The Light

“I’ll give you everything I have, I’ll teach you everything I know…”

They are growing, right in front of my eyes. Changing. Learning. Reaching closer to the sky with each passing day.

I get to watch them, sometimes while the skin of their fingers touches my palm as we walk together, sometimes from afar as I sit back, hold my breathe, and observe. I get to be their mother.

Tonight I got to drive for an hour alone. Music, of course, filled my speakers at my van’s highest volume as we – these songs and me – drove into the horizon towards home. I got to thinking, as I often do best when alone, and these words hit my ears. The brilliance of a song like this, and how this band in particular has somehow channeled my very own thoughts, dreams, and hurts into music – “Light”, by Sleeping at Last, played on repeat for maybe half of the first leg of my journey.

Tomorrow, we go to where I was once a child. We go to drive the streets I roamed when I was young. Where my father lives, his home the one place I’ve returned to since leaving my hometown – I will listen to music in his garage and laugh with him at jokes only we think are funny. Where my brothers live, when I get to see into their lives and learn about the men they have become, and tell them I am proud of them all. Where my sisters are, though not by blood I adore them as I did when they too were just little girls. Where my dad’s wife, my dear friend, prepares food, and sweeps floors, and busies herself for the arrival of a house full of Geddes family as we gather to celebrate life together.

My girls get to spend time with their cousins, and sweet Aunties, and my dad gets to Grandfather his eleven grandchildren all at the same time, in the same house (I honestly can’t wait for this – let’s see how long he can take the madness!)

Again I will observe my daughters. Layla learning to play with her cousins, Bella and Ruby, as Jemma swings high on Uncle Brian’s dangerous swing. Auntie Danya holding baby Delaney, and talking of her chickens and how the garden did this year. Uncle Bucky handing me his new baby daughter, as my girls gather around to meet their Washington family’s newest member…

“I promise, I’ll do better…”

The song played on as I drove, and it sparked from me this writing, because the simple elegance of these lyrics, and their truth, feels exactly like how I love my children. I began to imagine the next few days, of my girls with me where I was little girl, and all the beautiful memories we will make.

And then, out of nowhere, I thought of her.

“I will always hold you close, but I will learn to let you go…”

My hometown is where I knew her. It was where I loved her. It was where I lost her.

I’ve tried very hard to hide that I think of her – especially since I have so many positive experiences awaiting us there that I hate to cloud that with any kind of pain – I have felt as though speaking up that I think of her, or even that I miss her, may give the impression that I am not grateful for what is to come (I don’t want anyone to think I’m dwelling in the past is what it amounts to…) The thing is, I can’t go back there and not think of her. Miss her.

The woman who gave me life.

I watch my children lately, and I think of her. I think of what she is missing, and of all she has missed. I try and reconcile my wants with the truth of God’s will; she’s gone, it was meant to be that way or it would not have happened. Still, the stillness in my watching – my children – it lingers back to when I was a child, and it was my mother who watched me from afar.

I thought about how great it would have been to have an opportunity to parent my children in front of my mother. To show her that I stop and pay attention. I watch them, as they grow, and I am this – for them: Attentive. Patient. Interested. Caring. Loyal. Slow to anger. God-fearing. I would show her what it looks like to be the kind of mother she didn’t know she could be as we got older. I would show her that she was this mother, when we were young, and that doesn’t have to be the best of her days. I would show her what inherent worth she had as my mother, as the one who taught me how to bake chicken, and apply lipstick, and shave my legs, and … I would show her the immense gratefulness I feel that she taught me about God, and that she never lost that even in the end.

“I will soften every edge; I’ll hold the world to its best…”

My daughters will never know her. Much the same, I never got to meet my maternal Grandmother. They don’t know the pain I felt for having had to let her go, and it is my life’s greatest mission not to show them that hurt – but instead I hope to meet Jesus when I am an old woman. Because this pain is my own, and these thoughts only linger in my pondering mind, why must I speak it aloud when I return to my hometown with my family?

Because it matters. This is the narrative of things, the journey God set me upon, and feeling through this – learning from it – helps me be a better mother. I have missed her, and in all these years since last I saw her face I have given it a great deal of thought.

I wish she could have been present. I wish she could have known the best moments of her life were right where she left them. I wish she didn’t feel like searching outside of the home she had made. I wish she knew how much she was loved, and wanted, and needed.

I would wrap my hands around her face, look her in the eyes, and tell her thank you. For even in her darkness and pain, and how it ended, she was loved. She didn’t believe it. And that makes me saddest of all. I know what that feels like.

“With every heartbeat I have left, I will defend your every breathe…”

My children, my husband, and fifty-seven suitcases will board a plane tomorrow.

