Category: Lessons in living

The emotional pressures of parenting

shutterstock_693326791

We’ve all been in that pre-kid era where we’re sure we know what kind of parent we’ll be. Admit it, you’ve taken a note or two in your past when seeing a parent with his or her kid in the store and raised an eyebrow or two. I know I have. The parent I was going to be looked awesome on paper, but I never took into account the emotional impact of having children until I was hit with the reality of my own life playing out.

My late husband and I weren’t “trying” and we weren’t “not trying,” but when we were told at our six-month gender-reveal ultrasound that we were having not one, but two baby boys, that “perfect parent” image in my head slowly dissipated. Truth is I hadn’t spent much time around children up to that point, and now we were going to have two of them right off the bat. Driving home from the hospital with two newborns, I kept thinking, “I’ve never been around babies and now they just send us home with two? We’re not equipped! We’re not prepared!” But deep down, I knew my heart would never be the same. I was introduced to a whole new set of emotions and discovered emotions I never even knew were there. Bringing home those babies (now first graders!) created a major a paradigm shift in me—albeit it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Not only did I realize (much later) that I was struggling with post-partum depression after my twins were born, I was trying to handle the terminal diagnosis of my young husband. These emotions were real, raw and honest—sometimes more honest than I would have liked them to be.  These are the emotions of parenting that we don’t usually talk about amidst the pure joy, love, elation and “happily-ever-after” when baby(ies) comes home:

  • Self-doubt: There are so many times I lay awake wondering if I’m making the right choice for my three kids—especially since my older two just went to kindergarten. The mom-on-paper me was going to homeschool and do crafts every day. The real-life-mom me is faced with having to come up with a sole income for my three children and myself. We want the best for our kids, but in this society we are inundated with so many decisions and choices and information when it comes to “the perfect parenting way,” it’s sometimes difficult to sift out what we don’t need in order to find the nuggets of truth—truth that settles our hearts and souls when it comes to our parenting. They are there, the nuggets, and when self-doubt comes swirling around, remember, write them down if you have to, the truths you’ve settled on. They’re different for everyone.
  • Mental exhaustion: Pre-kids it was easy to make a space for dreaming about how we were going to parent and the kind of kids we were going to have. Now that they’re here, 99 percent of our brain space is devoted to keeping these people that we are in charge of alive, safe, nurtured and growing. Not only do we have to multi-task for our survival and theirs, to make it through the day, but once kids are in school, juggling our schedules and their activity schedules is downright exhausting—even if all you do is sit in a car and drive around all day or fill out a monthly…weekly…daily…sometimes hourly calendar. I’ve found that giving up an activity to make time for self-care (and sleep!) has been the best way to combat this.
  • Pressure to be like our parents—or not be like them: Having children of our own undoubtedly makes us look at our parents and our childhood in a whole new light. Either we are even more grateful for the sacrifices our parents made for us, or we recoil at how we were raised and vow to never raise our children the way we were brought up, and sometimes a mixture of both. All kinds of emotions relative to our parents or ourselves, can rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times—resentment, comparison, anger. Bottom line is that we are the parents we choose to be. We cannot change the way our parents were, but we can take our experiences of our childhood, learn from them and apply them to the way we parent.
  • Not feeling joy 100 percent of the time: So many times after my twins were born I heard, “Oh twins! How much fun!” And so many times after my third child was born and my husband died, I heard about how blessed I was that “at least” I had three kids. But if I was honest, being with two, and then three children under three years old at the time and dealing with the whirlwind of emotions that come with post-partum depression and grief of the loss of my husband was anything but fun. Full-blown tantrums, crying throughout the night (sometimes x 3) and the incredible pressure of finding things to do to keep everybody’s minds and bodies busy when all I wanted to do was crawl in bed and sleep didn’t feel like much of a blessing at all. I didn’t feel the joy everyone talked about that comes with having kids and it wasn’t a barrel of fun. These emotions were completely counterintuitive to the fierce and intense love that I had for all of my children the moment I saw them. How could I not want to be around the people that bring me so much love and that I love in return. Bottom line is these feelings have NOTHING to do with your feelings about your children, but everything to do with your circumstance or mental state. Seeking professional help, accountability and someone to talk to honestly and openly can help tremendously.
  • Guilt: This is the top of the list of negative emotions I believe trouble parents. We have self-imposed or externally imposed guilt about so many things when it comes to parenting. Guilt about having the TV on too much, guilt about what and how you’re feeding them, guilt about which school they attend and which toys or sports activities you cannot afford to buy. Guilt about working and not being home enough, guilt about not working and not contributing to the home financially…the list goes on and on. Guilt is when you’ve done something wrong and you know it. Shame, on the other hand, is disguised by guilt, and is when you yourself or your feelings are wrong. Do I feel guilty about my parenting because I really could improve on some things or do I feel shame about the way I parent because I’m just not a good parent? That negative self-talk and putting shame on yourself about doing things that are the best you can do at the time is so detrimental. Change the things that you know need to be changed and that you have control to change. For example, if you yell and are impatient with your children that’s a behavior and response that can be changed and improved on. But don’t feel unnecessary shame and guilt if you had to feed your baby a bottle instead of breastfeed or put your child into public school instead of private because of circumstances beyond your control.

In our optimistic, positive, happy-shiny society, it’s hard to admit negative emotions as a parent and it’s doubly hard to address them and deal with them. I’ll never forget the line from the movie “Room,” when the mother apologizes to her son for not being a good mom and her son replies, “but you’re my mom.” We can’t choose the circumstances we find ourselves in and sometimes we can’t choose the feelings that come up with those circumstances, but we can acknowledge them, fight against them if necessary, and push through to the truth that we are to live out as parents: be the best parents we can be with what we’re given and what we know. We need to always be willing to learn more and recognize that, even though sometimes the circumstance cannot be changed, being willing to change our emotions and perspectives accordingly are the best things we can do for our children.

*Previously published in “Multiplicity Magazine”, by Nicole Hastings

Copyright 2017

So you wanna date a single mom? Consider this first.

jam-fam

After a lot of ‘hemming’ and ‘hawing’ (and three years of deleting profiles after a day or so) I finally embarked on the journey into the world of online dating where every man is a world-traveler, outdoorsman and cute dog owner, and (I’m assuming) every woman is the down-to-earth, no drama kind of girl.

As a widowed parent (OK, fine, go ahead and say ‘single mom’ if it’s easier), but also an old fashioned, hopeless-romantic, head stuck in the clouds creative, the idea of online dating was not the first on my list of ways I’d meet him—the guy who’d come after my late husband, but after prodding from friends and listening to one too many stories of “well so-and-so met so-and-so online and they are so happy!” I finally gave in. I was ready to get out there, feeling myself come back to life after three years of living my own sad, widow-version of “The Walking Dead,” when I finally noticed myself noticing other men notice me.

So, I did it.

