The Village It Took

In the spring of 1988, several weeks into our new normal, my class was working on an assignment, probably colouring a map of Canada or something.  One of the boys, let’s call him Johnny B. Jerkface, asked to borrow one of my pencil crayons.  For whatever reason (I guess I was a Jerkface that day too), I said no.  He proceeded to threaten to hurt my feelings if I didn’t.  Okay, go, I taunted back.

“At least I have a mother.”

Ooooh that pissed me right off.  I escalated this to my dad, and perhaps what followed resembled Schwartz getting licks from his mom on A Christmas Story, I don’t know.  Years later, our paths crossed again and when his memory was jogged, he apologized and I forgave him.

So it’s Mother’s Day, twenty-six years later, and this time I’m thinking about my village.  There were so many times when I wrongfully subscribed to Johnny’s cheap shot.  That I was motherless and alone.  But eventually, with each passing year, my surroundings came into focus and the blur sharpened into recognizable faces.  Even before Mom died, people were stepping in the gap of her absence at home, delivering hot meals to our house.  And in the many years after, an army formed to pick up where she left off in raising me.  My older sisters, my aunts, my grandmothers, and later my stepmother and my mother-in-law, they all had now-unmistakably active roles in shaping me into the woman, wife and mother I have become.  And the army continues to grow and nurture me, from my younger siblings (yes, lil’ bro, even you and Dad are my mother) to friends old and new.  It turns out, I never really lost her.

We orphans need never feel forgotten, because God has us on His heart.  He cares for us (Psalms 146:9)has always been there (John 14:18)and asks His people to follow suit (Isaiah 1:17).  I remember it and I recognize it.  So this year, I am celebrating the brilliance of His greater plan to assemble a tribe of men and women whose touch in my life personified both a mother’s and His outrageous love for me.

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P.S. I still toast to all of you today too!

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Believe It

I made the follow-up phone call with so many thoughts running through my head, and by the time I put the receiver back down, my mind was blank, washed clear in a rising sea of tears and uncertainty.  The only other time I had felt so lost, so frozen with no idea where to start, was nine years prior in the arms of my father down the hall from my mother’s hospital room.  There I was, 20 years old, hours away from the last exam of my second year of university, pregnant, unwed, and with a sack full of baggage.

There was a moment during my wedding reception when my heart leapt up to my throat to avoid drowning in humiliation.  I held my breath as my new father-in-law began alluding to the elephant in the room.  For the entire day, nobody actually mentioned the obviously-impending arrival of our first daughter four months to the day, but I hadn’t gained full perspective yet, and felt my transgressions exposed for all to see and judge.  I would spend years fighting the urge to prove the legitimacy of our family and my motherhood; that we were just living the early pages of a fabulous success story.  Today, sixteen years later, I know it to be true.  We are ever a work-in-progress but we have been honed into a pretty great family and I enjoy that peace that my younger self begged for in the days when those later chapters of the story weren’t believable to anyone, including her.

Many, many years before this day, an even younger lady found herself pregnant and unwed.  If it was controversial in 1997, can we even imagine what social predicament she and her fiancé were in?  How could anybody believe her when she said she was still a virgin?  That she was carrying the ever-awaited Messiah?  That this infant, born without fanfare in a barn and sleeping in a trough (some artists have depicted Him resting on the floor), is the divine son of the Most High God?  That this baby would grow into a man who would rock the status quo, heal the sick and raise the dead?  That she was part of the turning point where a loving and merciful God sends His own child be sacrificed in reconciliation with the whole world?

Most of them didn’t.  But she was.  And He was.  And He did.

Perhaps you are in a dark corner of your life where all bets are against you.  Where you cannot make out any twinkle of light ahead.  A sudden curve ball has shattered what you imagined your future would be.  You feel barren, abandoned.  You are lost in the wilderness, accompanied only by pain or bitterness or frustration or loneliness or betrayal.  Or blankness.  Let me tell you something.  When you feel like you have suffered through four hundred years of deafening silence, a light will break through.  It will not come when you expect it, or look like you expect it to.  But it’s there – He is there – awaiting that perfect time for you, according to a victorious plan for your life that you could not even wrap your head around if you knew it.

This is what the Lord says:
“At just the right time, I will respond to you.

I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’
They will neither hunger nor thirst.
The searing sun will not reach them anymore.
For the Lord in his mercy will lead them;
he will lead them beside cool waters.
And I will make my mountains into level paths for them.
The highways will be raised above the valleys.
I will fight those who fight you,
and I will save your children.
All the world will know that I, the Lord,.
am your Savior and your Redeemer,

the Mighty One of Israel.
Isaiah 49:8-26

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared for those who love him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9

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Happy Christmas to you=)

In the Motherhood – One More Time

It is the final episode of this year’s birthday season, which means it’s my last go at this acronym business.

This is dedicated to my sweet, sweet Little Girl who celebrates eleven years of life today, and to our Lord and Saviour, who has blessed Hubby and me with the gift of our family. Happy birthday to you both!

