Growing Up With You
Today on my hour and a half drive back from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, I was traveling through the radio stations when I heard a James Taylor song. I paused…and then transported momentarily to his concert we attended about six years ago.
Do you remember that summer? I really doubt it, but you seem to enjoy proving me wrong (and so often do) so I’d better ask rather than assume.
We had just returned from our first year in Prague and were visiting my mom in Iowa. We had our first deep fried twinkies. Do you remember that? You ate yours while sitting on Daddy’s shoulders. You were so high up there. I remember worrying that I had not put enough sunscreen on you.
Together that day we knocked off a “bucket list” item by attending the Iowa State fair…and eating a deep friend twinkie.
However, what I remember most from that day is seeing James Taylor on stage…and us …dancing in the back of the outdoor pavilion…your hair all sweaty and curled up in ringlets framing your little face.
We were all dancing…you, not quite three…Mimi, and me. Daddy held your sister. It was so hot. You were so happy.
Do you remember that night, Eloise?
I had you in the middle of a semester in graduate school. Now, I KNOW you don’t remember that so don’t even try to argue with me.
I don’t really recommend doing that. I was young, naïve, and thought I could manage about anything. I didn’t realize I would have to manage everything…without sleep.
But, we made it and I look back on those California years as some of our best. I have such sweet memories of when I would bring you to class with me…sitting you in the bouncer while I listened to lectures. Students would help hold you while I took exams. Other days your uncle Aaron would stay with you while I went to class and Daddy worked.
I wasn’t terribly young when I had you…26. I wasn’t 18, but I wasn’t 40 either.
However, I spend time in academic circles where first children are had in your mid-thirties…not your mid-twenties. So, while in some contexts I was not a very young mother, I feel like I was, in many ways, a baby.
I didn’t wait for school to be over to have you.
I was a very normal, anxious new mother. I was so worried that my imperfections…and there were many…would get in the way of what you deserved. Somehow the fact that you were to be a girl intensified these insecurities. I so wanted to get it right!
It did not help matters that I was studying all of the things that can go WRONG in a family and in a child’s life.
I still remember a dear friend asking me: “Emily, what if God chose YOUR imperfections just for Eloise?”
I could not wrap my mind around this idea. I wanted the best for you. I did not like the idea that I still had growing to do while I was already becoming a mother, nor did I like the idea that God was in that plan somehow.
I wanted you to have a mother who had arrived…who had it all together. I was painfully aware of how far off the mark I was.
Here’s the surprising twist in the story I am just now getting…what I have grown to appreciate…to love…is knowing how much growing I DID have to do.
How much growing I had to do WITH you.
We grew up together…and, I’m still growing up with you.
While I was helping you learn to sleep, I learned how much I needed it, too.
When I was making sure you got your sunshine and play time, I realized how much I needed to play, too.
While you were learning to trust me, I was learning to trust God.
Growing up together, we’ve shared a lot of firsts, you and me, Eloise…firsts that go beyond deep fried twinkies.
No, I didn’t wait on you in order to finish up my life. Nor, did I put you on hold to tie up any loose ends in my goals or dreams, either.
I have been insecure about that in the past, but not so much anymore.
Life just doesn’t stop for motherhood and motherhood really doesn’t stop life…no matter what the media or people without children tell you.
No matter what motherhood looks like…for any one woman…life changes…but, does not stop when we get fitted with motherhood as a new identity.
You just keep going…growing up together. Never in history has life really stopped for mothers. That is another lie that the media portrays to make you feel guilty when the inevitable happens…life happens. And, you just keep going…baby girl at your side.
So, I found out I am having another girl…our fourth, and probably last, baby. I felt her move today for the first time when I was in class for my doctoral program. I immediately remembered another baby I carried in and out of the womb to school.
I remembered and I smiled. This time, I am not afraid for my little girl…for Hillary. I’m not so unsure or insecure. And, that, Eloise, has mostly to do with you. You are a testimony to me. Your strength, your wisdom, your perseverance…who you are…despite me…you are testimony of God’s faithfulness in the midst of our humanity.
We do not have to be perfect parents.
Perhaps my friend was right. Maybe God DID choose MY imperfections just for you, sweet girl.
We are growing up together, you and me. And, somewhere in that, you are just fine. You have and continue to teach me so much…mostly about grace.
So, when they, like they did in my other graduate programs, talk about ideals and standards for parenting and mothering and all sorts of things that can make any mother…especially a new mother…anxious and insecure…I’ll just feel Hillary kick and think of you. I’ll remember that we haven’t followed all of the rules, all of the ideals, all of the standards. I didn’t wait until I had it together. I didn’t put off life, nor did I put off motherhood. Yet, here you are. Wise, kind, strong, intuitive, beautiful.
I chose, without knowing I was choosing, to take you along the life journey…to do a lot of the growing up with you.
Like at that James Taylor concert, I’ve chosen to dance WITH you.
I like to think that maybe we are both better off for it.