On the Joy and Sorrow of Mother's Day

Mother's Day I am weary this Mother's Day. Last night, I burst into tears at the prospect of making dinner in a kitchen littered with unwashed dishes, unopened mail, and the food from my daughters' play kitchen.

My husband took one look at me and sent me to bed. "I've got this," he said.

All I really want for Mother's Day is a nice long nap.

As my own amazing mother has always told me, being a mother is hard, hard work. It is beautiful, fulfilling work, but it calls for all of me everyday. Or as it often seems, it calls for more of me than there is to go around.

For this reason, I am thankful for Mother's Day, for a day that honors and celebrates the many women who have sacrificed to give and to nurture life. I think of my own rich legacy of motherhood: my grandmothers, my mother, my mother-in-law, my friends' mothers, and the many, many older women who took note of me over the years, who in their own unique ways encouraged and invested and loved.

These women, some of them mothers themselves, some of them childless or single, taught me to cook and to sew, to see Jesus in the everyday, to value myself and my gifts, to count the nurturing of little souls as sacred, significant work. My own mothering is in so many ways an overflow of what they poured into me.

It is right and good to celebrate these women and others like them. I'm glad for the existence of a holiday like Mother's Day, for the way its regular appearance on my calendar reminds me to stop, take a break from my own busyness, and remember with gratitude.

But I also know it's not quite as simple as that. I remember the pain of my own childless Mother's Day, when CJ and I had been trying for nearly a year to get pregnant. I remember how alone I felt when all the mothers in our church stood to be recognized, how I left the service sobbing.

This Mother's Day, I ache for the daughter who is missing, and I ache too for many of my friends. I think of my pregnant friend caring for her two young daughters, wishing her own mother could have met her sweet babies. I think of my single mom friends, with no one coming home to relieve them of dinner preparations after a hard day. I think of my friends who long for children of their own, of the many brave ways they love and invest and nurture.

I'm sad that Mother's Day can be a hard day for these friends and others like them, even as I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the many amazing mothers I know. It is hard to hold onto both of these emotions. I understand the impulse to ignore the hurting on a day of celebration or to rail against Mother's Day because it can be a source of pain.

And yet, I hope there is another way, a way we can somehow embrace both the beautiful and the broken, a way to sit in both the joy and the sorrow with one another. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. I hope, this Mother's Day, that I can do both.

For My Husband on Father's Day


You love them.

I know this because I see what you do.  I see you roll out of bed night after night, the first one up to change diapers or wet sheets.  I see you welcoming a pancake making assistant when I know her presence makes the process longer, more difficult.  I see you say no when it would be easier to say yes.  I see you put aside money each month for their college funds.  I see you hold and tickle and snuggle and just enjoy being with them.

I know this because I watch them with you.  I see the big one's face light up when you come home from work, watch her put down her toys and run full force across our little court to your arms.  I hear her request a Daddy-Daughter Date, beg for a run with you in the jogging stroller.  I see a smile spread across the little one's face at the sight of you, her cheeks round and joyful.  I see them both in your arms, and there is trust and contentment and peace.

I know this because you grieve the one we lost.  We mourned her together, and I was never more sure I'd married the right man.  You wore the cuff links with her footprints to your brother's wedding.  When you pray for her, there are still tears.

You love them.

There are lot of things I could say about you on Father's Day, but I think this is the most important one.  Our girls know the love of their father, and in that, you are giving them a priceless gift.

Three Plus Two Months

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  
Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.   You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel."  -James 4:1-2


For months, everyone's been telling me that three is a harder age than two.  Still, the intensity with which you are willing to battle over the smallest of things continues to surprise me.  This morning, it was the long-sleeve Ravens shirt you were determined to wear, even though it's supposed to approach 90 degrees this afternoon.

"I want to be cold," you wailed, even after I suggested a compromise:  you could put the long-sleeve shirt on top of a short-sleeve one until you got too hot.

A few times recently, at the height of your distress over losing a battle of the wills, you've stubbornly declared, "I want God to take the whole world apart," as if to say that if you can't have your way, the entirety of creation might as well be destroyed.

It's made me smile to hear you say that, even in the midst of my frustration and, yes, anger with your outbursts.  It's an apt way to describe it, that desperate desire for control we all feel from time to time.  Sometimes, it really does seem like if we can't have things our way, the world should just come to an end.