I made profiles on several different sites, I took that selfie that I swore I’d never do, I ripped the Band-aid off and then all there was left to do was wait and see. I got a lot of interest and requests to go out when that one tiny detail of me being a full-time-no-breaks-no-weekends-away or shared custody-no circle of friends or grandparents begging to watch my three children under 7 every week for free-single mom swept in. How in the world was I supposed to actually go and meet these people? Not to mention I noticed immediately how these guys had no idea how to even attempt to date a single mom. (I get it, NOT ALL GUYS are clueless and if you met yours online, awesome! But just humor me for a bit, will you?) I figured maybe I’d put out a kind of PSA if you will, for those of you who are actually considering dating a single mom:

1.) Realize the cost of childcare: It may just be a $5 coffee or drink out of your pocket, but for the single mom you’re asking out it’s SO much more. Not only is she having to book a sitter (going rate is $15 an hour), but she needs a week’s or more notice to book said sitter. Or if she’s getting help from a friend to watch the kids, she’s walking on egg-shells not to take advantage of this generous friend and putting out multiple feelers for other people who may be option B, C and D in case nice friend “forgets she made other plans.” This date you’ve asked her out on may be costing her not only actual currency, but her time, energy and efforts to find proper care for her kids. Acknowledge this on all fronts and remember it going forward to these other tips.

2.) Time is precious, don’t waste hers: I was recently asked out to a coffee shop date. Turns out the night we were supposed to meet Colorado decided to have a spring snowstorm and it took me an hour to get to this coffee shop. I was so close to just pulling off at the several exits I saw on my way down, but I had to give myself a pep-talk, “Don’t bail, that’s so rude. Just suck it up and get it over with.” I get it, maybe that’s not the right frame of mind to have when going into a date, “just get it over with,” but just being honest here.

I parked and found my way to the coffee shop all the while thinking “this better be darn good coffee or the most amazing man ever for all this effort.” I met my date and he was polite and bought my coffee and conversation ensued, if you want to call it conversation at all, he really just talked about himself the whole time. During his monologue, he let it be known that he only lived a block from the coffee shop we were chatting in. Red flag #1 of many in that date came up and I thought to myself, hold up, I drove an hour through a snowstorm to have coffee with this guy and he only walked a block to get here? Sorry, call me a princess or entitled or whatever, but I prefer to think of myself as a practical, considerate person who would suggest to meet halfway, or, the fact he knew I had to get a sitter, drive down near me.

Red flag #2 was when the good old “you wanna get out of here” phrase was followed up by “do you want to walk to my house to see how big my porch is” (truth, can’t make this up folks). Seriously dude? I just told you I’m paying for a sitter here and you’re asking me over to “see your porch.” Maybe he had totally well-meaning intentions and did indeed have an awesome porch, but even if he told me that there was a unicorn residing on his amazing porch, this momma wouldn’t have budged. When I explained that I have three kids (again) and I just don’t go to strangers’ homes (even though he bought me a coffee, he was still technically a stranger, remember that ladies!) and I only had a sitter until 9 p.m. He looked at me like I was talking in another language. He just didn’t get it. “Well, do you just want to walk around then?” he asked. “Yeah, sure, a walk in wet, sloppy snow would be great… to my car,” I replied.

3.) Yes, her kids are her priority (and seriously question dating her if they’re not): I’ve witnessed or heard of a lot of different dating scenarios when it comes to single moms. I’ve seen those who will leave their kids with just about anyone to go out with the first guy who gives them attention. I’ve heard stories from friends in the childcare business of the moms who won’t pick their kids up until 3 a.m. if they pick them up at all that night. The ones who will bring home a first date with kids in the house (I’m not judging…OK I kinda am, sorry). And then there’s the gun-shy moms (I’d fall into this category probably) who cancel sitters at the first sign of a sniffle or cry to those who never even consider ever going out on a date again and shut themselves in their rooms with their cats (I love cats!).

But in all seriousness, like it or not, her kids (should!) come first. I totally get that she should still be allowed to be a woman and go out and have fun, but at the end of the day she is a mom and has little people depending on her. I was on a lunch date with someone and I brought up my kids and he said something like, “Well, they’re just kids, after all, how hard can it be?” After that statement, the whole date was just sort of a wash. Kids are hard, kids are really hard when you’re a single parent, but they’re also my everything. They’re also a part of the package. You don’t have interest in her kids? Or kids in general? Don’t even bother asking her out. Seriously.

4.) Be straightforward about your intentions: Women generally don’t have time for games, but pull some round-about shenanigans with a single mom, well that’s just a whole other low. Look, she’s got to not only protect herself, but her children. People are people and they do what they’re going to do, but really, don’t look to single moms for irresponsible hook-ups or think you could maybe sweep her away and rescue her from her kids: newsflash she doesn’t need to be rescued from her kids, from the mess, but someone who is man enough to jump into the “mess” with her. If you can’t stand up to the fact that she’s surveying your every move for any signs of “dad-like” characteristics, or you wouldn’t even consider going to help her if she texts you last minute to cancel a date because her kids are all taking turns throwing up on her, then don’t ask her out. Plain and simple.

5.) Honor the “baggage:” Look, as humans, we’ve all got baggage, but single parents seem to have a couple extra bags. Understand there was someone before, either an ex- and parent of her child, or in a widow’s case, a husband and father will never be forgotten and who will always be loved, always. Not only are you entering into a relationship with the woman, but also the one who came before. If she’s honest with where she’s at, she’ll treat you separately with no comparison, but don’t expect her to erase those who have come before you. It’s a tall order, I get it, but if you can do that or at least try to find out, go for it and kudos to you.

I’m certainly no expert in the field of dating, to be honest, my attempt at dating is really just clumsily feeling my way through the awkwardness, and I really, really dislike the whole process. Dating can be so stressful and overwhelming, but if you look at it with the right perspective, it’s also a huge opportunity to learn about yourself and others. I’ve learned what to look for and what I’m OK with and what I’m definitely NOT OK with. And through the strange encounters I’ve had, I’ve learned the most valuable lesson. I’d rather be alone, than settle for a man who doesn’t honor my situation and all that comes with it just because I’m lonely.

*Previously posted on www.herviewfromhome.com, by Nicole Hastings

Copyright 2017

On National Widow’s Day I’m his widow, but I’m not a widow

shutterstock_143598907

Apparently, it’s National Widow’s Day. May 3. There’s a day for everything now, to sandwich widows between National Eat a Doughnut Day and Dress Your Dog up as a Cartoon Character Day (that has to be a day somewhere, right?) makes it rather trite, don’t you think? Who even knows it’s National Widow’s Day unless a meme told you anyway—unless you’re a widow (or widower, is there a widower day too or is it all lumped into one day I wonder?), and any widow knows she doesn’t need a day to remember she’s a widow. She remembers every. Single. Day.  I don’t need one day for anyone else to remember I’m a widow too, I’d actually like to be remembered, rather, as more than just a widow.

It’s been three years since I was dragged into this widow-gig and it’s a title I never wanted, but a one I’ll never forget, because I’ll always be his widow, but my sole identity can’t be, and shouldn’t, be a widow.

