there were two inseparable sisters.
20 months apart one had never known life without the other.
Until there were three.
The second, no longer only the shadow of the first, had a choice.
Follow or lead?
The third met the fourth.
And life changed.
My name is Lauren, but I almost forget that when all I hear is “momma” these days.
As a child, I was seriously invested in the welfare of others.
My step-dad had previously lived in Africa and returned with dozens of paintings peppering our walls, sparking my obsession with Africa and all of its wonders.
I wanted to be a National Geographic Photographer and I wanted to join the Peace Corps. I came as close as joining the American Field Service (AFS) at 17 years old, living with a Ghanaian family for a month and working in two orphanages.
As a child, I rescued birds, dropped from their nests. I used heating pads and eyedroppers to try and care for them. I taped plastic containers on top of the sand mounds the ants made along the short walkway to our home, so that they would be safe during the rainstorm.
I worked closely with the homeless at soup-kitchens and inner-city teenagers through a missionary church.
I dressed my dachshund and walked her in my babydoll stroller.
I published my very own magazines, full of articles and quizzes (“Does your dog a: run out and pee b: walk a short distance to pee or c: sniff each and every blade of grass, peeing on everything in sight?!)
I never wore shoes outside and gained notoriety for this (even today for my total lack of a shoe collection).
I played “teacher” and “store” almost every single day, complete with tests and inventory.
I played the piano, easily.
In high school, I was the lead in three school plays. And I was good.
I was smart, but unpopular.
And now, I am a mom.
Trying to teach my four daughters everything I ever learned while still learning on-the-go.
Trying to witness and support their innate gifts, while wondering where the hell mine went.
Wondering how I can lead by example, when all I seem to do these days is serve.
My name is Lauren, and I’m still here, somewhere.
I just have to make time to find her and teach my daughters to do the same.
It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to write. And don’t we all experience those phases in life? The tide that ebbs and flows.
I was chatting with another mom earlier about the prospect of my daughter joining a competitive athletic team. She shared the benefits: learning how to lose, how to win, how to handle disappointment and support others, among other things. They were great, valid points and I appreciated her input. I always love a different perspective than my own.
But my response was, “eh”. I like vacations. I like lazy Saturday weekends as opposed to rushing to the field or meet. I like dancing in my jammies with my kids in the kitchen while making pancakes in place of best times, trophies, baskets or goals. I’m sure she does, too, to an extent. But it all begs the question: To what end?
For her, the sacrifice of the initial investment is worth the long-time payout.
For me, the gift of today calls me.
I believe in trying most (good) things, at least once. I believe in trying again, when you fail or are fearful. I believe “real” work doesn’t truly begin until you push yourself out of your comfort zone.
It’s my responsibility to encourage my child to come into her own and to provide the resources available to help her achieve her goals.
But I also believe that we are each born with our innate gifts and it is up to us to listen to those gifts speak their truth.
So even though my daughter is gifted at the piano, I allow her to quit when encouraging her to practice overpowers her desire to play.
And when my other daughter has an anxiety attack over performing in the holiday production, I hug her and reassure her that, IT’S OK. She doesn’t have to sing.
Because, at the end of the day, what is the End Goal?
For us, it is health, happiness and confidence- the ability to tune in to our heart- to pay attention to when it whispers and listen to when it roars.
Our hearts speak.
And it’s our job to listen.
If only, we could listen.
“We should have stopped at three.”
I stood motionless. Awestruck at what this mother had just admitted, so honestly, to me.
It was the exact opposite of what I wanted to hear when I asked the question, “What’s it like to have four?”
But like spinach stuck in teeth, there it was.
The ugly truth.
I wanted to hear how much better it was to have an even number of children; how life seemed incomplete until the fourth arrived.
I wasn’t seeking her truth- I was seeking validation for my relentless desire.
Until I had my fourth.
After which, I understood how much easier it is to reflect and regret, instead of look forward and wonder.
This mother wasn’t a monster. Of course, she loved her fourth, she explained. But life with three was busy enough. Four felt unsustainable.
Horrified then, I now feel gratitude for her veracity.
Foreseeable a mile away.
The awe is understandable.
Four beautiful daughters, so close in age, is bound to attract attention.