I'm trying to remember this Ellie-girl, when our battles arise, that though it feels like you and I are at odds, like I simply need to win, the truth is that we are both fighting the same thing:  the cravings of hearts that want to control.  You want to wear sparkly black shoes and white socks with jean shorts, to eat chocolate for lunch.  I want peace, quiet, order.

I can delude myself into thinking that my desires are more valid and therefore more important.   Perhaps they are.  I've had about 30 extra years to refine them.  But the deeper truth is this:  we are both desperate sinners, and we both in desperate need of a Savior.

If you being three can teach us both this, it will be a good year indeed.

Parenting Seasons

I visited some friends and their newborn in the hospital last week, and it took me back to those early days with Ellie:  sleepless nights, breastfeeding problems, an overwhelming sense of deep responsibility coupled with complete and terrifying uncertainty.  Because I'd never been a parent before, it genuinely felt like this is all there was, like this is what parenting would always be.

But it wasn't.  Within weeks, Ellie's eating and nighttime sleeping issues improved.  It would take ten very long months, but we eventually were able to get her on a somewhat predictable schedule.  I started to know my daughter and how to best help her in various situations, and being a parent no longer felt quite so overwhelming or scary.

It's a good reminder for me now as we've recently entered a new stage with Ellie where I feel equally hesitant and confused.  Suddenly, my sweet little girl needs a lot more discipline than she used to, and I'm often left staring at her, wondering exactly how I'm supposed to respond to her latest outburst or disobedience.  I won't go into a lot of details here since I'd like to limit my public analysis of my daughter's flaws, but suffice it to say that she's two, she has lots of opinions, and she's testing lots of boundaries.  

We have a lot to figure out, CJ and I.  What behaviors merit what types of consequences?  What issues do we focus on now, and what issues can we let slide until later so as not to overwhelm either ourselves or Ellie? How do we communicate grace to Ellie even as we discipline, teaching her to obey and yet at the same time teaching her that she can never fully obey, that her repeated failures are ultimately a sign of her need for a Savior?  How do we deal with our own sin that surfaces in these situations, with our very ugly anger and impatience?

It's complicated, and to be honest, I feel an even deeper sense of responsibility and uncertainty than I did when Ellie was a newborn.  Keeping a baby alive is hard, hard work; caring for a child's soul seems, to me at least, even harder.  And it's easy to look at the road ahead (sixteen more years until college!) and feel like this is all parenting is - correction, training, dealing with everyone's messy, sinful hearts.

But holding a newborn last week reminded me of two things.  First, while parenting itself is a long road, this particular season will pass.  When Ellie is fifteen, we will no longer have battles over who is going to put on her shoes.  As hard as it feels to believe, a day will come when I will no longer have to remind her to say please every single time she asks for something.

And second, in the passing of each season, in the parenting challenges that do eventually fade away, there is the accompanying loss of particular joys.  I have already lost the peaceful pleasure of holding Ellie as a tiny sleeping baby; I will one day lose the sweet, simple joy of last night:  half an hour as a family of three, snuggled on the couch reading our way through a pile of library books.


His voice is off-key, and he doesn't really know the chords to any of the nursery rhyme songs she is requesting.  She doesn't care.

"Louder," she squeals as he belts out an upbeat version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb."  "Louder!"

I smile as I clear plates from the dinner table, wash our dishes in the kitchen sink.  Watching them together is one of the sweetest gifts I've ever been given.

For a few moments of this crazy ride we call parenting, I get to be an observer, to step outside the fray and really see what is happening, to enjoy the details as they unfold.  To be real, I sometimes see an impatient father or a demanding daughter or the melt-down that occurs when the two meet.

But sometimes, like tonight, I see the adoring eye of a father watching his little girl twirl, the delight of a daughter who loves to dance for her Daddy, and the rich blessing of getting to share my home and my life with the two of them.

Theology and the Two Year Old

Earlier this week, Ellie suddenly announced, "God is everywhere."

"Yes, Ellie, that's right," I returned, impressed at her early grasp of this truth.

She giggled.  "God is eveywhere.  God is everywhere.  God is everywhere," she repeated, obviously rather proud of herself.

"Who told you that, Ellie?" I asked, wondering where she'd picked up this sudden fascination with God's omnipresence.

"Mommy," she declared, emphatically.

I smiled, remembering that sometime in the past few weeks, she had asked where God was, and I'd tried to explain that He was everywhere.  At the time, I hadn't been sure she'd gotten it.  Now, I felt rather proud of how I'd seized the teachable moment.

