Oh Yeah!

It’s time for another installment in “Embarrassing Moments with Kaitlin: Pregnancy Edition”.

This story begins in early days of April, 2011. I was nearly to my due date and was anxiously awaiting my husband’s return from deployment. With restlessness at a full-time high, another very pregnant friend and I often met and walked to the dog park to help us break up the day. On this particular day we walked leashes-in-hand around the long track to the dog park we heard a man yell, “HEY!” quite loudly from behind us. We both wheeled around to this distraught voice to see a young man calling after his canine escapee. Not terribly far behind us on the sidewalk, we were able to catch a full view of the man’s reaction.

Overwhelmed by the beauty of motherhood, he joyfully congratulated us and hailed the duty of motherhood. Oh wait—I wrote that entirely wrong.  He stopped short, his eyes became saucer-sized, his jaw dropped and he spewed out, “Oh, God!” Shaking off his reaction, he said, “I’m sorry! From behind y’all didn’t look pregnant!” Nice save, Sir. Then again, this is what he saw when we turned:

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In the final days of expecting a baby, walking with balance is an incredible feat, so having strangers cry out in horror as you wheel around is rather humbling. As the varieties of “You’re huge!” begin to replace “Good morning” and “Hello!”, human interaction becomes a bit strained.

NOT this time. Thanks to a stroke of genius and a t-shirt borrowed from my husband, I have used the pull of advertising to my advantage. My beloved has a large red shirt with the printed face of the Kool-Aid pitcher on it and quite frankly, when I wear it I am a spittin’ image for the Kool-Aid pitcher.

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Why wear this shirt, you ask? As I wheel around, my surprised victims won’t see a huge belly, but a rounded pitcher with protruding arms and legs. Due to brilliance in advertising, the Kool-Aid man motto will immediately spring to mind (for people over age 18). Thus, the shocked exclamation, “OH YEAH!” will erupt. Believe me, when a woman feels about 184 weeks pregnant, she wants to hear “Oh yeah!” rather than a variation of “Good Lord!” or “Your middle is grotesquely enormous”. I’m excited to say, my evil plan has already worked.

In my new identification with the Kool-Aid man, I must say I have been inspired. Before the life-sized pitcher appears and says, “Oh yeah!” in the old-school commercials, he bursts through a brick wall. It makes me wonder what the pitcher is made out of that it can sustain that kind of damage; it looks transparent and fragile but it holds together. Life’s brick walls come in various forms and I’ve encountered a few of them during this pregnancy. On a particularly rough day I tossed on the Kool-Aid shirt and happened to glance at myself in the mirror as I went to retrieve my crying son. I smiled and had a moment where I knew that my brick walls are going down.

In a way we are a bit like pitchers. We are constantly pouring out, trying not to overflow and spill out (especially on the light-colored rugs and furniture). It’s hard to constantly be pouring out for others. There are times where I just want to say, “I’m EMPTY! Let me refill!” The temptation is that we just get fed up and refuse to pour out much at all, leaving a reserve for ourselves. The problem there is that, like a literal pitcher of Kool-Aid, the pitcher gets dirty and the contents crystallize into a goop that is no longer sweet. Instead it’s a sticky mess that requires a total scrub-out.

While I am still trying to find the balance between pouring out and refilling, I have become very aware that as I pour out I need moments to wash out and have some fresh water poured into me. To have an “Oh yeah!” life and not just a moment, I must go to the source of Living Water and find a balance.

If you’ve opened a packet of Kool-Aid or any other dyed water-additive, you know that the dye can stick to your fingers even after a good, soapy hand-washing. Starting with the water and then adding what we have makes all the difference. When I start my day with what I have to offer, sweet as it may be, it usually makes a mess. I soon become an empty pitcher next to a solid brick wall.

When I start with  Living Water that Christ offers and let it make my life into a new flavor,  I can be truly quenched and taste the sweetness that comes from a harmonious bond.

More than once I’ve been accused of “drinking the Kool-Aid” and there isn’t any denying it. I really can’t help it. I believe in doing things with overflowing enthusiasm.  If I’m going to be pregnant, I’m going to triple that waistline and swing that belly around proudly.  Our reactions to the things that overtake us (literally) can bring out the horror of others or joyous exclamations.  Life is full of spills and brick walls. For all the challenges, it really helps to drink the Kool-Aid. There is nothing like overflowing with joy, busting through walls you shouldn’t be able to get through, and sharing a collective “Oh yeah!”

