The Oak and The Acorn

If I had a dollar for every time someone said my oldest son is the spitting image of my husband, I’d use it to pay a really expensive lawyer to legislate a ban on the phrase “spitting image.” I mean, spitting image, what?

So even though this child has been basically glued to my side for nearly six years, somehow his genetic programming means what he says and does and, most of all, the way he reasons means I am living with a junior version of his father.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I have never had the expectation that my children be just like me. I highly value encouraging their interests and individualism. When my son was just under 2, he decided that purple was indeed the royal colour. So, we embraced purple. We tracked down as many purple shirts for boys as we could; he has probably every purple Hot Wheels car ever made. I painted my toenails purple for about 3 solid years just to keep him happy. Except for one time I painted them teal to match a bridesmaid dress. You would have thought I committed a crime.

Yet, while I work hard to accommodate passing interests and phases that range from koalas to firefighters, I find the odd bit of sadness and the occasional chafing when people say, “He is just like his dad!” It is great of course to be like his dad, reasoned and logical, just, detailed, passionate and focused. But there are days when you wonder if the nurture shows through or if it is all just all nature, all the time. On those days I wonder if the apparent absence in my son of characteristics that mirror me means I’m invisible.

But, to the sadness and chafing I say, “It is my role as mother to nurture him within his nature.” I teach him sound reasoning, I teach him that logic is good but needs to be balanced by compassion. I teach him that justice isn’t always about equality. I jump into his passions with him and encourage him there; I teach him that passion needs persistence and perspective. I do these things because I love him, just for who he is. That is how we must parent. Otherwise we try to force our children to be who we’ve always wanted to be, chaining them to our narcissism or lack of contentment with our own lives.

I can read I Love You Forever forwards and backwards and never shed a tear but there is one book I can’t read without getting choked up every time. The things that move us reveal the things we care about, don’t they? The book is The Oak Inside The Acorn by Max Lucado. It is the story of a little acorn’s journey as he grows into a large oak tree. In the book is a single line that is repeated, “Little Acorn, within you is a great Oak. Be the tree you were made to be.” Every time I read this, I get an acorn sized lump in my throat. Because I don’t want my kids to live out my life for me. I want them to live their life fully and freely, knowing that their Mommy is cheering them on unconditionally.

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So when my son just about backed out of a race after being sick, a race that he’d been talking about for months, I told him he could make his own decision. Just because I like to race doesn’t mean he has to. I just asked him to come out for a run with me first to see how it felt and then make his decision from there. A quarter mile in, face beaming, he declared he wanted to run and that he was going to do it fast! The last quarter mile, he asked me if we could hold hands to finish together. I said sure and we ran along together, focusing on the pole in the distance that marked the end, arms swinging, hands linked.

I, too, had just about backed out of my own race that day but decided that maybe this time, more than any, he needed to see his Mommy model what motivates her. I don’t run to win, I run to finish, to push myself, to remind myself that I can do things that are hard. We both signed up.

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The night before the race, after we’d carefully laid out his race clothes with his numbered bib on top, and I’d laid out mine, we sat on his bed together. “Mommy, if I get tired when I’m running, I’m going to think about holding your hand.”

I grinned at him. “Absolutely Buddy. You just know that I’m cheering you on and I’m so proud of you.”

“And Mommy,” he said to me, eyes earnest, “when you get tired in your race, you just think about holding my hand.”

Maybe that’s why I got all choked up standing next to him at the start line, asking if his socks were on comfortably, adjusting his race bib. He was buzzing with excitement. Kindergarten came and went with nary a tear shed on my part. We laugh and celebrate birthdays but I rarely am emotional. I pack away clothes and drawings with nostalgia but little more. But as I left him there with the pack of kids and walked to the sidelines, I couldn’t even speak. That acorn-sized lump again.  My little boy–so small and so big all at once, so excited and so nervous.

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In this case, we were both running, both racing, sharing a love and passion for the same thing. In many things it won’t be that way. We’ll run different directions; we’ll chase different things. But he knows and I know that when the going gets tough and we want to quit, when we get tired and want to give up on something that we’ve wanted for a long time, we’ll look down and realize we’ve got each other’s hand. What more could a Mommy ask for–for him or for me?

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Character, Schmaracter… Oh wait…

My words on waiting are coming back to haunt me.

I said I wanted challenge to change me, reshape me, rename me.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

I was serious, yes indeed, but I thought I had an understanding of the rules of the game, the parameters of waiting in this case.

I didn’t anticipate recovery being far worse than what led me to surgery in the first place.  And maybe that is the whole point.  I can trust and try to press in when things seem out of hand.  But what about when they are really out of hand?  What about those days where despair and discouragement spread a sticky layer over everything.  Do I still value character then or do I just want relief?