M is for Molly Ringwald. On the afternoon before I went in for my induction, I was watching her you-weren’t-a-child-of-the-80s-if-you-haven’t-watched-this-one The Breakfast Club for the first time. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that. It was, after all, 2001.

O is for Oxytocin. Wowzers, that really gets the labour going. From the first drip to the Ring of Fire, it took 5.5 hours. Each contraction was double the intensity of the last.

T is for “Talk amongst yourselves”. Despite having already experienced a natural delivery, this was the first time I really noticed the threshold where you can no longer speak because the pain is so consuming. (Husbands, go back out and get something pretty right now.)

H is for “Holy Schmacks, she’s watching!” You know how I just said it hurts so bad that you can’t talk? Well, long story short, as I was reaching that home stretch (whoa, play on words), I looked netherward and saw my then-3-year-old Big Girl and my mother-in-law standing there, watching the whole thing. If I came with subtitles, they would be in caps, underlined, bold and in italics: THIS WAS NOT PART OF THE BIRTH PLANNNNAAGHHHH

E is for eleven-o-eight. My only nighttime birth.

R is for Rice Noodles with Beef, Green Peppers and Black Bean Sauce. Hubby was kind enough to pick some up for me as my post-delivery treat. And rightfully so; he delighted in sushi earlier that evening and boy did I want to punch his lights out by the time he savoured that last roll right in front of me.

H is for “He’s my baby-daddy”. I didn’t update my Health Card with my married name when Big Girl was born and felt bad for it, as she was then identified as Baby Girl L at the hospital. I fixed that in time for Little Girl’s arrival, and she was tagged Baby Girl A.

O is for Out of Mommy’s Bum. Big Girl reported to every visitor we had that she saw her new baby sister come out of Mommy’s bum. I thought it best to wait about eight years before I corrected her.

O is for Buttercup. (You didn’t really think I was going to dig for an 0-word for this, huh?) Our in-utero nickname for this shy little baby, who concealed her gender at every ultrasound. I added the Peanut- prefix every once in a while because I thought it sounded a bit more boyish, just in case.

D is for Daddy’s Little Girl. Straight up. She is undeniably more attached to her father (no hard feelings, insists Mommy), and strives to be like him. Her love of sports, as both a spectator and a player, has Hubby written all over it. And now that she just made the final cut for the school basketball team, he couldn’t be happier.

Back In The Motherhood

Okay, Round 2.  Technically this is Round 3 because this post honours my third child’s birth, but his day comes 9 days before the real Round 2.  Clear as mud?

Of course, this effort is dedicated to my bouncy sunshine, my Big Boy, who feels a little bit taller today as he is officially a whopping eight years old.

M is for Malfunction.  Before we headed over to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, it was the late hours of the night, and I watched Janet Jackson’s first interview (on Letterman) since the Superbowl wardrobe-malfunction.  She was extra quiet.

O is for Old Pro.  That’s me.  The nurse was impressed by me informing her that another contraction was coming based on the monitor’s needle and not by pain-induced wincing.

T is for Tour Des Hôpitals.  Big Boy had mild complications when he was born and by the end of a very long week, he has amassed a collection of three different blue plastic ID bracelets.

H is for Hair.  How fair is it that the Boy is born with more hair than both his sisters did at birth, combined??

E is for Enormous.  Generally, with each subsequent birth, a mother’s milk comes in more quickly and abundantly.  Enough said.

R is for Reeeeal Close.  Labouring mothers check their dignity at the door during the admission process.  Handfuls of staff, mostly strangers, end up hanging out in front of your Netherlands for possibly hours; there’s no space for shyness in the delivery room.  By the time the lactation expert came into my room and asked me to drop my top to show me how to use the Super Duper Double Pump 6000, I had no more shame left.  I told my best friend not to bother leaving the room.  And the rest is history.

H is for the Hospital for Sick Children.  Wow.  So far my blessings come in a way that doesn’t have my family being a regular there, but for the few days we were in the Neonatal ICU, I could see where the funding was going.  The nurse-to-patient ratio was 1:1, state-of-the-art equipment that wasn’t available in the non-specialized hospitals and much appreciated by Hubby, there is a Burger King downstairs.

O is for Optimus Prime.  Daddy’s first gift for his boy was a little Transformer that sat on his tiny bed at Sick Kids.  (Okay, it wasn’t Optimus Prime but with three children, that’s nine O’s.)

O is for God.  Yes, it is.  He’s God, so He gets to start with whatever letter He wants.  We hadn’t decided on a second name for Big Boy by the time he was born, but after getting through that very long week we decided on Emmanuel =God With Us.  And there He remains.

Do me a favour, please.  Say a quick prayer for every family bringing a baby into the world today.

Probably, as per daughter

This weekend we are celebrating Mom’s anniversary and, as it always happens every year, the weeks leading up always find me hyper-reflective about the ordeal and the journey our family has been on.  This past year, though, I’ve come to a much deeper appreciation of a different angle on the whole thing….

