I have two boys and one baby girl. She’s not actually a baby, but she is the youngest and we still call her baby. Not like Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, but as a prefix, conjoined to her actual name. It’s an endearing title, one that we say with smiles, one that lightens the mood and creates empathy and warmth. Though she’s not a baby, we give her that title because we recognize that she is the smallest one of us all.
She is actually a feisty 18 months. A toddler. A young woman, if you will. A sister who is always looking for a place among the boys, a place where she can build and play catch, where she can run around with one hand raised, ready to destroy anything that gets in her pretty little way.
She loves necklaces and baby dolls too. She loves purses and shopping carts, baskets and hats (and so do her brothers!) But she’ll plop right down in the middle of any male bonding that goes on near her. If the boys shut their door before she enters, she will scream and bang with her fists until help arrives. She can’t open her own doors.
I, on the other hand, can open doors, but I have lots of difficulties with the boyhood that runs here. Video games, sword fighting, jumping and running, punching anything in sight, throwing, kicking, and yelling, are not in my blood.
I prefer a quieter home, one where we sit at a table and color. I would even take an hour of cutting and pasting. I have one boy who loves to cut and paste and color, but he gets caught up in his older brother’s pursuit of more intellectual things. Their’s is a battle of physical vs. visual, mathematics vs. art. Both boys play both parts well, but hardly ever at the same time. When convinced, they will sit and do almost anything, but this takes some serious convincing. Their sister loves art supplies. She loves to taste markers, dissolve cardboard on her tongue, and shake crayon boxes until every color explodes on the floor. This is why I always think twice about getting the art supplies out.
These are young children. They have great imaginations. They have great desires to try to do things they can’t possibly accomplish on their own. My 3-year old has recently started proclaiming, “I’m a creative thinker.” I’m not sure why he says this. I know we have commented on his creative inclinations, but I can’t recall ever telling him that he is a creative thinker. Still, he knows it and he speaks it.
Sometimes, when I am overcome with the desire for quiet, quick obedience, without the creative thought attached, I want to shout, “I am your mother! Do what I say!” On a few occasions, I have let those words slip, angry eyes bulging, I’m sure.
“What you say flows from what is in your heart.” ~Luke 6:45
Then, what is in my heart?
These are not usually words of love. They are selfish words.
I think I deserve to be obeyed. I think I deserve respect. I do, but it’s not my job to demand it.
The title of Mother was given the day I bore life in my belly, but it’s my job to live up to it, to show my children that a mother is kind and strong, creative and a good listener, a seeker of beauty, a teacher with patience, a learner always expecting, no matter what goes on around.
Before I was a mother, I was a daughter and a woman. These parts of me still exist but often feel crushed, like the sidewalk chalk that my 5-year old prefers to bang on the ground instead of draw with. Sidewalk chalk is meant for creation. It’s a tool, a toy, used for drawing. But my math and science boy wants to see what happens when you crush it. I know he’s just curious, in the same way he’s curious about what happens to the light inside the refrigerator when the door closes, and what stops our cabinets from slamming.
This kind of exploratory habit is not in my nature, but I suppose it once was. Most children are curious beings, like the monkey George. Now that I know the answers (or I think I know the answers), wonder has become a nuisance. Now, I don’t want to stop to explore. I want to take the answers I know and I want to create something.
My children are young and don’t know the answers yet, so maybe it’s not that they are trying to destroy my womanhood, but to bring life back to the very core of me.
Perhaps every child brings the gift of relearning, of experiencing once again what it is about life that makes us who we are.
Since we are only discovered in the context of others, maybe my womanhood can only be truly discovered in a life of battles. Through the searching for band aids. Through the peeling back of packaging and the rubbing on of healing salve. Through the sticking together.
It’s not just the cuddles and the kisses, but the tantrums and the scraped knees that bring us life.
So, let me ask a question. When my kids smash their chalk or throw their Legos, what am I doing? How am I using my position of mom to give meaning to the same word’s title? Am I letting my own answered questions dictate the answers for my children? Or am I allowing them discovery, and at the same time allowing myself to continue learning what the word Mother means?
Words always have two meanings: the denotation (the literal definition), and the connotation (the positive and negative associations that words are given through cultural and personal experiences).
How am I forming my children’s connotation of the word mom? Is a mom someone who yells, someone who causes her own destruction, and therefore the destruction of her children and her home? Or is a mom someone who sees beyond herself and uses her words to speak life, her creative abilities to change the atmosphere of her home and generate goodness and love in the hands and voices of her noisy, fearless children?
How are you using your position of Mom (or whatever your title may be) to bring life to your home?