Men or Chocolate

It’s 9pm on Friday night; party time? Not hardly. It means that the house is finally quiet, I’ve gotten an uninterrupted shower, and I am sitting down to a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Is it sitting on my pregnant tummy, you ask? I’m not going to dignify that with a response. The sweet taste of chocolate reminds me of something I read yesterday.

“I see those bumper stickers that say, “Who needs men when there’s chocolate?” Well, I’ve never seen a Kit-kat fix a hole in the drywall!”

While chocolate does have a FEW advantages over our male counterparts from time to time, I have to agree that men are vastly more valuable. Hear me out, Ladies.

As a woman whose husband packed his gear, went ‘away on overseas business’ and left me with a toddler and a waddle, I know the importance of a chocolate stash and a good set of tools. While Tammy Wynette was right that it IS hard to be a woman, I must say that I’m tired of hearing men slandered, under- appreciated, and treated as unneeded. Women may be expected to work full time, put Martha Stewart’s home to shame and raise kids with the strictness of Super Nanny all at once but fathers don’t have it that easy either.  Please, name one cartoon or sitcom father who is a hard-working, devoted father/husband who isn’t the butt of jokes or constantly looking less competent than his wife. Go ahead…I’ll wait.

How discouraging! Just as we women roll our eyes at television shows and think, “Army wives/Atlanta housewives/couponers/etc. aren’t really like that at all!” it’s equally hard to find men represented as humble but strong leaders who are devoted to their work and families.  Greater society shows all sorts of absentee, abusive, money-hungry, and weak fathers. Clearly there are societal issues that need to be addressed, but I’d like to take a moment to hail the men who are working hard and doing it right- the kind of men I hope my sons will be.

These men get up early, work beyond 9-5 to provide for the family, get home for family dinners or activities, help with homework, do occasional home repairs, try to maintain friendships, exercise, and provide leadership and love for the home. Much like the women, they have constant demands on them no matter where they go. It’s easy to get annoyed when they collapse onto the couch, don’t help with the dishes, or go into a coma when we ladies talk about the day while a game is on.  Still, I feel that it’s time we girls say a collective “thank you” to the men- the real, tough, grunting, make-us-crazy men.

Thank you for going to difficult jobs and providing for your families despite difficult circumstances or continuing to search for work when you’d rather give up. Thank you for then busting your rears to get home for family dinners, soccer games, and recitals. Thank you for taking Saturdays to fix leaky faucets and teaching the kids how to do it too. Thank you for trading in sports cars for family cars. Thank you for giving up time practicing golf swings to coach t-ball and risk the hazards of 4 year old swings!

Thank you, men who have broken their bodies with work on battlefields, farm fields, construction sites, and mountains. Thank you for driving out of the way in the rain to change tires, gather up the escapee cattle, and getting that rusty weed-eater to work.  Thank you for picking up the slack when other men are deployed- for playing catch with our sons, mowing our lawns, and scaring off neighborhood prankster teenagers in the night.  Thank you, men who choose to instill wisdom into young minds and model responsibility to younger generations.

Thank you, men who take their daughters, grand-daughters, and nieces out on dates to set the standard for young men to meet. Thank you for loving your wives and working for marriages; it models true partnership for children rather than letting them use sappy movies as an unrealistic standard.

Thank you, men who put the toilet seat down in the middle of the night so your pregnant wives don’t fall in and get stuck. Thank you, men who model leadership and strength. THANK YOU.

Last year I was at a community league baseball game, watching my husband’s team. Some obnoxious teens were riding loud dirt-bikes around the rocky area behind the bleachers, where small kids were playing. They continued after repeated warnings to leave and finally, one mother turned into a grizzly. A young man got off his bike, got into her face, cussed her out, and begged her to hit him so that she would ‘go to jail for hitting a kid who was only 17’ (and clearly intoxicated). By this time, mothers were gathering their chicks under-wing and I was trying to get the attention of the umpire who was watching a very nicely executed double-play. As this middle-aged mother was backing up in response to this very tall teen’s verbal onslaught, we ladies were at a big of a loss. A public fight with teens would have serious ramifications, particularly for the soldiers.

