When Landry was three she pointed to her veins and asked me what those blues lines were on her body. I lost my mind for a brief nano-second and told her it was the blood in her body. She proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes wailing and crying as she insisted we plaster band-aid’s over every inch of her body. We went through an entire Sam’s Club box of band-aid’s over the next week as she would sporadically remember the blood and begin to weep and wail again. Unfortunately, band-aids don’t fix crazy. I love motherhood, but the transition from not being a parent to actually being a parent is similar to spending years laying on the couch for years and then deciding to run a marathon that same day. On one leg. With a stab wound to the kidney. Maybe that’s why people that get married later in life decide not to have children. They have enough experience to question whether or not they are capable or willing to tackle the life encompassing marathon of raising a child. It’s the arrogance of your 20s that allow you to boldly decide that you are able to raise a fully functioning adult while you can’t pay your light bill and are still on your parents insurance. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage. wing itI miss the arrogance of my 20s because I’m nearly 40 and I know a laundry list of ways I could mess these kids up for life. I haven’t read any parenting books entitled, “Your Kid will be Amazing with your ‘Winging-It’ Parenting Style.” If I had to make that initial leap into parenthood with the knowledge I have now, I’d have still jumped into it, but I would have been filled with a lot more fear. That first step into parenthood is a round of Tsunamis’s hitting you over and over. Your job, marriage, body (oh God, your body!), your sleep, home, your love of your dog, your appreciation for your own parents, your car, clothes, your hopes and dreams all change in an instant. These changes, while epic, are at least talked about or written down in several books. You will not be ready for these changes, but you will at least know they are coming. I read every book available. I took an actual 30 minute class, provided by the hospital ,on how to change a diaper. I paid $50 for someone to show me how to change a diaper and was tragically grateful for every second of that class. ParentingEarlyKnowledge of a situation does not mean preparedness for a situation. I had to hunker down in survival mode longer than most women. I’ve been caught in an endless riptide. Some women pop right out of the hospital bed and don’t seem to miss a beat. Here is a high five from me on one hand and me flipping you the bird with my other. I feel both emotions equally for you. My first born is almost 11 years old, my youngest is a hair shy of 5 years old and I am just now finally feeling like I can take a deep breath and take a good look around me. I’ve taken that deep breath and the view from here is terrifying. Every single time a woman with older children would tell me that this early stage of parenting with no sleep, endless vomit poop and pee everywhere, random weeks of sickness that you are not prepared to handle without a $200 pediatrician visit, finding a place to breastfeed your wailing child in public, never being able to sit down and relax, ongoing potential marriage crisis from lack of attention, giving up your entire life in ways you never expected, and very few glimpses of freedom was the easy stage; I wanted to punch her in the face until she had snot and pee on her own clothes. Every. Single. Time. Now that I’m caught up on my sleep and everyone in the house (excluding the geriatric dog) is able to take care of their own bathroom issues I’m glad I didn’t punch any of those women in the face. Now I’d like to have them on speed dial and clutch them to me for comfort. I’m supposed to raise three children to be fully functional, God loving, happy, well-adjusted, contributing members of society. Me? Oh sweet Lord, what I have I done to these poor innocent children? I have this vague image of God gathering my children to his breast one by one pointing down at me from Heaven. I imagine him telling their little souls all about me and asking them if they are willing to take on the burden of being my child in this journey through life before they come back to him. Then they strap on their warrior attitudes to begin the battle that is surviving childhood with me as a parent. For those of you about to do battle, we salute you! Gladiator Not unexpectedly, I’m a talker. I don’t bottle things up inside, I like to talk things out when faced with a problem. Let’s get it all out on the table and brainstorm. If brainstorming means meeting your girlfriends on a patio of a restaurant and discussing children while you nosh on nachos and down a Korona, all the better. It was the blind leading the blind. Circled around the patio table were 6 very educated women. We all brought different range of experiences, different world views, various motives that drive us, all ages and both sexes of children, and just one religion amongst us. teenagers We couldn’t agree on one damn thing. Not one. It wasn’t even the small details we were debating, we couldn’t agree on basic themes or general life goals we shared for our children. The only consistency seems to be that we all have a plan that our children