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Measuring Up

The inchworm is what I remember most about the day I learned I was the tallest in my kindergarten class. Green, thick, and smiling, it froze mid-crawl on the paper ruler my teacher had taped to the wall. 

He may have worn a ball cap, he may have been crawling toward an apple, I’m not sure. My memory is hazy on those details, as well as the number my teacher marked on the paper beside him.

What I do remember is my five-year-old head was taller than the worm, and my chest puffed out with pride knowing that I had grown.

I might have even stood a little taller.

And then my teacher said the words that changed everything: “Oh my! You may be the tallest in the class!”

Up until that moment my eyes had been fixed on the grinning worm and the length of his journey. My universe was made up of me, the worm, and the wall. But at the sound of my teacher’s voice I turned to look at the children gathered around us.  The tallest? 

A great chasm opened up between myself and the rest of the class: I, giantess. They, inchworms.

I wish I could tell you I then entertained some sort of Daniel Tiger make-believe, stomping towards my classmates like a mighty queen of giants.

Instead, I slumped my shoulders forward–a move I had yet to realize would become a signature–and shuffled back into the crowd. It’s not fair, I thought. It’s not like I had birthday-candle-wished it true. 

What did it even mean to be tallest? Was it a good thing? Playground games with the boys had taught me it was always best to be first. Biggest. Strongest. I was none of those. 

But I was tallest.

I learned some things about being tall over the years: Height meant people assumed I wanted to talk. That I was older and more sociable. That I would play basketball and volleyball.

But I was shy. And uncoordinated. I didn’t measure up to the perception of who they thought I’d be.

I would learn, of course, that height had its advantages. But those rewards paled in comparison to what I perceived it would feel like to be fade into the background. What it would feel like to be petite and feminine and small. 

Looming large physically meant I had no chance at normalcy, and, I believed, at belonging.

Somehow, even in kindergarten I intuited this, and as any good Enneagram type 4 would do, I leaned into my differences.

“Erin’s been putting on her one-woman shows again at school,” I heard my mother remark in a tone that was hard for me to identify, though she was smiling.

I asked her what she meant.

“You’ve been playing dress-up in the treehouse again! And telling your friends stories? It’s great.”

The treehouse. Hanging from the top of the classroom ceiling, two stories up, was the most magical playhouse, designed to look as if it were perched atop a verdant tree. 

Inside the treehouse was a costume trunk of endless possiblities.

I could be a princess or a witch or a toad or a dragon. I could be a tiny worm. I could be each of them, just by trying on a different hat and telling a different story. 

So this is how I learned to survive: When I didn’t measure up in the ways I wanted, when I fell short of what others expected of me, my imagination provided solace and salvation.

I dove head-first into that costume trunk and designed who I wanted to be.

Now, as I stare at the mirror image of her 37-year-old self–exhausted, hunched, and puffy, yet flirting with the joy of true self-knowledge–I wish I could go back and take that precious girl into my arms and whisper:

You are a giantess. And you are glorious. Take up just as much space as you need.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Measuring Up.”

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Mamahood

Remember This

The bunk beds arrive this week.

I whisper this in the darkness as I haul myself out of bed, once again, at the sound of my three-year-old’s cry. We’re past the days of Mama, hold you! but we are still in the realm of Please change my diaper and sing me a song.

The light from the boys’ bathroom illuminates the hall and as I open the door to their bedroom I look straight into Henry’s beseeching blue eyes, a full head above the crib. The mattress creaks under the weight of his three-year-old body. To the left, Jacob’s brown eyes are still closed, thank God, but who knows for how long.

It’s a ritual I can do in the dark: pants down, legs up, clean diaper under the bum. A ritual that terrified me those nights in the very beginning, when Jacob’s limbs were so tiny and fragile, his voice so loud against the quiet of the night. And now, five years later, I’m on to the second child and I can hardly remember the details of those nights. 

I mostly remember the feeling of panic.

Now, freshly diapered and back in his pjs, my youngest asks if we can both crawl into bed with big brother. It’s another ritual, a new one, one we began when we moved into our new house this summer.

It’s a ritual that must come to an end.

“Why do you stay with them when they wake?” my therapist asks me. These days we talk via video chat but she can still see the dark circles under my eyes. “You don’t comfort them and remind them it’s time for them to sleep?”

I do tell them it’s time for sleep, but then I gather them together like security blankets and wrap myself around them. 

They need me, I tell myself. This house is new. Their room is cold. But also: The rhythm of their breath brings me comfort.

We are together. We are safe. We survived another day.

Henry curls himself under my chin, burrowing deeply into blankets and into my stomach. “Mama?” he pleads, “Please sing me ‘Rainbow.’”

I clear my throat and begin to sing the song that first tumbled out of me as I rocked his older brother so many years ago. It was Jacob’s song, but now it belongs to all of us.

At the sound of my voice, Jacob rolls toward me, his blue lovey blanket gently flicking my cheek. He sucks his fingers just off-beat from the song.

For a moment, my exhaustion doesn’t matter. They are anchoring me, like a weighted blanket, reminding me of where I am and just how far we’ve come.