Suddenly, a flash of a tall man in a baseball uniform came running around the dugout. In Olympic hurdle racer fashion, he launched and flew several feet, extending his arm into a right hook. The sound of the connection was prettier than the crack of a bat hitting a home run. The boy was knocked flying backward, crashing over his dirt-bike. As blood came from the teen’s nose, he made it obvious that he literally didn’t know who hit him. It was clear to the rest of us- it was the imposing figure of a man who was defending his wife and son, who had now vanished. Despite the other possible options for handling the situation, I can tell you every woman was swooning. The teen returned about 30 minutes with about 6 men with bats, chains, and a pitbull, geared up for a fight at the bleachers. It was fairly laughable. At this point both teams of men (soldiers and firemen) came off the field and formed a line in front of their women and children. Suddenly, the teens had a change of heart. I went home feeling a bit giggly that night. I know my man fights for all of us but watching him physically gear up to protect me and our new baby, if necessary, demonstrated a raw manliness that was irresistible. We ladies would have fought to the death for our kids but it’s something entirely different to have your man fight for you.

Women certainly can accomplish great things without men; I live in a world where large groups of men are absent for 6-12 months of the year EVERY year. As capable as we girls can be, there is a sweet relief in knowing that a man will soon be back in the home.

Men, thank you for being MEN. It may seem that we want a sensitive poet vampire/werewolf superhero with teen angst to whisk us away, but please don’t be duped. As frustrated as we ladies may get with you and as ungrateful as society may seem, you are needed and appreciated. To the gentle giants who stand tall for us, fight for us, and listen to us, thank you. We need you more than you know- almost as much as chocolate.

Skinny Jean Massacre

If love is a battlefield, motherhood is a massacre. Pregnancy is a time of glorious transition, personal growth, self-awareness, and humility. It is hard to maintain successful denial as our horizons, waistlines, and appetites are expanding. With my first pregnancy I gained a gravitational pull- it’s true. Why else would so many people rush up, unable to pry their hands from my belly?

I have 10 weeks to go and my last pair of maternity jeans are too short. Okay, they’re too tight as well. Sigh. As much as it pains me, it’s time to find a pair that fits so that I don’t have to wear shorts and capris as fall hits. I happened to be on the side of town with all the shopping centers, so I decided to make a quick trip to Target. I figured that the mall maternity stores would be better, but why not explore the option?  I’d just try the jeans and if they were great and a good price, I’d snag them and return them later if I found a better option.

I entered with my happy toddler, walked past all the clothes that supposedly fits my age group appropriately and headed to the maternity section. I now realize that clothes for juniors and infant girls are the same size. On the way I encountered an onslaught from the juniors department- the highlighter colors and sequins should have a warning label for those with epilepsy or common sense.  I hurriedly pushed the cart past to the safety of the very small maternity selection.

After a quick search I realized there were only Liz Lange jeans in one style for those of us with great expectations in the belly region. I grabbed the two sizes larger than my usual and maneuvered my cart to the family dressing room over discarded clothing debris and hangers.  Meanwhile, my son was kicking his feet against cart to make his light-up shoes glow. Oh, the joy of childhood. Somehow this red shoe strobe-light accompaniment transported me to the time of my childhood when a fashion crisis was not being able to find my glitter-filled pink bracelet. As I pulled up the first attempt at fashionable motherhood I realized that these horrors were SKINNY JEANS. The flap of extra material was clinging to my belly, the thigh and behind sagged like a rapper’s pants, and the knee downward were painted on. HORRIFYING. Maternity skinny jeans?! Do they come with a self-esteem counseling packet or weight loss advertisement?

I stripped those things off as if I were auditioning for “The Full Monty”. Even my son stopped kicking and gave me a horrified look. Of course, it could be that my thighs are white enough to blind the Almighty. I desperately searched the tag for any indication that these were ‘slim’, ‘skinny’, ‘tapered’ or ‘therapy-inducing’. Nothing.

I decided the designers at Liz Lange need to be punished. They probably want me to pair these things with mustard suede, fringed heels and  that off-the-shoulder shirt in the highlighter-puke hue.