Right after my husband passed, I would look in the mirror and think, “Is this my life? I’m a 28-year-old widow.” And then the next year it would be the same, but I was a 29-year-old widow. And the next I was a 30-year-old widow. But this year I’m a 31-year-old who also happens to be a widow. I don’t want to wear “widow” on my nametag as if it’s my only story. I don’t want it to deter you when it comes up at a party—and it always­ does no matter how hard I try to avoid the subject. I don’t want your pity. I don’t want to be the sad story you tell your friends after we meet. I get it. I’ve been avoided by friends who park 10 spaces away from me when we both pull into the Starbucks parking lot at the same time coincidentally just so she doesn’t have to talk to me. I’ve spent many weekends alone because friends said I “just seemed too depressed” to be asked to go out with them and so I’d just see everyone’s photos of fun barbecues, camping trips and girls’ nights on Facebook the next day because no one wanted to be around the sad widowed girl. I get it. I really, really do, because on those nights, I didn’t want to be around that sad widowed girl either, but I was stuck with her. I really get that when people meet a young widow, it’s shocking, but it’s also a painful reminder that really sad things happen. That young people die and their young spouses are left with the pieces—and oftentimes very young children. It’s not the topic you want to talk about at your coffee date with the girls. It’s not the topic you want to discuss while swinging our little ones on the swings at a playdate. It’s just not the reminder you want when you just got engaged, or the amazing news of your pregnancy. Quite frankly, most times, we don’t want to be reminded that death is even an option. I get it. And so, we just get our own one day to remember all of that (or any of the loss days-parent, sibling, child, etc.), honestly, we don’t need a day to remember to be friends to those who are hurting. But that’s not the point of all this…well it is, but not the only point.

My point is that I don’t want friends just on National Widow’s Day because they remember, “Oh I know a widow!” I want to be remembered as just me: a friend, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a creative.  I want to talk about more than just widowhood. I want to help you through your troubles. I want to laugh with you when you share something funny that happened in your life. I want our kids to play together not because you feel sorry for me or them, but because you just want to be around us. I want you to see that I can tell jokes and laugh—I’m a real sarcastic smart ass believe it or not—and I can dance, if someone would ask me to. Ask my kids about the funny voices I can do, or the fact that I make the best scrambled eggs (according to them), but for some reason I always burn the toast. I found out I love to garden and I don’t mind if dirt gets under my fingernails as long as the smell of the earth lingers just a little longer. I want you to know, you can say his name and I will smile and talk about him all day if you let me.

I am his widow, but I am more than that. When you think of me or any of your other widowed friends, please don’t think of death. Please think of life. Think of hope. Think of saying all the things to whomever you need to say them to, now, not tomorrow. Think of walking out your front door and taking a deep breath of fresh air just because you can! Think of changing what you can change, and what you can’t change, well, you can always look at it differently.

RELATED:

I’m a widow, but where’s my black veil?

Why your grief is worse than mine

Zen and the art of mothering in mayhem

Save

You’ve marched for your daughters, but what about our sons?

shutterstock_415685761

 

Before you think to yourself, *Sigh* ‘Here we go, just another political rant,’ I assure you, this is not political, this is personal. And even if we’re all sick of political posts  and think, “That Women’s March was so four days ago. Let’s just move on.” Well, it’s not so simple, because parents, especially parents of boys, are faced with the responsibility of addressing the issues passionately protested on Saturday every…single…day.

As I watched millions of women and men march for women’s rights (as well has other humanitarian rights, I know, but it was titled “Women’s March”) I thought, “Look at the passion for my daughter’s future, my daughter’s rights.” I’m excited for her, for all that she will become, for the rights she will have—far more than my mother and grandmother ever had the privilege to experience, but I also have two sons, and don’t think for a moment that our sons have nothing to do with women’s rights and progression—they have everything to do with it.

I grew up without the influence of a positive father-figure. I grew up with a single mom. I saw her struggle without the financial and emotional support of her daughters’ fathers. I also saw her persevere and hold a well-paying job without a college degree. Now I am a widowed, single mom with the huge responsibility to raise up my daughter AND my two sons. I feel equal pressure to raise both genders well, I don’t ever think, “My sons will be OK because they will experience privileges my daughter won’t.” I feel more of an urgency than ever to teach my sons morals and values and when those are practiced later in their lives, those morals and values will directly affect our daughters.

I have vowed to teach them:

1.) ‘No’ means ‘no’, ‘Stop’ means ‘stop’: Instead of viewing sex as a conquest, or that it’s OK to push your way to power by being a bully, I have already been planting the seeds now for them to know that in any situation when someone says ‘No’ or ‘Stop,’ it’s not to be taken lightly. I also teach them (and my daughter of course) when they say ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ it’s to be heard and taken seriously. If they don’t want a hug or a kiss I don’t force it, if they don’t want to be tickled and say “stop” I stop and I stand up for them and tell the adult that they said “stop.” This helps get the message that their feelings and others’ feelings are not to be ignored and that barreling through others’ boundaries in persistence of their own interest is not OK.

2.) Equal responsibility if they choose to engage in sexual intimacy: Granted, my boys are only 5 years-old, and I will to teach them abstinence by being honest about my own disastrous experience with pre-marital sex, but even if they choose to ignore my warnings, I will openly and honestly talk to them about their responsibility in a sexual relationship; safety, intention and acknowledging the risks. That it’s not the woman’s responsibility to take care of all that, it’s both of theirs, and that continually taking a risk of unprotected sex doesn’t, I will teach them to stand by their choices and not assume that it’s not their business.

3.) Importance of strong fathers: I didn’t choose to raise my children without their father, he died, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t talk to them about what a father is and should be. We can’t deny the importance of fathers in our daughters AND our sons lives. And I fully acknowledge we live in a society where single parenting is at an all-time high and the option for an involved father all the time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk to our sons about what a father is and what is expected of them as future fathers.

*Recommended reading:

4.) Women are not objects for their own desire: Like I said, my sons are 5, so it’s not like we talk in depth about this, but I have already been slowly teaching them this passively and through play. I ask them to help their sister and stand up for her, not because she can’t do that on her own, but because we’re a family and we’re a team. Men and women can be a team, where one is not more important than the other, but that we can help each other because it’s the right thing to do, because we’re all in this together. My sons help her get her shoes on, brush and style her hair and pick out outfits with her and play dolls with her. When they grow older I will fiercely monitor Internet usage and continually talk to them about acknowledging different attributes in women as opposed to what they see and hear in magazines, on television, lyrics in songs and the Internet. I intentionally compliment my daughter’s talents and intelligence in front of her brothers rather than always talk about how pretty and cute she is. My prayer for them is to see women as their teammates rather than an object they must acquire.

5.) My sons have a role in this world just like my daughter: I don’t believe there is anything wrong with seeking equality and rights for women, but boys must know that they are still valuable and have a place in this world too. The balance becomes off-kilter when boys don’t know if they even are needed or matter anymore as we are constantly told since children that girls can do anything boys can do, but maybe, rather, it should be boys and girls can help each other achieve and accomplish their goals and dreams in life. It’s not that we need each other because one gender is incompetent and can’t do it, but is it OK to work together because more can be accomplished together?

*Recommended Reading:

Again, this is not about choosing sides. This is not conservative or liberal. The future of all our children is valuable and worth fighting for and it begins with us, moms and dads, teaching our sons and daughters what it means to be a responsible, valuable, respectful and compassionate human being. My sons aren’t going to be perfect, they’ll make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try like hell to teach them what I feel I need to teach them for our daughters’ sakes.

