Back to School

“But Mommy maybe my new teacher won’t love me like you and Daddy do.”

My heart, already sore, was starting to throb with the unexpected pain of sending my four year old off to primary last week.  He is so young, so small, so innocent, and so vulnerable.  He looked like a baby standing beside the older kids at his bus-stop in his new clothes, bright, white size-nine sneakers, and Super Mario back-pack, which looked as though it weighed more than he did.

As we stood at the bus stop, waiting for the much-anticipated moment when my oldest baby would go somewhere without one of his parents for the first time, this was the burning worry on my child’s mind:  Will I be loved?

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Any teacher, or for that matter anyone who works with children on a daily basis, would say that they love their students.  I can say with conviction that I love mine.  Not because they are easy to be around.  Not because they are easy to teach.  Not because they offer me love in return.  I love them because they are worthy of being loved.  Inside each child I teach is untapped, and often unrealized, potential for greatness.  Each of them was born to do something incredible.  Each of the lives represented in my classroom every year have a purpose.   As their teacher I have a unique and awesome opportunity to help them discover what they were put on this earth to do.  And I endeavour to do this by loving them in a way that, hopefully, says: “You are worth spending time with.  You are worth spending time on.  I love you because you have value.”

Last Wednesday, my son was thinking about many different things.  I find it incredible that the words he actually spoke in that moment articulated the fear we all have when faced with change, new challenges, and moments of vulnerability:  Will I be loved?

This past week many of you, like me, stood at bus-stops, holding small hands, comforting small hearts.  Many of you had to peel little arms from around your neck and allow a teacher you had never met before, to lead your child into an unfamiliar room, full of children they had never seen.  Maybe some of you felt a different kind of pain mixed with pride as your confident, smiling child ran towards their friends on the playground, calling “Bye, Mom!” over their shoulder on their first day of school.  Maybe some of you sent the last of your babies off and then spent the first of what seemed like a very long, very quiet day alone in the house that used to be noisy and busy.  Maybe some of you, like me, questioned your value as a mother now that your child would be loved by someone else for most of their waking hours.  Maybe some of you even drove many kilometres with a loaded mini-van full of lamps, extra blankets, groceries, twenty-seven pairs of shoes, and four suitcases to help your somehow grown up baby move into her very first dorm room and then hugged your girl goodbye before driving back to a house that may never hold her again, except for Christmas and summer vacations.

Like our children, as school begins, we mothers are often faced with changes and new situations where we have to confront thoughts and feelings we would rather not deal with.  As we begin to navigate our way through a new school year alongside our children, there will be moments where we too will be asking the same question that burns in the hearts of our babies, both very young and not-quite-so-young.  As we all move forward, and as we continue to evolve into the moms our children need for this new season in life, I want you to know that you have value, just as you are.  Like our children, we all have the potential for greatness within us.  Like them, we have a purpose.  Like them, we are loved.

I am confident that my son’s teacher loves him and understands that he has value.  I am also confident that she will do everything she can to communicate those things to him over the course of this school year.  I am also confident that my son will sense her love for him and the other children in his class, and when he realizes he is loved, he will thrive in an environment that once struck fear into his four year old heart.  And I am equally confident that as I move into this next season of motherhood, that a Teacher who loves me more than I can fathom is waiting to guide me along my new path.  And I know that, with time, I too will thrive.

My True Love Letter

“A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it’s not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world…Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

My husband has never written me a love letter.

Over the ten years that we have been a couple, nine of which we have spent as husband and wife, I have never received a love letter from him.  He has purchased beautiful cards on (almost) every birthday, anniversary, mother’s day, and Christmas we have shared.  Most of them have brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart.  Many have made me smile, and a couple of them have made me laugh out loud.  Some of them have been short, sweet, and simple in their delivery of a loving message and some have covered three sides of card-stock with words so beautiful that I can’t believe they are meant for me.   Although I do not doubt that my husband has chosen these cards deliberately and with great care, they are nonetheless cards filled with words written by someone other than the man giving them to me.

