13 Lessons I’ve Learned While Being Your Mom

nate fishing picture

Today is Big Sprout’s 13th birthday, and this letter is for him.

Dear Big Sprout,

I started out the morning by writing my annual man-you’re-getting-so-big-I-can-hardly-believe-the-time-is-going-so-quickly blogpost. It is never an easy post to write, but today’s was especially difficult.

Just after dropping you off at school, I learned Zach lost his battle with cancer this morning. Actually, out of respect for Zach I want to amend that statement. Like he said in this Soul Pancake video, My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech, he wants to be remembered as “the kid who went down fighting and didn’t really lose.” There is nothing about Zach’s story that says cancer won.

I cannot get Zach and his friends and family off of my heart today nor can I stop thinking about life and your own movement through it. I struggle to keep from imagining what it must be like to be the mother of such an incredible son and to watch him slip away.

We mothers have to do that, you know. In little ways with each passing birthday, when milestones come and go, when college creeps up and marriages happen. We have to let go a little at a time and sometimes, in heartbreaking fashion, what seems like all at once.

Today you’re asked to share the day with Zach. A celebration and a reminder to live life purposefully. To learn as you go and to make the biggest difference possible.

I’m not sure what it is you’ve learned in your 13 years here, but I have a list of a few things I’ve learned from you along the way. Inspired by a recent interview with Jim Higley at www.bobbleheaddad.com, I have compiled a list of some of the lessons I’ve learned from being your mother.

There is such a thing as love at first sight.

I fell in love with you the minute I saw you. It was an overwhelming sensation I had not expected. Don’t tell your dad, but you were the one and only boy I have ever fallen in love with at first sight.

Babies fingernails are hard to cut, and sometimes the pain kids feel comes from a mom who tries too hard.

I vividly remember cutting your fingernails for the first time. (or rather filing because oh my gosh are you kidding… baby nails bend so unnaturally… yet they cut through steak?!?) I filed too closely and your finger bled and you cried. (harder than usual) Trying hard and caring deeply doesn’t make my attempts at motherhood perfect, it just makes the mistakes that much more painful. For both of us.

It’s awesome watching a kid touch grass for the first time. (and all the other firsts he gets to do too)

The joy in your smile when you felt grass for the first time was something I’ll never forget. It is a privilege to witness people’s firsts, and it is worth celebrating each and every one.

Toddler boys don’t sit for story time. (and that’s ok)

Chasing you through the library when I had envisioned a pleasant toddler story time taught me that I need to pay attention to who you are in the moment…and to let go of the made-up version living in my head.

Big brothers can be kind.

You have shattered my expectation that all big brothers are mean to their little sisters. I’ve learned that compassion can come in big brother bodies.

There are scary things in the world and praying is a good defense. 

When you brought me over to the rock pile to show me the black widow you had wisely decided not to touch, I realized I would never be able to watch everything you do nor would I be able to protect you from every harm. It’s true that sometimes I just need to lean harder on my belief that you don’t really belong to me… God has you in the palm of His hand.

People want to feel important.

Someone once told me you were like the mayor of preschool. You knew all the kids names and you would regularly inquire about their well being. Not much has changed since you were four and you’ve taught me a positive way to live is to try to make other people feel important.

Determination comes from within and parents have the power to damage the naturally determined kid. 

When you were five and you refused to stop spinning to catch a tennis ball I had encouraged you to drop-spin-and-catch I learned that you take parental pressure way too seriously. I’ve learned to let you lead the way since.

It is important to listen to stories. Dreams and wishes live there.

Walking into your school conference for first grade, you confided you had made up a story that was supposed to have been true. You said shyly, “I might have written that we have lived in Hawaii and we have a dog named Hunter.” You were reeling from a new baby in the house and your made-up story reminded me how important imagination can be. That… and you really wanted a dog.

Singing is cool.

When you and I were locked out on the balcony of a mountain condo for a few hours, we passed the time by huddling in my jacket and singing any song we could think of. You haven’t stopped singing since and I think it is one of the coolest things you do. Other things will come and go in your life, but music is forever.

It’s important to teach a man to fish…no matter the weather.

There was a time when you felt incredibly uncomfortable being alone. Since finding your peace in fishing, you have calmed that unsettled energy. You’ve taught me to celebrate rain and cold and to relish time outside alone.

Thirteen-year-olds are pretty awesome.

They may wear headphones, laugh at crude jokes and flip their hair to get the flow, but they are loveable and I enjoy being with them.

And finally,

Letting go, in even small ways, is hard…really, really hard. But when we carry something with us, we’re eternally tied to something bigger.  

What comforts me, and what I hope will be of comfort to Zach’s friends and family who are having to let go, is the light that Zach has left for us to carry.  Life is a series of lessons and we are meant to learn from experiences and from people. Lessons are the lights we pass to one another. Zach was very intentional about his light. He carried a huge flame through his short life and he managed to light millions of candles along the way.

