Remember when you’d spend hours upon hours making breath-taking wedding cakes in the tiny little Alabama kitchen with me and my sister playing at your feet? How when a cake didn’t turn out right, instead of tossing it into the trash you’d give it to us so we could spend hours on end making messy roses and crazy frosting patterns that you deemed were a masterpiece? Yes, you did that. And it was good. And I remember the way you smiled at me.
Remember when, after the divorce, we were struggling and living on patio furniture in the living room and you decided to go back to college while working full time and taking care of four kids? How when you’d lock your bedroom door and we’d hear you crying from the other side, and we’d have cinnamon toast for dinner? Then, when you graduated. When you walked the stage and took that diploma in your hand and owned every minute of every struggle so that you could better your life, our lives? Yes, you did that. And it was good. And I remember how inspired I was.
Remember when, after we were estranged for so many years, you came to visit me and we stood in my living room in Iowa and didn’t know where to start? How you took a deep breath, looked me right in the eye and admitted that sometimes as a mom you didn’t feel worthy? Yes, you did that. And it was good. And I remember how I was so relieved because I felt the same way too as a mom and how we decided to love each other anyway.
Remember when I was a self absorbed brat who blamed everyone around her for her pain? How I now call you everyday, sometimes twice a day, even though I’m 40 something and a Grandma myself because I can’t go a single day without hearing your voice? How your sense of humor, prayers, and gentle reassurance that I am loved comforts me. Your patience did that. And it is good. And I remember, everyday, how much I value what you, as a woman, have gone through and how you, as my mother, have loved me.
Remember when we, one day, decided that the past wasn’t going to overpower the future and that we were super women hero’s who could defy all the odds and be best friends in the end?
Remember when I wrote a birthday letter to you and put it online and embarrassed the Sh&t out of you?
I love you mama. Happy Birthday.
Thanks for being exactly, wonderfully, amazingly you.
The day my baby girl left for college, the last of my three children to fly the nest, I found myself in a heap on the bedroom floor. I did all the right things saying goodbye like not bawling incessantly, not clinging to her clothing and pulling on her to stay just one more minute, and while I did get tears in my eyes when I saw her own mailbox; I let her go with some ambiance of grace. Coming home, however, was a different story.
The house was empty. Like, empty, empty. The pitter pat of little feet had long subsided and the busy noise that lived here had taken it’s exit. It was eerily quiet. I paced. I paced for a little while and then stopping short on the hallway of memories I keep on the wall in my living room I realized … those days were gone. It was over. My parenting, as it were, was no more.
Down to the floor I went. I grieved, I cried, I bawled, I wretched. Lying there, memories flooded through my thoughts and I saw vivid images of my children growing up. At each memory I felt sicker and sadder. While everyone had told me, yes everyone, “It’ll be great! What a relief!,” about empty nesting, this was so far from the truth I was screaming my shock. No, I was a grieving mama and I simply had to sit with it. No one told me how empty I would feel.
I thought, “I was just getting it right,” then they up and leave. I thought, “They’ll never need me again,” or, “Did I do it well enough?” All my chances, in that moment, were gone. What was done was done. Yes, I was in a very dark, scary place!
I went to the internet to read up on other empty nesters and all I got were thin definitions of the term I was living in and several lists of things to do to “get by.” Create lists of things you’ve always wanted to do, start a hobby, call on friends, volunteer, etc., etc. But these are all just busy things to avoid the real issue that I knew I was going to have to face.
It had to be about me now. That’s the example I could set for my children. That life goes on, is still wonderful, and that under no certain terms do you ever give up. I knew, in those first days of empty nesting, that I had to go through the stages of grieving successfully and then come up with a plan. Not a “stay busy to avoid thinking about it” plan, but a real one. Something with meaning and purpose.
With my husband deployed I couldn’t focus my energies on him, though I do have a dear friend whose empty nesting resulted in the healing of her marriage and that is exactly the kind of thing I knew empty nesting was supposed to be. A time of healing, changing, growing, and getting back in the game.
