The Ways We Become Our Mothers

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I chopped my hair. Now, the kids say that I look like halmuhnee, their grandmother, my mother. It was inevitable, I suppose.

It's strange how often throughout the day my mother, and my grandmothers materialize before me.Click To Tweet

I will say something in a certain way, or feel my body in a particular posture or doing a gesture, and I can see in my mind’s eye my mother, and her mother saying or doing it, too, mimicking me. The way I stand or sit shoulders hunched or when I put on my makeup my face against the mirror or when I chase Ellis out of the house, like my maternal grandmother. The tone of my voice or the inflection in a certain phrase, most likely and usually about food. The edge to a screech when I’m losing it with the kids. The quiet and calm that overtakes me in a moment of chaos, like my paternal grandmother. The manic way I tackle certain projects – obsessive and focused, like my mother.

I look at my hands sometimes and see the same hands in old photographs like at the birth of my younger brother. My mother is sitting in the delivery bed clutching him swaddled in a light blue blanket as I sit nearby, a 2 year old buzzing with barely contained excitement at the camera. Whenever I look at this picture my eyes aren’t drawn to my bedhead pigtails or bright red Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls. I see her hands because it shocks me how they look so familiar. They’re really my hands. I notice her hands all the time now, and remember looking at them once when Ozzie was born, and how much they’ve changed with the years, and yet still maintain such strength and tenderness somehow simultaneously.

It’s Mother’s Day, and I approach it with such mixed feelings. Before the twins were born, and when we were trying to get pregnant, I hated it – I hated the elevating and pedestaling of what was my lack and failure. On this side of it, I realize that many relationships with our mothers are imperfect (to say the least), and I admit that my own is fraught with disappointment and often frustration, and almost always guilt. Not only with my mother but with motherhood, in general, and with my own children, and especially my daughter. For all the ways I am grateful to my mother for everything that I know and don’t know of her sacrifices I am always regretful that I wasn’t somehow a better daughter or a better cook or a better housewife or a better student or a better everything. It’s not necessarily something she has put on me directly or explicitly, and yet, I know that it is something that was passed on to me, and I have a feeling it was passed on to her from her mother, and her mother received from her mother.

We receive so much from our mothers. The right way to smother huge napa cabbage leaves the kimchi mixture crouched down on the floor over the blue tub with our hands wrapped in thin plastic gloves or how to measure out the water with our hands for cooking rice. Hours of piano lessons or Korean language lessons, and how to fold the mandoo so the edges match up perfectly or how to scoop perfectly balled up cups of rice into the bowls. How to walk or how to speak or how to stand or how to respectfully call our fathers from their offices or the backyard that “dinner is ready.”

But, we also inherit their insecurities with their bodies and their skin, their struggles with the all too pervasive inequities and inequalities of work and childrearing, and all the questions of how to survive and love all the layers of motherhood.

We acquire their faith, too, and their resilience, their persistence, their songs.Click To Tweet

My mother would go about the house singing old hymns and sometimes that old-timey, operatic rendition of The Lord’s Prayer, belting them out, every verse or simply humming them, like a continuous meditation throughout the day. Everything – not only food, but the laundry, the small vegetable garden, the sewing, everything she touched and shaped – everything was leavened with this thick substance of faith – hefty and dense like the doughy rice cakes we eat for New Year’s day and on birthdays – permeated by a desperate hope for life and the periodic glimmerings of it as that life materialized in surprising ways.

As each year goes by I am amazed and a little horrified at the ways I am becoming my mother. For good and bad. Whether we know them or not, whether we are cognizant of it or not, whether we want it or not, something passes onto us, something connects us to that bizarre, but beautiful force that perpetuates humanity. For all that we carry, for all that we are forced to bear in our bodies and spirits, for all that we are to be grateful, I pray that I will become more. More thoughtful. More hopeful. More faithful. More alive. Perhaps this is the best Mother’s Day gift I can give and receive myself.

Parenting Through Brokenness and Insanity

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We attended the open house for the twins’ school next year. They will be in kindergarten. How this is possible, I have no idea, but we’re here. I’m trying to enter into this season with presence and honesty, even though I kind of feel scared shitless.

Because I feel like they’re slipping away from me already.

I know – I’m being a little dramatic. They’re not even five. But there are days when I feel like I have zero influence on their lives. Because either I’m repeating myself a dozen times before they respond or listen or they are doing the exact opposite of what I ask them. 

