Teaching me to mother

Lizard,

205302_503087736842_9842_nThank you for breaking me in back when I turned 22. There was nothing Taylor Swift about it. Your dad and I tied the knot three weeks after I graduated from college and three weeks after my birthday, and I frantically searched for employment while serving as your stepmom. I felt like I was playing house sometimes, the way my sisters and I played Barbies as kids. Ken and Barbie smooch and hug and ride in the Barbie convertible, and then they get married, and they have a baby, and then what?

I learned the then what from you. No matter what obstacles your dad and I faced in our marriage, I always enjoyed being your stepmom. I loved taking you grocery shopping when you were five years old and answering your bazillion questions about produce and spaghetti and magazines. I obtained a great repertoire of bumblebee, elephant, and duck songs because of you. I got a big kick out of playing Tooth Fairy and helping you learn how to do backbends and make macaroni and cheese and use the washing machine and dryer. I remember the summer after second grade when I realized you lacked some important skills, and I decided to make it my mission to teach you to become more self-sufficient. You were so open to learning new things. I remember you telling your mom and Meme and Papaw about every new accomplishment over the phone, beaming with pride from ear to ear.

262960_519156345222_5013781_nYour willingness to learn never waned. We had The Talk in bits and pieces beginning at age five. I was always candid with you, telling you enough to satisfy your curiosity but not enough to bore you to tears. That strategy seemed to work. I also promised to tell you the truth no matter what, and I never wavered on that promise, and I still haven’t, even though we both know there have been some times when it would have been easier and softer if I’d lied. Because of your willingness to learn, and my willingness to be honest, we’ve made a pretty good team.

Fast forward to 2015. You’re finishing up your sophomore year of college, and I teach students the exact same age as you, my Lizard. Of course, I also teach non-traditional students, too.

Talk about having my life flash before my eyes at work every single day.

I see you in so many of my students. Here are a few examples.

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Hannah and Joey 

There’s Hannah, a beautiful spirit who is seriously perpetual sunshine to everyone who knows her. She reminds me of how I feel around you from the first minute you pull into my driveway until the minute you drive away.

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Nathan

There’s Nathan, a jokester on the outside with a serious interior he tries to disguise from his classmates most of the time—sound like anyone you know? This guy even donned a tutu once during a demonstration speech to help a fellow student out. I have proof of this beautiful moment :). I only taught him for one semester, but he was certainly one of the most memorable students I’ve ever taught.

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With LCreighton and Charmstrong

There are Charmstrong and Lcreighton, two little cuties I came to know outside of class before they became my students. They are both just adorbs (are you proud of me for using that term, Liz?) and often send me pictures of Edna Mode of The Incredibles, who they believe I emulate, in the middle of my lectures. They have filled a little bit of the Lizard void in my heart and life by walking with me to class and laughing with me and reminding me that I’m not THAT old.

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Crystal

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Sheila

There’s Crystal, who I have known for decades and had the pleasure to teach last fall. She has faced more than her share of obstacles but has chosen to become better, not bitter.

There’s Sheila, a non-traditional student who loves her family more than anything. She is also a total survivor and fighter. She has earned her spot in my heart and has proven herself to be hard-working and diligent even when it would have been easier to drop out of school. These are qualities I see in you, too, Liz.

11149462_10153220074068826_6559028102695630203_nAnd then there’s Lauren, who lost her lifelong love this semester. She is now raising their baby alone and is persevering against all odds. She’ll graduate in two days with honors. She will not allow others’ choices and tragedies to dictate the direction of her life.

And this, my Lizard, is what I hope for you, too.

With all that you have taught me about being a teacher, Liz, and with all that my students continually teach me about being a mom, I’m not sure why I’m being paid to teach. The least I can do is pour my very best self into my teaching, and offer my very best self to Maggie every day as her mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Liz, to you and to all my babies.

Day 30: Dear Erin

*It’s the last day of the Dear Gratitude project! My friend and soul sister, Amie Seaton, is today’s guest writer.*