I don’t know If they’ll remember this, but I know I never want to forget.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Remember This.”

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Uncategorized

Stay Awake

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“The scenic route is the only route. Life is short. Stay awake for it.”

Yesterday I was surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins, all tied together by blood and history and promises. Looking in their eyes I could see my grandpa, my grandma, and the kids my dad and his siblings once were.

It was a special kind of magic, to remember the good and the crazy and the befuddling, and in the midst of the memories, also celebrate what’s to come: two weddings, new jobs, beautiful homes.

There are decades of family memories in this place, in the foothills of the mountains. I have traveled so much in my lifetime I often forget how many places I can actually call home. 

Maybe the path back to the start of things is more winding for some than for others. It’s been that way for me. 

But here’s what I know: I want to be awake for it. I want to pay attention. And I want to grab tight to those people who know what it’s like to inhabit this skin—more than I ever realized—and never let go. 

Love you, Denver. Love you, Thompson family. And thank you for reminding me of who and whose I am. ❤️

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Mamahood

Shadow Puppets

I leave the door open because I know it is only a matter of seconds before I’ll hear the pitter patter of his tiny feet on the tile.

“Mama!” Henry calls out. He rounds the corner, spots me, and exclaims, “Oh! Poop!” he claps his hands, overjoyed to witness the magic of the toilet, which his brother has mastered but to him remains a mystery.

We’re in the tiny water closet off our laundry room and as he squeezes past my legs I wonder what he’s after. Did he spot a plunger? Is there a toy someone forgot to put away? His face sets in determination.

He slaps the wall, right against the shadow my trucker hat has cast, the same trucker hat he tried to pry off my third-day hair this morning as he giggled uncontrollably. The light bulb is out in the water closet–I make a mental note to change the bulb–and the sunlight that filters in through the laundry room windows make gray shapes dance behind us.

“No,” he whispers, his blue eyes widening, looking up into my face. “No. Biiiig rawr.”

Dinosaurs are his favorite, so I’m not sure if it is good or bad he sees a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the wall. But then he throws his arms around my legs and I know he is frightened.

When I pick him up, he wraps his arms around my neck and kneels on my lap, burying his face into my shoulder. His white blond curls brush my cheek.

“You are safe,” I whisper into his hair. “You are safe. Mama is right here. It’s just a shadow.”

I try to make him laugh with the silly shadow puppets that always drove out his brother’s fear, but Henry wants none of it.

“No rawr,” he says. “No.”

So I hold him even closer, smelling his sweet toddler scent, rocking him back and forth, back and forth, as I’ve done since he was new.

“It’s all right, I’m here. You don’t need to be afraid.”

I am pooping and I am rocking my son and there is nothing I can do but sit here in the stench and shadow and tell him I am here.

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Faith, Mamahood, Trauma

Growing Hope

The afternoon before Jacob is born, I trudge up the stairs to my bedroom to lay myself down. September sun filters through the window, casting shadows from the orange leaves of the tree onto my bed.

As I crawl under the covers, I think, this is what hope feels like, and I exhale. I’ve been holding my breath for a long time.

I pull the comforter up to my chin, but not before hefting a body pillow between my legs. The comforter is soft and white and provides just the right amount of weight for a day like today, when I am all nerves and energy, waiting.

The shadows from the orange leaves dance across my body.

Something in me shifts—and it is good and it is holy—much like it did the night my therapist first said “it was rape” and my body filled with fire and rage and finally, acceptance.

I knew in my bones something was changing then. In my belly, new life was forming—new life given by God, and by my husband, who sat on the therapist’s couch next to me, and who only hours before had shown me his love in that way that only true love can.

A similar sensation burns in me now—not only am I growing a human but I am growing hope, too—an ember, but it is there and it is glowing. All that came before—all the confusion, the pain, the anger—will be redeemed in a new story. This body of mine that was once so ravaged is now bursting with the joy of new life.

My Creator, my Father, who designed me to carry this boy, has designed me to carry these stories as well. This is good, and I am not alone.

My belly is taut, but my heart is soft. I know in an instant, because hope does not disappoint: my son will be here soon.

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Mamahood

We’re Good

IMG_6588It’s animal print day, but too warm to wear the entire Paw Patrol Marshall pajama ensemble, so we go with the pj pants only. Which means everyone keeps complimenting him on his cow pants—which is confusing to him because he’s not a cow! But also Marshall isn’t his favorite pup—Chase is. And blue is his favorite color. And by the way, Mommy, now it’s hot so let’s take off both pants and shoes.

(I worry, for a moment, he will run off in his dinosaur underpants, because dinosaur underpants.)

With new shorts but no shoes (“I put them in the bin, Mommy!”) he throws his arms around me and exclaims “I’m shy!” like it’s the most obvious thing in the world and as though there were any truth to it at all.

In this moment I look down and notice my shirt is on inside out. It’s a shirt I pulled from the back of the closet and it is a maternity shirt in extra large. It doesn’t really fit me now but it’s comfy and this was supposed to be quick. Instead he wails, “Don’t leave me, Mommy!” and tugs on my pants so hard they almost fall down, almost revealing my underpants, which have polka dots on them instead of dinosaurs.