I could write, I thought. But, about what? I pulled out my laptop, dusted it off, and went through almost two pots of coffee just staring at the blank screen. Okay, that’s not going to work. I tried reaching out to friends. Some of them, in their busy lives, were too busy. I was even actually told I was high maintenance by one friend. That made me sad. I didn’t want to be high maintenance, but I did want healthy friendships, so I paid attention to the friendships that filled me with purpose and inspiration and decided not to feel bad about the others. Still, something was lacking.
I volunteered, thinking that if I could get involved with a cause I was passionate about, that would fuel me to continue to become a better person. But, I was told they were “Cutting back,” and even though I had some ideas, it just wasn’t the right timing. Back to the drawing board.
The thing about empty nesting is that it’s not that your children will never need you, want to spend time with you, or not come around on breaks and holidays. They will, and mine do. It’s just, well, different. They’re adults now. They don’t need to be mommy’d. It’s time for the relationship to change, and while it eventually will turn into something astronomically beautiful … the in between of figuring out what that looks and feels like is hard.
For instance, when I text my son and he doesn’t respond I can’t get upset. He’s busy. It’s not a personal thing. If he comes over for dinner and leaves right after, at least I fed him and I know he ate that day. If my daughter calls me because her stipend didn’t go through at college and she’s in a panic it’s not my job to fix it, it’s my job to encourage her to fix it. When my children, when being the key word, come around or call or text … it’s my responsibility to be the mom they need NOW. Not the mom I was. The kind of mom who listens. The kind of mom who validates. The kind of mom who doesn’t stick her nose in their business. The one who shares her thoughts, not necessarily her opinions.
And as we morph into those kinds of mama’s we absolutely have to look at ourselves as women. For this is the time that we, as women, show our children who we are. Creepy, scary, difficult; but this is when they’ll get to know us on a brand new level. I want to show up for that, don’t you? I’ve just got to find that woman before they notice I may have lost her along the way.
So, I write. Starting with this, on this new day, I am determining myself a woman of value who has the opportunity to get to know herself all over again. What I do, where I go, with whom I do it with is totally and completely up to me – it’s time to rebuild.
So I started rebuilding by having my daughter and my grandchildren move home. What?! Okay, so I didn’t navigate that as successfully as I’d have liked too. Ugh, don’t judge. It was a timing thing, with my husband being deployed and her rent having gone sky high, it worked out to have her come home for a year. I have my beautiful, amazing grandchildren to dote on, love, spoil, and pay attention too.
So, while I’m still working on me – yes, I’m writing right now! – I’m enjoying life’s little rewards that come at times in our lives when we absolutely need them the most. Now, my next story is going to be, “How to live with your daughter and her children when they move back home after being gone for years.” HA!
To all my empty nester friends … you’re not alone. Let’s do lunch.
When Amy was alive she always told me, “Be fearlessly you!” She was a woman who lived by her words and yet for all the years she told me this, I never grasped it. I lived constantly in my own self doubt. The shadows of all my mistakes and shortcomings over-rode any light I thought I might possibly have buried deep down somewhere. No matter what I tried to do, whether in career or relationships, it seemed like I was a vacuum sucking people dry because I hungered so much for validation. I never stood independent of how I thought others thought of me. So how could I change that? What could I do differently this year?
What could I do so that when I looked into my children’s faces I didn’t see all my regret that I could have done it better before they left home? What could I possibly change to see my husband take a sigh of relief that he no longer carried all my pain or purpose? My friendships, how could I operate in love in such a way that did not demand reciprocity? How could I possibly be independently fearless and stand in my truth that while I’m far from perfect, I’m a beautiful being with something to offer?
I think we all struggle with this at one time or other in our lives. We look around at those closest to us, those we’ve lost through filters through the years, and those we hope to become closer to in the future and we wonder … do I have what it takes? Am I good enough? Do I have value?
Fear. Fear of being wanted, loved, and liked. Fear of loss, fear of gain. Fear of failure and success. We become stagnant in our doubts, almost sometimes to the point of being frozen in it. We stop going out, we are isolated with work and friends. We shy away from socialization. Then the voices really start up, man, they can be harsh. See? I told you, no one cares. See? I told you, no one notices you.