choose to only follow loosely and some of them don’t follow the plan at all. The stinkers!! Our big notions and plans turn into hastily prepared band-aids slapped onto the craziness that is raising children. No one has the answer because there is no simple answer. We are all winging it. I left that girls night mortally offended by one of my dear friends. She didn’t just disagree with me, she told me my entire life goal was flat out wrong. My back was up, my feathers ruffled and when I came home I slammed my keys on the table dramatically and muttured to myself in self-righteousness as I got ready for bed. I had stated that I really just wanted my children to be happy. Happy2My friend turned to me and told me that wanting my children to be happy is not an appropriate life goal. What?! The hell you say! That’s the moment my muttering started and the slamming of keys commenced. But as with most disagreements, our opposing views were based in a large part to miscommunication. My friend is completely justified when you take the initial definition of happy. When you define happy as being delighted over a particular thing, you can see how that could not possibly translate into a reasonable life goal. You would be constantly giving up relationships, responsibilities, and anything tangible if you are constantly seeking that elusive and bright and shiny moment that might be around the corner. Something that could disappear in a moment. That would be wishing my child a life of no substance, no depth, nothing real. So in that sense, she was correct. happyBut just like Shrek’s onion, happiness has layers. I wish my children a life filled with a happiness that is defined by contentment and joy. Happy is not the same thing as funny. It can be part of it, but it isn’t the entire picture. Seeing humor in a situation isn’t the entire picture or we wouldn’t have comedians committing suicide right and left. You might even argue that comedians have a higher percentage of depression, addictions, suicides than other famous personalities. Being happy is also not the same thing as being an optimist. In high school, I won the Rotary Optimist award. I went to a fancy luncheon and received a plaque. But being able to see the bright side of life and choosing to see it are two different things. Make no mistake, happiness is certainly a choice you have to make. You have to make it deliberately and move toward it with purpose and intent until it becomes a habit or a reflex. I had a moment in college when the elusive concept of happiness became crystal clear. I changed my major quite a few times in college so I had an entire second round of roommates after my first set graduated in the typical 4 year span. I had been working at a radio station and my humor had been turning more often to a sarcastic, witty yet tinged with mean tone the DJ’s worked like a charm over the airwaves. Think talk-back to your parents in a Disney Jr. teenage sitcom mindset. One of my new roommates was Beth Coffey. I had known Beth for years in a very vague sense. Our schools competed over various sports and academic activities so while she wasn’t a stranger, I didn’t know her. happy3Beth had a zest for the ‘now‘ that can not be faked or duplicated. Beth wasn’t just happy, she would make the bad epically good. Beth could take a situation that most people would drown in despair over and make it into an envious experience. She didn’t simply turn burdens into blessings, she made them into experiences people would seek out. It’s one thing for people to envy your successes. It’s an entirely different ballgame to have people envy your failures. She didn’t have rose colored glasses, her glasses were crystal dipped in gold colored in neon with rainbow sparklers shooting out the side. The first time I truly started to realize this was a quality I would fight to emulate, we had rejoined a large group after being separated for a long lunch. It had been a lovely lunch but when I heard it described by Beth, I literally paused to make sure she was talking about the same lunch I had just shared with her. She didn’t lie, she wasn’t faking her enthusiasm, she wasn’t intending to compete with others, and she didn’t even exaggerate. She just viewed it through her very happy outlook on life. I’m not saying she is perfect or never got upset or angry or mean. But you could tell she made a choice each and every day to be happy and to see the best in every situation. None of that snarky, judgmental humor at someones else’s expense for her. unicornPeople were drawn to her in droves. Droves. If I had to choose between an exciting outing and spending the evening cooking out on the patio with Beth, I would choose to be with Beth. Every. Single. Time. I wasn’t alone in this choice, I would see people make that choice the entire time I lived with her. It was a phenomenon. When you look at life through the lens of true happiness, it doesn’t matter what you are doing. It doesn’t matter because you are grateful and content and find joy in the moment. Snarky and witty just doesn’t hold a candle to happy. trainI had been funny. I had been an optimist. But I hadn’t made the decision to see the best in every situation, to find contentment and joy for no reason every single day. After meeting Beth I made that choice. Some days I’m more successful than others but, I have spent every day since meeting Beth waking up and choosing to see the best in each day and to find joy in the moment, blessings in my burdens. It changed my life for the better. My life has not gone according to plan and I imagine my children’s won’t either. So I’m winging it. I’m winging it and my goal for my children is for them to be happy. For them to find joy in the mundane, blessings in their burdens and gratefulness each and every day. Happiness combined with some real world pragmatism and a never ceasing work ethic and they will be unstoppable. Because band-aids can’t fix the crazy, but happiness can.
