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

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

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. Despite an empty nest and a portable work-from-home career, here I sit, on the patio of my home of 23 years.

Where did I go wrong? I didn’t. While I didn’t plan to be nor get here this way, I made the choices that set me on this journey, sometimes to float and let the current take me.

Was my life adventure diminished? Absolutely not. My mama journey has included travel, lush paths, white water rivers, mountains, beaches, boat rides, horse back rides, soccer and volleyball games, swim meets, concerts, road trips, and every roller coaster in every theme park we ever visited.

This journey  —which isn’t over— includes good days and bad days, brilliant moments and miserable mistakes, heart split wide open (mostly with love but sometimes with ache), and just about every cheesy greeting-card cliche about being a mom.

How do I celebrate Mother’s Day?mother's-day

Casually at best.

My firstborn arrived on a Mother’s Day. So sure, Mother’s Day has a special place in my heart. But let’s face it Mother’s Day has become like a commercial holiday, with ads that guilt children into sending the card, flowers, a gift, making the phone call, going to visit . . .

  • What if she remembers too late to send a card?
  • What if he’s working on that day or studying for a final exam or writing a final report?
  • What if they don’t have the money to buy a gift or the time or creativity to make one?

This “special” day also brings heartache to some celebrants.

  • For children who have lost their mom, the day can be bittersweet and sometimes sad.
  • For moms who have lost a child, the day brings a new wave of grieving.
  • For the childless woman . . .

Let’s talk about her for a minute.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 20% of women between 40 and 44 are childless, and over half of those not by choice.

  • For the childless who long for a child, surely Mother´s Day brings a bitter reminder.

What of the childless by choice? Remember? That was my plan.

While Pew RC puts the statistic at around 7-8% of women between 40 and 44, a whopping 45% of my friends (mostly in their 50s and 60s now) are childless by choice. I calculated the same result for both the close-friend and closest-friend pools. Although the stigma of being childless by choice has diminished, it’s there.

  • For the childless by choice woman, Mother´s Day can stir her defensiveness against those empty-life prejudices.

In my little world, those prejudices hold no truth. The lives of my childless friends are full, exciting, and often selfless. Many have mom skills, and some have filled in as second moms. Yet this holiday excludes them.

Two more points that should not be excluded.

  • Some children have crap moms. They could buy her a house and a car for Mother’s Day and still fall short.
  • Some moms have crap children. This day is a poignant reminder of their narcissism.

Am I poo-pooing Mother´s Day?

Yes and no.

When my Mother’s-Day firstborn was still a baby, we went to a one-year old’s  birthday party. My friend joked that the celebration wasn’t about her son, but about her, the day she labored to bring this new person into the world. The first birthday was a Mother’s Day. I liked this idea! I announced the same sentiments for all three of my children’s first birthdays. It’s not your birthday, it’s your mother’s day!

Similarly and conversely, the most important part of Mother’s Day for me is my children. Not the card. Not the flowers. Not a gift. Certainly not guilting them into cooking, cleaning, or taking me out to eat (although I confess I tried that once or twice ). Mother´s Day is about this unexpected path, a journey I never imagined for myself. Motherhood. My children.

I celebrate my mom and her impeccable model of strength and love in action on this day. Most years we have a combined celebration in May: my mom’s birthday (first week of May), my daughter’s birthday, and Mother’s Day. Mother’s Days is never the thing, but one of the things we celebrate in early May.

So, to answer the question:mother's-day

  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the commercialization of Mother’s Day.
  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the negative feelings Mother’s Day generates for those who feel excluded.
  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the typecasting of women and the complex roles they play in the lives of children.
  • No. I’m not poo-pooing having a special day for mom. Maybe it’s the second Sunday of May. But it could be any day of the year. Or many days of the year.

Celebrating motherhood fans out. I reach back with love and gratitude for my mom. I reach forward and love this unplanned journey, my children. I reach more to unfold my gratitude for the friends I have made through my children, and my gratitude unfolds even more tenderly for the friends of my children who are a special part of my life.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of us!

Is all of this to say that I would I hate chocolates in a goblet or a snuggles and a visit from my children? Absolutely not. But if not on the second Sunday of May, any day would do. You’re part of my journey, and that’s what I celebrate.

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.