A mother’s heart

My heart catches a little, sometimes a lot, when I see their faces. In person, in jpgs from my pictures folders, on Facebook or Instagram. My heart catches because they’re so cute. My heart catches because I am their mother. What is it about a mother’s heart?

How did I get a mother’s heart?

How did they happen? I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t want it.

These three know by now that I take everything they tell me about their future with a big chunk of salt because this was my line:

I’m going to travel and write. I won’t settle. Not down, not in one place, not for one person. I’m a free spirit. Oh . . . and I’ll never be a teacher.

My life would have been full without them, without my students, without any of the things I didn’t plan for. But my life is full in ways I couldn’t have imagined with my children.

To be clear: My path is not more brilliant than those whose experiences are foreign to APGAR, possible CPD, Pitocin, or a lake of Amniotic Fluid at the nursery window of the labor and delivery unit. You don’t have to be a mom to feel your heart catch for your blessings. You don’t have to be a mom to live a blessed and full life.  While we hold up our children for all the good reasons, the paths of the childless-by-destiny or childless-by-choice are also filled with value and unexpected blessings that catch their hearts.

My path included APGAR, possible CPD, Pitocin, and a lake of Amniotic Fluid at the nursery window of the labor and delivery unit. These three humans are my surprise, my unexpected blessings, and I’m deeply grateful.

mother's heart

Mom on the morning of her 80th birthday reading messages from people in her life. She’s so much more than my mom.

My heart catches when I see their faces because, even as I crested a quarter of a century, I never wanted or imagined motherhood for myself. This could have been dreadful for all of us! But they are my blessing. I’m grateful for these humans who littered my path. For every lego that dug into my heel, every ribbon that caught my toes, every piece of goo that stuck to my shoe, every chunk of love that caught my heart, I’m grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day

This weekend, as we celebrate moms, I lift up my gratitude for these unexpected blessings in my life. I also lift up the others who gathered around me and have been mothers to my children. You are too many to name. Not all of you have children (you don’t have to be a mom to be a mom), but all of you have mothered and blessed my blessings.

I lift up my mom. I’m nothing without her. Growing up, she wasn’t like all the other moms. I didn’t always value the difference, especially in my youth. My mom, my coach, my mentor, my listener: she set the bar higher for depth, endurance, uniqueness, and patience of love. She gave me my grit, and I lift her high.

I am ever the lucky one who had the mom she didn’t always appreciate and the children she never expected. My heart catches.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018

Being Exes Without Exing Family Bonds

When people find out that my ex and I are still friends and we do things together as a family (that we’re exes without exing family relationships), I get a lot of:

Wow! That’s wonderful. I really admire you. How do you do that?

I typically shrug (it’s an honest shrug) and respond:

Why would we not do this?

I sometimes go on to explain how we found ourselves here. It goes something like this.

Rounding the Bend Begins with Forgiveness

I was sitting across the teak patio table from my mom when she started the rant again. A list of all the anger and disappointment points, all of the things for which she faulted (eternally it seemed) my now ex-husband.

I have long practiced tolerance for the difference in points of view (primarily political and religious) between my parents and myself. I respect their choices and typically skirt any embroiled discussion because that’s not what matters about my relationship to them, and, importantly, because their choices are authentic and deeply rooted in a belief system I have no intention of undoing.

This was different. Beyond a difference in belief and perspective, a future was at stake. The future of family relations.

Mom? Why are you still so angry? I’m not.

That was the first line of a new chapter in our family.

My mom and I had a long conversation that afternoon about anger, responsibility (I, after all, was not exempt from the problems in the marriage that ended), and forgiveness.

Father’s Days and Holidays

A few months later was Father’s Day weekend. Before the divorce, we had celebrated together at my parents’ place with the two fathers: mine and my children’s. For the two years since the divorce, our children had had to split special occasions and holidays between me and their dad. Mom asked about our plans for the upcoming Father’s Day.exes without exing

I’ll be here with you and dad but the kids will spend it with their Baba. 

Silence.

Later that week, my oldest asked about the plans too.

You and your brother and sister will spend the weekend with Baba. I’m going to the farm to spend the weekend with my dad. 

No silence.

Why can’t we all spend the day together?!

Indeed, I thought. Why not?

I made the phone call and suggestion to my mom. The affirmative answer came with restrictions, but it was a step. A step towards healing anger and mending relations.

I think we were all a little nervous, but we had a great, if sometimes awkward, reunited Father’s Day.