I’m not sure when wearing colors that make you look radioactive or sick became cool, but the neon I wore in ’89 was mostly on scrunchies and slap bracelets (outlawed in schools in ’92. Still mourning that one.)The teens who think they are 80s chic need to go all out and prove it. Shoulder pads, teased perms, and flock of seagulls hair. Name me 4 political world leaders from the decade who impacted the Cold War and THEN we can discuss Saved By The Bell.

Most people seem to think that ‘skinny jeans’ means ‘make you look skinny jeans’- NOT the case, I assure you. I’ve seen a few young ladies who have successfully pulled off the look, but these girls would look good in a gunny sack and could have found more flattering options.  Nothing is funnier to me than the pre-pubescent boys who try to sag their purple skinny jeans by having their boxers hang out. I’d love to see John Wayne ride up on the boys whose jeggins are riding low. I’m sure he’d want to know where Lil Wayne got his animal print jeggings.

All sorts of congratulations are in order for the women who lose 50 lbs or more in less than a year, but those who gain it in 9 months, while we may have an excuse, are still having a tough go of it. If men looked in the mirror over 6 months and watched pot bellies form, hair recede into baldness, wrinkles appear, and all muscle tone vanish, they might be crying into their Bluebell ice-cream too. Taking a population who are not in control of their bodies, emotions, hormones, or appetites and then ambushing them with unlabeled skinny jeans is cruel and unusual punishment.

Pregnancy may be a lesson in humility and preparation for your body and life to be a willing servant to the needs of another, but even the women most comfortable in her skin or jeans has her moments. Bravo to those who don’t lose their personality or flare! Work that smuggled basketball and be hot mommas. It’s the first step to not losing yourself and demonstrating personal care to your kiddos. (Lest you think I’m on my high-horse, I type this as I wear sweats and my husband’s t-shirt. Half a day in heels was enough, thank you.)

It’s difficult to find clothes that accommodate various body types, regardless of pregnancy. Trying to look attractive when you are hosting a hostile take-over can be discouraging and we can all agree that the clothing options are deteriorating. Bathing suit shopping is the killer of all female self-esteem, except for about .3% of the population. (They still can’t find bikinis that cover their rears, thank you!)

I must remember that I am called to clothe myself in righteousness, not skinny jeans. I should be adorned with a loving attitude and gracious smile, not earrings that will be ripped from my lobes. Along with my diaper bag, I should carry the burdens of others. Gentle and encouraging words should be on my lips along with my lip gloss (Where did it go?).  As I hike up the elastic waistbands on my ill-fitting pants, I must remember those who need to be uplifted and encouraged. Then there’s hair- bad hair is almost as horrible as bad manners and we’ll leave it at that.

It’s easy to look around and see fashion disasters. In my 9th month last time around I told two friends that I dressed nicely to walk the dog so I wouldn’t be nominated for a “What Not To Wear- Maternity edition”.  As we grow and change, it can be difficult to cast off the old. (Just because the cargo shorts from 7th grade still fit, they are NOT acceptable to be worn, Hubby.)  It’s hard to let go of what is comfortable, sentimental, and worn-in but sometimes it’s just time to get some new things to put on. Just please- PLEASE…don’t choose brightly colored skinny jeans.

Mr. Trashman

 

Today was booster shot day, so my Buddy and I got to enjoy a rare morning nap. It was during this nap that I became inspired to write a song to my Trash Man,  in honor of his service.

To the tune of Mr. Sandman, I give you Mr. Trashman

 

(Bum, bum,bum,bum,bum,bum,bum,bum,bum,bum,bum,bum,bum,bum!)

Mr. Trashman, you ruined my dream

Family nap until you came on the scene

You hopped the curb, ran over the clover

Hit the recycling bin- know it’s all over!

Mr. Trashman… I know it’s hard

A stinky job, no matter whose yard

Please turn off your bright high-beams

The baby just let out a big scream!

 

Mr. Trashman, (Yeeeees?)  I need you so

But you’re so loud I cringe ‘til you go

Your truck is louder than thunder and lightning

Thinking you hit the house is very frightening!

 

Mr. Trashman, I’m all alone

Stay-at-home Mom cleaning up all alone

Thank you for taking the stinky diapers away

But if you make a mess, can you please, please stay?

