Not the mommy . . .

“Are you his mom?”

It’s a fair question, and I’m quite used to it by now, especially from kids (or others) who are trying to make sense out of this white-skinned woman with a brown-skinned child in tow. When I’m out and about, I will do everything I can to refer to myself as “Auntie Lorraine” (because I *am* becoming THAT person–talking to him non-stop in the store, narrating everything–so basically talking to myself :-o), and if people say something about how cute he is, I often respond with, “Thanks; I wish I could take credit for him!” I also try to make it clear to people that he belongs to someone, that he has a mama . . . when one woman remarked about how beautiful his eyes were, I smiled and said, “Yep, he has his mama’s eyes!”

Again, it’s not as if the question is out of bounds–certainly when I am out and about with him, I give every appearance of being a mom . . . when I walked into church on Mother’s Day this year, with a toddler trying to squirm out of my arms and a diaper bag slung over my shoulder, I had to stop myself when one of the ushers wished me a Happy Mother’s Day . . . started my usual, “Thanks, but I’m not . . . ” and then realized how preposterous that would seem. Too much to explain . . . so I just said “Thank you!” and left it at that.

Today, the question came from a girl at my apartment complex’s pool . . . one of those needy kids that always seem to glom onto me in public places, seeking my attention . . . her mom was sunbathing, and she was in the water and asking me a zillion questions. “Do you know how to swim? Can you show me how you can swim? Does he want to come in the water? What’s that on his face?” (answers are “yes”, “not now because I have to keep an eye on the baby”, “I think he needs time to get used to it”, and “boogers”.)

She was the one who asked me if I was Elijah’s mom . . . but then later, when I was talking to another little boy, who was about four years old and was doing that “kid” thing of “I’m not getting out of the water even though my teeth are chattering and I’m turning blue!”, she looked at me again and asked, “Are you his mom?” And again, I said no, but this was a little too much for me . . . I had to bite my tongue to resist saying, “I’m not anybody’s mom”. And in that moment, I was overcome with sadness at the thought of this. No matter how many times my friends tell me that I’m “like a mom” or a “second mom”, no matter how many diapers I change or baths I give or how full of little clothes my closet becomes, the fact remains that I am still not anybody’s mommy  . . . I do not have primary responsibility for any of these little lives. And I don’t know if or when I will ever have that privilege, and yes, sometimes that makes me very, very sad. I don’t even know that I subscribe to the “it’s better to be an aunt because you can send them home to their mom” idea anymore . . . the more time I spend “playing mommy”, the less I *want* to send them home. What I want, more than anything, is to BE “home” to at least one child.

People ask me if I want a man . . . often, this question comes from some of my single friends who are my age or older and who themselves feel that lack deeply . . . but I am old, and stuck in my ways, and can’t even imagine myself in a relationship at this point in my life. But a child? Yes . . . I still want a child of my own. Although giving birth myself seems more and more unlikely, I keep telling myself  that “when I get my life together” I will adopt a child . . . but because this is *my* life, it’s not likely that I will ever get it together, so I don’t know if it will ever happen . . .

I am grateful for the privilege of having so many precious children in my life, and I don’t take that privilege lightly . . . but there is still a hole in my heart, a space waiting for the chance to be called “mommy” . . .

I hope that someday that hole will be filled, but for now, I will love the children God has placed in my life, and I will try to tell myself that this is enough . . .

Beautiful

It doesn’t take a lot for the green-eyed monster of jealousy to be unleashed in me. I am so utterly dissatisfied with who I am that I instinctively fixate on the traits I see in others that I wish I possessed.

Today I found myself in the presence of someone who is the type of person that brings out this jealousy in me. She is successful in her career, an amazingly talented woman of God who serves in her church in a variety of ways, has a life rich in relationships . . . one of those people I can look at and see everything that I am not.

I immediately kicked off the self-pity party, measuring my own lack of success against her many accomplishments, and as always, finding myself guilty of not being someone other than myself.  With her example staring me in the face, all I could think was “and I can barely get my laundry done”. I am Just. So. Tired. And I don’t understand where she finds the strength to persevere, and even to thrive.