*Recommended Reading:

*Any affiliate links that Just A Mom promotes is a personal recommendation that Just A Mom stands behind. Any profit from affiliate links goes towards Just A Mom’s efforts to support and encourage single and widowed mothers.*

*This post was not sponsored by Dr. Meg Meeker or any of the publishing companies that publish her books. Books listed on this post are personal recommendations only.*

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The other end of giving: How going to a food bank changed this widowed mom’s perspective

shutterstock_356880428

I’ve got a bachelor’s degree. I’m smart and innovative. I’m frugal and budget for everything. And yet, there I was, waiting in line at the food bank to get food for myself and my three children. There was a lump in my throat that just wouldn’t go away from the time I finally gave in and realized I needed to go to the weekly food bank at a local church. Food banks were for poor people. I wasn’t a poor person…at least I didn’t want to admit it. I mean my children and I weren’t living in a shelter, we weren’t on the streets, and at least (the only thing to our name) we had a minivan, so we weren’t poor, right?

My 34-year-old husband died, leaving me with a newborn and toddler twins. He could never qualify for life insurance because of his cancer diagnosis in his early 20s, and he was sole proprietor of his very small window-cleaning business, which yielded very little in social security benefits for my children after his death. We moved in with my parents who are both still working full-time and could really only give us a place to stay. They weren’t financially able to afford supporting all of our basic day-to-day needs beyond a roof over our heads. Everything I had was given to us from the generosity of others—churches, strangers, fundraisers. All that was given with love was accepted with humility and brought us through the first two years after my husband’s death. But the heaviness of life events just kept happening: unplanned plane tickets for my twins and their Godparents who had to care for them while my baby was in PICU for almost two months; multiple illnesses and hospital stays for myself; and the extreme cost of childcare to just survive day to day ate up quickly what was given so generously. To be honest, I underestimated the impact of grief. I assumed all I had to do was “get through the first year” and after that, everything would be better. I would just get a job—I was smart and talented, I could do that. I’d get a house and I’d be super-mom. The one-year anniversary of my husband’s death came and went and I realized I was still reeling from the trauma of his slow and painful death, from losing him, from struggling with undiagnosed PTSD while raising three kids alone. Nothing got “better” after that first year. I could barely do laundry, let alone get a job. Even if I wanted to get a job, I couldn’t because the cost of childcare for three children under 5 is astronomical. My parents rode the storm with me and were just as tired. They were not able to be the “built-in-babysitters-whenever-I-want-them” as many people have assumed and so even a part-time job wasn’t an option for me. I tried, briefly, to work at a local coffee shop for one day a week, which proved unsuccessful in both my ability to handle anything else and my mom energy needed to take care of very very active children. Everywhere I looked for an out, a big door shut in my face and my stubbornness brought me to not share with others, my situation. We were scraping by, but kids keep getting hungry and eating all the food…imagine that! Sitting down and looking at the budget I knew I needed help. I didn’t feel poor, in fact, I felt rich beyond belief.  I was incredibly grateful for the home my parents had provided for my children and me, and the money that still trickled in from generous givers, but the stark reality was that the government wasn’t going to help me in this situation. Social security was (and still is) withholding a quarter of my benefits because of a mistake in their paper trail, and we were not on the good end of that mistake. I finally waved my white flag and put down my pride.

In line at the food bank I remembered all the times I’d cleaned out my pantry when I had a “normal” life. I dusted off expired cans of vegetables and fruits and threw unwanted boxes of pasta and crackers in bags to donate to food banks. My husband worked hard for what we had and I could go to the store every week to stock up on everything we needed (and then some, judging by all the food that was given to the food bank and not eaten by us). But as I entered the room with shelves lining the walls with bread, yogurts and some produce, juice and boxes and cans, I was on the receiving end. I still felt like I didn’t belong there and I felt shame as I took as little as I could to fill my bags, thinking, “this isn’t me. I’m smart, I should be able to be making money to provide for my family. I shouldn’t be here…” I didn’t want to look at everyone else who was there, filling their bags, while I only grabbed a few things. I quietly left and on the drive home I cried, feeling like a failure. I thought I’d seen so many moms do it all; work, school, and still be the supermom that volunteers and helps with school crafts. Why couldn’t I be that mom? Here I was, accepting pity food…


Emptying my one bag of food when I got home, I was hit with a new perspective and an incredible sense of gratitude; I was providing for my children because I put my pride aside and did what needed to be done. By accepting what others had given I was blessing the givers just as much as they were blessing me. They didn’t know my family when they were emptying out their pantry, just like I didn’t know who was benefiting from the food I’d given so many times in the past. But being on the other end of giving made me realize that’s what life’s all about. In the good times, we share our blessings with others. In the not-so-good times, we are given the blessings of others—as long as we are open to accepting it.

The other few times I went to the food bank, I filled our bags with gratitude, not greed, because I knew someone gave willingly to help families like mine. Accepting help gave me the confidence and eased one less stress to develop a game plan to start digging myself out of the mess I was left with.

I don’t have to go to the food bank anymore, but I know it’s there if we need it, and the mess is slowly being revealed as an opportunity to constantly change my perspective, even though I can’t always change our circumstance. I will never forget being on the receiving end at the food bank and I can’t wait to start giving again to the local food banks—but this time not dusty cans from the back of the pantry, but to set aside some new food every grocery trip to give to others.

In the Holiday season where giving is the star of the show, know that if you’re on the other end of giving, there’s no shame as receiving can be just as impacting.

Read more Holiday posts from Just A Mom:

A little bundle of Hope

The presence of your gift

Save

Save

I’m moving forward, but I’m not going fishing: On death of a spouse, moving forward, dating and the awkwardness of it all

shutterstock_152185478

Literally a week or so after my husband’s death, I heard (on more than one occasion): “Oh you’re young, you’ll find another dad for your kids” and “You just need to go have a one-night stand.” I was a 28-year-old widow and new mom, and I most certainly was not in the right frame of mind to even respond to comments like that then, but I’ve had almost three years to ponder it and this is what I’ve come to:

