Cincinnati Zoo, whose little son slipped away from her and ended up being dangled around by a 400 lb. gorilla. And I am not exempt from having the baby wiggling in my womb right now never take a breath or losing a child in the myriad of tragic ways we have all read about on the Internet. Like gawking at a train wreck, we read along even though we know what such stories will do to our insides. How we’ll weep, fear more and clutch our little ones until they complain that we’re crushing them. But it’s that last part that I want to do more of. More of that clutching and squeezing my kids until they tell me that I’m hugging them too hard. I’d rather hug them too hard than make them wonder if they are less important than the rectangular box with a glowing screen that I cradle and stare at all day long.
A mom once told me that on the hardest days as a mom, she says to herself, What if my son died tomorrow? I thought that was dramatic at the time, but today I came across a woman’s story of losing her five-year-old daughter in a fire and fresh grief and fear gripped me. It’s a real thing. This losing of a child. And those of us who have never experienced that kind of loss have an obligation to love the ones we are given as if every day were their last.
So though you won’t often find me gushing about all the magical moments of mommyhood, I do want to write about them today. I need to come back to this post on the rough days when I wonder how my three-year-old was trained in torture techniques that could wear down the more resolute of prisoners.
Because gratefulness comes in the expressing of a thing. Beaming the light of thankfulness reveals the gifts that the darkness likes to hide. It illuminates the intricate, incredible, delectable, delightful details right under our noses.
Here are some of the ways I am thankful for my little people.
I’m thankful for this three-almost-four-year-old boy child that made me a mommy. He is a skinny thing of average height, with curly cornsilk hair with just a hint of strawberry in it. He has a small nose dotted with five brown freckles, green eyes with the same amber spark as mine and dimples that look more like creases right under his eyes when he smiles. He is pale, though he never seems to sunburn and still runs like a foal getting used to its legs.
I’ve started calling him Tigger Boy because he will not stop hopping around like the bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun fun fun fun fun tiger in Winnie the Pooh. He is always moving, making trucks talk and acting out elaborate tales. Removing toys from his room has never helped him to sleep because he just plays with his hands instead, making them banter, leap and fly. The only way I can get him to be still is to plop him down in front of a fresh pile of library books and he will be quiet for an hour.
We have sung him the same three songs at night for the past year and he will not let us change. So every night after reading a book and a Bible story, we kneel at his bed and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Amazing Grace” and “Skip to my Lou.” Every. Single. Night. After that we pray and then he tells us he’s been saving up some kisses for us. So with what are usually wet fingers, he counts them out, “One, two, three, four, five, seven. No…one, two, three…” By this time we are usually ready to be done with this routine, but remind ourselves that this is sweet. We should savor this. This will not last. And so we wait and then squeeze our eyes shut as he slowly leaves saliva on every inch of our face.
He probably asks a hundred questions a day. Easily. And more than half we have no answer for. Where is that truck going? Why is that house green? Why are train tracks called “train tracks”? What is that lever on that boat for? Why do airplanes fly? Why do ants eat people food? Why do people watch races?
Lately, I’ve found that the only thing that seems to motivate him to clean up his toys is the promise of a BIG hug and a kiss. After months of threats, I was shocked that this simple flip of the switch from negative to positive reinforcement would actually work on my stubborn boy. A begrudging affection-giver, receiving these hugs from him is like precious treasure.
Having this first baby boy was the first time I ever fell instantaneously, head-over-heels in love.
Having convinced myself I’d probably have all boys, I couldn’t believe it when the ultrasound technician announced that my second baby would be a girl. My husband and I squeezed hands and looked at each other with eyes full of tears–a girl!
Now almost two-years-old, she seems to delight in tormenting her brother, snuggling with her parents and exhibiting more of an attention span for Lego’s than for dolls. Girl clothes, hair and toys are still an enigma to us as we’re slowly adapting our expectations from Little Boy World to Little Girl World and finding that they are, in fact, two different things. We’re discovering how complicated it is to match different shades of pink and purple clothes and convince your toddler to sit still for more than two minutes while you comb out her tangles and brush her straw-colored hair into two neat, wispy pigtails. And we’re already wading the sea of sexist toys earmarked for girls that seem to stereotype and define females from such a young age.
But this little girl. Oh my. Her chubby cheeks and thighs. Her musical laugh. Even the way she beats up her brother with her tiny hands slapping his back while he just sits there saying, “ow, ow, ow, ow” without moving away. The way she breaks into crocodile tears in an instant when we say “no.” She looks at us defiantly from those huge blue eyes, button nose and pouty lips when she’s in time out, but usually willingly joins our son for his time outs when he is in trouble. She has fire in her.
But also sweetness. She shows surprising kindness even at this young age and will eventually surrender her toys to her screaming, tantrum-throwing brother even though it was technically “her turn” to have them.
And the two of them together? Lately, they love to twirl to music, arms raised, and run in circles on the carpeted living room floor until they fall into a giggling heap. They can’t wait to get butt naked before bath time so they can do their “nakey dance” as their dad and I clap out a rhythm for their tiny dancing bodies. They sit in lizard-like positions, draped over the couch or coffee table as they are mesmerized by the moving images on the T.V. screen. On walks, they flatten themselves on the sidewalk to poke at unassuming bugs and transfer them to blades of grass or twigs. They squeal endlessly when we pin them to the ground and tickle their hands, feet, tiny toes and soft necks.
These little ones are my axis right now. The climate of my world often shifts depending on whether they have slept, eaten or been shown enough affection throughout the day. My days are more dreary when they are unhappy, and flooded with sunshine when they are spilling with laughter.
Perspective breeds gratefulness.
www.abigumbrella.com This was the site that I poured over yesterday afternoon that led to writing this post. It is heart-wrenching, but a beautiful testimony of finding that God clings to us even as we’re searching for Him in suffering.