 

Mr. Trashman, thanks for all you do

Without your help, I’d be in a stew

Though shortened nap- times make it tough

No mother ever sleeps enough!

Now I See

It’s presidential election time again…when something is in the water that brings out the ‘crazy’ in everyone…except ourselves, of course.  Only in America do parents tell their children, “You can be anything. You can even be President!”  Even visits to the White House are considered a great honor. Over the years, many have angrily said that limits to presidential candidacy are things like race, gender, intelligence, or disability. Confession: when I think of a president who overcame social stigma and barriers, I don’t think of our current president as much as President Roosevelt, who was wheel-chair bound from Polio. He was unable to walk and yet he led a nation.  He stood as a symbol for the United States, though he literally stood less than 5 times during his presidency.  With help from the media, the nation did not see his broken legs, but his unbroken spirit. Perhaps being humble about his abilities made it possible for him to do what others could not.

Wondering what children will become is a natural, cross-cultural phenomenon. While Americans wonder if their child is a future president, ancient Jews wondered if their sons could possibly be the Messiah. (Ultimate mom bragging rights!) They knew traits to seek from Old Testament prophesy, but there were certainly things that would disqualify candidates. (Sin, for example?) The gospels record Jesus encountering people of various rankings on the Jewish social scale- Pharisees, Sadducees, ‘rich young rulers’, hungry crowds, parents, farmers, fishermen, widows, tax collectors, adulteresses, and the physically disabled. These people wanted Jesus to conquer the Romans, to answer theological quandaries, provide validation, give food, perform signs, and heal. He was constantly chased when he tried to retreat for prayer and rest; the Messianic version of not being able to shower without a kid asking for a popsicle.

As people encountered the most influential man of the day, reactions to Jesus fell into two categories. There are those who don’t really comprehend or accept Jesus’ message and there are those who believed, received, and were forever changed. I am struck that the most blessed and the ‘true believers’ are not the ones who were high-achieving and influential in society—they are the ‘disabled’ and the ones who had lost hope in everything but God’s power. Their belief was extraordinary. With a full heart, I turn to the gospel of John, where the ‘remedial’ surpasses above average and the religious ‘honor roll’ is sent back to school.

“As they passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus answered, it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:4

Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash in the pool called “Sent”. (Coincidence? I think not!) The man obeyed Jesus- he got up and walked blindly, obeyed Jesus’ instructions, and came back seeing. Hooray! Wait.. uh oh…this happened on the Sabbath. Neighbors who recognized him took him to the Pharisees (church gurus) may have been joyfully showing off a miracle, but the Pharisees weren’t impressed. They proceeded to question the blind man, didn’t believe his story, and even tattled to his parents. These ancient parents were of the old school and sided with the ‘teachers’ rather than their son. “They feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” Ouch.

Then the Pharisees questioned the now-seeing blind man again. The poor guy lost it. (That’s okay- he’s not the only guy who lost his temper in the temple.) “I have told you already and you would not listen!..never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Day one in the temple and he’s already preaching! “I was blind, but now I see.” Catchy. That line may have song potential.

The reaction of the religious scholars and over-achievers?  “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us? And they cast him out.”   They rejected this man not for his blindness, but because they viewed him as a sinner. Apparently, they were born without sin. (Jesus would address that later.) Utterly rejected by the world once more, Jesus returned to him. The blind man knew His voice, but now saw the face of his healer. He could have questioned, blamed, or been angry after the day he’d had but instead, “He said, Lord, I believe and he worshiped him.”

What a response! He had been healed from an obvious physical ‘defect’, been left by his parents, and been expelled from the synagogue. His own mother, who had been his eyes for him and perhaps taught him to walk by faith and not by sight, finally had a seeing son. How many times had she prayed for it? Been judged for it? Felt guilt over it? Their son could finally see. He was a walking miracle, but they refused to see it; they were the ones truly blinded.

