Tonight we’ll take our children to the graveyard, we’ll talk about what might have been, perhaps shed a tear or two, and then we’ll go out for ice cream to celebrate a life that changed us.
It’s what we do every year on this day. Every year for eleven years.
Today is the eleventh anniversary of the day my son died.
I woke up that morning, eleven years ago, to find out that his heart had stopped during the night. Hours later, he was born. Lifeless. Still. But so very real.
Today is the day that changed my definition of motherhood. Today is the day that I birthed pain and lived to tell the story. Today is the day my breasts filled with the milk of anticipation only to dry out days later when there was no-one to suckle them.
Today is the day I shook my fist at God, and yet turned in the same direction when I needed comfort.
Eleven years in, pain has become my companion, my friend. It doesn’t stab me with raw and brittle edges like it once did. Instead it curls up in a smooth and familiar ball inside my chest, tightening my throat now and then, but mostly gently reminding me that I am alive, that I am well, and that I have a story to share with other wanderers along this path.
Pain is my teacher, guiding me along the path, deepening my experiences and enriching my relationships.
Pain is my gift. It helps me paint the world with richer colours and more honest shapes. It helps me write with truth and courage.
Pain is my story. It frames the world for me and urges me to enjoy the depths of beauty and joy within the frame.
I am forever grateful for the gift that is my son, Matthew. Never let it be said that he did not live a full life.
The straight talk on parenting:
- Some days, you will really, really dislike your children.
- Some days, your children will really, really dislike you. There may even be days when they yell that dislike in your face.
- Children are sucking vortexes of need. Get used to it.
- Almost every day, you will wonder if you are doing everything wrong and totally screwing your kids up.
- In between those hard days and moments of doubt, there will be moments of pure delight, and you’ll wonder how you could possibly live without these amazing people in your life.
The straight talk on starting a new business:
- It’s hard. Really hard.
- There will be lots of days when you wake up in a panic wondering how you’re going to survive financially.
- On your days of greatest weakness, you will compare yourself to other people and find yourself seriously lacking.
- Just when you think you have it figured out, one of your favourite ideas will flop, and you’ll feel like a failure all over again.
- If you can work through the discouragement, you’ll have moments when you’re happier than you’ve ever been, doing the things that make your heart sing.
The straight talk on marriage:
- There are no fairy tales. No knights in shining armor. No happy endings. You might as well give up the quest.
- You’ll have days when you think “what the hell have I done?” or “where did this all go wrong?” or “why does it feel like we are communicating at completely different frequencies?”
- There’s a pretty good chance that some day, maybe even 18 years in, the whole thing will fall apart and you’ll be left trying to pick up the pieces.
- You’re going to have to work really, really hard if you value what you’ve built and want to stay together. You might even need outside help and you’ll definitely need some prayer.
- Once you’ve done the hard work, and given up the fairy tale, you might just find yourself growing (not falling) into real, blinders-off, sometimes-it-hurts-sometimes-it’s-exquisite kind of love. And it will feel like home.
The straight talk on leadership:
- Just like parenting, there will be days when you really, really dislike some of the people you lead.
- There will be days when they really, really dislike you. They might even file a complaint or take you to court if the dislike runs deeply enough. This may not have anything to do with your actions, but you’ll still be tempted to take it personally.
- It may very well be one of the most stressful roles you’ll undertake.
- You’ll often feel lonely because lots of people assume the leader is confident enough that they don’t need any moral support or friendship.
- If you find the right support and the right people to lead, though, it could possibly be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. If you’re living your calling, then it will have meaning.
The straight talk on marketing:
- There are people who will want to offer you a formula for success. Don’t believe them. There are no formulas.
- Sometimes you’ll do everything by the book, and still very few people will show up or buy your product.
- Some people will say “just put out good content and people will show up”. Not true. (At least not all the time.) Lots of people create amazing products that nobody buys.
- A lot of times, it’s just a crap shoot – if the right (ie. influential) people show up and buy your product and then share it with their friends, it may go viral.
- At the end of the day, the most important thing is building relationships. Be kind to people, support them, offer them your best work, and slowly but surely the right people will show up. (Or they may not, and you’ll have to start over again, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, only that the timing wasn’t right for your product, or it needs some tweaking.)
The straight talk on failure:
- You will fail. Get used to it. Sometimes even your biggest, boldest dreams will fail.
- You’ll have to work hard to not believe that failing defines you as a failure.
- Even the most successful people in the world have faced failure at some point in their lives. They may even be failing right now and you just don’t know it because they’re good at hiding it.
- Failure may be your greatest teacher if you’re open to it.
- Sometimes failure opens doors to you that you wouldn’t have seen if you’d never tried. Go ahead and fail.