It has been one month since my surgery.  One month in bed.  One enduring headache of Guinness Record proportions.  Two failed blood patches.  No solution other than lay down as much as you can and pray it gets better.

If you had told me I was going to spend a month in bed, I would have come up with a plan.  A reading list.  A writing list.  A stocked freezer and piles of clean sheets and podcasts and a “Deep Things of the Soul That I Never Quite Get To” List.  Boy, I would have made this time count if I had known.

But I didn’t know.  And my brain isn’t very clear.  Reading hurts my eyes.  My sentences come out tangled.  The only things in my freezer now are pizza and chicken nuggets.  I keep diving below the surface and coming up empty.

The month has felt like a waste.  All the things I could have done and I have just lain here.  The best moments of productivity have involved drawing renditions of Lego creations or squeezing as many smiley fire trucks on one 8 ½ x 11 sheet as possible, reading stories, singing some toddler songs with feeble actions.

But maybe, between the sheets and on the couch as dust collects around me, I am discovering some things.  Worth isn’t in productivity perhaps.  Sometimes it is okay to need help.  God isn’t impressed with our efforts.  Maybe these things will shape my character once I can get up and walk away from this.  Perhaps they are shaping me even now.

Maybe once my head is clear and my eyes are open I’ll catch things that have been simmering unnoticed.

And just maybe I won’t walk away with life lessons neatly packaged.  This may never make sense.  And that is okay too.

On Facebook the other day, someone posted this image and it as silly as it sounds, it has stayed with me.

You never know how close you are.. Never give up on your dreams!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So today I wait and slowly digest the words: “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.”  And I press on, in a lying down sort of way.  I won’t give up one day too soon.

 

 

Peas, Knees and T3s

I had my surgery this week. It involved a little more pre-op hoopla than I expected. Turns out that if the doctor squeezes you in, there might be a few important pieces of information that you don’t hear about ahead of time. At a few points, it looked like it just wasn’t going to happen.

One example: in the health region, you need a pre-op physical from your GP before you can have your surgery. Good thing I found this out 2 hours before I had to leave for my surgery. We stopped everything and prayed. Even though my doctor was covering for someone else, he squeezed me in. All the other details came together too. Thank God.

I’m waiting for my post-op visit to find out all the details but it looks like my meniscus was not torn but there was a problem with the bone surface that he was able to fix.

I’ve spent more time in bed this week than I have in the last, oh, year maybe. I no longer have any right to complain about being behind in the sleep department, especially not to my dear husband playing Mr. Mom.

The first few days were spent with my favourite bag of peas, a pillow under my leg and pleading with the clock to hurry up so I could take more medication. Just as my knee started improving, I got hit with the mother of all headaches and her nauseating minions. Let’s just say it is bad if I lay down. And if I sit up or stand, ha! Brutal. Apparently the nausea we were trying to avoid with the general anesthetic has been trumped by the spinal headache. You can go away now, headache. Pretty please.

And with that said, my eyes cannot take more computer screen, so I sign off to continue my hibernation. Little Micah is fast asleep beside me so I think I will enjoy a wee snuggle before he decides to wake and jump on me like a trampoline. I kid you not. The giggle is worth it.

On Walking With A Limp

I have injured my knee.  It has been two long months now and it is still bugging me, still restricting my movement and cramping my style.  Two doctors have said it is a torn meniscus.  That means that I’ve torn the cartilage that cushions the bones as the joint moves.  This also means that my exercise programs with words in the titles like, say, Extreme, Insane and Asylum are o.u.t.  Bummer.

I now carefully measure my steps, maximize trips up and down stairs, ask my son for help getting things that are a few feet away so I don’t have to get up.  I’ve packed away my cute boots with the heels for the silly ones that were supposed to be for the yard.

I’ve been on a waiting list to get on the waiting list for a specialist appointment to get on a waiting list for surgery.  At least that’s how I think it works.  Just this week, there was finally a cancellation and I actually have an appointment.  All I know is that the word waiting keeps popping up.

Ah, yes, waiting.  My life’s theme.  You’d think I’d be good at it by now.  I should know how empty hands make the holding sweeter.

No matter how much I wrestle with waiting, it seems to catch me off guard, having the upper hand, the swifter moves.  It evades my attempts to understand it, to master it, to simply sit still.

I try it all.  “You aren’t fair, Waiting.  I didn’t ask for you.  Go away.”

“Now look here, Waiting.  I’m in charge.  Here’s my plan and it doesn’t include you.  Now go!”

Ask me how well this has worked for me.

The answer: it hasn’t.

The irony of my impatience with the process of learning patience is not lost on me.

With this injury, I walk differently, limping, tentative.  I sleep differently, waking often when I stretch my leg too far or bend it too much.  My muscles are atrophying, my resistance has gone down.  I have redefined exertion, rest.  I’ve had to reframe everything from my exercise plans to my wardrobe.