It was a persistent preacher that brought me to church but it was a bad girl that brought me to Jesus. My mom would go through small windows of time when we would visit other churches, but for the most part I grew up attending the First Baptist Church of San Angelo. It was the cadillac of churches. It took up an entire square block in the middle of down town and it was built to impress. Massive stained glass windows poured in colored light to frame the glory that was the chapel, the pastor there during my childhood was broadcasted over TV and radio and people drove in from all over to hear him preach and to shake his hand. On Sunday mornings, it took a long time to find a parking spot and you had to wait in line with the well dressed masses to get in the door. I actually enjoyed sitting with my mom on a pew in the sanctuary during what I called, “Big Church” because I would sit and stare at the light moving in waves on the stained glass as the clouds passed. When I got bored with that I would take my time inspecting any of the 1,500 members in the pews all around me. I didn’t have as much success during “Little Church”. To say I didn’t fit in with my peers during Sunday school was an understatement. My favorite dress to wear to church was purchased at a garage sale and looked like a yellow and black blood clot topped with very thick shoulder pads. The dress was not intended for a 14 year old, it was intended for a grown woman. It would have fit better had I taken those pillow pads off my shoulders and stuffed my bra with them. But I loved my yellow, blood clot dress as it would swish around my calves. I would wear my moms heels that were too big and I would stumble along the labyrinth of hallways it would take to get to my class. GiveYouIn retrospect, those kids showed restraint and a lot of class by not treating me with derision or scorn when I showed up. No one was ever mean, we simply had nothing to say to each other. Before the lesson started, I would sit along the fringe of the tables while they discussed things like horseback riding, tennis, vacations to interesting places, ski trips, and funny things they overheard at the dinner parties their very wealthy parents hosted. The kids in that Sunday school class were very privileged, very well behaved, well dressed, overachievers and they followed every single rule and every single guideline set before them. No one ever disrupted the lesson and they all seemed to know the answers to all the questions. Of course, they would raise their hand politely before they answered. It was absolutely perfect and soul-sucking boring all at the same time. During my yellow blood clot, swishy dress stage at church I was also in the midst of basketball season at school. We had a big tournament coming up that weekend in Odessa. Coach’s rule was that if you missed a practice that week, you didn’t play that weekend during the game. No exceptions. Unfortunately, that was the week a large portion of our team was struck with the stomach flu. It was nasty and we were dropping like flies. Some of us handled it better than others and I just couldn’t shake it. bruisesI spent the week sleeping in most of the day and just dragging myself out of bed to attend my last class and then athletics after school so I didn’t miss practice. Every bump and turn while I sat on that 2 hour bus ride to Odessa was pure torture. During the tournament, I would be clutching my stomach every moment I wasn’t running up and down the court. It was actually one of the best performances I had displayed so far as my goal was to not enjoy the games, it was to keep the ball away from the other teams so I didn’t have to keep running up and down that damn court. I was vicious in a way I hadn’t been in any previous game. We won that entire event. By Sunday I didn’t hurt anymore, I was just pale and worn out. I must have looked bad as my mom took me to a walk in clinic after church so I could get a shot or a prescription. I didn’t have a virus. I didn’t have the stomach flu that my teammates had battled that week. I had a ruptured appendix. My appendix had ruptured 7 days prior. I had spent the week and the basketball tournament slowly dying from the poison turning my body septic. I wouldn’t have thought a doctor could have a panic attack but the doctor at the walk in clinic gave it his best impression. I think that was what convinced my mom we were in the midst of a bona fide emergency. I was swiftly taken to the actual hospital and while they were scanning, poking, prodding, planning and preparing me for surgery they were telling my mom to call in family members. do our best The hospital called in a hot-shot, big deal surgeon. He was going to give it his best attempt, but the doctor