I have every card I have ever received from him.  I keep them in a clear plastic tote next to our filing cabinet, and the fire-safe box that holds important documents, the kids’ ultra-sound photos, our wedding video, and three tiny wisps of baby hair in varying shades of brown.

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I have hinted at the idea of a love letter at various times over the decade we have spent by each others’ side.  I wrote one to him in hopes that he would write one back.  I have come right out and asked him to write me a letter.  He has yet to pick up a pen, sit down with a sheet of paper, and put his feelings for me into words that I can read over and over again and cherish in a special box for the rest of my life.  He has never written me a love letter.

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He has spent hundreds of hours transforming the woods that pressed against our house, making me feel isolated and anxious, into a gorgeous yard where I feel relaxed and truly home.

He has held my hand at funerals, gotten out of his seat to find a tissue, and then helped me wipe my tears so my mascara doesn’t smear.

He has gone out for Honey Nut Cheerios, in his pyjamas, at eleven o’clock at night.  Without a single disparaging comment directed towards his very pregnant, and very unreasonable, wife.

He has stood by my bedside, holding my hand, offering sips of water, tracking down pink popsicles, and whispering words that kept me calm and helped me focus three times as I laboured babies into our lives.

He has tucked our boys into bed at night so gently and sweetly that I have stood in the hallway outside their door with tears in my eyes from the joy of having a man like him as the father of my children.

He has called out a sweet greeting to our tiny daughter as I bring her down the stairs and into the kitchen where he has been making breakfast for the boys, every morning since she’s been born.

He has thoughtfully offered insight after listening to millions of my words, tumbling out of my mouth at mach speed, more times than I care to remember.  He has held me and said, “I understand”, more times than I can count.

He has forgiven me over and over and over and over.

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He is kind.  He is not jealous.  He never thinks of himself.  He does not get angry.  He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

He has come home to me every single day for ten years.

He has never written me a love letter.

Instead, my husband has given me his whole life.  Every choice he makes is largely driven by his decision to love and provide for us.

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Every time he wipes up a milk spill, every time he offers me a smile at the end of a long day, every arm tossed over my shoulders in the middle of the night, every cold, dark trip to the emergency room with a feverish child, every financial sacrifice he makes for the sake of our future, every piece of toast he gets up to butter so I can have ten more minutes in bed, every phone call I get from him while he’s at work, every flower he sends to me from the backyard in the hands of one of our sons, every time he drives our loaded mini-van to church on Sunday morning, every time he kisses us goodnight, every time he laughs with me after a rough week, he adds to the manuscript he has been working on since the day he asked me to share his life with him.

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His life is the love letter he writes to me every single day.  And when I take the time to read it, it changes me from a woman who longs for words written on paper, to a woman who knows what it means to read love in every act, every step, every moment of a life lived together.

**Shout out to Lisa-Jo Baker for writing the beautiful post that was my inspiration for this one!**

A Life of Questions?

Have you ever had a question about parenting?  Not like, “Which diapers should I be using?” or “At what point do you take a feverish child to the ER?”  No, no.  I am talking more along the lines of:  “What ever gave me the idea that I could do this?”

Mama, I.have.been.there.  Depending on the day, I am still there.  There was even a time in my not-so-distant past where nearly every waking thought ran along these lines:  Should I stay home?  Should I work full-time?  Should I work part-time?  Should I home-school?  Should I put them in French immersion? Should we be eating better?  Should we get rid of the TV?  Do I read to them enough?  Do I do enough crafts with them?  Should we be practicing printing more?  Should we be practicing math skills more?  Should I be speaking more French with them?  Do I worry too much?  Do I worry enough?  Should we be reading more Bible stories?  Should we be praying with them more often?  Am I being an example of good behavior?  Am I meeting their needs?  Am I smart enough?  Patient enough?  Firm enough?  Loving enough?  Creative enough?  Entertaining enough?  Tender enough?  Nurturing enough?  Attentive enough?  Funny enough?  Wise enough?