How do we overcome that kind of fear? I went to my bedside one day and knelt, shaking, on my bedroom floor and I prayed, “Lord, my precious Father, you did not have this in mind when you created me, did you? With Amy gone now, I feel lost to courage and bravery. I feel lost to me. Help me to see myself as someone who can love as you love. Change my heart. Mature me. Please, give me opportunities to shower my world with faith and friendship and love and laughter and not do so with a selfish heart. Train me up to stand in the gap for those I love, rather than whine about being the gap myself. Let me be the light.”
After I was done praying I heard the word, “Act.” Then, from Scripture, “Do not be afraid.” In my mind I could hear the trumpets of Jericho. Bring the wall down. The wall of insecurity, fear, and doubt. Shake it to its core so it has no hold over you.
I heard Amy, “Be Fearlessly You!”
I’m determined that this will be a year of letting go of fear and falling fearlessly in love with my life, my family, friends, and the path I am so blessed to be able to be on.
I pray, for all who read this and can relate, that you have the courage to stand on your knees, be humble to God, and become an action person verses a reactive person! This is going to be a great year.
Stressed out, no sleep, tired and hormonal and if I have to tell just one more person just one more time to hand over my own baby I’m going to scream. Yes, I want everyone to know how wonderful and amazing my newborn baby is and that I’ve just become a mother …. but all the planning in the world could NEVER have prepared me for what I really want in this exact single moment; time. Time to stop and listen to him breathing against my chest in the dusk of evening when the house goes still and it’s just him and I. Time to remember the nine months that I waited for him, and how completely grateful I am for his being here. I just want everyone else to let me have these precious seconds that I’ll never get back. The feeding, the crying, the first time I changed his diaper, the panic attack I had when he screamed when the alcohol wipe was too cold, his sleeping in my arms. All the planning in the world could never have prepared me for this, this time I have to absorb the gift that I’ve been given. The baby shower cake half-eaten and the decorations that I don’t remember, the stale chips left out on the counter and the faces of so many people I TRULY do care about but I’m just so tired from it all that I don’t remember …. glimmer’s of moments that pass through me into the real awareness of what it’s all for in the first place; my baby boy. He’s so perfect. He’s mine. All mine. Thank you God.
Stressed out, no sleep, tired and hormonal and if I have to tell one more person that I’m not crazy – I’m just in graduation party planning mode I’m going to scream! Yes, I want everyone to know how wonderful and amazing my 18 year old son is and that I’m his mother …. but all the planning in the world can NEVER have prepared me for what I really want in this exact single moment; time. Time to stop and listen to him in all the years past in every moment that he needed me. Time to remember the eighteen years that I took for granted in raising him, and how completely grateful I am for his being here. I just want to have those precious moments back. The feeding, the crying, the first steps, the first day at school, the first bike ride, the first girlfriend, the first real advice I gave … every mistake I made; unturned. All the planning in the world could never have prepared me for this, this time I have now to absorb that the gift I’ve been given is leaving soon. The graduation cake, the decorations, the centerpieces, the photo boards and all the people I TRULY care about but I’m just so afraid of letting go now … glimmer’s of moments that pass through me into the real awareness of what it’s all for in the first place; my son. He’s so perfect. He’s not just mine anymore. I have to share him. With the world. Thank you God. For the time I had. For what lies ahead, and for the next party I’ll plan that he won’t care what color theme, what cake, or how the decorations were put up … but that he had them. And he was the star. And I got to be his mother in the important in-between of the candles being blown out.
Guest Blogger …. My Daughter, Amanda and the story she so truthfully tells.
There is a darkness out there. Roaming, weaving, whispering to me. It cackles in the daylight and snarls in the night. Some people have the will to ignore it…others are destined by it. I was imprisoned by it. I’d like to say I was one of the lucky few with this curse. But, it isn’t luck I’m drawn too- it’s experience.
Life is one long string strung up with all the beads we’ve collected over the years. Some people are lucky enough, rich enough, or sneakier enough to get the pretty beads. I didn’t care for pretty beads. I chose the deformed, uncolored, and ancient beads to weave my tale. For I was not a kindred spirit to those others.
