Grief · spiritual growth

Confessions of a Flawed Mommy

I have a confession to make: I was a flawed Mommy. There is probably a litany of stories to prove it, but I saw something online today, and it prompted the memory of two specific events that occurred during my flawed Mommy years. The incidents I am about to share took place over the course of two days in 1995:

  • On the night of January 30th, 1995 I put my 19-month-old daughter to bed without sheets or bumper pads in her crib.
  • On the morning of January 31st, 1995 I used a baby blanket to prop up a bottle for my 8-month-old son when he woke at 5:30AM.

There it is. Two shameful and embarrassing truths about the kind of Mommy I was twenty years ago.

It might seem odd to some that I remember these specific incidents, but because of the events that occurred through that night and into the morning, I have lived a long time knowing that following my instincts with these two shameful things placed me and my daughter in our destined places in the wee hours of the morning on January 31st.

Let’s back-up to earlier in the day on January 30th. It starts when I placed my daughter’s bunny rabbit bedding in the washing machine in the garage. After tossing her sheets and her bumper pads in the machine, I went about the business of being a Mommy to my 5-year-old daughter, my 4-year-old son, my toddler daughter, and my baby boy who was just 10 and a half months behind his sister in age. (Yes, you read that correctly.) I guess you could say my hands were full.

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FullSizeRender(22)Back then, my husband and I spent a lot of time on the floor. Playing with Barbies and “toy guys”, wrestling and reading, helping someone put on their shoes, or changing a diaper. We lived in a modest three bedroom home, and each of the kids’ rooms held one bed and one crib. The boy’s room was a primary colored den of Legos and Hot Wheels, while the girl’s room was a pastel princess palace with patchwork quilts and bunny rabbits.

When evening came, we went through the bedtime rituals and everything was status quo, until I saw my daughter’s unmade crib. Remembering that her bedding was wet in the washing machine, but desperate for a few hours of grown up time with my husband, I placed a blanket on the mattress and put my toddler in her crib.

A few hours later my toddler daughter started to fuss. Now, there is nothing unusual about a fussy child at bedtime—but for this toddler—it was unheard of. The toddler was Molly, and she was born prematurely at 35 weeks with a brain malformation called Dandy Walker. What that means in simple terms is that the back section of her brain, the cerebellum, did not form. Where the cerebellum would have been there was extra cerebral spinal fluid.

Diagnosed in-utero, Molly was greeted by a family ready to love her, which was only about the easiest task any of us ever had to face. She was agreeable, charming, and stunningly beautiful. She would eat whatever she was offered, play easily with her siblings or alone, and she had a smile that would stop strangers. Despite the lack of a cerebellum, her gross and fine motor skills developed with only a slight delay.

Because Molly was born prematurely, she had a preference for sleeping; even as an infant she preferred sleeping to eating. It’s very common among premies. When I first brought her home from the hospital I would set an alarm and wake her for feedings to ensure that she was getting the necessary calories to thrive. As she grew stronger, her love of sleep never subsided. That’s what made her restless behavior unusual; my child who had always been a great sleeper was uncomfortable and shifting in her crib.

I remember the shame I felt about her shuffling around in a crib with no sheets and no bumper pads. I remember believing that the absence of those items made me slightly unfit as her Mommy. I remember being concerned that Molly’s fussing might wake her sister, who had to be well rested for Kindergarten the next morning; I remember judging myself for not having more money. I remember silently belittling myself and my husband for not making more money so that we could have a bigger home and babies and grade school children would not have to share rooms.

To this day, some twenty years later, I don’t know which feeling led me to go in and get her out of that crib and bring her into my bed. Was it shame or guilt?

When I went in to check on Molly, one of her arms had slid between the bars of the crib and her head was pressed against the hard rails. I pulled her up and out and brought her into bed with her Daddy and me. It was a long and restless night as Molly continued to fuss. I turned on the light, and when I looked in her eyes, I knew something was off. I told my husband we needed to take her to the doctor in the morning. The decision to wait until morning would haunt me for years. Even as I type this I wonder how many people are whispering, “Why didn’t you go right then? Why did you wait?”