* * * * *

Last night, I was giving Ellie a bath before bed when holding up her washcloth, she suddenly announced, "I will show God this washcloth."

"But Ellie," I said, smiling at the thought of Ellie proudly showing her wet pink and green striped washcloth to the God of the universe, "remember God is everywhere.  You can show Him right now."

Without missing a beat, she replied, "When God comes from everywhere to our house, I will show Him."

I guess we're not quite as advanced as I thought we were.

We Pray

On our camping trip last weekend, after trying for over an hour to get our baby girl to fall asleep in the strange confines of a tent and sleeping bag, I started praying.  Out loud.  While I held my squirming, crying, over-tired little girl in my arms.

Laying down with her hadn't worked.  Neither had singing or sitting by the campfire quietly or anything else we could think of.

I was desperate, so I prayed.

And immediately, she stilled in my arms.  I prayed for a few moments, asking God for a good night's sleep, for Ellie to feel safe and loved.  When I said "Amen," Ellie's little head popped up off my shoulder, and she gave the sign for "more," pushing her little fingers together in front of her.

"You want me to pray more?" I asked, surprised.

"Yeah," she said.

And so I prayed.  I prayed for our friends, for people who wanted to have babies and for people who were sad.  I prayed for her grandparents.  I prayed for our small group.  She lay still with her head on my shoulder, and her breathing slowed, her body became heavier.  I lowered my voice to a whisper, but I kept praying.

I prayed my baby to sleep.  Praying calmed her like nothing else had.

It was a sweet, sacred moment in our tiny tent in a little Virginia campground.  Outside, children laughed and campfires danced.  Inside, a weary Mommy and a frantically tired baby prayed their way to peace.


Photo Credit

"Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” - Matthew 13:32

The past few weeks, I've been watering the soil in our front yard, hoping that the grass seed CJ had planted there would eventually grow. Day after day, I looked at the brown earth, at the little white seeds, and thought, "This will never work. It looks the same as it did yesterday. Surely the grass will never come. It is too late in the season, too cold. I have not watered it as much as I should have."

But then, one morning last week, a few tentative shoots appeared, suddenly. One day there was nothing, no sign of life, and the next, life was emerging in tiny little bursts of green all over the yard. Now, the shoots have stretched and blossomed, dainty grean stalks covering more and more of the soil everyday. We do not have a lawn yet, but we are on our way. I no longer doubt that we will get there.

Growth is like that, I suppose. For the longest time, it seems like nothing is happening, that nothing will ever change, that all of your efforts will prove futile. And then one day, you wake up and realize that life is really different, that somehow all that waiting and watching and watering you've been doing really did matter, that something really did happen during all those endless days of plain old dirt.

I'm trying to remember that raising a baby is like this, that when all I see is the "dirt" of seemingly endless fussyness, sleeplessness, and neediness, growth is happening. One day, I will wake up and realize that Ellie has remembered how to sleep through the night again or that she is no longer spitting up all over the place. One day, she will walk and speak and dance and help me bake cookies and go off to school and grow up big and tall.

The Difference a Year Makes

Eaactly one year ago today, I ran to the toilet at my grandparents' beach house, losing the contents of my stomach for the first time in twenty some years. I did the same later that day at my in-laws' house, shortly after we told them that I was pregnant. And I repeated the feat a third time back at home when I took my prenatal vitamin before bed.

A year ago today, Ellie was the size of a lima bean, turning my life (and stomach) upside down, but so very unknown to me.

Today, she is sixteen pounds of laughing, grabbing, rolling, smiling, bouncing life. She's a striver, my Ellie, wanting to sit, stand, move further than her little body will carry her. She loves being around people, being talked to, being outside. Her smile fills her whole face, makes even her dark eyes sparkle.

It's hard to believe how far we've come this past year, that we've survived four months of nausea, the cough that wouldn't die, back pain, a third trimester shingles outbreak, labor and delivery, those early sleepless nights, breastfeeding difficulties, reflux, and dairy/soy intolerance.

My mother always told me that having kids was the hardest thing she ever did - and also the best thing. The past year has proven her so very right on both counts.

Lessons from Motherhood

When you have your own child, everyone tells you, you will know. You'll know their tired cry from their hungry cry. You'll know their routines and preferences. You'll even know their stool pattern.

It's a comforting thought, this idea of knowing. It sounds so clear, so certain, so confident. It sounds like the kind of parent I want to be.