And isn’t that the way it is when we wait?  We have to reframe all things.  Our expectations, our capacities, our priorities.

I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t want to simply escape the dreaded wait and appease my impatience.  I want to wrestle, not as someone struggling against struggle;  I want to fight until my character changes, to grab ahold of the hardship and demand that it change me, rename me, then walk away.  Limping but new.

Exciting update: I called the office this week just as a cancellation came in and got an appointment for the same week.  When I saw the surgeon, he told me he could fit me in the next week for surgery since one patient wouldn’t need the full time allotted to them.  Yay God!  Next week it is!

 

Rules for Expectancy

In honor of my son’s five-month birthday, I thought I’d share this with you.  

If you want to learn a language, go someplace where they speak that language and not English and stay there for a while.  If you want to learn to cook like a Mennonite, don’t buy a cookbook or watch the Cooking Network.  Go find a woman who billows clouds of flour and words in low German and pull up a stool in her kitchen.  Don’t leave until you are smeared with flour and she trusts you enough to hand you a spoon.
If you want to find out something about how a culture feels about children and pregnancy, go there and stay there while you grow your child.  Let neighbours and strangers and doctors and children stop you and scold you, let them admire you, scrutinize you and kiss your belly.  You will then start to get an idea of what they think.

My first doctor’s appointment went something like this.

“Why have you come to see the gynecologist?”

“I am pregnant.”

“Do you want to keep the baby?”

Silence then, “Yes, of course.”

“How many abortions have you had?”

“None.”

“None?”

“None.”

Once you get past the issue of keeping the baby, the people here get pretty excited.  Your pregnancy now becomes public knowledge and property.  Here, there is none of this, “Let’s wait until we reach 13 weeks to tell people.”  Everyone on the block knows you are a day “late” before you ever get those two little lines—“good news on a stick” as Curtis calls it.  A pregnancy test is a mere formality.

Pregnancy here is a celebrated but delicate condition.  Carrying a child to term is taxing and precarious.  Perhaps this is why it is best to let everyone know right away, in order to gain their full support.

The entire pregnancy and the early years of a child’s life undergo rigorous medical scrutiny.  One wrong move by your body and you will find yourself in the hospital.  Low iron?  Hospitalized.  Gestational diabetes?  Hospitalized.  Excess weight gain?  Hospitalized.  Seriously.  This is good, this medical attention and caution but it means that somewhere along the line pregnancy switched from a natural process to being viewed as a sickness or disease.

Because of this highly delicate state that a woman finds herself in, it is no wonder that the next 36 weeks quickly become a no-holds barred, free-for-all, advice-slinging fiesta.  Everyone is invited to this fiesta and along with congratulations, the mother is “showered”, shall we say, with advice from young and old, family and strangers alike.  The primary concern on everyone’s mind is how to avoid losing the baby.  Sometimes there are tragedies that cannot be avoided but in the meantime, certain precautions that can be taken.

  1. Do not go to the beach in the first three months of pregnancy.  You will certainly lose it.  I do not know why but I also know if you go to the beach in the first forty days after having had the baby, you’ll go crazy.  Essentially, in your child-bearing years, you might be best off avoiding the beach entirely.  Half the time, the water is too cold or it is too windy and you’ll end up sick anyways.
  2.  Do not carry anything heavy.  This includes, but is most certainly not limited to, children you may already have, flimsy plastic chairs, cucumbers and purses.  If the child’s father cannot carry your purse now, how can he be trusted with the all-important diaper bag later, or more critically, the child?
  3. In older school thought that is slowly passing but still sometimes reinforced, rest—your pelvis that is.  I’ll let you figure that one out.
  4. Exercise is a no-no.  Your body is working hard at raising a baby and is quite frankly, taxed to its limits.  Some walking is fine but it is preferable to sit with your feet up.  You wouldn’t want to lose the baby.

After you pass the critical first weeks and are quite visibly pregnant, the concern shifts toward not straining yourself or in bringing on labour too soon.  In addition to the earlier rules, the following restrictions apply:

  1. Your belly is a heavy thing.  It ought to be supported by at least one hand at all times.  Walking should occur sway-backed with a wide gait and your free hand on the small of your back (seeing as you don’t have that pesky purse to carry).  This posture affords the mother-to-be certain social collateral that increases proportionately with her girth.
  2. Communication with small children ought to proceed with caution.  You cannot lift them, as per Rule #2.  Bending down with such a belly is uncomfortable and requires that you abandon the signature pregnant posture from Rule #5.  Squatting should be avoided for obvious reasons.  First, how does one get up from such a position and second, you are practically asking to give birth.  Right here.  On this dirty floor.  Please don’t squat.  Ask for a chair and have the child stand in front of you.  Perhaps the child would be kind enough to hold up your feet for you while you sit.  Easier still, send the child to someone else since satisfying his or her request will likely be strenuous.
  3. Do not allow clothing to cause you stress.  Stress affects the baby.  There are no maternity clothing stores nor money to buy such things.  As such, as long as certain parts are mostly covered, anything goes.  No one will scold you for having your pants undone.  If your shirt comes half-way over your belly, not to worry.  If you are big enough to only fit in dresses that resemble circus tents and can hide small children and animals inside unnoticed, do not fret.  This too shall pass. If you have only two things that fit, have your mother-in-law wash one while you wear the other.
  4. Pregnant women should not stand in lines.  This is strenuous, time-consuming activity, especially in the sun.  The possible exception would be for a foreign woman standing in line at the bank.  In this case, Princess with your hefty bank account, you can just wait your turn.  Certain families have been known to take advantage of a pregnant woman’s state by sending her to stand in the ration line knowing she’ll get sent to the front and have a better chance of getting what is needed before it runs out.  I suppose it is for the poor girl’s good.
  5. Lie about your due date.  This is for your child’s protection.  You do not want anyone to put a curse over that date.  It is generally assumed that it is better to say that your pregnancy is less advanced than it really is so you can surprise them when the child is born “early.”
  6. Find out the baby’s gender.  How else can you prepare for the birth of a baby with limited resources and a limited availability of clothing, etc.  If you do not trust the results of the ultrasound, simply keep track since everyone can tell just by looking at you.  Is your belly round?  Girl.  Stretched out at the sides so it is more of an oval?  Boy.  If you are in the country, switch that.  Round equals boy, oval equals girl.  Do you look prettier with a nice glow?  It’s a boy.  Girls rob their mother’s beauty.  Has your nose grown and your face gotten fat?  It’s a boy.  The testosterone does it.  This is free advice and often unsolicited.  The only request people will make is that you bring your child back to prove that they are always right.
  7. The pregnant woman should not undergo stress of any kind.  Society has a general responsibility to protect the pregnant woman.  Friends and family have a greater responsibility.  In short, do not cross a pregnant woman or upset her.  She should get what she wants, when she wants it.  Heaven forbid you say something to raise her blood pressure.  The baby’s death or malady would be on your head.
  8. Do not get wet unnecessarily or irresponsibly.  Bathe only when weather safely permits it.  If you are not careful, you will give birth to a baby with pneumonia or lung problems and whose fault will that be but yours?
  9. Eat yogurt and ice cream in liberal quantities.  They fatten up the baby but not the mother.  The opposite rule applies with bread—it only serves to fatten up the mother and provides the child with no nutritional benefit.

I , advertently and inadvertently, found myself on the wrong side of these laws.  Frequently.  Most of the infractions were related to Rule #2, do not lift anything heavy, and Rule #4, do not exercise.  I, admittedly, did not lift Lucas as much as I used to, largely because he was, well, larger.  And heavier.  My strategy was holding hands and telling stories while we walked.  Sometimes it was unavoidable: he wanted to see something far away, he needed to reach something high up, he fell and needed a cuddle or had a super huge rainbow hug to give.  What’s a mom to do?

As the pregnancy progressed it became both easier and harder to deal with my rule-breaking exercise.  Harder because I couldn’t hide my belly under loose t-shirts or by leaning over on the bicycle, easier because, clearly I hadn’t lost the baby yet and because I’d stop mid-run or ride to talk to neighbours or people at the track when they’d call out at me.  I’d explain that I had medical permission to run and to ride a bicycle, that I was watching my temperature, my breathing, my heart rate.  And most of all, they heard that this is normal in Canada.  There, you are supposed to exercise.

Still, they exclaimed and worried and pointed and some just gave up and laughed instead.  The crazy foreigner.

Slowly, I began to do more and more exercise at home.  I told myself it was because of the heat but maybe I felt safer at night on our back patio grunting out push-ups and squats and double Heismans.  No neighbour ever yelled over the stone wall at me.

All this worry and caution has made me think about our other pregnant states, about the times when God is doing something creative, growing something deep within, something mysterious whose form is hidden.  We want to listen to all the voices around us that say, “if you want it to survive, don’t do anything.  Keep it safe.  Guard it.”  We want these things in us to grow and swell, to kick and thrive while we sit with our feet up and eat ice cream, while our mothers-in-law wash our laundry and while everyone pushes us to the front of the line.

If God is doing something in you, if He is growing you and changing you and calling you to a new life, don’t just sit there.  Prepare yourself.  Strengthen yourself.  This is our natural state, as temples of a holy, creative God, to house things that push and expand and eventually take on a life of their own.

Sometimes it comes with extra weight, pain, sometimes you’ll fight nausea and fatigue.  But if God is birthing something in you I say, keep moving.  It is not a tumor; it is life.  Run with it, sing to it, nurture it, pray for it.  Whatever you do, decide to keep it.  Then watch what He will do.