And they and all my dysfunctions certainly were not a kindred spirit to me. When I was little I carried my beads with me everywhere. Hanging out for the world to see, because I was proud of them. They were me in essence. Plus, no one anywhere had beads like mine. I felt special. As if I contained a secret no one else did. I treasured them, clutched in my small hands like rubies until one day, and many more after that, I was rebuked for them. My beads weren’t pretty, they were ugly, old, used up, and so very stupid.
I was devastated. And so, I began to hide my beads. Too afraid to show them to anyone.
As the days turned to months that turned to years I had begun to resent them. I resented them and resented myself and especially the world for not accepting the beauty that was crafted in my beads as old as time.
I was now the outcast. I had few friends who talked to me occasionally, but I was still “the weird one.” I began writing at a young age. Angry poetry and dark stories. I read more books than I can name and started to obsess over things that I felt understood or made me in a way. An escape from reality. Each year I masked my resentment and indulged in a different kind of self-destructive pattern. The first when I was little. Dinosaurs. Then, space. Then, Japan. Then, Scotland. Things I could never hope to see and places I felt I could never go. It didn’t matter that all the kids could now make even better jokes at my expense or that my brother and sister were always teasing me or angry with me for taking so much of moms time. I had found my quiet place. I had finally picked back up my beads.
Of course, that wasn’t enough to help me through the storms to come. My step-father, though real-est father I’d ever known was called back to Iraq for the second time. Not only that, but my mom wanted us to move to Charles City my first year of High School.
I forgot all about my beads. All about everything. And was sucked into a darkness so deep, so terrifying, and so full of hatred no one wanted to be around me. I ran away once. Then, the second time the cops were called and I was sent to a psycho-ward for seven days. By this time I knew how to cheat the system. I’d been in these white rooms with white doctors who repeat the same questions and all you can do is smile, take your pills, and promise not to hurt yourself or anyone- many more times before. I was a teenager in crisis, and suicide wasn’t something I didn’t consider. This time I had thought to be like all the others. But, I was wrong. They were sending me to Teen Challenge. A 15 month rehabilitation center for teens in Kansas City, Missouri.
15 months later, one divorce later, one mom almost committing suicide later, and dad back home later…. I was vulnerable. Scared. And still fuming with hatred. I was now a Senior. 17 years old. Just when I thought I’d escaped it all the Devil looked down at me and smiled a Cheshire-smile. Stupid cat.
Things were getting worse at home. I’d gotten my first job out at Arbys and was working a lot. I also met a group of people who saw my beads. And accepted them. Wrong crowd. But, what did I know? For the first time in years I didn’t have to be afraid of letting other people see who I was. I didn’t have to hide my beautiful beads. I felt acceptance from those who desired to be around me.
It wasn’t before long I started sneaking out, drinking, and started doing drugs. It had gotten completely out of hand when in January my mom and dad call me downstairs to their “Yahtzee” room for a talk. So, I went. With dread. Already having an idea of what it was going to be about. My mom talks, she’s always talking, she cries, she’s usually crying, my dad sits there like he’s made of stone….but they didn’t know we were all three sitting there far past our breaking points. My mom finally heaves a sigh and looks me, I squirm. “You graduate in 5 months. We will give you your car and gas just for school and back. You stop talking and hanging out with your friends, you help around the house, and spend time with your family….or get the fuck out of my house.”
I was infuriated. Infuriated and hurt they weren’t going to let my addiction continue here. I wanted to stay, wanted to beg them to help me. But, I smiled. My addiction was stronger. And I was just tired of it all.
“Fine. I’ll start packing.”
The next 4 months are a blur. I’d done almost 20 different drugs, slept with many more men, and wasn’t going to school. I lost 30 lbs, was always trying to steal money. I- I was a wreck. I wanted to die. In my addiction I was gone from the world, I didn’t remember it in those drugs. What I didn’t know was that in my addiction when I’d shown my precious beads those I called friends were making fun of me…in their own drug addict way.
Only, then I was too blind to see it.
April 28th, 2011… Jericho fell. As my mom puts it. I’d been on a meth binge for a week and a week prior to that she knew she was losing me. Losing the battle of her little girl. So she prayed. And God told her to turn to the story of the Bible about Jericho. She went so far as to march around the apartment complex I was staying 7 times for 7 nights.