Death of a spouse, especially a young spouse, does not warrant the encouraging, “Hey, chin up kid, there’s more fish in the sea” pep-talk as if I had just broken up with a high school sweetheart. When I broke up with my high school sweetheart, I was absolutely crushed, yes, but there were more fish in the sea. Fish after fish I caught and threw back (or vice versa) until I waded up calmly to the one who’d eventually be my husband. There was no finding and searching and catching and games, he was just there waiting to be taken. And there we were, swimming together upstream. Then he died. Now, almost three years later, I’ve found myself ready to swim upstream…alone, and I’ve come to the conclusion that “moving on” doesn’t always have to equate to “starting to date.” I’ve come to my own truth, for me, that before even thinking about “dating” (what is that, even?! Agh, haven’t done that since 22!) I must move forward by myself while pursuing my God and discovering the transformed woman I’ve become because of my husband’s death. Not because I asked for it, but because I was forced to adapt. I was suddenly thrown into to discover the new role I would have as a mother to two-year-old twins and a newborn on my own while clomping through the mud of complicated grief, PTSD and adrenal fatigue. In no way was I, over the past two years, in mental shape to even consider taking on anyone else while I was still grappling and hanging on to all that had happened to me in a very short amount of time. It wouldn’t be fair to all those new “fish”…and it wouldn’t be fair to me. Believe me, going to bed alone in my high school bedroom in my parent’s house by myself every night is beyond lonely, but I don’t want to fill that space just to fill a space. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting high and mighty and signing up for a convent, and I’m certainly not judging others’ choices to date or not date, I’m really not, but, for me, being alone with God and God alone right now is more comfortable to me than any man’s arms; I’ve concluded it has to be that way before I can consider inviting someone into my life. Really, anyone who may come along must be willing to move forward along with me in the high, sometimes turbulent waves I find myself in every day. I am not waiting in the shallow end for someone to come along and help me move; to rescue me.  Through moments of intense loneliness and eagerness to get out of my situation as fast as I could, I tried making online profiles, I tried coming up with something to say on the “About me” page…there always ended up being too much to say, too much I didn’t want to say, and too much I was just too tired to say. Well, I ended up deleting said profile…four times. My not being ready was an understatement. I was so far from ready to start even considering dating, I was still re-living my husband’s death and every event and heartbreak every single day. From the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, I couldn’t break the cycle. Not until recently, when I had come to terms with the fact that I was struggling with PTSD and complicated grief, did I realize I couldn’t move forward while reliving a past I couldn’t change.  Asking someone to enter into that cycle of mine, would quickly turn into a downward spiral, I’m sure of it.

This summer has been a summer of successful and hard work processing the traumatic events that surrounded my husband’s death (see “The Final Goodbye”), and I’m finally getting relief from the burden I’ve been carrying for far too long, but there’s still more work and healing that needs to happen before I can “spread my wings and fly.” Does living at my parent’s home with my three children under six make me feel like a successful adult? Not exactly, but is it what I need right now to get the rest, contemplation and processing I need? Absolutely. And there’s no rushing a process, especially if it’s God’s. And it’s always God’s process. I often picture, how would it look if I invited someone into this process?

“Oh, hi, you want to go on a date? Let me schedule you for some time next month between naptime and laundry.”

“Oh, hi, you want to take me to a movie? Hang on, let me ask my mom and dad…”

“Oh hi, thank you for your interest. I will always be in love with a 34-year-old man who was my husband, if that’s OK with you…”

I kid, I kid…but not really. Coming to terms with being comfortable in your own skin while healing so many wounds that will always leave a scar behind is tough, exhausting work and I’m ok with working on my own. Until I become comfortable with taking the life preserver off and stop treading water, there is no energy for fishing in these waters. And besides, I’m such a hopeless romantic I envision I’ll be back-stroking my way through life with my three little minnows and the serendipitous meeting would go like this…

I’m at a park and he’s walking his dog. Our eyes meet. I pet his dog and he asks, “Oh are you a mom? I love kids! I especially love preschoolers!”

And I’ll smirk and shyly push my hair that has remained un-showered for two days behind my ears and shuffle my feet with my old, holey sneakers and yoga pants and point to my three children: one boy peeing on a tree, the other picking up goose poop and hurling it across the playground and then my sweet daughter picking a lollipop up off the ground and sticking it in her mouth—dirt, ants and all.

And he’ll fall in love with all four of us and we’ll live happily ever after… (record screech) (Enter reality)

Ok, for real, putting jokes and self-deprecation aside, I’m just moving forward my little family of four, not searching, not fishing, no net in hand. Not waiting for an eddy, not waiting for a shallow end, not waiting on the side of the riverbank to be rescued. Here we are, me and my little minnows and we “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” All I’m aiming at is to float peacefully as we’re carried by the current of life, as opposed to violently thrashing and swimming for my survival. Moving forward for me, means moving toward God. That’s all I want, to learn to be carried by waters so much bigger and awesome than this world can offer. There’s no saying what will come along, but whatever it is, it will accept us for all that we are—dirty lollipops and tree-peeing included.

I don’t want to have fun with my kids

IMG_20151201_101723695

It was the end of Spring Break week, my twin preschoolers and two-year-old was home with me all week and everyone had been under the weather so I had cabin fever. That Friday we were all on the mend and I was bound and determined to go do something “fun” with the kids. I chose the Museum of Natural History because we had free passes.

With three little kids, it takes about two hours to get ready to go anywhere, so I needed to keep giving myself a pep-talk throughout the process—“Come on, Nicole, you can do it. You HAVE to go do something fun because that’s what Spring Break is supposed to be—FUN!” Farther into the getting ready process, the pep talks slowly started to sound more like me trying to convince myself this would be FUN. Lunches and snacks packed—check. Extra pull-ups and extra changes of clothes—check. Everyone pick a toy to bring for the long ride—after running around, a few tears and a minor crisis—check. Everyone in the car buckled up—check. I get into the van and then get right back out because I forgot to feed myself that morning so I needed to grab something, anything, to eat. Run back into the house, grab a banana and a handful of almonds. On the way back out to the car, I realized I forgot the free passes. Run back into the house to grab free passes. Lock the door and get in the van. Keys in the ignition—check. Off we went to have some FUN.

My kiddos aren’t the most tolerable when it comes to long distance transportation—for them fifteen minutes is long distance—so there’s always a little sense of urgency and panic driving an hour away because almost anything and everything could happen in that timeframe. Bathroom emergencies, squabbles, tears, and sickness…you’re always on the brink of being prepared for something to happen. Safe to say, we got to the museum parking lot in one piece, unscathed by any serious issues. With relief and pride I patted myself on the back for having made it and thought, “Hey that wasn’t so bad…” My heart sunk as I saw the parking lot, jam-packed with cars waiting in rows for a space to open up. We spent thirty minutes driving around and around until I victoriously found a spot. Phew. We made it. Kids out. Snack bags over the shoulder. Heavy two-year-old in one arm, the other is filled with coats for “just in case” weather that is always a possibility in Denver. My apparent need for fitness was blaring as I’m getting out of breath and breaking a minor sweat while I make my way up to the entrance with kids in tow. We did it! I glanced down to make sure the tickets were still in my purse and noticed something I hadn’t before—they had expired. Morale was low at this point, but not totally crashed, so onward into the entrance. Then I saw it. (If a defeated, frustrated, crying, yawning emoticon existed, insert it here.) The lines were wrapped around to form a maze of barriers. There were people everywhere and my pep talks were no more. Now my thoughts were only, “This is NOT fun…” But I was still determined to get through the lines and go through the museum, because my stubborn nature dared me to leave, and my conscience dared me to play with the idea that I am just not a fun mom. We stood in line for thirty-ish minutes because I kept having to leave the line to chase after the two-year-old. I was trying to keep up everyone’s spirits, but in my peripheral vision, I noticed how everyone else’s kids seemed to be angels standing in line, while mine were uncontainable monkeys swinging from one rope to the other in excitement. Then the “I have to go potty” plea rang in my ears. We left the line to head for the bathrooms. My twin boys don’t want to go into the “girly bathroom” anymore, so they insisted on going into the “Man one.” Needing to take my two-year-old daughter potty, not to mention myself, had to wait so I could make sure BOTH boys came out of the restroom. (My Mom-radar is on high-alert!) Men went in and men came out, but not my boys…I could hear them singing, and giggling and turning the hand-dryer on and off and on again. Every five seconds I’d crack the door open and request their presence; ultimately knowing I’d just have to wait. When we were finally reunited, the task of going into the women’s restroom had just begun. I ended up convincing them to go into the women’s restroom with me anyway because there was no way I was leaving two five-year-olds to wait outside (I’ve binge watched way too many drama/crime shows to make me paranoid enough to not do that!) We made our way into the women’s restroom, alas! There’s another line. We finally got through the business that needed to be done and headed back out to stand in line, because, dammit, we were going to have FUN!