At 5:30AM, Molly’s little brother woke in his crib. When I heard him, I turned my head toward my husband’s side of the bed to wake him. I planned on asking him to make a bottle for our 8-month-old son, but my husband was gone. He had moved out to the couch to give us some room. I carried Molly out to where my husband lay sleeping and woke him enough to hand her over, and then I went into the kitchen and made a bottle for my baby son. I took the bottle into the primary colored room and, without hesitation, I used one of his blankets to prop his bottle. I watched as his chubby little hands settled around it and held it in place.

Yes, I was tired. No, it wasn’t the first time. But it is the time I remember, because it is the time that I not only wanted to get back into bed, but I wanted to get my daughter back into my arms.

And again, twenty years beyond that morning, I don’t know completely why I chose to prop my baby boy’s bottle. Was it exhaustion or fear? Or was it the Spirit of God, alive in me and prompting me to pull Molly closer to my heart in her final hours?

All I know for certain is that because of the choices made by this flawed Mommy, the morning that my daughter died, she was lying in my arms. At around 6:30 AM, Molly’s labored breathing ceased. No longer fighting for sleep, she was eased her into her next life. My little girl went directly from the arms of her Mommy to the arms of her Savior.

Should I have taken her to the hospital in the middle of the night? It was a haunting thought. Months later that question led me back to the hospital where Molly had been taken by ambulance and pronounced dead. I met with the nurse who had been working the morning Molly had died, and she walked me through what would have happened had we come to the hospital during the night. The nurse told me that arriving earlier wouldn’t have stopped what was already happening. The weight of a cerebral fluid cyst had settled on Molly’s brain stem, if she had been brought to the hospital in the night, Molly would have been placed on life support. By the time they would have diagnosed what was happening, it would have been too late. My husband and I would have had to decide whether or not we should keep her on life support.

Molly was leaving on the morning of January 31st whether she was lying in a hospital bed, in her crib surrounded by the coziest bunny bedding on earth, or nestled securely on her Mommy’s chest. I am thankful that due to my “failures” as a parent, it was the latter.

This morning my friend, who is a Mommy to three littles, shared this post on Facebook:

It takes guts and confidence to stare the possibility of people looking down on you in the face and do what’s best for your family sometimes. Especially in the mommy world! Today I was reminded that the most important thing my kids need is simply ME. Everything else is secondary. I am their first impression of how God loves them and if I am distracted by the long list of people’s opinions on what is best for my children then I’m stressed. When I am stressed, I am less available to my kids. -Candice Hernandez

Amid the comments of encouragement to my friend, I read about the movement, End Mommy Wars, started by Similac.

  • Think before you speak. Better yet, say nothing.
  • Check your eye roll. And the raised eyebrow.
  • Respect the mom. Even if you’re a different kind of mom.

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I desire this for all the Mommies. Even though I am no longer a Mommy, my daughter is raising my granddaughter, and I know that she has days where she feels like a flawed Mommy. But I know some things that she may not have learned yet. I know that most Mommies are too hard on themselves, and I’ve lived long enough to see “bad” choices turned into something beautiful. What feels like a failure may be a gift, and sometimes the greatest blessing comes to us because of a load of wet bedding in the washer.

I believe that we are all called to love one another, but eye rolling and raised eyebrows are the opposite of love. My daughter means more to me than life itself, so the idea of ending Mommy-bullying is dearer to me than ever.

#EndMommyWars

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Grandparent: The Verb I Am

FullSizeRenderMy first grandchild, my granddaughter Isla (pronounced “eye-Luh”…as in Island), turns TWO today. As we prepared to celebrate her little life at a Minnie Mouse themed birthday bash, I got to thinking about the things I would be willing to do for her. I got to thinking about the effect grand-parenting has on those of us who get to walk that path. 

For as long as there have been grandparents there have been toddlers giving their parent’s parents unique pet names. Not every grandparent ends up with the title Grandpa or Grandmother. I have a friend whose grandchildren call her “Googs” and another friend whose granddaughter named her “Dit”. Two and a half years ago when my daughter announced her pregnancy, I was consistently  asked what name I wanted to be called. Most of the time I answered with a simple shrug. The name didn’t matter, as long as it was ascribed to me by my granddaughter.