Today, though, I realized something significant about this longing.  It isn’t just the tangible outward signs of success that I envy, but something even greater than those surface indicators. It’s not merely that I wish my life in some way looked more like hers, although that is part of it, because no matter how others define “success”, my own definition is simple: Success is anything that I am not. And no matter how many people tell me that I should consider myself successful in things that I might label as trivial (being a good friend, loving the children in my life, etc.), it doesn’t matter to me. I am not answering to anybody else’s standard, but to my own internal critic. Plain and simple: I am not okay with being who I am. And so I grasp onto this longing to be like the people I see (or think I see) who seem to have these traits that have eluded me.

And yes, blah blah blah, I know that God doesn’t require “success” of me, but it goes back to the concept that God is like your grandmother–He HAS to like you. So although I would not disagree with the notion that I am valued by God no matter what I do or don’t do, I am still hopelessly bound to my own (seemingly unattainable) definition of “success”.

But I realized something else today . . . aside from the impossibility of achieving even a fraction of what this woman has achieved, and even beyond my own faulty reasoning and twisted self-image, there is a deeper jealousy, one that feels more valid, healthier, maybe even God-given.

She is beautiful. And I want to be beautiful as well.

I’m not speaking of physical beauty, although that often seems to come with the territory. No, this is a beauty which goes so much deeper than that. This woman, and others like her whose “success” I have envied, is beautiful down to the depths of her being. She radiates God’s light, and *that* is where her beauty comes from, not from the outward achievements, but from a place that seems far more unreachable.

I want to know how she got to be this beautiful . . . I want to know how I can be beautiful too. But, even more than I despair of reaching an acceptable level of success in my career or in my personal life, I am certain that I do not know how to get there . . . I do not know how to become beautiful in this way. I am too tired; I am too selfish; I am too prone to inner ugliness. And yet, something within me holds on to some irrational hope that perhaps, if I sit at the feet of these women long enough, I just might find a way to glean from their wisdom, to figure out a way that I might be able to take on even some small piece of who they are and what they have, and to create some of that beauty within myself.

I think I am afraid of the truth that I am certain lies behind this–that the greater the beauty, the deeper the pain that has been weathered . . . and yet, I am hardly a stranger to pain myself . . . so why do some turn that pain into something lovely and glowing and inviting, when people like me exude ugliness instead?

I don’t know the answers to this. But I find myself drawing nearer to these beautiful women, to do everything I can to put myself in their path, to try to glean some of their energy in place of my own constant exhaustion, to try to become what they are.

And maybe, just maybe, if I put myself in their presence often enough, I will be able to put aside my desire to be “successful” in the limited ways that I have defined success, to find new ways of defining it. If I can only learn how to do this, maybe someday I will find a way to be beautiful.

Holding on

You don’t need to spend a lot of time around a toddler before you realize that they have much to teach you. Young children need consistency, routine, so we provide them with that structure, and in doing so, we find ourselves oddly comforted by the predictability of this schedule. They are deliberate in their movements, conscious of how their limbs work and constantly trying out new things: “Can I climb onto this chair? Can I pick up this toy and still hold on to this other one?” Watching them, we go through our day and are a little more conscious of our own movements, aware of the intricacies of our body’s movements that we too easily take for granted. Spend enough time with a toddler, and you may even find yourself making exaggerated facial expressions as a way of expressing yourself, even when you aren’t talking to a child.

And sometimes, though they are entirely unaware of it, little children teach us something so profound that it almost takes our breath away . . .

Elijah loves stairs. He is always delighted once we get to my house, because he knows what is coming next. Stairs up, stairs down. When we get ready to leave again, he eagerly scales the first set of stairs, carefully holding on to the railing, but proud to do it on his own.

When we reach the landing, though, it’s another story. These stairs are wider; they require bigger steps, and there is no railing for him to rely upon. This is the moment that melts my heart every time it happens. We both know the routine–Elijah reaches for my hand, and together we tackle the big stairs, me with the strange, loping gait that is a remnant of my ankle surgery, and him with some combination of determination to make it down this set of stairs and a simple joy at the act of doing this, together.

We were already well into this routine before I realized the profundity of Elijah’s simple act of reaching out for my hand. At not-quite-two-years-old, Elijah knows what he can handle on his own, and when he needs to reach out for help. He is not  embarrassed to ask for help when he needs it, and yet he doesn’t ask for help with things that he knows he can do on his own. More importantly, though, he knows that when he reaches out to me for help, that I will gladly take his hand; indeed, it gives me more joy to have that precious little hand reaching out to me than he will ever know. I take his hand gladly, knowing that far too soon he will no longer need me to support him as he takes these steps, and I will be left there, waiting until the next challenge he faces that is bigger than he can handle on his own.