The straight talk on life:
- There will be many moments when you feel completely lost and unsure of what path you should be on.
- People will tell you to “follow these 10 easy steps to success/self-improvement/spirituality”. Don’t believe them. There are no easy steps.
- Nobody’s path will look just like yours. You’ll never find the perfect book, teacher, or life coach who will give you complete clarity, because nobody else knows your life. (But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from other people’s wisdom. You should. Just don’t expect it to be the only answer.)
- Living a life of integrity, authenticity, and compassion takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s still worth it.
- If you are true to yourself, true to the people that you love, and true to your God, and if you pursue your passions and share your gifts, your life will have meaning.
I’m not a mommy-blogger for a few good reasons. I don’t think I’m particularly competent at parenthood (aren’t we all just feeling our way in the dark?), and there are a lot of other things roaming around in this grey matter that I’d just as soon write about as parenting. While I take great delight in my three daughters, I’m not one of those moms who gives up all else for the sake of her children (nor do I think that’s particularly healthy for mom or kids).
Today is an exception, though. I’m going to blog about my kids.
Last night, I was curled up on the couch when a lovely thought occurred to me. “My three children are all blessedly happy at this moment.” It was a good moment and I had to bask in it while it lasted.
The oldest daughter had just returned from a rugby game and was riding that post-game adrenalin high as she demonstrated some of the plays for her dad and I.
The second daughter is off on a French exchange program in Quebec, and though I didn’t speak with her last night, I can only presume she was happy based on all of the conversations I’ve had with her so far. (There was pure joy in her voice after visiting Old Montreal.)
The third daughter was taking great delight in some new art supplies (thanks Connie!) and was making art in her new journal.
Fierce athlete, curious explorer, and imaginative artist.
That doesn’t paint the whole picture of those three girls, but it certainly gives you a clue about what makes each one unique.
I didn’t mold them into these things, nor did I put any particular effort into helping them find these particular paths. I just did two simple things – I gave them tools and permission. The tools weren’t particularly expensive. Just rugby cleats, art supplies, and a suitcase. And the permission? Well, that was just a matter of deciding a long time ago that I was going to be okay with watching them choose their own paths, whether or not they seemed like the right paths to me.
I think this goes way beyond parenting, though. I think it’s got everything to do with leadership too. Give them tools, give them permission, and set them loose on the world. It’s what leading with your paint clothes on is all about (which, by the way, could also be called “parenting with your paint clothes on” because there are so many parallels).
And it has everything to do with self leadership and self care too. Give yourself the tools. Give yourself the permission. And set yourself loose.
If you love to paint, when was the last time you bought a new paintbrush or tube of paint? If you love to write, why not invest in a beautiful journal and trust that your thoughts are worthy of a good home? If your body loves to move, why haven’t you bought yourself a good pair of dance shoes or running shoes?
And when was the last time you gave yourself the gift of an afternoon to do these things you love to do? Are the things that bring you joy at the bottom of the list after all of the other priorities you have to get to? Stop doing that. Seriously. Give yourself permission.
It’s pretty simple, really. It’s the only way you’ll find your path – give yourself the tools and the permission.
(Well, at least MY 14 year old girl. I can’t vouch for yours.)
1. Encourage her to begin living out her “I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up” dream a little early by designing her own junior high grad dress.
2. Offer to sew it with her.
3. Don’t change your mind, even when she shows you a sketch of a dress with about a thousand individual petals on the skirt.
4. Encourage her to make bigger petals that will have less chance of leaving your hands irreversibly crippled and your shoulders permanently hunched.
5. Take her shopping for fabric and STILL don’t change your mind even when she picks satin (every sewer’s worst nightmare).
6. Spend endless hours cutting, stitching, ironing, cutting, stitching, ironing… about a hundred petals.
7. Take her shopping again for the accent around the waist and STILL don’t change your mind even when she chooses glitter that you have to stitch in place.
8. Spend a few more endless hours stitching, seam-ripping, cursing, stitching, seam-ripping, cursing the blasted zipper that just won’t go in properly, especially by the sequined waistband.
9. Rue the day you thought an invisible zipper was a wise choice.
10. Finally emerge victorious having conquered the myriad of enemies that took the seemingly innocuous shapes of pink satin, flower petals, silver sequins, “boning” (to keep the top rigid), and an invisible zipper.
11. Dance around the living room with her when she puts it on and both she and the dress look stunning!
12. Take her shopping again and let her pick her shoes.
13. Cringe a little, but smile and pay the bill when she picks the most impossibly high-heeled shoes this side of Sex and the City. Brace yourself (and her) for her father’s less-than-pleased reaction. Justify the purchase by saying “at least it’s only shoes she’s obsessed with and not drugs!”