Now, some social elites did believe when they saw and heard Jesus. Nicodemus was a born-again Sadducee. Joseph offered his tomb. The centurions, teachers, and leaders who accepted Christ, like the blind man, also recognized their own fragility and problems. Still,  humility is often hard to find in the intelligent and talented. The ones who were changed came desperate and broken. They weren’t putting Jesus to the test; they desperately wanted a better life. The blind man saw, two different lame men took up their mats and walked, the widow’s son and Lazarus were raised from the dead, the demon possessed and sick were cured. Those who witnessed these miracles believed and proclaimed that Jesus was God. When Jesus restored the afflicted who desperately sought him, the witness was powerful; hundreds believed. There is a special joy in seeing the ‘disabled’ live joyfully because they are accepted and loved. Their impairments are not a mark of sin, but designed to bring God glory- should they allow it. It is easy to identify the brokenness of those who bear it physically, but we are all created broken. Those truly aware of their need who humbly seek healing will receive it.. They are the meek that inherit the earth.

One pastor recently said his favorite baptism was for a 10 year old girl who had Down Syndrome. “Never had I baptized someone so full of joy. She was so excited about Jesus that she splashed the whole back row of the choir!”  This girl knew her brokenness was not in her mind or body, but in her soul. Jesus had healed her true brokenness and she reacted accordingly. May we all be so aware of our need for Jesus and joyfully proclaim His healing. I pray that each of us can witness the miracle of someone the world sees as ‘disabled’ living a life of perfect healing from the Creator. We can all use a good splashing from that kind of joy.

Help!

“No one can do it alone.” “God helps those who help themselves.”  “We all need a little help sometimes.” “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” ” “If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t care for others.” “Always look for an opportunity to help”. “Good help is hard to find.” “If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

Well, it’s no wonder we’re confused about help- the messages are as mixed up as the directions on my GPS.  We all do need help from time to time, but we’re ‘Mericans, darn it.

This week I sought  a little help. The short, or ‘man’s version’ is that after surgeries and an estimated 30% chance of having children, I am pregnant with a second son. Now  in my final trimester, my ducks are finally in a row but it’s time to get them quacking. I am considered high-risk and have had my paperwork lost twice, my blood type entered incorrectly, and have been ‘lost’ between two clinics since February. I made several calls to get information for birth and after-birth care to be pro-active about available services. I’d left messages for my OB, a specialist, a social worker advocate, and for a case manager. After three weeks of repeated calls I still hadn’t heard anything. I finally reached out to an amazing midwife here who delivered my first son. As a fellow redhead, this is a woman who can get things done. She assured me I’d receive a call shortly.  A grateful mother’s salute to you, Colonel!

A few friends assigned to the same case manager raved about her helpfulness and timely responses, but after 2 messages and 2 weeks I only had radio silence. She called today to sadly tell me my file was on her desk with a big  note that read: DENIED- INSUFFICIENT NEED. When I heard that I almost snorted Diet Coke out of my nose. According to the referring managers and doctor, to warrant attention my baby needs to have a birth certificate, have more problems/risks, I need to be less healthy, and I need to seem like I am not as able to handle the situation. Now this referring doc has accused me of “being grounded in reality” and having “unusual capacity to cope and handle potential difficulties”.  Perhaps I should have taken the ‘Prissy-Birthing-Philosophy’ from Gone with the Wind, pitched a hissy fit and declared, “I don’t know anything ‘bout birthin’ no babies!”

Now, this is not a criticism of the Army, any form of health care, civilian workers, or soldiers. I have yet to see any flawless system that didn’t need Human Resources or pre-printed apologies. Army resources are stretched thin; our health care system has to be ‘rationed’ for those who need it most. Still, it is disheartening to be told I have a need that requires help just to be denied it. After a very helpful chat with the case worker (very helpful, funny, and again, a fellow red-head) I felt better equipped. She called back a few hours later to say that after she and the doctor had a quick chat with the ‘powers that be’, it was  suddenly decided I should have a case manager, as I would probably be low maintenance. As she joyfully filled out my initial paperwork over the phone, glad to be able to help, she came to the last question: what was the ‘problem’ that I needed help solving?

The label on my case folder now reads: Knowledge Deficit. (Is that code for ignorance or stupidity?)  Join me in a laugh, won’t you? I’ve gone from being an insufficient need for help services to having a knowledge deficit in 3 hours, and I can’t blame it on pregnancy hormones.

It can take a lot of humility to ask for help. I struggle with my pride and the fact that I can usually find the people or resources to get the job done with minimal extra assistance…but becoming a mother changed the story. When I waddle ask for help for my kids and receive silence, it is crushing and infuriating.  However, when one expects a service to be performed by a professional and is totally ignored, it can be maddening.

