Mothers, Scary Teachers, and Beyonce

Two weeks ago a friend asked me to write a few sentences about a moment that affected my life for part of an art project that she’s working on.

First, I sent her much more than a few sentences

Second, I was surprised at the moment that flooded to my memory.

I could have thought about my tales of unrequited love: the heartbreak, the listening to sad Avett Brothers songs on repeat, the walking around Paris on a semester abroad in tears over a boy  4,000 miles away.

I could have thought about meeting Tim, the moment that has come to be known as the-first-time-love-was-requited -and-thank-goodness-it-had-never-been-before-because-THIS-guy-was-worth-the-wait. Our wedding day, too, was certainly a life altering, things will never be the same again, type day.

Maybe even the day I realized how much of a happy feminist I am, because that certainly changed a lot about my life.

Instead, immediately upon reading her question, I thought about something kind my mother did for me in 4th grade.

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In 4th grade I had a teachermiss_nelsonr that books like Miss Viola Swamp are written about: mean ones who seem to hate children. She was short, had long nails that were often painted blue, yelled a lot, and on several scaring occasions snapped at me in front of the class to stop being so shy. This, by the way, is a terrible tactic and I feel confident in saying that it has never once worked on any shy student. If anything, it made the butterflies that fluttered around my stomach everytime I had to speak in front of the class turn into pterodactyls.

(this is the first time I have ever written out the word “pterodactyl”. It took a while and involved googling because my entire life I had been one thousand percent sure that it started with a “T”) 

I can remember two days when I pretended to be sick so that I wouldn’t have to go to school.. and both times it worked. I figured that I was a pretty stellar actress, though it didn’t occur to me that maybe this wasn’t the case, considering that my mom never fell for my lies any other time, ever. Many days I simply cried over going.

During Christmas break my mom told me that when school started back up I would no longer be in the same class. There was a switch, she said, and I would be going to Ms. C’s class instead. Life was good for 4th grade me after that: I never pretended to be sick to get out of school and even though passing my previous teacher in the hall was a nightmare and I would very nervously look at my feet while doing so, I was thrilled over the magical switch that had taken place.

The reason for this change in classrooms, of course, didn’t occur to me for quite some time. Truthfully I was just happy it happened: I didn’t care what prompted it. I didn’t realize that this convenient arrangement came by way of many meetings with the principal, paperwork, a hard conversation with my former teacher, and a lot of love.

My mother knew I wasn’t sick (after all, I was her 5th child: she’d seen her fair share of genuine sickness, and “nice try” sickness by the time I came along), and she also knew there was something wrong with her daughter dreading school so much – for the first time ever. Lots of kids don’t like going to school, but there’s a line between just not liking it and being terrified of it. My mother had been a volunteer in my classroom and she knew my teacher well. She liked her on certain levels, largely because my mother loves people in a way that I one day hope to, but she too wondered how a woman who seemed so unhappy teaching kids ended up teaching kids.

I know now that on the last day of school before Christmas break, while I was gathering up my christmas crafts to bring home, my mother nervously pulled my teacher aside and did something she didn’t want to do. My mother is the text book example of what it means to be loving. She loves the unloveable (which sometimes means me) and wishes nothing ill on anyone – even those others might say deserve it. She is always so careful to not offend or belittle other people, not because she’s passive (you obviously haven’t met my mother) but because she cares so deeply for the feelings of others. And yet, being this way and caring so much, even knowing that it would likely cause hurt, my mother told my teacher privately: “I am truly sorry if this hurts your feelings, and I will still help in your classroom if you need, but my most important job is protecting my daughter. She is going to be starting back in a new class after the break.”

This isn’t the kindest thing my parents have done for me. As a matter of fact, there are thousands of stories of love in my childhood and for that I am more grateful than I can say. Yet this is the one that came to my mind at the question: describe a moment that affected your life.

Why?

I think learning the truth of this simple story -the way my mother had basically fought for me – was the first time I had a taste of the weight of motherhood and the incredible, beautiful, and welcomed burden of protecting your child’s whole self. The business of parenting deals with all the facets: making sure your child has enough to eat, but also making sure their spirit doesn’t feel stepped on. Teaching your child to feel brave enough to speak what’s on her mind, but not allowing others to shame her shyness. And it means protecting all these facets even when it is wildly uncomfortable to do so.

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If you’re wondering, my teacher didn’t take the news very well. She was offended and she was upset and she wasn’t at all blamed for feeling as such. Some time later she ended up moving into our neighborhood and wouldn’t you know it, she and my mom were able to kind of sort of be friends. My mom has used this as a life lesson before: always be kind and gracious even when it’s difficult. You never know who is going to move to your street.

This is similar to Beyonce’s advice of “always be gracious, best revenge is your paper“, but it’s way better because the best revenge is being nice to people who don’t warrant your niceness.

To The Mothers.

Yesterday on Instagram I shared a nomination for Darling Magazine‘s “#12DaysofDarling”. The question was simple: Who would you nominate as someone who’s made an impressionable influence on you?

There truly is a long list of men and women alike who have made impressionable influences on my life. Sisters, friends, pastors, mentors, so many. I am thankful to every person who has made that list so very long. However, the person who always makes their way to the forefront of my mind when I am thinking of impact and love and lessons, is my mother. Mothers are always making big impacts, even if sometimes negatively so. Mother’s (and fathers as well, but this is about the moms) take up a lot of space in our lives; they’re our example and our teachers. Even when it’s unintentional.