The first line, predictable:
Almost as predictable as one of the second lines:
“Wow. You’ve got your hands full.”
“Just wait until they’re teenagers!”
But the worst, the absolute worst is when they say, in front of our daughters,
“Were you trying for the boy?”
The look on my 6 year-old’s face: confusion.
The feeling in my heart: pain.
Sadness that she should feel the need to apologize for her gender. Disappointment that this adult is too ignorant to realize children, too, have ears and feelings.
So instead, I strike back.
“We hit the JACKPOT.”
Four sisters. One loving mother. One adoring father. 6 hearts. One family.
I’m the youngest of eight children.
Let’s allow that to sink in for a bit before I explain that I am from a “blended” family.
I’ll never forget, at 6 years-old, when my teacher asked me to draw a family tree. I looked at her with a blank stare and no idea of where to begin.
How do you explain that you are the illegitimate, love-child of an affair? Of a mother that already had one and a father that had four? How do you draw the two-step siblings you later acquired when you were just three-years old?
It was tough to draw but never tough for me to explain. I always knew my step-dad was my “dad” and my real dad was my “father”.
But not once, not ever, did I know where I belonged.
My childhood was all about trying to find my place.
Where did I fit in?
In elementary school, I attended the meeting for children of divorced parents- but mine had not yet separated.
At home, I found solace in our nucleus of 2+2, until my mom and step-dad divorced when I turned 18 and off to college I went.
My mom sold the house. My step-dad remarried into a family with two new sons and ceased contact with me.
I felt completely lost.
Thanksgiving was no longer spent with the two step-siblings I had called my brother and sister. Christmas with my half-sister was shared with her father. And holidays spent with my father’s four children had never been done.
Where did I belong?
I searched. For many years, I looked for his face, his warmth and the security of his embrace.
And finally, I found him.
And together, we created where I’ve belonged, all along.
A fourth labor didn’t do it.
Nor did staying-at-home with a newborn, two, four and six year old.
A gallbladder surgery 9 weeks postpartum made a dent, but not a fatal one.
An infant with a multitude of health issues and doctors appointments slowed the gears but not to a stop.
Instead, it took a crippling back injury to force me to sit-the-hell-down.
Like a derby car sustaining repeated blows, I kept going.
Like an elephant attacked by a pride of lions, I kept walking.
Until the day I couldn’t.
Until I sustained an injury that rendered me unable to use the restroom on my own.
I couldn’t believe we were facing yet another hardship when we had already endured so much. How were we supposed to carry on when the leader of the litter was down?
10 days into my forced rest, I realized my body had given up on waiting for me to take care of myself.
It had given me a clue five weeks earlier- a little pinch in my lower back talking to me, reminding me it was there and needed attention. But like everything else, I ignored it in the face of so many other things to do and be for my family.
Forced to sit, I watched and witnessed the circus that is my daily life and finally agreed, it was time to hire some help.
As I explained my “daily schedule” in my job posting for a nanny, I couldn’t believe I had been doing everything on my own for so long.
And I wondered, why do we often live in denial of the help we need?
Why does it take a major setback to ignite a major awakening?
What would our life look like if we made self-care a priority?
I went out kicking and screaming but I am returning, with help, full of gratitude and the hope for a more sustainable life.
“My nose is running.”
“I can’t open this.”
A helpless victim.
“May I have a tissue, please?”
“May I have a snack, please?
“Mom, can you pass me a blanket?”
“Will you help me open this?
An assertive problem-solver.
For the past few months, I’ve been working with my second daughter on asking for what she needs, rather than stating the problem aloud with the hopes that someone will hear and fix the issue for her.
I’m lucky to raise my daughters during a time when women are encouraged to use their voice. If I don’t teach them early to speak up for what they need, how can I expect them to innately learn this later?
“I wish I got paid more.” becomes “Boss, here are the reasons I deserve a raise.”
“I wish my spouse paid more attention to me.” becomes “We need to talk.”
“I don’t know how to ______ (change a tire, write a resume, etc.) becomes “Will you teach me?”
“I wish I had more time for ____.” becomes “If it’s important enough, I will find a way.”
And oh, will she ever.
Happy 5th Birthday Harper Reese.