The 7th day my four “friends” and I were arrested and spent the night in jail. I have never been so terrified in my life. Though we made the most of it, and were under 18 I got slapped with possession of drug paraphernalia. Then, with our heads hung low, with no desire to quit, I went home with the girl Id been staying with. The police left our drug of choice on the table because its technically legal and we snorted a whole vial before I finally worked up the nerve to call my mom and beg her to take me home.
Its been 11 months since then. By grace and trial, I graduated from high school, and after detox, have been drug free ever since. I’m learning to bring my beads to light the right way. No, they’re not pretty. Yes, they’re old and ancient. But, they’re my beads. I’ve embraced them.
During one of the last meetings in my last year at M.O.P.S, Mothers of Pre-Schoolers, I sat juggling my five year old daughter’s crying fit over not being included in a game while fumbling to find and fix my one year old daughter’s Velcro hair ribbons when a mother leaned over and whispered, “Aren’t boy’s so much easier than girls?”
It was that exact moment when I realized I’d forgotten my son. Amanda, my oldest, was constantly at my side demanding attention and our new baby, Samantha, had yet to ever leave my arms. My three year old son, Brandin, had somewhere along the way become independently self-sufficient. With Samantha in my arms and Amanda clinging to my shirt behind me, I rush to the room for three and four year olds to find my son standing in the doorway, patiently waiting for me with a smile on his face as he explained to the daycare worker how it was he made his special artwork.
At the mini-van in the parking lot I argued with Amanda over why she was not old enough to sit in the front seat while I strapped Samantha into her car-seat, and still upset with myself over forgetting my son I notice him climb into the middle seat with a grin all to himself as he straps the belts over him.
And I wonder if it’s not that boys are easier, but more adaptable. My only son, and the middle child between two sisters, had early on settled into a routine of finding his own world inside the chaos. He was my, “Yes Mommy” little boy who cried so little in infancy that I could not remember him ever having cried at all. While Amanda ran at me always with, “Look at me, look what I can do!” Brandin was the child I had to approach with, “What is that you’re doing?” I knew my eldest daughter’s quirks, and my time most went to her when I wasn’t feeding or changing or taking care of the baby. I had no idea who my little boy really was other than he was a good little boy.
Early one morning, before the girls woke and the sun rose, I quietly snuck into my son’s bedroom and gently kissed him awake. Gathering him up in his 101 Dalmatians blanket, I told him I was going to tell him a secret that no one else could know. Rubbing his beautiful brown eyes, he smiled through the words, “Mommy, I’m tired.” I took him outside, on our back deck, and hoisted him up onto our roof. I nearly laughed to see his face, as I knew he wanted to tell me that he was not allowed to do this, but made his own decision to keep quiet. We perched together, side by side, and in the dark of a new morning, we waited. I’d been on our roof countless times to watch the sun rise, after brewing coffee and getting my journal, I’d discovered this place not as an escape, but as an opportunity to embrace the gift that a new day could bring. I wanted to share it with my son, if but just to give him something all his own that his sisters did not have.
As the sun began to climb and spill glorious reds and orange’s across the plains, the mountain’s cast shadows deep down into the earth and Brandin smiled at me. “Do you hear the secret?” I asked him. He simply nodded next to me, and laid his head onto my shoulder as we watched.
Later that year, I was cleaning out our mini-van and discovered, in the seat back pocket of the driver’s seat, which was directly in front of where Brandin always sat, a multitude of strange items. Kitchen spoons, an old tv remote control, a colored drawing on crumpled paper of what looked like a map, and other oddities I couldn’t figure out. I left them as they were, thinking I would ask him about it later.
It wasn’t until we were headed to the store one day, with all kids in tow, that I discovered his secret. From the rear view mirror I happened to notice Brandin seemingly talking to himself while holding the old remote and looking like he was checking his belt, and tapping on the window. So, I asked him, “Whatcha doin’ Brandin?”
His eyes went wide, as if he was going to be in trouble, and he grew quiet. I asked him again, and he barely whispered, “Finding Menonita.” Curious, I asked him what Menonita was, to which he responded, “I haven’t found it yet, but I have a space ship so I can.” I suddenly understood what the strange items were and that his behavior was simply him being a Captain of the ship that was our mini-van. Laughing I let out, “Co-captain to Captain, are all systems in check for take-off?”