FullSizeRender5About a year ago my husband had to take a job in another state, which meant we had to relocate. Because I tend to feel things deeply and struggle to see promise when I’m fearful, I was devastated. I felt like our relationship with our granddaughter was going to be severely altered. I feared Isla was too little for us to sustain a long distance relationship. At a friend’s suggestion, each time I would talk to my granddaughter on FaceTime, I would read her a book. Her favorite being Grandma & Me. In the flap book, the little girl, whom we affectionately named “Bacon-Head Isla” asks, “Who’s at the door?” and when the reader lifts the flap, “It’s Grandma!” My granddaughter picked up on the clues, and and gave me a name. I became Door.

Fortunately, that passed, and I am no longer Door. A new name came into play and my granddaughter now calls me “Am”. Yep, Am. I am Am.

FullSizeRender6I have to confess, it’s a little weird to have become a verb. From the moment I was born and the doctor first spanked my pink bottom and declared, “It’s a girl”, I have spent a lifetime being a series of nouns. I have been a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, a student, a cheerleader, a baseball player, an actress, a girlfriend, a speaker, a waitress, a secretary, a fiance’, a wife, and a mother. Mounds of nouns, and I cannot recall a time in my life when my titled role was a verb.

FullSizeRender7But, I also cannot remember a time as remarkable as this season called Grand Parenting. It’s widely known by every parent that a grandchild is God’s reward for not murdering their teenager. Seeing your own child become a parent is easily the most fascinating and fulfilling moment in parenting. There is a passing of the baton from one generation to the next. With a wink and a nod, you watch as your child becomes, not the parent you were, but a better version of the parent you wanted to be. In every way we hope that our children will “turn out” better than we do, and when we see it happening it’s invigorating.

FullSizeRender3Looking into my daughter’s eyes the night her daughter made her entrance into the world was fascinating. It was as if we shared a secret. A secret that could only be understood by she and I, and every other parent in the world. It’s a secret feeling. A new feeling. It’s the “someone just dropped me into an ocean and I’m going to drown in this love” kind of feeling. Knowing your child is engulfed in this new found love is worth every moment of frustration endured with them in adolescence. In that moment, you don’t have to say, “See…” or “I told you so!” because the littlest member of the tribe is saying it to their hearts in a way that is much more powerful.

But that’s just half the story. The other half of the story is the way it changes us. As parents, we already experienced being dropped in the sea of love; as grandparents we experience the ocean differently. When we meet the child of our child we are washed with a wave of love. Each interaction with them brings a new tide, a bigger swell of love.  And in a way, becoming a grandparent allots us each the opportunity to become a verb. Not because we weren’t active as parents, trust me–there is no amount of time that will erase my memory of how much work it takes to care for young children. As grandparents we receive the activity differently. Grand-parenting reminds us of the things we loved about parenting, but were often too tired to always enjoy.

FullSizeRender4Changing a diaper.

Reading a story.

Running a comb through thick hair.

Holding a hand.

Throwing a ball.

Receiving a kiss.

The truth is, for the first time in our lives, we understand how sacrificial love can feel good. Being a Verb Grandparent, it’s suddenly easier to get up, scoot lower, crawl under and carry more–not because our bodies are more fit, but because our hearts are more willing. Being a Verb Grandparent enables us the opportunity to serve with an appreciation for how fleeting the experience will be.

FullSizeRender8We’ve already lived through the life of a toddler and seen how rapidly they grow and change. We are quick to advise new parents to avoid “blinking” lest they miss an important milestone. In one moment our children were asking for help with turning on the bathroom faucet and in the next moment they are asking if they can go camping in Zion with seven of their friends.

Verb Grandparents have less pressure. As a parent there was a looming fear of failure, but this time around we don’t carry the same burden. Most of us have little fear about making the smallest member of our tribe feel important and special. We can see they are brilliant, and because this isn’t our first trip to Disneyland, we know that as long as they feel loved–everything else will eventually fall into place.