One morning last week when I dropped them off for preschool, I made a rookie mistake. Heaven forbid, I open the doors or allow anyone else to open the doors, but as we walked in with another family, I saw their littlest reach for the door bumping into Desmond as he grabbed the door handle. So I told Desmond to let Colin open it for us.

Hell hath no fury than an almost-five year old who is deterred from this task.

I watched him have his meltdown and waited as he stomped his feet and screamed through his tears, “I. Hate. School!!!” I said to him, gently, “You don’t hate school. You’re frustrated with Mommy for asking you to let Colin open the door.” He responded with more shrieking, stomping and pounding the air. Finally, I was able to convince him to help me distribute the Valentine’s Day cards to all his friends’ cubbies. We were doing so great, and he was starting to forget the door.

Along comes Ozzie, our youngest.

These two together are a constant train wreck on the verge of happening. Ozzie starts shoving and goading Desmond, which makes him cry even more, of course, and it’s totally derailing whatever progress we’re making with the cards. Finally, Oz punches him, and then I yell at Oz and shove him aside. He falls to the ground and cries like I’ve committed the ultimate betrayal. Et tu, Mommy? 

I’m done. At this point, I leave the rest of the cards on top of the cubbies, throw the lunch boxes in the fridge, and stomp out. Desmond tries to follow me and I say very firmly, and in a not-so-Happy-Mommy voice – “GO TO YOUR CLASS.”

He cries, and turns around.

I get in my car, drive off, and cry at the stoplight.

I know, I’m being a little dramatic. But, they’re about to go off to school-school. I feel like I’ll blink and the next twelve years will be over, and all they will remember is how I yelled at them and left them at school today with my voice in their ears void of any loving support. I know, I know – we all have our days. I know we all have our exhaustion. I know we all have moments where we just can’t hold it together even for the sake of our kids.

One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage. ― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First YearClick To Tweet

My mother was never this way in public. She was the prototypical Tiger Mother – hardcore piano lessons, school was the be-all-end-all, and Lord, Lord the emotional manipulation, the screeching and the wooden spoons. But, she was somehow able to keep it together when we were outside of the house. She never raised her voice to us, she never shoved us, and we were never just dropped off in anger or frustration.

Sometimes this patient demeanor would translate into a muteness and reserve. When she didn’t speak up or if she was reticent to participate in conversations with the other parents, I would feel annoyed. Why is she just standing there staring? I would ask myself as I observed her with the other kids’ mothers.

I wonder, though, if being an immigrant had anything to do with her voice when we were out on the playground or at school together. She has always struggled with the language, but it was more than that – she wasn’t comfortable or familiar with the culture around her. Perhaps she felt the depth of her foreignness when the mothers around her chattered about pie recipes or the latest visits with the in-laws. I began to see the origins of that smile she would automatically paste on her face whenever we were out together. A smile to express listening, but one to also cover up the straining-to-understand, and I could almost feel her heart and spirit were somewhere else, on a different shore.

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It's a sign of bravery.  Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherClick To Tweet

When I look at her now as I stand on this side of motherhood I realize how brave and strong she was with us. How some of that not-so-secret insanity and brokenness and exhaustion we saw glimpses of in the home – what a burden that was to carry for our sake. How she must have carried it alone in so many ways – holding it in private and out there. How grateful I am for the community of mothers and teachers and schools and childcare workers and babysitters and my spouse around me who get it and help me to keep parenting through it all.

I doubt the kids will remember the moments I lose it with them – the screaming, the frustration, and the stomping away, but I will remember, I think. But, I’ll remember the grace, too. I’ll remember the ways my mother kept on, and I’ll remember the ways the kids keep on, I’ll remember how when I picked them up from school, they came to me with squeals and laughter, squeezing my neck, they ran to me as though I’d been away for days and that morning nothing but a wisp of a memory.

Picking Flowers

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To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.

– Karl Barth

It’s gray and wet today. Like a spring day closing the books on a long winter. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and then Advent, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s too balmy to be on the verge of winter.

Except it doesn’t feel like the cathartic relief that comes from seeing those first blooms on the trees or crocuses pushing up through remnants of snow. Post after post on any social media is something about the Paris attacks, something about Syrian refugee children, something about Africa and bombings, something about women being incarcerated or killed, something about guns and violence and hunger and terror. It feels weighty and somber, lonely and dark. I want to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers until Christmas.