Earlier this week I attempted to enroll Firstborn into a provided care system; children are not allowed in medical appointments and when a husband is deployed we gals need some help. I strolled in armed with completed paperwork, toys, and snacks… hurry up and wait. When noon rolled around the area swarmed with uniforms and- like magic- they were taken back or had their problems addressed immediately right at the counter. I watched as another mother who had waited an hour returned through the waiting area with her 3 year old son, obviously upset. With a quivering voice she said to the greater waiting area, “I just wanted to get him enrolled in a painting class but apparently no one can help me!” Poor Momma. I decided to bravely stroll past the counter to see if my name was anywhere close to being called. I’d been ‘next’ for over an hour as dozens went right past me to be helped. By 12:30 I had waited almost two hours, had a hungry and cranky child, and desperately needed the bathroom on the next floor. Thankfully, the Stanley Steamer’s guys were present, so if push came to shove the carpet wouldn’t remain stained.

For those who have seen MAD TV’s skit about King Burger, I felt like I’d approached Bon  Bon Qui Qui’s counter. I had received the Army Covenant’s version of an eye-roll and “I’ve got a complicated birth and childcare need!” Yes, just trying to figure out what to do with a high-risk pregnancy/birth and to enroll in a service provided for my use that I will still be paying for…hold the drama and the mustard.   “Thanks for your sacrifices, but don’t get too crazy.”

When I was finally helped, the clerk was an exhausted young mother who worked quickly and was understanding of Firstborn’s meltdown. As her phone rang I watched her jump for it, just to look disappointed. She was also waiting for the hospital to call; she had lost a daughter 12 hours after birth and wanted some counseling as the 1 year anniversary was upcoming. She’d reached out for help, although it was obviously painful and difficult. As she waited, she sat at work and did her best to help other mothers in need. My frustration with my wait melted into compassion.  I’d forgotten that everyone who is helping is also in need of help in some way.

There is a great blessing in the Armed Forces community- most of us understand the necessity to pull our own weight, but we also realize that our lives and survivability depends on those alongside us. We carry each other (sometimes literally), make each other meals, cry together, celebrate together, babysit, and stand in as birthing coaches while holding up the phone so Daddy won’t miss his daughter’s first cry. NO one, no matter how strong, should be labeled“denied: insufficient need”. The key is recognizing that we all need help, knowing when to offer it, and knowing the right source to go to.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”Psalm 121:1-2

The Sinner in Church’s Mom

Picture it: a group of 9 ladies and their children aged 8 weeks to 16 months sat in a circle, meeting for the first time.  Toys were in the middle, music was playing, and all the children were sitting or playing nicely…except one kid. This boy was whining, wouldn’t sit still, ran around without any reservation, and was raiding diaper-bags. He even ran up to the bag of pigs in a blanket brought by a thoughtful mom, reached his entire arm into the bag, and popped a whole blanketed piglet into his mouth before they could be passed to the first person. Good Lord, where was this boy’s mother?

Oh, that would be me. Well, I was trying to go from the sitting cross-legged on the floor to running after my child in 6 seconds without ripping my jeans. (It’s happened before but somehow didn’t make it to Youtube.  Tragic, I know.)  I’d already sprinted after Firstborn for an hour and a half, struggled to hold the 30 pounds of fish-flopping child through worship while protecting my belly from flailing limbs, and had been totally unsuccessful at quieting or calming my miserable child.

In a few shining moments of calm playtime, my son happily chattered away.  Although he can say several words, he prefers to jabber  in his own language. In a string of babbling, out came, “Oh GOD!”  Although no one else seemed to hear it, I stared wide-eyed fearing he would start calling out, “Oh, Jesus!” I immediately started fasting and praying. It would make perfect sense; I had spent lots of time the previous day talking about God, Jesus, and doing learning activities that ‘really good moms’ do. Now, I was reaping the reward. There we were in a chapel and it sounds like my son is defiantly shouting out violations of the third commandment. Fabulous. By the time we left, he had seemingly used the Lord’s name in vain, dishonored his mother, undoubtedly coveted, and stolen all reachable food and toys. In the South, we say, “I was sweating like a sinner in church!” Well, I was sweating like the sinner in church’s mom.