Since our visit was no longer free, I had to swallow hard as I tallied up how much it was going to cost all four of us to get in. I couldn’t really afford to have all this fun we were about to have, but I reasoned that a) it would be cheaper to get a museum pass, and b) the membership line was way shorter, so we chose that line. As we stood in line, the kids got more anxious and excited, and I felt my blood pressure was rising. “Just get through the line, and it’ll all be OK.” Then one of my boys grabbed the other and head-butt him. With tears from one, laughter from the other, and my two-year-old squirming out of my arms to go explore, I had finally reached my breaking point. “Ok, that’s it—we’re leaving!” I stepped out of line and started for the exit with protests trailing behind me. The boys were crying the whole way back, but I just kept saying to them, “That wasn’t fun. We’ll try again…” (Thanks Love&Logic!) Truth was I felt like crying too. I felt like the biggest failure. Truth was that for so long “fun” wasn’t even on my radar—being the caregiver of my husband with terminal cancer, and twins and a newborn all at once—now the dust of grief finally began to settle, and I couldn’t do this one thing. Would I ever be able to have fun? Would I be the uptight, serious mom forever?

Everyone had quieted down on the return drive and we ended up stopping at the local mall with the free play place. I let the kids run around as we played tickle monster and hide-and-seek. We stopped for a small treat of M&M cookies and sat at the table trying to count how many birds got stuck in the mall , which would swoop around overhead once in a while.

That night as I was putting my boys to sleep, I apologized for the museum-thing not panning out and we talked about manners in public and maybe next time we could try again. I tucked one of my boys in and I told him, “I’m sorry we didn’t really have fun today,” and he replied, “I had a lot of fun!”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “What part was fun to you?”

“My favorite part was doing the puzzle with you,” he said, drifting off to sleep. I was stumped. I didn’t remember doing a puzzle until he said something. Before all the chaos of getting ready and out the door, we sat on the floor in our jammies doing a puzzle together. It took 15 minutes to put together that puzzle and it took me all day in my mission to “have FUN” with my kids. He remembered the 15 quiet minutes we spent together. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to have the kind of “fun” with my kids that I pressure myself into—expensive outings, spending money I really don’t have to spend in the first place. The kind of “fun” that I fake smile the whole time because I’m so tired from making sure we’re all together and alive in busy public places. The kind of “fun” I force upon myself because I feel like I have to compensate for their dad not being here and they’re stuck with me—sometimes sad, sometimes irritable, sometimes too-serious mommy.

My son taught me something so profound about my kids and myself. The fun times remembered and cherished are the times spent just being together. Being in each other’s presence. It could be at a park, it could be putting away laundry while pretending socks are silly puppets; it could be holding hands walking to school. This realization took the pressure off me to stop attempting to do activities I just can’t do with my kids in this season—as a grieving, widowed mom, whose outings with my kids I have to do solo, not to mention they’re 5, 5 and 2…little kids come with so much grace and so little expectation. All they want is time with you, time together. All the other high blood pressure moments we parents put on ourselves are lost to them in grace.

One day museums will be fun. One day I will be able to take them to a movie theater with ease. One day we can take a road trip. One day we can go to Disney World and have some serious Fun. But not now. Not in this season. Now, I’m OK with puzzles in our jammies, digging worms in the backyard and spending a couple bucks to eat ice cream in the park, because those are the moment my kids cherish. That’s the kind of fun I’m after now, and I know my kids will show me I can be a fun mom.

 

The Final Goodbye: Coming to terms with my husband’s death and how it wasn’t my fault

shutterstock_158598032

“She began to understand quite clearly that truth cannot be understood from books alone or by any written words, but only by personal growth and development in understanding and that things written even in the Book of Books can be astonishingly misunderstood while one still lives on the low levels of spiritual experience and on the wrong side of the grave on the mountains.”

-Hannah Hurnard, “Hinds feet on High Places”


 

My husband has been dead two years now, and I still cringe when I hear the comment, “Well, at least you knew he was sick, at least you had time to say ‘Goodbye,’” which is an unfair assumption, because I didn’t. I didn’t have time to say ‘Goodbye’ because we weren’t encouraged to allow space for the reality of what saying ‘Goodbye’ would really mean. We were surrounded by a doctrine that if illness was talked about, we were in some way holding back the blessing of healing. We were surrounded by phrases like, “Just believe in healing…” “Just minister to it (the cancer)…just lay hands…” “Don’t ever say the ‘C’ word…” “Claim healing and it will be yours!” “Just believe…”…and we did, all of the above, over and over and over. Call it the “Name-it-Claim-it theology” or “The Prosperity Gospel theology” or “just-plain-crazy theology,” but whatever it was it was under the giant umbrella of hope, and it was hope that helped my husband get through the first five years of his cancer diagnosis in his early 20s and it helped us make it through the four years of our marriage. (After all, he did live with a disease for ten years that statistically should have killed him in six months.) It helped us cling to hope, it helped us find faith, it gave us fuel to fight…until…it didn’t. When the foundation of all we were taught to say was crumbling around us, and no matter how much we “claimed” healing, it seemed the opposite was happening. All of a sudden I was faced with the reality of death and the burden of giant questions that emerged when the box we had put God in was ripped wide open. I had to ask the questions: Is there more to hope than this? Is there more to the idea of time than what we think we know? I had to swallow that even in the midst of hope, the gift of our time here on Earth is finite, no matter how long or short. It’s not something we earn by how well we pray or believe, the time that’s given is already there, already waiting for us.

Let me preface by saying, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with the hope and expectancy for healing—people have conquered incredible feats with hope– but it’s not hope if it leaves someone feeling guilty or ashamed or forsaken when life doesn’t play out the way we wanted it to. Through the last two weeks of my husband’s life I was told that his healing wasn’t happening because I wasn’t peaceful enough about the situation. I was told that I shouldn’t tell anyone my husband was in hospice, that I should take down the online updates about our family because it wasn’t anyone else’s business, and that the words ‘cancer’ and ‘hospice’ made people give up hope and think negatively. I was told to tell people that my husband was “doing just fine” in his last days. All of this confusing theology swirling in my ears and around in my head resulted in an incredible burden shackled to my feet. I was tormented by “What ifs”: If I had said ‘Goodbye’ then, would that mean his death would be my fault? If I prayed for his suffering to end, did that mean I was giving up on him? Did that mean I was a failure at praying for my husband? Did it mean he just didn’t believe enough—that I didn’t believe enough? I know better now, and I know God a whole lot better now too, but when the opportunity was still there, because we wanted to cling to hope so badly, there was no final ‘Goodbye,’ no special moments that gave any ”closure”—the kind people expect in a long illness, you know, “The Fault in Our Stars” kind of thing. There was certainly no using the ‘D’(death) word. No one, not even the hospice workers, explained what ‘5 Wishes’ was or what the dying process looked like, so I couldn’t even brace for it—which may sound naïve to people, and they would be correct. I was a naïve 28-year-old way in over my head and my husband was a 34-year-old doing everything he could to stay on this earth for his wife and his newborn daughter and two-year-old twins, and if that meant not acknowledging it, then that meant not acknowledging it—and I don’t fault him for that.