Son, you are challenged to carry with you a light from this shared day with Zach. You are challenged to take in all the lessons you are meant to learn and to pass on a light of your own to as many people as you can convince to carry it.

I love you more than I can adequately express and I truly hope this is a birthday you will never forget.

Love,

Mom

Feeling Grief…Embracing Joy

dreamstimefree_80886

“They only have two hours of childhood left.”

It was this fleeting comment by a woman in Newtown, CT yesterday that has rendered me useless. I cannot shake her distraught and heart-broken expression as she explained to the rolling cameras that she was across town to console her friends while delaying the pick-up of her own children. She wanted her kids to enjoy their innocence for just a few hours more.

I sat with the same dilemma while at my desk in Minnesota. I sobbed at the overwhelming loss. At the grief that enveloped my every thought.  I longed to hold my children, to grab their precious faces in my hands and gaze endlessly into their bright little eyes. I knew they would come home from their school-days without a clue about what unfolded in horrific fashion hundreds of miles away, and all I wanted was to stop the vicious clock from ticking.

The clock is the problem, you know. We know all childhood, all innocence, all life will inevitably end, but we hate the truth of that. We pine for more joy than grief as we’re living, and we hurt so much for the children because they are our balance between hope and loss.

When my 12-year-old bound in the door, I greeted him in the kitchen and held him. We embraced in silence until he mumbled into my shoulder, “You alright mom?” “No” I explained and pulled back to make eye contact with him. He had heard some rumblings, and we talked about the news, and the horror, and the overwhelming feelings of grief, anger, sadness, confusion, and despair.

He knew better than to give me away when I hugged his sisters just as hard.

The girls are in fifth and first grades. They are who I picture cowering in closets or hiding in cupboards, and I was hopeful they would stay unaware for quite a while.

I knew the fifth grader would eventually catch on, and when she asked me about an Instagram photo she saw, my heart gently splintered. Our first-grader still doesn’t know, but I can hear that deafening click of the clock hand.

While I cannot help but to consider something will have to be done about this…measures will have to be taken…forward movements will need to be made, there remains this space of time that needs to be lived too.

It brings me to another scene I watched unfold this week reminding me that where grief exists, joy can too.

Most weekdays, about 2:30 in the afternoon, I watch a young man arrive at the house across the street to visit the teen-aged daughter who lives there. Most days he gets his crutches out of the car and slowly makes his way to the front door.

The young man’s name is Zach Sobiech, and he is a 17-year-old boy who is dying from cancer. His ticking clock is loud, and he hears it, but he has made a conscious decision to live in spite of it.

The last few weeks he has been in the news for a song he wrote to say good-bye to his friends and family. 

I can never watch the video dry-eyed and I think of the grief and the loss for this boys’ family and for his girlfriend, Amy.

Then Zach gave me a gift of joy I will never forget.

One sunny and somewhat unseasonably warm day this week, I noticed Zach out of his car. His crutches were sticking out of the snow, and he picked up snowballs and threw them. He launched one down the street, one at his car, and he threw a few gently down at his feet. He walked painfully, without his crutches, over to the snowplowed pile of snow in the middle of the cul-de-sac. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He picked up another few snowballs, and after throwing them, he made his way back to the drive.

A silent tear streaked down my face and I said to my husband, who had turned from his work to watch Zach too, “he’s just a kid playing in the snow.”

The next snowball he grabbed was cupped and hidden behind his back as his attention obviously moved from what he was doing to something down the street. Amy’s car pulled into the driveway, and it was apparent he was readying himself for a surprise attack.

The driver’s door opened and when Amy realized the plan, she quickly shut it. He raised his empty hands in innocence, and Amy made her way out of the car. It wasn’t long before the two of them were in the powder of the yard.  Zach arm-swiped the snow toward Amy first, and she quickly returned fire. She approached him laughing and he offered her a hug. They embraced for a moment in the sun-kissed snow, and then she let him slowly pull her down into the snow with him. They splashed each other with powder and I found myself breathlessly smiling and crying in the same glorious moment.

Life is full of triumph and tragedy, celebration and sorrow, joy and grief. It is only what we choose in even the smallest moments that define the lives we live. There will be those who rise in anger about what happened in Newtown…there will be those who rise in action…and there will be those who will be unable to rise for quite some time.  There’s no telling how we’ll react until we are in any particular moment.

In this moment, in my small kitchen in Minnesota, I hear the girls making play-doh worlds to the backdrop music of some boy band. There is a clock ticking in the background, but maybe my job as their mom is not to do what I can to keep them in an ephemeral childhood, but rather to embrace the fleeting moments, and to throw myself into that proverbial pile of snow to make snow angels any chance I get.