His face lit up so bright it nearly brought tears to my eyes as he reached into the back seat pocket, grabbed the spoon and maneuvered it back and forth, “Check Co-Captain! Cleared for take-off!”
Brandin and I spent that year in search of Menonita nearly every time we travelled in the mini-van. Amanda would often pout that she didn’t get to be Captain, and Samantha would sometimes cry in objection over the whole thing, but Menonita belonged to Brandin and what I discovered as the months passed was that Menonita was also for me. Brandin had taught me, and in ways enlightened me, that life was all about the journey.
The following year, Amanda had become interested in Paleontology and my days and weeks were occupied with her obsession to the point of booking her speaking engagements with area elementary schools. Her birthday came and our entire backyard was dug up so that all of her guests could go on an “actual dig” for all of the bones I’d buried in the dirt. It was a wonderful year for her, and when I was asked to volunteer for National Read-Outloud week at their school, I joyfully accepted.
The morning that I began preparing what I might read in school that week, Brandin seemed sad and removed. Putting my writing aside I asked if everything was okay. His shoulders dropped and with disappointed eyes he said, “I wish you would come to my class too, but I know you’re busy with sissy.”
I’d done it again. It’s an easy thing to do as a mother with three children when two of the three are high energy and have larger than life personalities. Without realizing it, they easily take my attention and fill my time, leaving my middle son to his toys in his room without complaining about it at all. So I did the only thing I knew to do … and I pretended I hadn’t forgotten.
“Actually Brandin, I was going to talk to you about that today,” I fib.
His shoulders perk up, “You were?”
Smiling I reach for him and pull him to me, “Yes. I was wondering if you’d like to write a poem with me, about anything you want, and maybe YOU could read it during Read Outloud week, and I will come and hear it.”
As we sat and talked about the things he could write, my little boy grew distracted and asked, “Can I get a snack now?” Telling him he could have anything he wanted from the pantry, off he went while I pondered how I could re-direct him and spur on his sense of creativity. He returned with a bag of Oreo cookies, and offered me one with a sharing smile. “Thank you Bubba!” I say, and take one as we both twist each cookie to reveal the white cream on the inside. He giggles, “I just like the good stuff in the middle.” And it hits me. That’s the poem. My little boy is my “good stuff in the middle.”
I begin talking to him about what it’s like to be the only boy with two sisters and that he’s in the middle and doesn’t get to be the “baby” or the “biggest” sibling – and before I know it I’m scratching out his words on paper while he’s stuffing his face with cookie, and filling the story with heart. When we’re done talking, I show him my notes.
He peers at them strangely then says, “Those are my words.”
I nodd with pride, “Yes, you wrote a poem! What do you think, shall we call it “Oreo?””
He smiles so big I see all of the black cookie stuck in his tiny teeth as he agrees, “Yes, I like that!”
I helped finish the poem, cleaned it up, and printed it out for him. On our way to school the day he was going to read it, we stopped at the grocery store and bought several bags of Oreo cookies to hand out after the poem was read. Brandin did a wonderful job that day at school, and I saw the joy on his face when all of the other children were telling him how “cool” he was. Later on that evening at home while I cooked dinner in the kitchen I overheard Brandin telling his two sisters, “I wrote a poem and mom helped me and it’s called Oreo.” Amanda pipes in, “You wrote a poem about Oreo’s?”
Brandin laughs at her as if she’s not as smart as he is and replies, “You wouldn’t understand.”
It was shortly there-after, when Brandin was in the third grade, I discovered his having difficulty with reading. As an avid reader and lover of literature, I was determined to instill this in my own children and had, since they were born, read aloud to them nearly every night. It was only when I asked my son to read to me late one evening, from one of the children’s books we’d had for years, that his stumbling on words and sentences became evident. Frustrated he shut the book halfway through and sadly said, “I don’t want to read this book anyway.”
I asked him why and he responded, “All our books are girl books.” While I knew this was not the real reason because Dr. Suess was rarely gender specific and I had hundreds of books with boy characters, I allowed this to be his reason and told him, “Wait here, I’ll be right back.” I left him lying in the bottom bunk of his bed in his room and went to scavenge for our old box of classic literature handed down from his father’s mother.