My face is awash in red hot shame—shame that my pants almost fell down, that my tent of a shirt is on inside-out, that my child is throwing a fit.

But still, I smile and I leave and lo and behold, once I am out the gate, he is fine.

Later, when I pick him up, his teacher grins, seeming to burst with joy at the sight of me. He’s had a great week—every day this week has been great, which must be some kind of record. She puts her hand on my arm and tells me she is so proud—oh so proud—of all the progress he’s made. “Even the other teachers see it!” she announces, and she’s right, that’s no small thing.

“The light at the end of the tunnel,” I breathe, and she laughs and says “It’s true!” She tells me he is a good boy, and he is learning.

***

I take him for smoothies. We both choose mango. When I was pregnant with him I craved mango every day, and when I’d eat it he’d kick and dance and I’d feel like we were sharing some kind of secret.

This is another kind of secret: that we are both growing and changing, that even though I am the adult I am learning maybe just as much as he is each day.

I’m learning how wrong I’ve been about so many things, how often I get things wrong, not because I am wrong, but because I’m human. I’m learning about shame, and how it’s a liar, and how listening to it is a waste of time.

We drink our smoothies and he asks me if I want to be a teacher when I grow up. I tell him, maybe! But I’m already a grown up. But maybe.

“Do you think I’d make a good teacher?” I ask him.

“Yes! You’d be good,” he says, and he smiles a secret smile. “Because you are my good Mommy.”

He’s good. I’m good. We’re good. I’ll be holding onto these words for a lifetime.

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Mamahood

On Ice and Fire and Goose Poop

geese-57739_960_720We are chasing wild geese in the early morning light. The sun slants through the trees and it is so bright I must squint to see.

My feet, bare and cold, are also covered in goose poop. These are the sacrifices one makes as the mother to a boy who is almost three.

Jacob runs ahead of me and then stops short, peering back at my face.

“Let’s go slowly and quietly,” I suggest. And he runs back to grab my hand.

Tiptoeing through the pungent wet grass, we clutch each other’s fingers. We creep so quietly, so slowly, the geese allow us closer than I would have imagined. My son is quieter than I would have imagined.

Not wanting to push our luck, I say, “Wait. Let’s stay here a minute and watch them.”

Jacob grins at me. He whispers, “I want to chase them, Mommy.”

As I nod, he lets go of my hand and runs straight into the feathery fray.

***

Jacob is fire and wind, a wildfire raging. In the wee hours of his first mornings I saw worlds behind those deep brown eyes, and I prayed the screaming and flailing and resistance to my love would settle into a peaceful, restful spirit.

Now he is belly laughter and barrel rolls and an encyclopedia on his favorite birds. He is tears over songs in minor chords and fears of Disney movies–even after the evil is vanquished. He so desperately wants to consume the world, yet the world is often just too much for him.

Someday, God willing, he will move mountains. But now? Now he is a little boy who desperately wants both freedom and control.

***

Our trusted nanny must leave us and we are trying someone new.

When I return from my errands, Jacob flings open the gate and runs through the carport, his wild sun-kissed hair glowing in the light of the setting sun. “Mommy!” he cries, all hair and limbs and Lightning McQueen underpants. I squat down to his level to give him a hug and I notice he is shaking. He won’t make eye contact with me. His words are coming out too fast, and he is moving too fast, too.

The sitter, who is feeding Henry, my sweet, roll-with-the-punches 18 month old, tells me Jacob acted jealous because she held “the baby” all day. She tells me Jacob wouldn’t listen (but she doesn’t call him Jacob, she calls him “what’s his name”).

She looks at me wide-eyed and tells me he is wild. She tells me when Jacob kicked his brother, she held a piece of ice to his foot and told him to pay attention to the way it burned.

***

What burns me is the realization I will always stand between what I know of my son and the way others perceive him. I am consumed by the desire to protect him, to explain him, to prove to the world that while he is wild, he is also beautiful.

But it goes without saying: an uncontrolled fire is dangerous.

I will have to shed my sensitive skin many times over to become strong, let the scales fall from my eyes to more clearly see. May God grow me into the mother he needs to help him flourish in a world that will not always love him.

Wildfires are a necessary part of the ecosystem, conduits to great transformation. As dead trees and decaying matter turn to ash, their nutrients return to the soil and provide a fertile place for new life to take root.

May God show me how to teach him how to control the burn.

***

It wasn’t until we took our holiday to the goose fields that Jacob ever wanted to share a bed. Now, every night he begs to be held, begs for me to stay with him in the dark, to curl my body around him and whisper that everything will be all right.

But can I promise him everything will be all right when I’m not sure I believe it myself?

Can I teach him how to lean into his good, wild beauty when for so long I’ve poured water on my own glowing embers?

The night after the ice, it is as though he is trying to crawl back under my skin, back to the place where he was first known and loved.

I whisper into his hair: “You are precious to me, Jacob. God made you so special, just the way you are. And I really, really like who you are.”

Quick as geese taking flight, he turns and presses his cheek against mine.

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