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  • On Finding Joy

    January 6, 2009

    Late last year, I was asked if I would be willing to speak to a group of ladies and if so, what would I talk about?

    I said, yes, and I have no idea.

    So then. I panicked.

    And then I called my friend Lysa Terkeurst (subliminalmessagebuyLysasbooks) who is by far the most dynamic and powerful speaker I’ve ever heard and I prevailed upon her for wisdom. She gave me some great advice about planning a speech and crafting a message.  She also helped me see that the essence of what I write about here is capturing the joy of motherhood. And together we decided that would be a great topic for a speech. Or a book.

    So then, later this month, I will be speaking to a group of ladies about capturing the joy of motherhood.

    As luck would have it, life is not oozing joy at the moment.  Life is peaks and valleys my friends, we all know that, and right now I’m just sort of hanging out at the bottom of the mountain waiting for the ski lift to take me back up to the top.  It’s fine.  There’s a snack bar down here and lots of nice people.

    So the other day as I was trying to put together some thoughts on the joy of motherhood that I could talk about,  I was interrupted 87 times by my child who seems to have a knack for knowing when I need a moment of peace or need to get something done.

    Mom, MOM, mommmm, hey mom, Ma-ahmm, hey mom look at this, mom do you know where, mom have you seen my, mom what if, hey mom, mom will you pour me some, hey mom come see…

    At which point, I shouted not joyfully “DO NOT CALL MY NAME ONE MORE TIME! DO! NOT!”

    Now one of the many things I like about God is how he uses my own short comings to teach me stuff I need to know.  I imagine sometimes that he is sitting up there in heaven with some of those apostle guys saying something like, “Hey Pete, Jimbo! Dudes, come watch this.  You’re gonna like this. Yeah, Antique Mommy again.”

    After I heard the sound of my own voice screeching at my child I was struck by the irony that I was trying to write a speech on the joy of motherhood.  And I had to stop and ask myself what is joy exactly, separate and apart from motherhood? And what business do I have telling others about it?

    After much prayer, research and introspection, I came to the conclusion that joy is not happiness.  It is not glee or exhilaration or giddiness – those things reside on the surface and they come and go with the wind that blows and swirls this way and that at the top of the mountain.

    For me, joy is deep and abiding and resides somewhere up under the sternum.  Joy is as ever present in the valleys as it is on the peaks. It is satisfying and it is fulfilling and it is not fleeting. It’s the certain knowledge that this place in time, this right now — this is good! And that each day of life, each moment,  is a precious and beautiful gift – even when it’s not oozing joy.

    Being Sean’s mom is a tremendous source of joy in my life, even when he’s driving me crazy.

    That is the joy of motherhood.

    The World’s Oldest Four-Year-Old

    August 30, 2008

    This is a picture of Cousin Tim, the world’s oldest four-year-old. The fact that he qualifies for AARP membership does not stop him from enjoying a homemade Slip N’ Slide. I really like that about him — that and the fact that he’s the original mangy varmint thug.

    Tune in tomorrow for a guest post from Cousin Tim.


    June 22, 2007

    Photo Temporarily Unavailable

    Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

    Or what’s a heaven for?

    ~ Robert Browning


    May 29, 2007

    Not Just Because He Wears A Napkin On His Head

    March 20, 2007

    The prevailing assumption in our culture is that parents can’t wait for their children to grow up and leave home. And yes, there have been a few days when I would have traded Sean for a margarita and a plate of nachos. But not many. At least not too many.

    Maybe most people do feel that way, but I don’t. Maybe because I waited so long and so late in life for him and maybe because I thought I’d never be a mother, but I am not anxious for this time to speed by. I am fully aware that the day he leaves my house will be here too soon.

    I remember one time when Sean was about a year old, we were seated in a restaurant booth and he was enjoying the thrill of wearing a napkin on his head as everyone does. He was having a good time and we were having a good time watching him have a good time. At one point, the lady seated in the booth behind us turned and said, “Don’t worry, only 18 more years to freedom.” Without thinking I blurted, “But I don’t want to be free from him!” Her face contorted in disgust and disbelief, as though I had just stated for the record that I enjoy sticking straight pins in my eyeballs. That was kind of a conversation killer, so she immediately turned back to her margarita and nachos.

    But it’s true, I’m having a great time being a mom even though I’m chronically tired and most of the time I feel like I don’t know what in the heck I’m doing. I mean how often can you take someone to dinner and get them to dance on the table with a napkin on their head purely for your own amusement without buying them drinks? Not that often people. Not since college anyway.

    Sean is a source of joy in my life. I like having him around. He makes me laugh. He makes me remember to breathe long and deep. With or without a napkin on his head.

