Monday, March 25, 2013

Sacrificial love

If you have ever been woken up by a crying infant for the fourth time in a single night, you understand the concept of sacrificial love.

A friend of mine once offered some sage words about those sleep deprived nights of early motherhood; Those are the times when you have to dig deep. You almost have to go to a different place in your mind and heart. You have to find that place of stillness that will help you carry on knowing this will not last forever and that this is what love looks like right now.

She was so right and I remember conjuring up her words more than once during some long, dark nights when I found myself back in that unique chapter of motherhood with my youngest. I was older than I had been the first two times around and now had two other kids sapping my energy during the day...those nights were hard. Probably some of the hardest I've ever had. There were tears, there were negotiations with God and futile attempts at begging my tiny infant girl to let her mama rest.

And yet, somehow we both made it through. And as much as my flesh was weak I did manage to find the strength to give my baby girl the core truth I wanted to give her in those early weeks and months of her time on earth: That her world is a friendly place with people who will always take care of her. That mommy and daddy can be trusted. That she is loved deeply and unconditionally.

It's what I tried to give all my babies, hoping that somehow those early seeds of love and trust would take root and keep growing through the years, finally bearing fruit just when they need it most.

There have been events swirling around the periphery of our family* lately that have brought my friend's words back to me with a different twist. I've been thinking about how when our children are tiny, so much of the sacrifice we make for love's sake is physical. We overcome our own physical need for sleep, quiet, personal space and independence for the love of this utterly dependent being that has been placed in our care. As they grow we still sacrifice some of those same physical desires but increasingly it becomes a sacrifice of mind and heart.

Because only the most deeply committed heart can be shattered in a million pieces by the child you love and still gather itself back together in order to go to battle on behalf of that very same child.

Only a love prepared to sacrifice itself can look into the eyes of its beloved and say, You have broken my heart and disappointed me more than I thought possible but I am still right here. I will stand with you and fight for you with my very last breath. I love you just because you are you, and you are my child. Nothing you could ever do could change that. I'm still right here.

And I thought of my friend's words and realized that even when you have a kid who towers over you and shaves and drives a car and take girls to's still the same.

There are times you have to dig deep.

You have to go that place of stillness and calm, however you get there, in order to carry on.

You have to believe this won't last forever.

And you have to know that this is what love looks like right now.

*None of this is a reference to something my own boys have done. But it could be any of us...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Push and Pull

We didn't set out to have 10 years between our oldest and youngest child. If we'd been able to magically produce children based on our own plans we probably would have had four children perfectly spaced at 3 year intervals. Granted that still would have put our oldest child at 9 when our youngest child arrived but somehow having the two in the middle would have made that gap look a bit smaller.

Or, at least I think it would.

How would I know?

What I do know is that when Annie was a baby the boys were not all that big themselves. At only 7 and 10 years old they were still losing teeth and a certain someone (I won't say who, but it might have been the younger one) was still occasionally stumbling down the hallway and climbing into our bed in the middle of the night.

They were little boys, and the age gap didn't really look all that big.

These days the gap has become a canyon and the realities of raising children on two such completely different ends of the spectrum feels increasingly schizophrenic.

It is, on occasion, mildly brain twisting to engage in simultaneous conversations that involve a debate over which My Little Pony figure has the prettiest color combination and the pros and cons of Jack's respective college choices. I find myself telling Jack that perhaps he should choose the school with the rainbow colored mane and that Annie should spend some time researching which business school offers the most hands-on internship opportunities.

Never mind when Timothy enters the picture, invariably turns on ESPN, and then we can add to the fray Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith shouting at one another and me asking Tim if this isn't the exact same argument these two had yesterday?!?

But in spite of those moments when I feel as though I'm straddling the divide between the worlds of Cars-Girls-Sports-College and Puppies-Ponies-Cartwheels-Fairies; I do feel very grateful for the way it all worked out. For better or worse, this is the family we have and I can't really imagine it any other way.

As Jack moves closer and closer to his D-day though (Departure Day), my parenting instincts have never been in such stark opposition between my oldest and youngest.

As much as I'd like to do otherwise, I know that my job with Jack is to spend these last 5 months or so continuing to gently nudge him out of the nest. I carefully consider any intervention in his life at this point knowing that for the most part he needs to be making his own decisions, bearing the brunt of those decisions and reaping either the rewards or consequences for himself. Of course we continue to be his parents and recognize that at 18 he hardly has all the life experience he needs to navigate every single major life choice by himself, but the goal is for him to gain that life experience-not shelter him from it.

In short, we want him to grow up.

Annie is 8 years old and in the 2nd grade. She is still very much a little girl with a little girl's view of the world. She comes home from school and immediately runs to her "Dog Academy" set that is perpetually set up on the window seat in our living room. She kneels down, greets her beloved dog figurines and within minutes is immersed in a world of her own creation.

Annie sleeps at night surrounded by her favorite stuffed animals who all have names and a history. I suspect, because I was a little girl once myself, those animals are still very real in her mind.

At recess, Annie likes to play with the girls who still like to pretend. They create elaborate scenarios in which they are paired up as dog owners and dogs and, of course, Annie always wants to be a dog. The happiest days for Annie are when the recess game goes off without a hitch and all is peaceful in the imaginary land of dogs.

She is a little girl and I'm doing everything I can to keep her that way.

There are ways in which she needs to continue to grow up. She needs to be responsible for those duties that are hers. She needs to continue to grow in empathy and patience for others. She needs to learn how to find her strength and her voice in order to stand up for herself and others when necessary.

And, it would be great if she could outgrow her fear of the dark.

But she's doing all those things, or working on those things. She's a responsible student, a loyal friend and deeply compassionate for the suffering of others. So, I'm not worried she isn't growing up in the ways she should.

What I want is to prevent her from growing up too soon in the ways she doesn't need to. I want her to be a little girl for as long as she can. But I have to say, sometimes it feels as though the world is working against me on that one.

So, lately I have felt this tug of war going on in my heart.

I'm fighting against my own true heart's desire by pushing one child out into the world while at the same time trying to hold the world at arm's length and keeping another child safely tucked within the nest.

The voice in my head is looking at one child saying, "Hurry! Grow up! You need to be ready!" While at the same time saying to another child, "Slow down! Stay little! There's no rush!"

And then there's that guy in the middle...Who is going to be standing on the edge of the nest, ready to leap, in the blink of an eye.

It's no wonder moms are always tired...These kids give our hearts a work out even when we are sitting still (and how often does that happen?)