Mother’s Day reflections

Once again, Mother’s Day has rolled around as it has every year, and once again I find myself mentally reviewing parenthood in general.

Anyone who is a parent knows there are times—sometimes more often than not—when parenting seems like a losing battle. Nobody really prepares you for what parenting does to you, whether mentally, physically, or even spiritually.

The thrill of having a baby is often overshadowed by the sheer exhaustion of all that a baby requires. Babies, by their nature of being . . . well, babies . . . are takers. Any giving they do is completely involuntary. They can’t help it; they are completely helpless, dependent on their parents to keep them alive and content. The involuntary giving is cuteness, snugglability, and the awesome realization of parents that we were given the privilege of taking care of this tiny little person who is somehow so amazing that all tiredness and self-sacrifice is worth it.

Mind you, we don’t always feel that way in the midst of yet another toddler tantrum or sleepless night, but when saner heads prevail, we get it. It’s worth it.

My kids are no longer what I can classify as “kids” in the strictest sense. Our oldest is 23, next in line is 21, and the “baby” is very close to turning 17. They’ve turned into people in their own right, with their own friends (some of whom—gasp!—I don’t know personally), jobs, and interests that may or may not reflect mine. Even so, I still worry about them and still want to take care of them as best I can, even though they really don’t need it in the same way.

The babies who used to wake us up multiple times a night were replaced by toddlers who would wander into our room in the middle of the night, unaware that they were more often than not interrupting the first intimate moment we’d found the time and energy to enjoy in days. The toddlers were replaced by teens who would stay up later than we could manage to hold out, and then young adults who would change plans and suddenly arrive home on a day we’d planned to have the house to ourselves. And still . . . worth it. Worth every instance of interrupted intimacy, every middle-of-the-night phone call that starts with, “I’m okay, so let’s just get that out of the way first,” every “I need you to come and get me because . . .”

Even as the mama of young adults, my time is still not my own, because if they have a need, I still want to be there. If there’s time to just hang out and talk or grab a meal together, I want to be available and it can’t happen as easily as it used to. It makes my heart happy when they actually seek out time with me. But being a mama at this stage has also given me a heart for younger moms and their struggles.

Secondary to raising our own children, one of the best things we can do as mamas is to be there for other moms. I am blessed to be friends with some of the adult children of my own friends, and I think it helps to have a listening ear and an encouraging word or two when they’re feeling overwhelmed. My mother was not someone I could confide in, and was not what anyone would call a listener. Uh . . . and not sympathetic or understanding, either, for that matter. So I completely understand that there are times when it’s easier to talk to a mom other than your own. They can listen and not judge, and it’s not up to them to solve your problem or to take responsibility for it.

My daughter (our youngest) has a couple “extra” moms she trusts when times are rough. We’re extremely fortunate that she is open with us (even when we don’t want to hear what she needs to tell us), but even so, I think it helps her to know there are other adults she can run things by if she’s trying to figure out how to tell us what she needs to talk about, or if I’m not immediately available, or even just to get a differing viewpoint on a problem she’s trying to work out. Far from being jealous, I’m thankful. God has been gracious to put wise people in her path, and I’m not foolish enough to turn down the help.

In the same vein, I have extra “kids” who call me mom, ranging from teens to young adults, and I’m happy to give them solid hugs and a bit of my scant wisdom when it presents itself. In the way that others are there for my children, I want to offer the same. Yesterday, in fact, I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning filled with delicious coffee, laughter, and deep conversation with a beautiful gal who calls me her “work momma.” She wanted to take me out for Mother’s Day at our local chocolatier (mmm, truffles), and it provided a three-hour block of time for us each to be “filled” during an otherwise-draining season of life. She’s a young adult who sees me as my own person, which allows me to be open and vulnerable, yet who also trusts me to treat her with the love of a friend and “extra” mom. She has a terrific mom of her own, and yet there is still a need for that extra set of ears during tough times. I’m privileged to be part of her life.