And so it is that with the simple act of reaching out his precious little baby hand, Elijah is teaching me about the importance of community, and the fact that there are times when every one of us needs a hand to take that next step.

He is teaching me about the importance of asking for what you need and accepting the hand that is reaching out to you to offer that help.

Most of all, he is showing me that our Father God is always by our side, cheering us on as we take each step, and holding on to us when we just can’t do it on our own.

Who knew Canada could be so thought-provoking?

I have multiple blog entries in my head . . . but came across this in an e-devotional I subscribe to and thought it was apropos right about now:

I believe Joseph* had come to a place with God where he resigned himself to remain wherever God had chosen to keep him. He had become dead to his circumstances. It does not mean we can’t have a longing for better days, but there is a Godly contentment that allows us to remain in any condition with a peace that passes all understanding.

(*from the story in the Old Testament book of Genesis)

I’m not so ready to “resign myself” to remain where God has chosen to keep me . . . but I also don’t want to take a single step without knowing that it’s His will . . . so I will wait, and pray, and see where this all takes me.

Christmas “letter” 2009

[more hyperlinks to be added soon–stay tuned!]

So I started to write a Christmas letter . . . only it ended up being four pages long . . . so because I am guessing that most people don’t care that much about the intimate details of my life in the last twelve months (and yet, I still feel a strange compulsion to share those details!), I figured I would put the longer version up here and try to do a “Twitterized” summary for the hard copy.

Of course, it’s December 22nd and I’ve not even STARTED writing my Christmas cards, but that’s another story.

Here is my 2009–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

As I think back on this year, a fragment of a song keeps coming back to me “Time it was, and what a time it was” . . . I don’t even know if that’s taken out of context, but it just seems to fit . . . what a time it has been . . . what a year I have had! And yet, on Thanksgiving, I sat in church and realized that I am filled with gratitude, despite what this year has brought, and not the least because I still have so many reasons to count myself blessed. And if nothing else, I have had many, many experiences this year that fit nicely into the category of, “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh!” So here, for your reading pleasure, is my year in a nutshell. I am also scattering pictures of some of my favorite kids throughout . . . as one of my greatest joys this year has been being an “auntie” to so many lovable kids. Enjoy!

January . . . oh, I can barely remember January. After my beloved godbaby, Elijah, was in the hospital the week before Christmas with “failure to thrive” (oh, how we hate that term! look at the picture at the end of this post and ask yourself if that looks like a baby who has failed to thrive?!), severe reflux, and what was eventually diagnosed as “laryngomalacia” (his larynx was just too soft, and causes him to be rather rattle-y.), January consisted of waiting for his surgery to be scheduled. And probably a lot of spitting up . . . it’s hard to remember now, but those first four or five months of his life were a constant puke-fest.

Elijah, at about 3 months, looking like an angel in his hospital attire.

February – On the 11th, Elijah had a surgery called a Nissen Fundoplication, in which the top part of his stomach was wrapped around his esophagus to relieve his reflux, and had a feeding tube inserted. I honestly do not know how a parent can handle their kid being sick . . . it was heartbreaking to me to see him in pain, and I’m “only” the Auntie. I spent one or two nights in the hospital with Elijah and his momma . . . the first night, his other auntie Sara and I took turns standing over his crib, stroking his hair to try to help him feel better, while his mom got some much-needed sleep (like all of us, I think Mona was a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing).

Mona and Elijah trying to get some sleep in the hospital

I could go on and on about Elijah, but I don’t want to bore you to death . . . if you want to read the whole saga, you can see it at his Care Pages site. You will need to register for the site if you haven’t used it before.

March was quite a complicated month. An impromptu high school reunion was planned on Facebook, and I decided to attend it, since this would mean that I could also visit my father. On Saturday night, I spent time with old friends; on Sunday afternoon, I spent several hours with my father, not knowing that this was the last time I was going to see him. On March 31st, after almost a year of battling his cancer, my father passed away at the age of 69. For the second time that month, I found myself traveling home to New York.

April—en route to my father’s funeral, I got a call from my brother Kevin and learned that my beloved godfather, Steve, had passed away, one day after my father had. Uncle Steve’s death, unlike my father’s, was sudden and unexpected. However, the timing felt strangely providential, as my brothers and I were able to be with our mother’s side of the family after some difficult interactions at my father’s funeral with my stepmother’s family. April was a bit surreal, to say the least.

