Mama musings are reflections through the rear view mirror. So, it’s no surprise that my contributions to the topic of motherhood in recognition of Mother’s Day come belatedly. “Later than expected” is characteristic for me. Ask my kids what time I serve dinner or stop by after 11 p.m. and you’ll find that bedtimes are embarrassingly on par with Cinderella’s coach turning back into a pumpkin. I’ve spent the last week chewing on Ann Voskamp’s words about motherhood and how it turns us into The Velveteen Rabbit. I’ve reflected on what that process has been like in my own life story. Remember the famous dialogue between the beloved old skin horse who mentors the newbie toy on the block—the stuffed rabbit?
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
“It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Before I ever held my first Angelic daughter in my arms, there were stories attached to her life—other participants in the miracle of God’s creative human knitting project accomplished by the miraculous union between husband and wife. Her story included an infertility specialist, Selma–the grocery store clerk and nurse VanBuren. Selma died this past year and as I reflected on her simple act of kindness that changed my life forever and her years of subsequent friendship, the tears flowed freely….
And so I became a new mother—green around the ears with much to learn about what Ann Voskamp refers to as the “ugly beautiful of reality and love and humanity and what it means to become real.”
A canopy of golden maple trees waved their greetings to the new little princess riding in the back seat of our royal blue sedan. We had lovingly prepared a Paddington Bear nursery for her to sleep in but she turned the parenting manuals on their heads and slept less than 7 hours a day. She cried inconsolably out of sheer exhaustion but fought sleep with a vengence. That first year, we rocked to China and back in that bentwood chair. Day and night, we’d cuddle close, skin to skin, her nourishment extracted from my own resources. Me singing quietly and praying ceaselessly. She was content only eating, rocking and dancing. And my eyes grew heavy and dark underneath and my back began to bend from the weight of the baby sling and it’s rider who was my constant companion, the bathroom not excluded. I danced lullabies. Brian danced to DC Talk. So I began to understand what it meant to lay my life down and it was a privilege instead of a burden.
Then came our little boy, with fingers and toes but no lungs. His body cold and clammy. We placed him in a cedar box in the ground and a part of me died with him. And I walked through the valley of the shadow of death in the dark night of the soul.
The next little girl came into the world without a cry and my first words were, “Is she alive?” And she was. And light replaced darkness. Joy ousted pain. And we made new family stories together—different stories. She was a doer and shaker, zealous to explore her world without boundaries or fears. And I chased her and snatched her away from the grips of tragedy more times than my nerves permit me to fully recall. And then there were all those tantrums over shoes and coats and “comfortable” clothes. She trained me to become a runner physically and emotionally–a distance runner, breathing heavy, trying to pace myself for a marathon.
Two years later the little sweetheart with a head full of jet black hair came on the scene. And I was teaching and chasing and struggling to be everything everyone needed. I was humbled, empty and overwhelmed. Now there were three sets of hands needing held to cross the street and I only had two. So we customized a hymn tune with the lyrics “Hold hands in the parking lot, hold hands in the parking lot. Hold hands, so we can be safe—in the parking lot.” And she was flexible and content and by God’s grace we survived that season.
I thought my quiver was full but God surprised us with one more. She was the bonus. And I savored all the lasts.
We lived and loved and fought and cried the days into months and years. We strolled and built sand castles and played dolly house. I heard “bookie” and “read-read” a million times and always accompanied by an arm load and pleading eyes. After a time, they devoured their own stories—books and audiobooks alike. “Watch me” they’d excitedly squeal and I would see their stories come alive in plays and shows. Later, I became the driver taking them places where they made their own new stories.
And childhood morphed into adolescence and we packed our bags for an overnight trip at a quaint little B & B in the country where I unveiled the unfamiliar terrain of puberty… and boys…. and relationships under the starry sky while our skin turned prune-like in the hot tub.
Later, we saw the world together in real. We boarded a plane to a place we couldn’t have ever imagined and we saw things we didn’t know existed and we cried and questioned and prayed. And separately and together we were unhinged. New places were rubbed thin.
And then that first little Angel graduated and went to college. And there we were back in a parking lot getting ready to cross the biggest street we’d ever attempted. We said “goodbye”. No singing about holding hands or being safe anymore. There was a releasing, a withdrawing of that hedge of protection and driving 900 miles away knowing things would never quite be the same.
And they aren’t.
At first there was distance, a redrawing of new boundary lines, and it wore a layer off my thinning fur coat. But with time, a seed of mutual respect and appreciation took root and grew into a beautiful and fragrant yellow rose. To my delight my daughter became my friend. And she challenges me– introducing me to new ideas, people, refocusing my spiritual eyes. And when my voice breaks and eyes fill with tears, she takes my hand or rubs my shoulder and comforts me.
And I am surprised by joy.
Now I am more than halfway through this marathon of raising a family. And I’m huffing and puffing at times and basking in a second wind at others. There are wrinkles forming and white hairs replacing brown and a settling of sorts right in the midsection. And there is no more caffeine, and an achy back, rounding of the shoulders and a furrowed brow with worry lines.
And I find that I am rubbed thin—worn, stained, lumpy…. I am becoming that velveteen mother–the “ugly beautiful of reality and love and humanity and what it means to become real.”
Thank you, Angela, Seth, Lily, Robyn and Starla for making me “real”.