No tissues

“Mama, I thought you were leaving!”

Maggie looked up from her short stack of wooden blocks where she crouched, smiling, next to her little best friend, Mary. She furrowed her brows at me.

Mary glanced at her own mother, who held it together with a smile, and gave her the same exasperated glance.

39186537_676483520302_2877237478224297984_nWe looked at one another in shock. This isn’t how we expected it to go! We’d stayed at home with these baby girls. We had delayed writing books to spend time with these girls. We’d missed countless coffee dates and outings in lieu of My Little Pony parties. And just one year ago we’d broken down and sent them hesitantly to Mom’s Day Out together. Even though the program only offered part-time preschool care two mornings per week, we’d still wondered if our girls would make it. They were both a bit clingy at four years-old—mama’s girls, happy at home, with family.

And here they were, shrieking with joy in the midst of their new kindergarten classroom first thing in the morning on the first day of school. We had no doubt kindergarten would suit them well. They basically shoved us out the door. We laughed as our egos deflated like Winnie the Pooh’s blue balloon.

“Well, I guess they’ll be okay,” I said reluctantly to Mary’s mom. “Hopefully we will, too.”

She wiped her eyes a bit with a tissue and laughed. We walked away from the classroom without looking back.

39192512_676483605132_8162394297312739328_nLetting go of someone you love can be incredibly difficult and even painful. But it’s made easier when God goes before us and plans in love. As soon as I learned that Mary would be right beside Maggie, learning and growing in the same classroom with the absolute best teacher available in the best district in our area, my fears faded.

God knows me so well. I’ve always felt like Thomas. I have never felt comfortable praying, “I trust you, God.”

I’m the woman praying, “God, I don’t trust you, honestly. But I want to. Please help me.”

And He shows me His hands and His feet and His side.

Dirty dancing’s not THAT bad

The class of 97, on the White River, April 26, 2014

The class of 97, on the White River, April 26, 2014

Last weekend, I said a fond farewell to a former high school classmate whose life was recently cut short. His sister hosted a “Celebration of Life” service at a local restaurant; the White River rolled and roared along beside us as we recalled living memories of our friend driving recklessly while listening to rock-n-roll music, or sending $100 to someone desperately in need of gas money for a trip home, or talking about his love for fashion and his desire to design clothing someday.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect–clear blue sky with a few puffy clouds here and there, a warm breeze, the bright sun blinding us as we took a picture together, with just one of us missing.

Some of the original Dirty Dancing crew a few years after the watch party :)

Some of the original Dirty Dancing crew a few years after the watch party 🙂

As I chatted with my classmates after giving my spiel about my friend, one of them reminded me about her birthday party in sixth grade, a fabulously naughty slumber party, complete with ghost stories and the movie my mom had banned me from watching, Dirty Dancing. I laughed as I remembered blaming the entire incident on my friend at the time; of course, I was THRILLED to have the opportunity to watch Patrick Swayze sway and kiss–all shirtless, of course. I might have had no idea about sex yet, but I had some idea about kissing, having kissed my New Kids On The Block poster of Jordan Knight every single night for about 367 days in a row.

The movie met my every expectation. The best part was the soundtrack. I still have yet to find a better soundtrack to a movie. Maybe it’s just the nostalgic junior high kid in me, but every time I hear the songs from Dirty Dancing, I can’t help but smile and sing along.

This morning, like a real grown-up woman, I helped my husband get my baby ready for the day, fried up turkey bacon and eggs for my family, spent time alone with God, and settled down at the computer to grade research papers. I glanced up at the calendar hanging on the bulletin board above my desk and noticed a date, seven days from today, with a big “35” jotted in red ink.

Oh yeah, I remembered. My birthday is a week from today.

And I’m not sure why, but suddenly the thoughts of saying goodbye to my friend washed over my mind–not with sadness, just with a sense of contemplation. And then for some reason, I caught myself humming the tune to one of those great songs on the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing.

Now I’ve had the time of my life
No I never felt like this before
Yes I swear. It’s the truth
And I owe it all to You . . . 

If someone ended my life and murdered me today, God forbid, or if my life ended for some other random reason today, I think this might be the song–or at least the stanza–that would capture how I feel about my life today–how I feel about God today.

Introducing Maggie to my alma mater, May 2014

Introducing Maggie to my alma mater, May 2014

This is the miracle–that if you’d asked me five years ago, or 10 years ago, to summarize my life with one song, I probably would have selected either some depressing hardcore rock song or an equally depressing gospel hymn disguised as a hopeful look toward heaven. Either way, I might have kept up the appearance of someone peppy and happy and carefree, but I carried around debts and burdens and pain nonetheless.

