Challenging Beliefs…

There is a myth that if you have more than two or three children, you cannot properly care for or love all of your children enough. Al Gore has said in an interview that he believes that the Chinese have it right in this area. Now, I’m not sure which of Al’s children he wishes he had not had and which he would like to keep, out of his 4 children. But I disagree. With all of it.

The heart is a living thing. It can grow and remain soft and pliable, or shrivel and harden like an old peanut shell. I have seen it happen. Have lived both ways. And let me tell you, growth, life, is better.

I never intended to have five children. I find myself challenged and surprised everyday by how my life is turning out. If I could have predicted, I would have sworn that I would be living in a much too small apartment in New York City, striving for someone, anyone, to notice me. That, or traveling across Africa with the Peace Corps, searching for meaning in the eyes of strangers that I tried to help.

But this, this I never saw coming. And I am so glad. Because, I probably would have changed something. Or a lot of things. And, I, I would be missing out.

When you have five children, strangers and acquaintances feel some odd sort of freedom to tell you how glad they are that they do not have five children. They also like to project their greatest fears onto you. And they often assume the worst. Or they act as if your abundance of children somehow directly affects their own harvest. It doesn’t.

My husband works very hard at a respectable job. He earns an honest wage, doing honest deeds. This earns him both my respect and enough money to pay all our bills every month. We don’t use credit to purchase day to day items. We receive no assistance from the United States government, or Canadian government, or any other country. We pay for our livelihood with cash, right then. Which means that my smart phone does not have a piece of bitten fruit on it, but is waterproof- which suits my life better.

Our children are happy. They are healthy. They know love. They have nice things. They are surrounded with nice people. They have a wealth of happy memories. They experience more love on a daily basis than many people experience in their lifetime.

With each of my children’s births, I have felt my heart swell like an old wooden door in the deepest winter. Until it is too big to fit inside of its housing. Until it cannot close, but must remain open. Come what may. The human heart is not as fragile a thing as they would have you believe. It can adapt to almost any changes. It can overcome loss, and shame, pain, and the deepest of sorrows. It can heal stronger than it was before it was broken. And it can love.

The world is not a better or worse place because of the amount of children that a family contains. The world, the earth, is alive. It changes, and lives or dies, much like a heart, because of what it encounters. Look around you. It is autumn. The leaves are burning orange and red, and getting ready for their first and final flight to the ground. The wind is losing its warmth, turning colder by the day, like a woman scorned. Everything is changing, because it is alive. The earth lives. But all of its beauty and majestic pageantry would be in vain, if it were not for the people who live here.

Just like my arms and my heart. Anything that is good in me, or strong, or brave, would not be better if I had less children to give myself for. I am not who I want to be. But I am a far cry from where I was, where I could be. Having my children forces me to be better, act braver, love harder, and focus less on my own selfish desires. It takes me out of myself, and fills me with hope. I have to rise to this challenge of properly raising five whole people, because no one else will. No one can ever love them like I do. All of them.

In my long list of the things I would change about myself, the number of children I have is not on there. I cannot imagine a life less than I am living. The mere thought brings a rock to my throat and a fist to my stomach. I am lucky, more than most. I see it. I hear it. I feel it. I tuck them in and read Treasure Island until the air turns thick with their warm, sweet, even breathing. And I know it, all the way to my core. I fall asleep knowing that I. Am. Blessed.

And in the morning I wake up, and do everything I can to challenge the naysayers. To prove them wrong. The heart is stronger than the arms. Women know this. Mother’s know this. Mommy’s know this. Which is why, it wasn’t Tipper that said that. And why it’s going to be me that proves this narrow minded belief to be wrong.

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The Very Best Things…

This morning, about an hour and a half ago, I came home from a morning walk. The house was still and quiet, as it is only when my children and energetic husband are asleep. It is one of my very favorite times, and also my least favorite. I love the silence, the lack of 6 other humans asking me for things. I enjoy the ability to move slowly as I make my coffee, the gift/curse of hearing myself think for a change. It is the calm before the storm. The breath that often helps me gather myself before facing the hill of the encroaching day.

It is also, however, the only time that I am able to picture what my life would look like without these six people that I am tasked with caring for. The time when I can see clearly how dark and lacking my life would be if I had only my whims to focus on. I have already had that. That is what college was for. And as much as I enjoyed spending thousands of dollars on myself, and indulging in my selfish nature, it was not better. I was not happier. While I moved quicker in the mornings, I also moved with less purpose. And let’s face it, I had no way of knowing how invaluable a great night of sleep truly is.

But this morning was different. As I turned to go into the darkened living room for my hour alone, I heard a little voice say, “Mommy.” It was so feather-soft, that I thought I might have imagined it. But I looked, just as I always look when I hear that name. Even when I am out shopping without my children, and know that they are home safe and warm in their beds. Still, I look. Because it could be them. They could need me.

