Amazing Grace

Today, I missed a chance for grace.

My son was in a mood. He’d been in a mood since climbing out of bed at 6:17 a.m., to find the iPad had not been charged overnight. Tears and wailing ensued over not being able to watch Daniel Tiger while eating his cinnamon raisin bagel. I could’ve offered grace. I could’ve calmed him down, distracted him, made up a silly story. Instead, I snapped at him to stop crying, or he wouldn’t get to watch anything the rest of the day. The threat worked – he gulped a last sob or two, but calmed down. But the encounter left both of us annoyed and put out with each other. I excused my behavior in my mind because I was tired – I’d been up several times in the night with Ellie. But the truth was, I missed a chance for grace.

Later on, I was trying to talk to someone on the phone about a work-related issue. I thought I was being smart by attempting the call during naptime. Silly me. No sooner had I dialed the number, then my son comes out of his room. “Mom,” he “whispers” in the loudest whisper imaginable, as only a four year old can. “Mom, I need you,” he says. I give him The Look and point firmly back to his room. “Nathan, I am on the phone,” I hiss through gritted teeth. “Get back in your room, and don’t come out again until 3.”

“But, Mom …” he starts. “No, not another word. Get back in bed now.” And he goes. Slowly, sadly, with one last big-eyed glance in my direction. I finished my phone call, and I’d like to say I then went into his room to see what he needed. But I didn’t. Instead, I cleaned up the kitchen and scrolled through my Facebook feed on my phone. Once he was up from his nap, I sighed my way through three rounds of Candyland and then sent him off to play by himself so I could start dinner. I scolded him for bothering Ellie and fussed at him for leaving his cars all over the bonus room. In every encounter, I consistently chose the confrontational path, and every word I said had an edge to it.

Today, I missed a chance for grace. But my son didn’t.

It was bedtime. Books had been read, teeth brushed, prayers said. We were lying in his bed and he was snuggled up against me, like he likes to do. As I gently stroked his hair, the frustrations of the day began to lift away and the guilt began to sink in. I love this boy more than life itself. Why is it so easy to lose my temper with him?

Maybe it’s because he is particular and detailed, when I am not. Maybe it’s because he likes to take his time, and I’m always in a rush. Maybe it’s because one of the few traits we have in common is our dogged belief that “I’m right.” Why did God give me a child so different in personality than me, who only shares my flaws? Are we set up for battle after battle, always seeing things from different points of view? Our days can’t always look like this; I won’t let them. I want to build him up and encourage him, not chastise and criticize. This was not who I want to be for my children. I felt frustrated and inadequate.

I was near tears, angry with myself for failing this little person who trusts me so completely. And, if I’m honest, a little angry with God, that I have such a hard time relating with my own son sometimes. But my anger was no longer misdirected toward Nathan, and I knew an apology was due.

“Nathan?” I said, tentatively. He lifted his head off my shoulder and smiled at me – a genuine smile that crinkled the corners of his big brown eyes. “What is it, Mom?”

“I’m sorry for not being nice to you today,” I confessed honestly. Nathan’s brow furrowed and he looked confused. “Why do you think you weren’t nice to me, Mom?”

Now it was my turn to be confused. “Do YOU think I was nice to you?” I asked him.

“Of course!” he said. “You played Candyland with me and read to me and you made me what I wanted for lunch. That’s all nice stuff. You’re silly, Mom.”

And with those words, he set me free. And I realized God made Nathan quite deliberately. With my temper, impatience and tendency to speak before I think, I need this child, who overflows with grace, forgiveness and a resilient spirit. I so easily dwell on the bad, but all he sees is the good. He is mine, not because he looks like me or acts like me, but because he helps redeem me. It was a bad day, but I’m not a bad mom. Tomorrow I will do better, be better.

And if I fail, there’s always grace.

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I Can’t Breathe

Right after my daughter was born, the nurse asked if I’d like to do skin-to-skin. I was surprised – when my son was born by c-section three years earlier, I hadn’t been able to hold him until my surgery was completed. Jon’s arms had welcomed him first; I had to content myself with stroking his soft cheek and letting his hand curl around my finger for the 20 minutes or so until I could hold him close.

So when they asked me this time, I said yes immediately, thrilled that I would be the first to hold my baby after nine long months of waiting. They snuggled her on my chest, and Jon and I gazed at her in wonder. But as the haze of those first few moments began to clear, I realized how uncomfortable I was. More than uncomfortable, really – my blood pressure had bottomed out right after the spinal, causing intense nausea and dizziness. They had lowered my head to position it below my body to help some with the dizziness, but I still felt lightheaded. As I lay there, struggling to stay focused on the miracle of the moment, Ellie’s weight began to feel as though it was crushing my chest. I closed my eyes and focused on trying to breathe, silently willing the surgeons to work faster. It seemed to be taking forever, and I was struggling to catch my breath. I knew that if I just spoke up, someone would help me – Jon or a nurse would lift Ellie off of me, and I’d be able to breathe freely again. But I didn’t want that. I wanted her there, on me. Sure, she was suffocating me, but I’m a mom – HER mom. I could deal.

