Monday, August 3, 2015

Being Jacob's Mom

I was twenty-two years old when I truly decided I was ready to be a mom.  That's the point in my life that I was married and settled, and I really chose to make an effort to get pregnant, have a baby and become a mom. Now, twenty-three years later, I don't actually remember my process or my reasons specifically, but I know I had them.

I was an only child who wasn't really around little kids much.  A couple of my girlfriends had started their families and had a couple babies under their belts, but my involvement extended to shower gifts, well wishes and an occasional "hold and coo" session. I had babysat a little as a teenager, but really - I was clueless.

I guess becoming a mom was part of the "natural next step."  I was married, now you had babies - and babies, including my friends babies were cute. They were soft and cuddly to hold, and when they dozed and cooed they were absolutely precious.

For me there was fertility treatment involved in my pregnancy efforts, so I know I was fully committed to the idea.  The idea.

The idea.

That was the thing about becoming a mom, it started out as an idea.  I imagined how in doing things completely different from my own mom my relationship with my own children would be better... perfect, even.  Now mind you it wasn't like my mom had done a bad job, I mean, after all, she had raised me.  But still, I knew how differently I would do... everything.  And I was so confident about how my kids would react, respond.  I remember a lot "I'll never's" and "My kids won't ever's..."  (Giggle) Because the thing about being a mom, is when it's theoretical, and you're parenting theoretical kids, well... everything goes perfectly.

It took more than a year of trying after a bad miscarriage to find out I was finally pregnant.  In fact the heartbreaking longing for motherhood had bruised my heart pretty badly between my miscarriage and seemingly fruitless fertility treatments.  A year is a really long time when you are surrounded by girlfriends who say "I think we might like to try (BOOM pregnant) have another baby...." Baby showers were, once upon a time, THE most painful event to weather through.

Then one night in June 1993 I was home by myself, well, just me and the dog. I had my bible out and worship music blaring and I poured my heart out like Hannah in the Bible before the Lord.  I prayed for a child, and then I prayed for God's will.  And I told the Lord if it was NOT His will for me to be a mom, then I didn't want to be one.  And I had peace.  And I meant my prayer. And then I remembered there was one last pregnancy test under the sink in my bathroom.  And as an act of faith, I decided I would just get rid of it.... but I wouldn't waste it.  So, I peed on the stick.

I took the stick back out into the living room and I went back to the Word and worship.  After a while I glanced over at the stick, and much to my surprise where there had always been a (-) there was a (+).  I looked at the stick, I looked up to heaven.  I looked at the stick. I looked at the dog, resting at my feet.  I looked up to heaven.  I picked up the stick in disbelief.  I looked up to heaven.  Then I jumped up, and down, and up and down and up again.  And I told the dog I was pregnant.  He jumped up and down with me.

Ironically (if you know my oldest) my husband Neal was at a Stanley Cup Hockey game that night.  These were the days before cell phones.  So as hard as I tried to keep this exciting news between me and the dog, I called my mom and three or four of my closest girlfriends and shared the news.  My mom came over, she stopped and picked up five more pregnancy tests on her way.  When she got there, I took three more.  All the results were the same.

But it was as I sat out on the porch in the dark waiting for my mom to get there that as I was quietly thanking and praising God that something stirred in my spirit and I knew I was carrying a son.  That's a point of interest really because a couple years before during a deep emotional healing process as I first came to Christ over an abortion in my teens, the Lord had promised me very clearly that I would have a daughter. But I knew, practically from the moment I found out he was coming, that Jacob was a boy.

I loved being pregnant.  Even in utero he was this mellow, calm quiet kid. He never kicked me, he would stretch and roll, and get the hiccups, but he was unobtrusive. Once he tapped to a beat while his dad was practicing on a drum pad, but most of the time he was just really chill.  The same was true when he came into the world.  He took his time (literally) getting out, and he came in quietly.

Everyone has seen enough TV shows and movies to know babies are supposed to cry when they are born, but Jacob didn't. I actually panicked, I asked why he wasn't crying and my fear lit fear in Neal.  "Cry, cry, cry," I said.  The doctor told me "Relax, he's completely pink!" And then I think maybe he pinched him just to calm my fears.  That loud cry he let out was the sweetest sound. He was a beautiful baby, perfect. And in all honesty, he kinda stayed that way for a long time.  Careful, obedient, cautious, sweet - these words would describe the baby who slept about 16 hours a day (that may explain how big he grew.)

I remember when Jake was 11 months old and he cruised over to me from kitchen chair to kitchen chair and put his hand on my cheek and tapped it lightly, he said his first word, "Mama." The boy never crawled.  We worried a little, Neal and I would sit him at one end of the hall and we would sit at the other and try to coax him to come to us.  He just laughed at us and rolled over on his side. He didn't care much about being mobile, then one day when he was not quite a year old we had a picnic in the house.  I walked over and bent down and let him have a sip of my Foster's Freeze chocolate shake.  Then I turned and walked across the room and sat down.  Out of nowhere the boy stood straight up and walked over to me for more.

