These past two months, I have felt like I am trudging through thick, relentless mud.
I haven’t had a lot to write about lately, simply because I haven’t had a nanosecond of extra time, nor an ounce of inspiration.
It’s been really hard and really ugly.
But I am here, writing to celebrate a little crack, a sliver of light that crept through today.
This past March, my youngest, Elizabeth, and I returned to mommy-and-me classes at The Little Gym. They allowed me to stay alongside with her, even though she was beyond the age three limit. They understood the impact the pandemic has had on children everywhere and that separating was more difficult than ever. This Fall, however, it was time for Elizabeth to join the independent three year-old’s class.
Lord knows, I knew this would be an uphill battle. With so many health issues, Elizabeth is more dependent on me than most mother-daughter relationships.
To her, I represent survival.
For her, I want her to experience the joy of independence.
We began in September with us sitting outside of class, watching the others play. Gradually, we made our way into the gym, with her sitting on my lap against the wall. Later, she would do a forward roll a foot away from me and then with bribery, she would run to an obstacle, complete it and run back to me. I attempted to leave the room a few times that first month to no avail; instead, biding my time, sitting inside the room, encouraging her to spend more time off my lap.
Today, for the first time in seven weeks, she completed class with me sitting outside, cheering her on through the picture window. Fifteen minutes in, I announced to the lobby of parents, “Can we just all take a minute here to celebrate this milestone?!” And they clapped and cheered right alongside me.
I have four children and every single one of them has needs, specific to them.
There were so many days that I wanted to throw in the towel but I am a mother.
And mothers walk alongside their children.
Nudging, encouraging, lifting.
Until their children discover the confidence to fly on their own.
Recently, our family has faced some very trying challenges, leaving my husband and I to throw our hands up and wonder how we can possibly get back up and keep going.
It’s been a minute since I’ve ridden my Peloton bike but today, motivated by a friend, I got back on. When this song played, I burst into tears and rode through them, letting the music and lyrics wash over me and plant its wisdom deep within my soul.
Feeling like an outsider?
It’s gonna be alright.
You just gotta hold on tight.
Feel like giving up?
You gotta get up because you’re going to make it through this time.
Each time I racked my brain for answers. What had I done? How was I responsible?
If you know me at all, you know that I love learning. I am an open book and daily, I shine the light on myself and all of my imperfections.
As a sought-after keynote speaker, my mother frequently listened to motivational leaders on our family road trips, long before TVs or phones in a car. So, I listened to them too.
And what was drilled into me then has never left me: Only I am responsible for my actions. In each and every decision, I have a choice on how I will respond. If I am wrong, when I make a mistake, it is up to me to figure out what happened and how I can learn from it so that I can grow into the best version of myself. Growth cannot happen without mistakes and mistakes aren’t mistakes unless I didn’t learn from them. They are lessons!
I remember so clearly the pain I felt the first three times. I felt misunderstood and desperately wanted to defend myself.
After this last time, I asked my husband and other friends, “Please, tell me. What is wrong with me? If this has happened this many times in twenty years, surely this is on me. What do I need to do to fix myself? To be a better daughter, friend or version of myself?”
And then, without them saying, I knew.
I knew exactly what was wrong with me.
I realized how wrong I had been to take responsibility for something and someone I was not. responsible. for.
That these people are human, too. That they make mistakes and it is their responsibility to learn from their own, not mine to try and fix the damage of the abandonment by proving myself worthy.
My mistake is my lack of self-confidence in knowing that I am already worthy. I am loved by God, my husband, my children and the rest of my family and friends.
And for those who choose to inexplicably check out of our relationship, well, they can keep on walking.
I sat on the side of my bed, sobbing. Begging my husband to get the baby to move, knowing I had waited one day too long to induce.
See, the day before had been my daughter’s spring concert and I figured delaying a day wouldn’t make much difference.
But in this moment, I regretted it all.
In a panic, I called our doula and midwife first and next, our neighbor.
She arrived within seconds. I folded into her arms, scared of what we would find when we arrived. She steadied me, reassuring that our three daughters at home were safe and off we went to find that baby Elizabeth was indeed alive and well.
Fast forward 18 months.
Same kitchen, same neighbor.
Our friends left and she stayed to ask the simple direct question: “Are you OK?”
No, I wasn’t and all it took was for someone to ask.
I unfolded right in front of her, releasing the floodgates and once again, she took it. She held it. She steadied, reassured and stood me upright.
She looked me in the eye and said, “You are going to be OK.” And then she followed through.
She called to check on me. She invited me to run with her.
Lying on the dance studio floor, lights out, next to a dozen other students, screaming as loud as my lungs would allow for my lost mother, father, sister and brother.
It was my sophomore year of high school and my best friend Harper had talked me into my first-ever audition for the Fall dramatic play, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly”, based on a little girl’s experience at the concentration camp in Terezin. To the surprise of many, and yet mostly myself, I landed the lead role: Raja Englanderova.
It became a defining moment in my life.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a hypersensitive heart.
Long ago, when it rained, I used to tape plastic containers over the top of the ant hills that formed along the walkway to our house. I didn’t want them to drown.
And when another experienced a loss, it felt like my own. I mourned, as if I had known them well, too.
I felt deeply but was mocked, shamed and criticized for it.
They thought I wanted attention, when all I ever really wanted was to lend my oversized heart.
I ended up leading two more plays in high school and when it came time to graduate, I asked my drama teacher to write me a parting note.
I saw her. A quick flash passing through the blinds. I knew I had to move fast. No time for shoes. I wrangled open the stubborn door from the kitchen to the garage, flew down the steps and threw open the door to our driveway. She was almost to the corner of the street when I yelled, “Hey! Hi! My name is Lauren and we just moved here a few weeks ago!” My target was hugely pregnant, which is precisely why I had marked her. “We’ve got two little girls, ages 6 months and 2 years. We can be friends!”
Since then, I introduced myself to a young family sitting on their front stoop at Halloween and, on bicycle, high-speed pursued another mother strolling her twins in the back of our neighborhood. All three have become some of the very best friends I’ve ever had.
Having moved from a very close-knit community full of young families, my husband and I feared we had made a huge mistake by moving to an older, established neighborhood. While the lack of sidewalks and larger lots added desirable privacy, they also secluded us. We were an island, until I swam.
I spent the majority of my childhood as a loner. I had friends here and there, but had never experienced the love and support of a group like others on sports teams and sororities. I saw group photos on Facebook and longed for my own.
Perhaps all it took was my desperation as a stay-at-mother to force me to seek. After meeting my new friends, I organized monthly socials to be held at each of our respective houses, providing an opportunity for us to familiarize our tastes, our stories. It worked.
With the addition of a friend I used to teach with, I’ve finally found my group and it is everything I had ever hoped it would be.
When my husband and I had to leave for the hospital at 4 AM to deliver our fourth daughter, it was that first pregnant neighbor who rushed over to stay at home with our three girls. It was my school friend who relieved her. It was the mother I met at Halloween who took my kindergartner to school and the mother of the twins who watched our others while I labored on. Together, they seamlessly took my place as we welcomed sweet Elizabeth into the world.
Matthew 7:7 reads “Seek and ye shall find.”
I was lonely until I overcame my insecurities and Ran. Pedaled. Tried. And it was there that I smiled, laughed and exhaled for finding what I had been looking for all along. My friends.