told my mom my chances weren’t good and they should say their goodbyes to me before I went into surgery. I was probably going to die. It was going to be the Hail Mary of surgeries. We won that event as well. My appendix had walled itself off around my colin. It was bad, I still had a battle ahead, but that is the main reason I didn’t die. It was a medical anomaly and I was told my case was going to be published in some medical journal. The hot shot surgeon was going to be even hotter in his field. I’m a little fuzzy on everything they told me once I woke up but I’m pretty sure someone told me they had to lift up my intestines out of my stomach cavity to wash them off. I’m going to go with that as a fact as the scar I have on my belly is massive. I spent a very long time in the hospital attached to a lot of tubes and beeping machines. I didn’t get to eat actual food for a long time. I now know that morphine gives me nightmares on a scale that makes the pain preferable and that I cannot stand the smell of coconut. One particular night nurse wore such intensely perfumed coconut smelling lotion that I’m forever ruined on that particular smell. No Pina Coladas for me. Ever. You have a lot of alone time when you are very sick and strapped to a hospital bed for weeks on end. Your family members still have to continue on with their daily lives and it’s not the nurses job to entertain you. Or so I was informed several times. Quite a few times. Okay, fine. I was told that fact daily by every single nurse on staff, several times a day, the entire time I was in the hospital. Give me a break, I was a teenager before the age of internet, smart phones, kindles, or any teen friendly television. PastorsI’m laying in my hospital bed, rebuffed yet again by an annoyed nurse, when Brother James walks into my room. He was the pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church and he came to visit me. He brought me tootsie rolls, his deep rolling voice, a sense of humor, and a willingness to stay and talk until I fell asleep again. He came to visit me quite a bit until I was well enough to go home. He brought me tootsie rolls I was absolutely not supposed to eat every single time he visited. Once I was healthy I had to choose between a church that was perfect but held no connection for me and a church with a pastor that knew my name and smuggled tootsie rolls in for me. We changed churches. The sanctuary at Immanuel Baptist church did not hold 1500 people but it did have amazing stained glass windows. I didn’t have to stare at the reflections of light caused by passing clouds overhead because Brother James was relatable. His sermons were feisty and to the point. I did enjoy those sermons, but that’s not what actually ended up bringing me that final step to a real relationship with Jesus. I had been baptized years before in my perfect church on an Easter Sunday. I was very young and although I certainly had the faith of a child, my baptism on that day was more from knowing they wanted the correct answer to a question than from a feeling bursting from my heart. “Little church” at Immanuel Baptist church was not a compilation of perfect, well behaved children. It was a group of loud-mouthed, opinionated, can’t sit still hellions. It was excitable chaos and I loved it. It took me exactly 10 minutes into my first visit to see that Clarissa Rene was one of the worst hellions in the group. She wasn’t bad, she wasn’t mean, she wasn’t evil. She was a wild heathen that didn’t even make a mild attempt to follow social norms and she was very open about her flaws. All her flaws. She wasn’t overly nice or gentle. She was not soft spoken. She was brass. She was bold. She was outrageous. She. Was. Fun. I didn’t know you could have fun at church. best giftShe was a wild heathen that didn’t get into trouble (much) because she had the charisma to get away with breaking all the rules and when she spoke I swear her love for Jesus rolled out like a thick red carpet drawing you in. I was never her friend. She was older than me and frankly she was a bit intimidating with the extent she was willing to break rules. She and her siblings were such a unique mix of Jesus and bad behavior that I was willing to just watch from afar. But she is the reason I would sign up to attend church camps, ski trips and whatever else I had time to attend. I knew if she was there, it wouldn’t be perfect and boring. It would be fun and somehow she would cause highly amusing and inappropriate shenanigans. Shenanigans and Jesus. That bad girl is the reason I have a relationship with Jesus. Her imperfections, her flaws, her brokenness, and yet her ability to have an immense amount of fun and joy while worshipping Jesus at church and in her daily life influenced me and opened doors for me in a way that perfection never would. A way to forgive myself and others for stumbling along the way. Loving Jesus wasn’t about perfection. It was about the relationship. I was never going to get to heaven in the cadillac of churches. I’m more of a gently used, beaten and battered, scarred and dented, lift kit, big bald tires, yet well loved and faithful Ford tough truck kind of church girl. Maybe Earl Dibbles Jr said it best when he said, “The higher the truck, the closer to God.” All I know is that persistent preachers and bad girls can get you to Jesus.