As a toddler he was smart, funny, vivacious-- he used to like to perform little skits, and would pop out of an empty cupboard in an entertainment center and perform "The Jacob Show!!!" He loved to watch Disney - Mickey Mouse's "The Prince and the Pauper" over and over and over and over again... "More Mee Mow, Mommy, more Mee Mow."  He spoke well, looked and acted older than he was and was never stubborn about anything until potty training and giving up his pacifier (and potty training was harder than the pacifier.) But once he decided he was ready he did it in a week, never even had a single accident.

Jacob's first tantrum wasn't until he was four.  I can still play the video of it in my head.  I remember as I watched him kick and scream in the middle of the aisle at Payless Show Source wondering what alien life force had taken over my kid.  It was the beginning of a pattern, my typically easy kid started to give me trouble about every four years - at 8 (when the two new siblings had shown up in the same year; 12 (when puberty kicked in): 16 (because I think that's in the teenager handbook); and 20 (because being a grown adult and living under your mom's roof, especially this mom's roof-- is hard.)

It's funny, I started this blog wanting to talk about what it's like to be a mom, and somehow it became all about the kid.  And really, that is what you don't know when you're twenty-two years old and you decide you want to have a baby.  You don't think, or at least I didn't think, much past what the cute and cuddly part is like.  I didn't even actually have a fully accurate picture of that (it wasn't until the siblings came along that I understood what having an uncooperative baby was like-- Jacob really suckered me in thinking I had a handle on things those first few years.)

I'm gonna be honest, I am not the "give the kid the last cookie" mom.  In fact, I know in a lot of ways I have been a pretty selfish parent at times.  I know I have been tough, strict, and hard.  That especially manifests itself in the first child - the practice kid, like Jake.  It requires too many years of experience to really know and accept you don't know what you're doing as a parent, but really, neither does anyone else. Being a perfectionist didn't help.  In hindsight there are a lot of things I would have tried to make bother me less (the phrase "don't cry scream over spilled milk" comes to mind.) But you can't go back.

The Bible gives some rather vague instruction on parenting, "train up a child in the way he should go..."  where I would like an instruction manual to proceed, God wants my dependence to follow. The Bible also talks about "iron sharpening iron," and you never really understand that metaphor the same way until you are a parent.  I am the chisel, sometimes painfully pounding on the block that is my kid.  I am so focused on what I can participate in forming on the block, and all along God is working on reshaping the chisel - it's a horrible irony, really.

I never really remembered until I started writing this blog that I had poured out a "Hannah Prayer" for my first born son.  In Hannah's day, she kept her Samuel only long enough to wean him before she delivered him to the temple.  It's hard to imagine giving away a toddler. What I didn't know 22 years ago when I prayed that prayer was that it's not a whole lot easier to deliver a "child" to the temple when he's 21 either. Oh, it's necessary, mind you, but it's not easy.

I will always be Jacob's mom, perhaps to his dismay at times, but a big huge part of my job (which has been dwindling for years) is actually coming to an end as we prepare to send him off... to the temple... to "bible college"... to Ignite in just over two weeks.  (yeah, I am totally swallowing back tears right now, and if you know me, you know how much that pisses me off!)  Some might think we're late - he's 21, why is he still here?  Some days I have honestly asked that question myself, but I can tell you wholeheartedly, it has NOT been too long.  In fact in many ways it just doesn't feel long enough.

My son drives me crazy sometimes (part of the practice kid syndrome, partly because we are too much alike and partly because we are way too different-- yes it can be both.) Right now, as I look at him, as he prepares to leave, I am far more aware of the hard things, my failures, our challenges in relationship-- it was good to reminisce about happier days in this post.  But I love my son, and more importantly (even though he may not know it) I really like him.  I respect him. I'm proud of the person he has become. He's still smart, funny and vivacious.  He's also kind, compassionate, caring, he's found passion, he loves God, he loves others.

I hope that in the midst of my awareness of the ways I have blown it, failed him as his mom, made mistakes as a parent, that part of my influence has also helped him become the good person that he is-- the godly person that he is.

Being a mom turns out to be the hardest thing I will ever do in my life.  Maybe not all moms feel that way, but that has been my experience. Stretch marks, sleepless nights, toddler temper tantrums, homework, carpools, puberty, teen years, heartbreaks, disappointments, failures-- yours and theirs, all hard-- so, so hard.  But none of it compares to this, to letting go.

I thought 11 1/2 hours of labor and an hour of pushing him into the world was hard, but it does not compare to the culmination of the 21 1/2 years of labor that followed pushing him out on his own.  There's no epidural for this part.

I've failed a lot as a mom... a LOT a lot (I have two more, let's be real, I am STILL failing a LOT)... But my God, I love my kids-- if you're a mom, you'll understand when I say, "more than they will ever know."  But this is it.  It's time to leave the nest, soar or fall, fail or fly, it's time to stretch those wings and go.  Part of my heart is leaving, and going out into the world in a way I never understood at 22 years old.  I didn't know.  And I have spent a while now trying to stay in denial, but it's here, no more clipping the wings.

Gotta let go.

Gotta let him fly.

Nobody told me.

But it's time.

I hope he soars.