And then I started taking some steps, 12 of them, actually, that have helped me to just lay those burdens down one by one, piece by piece, and to give God what is God’s and to “not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.”

What a life, and what a God.

So maybe watching Dirty Dancing wasn’t THAT bad.

And turning 35 isn’t bad at all. It’s a blessing.

 

–Quote from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 83

Merging

I’m pretty sure I’ve never cried so much in my life.

Maggie experiencing spring for the first time

Maggie experiencing spring for the first time

Since having my daughter in November, my perspective has changed. Everything old-hat seems new again. All the colors bloomed into brighter versions of themselves. Frowns and smiles and silly sounds thrill my soul. Seconds count. Life matters more.

This isn’t my first spin on the merry-go-round of emotions that motherhood entails.

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Me with Liz, summer 2011

I was lucky enough to be a stepmom to an amazing little girl for almost six years. And even luckier, she still likes me and wants to spend time with me, even though she is a month from graduating from high school and is practically an adult (who I am incredibly proud of) in every way. She gets embarrassed when I post mushy sentiments on Facebook about her, but she doesn’t delete them. She even suffers through a little cheek pinching now and then. She drives two hours to come stay with me, crawls through caves with me and my husband, licks the bowl after I concoct cookie dough, watches sunsets, kisses fish when she catches them, and opens her heart to me from time to time, too. She keeps me updated on celebrities, catch phrases, and other cool cultural trends. A few months ago, when I gave her a mini dress to wear with leggings, and explained that I was simply too old to pull it off, she responded, “Well, it’s good that you recognize that, Beef.” She makes me laugh and tells the truth and loves me.

My experiences and emotions as a mother obviously multiplied when I had Maggie.

And my love overflowed in the form of messy snot and tears when my two favorite girls met, and my past and my present merged.

It’s hard to explain what it means to watch joy and adoration twinkle in the beautiful eyes of the two babies you love more than any others as they meet for the first time, the grown-up girl scooping up the baby girl into her arms, kissing her chubby cheeks, and holding her close.

Many times, people ask me if I regret decisions I’ve made in my past. Divorces, mega mistakes, traumatic events, financial turning points. Because I’ve spent half a dozen years taken a dozen steps over and over again, I can honestly say no. As the Big Book so aptly puts it, “I do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”

I have no desire to wish away the things that have made me who I am today.

Liz and Maggie, March 2013

Liz and Maggie, March 2013

If I could change the past, I wouldn’t be here right now, tearing up yet again while remembering the most precious introduction I’ve ever had the privilege to initiate.

I would skip over much sorrow. But I would rob myself of even more joy.

Mama said, part 5

“TV rots your brain.”

I don’t actually recall my mom saying this. But I know that she believed that spending too much time parked in front of the television was not healthy or productive. We had a TV set in the living room; we just weren’t allowed to watch more than one hour of TV each day, except on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Each Friday night, my stepdad handcrafted homemade pizza for us, and sometimes doughnuts, and we’d all pile into the living room to watch T.G.I.F. on ABC.

Growing up, we didn’t have many battery-operated toys, either. She encouraged us to use our imaginations and to entertain ourselves with Barbies, skates, and forts made with old sheets and dining room chairs. We never owned any video-gaming equipment, even though all our friends owned a Nintendo gaming system. When my stepsister Sarah brought a Nintendo set home with her one Christmas, we thought it was the best thing since the jambox. However, just like the TV, Mom limited the time we spent playing Nintendo, too.

Instead of being mesmerized by battery-powered toys and electronic or digital media, we spent most of our time playing with each other (which sometimes resulted in fighting with each other), reading books, writing stories, inventing intricate games in the backyard, cuddling our pets, and prancing around in my mom’s old high school prom dresses and discarded heels. Since most of our time was spent face-to-face, we learned how to interact. We learned how to argue. We learned how to resolve fights. We learned how to persuade each other to give up the cuter Barbie in exchange for two ugly ones. We got plenty of exercise, and in spite of our initial stage of whining each time we were sent outside to play, we all gained an appreciation of the outdoors and found joy in nature.

Whether my mom intended to teach us any of these lessons, or to buck up against technology, or to foster our social and intellectual growth, I’m not sure. She might have just wanted some peace and quiet in a house full of five girls. But I have a feeling she knew that we’d grow up to be healthier, more productive, and more creative adults someday if we didn’t let TV rot our brains.

Of course, she was right :).