Imagine that you are in your early forties and that you and your spouse have been blessed with six children, ranging in age from 2 to 17.  Thanks to hard work and the Lord’s good favour, you have a nice home that can comfortably accomodate such a large family.  The car’s getting a bit tight and showing its age, but it gets you all where you need to be.  You’re the only one in your family living in Canada, with most members still in your birth country and a couple in the States, but you are surrounded by a great community of extended family members and friends.

Your spouse is then diagnosed with cancer.  And so begins a new daily routine of putting in a full day’s work and then spending the evening at the hospital until visiting hours end.  The hospital is maybe 40 minutes from home, so an already exhausting day is that much longer.  Thankfully, the older kids are taking care of the younger ones back at home, and that incredible network of family and friends is doing everything they can to help out, even dropping off already-cooked dinners to the house.  The ordeal lasts almost a year and slows down only for birthdays spent at the hospital or short visits home.  You throw the traditional debut for your daughter’s 18th birthday and it is bittersweet to say the least.  There are some good days and there are some setbacks.  The car is hanging on for dear life, and there is even an unwelcome adventure driving home from the hospital with the kids one weekend where it overheats.  Your spouse’s physical existence is ever-transforming in to something farther and farther away from what it was only a year ago.  But through it all there is God, and you know this because your spouse has posted inspiring reminders on the wall.  They have done this to keep themselves positive and motivated, but you are probably relying on those just as much.

Imagine next that, a week before their birthday, your life partner, co-parent and best friend for almost 20 years succumbs to the illness.  The days that follow are a chaotic blur as the whole community rallies with love and support.  It’s likely a welcome distraction from moments like when you have to explain to your little ones what they’re about to see and experience in the funeral home.  Or when you return to work after only a week, leaving the children to also begin figuring out their own new realities.  You gotta do what you gotta do.  But how on earth do you do it?  You are now a single parent of six children of such varying ages that each one has very different needs than the next.  You have three teens in high school and one still in diapers.  You are so busy trying to take care of everybody and everything that there is no time to be lonely.  Or maybe every effort to take care of everybody and everything is lonely.

Fast forward 24 years.  Practically another lifetime.  The children are all grown and you have over a dozen grandchildren.  You too now have another wife and, while the early years had their share of blended family growing pains, you are all together, happy.    Somehow all these years you found a way to manage all the roles of father, widower, son, new husband, in-law, mediator, teacher, and maybe at times student.

Now imagine that today, your fourth child, who lost their same-sex parent at the cusp of adolescence, has taken a hard look at how it must have been in your shoes, and realizes that you did the best you could back then, and in the years that followed.  And it was the best.  And you know that, even as a grown woman, married with three children, she misses her mother every day, but hopefully those extra-tight, just-that-little-bit-longer embraces you give her every time you see her channel her angel’s love to her and remind her that she was never alone because you were always right by her side.

Probably.

 

…she was a showgirl…

After a 4 month hiatus, I have finally grabbed a moment to start blogging again.  What can I say?  Life got busy.  Friends got married.  Kids finished another year of school.  We went on vacation.  And my beloved grandmother died.

I can’t not talk about this last one.  (And I promise to share all the other stuff eventually.)

A week before we left for California, Hubby and I talked about the possibility of my lola passing away while we were gone.  After all, with her being close to 101 years old, I think the whole family sort of knew it might happen sooner than later.  And then, in the early afternoon of July 10th, under a very hot Sacramento sun, our friend’s cell phone rang.  For me.

Dazed but peaceful.  So happy for her and so sad for us.  So comforted in the support and friendship of our friends down there, yet so lonely and homesick.

My lola has been in my life since it started.  I have countless memories of my childhood with her, so many funny stories.  I owe my early fondness of game shows and soap operas to her.  She was a crazy cook; I never knew anyone who put so much love into food preparation.  That’s why I mentioned her in every Pampered Chef show I ever did with the ruled cutting board.  I was blessed enough to have had her “live long enough to see” (as she would announce her hope for when the milestones of her grandchildren approached) me get married and meet all three of my children.

At one of the viewings at the funeral home, my dad took to the podium and shared a memory he had of her.  After my mom died, she approached my dad and offered to live with us while our lolo (grandfather) stayed with my aunt and her family.  And I thought it wasn’t possible to love her even more…

My heart is broken.  And like my sister, I am resistant to accept this new life without her being here.  How could I go back to work, our extra-curricular activities, our family’s social life, when this cloud was still sitting on my heart?  I found myself resentful that the world kept turning without giving us a chance to catch our breath.  Once the funeral was done, we all  rushed back to our respective hectic lives and have only had the opportunity to reunite twice.  I swear my parents were not this busy when they were raising their six kids! 

It seems time again to simplify in order to appreciate; seek the quality time for Hubby, me and the kids.  And now that I think about it, I’m finding peace in realizing that we are really getting there, now that our household has turned nuclear.  That’s next…