Dear Son: Even Though You’re Still Here, I Miss You

You turn Sweet Sixteen this week.

In the wee hours of morning, actually, because sixteen years ago, you came into the world when it was still dark.

An early riser you remained, until the teen years crept in unexpectedly and you began to favor middle-of-afternoon to morning.

It was unexpected, you growing up so fast. Seems only yesterday you were a tiny baby in my arms.

Experienced moms tell new moms this very thing:

Enjoy every second because it flies by faster than you think.

The days are long but the years are short.

In the blink of an eye, they’ll be grown and gone.

What they don’t tell us is how it feels to watch you grow apart from us, too.

To know there is limited time left, shortened not only by your need to start college or a career, begin a family if you so choose, build your own life, but also by your need to separate emotionally from your mother so you can eventually do all of the above in the proper way.

While I know in my mind this is right and necessary, sweet son, I have to be honest:

My heart misses you sometimes.

You couldn’t go to sleep unless I rocked you, and your father and I were never good about following the doctor’s orders to place you in your bed and let you cry yourself to sleep.

In my still-childish young twenties, I felt it barbaric. (As a thirty-year-old mother to your youngest sister, not so much.)

Back then? With my first born? Just how could I resist your sweet smell? Your blue eyes staring at me in need?

How could I not scoop your tiny body into my arms and snuggle you to sleep? Soak in every second?

Wasn’t this what they told me to do?

But sister came not two years after you (along with her colic), and your need for more of my attention tested my tired patience.

As you grew, the daily struggle of life crowded out our time together.

Mom-mom, watch this.

Mom-mom, listen to the funny thing Steve said to Blue.

Mom-mom, did you know Snoopy can fly? That crazy puppy…

Hold on, Bubba! I’d often scold. Mama doesn’t have time right now.

Or, Show me real quick; I have ten thousand things to do.

I’m so busy; can you see how busy Mama is?

Oh my precious gift, to go back and reclaim the days I was too busy, too tired or too frustrated or worried to stop and listen to your little heart speak.

I am so very sorry.

There isn’t a but attached to that apology. No excuses.

A mother’s greatest hope is to be the safest place her child can fall.

And many a mother fears the day it will be too late to provide this, too late to heal her child’s scars, especially ones she may have caused:

The day her child pulls out of the driveway and leaves the nest for good.

Three years and hopefully some college. That’s really all your mother has left with you.

The only time left for me to teach you so many truths about being an adult.

How hard it really is.

How you’ll often wonder if you’re doing it right, this adulting thing.

How what you think is supposed to happen, sometimes doesn’t.

The irony about the short time we have together is that every day we grow further apart.

I know less and less of your comings and goings.

You are hanging out with friends at unfamiliar houses and places, doing things I can’t see and often won’t hear about. I can only pray I’ve taught you to make good decisions.

I know even less of your thoughts and feelings. You don’t talk to me as much as you used to. I can only pray you are telling the God who made you all the concerns swimming around your teenage mind.

You will leave me. It’s what you’re supposed to do.

I’ve accepted that. I’ve even started to look forward to it, excited to see the journey that lies ahead for you, confident your shining star will lead you down the right path, and that even if you turn the wrong way, its brightness will guide you back.

One day, you will hopefully cleave to a woman who loves you like I do. And if I’ve raised you right, you will cherish her far more than you cherish anything or anyone else in this world.

As I slowly climb down from the pedestal I’ve stood on all these years, relinquishing the title I’ve held of Number One, allowing other people and things to take up space in your heart, I am clinging to so many memories on my way down.

Can I work the camera too, Mom-mom? 

Mama, I got a role in the high school play!

Look, Mom-mom, I can write my name!

Mama, I FINALLY finished this three-page report.

Mom-mom, will you hold me?

Mama…will you just let me go?

Yes, baby boy, I will let you go. That’s what I was sent here to do. Roots and wings, a mama’s job.

I am so incredibly proud of who you are, and I feel privileged to watch your heart grow and change. To see it fill to the brim with new loves, new dreams, a new life.

You may have come into this world in darkness, but you brought a light that filled this mama’s heart and showed me exactly why I am alive today.

And it may be true that I have only a small time left to teach you all the things you need to know about being an adult.

But I will never run out of time to love you, my precious gift, however imperfect that love may be.

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the joy of my heart

What’s at the End of Your Rope?

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Scene from Steel Magnolias
There’s a scene in the 1989 drama Steel Magnolias where Shelby’s father, Drum, is fussing with his incorrigible neighbor Ouiser over a Magnolia tree dividing their properties.

Drum had cut flowers from the tree to use as pool decorations for his daughter’s wedding reception, and Ouiser was less than happy about it.

I am just about at the end of my rope with you, Drum Eatenton, Ouiser says after she’s exhausted all her fight.

Well then, why don’t you tie a noose and slip it ’round your head? he replies, laughing.