14. Buy her some fancy jewellery as a surprise, just because you can’t resist helping her complete the picture. (And admit to yourself that this has been more fun for you than you expected.)
15. Keep your promise not to share any photos of The Dress online until after she’s had the Big Reveal to her friends at grad, even though you’re bursting with pride and desperately want to show off all over Twitter, Facebook, and maybe even some random street corner.
16. Consider googling “fashion design competitions for teenagers” because you’re convinced your daughter would SMOKE the competition.
17. Beam with pride all evening at the grad dinner and then the next morning at the school ceremony as you watch her postively glowing when her friends, teachers, friends’ parents, and maybe a few random people on the street ooh and aah over her dress.
When we birth our children, we also birth a protective instinct that bubbles up in us and can nearly consume us in those dark times when our children may be in danger. It’s the Mama (or Papa) Bear gene. Mostly it lays dormant until the tiny seed of a child begins to grow in us.
I remember a time early in my pregnancy with my first daughter. I was about to dart across the street, dodging traffic, when I stopped myself short. I couldn’t budge. The Mama Bear instinct forced me to stand on the sidewalk waiting for a more safe opportunity. It caught me by surprise to realize that I couldn’t do it quite as carelessly as I once did. Suddenly I was responsible for someone other than myself and that felt serious.
As the children get older, it becomes more and more clear that we cannot protect them from everything. They will get hurt, they will fall down and skin their knees, they will be betrayed, they’ll have their hearts broken – and all we can do is offer them a safe place to land. It tears your heart out when you watch it happen. Sometimes, in fact, it feels like the pain is deeper than if you were the one getting hurt or betrayed.
This week, we found out that the soccer coach that was supposed to be coaching our daughter’s team was arrested for child molestation and child porn. He allegedly took advantage of one of the girls on the soccer team – quite possibly someone we know. We are all heart sick about this.
At the beginning of the season, when we went to the meeting to be introduced to the coaches and team members, this particular coach took the parents aside and said “if you’re ever in a pinch and need someone to give your daughter a ride to a game or practice, give me a call and I’d be happy to help out. Especially if you’re a single parent and you just can’t juggle everyone’s schedule – I know what it’s like to go through a divorce. I’m there for you and your daughters.” At the time I remember thinking “he’s either a really nice guy or he’s a little creepy – I’m not really sure which.”
It’s sickening now to think that he was setting us up to trust him with our daughters. He seemed sincere at the time and though I found his offer a little odd, there was nothing that screamed “child molester” about him. (He left the team shortly after that meeting, so that was the only time I encountered him.)
Every day we have to make decisions and help our children make decisions – is this person trustworthy? Is this activity safe? Mostly, I tend to lean toward trust rather than fear. I don’t think it does anyone any good to be forever living in fear of everyone we meet. But there are those times when trust is the wrong choice, and for that girl, who was (allegedly – I have to remember “innocent until proven guilty”) molested when her dad had to leave the soccer field early and she’d gotten rides home from the coach, trust may never feel like an option again.
And even for my daughters, who are very aware of what’s going on, trusting adults in positions of authority has become less of an automatic assumption.
Oh, sometimes I wish the world were a simpler place.
I’d forgotten about this photo until I unearthed it the other day. I am absolutely IN LOVE with it in a way that I don’t remember being when I first saw it. There were other photos from that day (like the one in my banner) that grabbed me more at the time. (Video here.)
It tells such a great story of the generations of women I’m embedded between. My mother, my daughter (Julie) and me.
I had just jumped out of a plane. Look how incredibly joyous I am! What a moment of pure, intoxicating adrenalin! I finally knew what the sky tasted like!
When I landed, my mom and Julie were the only people to come running across the field to greet me. (My husband followed later with the camera.)
Mom, carrying my chute, supporting me, content to pick up the rear. Proud of me. And not one bit afraid to watch her daughter do something as crazy as jump out of a perfectly good plane. In her heart I know she was a little bit (maybe even a LOT) envious. If there’s one thing I inherited from my mom it is my “adventure junkie” tendencies.
Julie, wearing my helmet, leading me forward, grinning with pride, and also… a whole LOT jealous of me. Of my three daughters, she’s the one voted “most likely to follow her mom’s footsteps and go skydiving some day”. She developed a new dream that day – work at the skydiving place so she could skydive as often as possible. If there’s one thing she inherited from HER mom it is her “adventure junkie” tendencies. (If you watch the video, you’ll hear her eager voice wanting to come rushing to me before the plane landed.)
It just makes me smile to see the story of women as it passes from generation to generation – through my mother to me, and through me to my daughter.
What about you? Why don’t you play along? Show me a picture that tells a story of your generations. Or write about it in the comments.