I wrote the following entry about my mom in May 2014, when our three children were all under five and we were between trips to Bulgaria to get K. I’d like to share it again, four years and many miles later, in honor of my mom!
I’m not much for Hallmark holidays, but this entry happens to fall near Mother’s Day. As I proceed into my late twenties and continue to learn how God would have me mother the children He’s given me, I finally have some coherent thoughts to communicate about my mom. It’s taken me these 5 years to start putting them together. It’s easy for a girl who’s close to her dad to write all sorts of pretty tributes to him throughout the years, but sometimes it takes a few beautiful and gritty years of motherhood to help her sort out where in the world to start thanking her mom!
What I basically have to say is this: my mom is the one who instilled in me the heart of our family culture, which is to see our children. It’s not to simply see our children on the outside, with all their strengths and limitations, and then try to make them fit nicely into a prescribed societal box. No, it requires a willingness to step outside the box entirely. I’m going to share how my mom did that for me. I can’t guarantee it will be exactly accurate, because we all know that kids see things larger than life. I might have some details right and be way off on others, but I’ll leave that to her to correct if she so chooses. This is what I remember about my school years, and these memories continue to impact the way I mother our little ones.
I was a very fearful child, practically afraid of my own shadow – definitely afraid of my own reflection and trees, at times. When I was 3 or 4, my mom took me to preschool. I still remember the feeling that I was somehow supposed to like this. This was a box I knew I was supposed to conform to, but even at this early age, I wasn’t buying it. I remember feeling so out of place in this room that smelled of pencils, paint and glue. I didn’t want to be here. I sat at a little table gluing beads – those ugly triangular ones – to a piece of paper thinking to myself, “I can glue beads on paper at home. Why do I have to stay here? I want to be with my mom. I want to go home.” I must have communicated this in a wisely strategic manner, because Little Big School only lasted 3 days, and I never went back. I guess my mom decided she didn’t want to fight the preschool battle. Maybe I’d be ready for kindergarten, she may have concluded. Nope! Kindergarten taught me what a stomachache really felt like. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my mom to go stuff my things in a cubby hole, play with letters and listen to Mrs. Hammer read stories. I could do those things at home (minus Mrs. Hammer), and I wanted to be with my mom. Again I felt the strange and uncomfortable feeling that I was supposed to like it here; I was supposed to be having fun like everyone else seemed to be doing. But I couldn’t wait to get out of there every day. I remember my mom stuffing my blankie into my backpack pocket to comfort me in the mornings. I don’t think she enjoyed dropping me off, and I surely didn’t enjoy it either. I have a few pleasant memories of getting little toy erasers at the school store with my mom and of my dad visiting my class one day. All the kids were climbing on him, and I was proud that he was my dad. It helped to know that some days my mom was volunteering at the school, cutting out bulletin board decorations and such, which she must have let me watch her do because I remember thinking it looked really fun. More fun than sitting in class or the lunchroom or being herded around with all the other kids in PE class. Halloween season was the worst time of year because I was absolutely terrified of the costumes, decorations and songs. My mom got me out of music class during that time because I couldn’t handle the creepy songs I was supposed to learn. I must have gotten used to the routine at some point, but I can’t tell you if this kindergarten deal lasted for half a year or a whole year. All I know is that I was thrilled when it was over and I could stop trying to fit in. I’m not sure what my mom was thinking during this time, but it’s very likely that her visions of the future were rapidly disintegrating, or at least drastically changing. Whatever it was she had planned on doing while I was in school – maybe working part-time, volunteering, attending a book club, going to lunch with friends – was not looking likely. From my perspective, my older sister Sarah was much better at enjoying school and fitting in there than I was. Either way, my mom was facing some huge decisions when I was 5. The way she negotiated these difficult decisions formed the basis for the way I would make similar decisions with my own children.
Shortly after kindergarten, we moved from Nebraska to Tennessee. I remember visiting a public school open house with my mom. She sat with me through an orientation of sorts and I met the person who would be my first-grade teacher, a Mrs. Rose, I think. My mom didn’t like her. She didn’t like the school, and I think she didn’t like the fact that there weren’t enough windows in the classroom (thanks to my mom, I still carry an attraction to bright rooms with lots of windows). She started homeschooling me and Sarah that year. I was thrilled. I remember coming down to the kitchen table in the morning, learning to tell time and count change. We enjoyed a flexible schedule with plenty of time to play outside, go to the store, ride our bikes, and also get our book work done each day. It felt like a breath of fresh air to my 6- and 7-year-old self. We went to dance and swim lessons and played with neighbors. My mom had done a great thing in my eyes, rescuing me from the institutional school scene. As a homeschooling mom myself now, I’m beginning to imagine how she may have felt quite intimidated, alone, and odd for making the hard choice that she did. Maybe there was also some mourning for the things she had sacrificed to be our full-time teacher. But she saw me for who I was, not who she wanted me to be to suit her own desires. This is key, and I appreciate this so much about the way she raised us all.