Dear Erin,
I just got in from spending time with you today. I have so much fun with you these days. We didn’t even do much, just unloaded all your clothes into your new apartment. But, during those hours (let’s be honest, you have WAY too many clothes), I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else on this earth than with you.
amieerinlapIf I say I trust God, then I must believe He had reason for not having us grow up together in the same home with the same parents. I’ll never forget finding out I had a new baby sister. By that time, I was nine years old and had spent much time playing alone in my room, wishing I had a sibling to play with me. I didn’t get to see you much as an infant, but I do remember once when your mom brought you over to our house. You were about nine months old. You looked like one of my baby dolls as your mother held your hands and you tried to balance on your wobbly little legs. Your precious little face topped with wispy white hair looked up at me and smiled a gummy grin. You then reached for me, and pulled my hair… you little toot. I am so grateful for that memory.
Many years slipped by and although I was so thankful for a stepmother who wanted to arrange for us to spend time together, and she did, as often as possible, I still felt as if we lacked that sibling bond. Maybe we dodged a bullet by not living together. Fighting over the phone and yelling for you to get out of my room, tripping over your Barbies and bickering over who gets the last cookie. But, in my imagination, everything would have been amazing. Long talks, late night giggles, hair braiding and baking cookies. Maybe Dad taking us fishing on occasion. As a teenager, I loved thinking about what we could’ve been. It was during this time that I committed my life to follow Christ and began to pray for you and your mom, as well as our daddy, to someday follow Him as well. Later on, God spoke to my spirit, telling me that He would indeed call you, and that Mom and Dad would follow. The doubting Thomas in me thought, “I guess we’ll see.”
amieerin1Still time passed. We both did some growing up. We both had some wonderful accomplishments, and we both hit a few brick walls, trying to fill voids that we were never intended to fill. In passing we’d share hugs and smiles and words of encouragement. I have always felt blessed to have you as sister to call my own. But, I still wasn’t sure what our relationship was supposed to be. It was about the time my second marriage was spinning out of control that I started to get a glimpse of what “sisters“ was supposed to look like. One afternoon, you let me cry my eyes out. You didn’t tell me what to do, but instead reassured me that you’d always be available for me at times like that. I remember feeling very humbled at the thought of my baby sister acting so mature. Not long after that, in the midst of troubles of your own, you hit the bottom of the deepest pit I’d ever seen a loved one fall into. I hurt deeply for you. I spent countless moments on my knees, crying and pleading for God to snatch you up and save you. At times, I felt physically sick with worry and wondered if you‘d make it out of the mess alive. I remember hours on the phone, trying to talk you through the turmoil, but I just didn’t have the words. You needed Jesus.
About a year ago now, you shared with me that you’d been attending church services with a new man in your life. I remember feeling a little sprig of hope spring up in my heart, and thinking, “Lord, it won’t be long now, will it…” Sure enough, one day I heard the words, “Sissy, I said YES to Jesus!” I was overjoyed to say the least, and my hope had been restored! 20 years of praying for you, and the time had finally come. HE SAVED YOU, SISSY. He pulled you up from that pit. He held you in His arms, then set you on your feet and made you something new. He washed you clean and called you His own beloved daughter! And what do you know… Mom and Dad came shortly there after. My God is SO good. He was so sweet to answer my prayers. I began to see changes in you, Sissy, and I knew your conversion was absolutely real. I will never forget watching yours and Mom’s baptisms. (Still praying for Dad to get up the nerve.) And, certainly I will always hold close to my heart the Father’s Day I stood next to Mom, you, and Daddy as we worshiped together.
amieerinbeachJust recently, I had another thought. We finally have Jesus in common. You know, physically we are as opposite as can be, with the exception of bad eyesight and flat feet. (Thanks, Dad..) We have very differing personalities as well (not discounting our mutual love of animal humor.) But, I think I finally figured out that the cornerstone of the relationship I had always wanted with you…. was Jesus. So, now I see us in a whole new light. You are becoming a kind of best friend I’ve never had before, and I pray I’m becoming that for you. God gave me the gift of you, many years ago, knowing we would end up here. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Proud to call you sister,
Amie

Day 29: Dear Dawn

*I’m thankful for my college friend, Lorie Mink for sharing her letter to her friend, Dawn, on Day 29 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

Dear Dawn,
Dawn and me at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut in 1987.

Dawn and me at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut in 1987.

I remember the day we met like it was yesterday. It was June of 1980, and I was three months shy of turning 9. We just moved into the lower level of Mr. O’Brien’s house, and mom and dad were busy sorting the boxes and unpacking. Mom insisted I go outside for a bit as I was getting in her way. Since it was a new neighborhood, I was only allowed to go into the backyard, but it was beautiful there. Mr. O’Brien kept plots of a variety of flowers, some I’d never seen before, and I spent time wandering around them pretending I was a fairy tending to the latest crop of magical flowers.

I remember seeing you and your friend splashing around in the above ground pool in your backyard, but I pretended not to notice. Oh how envious I was of the two of you because you were both laughing and splashing and carrying on, and I was on my own. I never spoke to you or even looked over, except for a few glances out of the corner of my eye. Your aunt made the first move, coming over to the fence to say hi. I remember thinking she must be your grandma because of her white hair. She had a bright smile and was very friendly to me, and I shyly smiled back at her.

You and your friend finally acknowledged my presence then, hanging onto the side of the pool as you called out questions to me. I didn’t think you liked me as you dismissed me pretty quickly and went back to playing in the pool, though your friend remained to talk to me. It was several weeks before you said anything to me, and that was to tell me to stay away from your friend. She came over with her Barbies, and we played on my front porch while you watched from the window up above. It took her calling your name several times for you to come down. But you wouldn’t play with us, no matter what. It took your friend moving away for you to finally show interest in being my friend.

And what a friend you became.We were together so often back then; your grandma kept saying we must be stuck together with glue. You were my first sleepover friend, and I was yours. You finally played dolls with me, and I rode bikes with you, keeping a happy balance between the girly girl I was and the tom-boy you were. No matter who I hung out with or what I did, you were always with me and vice versa.

We forged a bond that would go on to last over 30 years, though we haven’t seen each other since 1987.Through phone calls, letters, and emails, we stayed in touch over the years, keeping our friendship strong the only way we could. We’ve been through it all together via phone and letters. I remember the day you called and told me your grandma passed away. She was the only mother you’d known, as your mom had passed away when you were only two weeks old. You were heartbroken, and I tried to find the right words to comfort you.You did the same for me when first my mom, then my dad passed away. Saying things I needed to hear and telling me how much you wished you could be with me. And it never failed that the days I seemed so down and defeated would be the days I would receive a letter or a card from you full of love and encouragement. How did you always know when I needed you most?

I can look back on a wonderful, fun-filled childhood thanks to you and your family, who always made me feel welcome, as if I belonged in your family. I only hope my family did the same for you. I pray every day that we will get to see each other again before we die. It’s the number one item on my bucket list. But even if we never set eyes on each other again, I know our friendship will last to the very end because of the powerful bond we created back in those early days when life still had that special glow and our biggest concerns were having enough money to get penny candy from the store or a ride to the local skating rink on Saturdays. I will always be grateful for the special friendship we created and managed to maintain for over 30 years and hope we have many more years of friendship to come.