Finding what I was looking for, I snuggled back into bed beside Brandin, and held the book out for him to see. The book was about fifty years old, and didn’t have a cover picture – in fact, the entire thing was hard backed and all blue with just the title imprinted in silver tin along the spine. I smiled, and nearly whispered, “THIS is NOT a girl book …” and went on to tell him a little background on who Robinson Crusoe was. Opening the old book to allow the breath of a hundred years seep into our space, I took it all in, “Mom, what are you doing?” He asked, perplexed.
I inhaled again, “I’m smelling the story.” He laughed at me, “You can’t smell a story!” I then held the book over his face and sifted the pages slowly, “Take a deep breath,” I told him. He did as I told and then wriggled up his nose, “It smells old.” It was then that I got to tell my own son the same secret my father had shared with me when I was just a little girl, the first time he read classic literature to me from the ancient pages of a book handed down to him from his Great-grandfather, “When words are written from the heart, they become eternal and forever have the power to change lives. They tell us stories that even hundreds of years later are about us. Our stories. Your story.” Brandin ponders this for a moment and then says, “I still think it just smells old.”
Laughing I open to the first page and hand him the book. His eyes squint at the small print, and before even attempting to read he says, “These words are too big, I don’t know them.” Moving onto my side so that I can face him I say, “You don’t have to know them honey, let’s just sound them out one at a time.”
Every night for a month Brandin and I lay side by side in his bottom bunk cuddled up in this 101 Dalmation blanket against the soft light of a nearby lamp discovering the adventure of Robinson Crusoe. As we finished the last page, Brandin didn’t even realize that over time, he had learned to read and, to read very well, in fact. He had become lost in the story and by his desire to know what was going to happen after each page, had begun to know the words because of the way the author wrote, and not because he knew what each one meant alone. He was reading with an articulation even I had been stunned to hear after several weeks, and barely even able to believe it myself, my son discovered that not only could he read, but he wanted too.
I received a phone call from his third grade teacher one afternoon, and she informed me that Brandin had been telling other students that he had read Robinson Crusoe. She wanted me to “have a talk” with Brandin about telling the truth, and that while she encouraged a healthy imagination, she wanted me to know about the tall tale’s he was spilling. Especially the one about how an author from hundreds of years ago had written a whole novel just about him. Tears were spilling from my eyes, and I couldn’t begin to imagine that I would ever be so proud of my son but also be so deeply connected to him. I laughed into the phone and responded, “He did read Robinson Crusoe. I’ll send the book to school with him tomorrow and you can ask him to share his favorite excerpt. He’s quite the reader, if you should want to find out.”
Another few years passed and brought with them the gift of a train ride across country with my growing young boy, our favorite adventure together. Then, he became busy with sports and school activities and before I knew it our days were filled with attending one thing after the next. Then, with three growing children and a slowly collapsing economy, I hung up my stay at home mom apron and went back to work full time. The children were all successful at nearly everything they did, and in between basketball and football games, band concerts, and fundraiser’s I worked and also went back to school to get my degree.
Where once they were discovering how to make purple from red and blue crayons, now they were taking their driving test and looking at colleges. One evening, as I watched my son receive his National Honor Society award on stage at the high school, another mother whose son was also receiving the award and who also had two daughters leaned over and whispered, “Aren’t boys so much easier?”
I smiled there in the dark of the theater and spoke with a tearful grin, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” Because the truth is, my son was the mirror of my heart and had exposed through all the years of my raising him, who I was as a mother. He had become my sunrise, my Menonita, and my eternal story written by the ink of his unconditional love.
Trying not to be emotional as we took photos of the seven students with their awards later that evening, I held his large hand in my own and asked, “Are you going to hang out with your friends or do you need a ride home?”
He smiled, and towering over me, wrapped his arms around me gently as he laughed, “Mom, I have my own car.” I suppose I’d forgotten, for a moment, once again. Yet, driving from the parking lot in our white mini-van, I caught his new Dodge Ram truck in my rear-view mirror as he laughed into the wind from the open window. Perhaps we found Menonita, after all.