 

Can I do this?

 

Am I enough?

A rare moment where I believe we are reading "enough" for one day! ;)

A rare moment where I believe we are reading “enough” for one day! 😉

The truth is that I am a far-from-perfect mother who struggles on a daily basis to reconcile the mother I am with the mother I feel I “should be.”  I have, and oftentimes still do, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy.  I compare myself to other moms.  I have denied the existence of my own gifts.  I have been lost in the box of what God has called someone else to be, instead of embracing who I am.  And I have failed to live up to my own expectations.  I have constantly questioned the purpose behind the plan, or if there even is a plan.  It is only now, after having failed miserably to succeed as someone I am not, drowning in questions with no answers in sight, that I am able to see that my idea of success was inherently flawed to begin with.  I now realize that many of the things I believed I had to be to qualify as a good mom are actually meaningless, and that there is no one better equipped to raise my children than I am, because I have been chosen as their mother by the One who never makes mistakes and never leaves me without answers.  So I say: I will no longer live in a way that produces questions without answers.  I can do this.  I am enough.  And so are you.

The truth is that when you became a mother it was not an accident, a mistake, a random event, or a coincidence that you ended up with your specific child or children.  They are with you, here and now, for a purpose.  You are their mother because no one else could be.  They are your children because they need to learn something that only you can teach them.  They are calling out for something that only you can offer.  You have a gift, or maybe even many gifts, that God has given you in order to mother them in the exact way that they require. When you accept that, how can you fail?

Worrying about things like which soccer team my kids play on and how many grams of sugar they consume on a daily basis will never get me the answers I am looking for, as a mother.  I have arrived at the point where I now realize that “things” and activities are good, and time spent with my children is always time well-spent.  However, if my focus and motivation for providing things, planning activities, and spending time is to convince myself, and those around me, that I am worthy of the title “Good Mom”, then the reality is that I will fail my children.  No amount of, or even LACK of, primary-readiness worksheets, French immersion registrations, Pinterest crafts, Bible stories, or worry will ever transform me into the mom God calls me to be, or my kids into the human beings He has called them to be.  If my goal is to turn out good kids that will in turn make me look good, I may impress a few human beings along the way, but that’s where it will end and that is not enough.

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It is so hard to be a mom, no matter how your family has been called to operate.  It is even harder to be a good mom, and entirely impossible to be a perfect one.  In fact I have discovered only one perfect parent in all of history, and He did not concern Himself with what other parents thought of Him, nor did He lie to Himself about what was truly important.  Likewise, I have discovered only one perfect child, and He was not in French immersion, nor did he play hockey 6 days a week (although, He probably did wear cloth diapers).  Instead He watched His Father, and by doing so learned how to live in such a way that His purpose was fully realized.  Who could ask for more than that for their children?  I know that it is not my job to be what other human beings consider to be perfect or to produce perfect kids, and that even if it were possible to accomplish such a thing, it would still not be enough if in the end they never discover their true purpose.  I now know that it is my job to teach my children to watch their Father, and I can only do that by watching Him myself.

“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love.” -Ephesians 5:1-2

A life of love.  So simple!!  Not a life of things.  Not a life of accolades.  Not a life of human approval.  Not a life spent worrying myself and my kids to death over details that don’t give us what we need.  Not a life spent in hopeless pursuit of an ever-shifting definition of perfection.  Not a life of questions with no answers.

A life of love.  To me this means a life spent watching what is good, doing what is good, teaching my children what is good, keeping company with and learning from God, and then living the rest of my life loving the people God has called me to, trusting that my children will learn to do the same, in whichever way this is meant to look.

A life of questions?  No, thank you.  Mama, I promise that my life will never be perfect.  Neither will yours.  I will never be you, and you will never be me.  But I believe with all my heart when we each strive to live our individual lives with love that points our children to their Father, that our lives of questions will become lives of answers.