In Washington, I will watch them. I will be still, quietly holding my breathe, and observe as life comes full circle right before my eyes. And in those moments, when I am just being present, I will sigh and remember her. I will miss her. I may even cry, but nobody will need to know that…

“I promise, I’ll do better.”

This song. Her memory. Washington. My family.

I drove into the night and thanked God for all of it. The beautiful parts. The painful parts. And for the music that accompanies these simple, eloquent moments. Because of her, I am a better mother. For them, I’ll give my best. And I’ll do better.

Sleeping at Last, “Lights” lyrics:

May these words be the first
To find your ears.
The world is brighter than the sun
Now that you’re here.
Though your eyes will need some time to adjust
To the overwhelming light surrounding us,

I’ll give you everything I have.
I’ll teach you everything I know.
I promise I’ll do better.
I will always hold you close,
But I will learn to let you go.
I promise I’ll do better.
I will soften every edge,
I’ll hold the world to its best,
And I’ll do better.
With every heartbeat I have left
I will defend your every breath,
And I’ll do better.

’Сause you are loved.
You are loved more than you know.
I hereby pledge all of my days
To prove it so.
Though your heart is far too young to realize
The unimaginable light you hold inside,

I’ll give you everything I have.
I’ll teach you everything I know.
I promise I’ll do better.
I will always hold you close,
But I will learn to let you go.
I promise I’ll do better.
I will rearrange the stars,
Pull ‘em down to where you are.
I promise, I’ll do better.
With every heartbeat I have left,
I’ll defend your every breath.
I promise I’ll do better.
I will soften every edge,
Hold the world to its best.
I promise I’ll do better.
With every heartbeat I have left,
I’ll defend your every breath,
(I’ll do better.)

The Moments

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the moments of my life. The important things. The big things. The small, seemingly simple things…

The way Delaney toddles on her cast because she needs to sneak in walking before we tell her to sit on her butt. She went from being a 9-month walking baby to a 16-month-old toddler in a candy-cane striped cast with a broken tibia beneath it. Her smiles, mischeiveous and silly, when she steps away from the coffee table to a nearby toy – she knows she won’t quite make it there without a stumble or Mama reminding her to sit, yet she tries it anyway as she remembers when she had freedom with no limitations.

The way Jemma hangs upside-down on the monkey swing that hangs in the playroom doorway. She looks like a spider monkey inching her way up the doorframe until her 5-year-old hand finally grasps the bar above her head. Her strong legs flip over her head and she hooks the back of her knees to the bar, dangling there with a big, proud smile on her face. “Mama, did you see me?” She asks, for the 16th time. I glance up at her to meet her eyes and I respond with glee as if it was the first time I saw her accomplish this.

The way Layla has done so well with her school work. She began 2nd grade this year transitioning from Montessori, where she had gone to school since she was 18 months of age. Struggling, she fell behind her classmates and I could see her confidence wavering. With help from a tutor and several caring faculty, I have been watching her grades improve. The smile she gets when she answers a math problem right. The eager way she sounds out words and reads to us from single-sentence pages. Her happiness at success.

The way John works so hard from his office by our front door or from a conference room in some town I’ve never been. He paces the wood floor of our house as he helps clients sort out their problems. He sorts laundry, washes dishes, and wipes the baby’s butt with his headset on, just waiting for another call. He talks and laughs and plays and supports and encourages, all while doing his work and providing for a family he chose to be part of. My heart swells with gratitude that he keeps our life on-track. Happily.

There is so much here. In this house. In this family. And at times, as I watch these sweet moments of our lives play out in front of me, I don’t know how I got here. How I somehow managed to be so fortunate, so blessed…

The moments of my life were not always so… beautiful.

What matters to me now are their smiling faces. Their peaceful dreams. Their healthy bodies, their busy minds. What makes me stay – every single day – is knowing the purpose that is this life. This role. The mother. The wife.

I watch them. So carefully.

It goes too quickly. All of this fades. What will we have left if not for these moments? What matters if not for this, right now?

This life makes me contemplate something difficult, and I ponder a thousand questions with no answers as I perform this dance of Mama and his love; was it the same for her?

Did she notice these moments in her own life? Did she stop, see, and savor?

One can easily miss it. I know that, because I have done it on countless occasions. I coast through days as much as the next person. Waiting for the next vacation. The next new thing. The next quiet moment alone…

I have missed their smiling faces. Their peaceful dreams. Their healthy bodies, and busy minds. I have missed sweet kisses, dances in the kitchen, tucks into bed. I have missed bedtime stories, important heart-to-hearts, and talks through difficult feelings. I have not always been present, and understood that what matters is right here, right now.

It makes me have a new respect for who she was, and what she did. And how she did it. And why.