But it’s usually in our finest moments or in our suffering that we want more time, or we want to turn back the clock or we want to freeze it, and when death happens, something deep within keeps looking at that clock as if we could do something to change it. The day my husband died, I was asked by someone if I wanted to request for him to be raised from the dead. I had heard from people after his death, “We didn’t come to see him because we thought there was more time…that he’d pull through…”


 

…life happens quickly and slowly at the same time. Sometimes we have the privilege to determine its pace for a while and sometimes we don’t…


 

A friend recently sent me an article published at Christianitytoday.com called “On dying and reckoning with the Prosperity Gospel,” in which Morgan Lee interviewed church historian, Kate Bowler about her own battle with cancer and her perspective of the Prosperity Gospel in the midst of illness. I was brought to tears reading it because she was able to explain beautifully what I was struggling with on an incredibly painful, profound and personal level:

Prosperity gospel is a reflection of American avoidance of our finitude. Their denial of the inevitability of death taught me something about American confidence. Americans want to be in control. Self-determination is a theological good. It’s really hard when it comes to the fragility of the end. In almost all circumstances, I can understand why someone would go to a prosperity church. It has so many obvious appeals pragmatically, theologically, and emotionally. But when it comes to sickness, it offers so few resources to its folks. The saddest stories that I heard in my research were when it was obvious that people would lose to whatever sickness they were facing. But the church was not able to surround them with comfort and tell them that they weren’t to blame or that there were questions and uncertainties beyond our knowledge. They couldn’t tell them that God was present in the suffering of his people, not just in the triumph of them.

I have no PhD in theology and I’m no expert on what hope really means or why some people are healed while others are not. One might think that I should be jaded by hope or Christianity, or even God, but I can’t be, even though I’ve tried…I can’t not believe in hope, all I do is hope. Hope was, and still is an essential part of my daily journey. I can’t imagine what life would have been like without hope from the day I met my husband, until his last breath. I can’t fathom what my life would be like now without the hope that I embrace with each new morning. Where would my children be if I could not show them hope? I never did, and never will, give up hope, for hope is essential for our time here on Earth—along with faith and love. (1 Corinthians 13:13). I used to be so bitter about all the things that were said or not said, done or not done, because it felt like time was stolen from me, but I can’t be anymore because I see everything was said and done because we all wanted my husband to stay here for a little longer, just a little more time. I can accept now that life happens quickly and slowly at the same time. Sometimes we have the privilege to determine its pace for a while and sometimes we don’t. I can now see hope as something not used to manipulate a situation to the way we think it should go or to convince God to give me more time because I believed enough, but as the driving force that brings us through whatever this life brings us. God’s clothed us with the comfort of hope that our souls so desperately need. Hope is something greater than the current circumstance. Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force of Hope drives one to push through the darkness into the light. Hope is a surety that surpasses physical time.

But I do imagine sometimes…what if I got to say all the things I needed to say and he got to say all the things he needed to say, and the children and I got our special photographs with him in the hospice at the end? What if we got “The Fault in Our Stars” ending? The bottom line is our time is finite here on earth, so even if all the prayers for healing worked the way we wanted, and he lived to a ripe old age, if we had a choice, we’d always opt for more time. It’s human nature, I believe, to be time hoarders, because deep down we are not satisfied with the finality of this fragile lifetime. Deep down, in everyone, I believe there is an ache for eternity. We still face living in the paradox of grieving when people leave this world, we want to go back in time, wanting to change it, wanting to freeze it forever and never let go, desperately wanting more time and also wanting to move forward. God knows this. This is why we have memories in the first place, something locked deep inside that somehow, in some way, time is frozen, just for a split second. It can be a blessing or a curse depending on the memory. The smatterings of the past pave the present we walk in, but only the knowledge that one day that clock will be broken for good (Revelation 21:4, 1 Corinthians 15:55-57,) can help me walk into the future while I’m still here on Earth.


 

Hope is something greater than the current circumstance. Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force of Hope drives one to push through the darkness into the light. Hope is a surety that surpasses physical time.


 

As I slowly and painstakingly go through my husband’s things, I fantasize that maybe I’ll run across a letter, one final letter addressed to me saying all the things he wanted to say. But I know that letter doesn’t exist. I take my fantasies of the “Final Goodbye” and drive that energy into the tangible memories he did leave me with, like this one:

The song we swayed to for our first dance as a married couple at our wedding was Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” I was naïve then to the profound statement that song would have in our marriage, but I don’t think my husband was, and I think that’s why he picked that song. Perhaps, in a way, he picked that song as his “Goodbye” to me.

Now, I recognize the “final Goodbye,” was only an intro to an “eternal ‘Hello.” I wait, patiently and impatiently, knowing it will come…in due time.

 

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I’d save every day like a treasure and then
Again, I would spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with

If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty, except for the memory of how
They were answered by you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with

-Jim Croce, “Time in a bottle”

I’m not a dad

Copyright: Annette Shaff

I have heard a lot from single moms and dads, widowed or otherwise, that now they “have to be the mom AND the dad.” While practically I totally get that, I find I can’t burden myself further with that thought; feeling like I need to be the dad for my children, now that theirs is dead. It’s too exhausting to try to put pressure on myself to do the impossible because I will never, ever be able to take the place of their dad or take the place of a father figure that may be there in the future. Ever.

The kids and I went out to lunch with my children’s godfather a while back and the kids weren’t used to going out, as I know all too well, going into a restaurant with three children under five is exhausting and not enjoyable at all, so they were testing the boundaries along the way. Needless to say, I was already frazzled at the ‘kids being kids’ behavior at the table—nothing too crazy, just a little loud for my nerves, but it was what the waitress said that derailed me. She told the kids to “ask your mom and dad if you can have….(insert whatever it was they requested, I can’t remember, a soda? A pony?)” It was a logical assumption on her part since I was there with a male, but nevertheless it threw me into a pretty dark place and the only thing I was able to see was the absence of the man who was supposed to be there to help me during the crazy restaurant times, and the endless waking at night, the tantrums, the amazing milestones, the how-to-throw-a-ball moments. Even more glaring was the obvious fact that after spending just a few hours with their godfather, I could see their mannerisms change, how desperately they need a man to help them in this crazy journey of life and, no matter how much I try, I can never ever be that for them. So I stopped putting that unrealistic expectation on myself.