But then, there’s the video of the father who tries to reassure his son after the Paris attacks last week. The father tells his son, “They have guns. But we have flowers.”

We have flowers.

I keep thinking about this past summer and how relentless Anna was when it came to picking flowers. We couldn’t go out anywhere anytime when she wouldn’t stop to pick flowers along the road. Maybe at the park. Maybe riding bikes on the B-Line. Maybe walking through the Target parking lot. Maybe our front yard after I just planted some. Flowers, all the time, and she would give them to me, a handful of weeds with the roots hanging off, saying each time, “I know you love flowers.”

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Every morning on the drive to the children’s preschool we sing songs. Days of the Week where we sing “There’s Sunday and there’s Monday…” through to Saturday to the tune of the Adams Family. Instead of snapping our fingers we click our tongues. Sometimes “Rise and Shine,” and old familiar tunes, as I am reminded by Stina Busman Jost at her blog, like “Deep and Wide” and “I’ve Got a River of Life.” But they sing their songs, too, the ones that they are learning at Gan Shalom about Baby Beluga and the Shabbat songs and blessings. They’ve been interested in learning the ones that punctuate our Sunday worship services, too. The Kyrie. The Gloria Patri. The Doxology. The Sanctus when we have communion. We sing each one. Over and over.

Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

I sing allowing the desperation tinge my voice while clutching the wheel for dear life like hands clasped in prayer. And then we go into the songs that praise and sing hosanna and acknowledge that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory. But, the Kyrie stays with me throughout the day. Like every flower – no matter how small or minute – Anna insists on putting in a glass full of water next to my laptop. Always there. This song feels like a protest chant – its persistent roots hanging off reminding me of the life that anchored it to the soil, words that live always on the edge of winter and spring. Because even as we sing these words, calling for mercy, we do so with the hope and belief that God’s mercy is already there.

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I roll out of bed and land on my knees. Push myself up. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and do the sanctified work that’s there in front of me like Sarah Bessey reminds me. Keep looking. Keep seeing. Keep feeling. Keep trying to love like there’s no tomorrow. Love hard. Love recklessly. Hug a little longer. Play those irrational and illogical games with the twins. Read that board book with Ozzie for the 917th time. Try to answer Andy’s question about the schedule for the 15th time without exasperation. Let bathtime be like a baptism each night, and let the sweat that rolls off my face after a long run be an anointing. Laugh, cook, drink, clean, make a huge mess, sit and stare out the window. Let all of it mean something, mean gratitude, mean earnestness and hope, mean life abundant. And tell the children stories about this abundant life – how it’s meant to be shared, how it’s meant to be experienced by every single human being – even if it means we might have to tell the stories that are sad and hard. Because that’s okay. Those are the ones that will hopefully shape their empathy and compassion. All of it. All of it is necessary for life right now. All this work is worship.

Because all work can be worship, songs are prayers, prayers are protests, and picking flowers is resistance. Click To Tweet

Anna Flower

I Love Being A Soccer Mom

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Never in a million years would I ever-ever-ever have imagined I’d say this out loud:

I love being a soccer mom.

But, wait. Soccer moms are put-together suburbanites. With perfectly bobbed hair, and outfits that look thoughtful even if technically activewear. With a roast chicken ready for dinner by the time their husbands walk through the doors. With children who are clean and smell like vanilla cookies. With homes that are immaculate and shiny. With mini-vans and yoga classes and music lessons.

Except I don’t know a single mom that is actually like this when I think about it. Maybe one. Or two, at the most. But, hardly any.

I wonder if the era of venerating the likes of June Cleaver and Carol Brady is over? Because these days I see more moms (and dads) out and about with their kids in leggings and sweats, tshirts covered in breakfast and toothpaste, and the most remarkable bedhead. Only a pillow and a restless night of sleep with a toddler across your face could create that kind of coif. When I look around it seems like many of us have for the most part stopped worrying about upholding some illusive ideal surrounding looks and parenthood. Not that you all don’t look good – I mean, you do, you all are really beautiful people – but the image of put-togetherness seems less of a priority. I feel it in the way my eyes flicker up to meet the quick glance of the mothers and fathers at the library or children’s museum like a silent fist-bump: I see you. It’s about solidarity and survival. Anyways, we likely – at least, I, – save the energy and effort that goes into brushing my teeth and hair for the rare occasion we go out in the evenings with friends or the significant other, and dress as if it’s 1999, and we are still in college, our lives and children not even a twinkle in the night full of jello shots and beer pong.