My mom was sort of a tough taskmaster when it came to Mother’s Day. She had to have the gift, the card, and the phone call—any one of those three missing, and the day was a bust. Over the years, I came to realize that I just needed to do my best and live with it, even though I knew she told her friends and neighbors how neglectful I was. My worst Mother’s Day was the first one after our son had died, and I didn’t want to really interact with the outside world. I was content to spend the day with my husband and children, and yet I knew my mother would be upset if I didn’t call. When I finally did call, I was scolded for not calling early enough in the day. She’d been stewing all day long, not even considering the grief I was dealing with after losing a child only four months before.

I vowed then and there that I would never be like that with my own children. Yes, we all make promises to ourselves to not be like our parents, and I’m sure there are inevitabilities of a familiar mannerism or two, but of this one I’m certain. My children will never be made to feel that a gift will make or break my love for them. Thankfully, in that way, my kids are sort of like me: we love to give or receive thoughtful gifts and appreciate them, but we don’t always feel comfortable having to come up with something simply because the calendar says we should. I think that helps, that we think alike on that point. No pressure, kids. No pressure.

I’m proud of the adults they’re growing into, and yet there’s a whole host of new things to pray about as I trust God to guide them through life. Children are a huge tax on a person’s spiritual walk! They give us so much to pray about, and so much to be accountable for. I love my children with such a fierce, possessive love that I can’t imagine how God can love them more, even though I know He does.

And that kind of love for my kids helps me to understand how God can love us no matter what. The love is unending, even while wanting to punch them in the nose for a callous observation that cuts deeply, or for an offhand remark that makes me cry silently in another room so they don’t see how hurtful they can be. I will wager that there is no child on earth who knows how often his or her parents are brought to tears . . . either for them, or because of them. I would imagine God has wanted to punch me in the nose once or twice. I’m extra thankful he’s more patient than I could ever be, even on my best day.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39

Happy Mother’s Day, mamas out there. You’re doing better than you think you are.

 

Long-reaching effects and what they’re worth

I’m overwhelmed. I’ll tell you right now that I don’t use that word lightly. In fact, I’m so overwhelmed that the first thing I could think to do in order to cope with it is to grab my laptop and write. I didn’t want to lose the thoughts whirling in my head by waiting any longer than I had to.

I spoke this morning at a women’s conference. My main job this weekend was to sing on Friday night and Saturday morning, but there was a teeny tiny part of Saturday that included a talk: I was asked to give my testimony. For those of you who are not familiar with Christian-speak, giving one’s testimony is akin to telling people how God has worked or is working in your life. Sometimes a person’s testimony involves telling about a turning point in his life, and sometimes it’s simply a recounting of how the day-to-day survival is going.

In my opinion, a person’s testimony should be a constantly changing thing, as alive and vibrant as the everyday changes in our lives. Yes, there are certain events that are pivotal—there may be a single incident, whether wonderful or catastrophic, that changes everything and turns us upside down—but to only ever focus on that one moment in time really does an injustice to the subsequent weeks, months, and years of growth and, perhaps, struggle.

Mine was a combination of both: talking about a past event (found in my previous post, “…and now, the rest of the story…”) and talking about my life now as a result of that past event.  I was not the main speaker at this conference—I’m just with the band, man—so it shouldn’t have been intimidating to get up there and talk for five or ten minutes. Right? Ha. Thankfully, these ladies were smiling and receptive and put me at ease immediately.

Five or ten minutes…I can do that standing on my head, and I can thank my Italian relatives for that gift we call “I make friends with strangers in public places.” In all honesty, I had the best intentions of speaking for about five minutes, but once I got going, well…let’s just say I didn’t suffer from a lack of things to talk about.