In May, two of my oldest and dearest friends, Max and Rosemary, traveled some 800 miles to help me with my own personal “Clean Sweep”/decluttering project. This was probably one of the most difficult things I had ever gone through, but somehow I survived this long-overdue event, and to this day I am trying to live a life with much less clutter and “stuff”. After the hard work was done, we had a blast visiting local “attractions” (think Tulip Time) and going to Chicago overnight. Despite the difficult beginning, that weekend stands out as one of the highlights of my year!

June was a difficult month emotionally. Although I didn’t expect anything from my father, and knew he would leave everything to his second wife (to whom he was married for 21 years), I was not prepared for the ugliness that ensued.

In June, my other godbaby, Donovan, turned one year old.
Handsome little guy, isn’t he?

June also brought the unexpected death of Nathan, a young man from my church, who was a week or so shy of turning 20 years old. His mom has been a good friend and ministry partner of mine, and the entire family was/is well-loved in our community, so it was a huge blow to so many of us. I still remember him at random times and tell myself, “I can’t believe he’s gone” . . . I am grateful, knowing that we will see him again, but it’s still not easy, and I know that his family is still walking around with this heavy burden, especially at the holidays. If you’re the praying type, please pray for his parents, Cheri and Greg, and their four surviving sons.

July came around, and somewhere along the way I made the decision to go ahead with ankle surgery on my left ankle. After having had a fusion done on my right ankle 19 years ago, with great results, it was almost a no-brainer. Almost six months later, I am still confident that the results will be worth it, but I admit that I am getting tired of the slow process.

In mid-July, I met my two brothers at Cedar Point, a huge, amazing amusement park in Ohio. We had a blast, but I also got confirmation that it was the right time for this surgery, as I could barely walk the next day. On July 29th, I had the (outpatient) surgery—formally known as a “subtalor fusion”.

my lovely foot. Yes, I got screwed—twice!

August consisted of me sitting around my house and watching a LOT of TV. My dear friends Jacylyn and Tracy would occasionally come and fetch me for a brief outing, but being non-weight-bearing on my left leg took a lot out of me. Towards the end of the month, I returned to work, just in time to touch base with my boss before she left on maternity leave.

my first outing after the surgery was to Alyssa (left) and Alanis’s
third birthday party. I love these little princesses!

September . . . ummm . . . nothing really significant, I suppose. My boss had a baby boy, and I continued to work and to deal with being one-legged, so to speak. Ummm . . . I had a Tupperware party . . . Elijah had his first birthday . . . that’s about it.

In October, I had three appointments with the foot doctor. First appointment: “Okay, start trying to put weight on the foot.” Second appointment: “Okay, I know it’s not comfortable, but you definitely want to start putting weight on the foot.” Third appointment: “Wow, your foot is swollen. Have you been putting a lot of weight on it?” Um, YES–you told me to!

The verdict: the screws in my heel were causing my pain and swelling, but because the fusion wasn’t quite complete yet, they couldn’t be removed. I was given the “lovely” gift of having another month of not putting weight on the foot. Go, go Speed Racer!

“Speed Racer”, as I dubbed him—my knee walker that has been my
constant companion since the end of July.
This is actually Speed Racer III—they’re not very sturdy at all.
Or maybe I’m not supposed to let my friends’ kids play on it?!

October also brought a health scare with my brother Michael . . . he had pneumonia and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, some of that time in the ICU on a ventilator. He is doing better now, and has even stopped smoking, so that’s a good thing. Again, I found myself grateful, as many around me in the ICU were facing a more dismal situation.

November found me scrambling at work, and very much feeling my supervisor’s absence. Preparing for a huge missions conference called Urbana, I found myself missing my boss and her attention to detail. I spent the month being non-weight-bearing on the ankle again, but the “good” news was that I got an extension on my handicapped parking permit . . . and suddenly, everybody wanted me as a Christmas shopping partner! Who knew?!

December is here . . . and once again, I am frantically trying to get a Christmas letter out . . . have started walking on the foot again, but it’s definitely painful. (and great fun in snow and ice! I was blessed in that we didn’t have really cold/snowy weather until this month.) The two screws that are in my heel will come out in early January, and I’m hoping for some semblance of normalcy beyond that . . . both in walking, and in life in general.

I hope that all of you are feeling the hope of this season, in spite of whatever adventures you yourself may have had this year . . . and I wish you all the best in the year ahead!

Elijah today. Is he happy about Christmas, or what?!