So I looked. And there she was, backlit like a tiny protagonist in a holiday film. My Zoe. She stood on the landing of the stairs, barely showing above the railing. “Hi, Mommy,” she said. “Hi, baby,” I answered. And she smiled. Now I don’t know what Helen of Troy looked like, but I am guessing that my girl’s smile could launch a thousand ships. Or at the very least, speed the beating of a thousand hearts.

She came towards me in that sleepy, sweet, innocence haze that seems to surround children in the mornings. Reminding me of how little she is and how much she needs me still. We had coffee (me) and hot cocoa (her) on the front porch as we talked and watched the sun rise. She had asked me when it was still dark out if the sun was awake.  I told her that the sun was just waking up and starting to get ready for the day. She wondered aloud if the sun had laid it’s clothes out for the day.

We talked and talked. About school, home, Christmas, kittens, and the future. So, pretty much everything that matters when you are six. And when you are thirty-three. As we spoke, I saw her smile more and more. Saw her glow in the way that only someone who knows that they are truly loved can shine. And I thought, this is my favorite. I hadn’t anticipated it in anyway. But it’s my favorite.

I plan. For everything. I overthink every situation I go into and every situation I think I may one day encounter. Seriously. And, yes, all that thinking is exhausting. One of the very best parts of being a parent is that you are always surprised. Sometimes the surprise is a 5 year old throwing up all over your bed, while you are in it, but frequently, it’s beautiful moments that you never saw coming. Little voices that say they love you and want to be like you. Chubby fingers clenched around dirt-encrusted dandelions. Hearts that trust you with their every secret.

So, this morning I did not have my quiet time to myself. Like most things in my life these days, I shared it. And I could not be happier about that. The older I get, the more I find, that the very best things cannot be found in Target, a mall, or even on Amazon.com. They are at home, for now, just waiting for me to look up and notice them.

Sometimes Love Says No…

I was 10 years old. I had only one friend in the state where we lived because my family had just moved away from everything and everyone we knew in Spokane, WA, to Glendale, AZ. And, it was about to be her birthday. My only proof that I was accepted by my peers was turning 11, and I was invited.

Her name was Misty, which I found to be so exotic when combined with her multicultural background. She was street-smart and confident beyond her years. Misty’s single mother did not hover like my own, she had freedom, and wild, unruly hair that curled on its own. When she laughed, she didn’t cover her mouth, like I was starting to, didn’t try to hide her crooked teeth. She simply let out her laughter, without apologizing for it.

I was beyond excited that she chose to be my friend. Ecstatic, when she invited me to her birthday slumber party. I had to go. Had to.

I talked to my mom as a formality, knowing the necessity of my attendance. “Um,” she hesitated……”I’ll think about it….” Whaaat? Immediately, I jumped in. I was a 10 year old middle child- which meant I could spot weakness like a cheetah watching a sick gazelle. I’d been honing my strategy for years. Ask, nag, coerce, repeat. And I did. All day.

The next morning my mother told me that she had made up her mind and the answer was no. No. Two letters that would sum up the death of my social life. But I was not one to let things go at no. For days and days I manipulated, begged, and threatened. I pulled out all the stops. I knew that I could wear her down, could break my mother into submitting to my plan. But she wouldn’t budge. She kept telling me that the answer was no. That she didn’t know why, but she kept feeling like everything in her was saying, No.

The day of the party, I watched as four girls I did not know brought gifts and balloons to Misty’s uncle’s apartment. It was in the same gated complex we, and Misty, lived in. Apparently the slumber party was being thrown by her uncle’s girlfriend, while Misty’s mother had to work. I sat unnoticed, in misery, on our front stoop as the party commenced. Eventually, I went into my own family and watched a movie or two before going to bed.

I don’t know what time I woke up, we all woke up. The SWAT team, yes, you read that right, is not one to lower their voices in the morning. We looked out our front window to see the complex filled with police officers, and more than one ambulance waiting outside. The speaker was aimed at Misty’s uncle’s apartment. We were told to wait inside, away from the windows, lock the doors. And so, we did. For what seemed like hours.

Once allowed out, my father learned from a police officer and other residents, what had happened. While I slept, angry and resentful at my mother, in the safety of our home, Misty’s uncle had raped all the girls at Misty’s slumber party, including her. When his girlfriend caught him and called the police, he beat her, and used her as a hostage, before finally taking scissors to her neck.

Now, that is a lot to take in. I know it. Imagine how hard that is to take in as a 10 year old girl who fought to be there. I have never been the same. Neither has my mother. My fight for my way weakened that day, her resolution to not give in, strengthened.

I only saw Misty once after that, as she packed her things into the suitcase she would carry to live with her father. She confirmed the police officer’s story. And we cried. Both, for very different reasons.

As a mommy, this both breaks and makes me. I can never thank my mother enough for standing up to my 10 year old tirades. For showing me that sometimes, the best things in your life stop you from what look like the funnest things. And that sometimes, love says no, and means it.