Dear Younger Me,
I miss you at times. I look back and think about the days where your greatest worry was convincing the toddler to branch out and try something besides string cheese and crackers and whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher. You worried about the jeans that no longer fit around those postpartum hips and you thought a lot about how tired you felt after chasing two babies all day long. You would look in the mirror and scrutinize and think maybe you saw a tiny gray strand in your hair or the start of a wrinkle in the corner of your eye. You worried that maybe your husband would think you weren’t so exciting anymore. You worried that your greatest source of entertainment had become a Target shopping trip with your best friend, it seemed rather worrisome that this was your weekend excitement. You went on a date night and you talked about your kids, and you thought about how “predictable” you had become. And you worried most of all about losing yourself and being defined as “just a mom”.
Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I was taken aback. I looked tired, and run down and the gray hair was apparent and the wrinkles were definitely there. I smiled as I thought about how I actually sat down last week to color the gray strands and my 8 year old walked in, looked at the product sitting in my hair and quietly slipped back out. She went and told her daddy that “mommy has lice”. And later that night, my son stroked my cheek, looked into my eyes and asked me why I had a black hair growing out of my chin. Serious, I had a chin hair and this is not something anyone told me would happen as I got older. So let this be your fair warning – hair will grow from brand new places, and the lost melanin in your now graying head of hair, will apparently be replaced in the hair growing from your chin. But I digress, there are things that I know you are stressing over and I’d like to set you straight about a few things that I know you are worried about. I decided to sit down and write you this letter to save you added heartache and fear.
Dear younger mama, You are stronger than you ever thought. You will learn to dig deep to a place that you never knew existed. Sleepless nights, medical emergencies, g-tube feeds, suction machines, complex medication charts, painful procedures, endless therapies and you will walk through them one at a time, sharpening your knowledge all while trying to balance your child’s diagnosis with your child’s childhood. You’ll learn to let the little stuff go, like wearing yoga pants for two days in a row and cutting your own bangs, because sleeping on a tiny hospital bed with your little one tends to give you perspective. You’ll sob in a hospital bathroom because your son needs emergency surgery on a jaw infection the day you are to fly to Eastern Europe to meet your adopted son. And you will steel your heart and put on a brave face and through sheer will pour yourself into your children when really there is nothing left to pour. Mama you are going to be asked to do one more hospital stay, drive to one more appointment, and deal with one more insurance company over necessary equipment when you feel like you are already spent. But you will just put forward one foot at a time, and get it done. You will hear the hard news, hold down the flailing arms of your scared baby during procedures, and kiss the tears away when the doctors and nurses leave. You will learn to mark time by the changing of shifts and meal trays. I know mama that there will be many days that you are tired, broken, exhausted and just feel done. But I also know you have courage and strength deep inside your soul, so dig deep because you will be amazed by what “just a mom” can do.
Dear naïve self, You are going to think grades and sports are important. And you are going to push your kids to achieve. You will look around and use other children as a measuring stick, and you’ll be concerned when one walks late and one talks late, and one doesn’t stop talking. You’ll reassure yourself with growth charts and child development books. You will burst with pride when they score the goal, take the stage and bring home honor roll. And then you will enter a world of a child that will never achieve by the world’s standards. You will have a child that struggles to talk, one that will never walk, and the simple tasks other children accomplish are mountainous for yours. But you know the truth, your children have endured so much and survived and you see this quality and light. Sheer determination and bravery wrapped into a frail one, and you are in awe. You will realize that the qualities that are important cannot be measured on a report card, a score board, or an achievement test. And mama, your children will teach you that true successes in life are never measured by wealth, accolades, or medals. Depth of character, kindness and love are now your measuring stick.
Dear I can save the world self, I need you to know that God doesn’t always fix the broken. I want to warn you that you are going to see and hear the hardest things and you are going to have to trust. You are going to be lost in a sea of pain and sorrow, and God is not going to part the waters. You are going to beg and plead on your knees in a bathroom in Eastern Europe and God is not going to answer in the way that you prayed. And it is there that you are going to have to trust. You are going to have to look at dying babies with emaciated bodies and enlarged heads, and you are going to have to walk away. You are going to have to go back home to your jeans that don’t fit and the weekend trips to Target, and you are going to try and forget. You will hear and see the results of experimental surgeries performed on the least of these and you are going to need to lay it down. You are going to be filled with anger that boils and burns when you see the manifestation of orphanage life in your adopted son, and this burning will spurn you to pick up the cause and take action. And you will stand in your righteous indignation, prepared to battle and you will learn that the battle is not yours. And you will walk through the valley of the shadows, and these nameless shadows will sit silently rocking in a crib for hours on end, starving, neglected and broken. They will not be carried from the front of the orphanage by a mommy and daddy, but packed out the back to ultimately be buried in an unmarked grave in Eastern Europe. You are going to understand on a heartbreaking level that you cannot save the world. But daily will you see how saving one, has saved you. That by selling out to this calling from God, has saved you from your selfish ambitions and vain conceits. That by spending yourself for the least of these, He has given your life a purpose and beauty that you would never have known had you chosen to live safe.
Dear Overworked and Urgent mama, Let it go and lay it down. I see you looking at friends and comparing, and it’s going to go nowhere. Here’s your reality. You will never be a good cook, and your kids will love you in spite of that fact. Your middle son will participate in a Mother’s Day Cookbook project and when he has to write down his mother’s best recipe, it will be “Ramen”. Yes, your kids think your best meal ever is Ramen. But wait, it gets better. You will send your kids dressed for the Halloween party on the wrong day, but don’t worry you will recover fast and let them know that they get to dress up two days in a row, and no other kids got to do that. And you’ll forget to purchase school paper on the way home from work for oldest son, so he’ll improvise and write his spelling list 3 Xs each on a paper plate…and turn it in. So, save yourself the pain, quit pinning those recipes, writing yourself post-its to remember things, and for the love don’t attempt another themed birthday cake.
Dear Looking to the Future me, I know it goes fast. The moments and the years roll by. And I can look to the future and I can know this. A day will come that I breathe my last breath and my heart fails. And in that moment, I know that I will not define my success by wealth, accolades, or medals. No, my success will have been measured by depth of character. kindness and love. And if someone asks if I had a successful life, I’ll smile and say, I was “just a mom”, and that will say it all.