    The Strawberry

    February 11, 2007

    Somewhere along the way, in the bumpy course of my life, my eyes had become crusted over with the cynical smog and gunk and goo of the world. Bad news for an artist. I had just stopped seeing the exquisite surprises that God puts in my path every day. And I didn’t even realize it. Until Sean came along.

    Having a little boy to point out the spot of bright red in a sepia colored world has been a marvelous and soul-healing thing. Sean has opened the eyes of my heart to see the wonder of the world again through his eyes and this, for me, has been the gift of parenthood.

    Not too long ago, we had breakfast at IHOP and if ever there is a place where the world gathers up her cynicism, it’s at IHOP. We always seem to get some world worn waitress named Blanche who is all business but calls everyone honey. Blanche is probably 53 but looks 73 from smoking three packs a day and having worked at IHOP since she was 16.

    As Blanche sets down the plate of pancakes before us, Sean shrieks with delight, “Oh Mommy! A strawberry!” he gasps. “Look! She brought us a strawberry!” And then he looks up at Blanche and gives her a smile that would light up the dark side of the moon.

     But Blanche doesn’t take notice. “Anything else honey?” she asks instead. Sean claps his hands together with glee and laughs his own funny little staccato laugh over the sight of such a rare and unusal thing. He picks it off the side of the plate and examines it.

    Powdered sugar snows down on everything between the plate and his shirt. He holds it to his button nose and inhales deeply leaving a dusting of white behind. He feels of its bumpy texture. He offers me a sniff by shoving it firmly up my nose. Then he looks at me and smiles. A strawberry! Tiny white teeth and dimples punctuate the moment — those dimples that daily prick the tender underside of my crusty, cynical heart. It is so hard to be crusty and cynical when there are dimples.

    I look at him as he licks what’s left of the the powdered sugar off the strawberry. I think of his happy little heart, still pure and unstained by the world, a world which cannot, will not, be distracted away from it’s cynicism long enough to appreciate the beauty of a single strawberry on a plate of pancakes.

    In that moment, the strawberry and the boy are so blindingly and shockingly and painfully beautiful that it makes my eyes hurt. And I want to eat them both up.

    This boy, he has opened the eyes of my heart.

    The Measure Of A Boy

    December 11, 2006

    “Eighteen inches!” the nurse announced shortly after you were born. That’s officially how long you were. When I’m old and gray, I won’t remember eighteen inches. But I will always remember that you were the length of my forearm when your tiny soft warm head rested in the palm of my hand.

    A line on the wall marks 30 inches. That’s how tall you were on your first birthday. 30 inches meant that I could hold you in the rocking chair with your head nestled into my neck and your knees tucked comfortably under you. 30 inches meant I could lift you over the crib rails and place you in your bed without waking you.

    Another mark on the wall shows that when you turned two, you were 35 inches tall. I don’t remember 35 inches, I remember the leg hugs. You would exuberantly wrap your arms around my upper leg and bury your face into my thigh, squealing with delight and glee and slobber. That’s what leg hugs mean – 35 inches.

    Now at three, you are 40 inches tall. 40 inches means you can sit in my lap and I can rest my chin on your head. And smell your hair. And whisper kisses and prayers down the back of your shirt without you knowing it.

    I know that someday we will stand eye-to-eye and then there will be a day beyond that when you will rest your chin on my head. And I will still want to whisper kisses and prayers down your shirt without you knowing it.

    Home Again Home Again

    September 28, 2006

    Does anyone else find vacations exhausting, or is it just me?

    We just returned from spending seven days in San Francisco, our favoritest of cities. On the plus side, we got to see some dear friends, do some hiking out on Pt. Reyes (where a family of deer bounded by right in front of us), see the sights, enjoy sleeping with the windows open, walk on the beach, feel good about our mortgage and eat, eat, eat and eat some more. We were all set to move there until we found not one restaurant that understood the true meaning of chips and salsa – and that was a deal breaker.

    On the negative side, on the flight out I was convinced that two suspiciously nervous guys were terrorists. I spent the entire three-hour flight eating Tums like popcorn and clutching my smuggled nail file in my coat pocket and praying. I was ready for a Sally Hansen-style duel where I ended up landing the plane or they ended up with a bad manicure. Either way.

    The other bummer was that the second day we were there, someone hi-jacked our credit card number and went on an $800 spending spree at Wal-Mart. As if someone could outspend me at Wal-Mart! The hoist was discovered when we tried to pay our dinner bill and the card was rejected. The waiter was nonplussed at our display of astonishment. When we indignantly informed him that this had NEVER happened to us before, his expression told us he’d heard that one before. Although it was true, it sounded false even to me, so I didn’t blame him.