My nomination was simple (well, as simple as I could make it – they asked for a few lines and I most definitely gave them a paragraph because my mother can not be contained in a few lines):  I am not my mother’s daughter by birth. She never felt me flutter in her body and she was not the first person to hold me as I breathed in life for those first cherished moments. But I am most certainly my mother’s daughter by love. She didn’t feel me flutter, but she felt a thousand butterflies as she waited for me – as she planned for me and wanted me. As she stood in the hospital watching and praying. She did not give me life, but she has given me love ceaselessly for 24 years. Love and light and goodness. She has taught me about Christ. She has taught me how to make my grandmother’s special pumpkin pie. She has held me in her arms over and over and over again. As a child with hurt feelings, she would whisper the song “I’ll Be Loving You Always” into my ear. As a teenager with a broken heart, she danced her fingers through my hair and listened, knowing all the while that I would most assuredly heal. As an adult so terrified of being an adult, she has sweetly said “I know, baby” and kissed the tears on my cheeks, never making me feel ashamed. In her arms I have learned that the way to love others is to be there: arms open, harshness set aside.

That is, truly, the very very least that I could say about my mother and the way that she has loved me well. She is my safe house. She is my protector. She is my best friend, my role model, my person. Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 6.13.09 PM

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Writing that short post prompted me to sit and think about motherhood. How beautiful it is. How spiritual it is. How amazing that God would allow us the honor of being mothers (and fathers). I began thinking about all the mother’s that I know – women in my family, women from church, my friends who are going to be mother’s so soon – and my heart became so full. I don’t know about you, but when my heart is full I can’t think of a single better thing to do than to write a letter. So this is a letter to the mother’s that are knee deep in nurturing. The mother’s that have inspired me. It’s a letter for you to share with the women in your life who are also taking on the gigantic and lovely role of motherhood.

Untitled-1 I do not write to you with any sort of credentials beyond having had an incredible mother. To be sure, I don’t know all that much about children, I certainly have never been a mother myself, and sometimes just the notion of being a mom somewhere down the road is enough to make me anxious and panicky. We are who we are.

I don’t know all of you well. I don’t know your stories or your tastes or what makes you laugh the hardest. But I’ve seen you love your children, and that says a great deal. Certainly more than what you’re favorite movie or color is. I’ve seen you invest long hours in dance classes and music classes and cooking classes. I’ve seen you sing silly songs and speak in funny accents (or was that just me and my beautiful mom?). I’ve seen the tutu’s and cowboy boots and rain boots that you allow your children to wear because of the joy it brings them. Truly, I don’t know all of you, but I love you for the mother’s you are.

Some of you may have never intended to be mothers – others may have tried and tried and tried. Women come into motherhood in so many different ways, with so many different feelings and so many different fears. And I want to commend you, the mothers that I know, because no matter how you came to be a mother – if it came with tears of joy or tears of fear -, here you are: embracing this God-ordained role. Not without blunders, I’m sure, and perhaps not without glasses of wine after your littles have gone to bed, but you’re doing it. You’re shaping human beings. This fact literally blows my mind. Through you, God has created a person and He has asked you to dance with His daughters in your living room and kiss His sons when their knees get scraped. Because to be sure, those are not fully your children. They are His. Isn’t that insane? Mothers, don’t you just get chills thinking about that? My mother, perhaps partly because of how she came to be my mother, was always so acutely aware of the fact that I was first God’s daughter. When I left on a few different trips to Haiti and Nicaragua, she would say (albeit with tears in her eyes) “Even though I’m scared, I can let you go because I know that you are God’s”.

I’ve seen you laugh with your children. I’ve seen you play together and climb together and create together. I’ve seen you dedicate your babies to God, and I cry every single time. I’ve seen your children cry and yearn for you when you’ve gone to church or out to dinner and when you finally came back to them, I’ve seen them cling to you with every fiber of their tiny beings. You are their love of loves. And in a world where so many parents aren’t whole enough to be there for their children, my heart rejoices for your diligence and patience and willingness to sit on the floor and let your babies cry into your shoulder.

So many of you are creatives: building teepees and weaving and sewing and painting and photographing. Creatives and hard workers and doers. Truly the women that my path has crossed with are impressive. You may be a mother through and through, but you are still reaching for dreams and using the passions and talents that God has given you. Your dreams don’t need to be sidelined because you’re a mother. I promise, when your children see you working / creating / doing, you are teaching them something wildly important. And on the other side of that, even though you are a woman filled with abilities and dreams and ideas, you still allow yourself to first be a mother. Projects are sidelined, work deadlines are pushed back, because you have a job to do. You have boo boo’s to kiss and laughter to share. You ladies are a beautiful balance – a yin and yang – of being your own unique & lovely person, and being your child’s person.Your selflessness shines like a prism. You’re radiant in your love.

Children don’t know how to always thank their mother’s for the love that is invested (that is until they become older and write long winded blog posts), and those late nights of colds and fears and excitement may feel unnoticed. So, because you’re children may not yet know to say it, I will. Thank you. Thank you for loving your children well. Thank you for teaching them about Jesus, for protecting them, and for showing them that they are lovable. It’s noticeable. And it’s beautiful.