But it also makes me sad. Because I would give just about anything for a moment with her, here, to watch as my life has grown to resemble something great. I would give anything for her to watch my baby toddle in her cast. I would give anything for her to watch as my middle child hangs from the bar in the playroom doorway. I would give anything for her to celebrate with my oldest child as she reads an entire book without stumbling one time. I would give anything for her to be able to look my husband in the eyes and thank him for how hard he works for us, and how he has provided us such a great life.

She is missing this. The important things. The big things. The small, seemingly simple things…

In a week I will be where she last was. And oddly enough, not only is this the first Christmas I have been home since 2005 – it was actually the last time I saw her. It was the last time I hugged her. It was the very last time my mother ever told me she loved me.

The moments. The ones that count. I will make new ones, with my own family, 11 years later, in the very house I was sitting in when I heard that my mom had died.

So, now, I am paying attention. Quietly watching. . . Because I know how important this is. How much it matters. But it makes me miss her. Miss what was taken when she went away. More than this, though, lately I have been wondering if she knew it. If she saw the moments of her life. If she recognized them, and cared, and kept them safe within her heart as treasures more precious than gold.

John has been urging me to write for a while. I know that it is something I need to do. Something that helps me to process things, to work it out, and to heal – piece by piece. This is my sanctuary, but it hurts me to do this, because I must face what takes me away from right here, right now. Also, it makes me face that the one who carried me and helped me grow is gone, and I hate to acknowledge that when I have my own family, and they need me present. Acknowledging this is not something that happens just one time, like the moment I fell to the floor in sobbing desperation at the news of her passing.

It happens constantly. Especially lately. Going home does that. It causes that. Because I yearn for a piece of my life to be whole again and I cannot make it whole. I want for her to hold my children, and I am not sure that will fade even as we move forward through the years. I want for her to laugh, and dance, and play with them, and watch the moments of our lives become the things she treasures most. I want for her to look at me, in the eyes, and tell me she is proud of who I am, and what I have done, and see that I am a mother who pays attention, and cares, and remembers these moments.

It’s a hard thing, to dig around in my heart, and figure out why something is keeping me from being present. It is her. It is often, if not always in some way… Her. Christmas time. Vancouver. It is her.

I am trying to keep it silent, this ache, but it’s getting harder to accomplish this. My excitement grows for my children to play in the snow and have hot chocolate with Grandpa Jim, and to laugh with their eleven cousins and have bonfires in their Uncle’s back yard. There is real joy there, but the looming sadness never leaves me. I resent that even as I dream of stepping foot where I grew up again…

Because these moments will fade, and I want to do this right. I want to watch Delaney toddle with a plastic bag wrapped around her leg to shield from the cold snow – she’s never seen snow! I want to throw a snowball at Jemma and Layla and build Olaf and laugh because he likes warm hugs. I want to kiss my husband and not be thinking about anything else while my lips are against his because he made this trip a reality, and he worked hard so that we could build these memories.

Like all that matters are these moments – I want that in a way more than I want to remember her. Because remembering her gets in the way of being present. Because I have yet to learn how to have both, at the same time. Because they deserve from me what she tried to give – a present mother.

Right now, my heart is trying. To do better for them, to give more for them. To be who she wanted to be, and I hope as I accomplish this, and I am here, now, they have everything they need. Even in the sweet, simple moments. Because as I have learned, these are the only ones that matter.

Rocked like a baby

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Sometimes I remember that even my 7-year-old needs to be rocked like a brand new baby.

She has such a sensitive, comedic, and pleasing soul. Layla is the kind of girl that can make anyone her friend. She is inquisitive, sassy, and beautiful – and she knows it. My first child, she has known me as her mother the longest of my three, and her place in my heart is absolutely untouchable.

Tonight, I realized that her heart wants so badly to please me, and how she is seeing me is changing – as she changes. Our relationship grows and deepens as we both continue simply trying to figure out how to make this all work, me in my life, and she, in hers.

It is so easy for me to get caught up in this world, in the day-to-day mire of housewife, mother, and partner, and I forget to see the naked blessings that are so obvious before my eyes; Layla, of all my children, will be the first to remind me to be here, now, and it’s something I love about her, though at times it drives me mad. Because she forces me, with words or sometimes merely a frustrated glance, to see that I owe them more than the very least I can give.

That getting down on the floor to color matters. That sometimes, who gives a shit about the dirty dishes and instead, let’s have a dance party. She reminds me that we need more milk because Jemma said three hours later that she couldn’t make warm milk, and she runs through the grocery store to retrieve from our list – just because she knows it’ll help me out.

It just pulls my heart apart to realize I don’t give her all of me, and I choose whatever else over these simple, eloquent moments – when before my eyes, they are changing and growing; she is changing, growing, and if I don’t stop, I am missing it.

There are times like today when I watch her get to know me better, intentionally.