First, we showed the short God@Work video that discussed our family’s journey through the loss of one of our children. Then I told them what had been happening in our lives since the showing of that video at church. I’ve been amazed and thankful for every person who has approached me to tell me their personal stories…loss, struggle, depression, and hope. There is something to be said for knowing you’re not the only one who’s gone through difficult circumstances. Nobody wants to be in The Club, whether its members include widows, alcoholics, bipolars, parents who have lost a child, drug addicts, disabilities or those dealing with a family member’s suicide—but we are comforted to know that others in our particular Club understand completely where we’re coming from, and we feel safer with the numbers that show us we’re not abnormal.

What overwhelmed me this morning was not the recounting of my own event. The “oh my” moment came when I finished speaking. As I walked away from the podium, a woman stood up and announced that she’d been one of the Labor & Delivery nurses at the hospital when our son was born, fifteen years ago. Because his disorder was such a rare thing, the staff paid close attention to what was going on with him and how we, as his family, handled all of it. Unbeknownst to me or Tim, another nurse there was a regular attender at our church, and would regularly update the others, speaking of our family’s positive attitude and our unwavering faith. (Oh, if only she’d known how we struggled in those early days, simply trying to process what was happening while living at hospitals for the first two months of his life!) She also told the group that the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit during that period of time was a very dark place, and the doctor we’d spoken about in our video was someone who didn’t value the lives of the babies under her care as she should have. [We knew this firsthand, because that doctor was someone we actively avoided when she’d make her rounds—her first response upon seeing us each day was to tell us of ways she could relieve us of our burden, or to inform us that she’d probably only “work on him” half the time of a “normal” child if he were to have a cardiac or respiratory arrest. The NICU nurses would actually tell us when she was due to make her rounds so we could head down to the family lounge or the cafeteria. Someone you’d want taking care of your baby? Nope, and nope again.]

The wonderful gal today was happy to tell us all that the NICU is a much more positive place now, partly as a result of our family back then and how we saw each child as valuable and lovable, regardless of the statistics that told us not to get too attached. Our attitudes then affected today’s babies and their care.

Another friend spoke up then, after the first person sat back down. A mutual friend of ours was one of the private duty nurses in our home during the first year. We absolutely loved her, she loved our son, and we were sad to see her go when she got a different job. After losing a family member last year, she commented to our friend that she was struggling with the loss and wanted to be able to “grieve like the Dietzes.”

A third person approached me during the lunch break and told me she had worked at the funeral home when Tig was laid out there. I didn’t know this gal at the time, but she knew who we were and said she was glad she hadn’t had to work the day he came in, because it was difficult when the person who’d died was someone familiar, especially when it was a child. She did say, though, that she’d heard about our visiting hours and how boisterous (the polite word for “so loud”) our half of the funeral home was. There was, during that same week, another special-needs child who had died and whose visiting hours were the same day & time as ours. Many of the case workers had dealt with both families, and all those who came across the hall after visiting the family of the other child commented to us that the atmosphere was palpably different. They felt at ease with us, rather than awkward and uncomfortable.

I look back and wonder what we did that was so noteworthy. Was the time in the NICU that impressive? Was our grief process watched more closely than we’d realized? Do we throw a good funeral?

Even if you think nobody’s watching, there’s always someone who’s observing how you handle things, whether you walk your talk (to use an already-overused cliche), or whether you talk a good game until things fall apart. I say this not to create paranoia, but as a reminder—to myself, first and foremost—that my words mean nothing if my actions run the other way. You can’t fake that; I can’t, anyway.

If our attitudes and behavior helped even one family to have their child seen as a valuable person, it’s worth it. If our lifestyle caused even one person to want a closer relationship with the God I’ve come to know, love, and trust, it’s worth it. If what people saw in our grief inspired even one person to think a little deeper about why we trust a God who didn’t heal our child in the manner we wanted, then in the words of Jed Clampett, “Whoo, doggie!” Definitely worth it.

More often than not, we don’t know how our past actions have affected someone else’s future. I’ve had enough screw-up moments that I’ve wished nobody had seen. Today I had the wonderful privilege of hearing about some of the better ones, and the feeling was sweet.

Three amigos