Sigh. I’m so glad those days are over. Jello shots. Gross.

“Mostly good is enough. Mostly good produces healthy kids who know they are valued and either forget the other parts or turn them into funny stories.”
Jen HatmakerFor the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

Because, honestly, I seriously love being a soccer mom. I am ready to embrace it. You know, the kids are at an age where they are just learning and doing so much. The amount they figure out each day grows exponentially. We can hardly keep up with them. One minute they’re crying that they can’t take the lids off of the markers. The next minute they’re channeling Picasso and Monet with all sorts of mediums, not only markers, but glue and tape and scissors (mostly, supervised).

And so, this is what a soccer mom means to me. It means loving their stage of life right now.Click To Tweet

It means loving watching them run and kick and do the worst jumping jacks ever with Coach Keelan. It means loving watching the kids learn to play the piano, and actually sit longer than five minutes to pound out a couple of stanzas with Ms. Susan. It means loving seeing her absolute delight when she finally figures out how to do the monkey bars by herself and he feeds the dog and lets him out on his own initiative.

Who are these people?!?!?

Being a soccer mom means for me loving learning what it means to have children, and be a child. Because what they’re doing is changing and shaping me, teaching and transforming me on a regular basis. It means seeing differently. It means loving hard. It means learning how to receive and welcome. It means being okay with mistakes and failing gloriously.

It means a little bit more proximity to that elusive, but wonderful kingdom. Click To Tweet

I love it. I love it all. I mean, I am so unbelievably exhausted and I still yell and shout and get totally frustrated at their insanity, but I love it.

I love being a soccer mom. I really do. You all are my witnesses – I said it. I love it. Now I just need a minivan.

Middle of the Night and Half-Awake

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Nearly two weeks.

Of middle-of-the-night wakings. Of stumbling down the stairs to refill a sippy cup with milk for a feverish child. Of trips to the potty. Of soothing a child woken up by dreams of squids and spiders. Of patting a child back to bed with their blanket-duck.

Isn’t this supposed to be happening during their infant stage? Aren’t we supposed to be passed this right now? Shouldn’t I be getting way more sleep?

I’m walking through a lot of the night and yes, even the day half-awake. Almost dejavu – that feeling from the first six months of the twins’ lives when the days were not marked by minutes or hours but by the nurse-sleep-change cycle so there was no morning or evening. Just life on repeat. An oddly blissful music from the scent of fresh baby but a broken record permanently settled on the fog of weariness. A state of perpetual on-the-verge-of-collapse.

These days though it lends a peculiar sensation mixed in with this feeling of being at a crossroads in life.

Fatigue provides a softness, in some ways, an openness, nerves are raw and emotions are on the surface - it can lead to snippiness but it can also lead to a strange and unexpected clarity.Click To Tweet

 A feeling-things-deeply. So, I am letting it in. I’m still on this whole #middle kick. As an image. As a season. As a location. As a struggle.

Reading Lauren Winner’s Still and it’s really perfect right now. In the beginning pages she quotes the Archbishop of Canterbury:

It is not that I have a long journey to undertake in order to get to God, but that I have a long journey to my own reality. It is my heart, the centre or source of my own being, that is furthest away from my surface mind and feelings, and pilgrimage is always a travelling to where I am …God is not merely, like the Prodigal’s Son’s father, on the way to us: he is there at the heart. Or: he travels to meet himself in what is always other, eager to recognize his own joy and beauty in the distinctness of what is not God’s self. However we put it — there are countless ways – God’s loving kindness is there ahead of us. Forgiveness is never a matter of persuading God of something but of discovering for myself that there is no distance to be crossed, except that longest journey to that which gives truth and reality to my very self.

All of life is vocation. Right now I’m seeing vocation become more and more about living into the way God lovingly created each of us – each with our gifts, but also our interests and passions, hunger and vision. But it’s realizing that it isn’t static. It’s going to need a continuous openness and posture of listening.

Because vocation will always be about God’s call - not just to a particular task - but to follow God more closely - to be loved by God more deeply - to enjoy God more fully - to go further up and further in. Click To Tweet

And these moments in the middle, in the in-between, these are times to cling to these realities and promises all the more. 

More middle of the night stillness. Being half-awake is okay. For now.

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