The next family holiday was Thanksgiving. This time my eldest was the first to bring up the plans. She asked: Please, let’s spend the day together. We did. Since then, our family, the broken nuclear family and the rebonded extended family, has come together for holidays, special events, and vacations.

High Roads and Easy Roads

I’ve been trying to write this post for over a year now. Not because it’s hard to write. The story of it spills out. The difficulty is that it might sound too proud or that others whose post divorce relationships were more challenging might feel judged. I don’t feel proud. I’m simply happy and blessed. The path we took as a family was the natural path for us. And I certainly don’t judge. Just as every marriage and family is unique, every divorce comes with its own hurdles and heartache.

I should emphasize too that I didn’t take the high road. Those I admire you’s often suggest that I did. Maybe we’re on the high road, but this was the easier road, the right relationship road. The beginnings of it were a little narrow and scary, but this road has proffered our family better holidays and special occasions, richer relationships, and a deeper understanding of where love and forgiveness lead.

Every time we have a family gathering, we hold hands in a circle before the meal and take turns saying what we’re grateful for. My mom’s gratitude, without exception, has always been or at least included:

I’m grateful for this family and for Ziad and Pennie, for how they keep this family together. 

Me too, mom. I’m especially grateful this was the easy road.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Happy Father’s Day! You’re the Greatest.

Dad’s all over this country will receive cards, gifts, and time with their families because they’re… well, fathers! I’m not the biggest fan of relationship holidays like Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, or even Mother’s Day. It’s not the sentiment that rubs me wrong, but the forced sentiment obliged by commercialization. That said, when these holidays slap us upside the head, we can ponder the gifts of these celebrated relationships. I’ll celebrate this day with family, but I also offer a game. Meet four dads and read their “Happy Father’s Day” cards. Can you match each card to the dad?


The dads

Marcus is a firefighter in a small town in Pennsylvania. He was raised mostly by his six siblings after his father was killed in a plant accident when Marcus was eight. He has a daughter by his high school girlfriend and two sons by his ex-wife. He spends as much time with his children as their moms, his work, and time allow. At least once a month, he sends a letter to each of them, hand-written and stamped. His daughter teases him about it and says he’s old-fashioned, but she collects her dad’s letters in a binder.

Chuck (Charles Whitney Campbell, IV) is a CEO at a Fortune 500 Company. His relationship with his tycoon father was strained and cold. In college, Chuck met Ann, a brilliant girl with a full FAFSA and scholarship ride. In the beginning he dated this girl from a modest middle class family to irritate his father, but, shortly after spending the best Thanksgiving ever with her family, Chuck accidentally fell in love with her. While Chuck makes sure their three children have everything they need, he also makes sure he provides what Ann’s father gave to his children: playful devotion.

Micah is a first-generation immigrant with a small sandwich shop that he opened in Houston a year after Katrina destroyed his home and the restaurant his father established in New Orleans. After a year in shelters and temporary housing, Micah decided to stay in Houston. He and his wife opened a deli-style sandwich shop instead of a full-service restaurant so that they would have more time with their four children. They still live in a small apartment where the children have to share a bedroom, but the little apartment complex with a pool and playground is their dream home.

Louis is a doctor with a private practice in Boston. Louis was born and raised in Idaho, but moved to Massachusetts for college. He met Paul in med school and decided to stay. He and Paul have a son and daughter, both adopted. Despite the demands of their medical careers, Louis or Paul (sometimes both!) are always home after school to help with homework and cook dinner. Dinnertime is when they “put it on the table!” Not just the food. They share stories about their day. This is everyone’s favorite family time.


The cards

You're the greatest because


The Happy Father’s Day message

Dear dads: It’s not your title at work, the games you buy, the things you accumulate, the money you spend. It’s the loving time you spend with them, the things you make with them, the games you play with them, the role you play in their lives. Those are the moments your children will hold in their hearts.

If you’re still trying to match the cards, stop! You can’t. These four kids all received what mattered most. Those moments.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads. May today be a day of celebration and remembrance, a day to make new memories.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Tiny and Big Motherhood: My LTYM Experience

Thirteen Listen To Your Mother Baton Rouge 2016 cast members gave motherhood a microphone on May 1st.

We are a diverse group. I’m not referring to our skin color, hair color, or ages (I was the oldest, by the way), but rather to the diversity in the piece of our heart that each of us shared on stage. More intriguing to me than our diversity is the connection that runs through it. I don’t mean the show or the stage or even motherhood. I’m talking about the connection of experience and emotion.