Being on the receiving end of this kind of sacrificial motherly love prepared me to deal lovingly with Ezekiel when he suddenly stopped being willing to go to Sunday school and to endure any sort of childcare, from the military wives’ Bible study I attended on Thursday mornings to the Mothers of Preschoolers meetings I looked forward to twice a month. He was terrified. He would try to crawl out the door of the childcare room after me, clamoring on all fours, crying and screaming and pleading with me, around age 3, to please not leave and please bring me with him. He even vomited out of anxiety one time in the car as we neared the building where he knew he’d be dropped off. I’m tearing up just writing this because I understand now what my mom did for me. She didn’t make me suck it up, stick it out, tough it out until I was hardened to the pain of separation from her. Many well-meaning people told me this was what I needed to do. Why? Because it’s what everyone does. Mainstream society sees no choice but to force acclimation to childcare. My mom chose not to make me tough it out. She wasn’t unhealthily sheltering me, she wasn’t depriving me of “socialization” (a word which would require a separate entry entirely), she was seeing me and loving me. I’m forever grateful. As a result of her example, I was prepared to give up some things I selfishly wanted to do (attend meetings and classes alone) in favor of what my firstborn child needed from me. And it was so simple, what he needed – he needed to be with me, to learn from me, to feel secure with me. Having a firstborn who is so much like me in this area has been a huge blessing. It’s allowed me to apply the example my mom gave me, mirroring some of her sacrifices as I started out on my own mothering career. Of course, thanks to this fantastic example she provided me, I wanted to have several children and home educate them since I was a very young girl; so the homeschooling part was not as groundbreaking a decision for me as it was for her. (If Mason were a writer, he could also produce a long essay for you about how his mother influenced the way we are raising our children. She homeschooled him all the way from preschool through high school.)
Around age 11, I started wanting to go to institutional school. It was beginning to look like fun as I was growing out of my painful shyness. We had moved from Tennessee to south Florida, and now we were moving to another city in Florida mainly because of a particular Christian school there that sounded promising. At age 12, I became a regular student for the first time since kindergarten. This time, I wanted to face the challenge and was ready to make the transition. It was hard! I had never been away from my mom for that long (unless you count that one failed attempt at church camp when I was ten), and at different points of the day I was almost in tears and wishing it was time to get picked up (I should mention that I also had an adorable baby brother at home!). My mom was so understanding and encouraging. She encouraged me to stick it out for just the first nine weeks, the first quarter of the school year, and see how I liked it by that point. Sure enough, the first quarter wrapped up and my confidence was growing. I had friends, I was making excellent grades, and even though I was still not a social butterfly, I was learning how to function away from my family. Of extreme helpfulness was the fact that my mom had gotten me one full year ahead in my schoolwork, so as I entered the 7th grade I had already covered all of the material. This was a genius setup, as she knew I would need to focus all my energy on acclimating to new surroundings and not on trying to keep up with the academic pace.
As my 6 years at private school progressed, I enjoyed it more and more. I remember some days my mom would check me out of school early just to take me to Disney World – now that is something most people can’t say! Ultimately it was my parents’ decision to send me to this school that allowed me to meet Mason, since a high school classmate introduced us during our freshman year of college. Their decision to encourage me through the momentous transition from homeschool to regular school when the time was right opened the door to the future God had ordained for me, being Mason’s wife and the mother of our own precious children.
As an adult, it’s become apparent to me that my mom’s and my personalities are not all that similar. This makes all of the ways she cared for me much more amazing, because she wasn’t necessarily doing it out of identification or personal understanding like I do with Ezekiel. She was truly seeing me for who I was, a personality quite different from her own, and laboring to protect and nurture it. She didn’t see the 3 of us children as obstacles to achieving her goals. Our health and happiness became her goals. My mom provided me a remarkable example of seeing her children not for who she wanted us to be, but for who God created us to be. Her sacrificial love and service continue to this day, both to her own children and also to her 3 grandchildren who enjoy every good thing known to little ones whenever they visit her home!
Mom, I am so grateful for your influence on my life, from instilling in me a passion to be a homeschooling mom to encouraging me to make difficult changes when the time was right. I love you and am very grateful to have you in my life and in the lives of Ezekiel, Eden, and Isaiah! I know that for a mom every day is “mother’s day,” so happy Mother’s Day!