    Joining the credit card crud in the negative column, I lost my new sunglasses in Golden Gate park, our washing machine broke as soon as we got home with three suitcases of dirty laundry and now my computer is PMSing. And I am tired.

    But, then as I’m looking through my pictures, there is this:

    A little boy who was thrilled with every new thing — a bar of hotel soap, jumping on the hotel bed, a seashell, the “go-go-gay” bridge, a pinecone. I am tired. And it was totally worth it.

    Photo temporarily removed.

    September Rain

    September 21, 2006

    Photo Temporarily Unavailable

    Sunday afternoon brought a warm and gentle (and much needed) rain to North Texas. Sean and I celebrated by grabbing our umbrellas and strolling around the neighborhood, making sure to stomp in every puddle along the way.

    Too few are days such as these.

    Fragile No More

    August 9, 2006

    As I sit here watching my little boy jumping off the coffee table with a tiny toy guitar tucked under his arm like David Lee Roth, I can’t believe he is the same fragile four-pound baby that we brought home from the hospital just before Thanksgiving in 2003.

    We are nearly three years into this parenting gig and sometimes Antique Daddy and I still can’t believe the hospital turned us loose with an infant that weighed less than my handbag. We were so clueless.

    As we were packing up to leave the hospital, we told the doctor as clearly as we could that even though we appeared to be grown ups, we were only cheap imitations. We were terrified at the thought of being responsible for our baby. Beyond the fact that childbirth had left Antique Daddy with a bad case of the shingles and me an emotional and physical wreck — we had no idea how to take care of a baby, a premature baby at that. We knew about dogs, not babies and they wanted us to take home a baby, not a puppy.  We begged anyone wearing scrubs to come home with us. “We’ll take any of you, doctor, nurse, janitor — it doesn’t matter. Please! Just come with us!”

    As the NICU nurse handed over our tiny bundle of poop, she shook her head sadly — not sad because she wanted to go with us, but sad because she was required by law to send two idiots like us home with a helpless little human being. “You’ll do fine,” she lied. I knew she was lying and she knew I knew she was lying because she was the one who valiantly tried to teach me how to change a diaper. “Remember, picture on front,” she said holding up a diaper no bigger than a Kleenex. “Are you going to have some help at home?” she asked in the same pointed way that my mother does when she wants to disguise a suggestion as a question.

    As we strapped Sean into the car seat for the first time to take him home, his little head bobbled back and forth and front and back like a drunk. Even though I had read every book in print on babies, on the drive home I convinced myself that I missed the one page with all the crucial how-not-to-kill-your-baby information. I was certain that I would not know something that everyone knows and I would accidentally kill him and then I would be a nightly news story of a stupid Dallas woman who accidentally killed her own baby doing something stupid and then everyone would say “I thought everyone knew that! How stupid!”

    I was afraid that I would give him 1/8 of a scoop too little formula and kill him. I was afraid I would give him 1/8 of a scoop too much formula and kill him. I was afraid if I stopped looking at him, he would die. I was afraid if I stopped looking at him, I would die.

    000_1109aWhen we finally got him home (we drove so slowly that a 45 minute trip took about two hours) we laid him on the floor in the den on a blanket and stood back and looked at him. And waited. The dog moseyed over and sniffed him and looked up at us like “Now what?” Antique Daddy and I looked at each like “Now what?” and then we both looked back at the dog hoping she had thought of something.

    As I looked at him laying there, just a tiny spot of baby on his little blanket, I noticed that he was not even as big as the stain on the rug where I spilled an entire pepperoni pizza face down on the brand new carpet the day before we moved into the house. My fears about doing something stupid were suddenly rationalized.

    Before he was a year old, I had found my groove and relaxed and quit making myself crazy worrying that I might break him. I learned to wing it and appreciate my benign ineptitude. It turns out that, just like me, he’s of sturdy and stubborn stock and there aren’t enough Band-aids in the world to convince him that he can’t fly. Consequently, bumps and scrapes and bruises are part of every day and so far, I haven’t ended up on the nightly news.

    This summer he is anything but fragile. He is all legs and energy and imp and tease. He is impossibly independent and fearless and he is so bright and delicious to watch at play that it makes my eyes hurt and my heart ache knowing that something so marvelous came from my battle worn body. 100_4995a

    This boy is such a source of life and light and joy in this house. And though I now know that he won’t die if I stop looking at him, I still think I just might.

    Top Left Photo: Cooper Ann and I are discussing what could be done with a crying baby.  She suggested that we offer him a milkbone or take him for a ride in the car. 

    Bottom Right Photo:  Road Warrior