  • I wasn’t the only mom who…
    • never planned to be one.
    • has learned from her (sometimes “adulty”) children.
    • questioned her heart, her love, her choices.
    • channels lessons and wisdom from the “giants” who came before her.
    • experiences the chaos, the hilarity, the heartbreak.
    • lifts herself out of the fear for future or the grief of loss.
    • experienced some healing energy this spring.

I feel uplifted, connected, and refreshed by this experience. I encourage everyone to attend the next LTYM show in their area. To those who have a story about motherhood (and you needn’t be a mother nor a woman to have such a story!), audition for next year’s show!

Thanks to director Meghan Matt for bringing LTYM to Baton Rouge, to producer Audrey Hayworth for helping her pull together a beautiful show, and to LTYM founder Ann Imig for being a Game Changer and making this experience possible for so many.

This is my story. I’ll share the YouTube video when it becomes available this summer. Thanks in advance for reading.

Tiny and Big

“I love you tiny and big,” she said with three-year old seductiveness as she mimicked her phrase with two pinched fingers for “tiny” and outspread arms for big. That about covered it for her. Sometimes she couldn’t love me big because she was overcoming a time-out; but she still loved me tiny. Now it had become a game. I would imitate her, hesitating between “tiny” and “big,” then watch her anticipation then satisfaction as I completed her favorite phrase: “I love you tiny… and… big.”LTYM-Audrey

I don’t remember ever telling my parents I loved them so freely as I grew up. I don’t remember being told often. We knew it, yet rarely said it. The few times we did, the expression swelled between us, tense, embarrassed, urgent.

My girls changed this. My mom can tell them easily and unencumbered by tension, “I love you.” I have noticed, however, that my three-year-old never tells her grandmother, “I love you TINY and big.” No, for her Mama Nick, my daughter stretches her arms apart as far as possible (even her facial muscles try to follow her hands) and tells my mom, “I love you thiiiiiis much.” Big. Only big.

I wrote this twenty three years and a dozen computers ago. My girls were joined by a baby brother less than a year later, and now I’m a seasoned mom of three adults. Through the mad rush of those mama years, I managed to save this snippet from my youthful, unseasoned motherhood, thanks to the nearly obsolete floppy disk.LTYM-Sarah

What about that young mom who scribbled her thoughts on a floppy disk? She had no idea how to be a mother! She wanted to be a writer. Is she still there? Or is she obsolete, like the floppy disk? Did motherhood take the write right out of her? I confess, the fear that part of me stayed behind, lost on a broken computer, gurgles through my mind from time to time.

That young mom didn’t realize how peaceful and simple those first few years were, how suddenly the energy would shift to work, carpools, soccer games, choir, volleyball matches, piano lessons, and swim meets. Write a novel!? Who was I kidding? I needed two to three years to READ the novel on my nightstand.LTYM-Sam

I wish I had written more as the children grew up, when the experiences with them were fresh. I’d have snippets like snapshots about rearing children. Like the day my son was born, and how my second daughter refused to look at him or speak to me. About how several months later, she would sit next to him and wait until she thought I wasn’t looking to steal his pacifier, take a few nom noms, then stick it back in his mouth. Or about their last bath together when they were three and one. She pointed at her brother who was twirling his finger in his bellybutton. “I want one of those!” she said. “But you have a bellybutton!” I replied, tickling hers. “No!” she retorted, pointing lower. “One of those!”

The humor and tenderness of mama journeys are often overshadowed by difficulties: the broken leg, the tantrums and time outs, the dislocated elbow, the first heartbreak, the science fair nightmares, the lost jacket, the stolen computers, the stolen car, the lost phone, let’s face it, the lost and stolen just about everything. I wish I had captured on a floppy disk more of those tiny and big moments in between the difficult ones.

The nest is empty now. I barely blinked! I would say “I raised my children well.” But that’s not the whole story. The learning was reciprocal. My children taught and continue to teach me tiny and big lessons. Lessons about their youthful world, lessons about myself. Listening to my heart was one of the biggest lessons.

I listened to my heart and started writing again.  

Last year, I wrote a blog post for Mother’s Day. It started like this:

I didn’t plan to be a mom.

For the first quarter century of my life, I boasted that I’d never marry, that I wouldn’t have children.

I would write, travel the world. I would be a nomadic wordsmith.

Yet here I am, mother of three adult children. Where did I go wrong? I didn’t.

As I circle around the empty nest and back to that writer in me, I understand I truly didn’t go wrong. A tiny twist? A big detour? Yes and yes. But I love everything about the journey. My tiny travel companions? I especially love them. I love them so big. Only big.

LTYM-kids

© Copyright Pennie Nichols, 2016. All Rights Reserved