The first, by my stepfather after he and my mother divorced.
The second, in my early twenties by a best friend.
The third in my thirties by another close friend.
And recently by another lifelong friend.
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.
It’s been six-and-a-half years since he passed away in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by his wife of over 50 years and three of his children. On hospice, we knew death was imminent and arrived in town with our five-month-old Aurora in tow, just days before.
It was the first time I’d seen him not awake or talking and thus, the first time he hadn’t said the words to me he’d always said right before we parted ways. With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, as if he had a secret he’d been anxious to share with me, he’d call me over and whisper into my ear: “Take care of my boy.”
In the same way my father gave me away to Emmett on our wedding day, Emmett’s dad entrusted his son to me. For rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, until death parted us, as it did for him that May day.
So, before the nurses took him away for good, I held his hand, leaned over his face one last time and whispered, “Don’t worry, Bill. I’ll take care of your boy.”
I checked the bag three times before I left: Extra diapers, wipes, water for me, a burp cloth and even a nursing cover. I was ready to head to the doctor’s with my eldest and my newborn, or at least I thought I was. That is, until I realized, too late, I had forgotten my nursing pads. Milk saturated the right side of my shirt while the baby nursed in the waiting room. I positioned her to burp but before I could get the burp cloth situated, she vomited an entire cup of spit-up on my stomach and lap. Hot, sour milk saturated my shorts and coated the inside of my thighs. It was then that she exploded from her other end and it was then that I laughed and laughed.
Because, seriously. What the hell else are you going to do in a situation like that?
If I had a dollar for every time my mother preached about “choices” during my childhood, I’d be rich. Bottom line, no matter what life hands us, we all have a choice in how we respond. As a young girl, “She made me feel” was met with “You chose to feel” and “I can’t”, “You choose not to”.
It’s all about perspective.
So when I announced to my husband that I had shaved my legs for the first time in a month last night (my modern day attempt at foreplay) and he looked at me as if to say “Do we have to?” I laughed and announced, “You’re not hurting my feelings if you want to take a pass!” He chuckled a sigh of relief. We’ve had four children in 6 years. We’re, understandably, exhausted. Our energy focused on soaking up every moment with our children during the days and surviving the nights.
We will make time for one another again sometime soon, but the baby is only 8 weeks old and God willing, we’ve got a lifetime ahead of us.
I could have cried (rightfully so) in that waiting room and I could have been offended at my husband’s less-than eager reaction but instead, I listened to what my mom has been teaching me all along- I made the choice to make the best of it and I’m happier for it.
Welcome to the world, Elizabeth Joy! Our fourth daughter arrived two weeks ago, abruptly ending months of anticipation and successfully shifting the dynamics of our new “norm”.
We’ve experienced this change before. Beginning with the dance of labor, the rocking, lunging, swaying back and forth. The sensation of extreme heat immediately followed by chilling tremors of apparent sub-zero temperatures. The digging-in, the roaring-out. My arms, wrapped around my husband’s neck. My doula’s steady hands, applying counter pressure to my spine; propping me up, when all I want to do is fall.
Yes, we’ve journeyed along this road many times. When one is too weak to stand, the other is there to hold. And yet, what do we do when we are both weary, unable to withstand the weight of another in addition to the weight of the things we already carry?
My husband and I found ourselves in that position just a few weeks before Elizabeth’s birth. I, carrying an extra 30 pounds on my front-side, preparing for our fourth child’s arrival while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for our 2, 4 and 6 year-old daughters. My husband, juggling pressure from work and the sense of urgency to complete any and all major house projects before the arrival of our newborn.
Our tempers were short, our stress, high. We refrained from burdening the other with our concerns, afraid that our additional weight would throw the other over the edge.
Withered and worried, along we trudged until we simultaneously erupted, hurling accusations and proclaiming “I’m doing the best I can!” Our molten lava seeped from our mouths until there was nothing left to say except, “I know.”
Too weak to stand alone, not strong enough to carry another, we leaned-in. And it was there, forehead to forehead, hands to hands, we discovered that together, we were strong enough to hold.