Until I couldn’t, and I blurted out, “I can’t breathe!

No one took her away. The anesthesiologist positioned next to my head simply reached down and ever so slightly adjusted the way she was positioned, shifting her weight so the burden felt lighter. “Better?” he asked. “Much, thank you,” I said gratefully, breathing in deeply once more.

A few weeks later, it was a Friday morning. Ellie wanted to nurse every 45 minutes and was refusing all my attempts to get her to sleep. Nathan was desperate for my attention, asking for me to sit with him, play with him, color with him. My anxiety levels were rising, the tears started falling. Is this what it was going to be like, life with two kids? I couldn’t do it, couldn’t manage it.  I can’t breathe, I thought, casting my eyes around wildly for something, anything that would help me.

And then I caught sight of my keys. I buckled the kids into their carseats, gave Nathan the iPad and his headphones and drove. I drove and drove, until Ellie was sleeping soundly. I parked in a lot overlooking the lake and studied my children in the rearview mirror. Nathan, intent on watching the WonderPets, oblivious to my tears. Ellie, fast asleep, her fists curled against her cheeks. I stared out across the water in silence and felt the weight of the morning dissipate into the muggy August air. Just then, Nathan’s head lifted; he caught my eye and smiled. “This is fun Mom, thanks!” My sweet, oblivious, forgiving boy. And just like that, I could breathe again.

Tonight, it was nothing and it was everything. It was a grouchy, teething baby; a wound-up chatterbox of a four year old; a frustrating work experience; family drama. Nothing overwhelming on its own … or even in combination on a good day. But today was a bad one; today I was vulnerable. By the time my husband got home, he knew with one look into my eyes; I can’t breathe, they said.

“Why don’t you get out and go somewhere for awhile?” he suggested. And once one kid was in bed, I did just that. And before I even left the driveway, I could feel it. Shoulders loosening, relaxing.

I won’t stay away long. A cup of coffee, a visit with an old friend. Just long enough to catch my breath.

Take Your Time

Jon knows that sometimes I struggle a little in my transition to being a (mostly) stay at home mom. I think he knows this because occasionally I text him things like “OMG WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME; I’M ABOUT TO LOSE MY MIND” at 2 p.m. on a workday. I’m subtle that way. But he encourages me to take time for myself regularly, whether that’s to meet friends for dinner or just to escape for a walk alone. And every time I go, he gives me a gift – he tells me, take your time.

I love him so much for giving me those three words. And he means them, too. Never once have I gotten a “will you be home soon?” text from him. If I call or text him while I’m out (just to check in, of course), all he will say is that things are fine and for me to take my time.

I had no idea so much freedom could be found in such a short phrase. I wish I had claimed those words sooner. So, in the spirit of paying it forward, I offer the same words to you: take your time, mama.

I hope every mom will embrace it, but especially you new mamas. To the ones home fresh from the hospital with your first tiny little one, take your time. You don’t have to know everything about babies right now … or ever, really. You just have to know yours. So, slow down and get to know her. Memorize the way she smells and how perfectly she fits, nestled against your chest. Watch what she responds to, what soothes her and what agitates her. Don’t miss it when yours is the only voice that she’ll open her eyes and turn her head for. Marvel over her and take a minute to be downright proud that you made a person.

Get to know yourself as a mom, and your husband as a dad. Be patient – with baby, each other and yourself. Worry not about sleep training, self soothing or getting on a schedule. All of that can come later. In these moments, what matters is that you’re becoming a mom. I say “becoming,” because I don’t think it’s something that happens the moment your baby arrives; it’s a process. It’s a process that can be, simultaneously, the most wondrous and most frustrating thing you’ve ever experienced. You’ll feel more than once like you’re losing your mind … you’re not. You’re losing your pride, your selfishness, your self-centeredness. You’re going to emerge from this refinement a completely different person, stronger, fiercer, more loving and more capable than you ever knew. But going through that – whew. So take your time.

Understand that the moments of frustration and feeling overwhelmed are just that – moments. Though they don’t feel like it, they are just as fleeting as the moments of bliss. Babyhood is the land of phases; nothing (good or bad) lasts forever. So take your time, and keep putting one tired foot in front of the other. You will leave the house again, you will sleep again, you will be a real, live human again. I promise.

And don’t forget, in all of this, to take YOUR time, too. Listen to yourself carefully, and your body will tell you what it needs: a walk in the fresh air, a mindless wander through Target, a trip through the Starbucks drive thru, a shower, a nap. Take it, and don’t feel guilty for it. Even just an hour on your own can bring you back rejuvenated and ready to mom again.

Remember that rushing through the day does not hasten its end. We can’t will time to move forward, nor can we call it back again once it’s gone. So, take your time. It’s only yours to take once.