Sure, I can, and do, lots of “dad” things with my boys. I know how to change a tire and check my oil. I am not into sports (their dad really wasn’t a diehard fan either), but one thing he always looked forward to was playing catch with his boys, one of the first things he showed me when we started dating (he was a sentimentalist) from his childhood box was a glove and ball he saved for “his kids one day,” he said I can play catch with them; I can throw a baseball and catch one too, I can even throw a football in a way that it spins…a spiral? Shows how much I know… I can go to Home Depot and take a class and figure out how to use an electric drill or build a birdhouse, the pictures would hang crooked and the birdhouse may lean, but I could do it! I can figure out how to grill a steak. We wrestle and play pillow fights all the time, I give them piggy back rides and teach them right from wrong, I take them on hikes and dig for worms—but I do all of this as their mom. Doing all those things with a man, that ideal situation boys have to learn the ropes of manhood, will remain untouched by me, no matter how good I am at all the above.

What I can do, though, is teach my children how a woman should treat herself and, in turn, be treated. I have been implementing one-on-one date nights with my boys so we can talk and have fun and they can see Mommy not-so-stressed. I can implement door-holding and pulling out chair rules, but I hope that one day they will see these date nights as something more; that Mommy is out with them, taking the time to spend time with them, investing in them and their importance and responsibility to one day grow up not only chivalrous, but strong, grace-filled leaders. When my daughter is a little bit older, I will do the same with her. While their dad may not be here physically, his finest attributes shine brightly in his boys. I see his heart when they constantly praise and compliment their little sister telling her how cute and beautiful she is. I see it in the quiet times we sit together and they look at me and hug me tightly and whisper to me, “You know what, mom, you’re beautiful.” In my ugliest moments (inside and out), their dad never failed to remind me that I was beautiful to him and now my children who have seen all my weaknesses and ugly moments can see that beauty too and all is right in the world when, for a moment, I feel their daddy shining through in those small, but powerful moments.

The last time we got dressed up for a date, my son tugged on my shirt and motioned for me to bend down to eye level. He swept my hair gently and whispered into my ear: “When I grow up, I’m going to be Daddy and marry you.” While my heart melted, I know in the future this will change, but how do I want my children to remember how I handled this situation that’s been handed to us? With dignity and grace, and fierce perseverance. How do I want them to remember me? As their mother. Nothing more and nothing less.

A father to the fatherless, and a judge (defender) of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary (lonely) in families…

-Psalm 68:5-6 (KJV)

The presence of your gift

Copyright: ouh_desire

On an evening in December 2011 my husband, Phil, received a phone call. We had just nestled our twin babies into bed and cozied up on the couch for a movie. Since it was late in the evening and it was a number Phil didn’t recognize he let it go to voicemail. When he listened to the message he got up from the couch and went to the front window and looked out past the drapes into the night. Then he opened the front door and brought in a basket covered with a bright green blanket and set it at my feet. He let me listen to the message, “Look on your front step, Merry Christmas,” the mysterious voice said.

We looked at the basket for a few minutes, letting the excitement of a random gift from a stranger sink in. What could it be? Inside was a plethora of toys for the boys, homemade Christmas crafts, goodies and a book titled Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright and a mason jar full of change and bills. My heart was full of amazement and gratitude and wonder; why us? Why did we receive this special gift?

I looked through the basket, reveling in the care that someone took to prepare it for my family and then I read the little book, Christmas Jars. Looking back on it, I can see how the timing of and receiving that book was quite prophetic as it narrates a story about a journalist (my former and brief profession) and a widow within its plot. It tells of a family that planned their Christmas around giving to others, saving spare change all year to fill it by Christmas and give it secretly to a stranger. We received such a jar and in turn started a jar of our own.

A few weeks prior to the mystery gift, on Thanksgiving night I rushed Phil to the emergency room because of a breathing attack; that night was the first real reminder that his cancer was still there, stalking us silently throughout our four-year marriage. He was diagnosed Stage IV and two months later we were married, but we lived like it wasn’t there, until it reared its ugly head that Thanksgiving. Before that, hardly anyone knew about his illness that we kept silent about being terminal—we wanted to live for the hope of healing, trying our best to not let diagnosis or prognosis steal our present—but it was scary, and would creep in at the most in opportune times, mainly when I’d watch him with the twins or sleeping beside him at night. I’d pray and wonder at the same time: How long do I really have with you? How long can we keep you?

Throughout the following two years mysterious gifts kept showing up at our door at random times or during the holidays and in turn, we would strive to do the same out of humility and gratitude. After Phil started chemotherapy the second trimester of my pregnancy with our third child and then a few months later started receiving home hospice care October 2013, the gifts intensified. There wasn’t a day that went by that there wasn’t food, clothing or financial gifts at our door. He couldn’t work and I couldn’t earn any income taking care of myself in my 9th month of pregnancy and twin two-year olds, and yet, we never went without anything. He and I would sit, amazed at the generosity of people—some we knew, most we didn’t, and it would still drive us to give, in some way, somehow because the giving was so overwhelming what else could we do but pay it forward? I know these provisions were the workings and signs of God’s presence in an impossible situation; generosity moving through people who would take time away from their own families to give to ours. Phil died a week before Thanksgiving that year and the outpouring of gifts and provisions continued into the Christmas season and months after.

I had managed to get a little tree that promptly turned brown as a few ornaments hung on it, that’s all I could manage, however people came in droves to bring wrapped gifts for my children and I. Come Christmas Eve I couldn’t see the floor of my living room there were so many gifts. That night, while my children all slept, I just sat there in awe at all the gifts.

I spent Christmas morning and day opening the presents with the kids, although I was heartbroken that no matter how many gifts we had to open there was one thing missing, each gift reminded me of the goodness in people and the life necessity that gives our lives meaning; receiving love and giving love, even if we did nothing to earn it.

Nothing can fix the terrible absence and loss someone feels when their loved one has died, it can’t be fixed with a freezer full of meals or an abundance of toys or money in the bank, but don’t let that stop you from giving to someone who is hurting because behind the incredibly helpful and practical gifts, is your presence and your time. Don’t assume it won’t help if you give to the homeless man on the corner; “What is $5 going to do in the long-term?” and don’t assume you should mind your own business when you see the lonely neighbor down the street, that taking the time to bake a few cookies won’t help them. Your gifts to the lost and lonely don’t fix their circumstance, but long after the money was spent, the food was eaten or the items are worn and tattered your gift still remains intact; the gift of your presence has the power to restore hope and faith in the goodness of people and the God behind it all. And when I feel incredibly lonely and the terrible, infectious lies start to pour in that I’m all alone and no one cares anymore, I go through the several dozen cards I received from all around the country, I look at the little mementos or books on my shelf, and I know that each of those things carry the presence of someone who cared behind it and most importantly carries the provisions and presence of my God.

Now, it’s Christmastime once more and there’s no gift I can give to my children that can replace the one thing they need the most; their daddy, but through my experience of being on the receiving end of so much giving and love, I can’t let material gifts distract me from the real gift I can give my children, my presence in their lives and in turn to teach them that what they choose to do with their presence in other’s lives is important and powerful.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

                                                -Luke 6:38

 

 

#thegiftofyourpresence

#ChristmasJarsbyJasonFWright