Have you ever come to the end of your rope and realized the place it stopped was your feet?

Have you ever thought that the only option left was to slip it ’round your head?

I have.

Not too long ago I had to admit two hard truths to my husband:

  • I was unhappy, and he actually wasn’t the problem, and…
  • I had lived 37 years never feeling intrinsically worthy.

For the past 15-ish years, I have been telling my husband that he makes me unhappy.

Easy to do. Not taking responsibility for our actions has been a human strong-suit since Adam and Eve ate the apple.

If it’s not your fault, it’s not on you to fix it.

But lately—especially since we moved to Oxford—victimhood has left me feeling a bit jaded. I can keep up a facade for ten days, but not eleven. I can continue to pretend I’m not to blame for my lack of joy, but only until I choke on my own words.

I’m unhappy because I’m unhappy. Not because Clayford, my kids, my parents, my past, old friends, family members or any circumstance made me that way.

I’m unhappy because it’s a habit. It’s wired into my brain. It’s a set point and I’ve been too lazy to change it.

But I’m also unhappy for an uglier reason, one that has shot poison into my body, soul and spirit.

I’m unhappy because for so long I believed my worth came from what I did, who I was, and what I brought to the table.

This is a lie from hell that has hovered around me nearly all my life.

I grew up in the suburbs of a city. In my community and the surrounding areas, there was a larger amount of money and status in comparison to the tinier towns and more remote places in my state.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you grew up in a similar town.

A town where some families and children are known in a good way for what they have, what they do and what their last names are. Or known in a bad way for purposely seeking to be the opposite. Or not known at all because they fit neither of the above.

From reading my posts, it’s probably not so hard to tell where my family fell.

So even though I wasn’t specifically told to find my worth in doing, being or having, that was exactly what I gathered from all I saw around me.

I saw that pretty girls who dressed in the right clothes and did the right activities were liked.

I saw that boys who acted like men and played sports and wore a certain jacket were popular.

I saw that money, or the perception of having it, made all of the above possible.

And I saw that parents and teachers encouraged this, participated in it, and often schemed to make sure it happened.

I’m not judging a soul for this. I feel quite sure this same merry-go-round has been spinning since the dawn of creation.

But longevity doesn’t equal right.

However, longevity does mean that something probably won’t change anytime soon, and this same scenario happens in Oxford as in any other mid-sized, economically advantaged town.

Strangely, however, it never occurred to me that this was a false way to live until I was sitting at the Starbucks talking marriage with a friend of mine.

I told her some struggles Clayford and I had been dealing with.

When she asked me out of the blue if I felt worthy of having a good life, I said no, giving her a very solid list of all the ways I had no right to feel worthy of anything.

My past and present failures are great examples, I said.

She looked at me like I was crazy, and replied, I’m not talking about feeling good for having money or accomplishments, Toni. I mean, Do you feel good just because you are here and you are you?

This. Blew. My. Mind.

I knew in my head that one should feel valuable just for existing. I’ve even written about it before.

But in my heart?

My image of God and redemption has been so skewed for so long that the concept of worthiness has always seemed tied to doing everything right, having material ‘blessings’, and being graced with sheer luck.

Our greatest calling as humans—especially Jesus followers (love your neighbor as yourself)—is to make everyone feel worthy, because feeling intrinsically valuable helps you make good choices, choices that lead to feeling externally valuable too, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

I believe my lack of self-worth, as seeing myself as intrinsically valuable, has led me to do some pretty outrageous things.

I don’t need to vomit them on a blog post, but suffice it to say, I’ve looked for worth in a lot of wrong places, even places that seem good.

And I could wrap up this post all cute, but instead I’ll just tell you that this year has officially been titled “End of My Rope.”

I have zero clues where I’ll be come December. Every day feels like I’m peeling back layers of an onion and finding more and more rottenness underneath.

What about you?

Are you performing for value? Trying to sell something for money and success? Taking selfie after selfie for likes and comments? Living through your name or money or children? Hoping to be known for what you do as opposed to Whose you are?

Do you understand that you are entitled as a living and breathing creature of the Universe, created by a God who knit you together, to feel intrinsically worthy?

Do you know that no matter how long you live (or even if you had never made it here in the first place) your life is still incredibly valuable just because?

Maybe like me, you didn’t know that.

Maybe like me (and Ouiser Boudreaux, bless her soul) you’re at the end of your rope, and you’ve found it halts right where it started: YOU.

Don’t pick up that rope and tie it around your neck.

Burn it. Toss it. Get rid of it.

You don’t need it.

We don’t need to lasso value from other places.

It’s been inside us all this whole time.

It’s on you to know your worth.

It’s on me too. Any change I make, any happiness I accept, any trials I face, it’s my decision to pick which lens I see them through.

And for once I’m okay with that.

Because I’m starting to realize I’m worth it. 😉