I had broken the Mom-commandment of “Remember the nap times and keep them holy” and I was feeling truly repentant. His 2 year old molar arrived early at 16 months, he woke up very early, and he had no prayer of a mid-morning snooze that is vital during teething times. I gathered my items to go repeatedly, but I felt the strong need to tough it out. It was a chance to meet new ladies who would hopefully extend grace and understanding.  As we introduced ourselves I began  with, “As you can clearly see, I am the perfect mother and I have it all figured out.” A few smiles, no laughs.  I was so exhausted from the look at my ‘real life’ being on display that I forgot the rule about holding a little something back during first encounters.  Sadly, this was not the first time.

I particularly recall one such instance during a gathering of fellow military wives. It was a relief to be with other women experiencing the joys and struggles of our lifestyle without fear of political commentary, pity, or needing to put on a brave face. We were dressed nicely, enjoying snacks and mingling, and generally having a moment of authentic enjoyment with people we could relate to. As we gathered in groups to discuss some tools for resiliency and the importance of banning together, we were given the first question:

Who is the woman who has taught you the importance of solid and dependable support?

If the question had been multiple-choice, I would have known that I was expected to identify a family member, fellow military wife, or well-known author.  Instead, I honestly named the woman who is a walking demonstration of the importance of solid and dependable support;  Dolly Parton.

The stunned silence and confused looks immediately reminded me of why I will never be awarded Mrs. America. While the other contestants emerged gracefully from the soundproof booth and answered, “World Peace”, I had opened the door, tripped on my dress, tumbled into the judge’s lap, and then discussed the defense budget while twirling flaming batons. Of course, there is as much to be said about prudent speech as authenticity, so I began a succinct explanation that provided full coverage in defense of Dolly. It brought a few smiles, but I made a mental note that next time  I should discuss  Momma or  Julie Moore (wife of General Hal Moore of We Were Soldiers fame).

Thankfully, back at the circle of moms holding their darling babies, I was in good company. These ladies were willing to open up and dump out their diaper-bags; there’s no hiding ‘real life’ with kids under age 2…or 18 for that matter. Case in point; our ice-breaker was “Describe your birthing experience in 30 seconds or less.” It was the funniest introduction ever.  We had some live-wires in the group. The great thing about the military is that most of the time we can’t afford to wait to build lasting friendships organically…we have been transplanted. There are spots where others have been recently pulled up by the roots; new ladies who don’t want to be isolated have to graft on in. As we passed around snacks, sang songs with our little ones, mingled, and described our seasons of mothering, authenticity and honest answers tumbled forth. I was truly blessed; the woman I was paired up with has lived through a unique challenge I have just been presented with and was brimming with encouragement and great information.  Our conversation would have seemed odd to others, but it fit in our context.

Identifying context and adapting to the audience; it’s an important life skill that many master, but no one quite perfects.  Appropriate behavior for surroundings is essential, but toddlers don’t quite cooperate. Neither my son nor I mustered a fake smile to impress strangers—and none of them passed judgment or rolled their eyes. In fact, they spoke lovingly to my son, patiently took his hands from their bags, and gave me understanding smiles. I am sure it won’t be long before my son shatters a moment of silent prayer with a body function and uncontrollable laughter. There will be other days of temper-tantrums and tears when we should be playing and singing together…but that is why the class exists. If our lovely children were born wanting to obey perfectly and always heeded our instruction, we could all sit in a new group and pretend we are perfect parents. Sadly, our children will be the first to provide context for lessons in  humility.

I’m convinced I will always struggle to find the perfect answers. When my sons ask a tough question and I manage to nail the answer, I am sure my celebratory dance will give me away and make them hide their faces. It’s a mutual relationship- we will embarrass each other forever. All these frustrating moments of being the mother of the misbehaving boy in church will meet the total world-ending of having a mom chaperone the middle school dance or run a lunch out to the bus in pajamas and curlers. (Not that I’m plotting… mwahahaha) Thankfully, I’m in in great company.

Being able to get under the outer layer, stay close to the heart, and uplift someone with a heavy load is the mark of an excellent friend and dependable support.  I’ve learned that from experience…and Dolly Parton.