We were upstairs during naptime. Jemma was fighting sleep in resolute protest against the very mention of a nap, and Delaney had been down for about twenty minutes. I unlatched the baby, set her in the crib, and walked myself into the playroom where I had instructed my oldest child to straighten up from the playdate yesterday. She had done her work and so I found her relaxing on the couch.

We talked.

“Mama, how come you’re always cleaning, or you’re mad that the house is a mess?” She inquired after I remarked, emphatically, how great a job she did cleaning.

“Well, baby, I just want to make sure you guys grow up in a clean place, and it is important to me to do my work as a Mama and a wife. That means I need to keep the house clean.”

She, silent, stared into the carpet, obviously in thought.

We quickly ventured into a new topic and I mentioned that I wanted to try and lay down, and sleep while Delaney slept. She said she would like to go downstairs and watch some TV, I agreed that was fine.

Fast forward to this evening.

Jemma finally succumbed to a day of no rest (she is one who absolutely still needs that nap!) and Delaney easily went down for the night.

I walked downstairs, collecting laundry and cups as I went, mentally preparing myself for the tasks ahead. Dishes. Wiping counters. Cleaning toilets (seriously, how freaking often do I do that and they NEVER stay clean! It’s almost as if people are shitting there every day!). Taking out trash. Folding clothes…

I greeted her on the stairs as I walked through the gate. Immediately I could sense her sleepiness and asked if she was ready for bed. 9pm, after all, way past her normal bedtime.

She lazily answered that she wanted to help me clean up. I casually offered that she could help for 15 minutes and then would need to go to bed.

The music on for company, I set Pandora to Crosby, Still, & Nash, tiptoed myself gracefully to the kitchen, and began my work.

She followed behind me, asking what she could do. Trash on the counters. Give the dog some dinner. Easy stuff.

I busied myself for a few minutes all the while keeping an eye on her. Her pace slowing, her eyelids drooping more by the second.

“Baby, ready for bed?” I motioned to the stairs as I asked, turning my head away from the sink to catch her eyes.

She began to cry.

A tired cry, yes, but something deeper there lurked. I dropped the spatula and scrubby and rushed to her, setting myself onto the floor to cradle her in my arms.

It was a posture I don’t take much with her these days. She is my big girl, after all, she doesn’t need me like the younger ones do.

Within my embrace she wept.

I held her tightly, silently, awaiting the inevitable dump from her heart to my ears.

“I just, you do so much for us, and you work so hard on this house, and I feel bad that we don’t help you”.

My heart, broken.

Except, in that instant, hearing those words, I rejoiced. She WAS paying attention! What a great moment for me! To show her what matters to me. What matters as a mother, a wife, a housewife. . . We take care of where we live. We maintain it…

Except. I was showing her THIS mattered to me? The house? The work…?

More than… HER?

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I squeezed her into my flesh and began to feel hot tears behind my own eyes.

How could I have missed it?

How did I not see this?

SHE needs me.

She wants me present. Untethered by this world and all I feel I am called to do, and be.

First I was called to be her mother.

FIRST.

As she cried, I just thanked God for these moments. I breathed in the scent of her freshly-washed hair, it smelled like apples. I ran my fingers down her arms to once again feel her skin against mine.

I realized she may be 7, but she needs me to rock her like a baby.

To give to her what I give to my youngest – all of me.

You see, I began to believe that she didn’t need me like that. She didn’t need my breast to give her nourishment like Delaney requires. She didn’t need me to walk with her to the bathroom to turn on the light, like Jemma demands.

I have been watching her grow, and change, and our relationship has moved on to a new place. Where I convinced myself if even in some small way that I could stop giving all of me to her. She doesn’t need it. She can handle less. Requires less.

I saw tonight that this isn’t true.

What a beautiful gift, but it’s a bitter pill unless I actually commit to giving her what she deserves.

She matters more than the house, but I learned tonight, with her pleasing soul, she wanted to give me what she thought I NEEDED.

She has heard me say a thousand times that it matters to have dishes out of the sink. To keep our toys picked up. To clean up after meals.

Could I have missed teaching her, showing her, saying and doing – that what matters to me IS HER! Her sisters. Their happiness, tenderness, and well-being. . .

“Okay, baby, time for bed”. I pick her up from a squat and walk us to the stairwell leading up to her bedroom and our goodnight.

“I just want to make you happy, Mama”, she whispers, her face in my neck.

I kiss her forehead, breathe her in, and lay her atop the makeshift bed on my bedroom floor.

“I am, baby. I love you”.

I hope she knows I do. And I hope I get better at SHOWING HER THAT.

And, sometimes, when she needs it, I will scoop her into my mommy arms and rock her like a baby. Like my first child. My daughter. My Layla.

The one that matters most.

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