But I have to say, that so far, three months into motherhood, I don't really feel like I know much of anything. Ellie's hungry cries sound pretty much the same to me as her tired cries. One night she sleeps nine hours straight; the next she is up every three hours. Somedays, she eats ravenously; somedays, she refuses to eat for hours on end. And stool patterns? Don't get me started.

The other day, I was telling my good friend Rachel, who used to be a roommate of mine, about how Ellie is so inconsistent and about how frustrating it is to me that I can't figure her out. She just laughed. "Sorry, Abby," she said, "I just think it's so funny that God would give you that kind of child."

This is, after all, the same Rachel who thrives on not having a schedule, the same Rachel who used to repeatedly move a flower arrangement in the bathroom we shared, just to see how long it would take me to put it back into place (not long, in case you're curious!).

Having a roommate like Rachel was good for me; she taught me to be a little more spontaneous, to worry less about having everything perfect and to spend more time enjoying life.

It's still too early to tell if Ellie's inconsistency is just part of her being a baby or if it's part of her life-long temperment, but either way, I am trying to trust that all the things I can't figure out about her, that which I don't know, is for my good, in the same way that having a roommate like Rachel was for my good.

Already, Ellie is teaching me too. She is teaching me to persevere, to keep trying when a particular approach or schedule doesn't work immediately. She is teaching me to find the middle ground somewhere between the two extremes where I tend to live - either adhering perfectly to my goals and plans or quitting altogether. And as a result, she is teaching me dependence on God, for this middle ground is not a place I can stay on my own strength.

As I work with Ellie, I am beginning to realize that my desire to know is really pride and self-reliance at their finest, my heart screaming to be able to manage, predict, and control - all by myself, thank you very much. Instead, God is asking me to cry out to Him for wisdom as I walk forward into this task of parenting, full of much which I may never know.


Ellie with her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother.

Among the many things I've learned through the process of pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a newborn is that breastfeeding has not always been held in the same high regard as it is now. In fact, most people in my grandparents' generation used formula to feed their babies, believing it was healthier than breastmilk, a concept which seems laughable in the face of current research.

That's why when I was talking to my grandmother about Ellie a few weeks ago, I was surprised by her announcement that she breastfed four of her five babies. "The doctor always wanted me to use formula," she said, "but I decided to breastfeed."
Intrigued by the idea of my conservative, far-from-rebellious grandmother defying authority and breaking this social norm, I asked her why she had made that choice. Perhaps this was a whole new side of her I'd never seen, I thought to myself. Perhaps she was a rebel in her own right, a crusader for a cause before her time.
Her response, however, was a gentle laugh. "Oh Abby, I don't remember," she said. "It was so long ago."
I had to laugh too. Here I am, the over-researched, hyper-engaged first-time mom who wants to do everything right and has to have a reason for each parenting choice I make, be it breastfeeding or sleep schedules or colic remedies. Every little decision I make seems to have enormous consequences for Ellie's life, and I am terrified of making a wrong choice, of messing her up somehow. And then there is my grandmother, in her eighties with five grown children in their fifties and sixties, who can't even remember why she breastfed her children.
This comforts me in a way. Fifty years from now, all the decisions that seem so huge right now will most likely feel inconsequential. Should Ellie and I both be blessed to live that long, I probably won't even remember how I agonized over handling her fussy spells or when to let her cry herself to sleep. By then, research will have changed, and perhaps people will be feeding their babies some sort of formula again.
By no means is this an excuse for making poor decisions or skipping the research necessary to be a good parent. But it does remind me that in the end, this season of parenting a newborn shall pass, and what seems so important today will one day be a distant memory or perhaps even forgotten altogether.
In light of that reality, I realize that I want to invest most of my time and energy now in the things that will endure - praying for my daughter, laying down my life for her, living in such a way that will point her to Christ, thing my grandmother has done faithfully for her children and grandchildren for some sixty years.
Far harder than figuring out how to best feed Ellie? Yes, but far more important.

Elliana's First Month

Elliana Grace Waldron

April 3, 2011, 10:03 p.m.

8 pounds, 3 ounces - 20.75 inches long

Ellie has decided to celebrate her one month birthday by napping all day, so I am celebrating her one month birthday by attempting my first post since she was born. Yesterday, she went on a sleep strike all day long, so I thought I might never shower again, let alone manage a blog post. I am quickly learning that life with a newborn is very different from one day to the next!

It is hard to believe Elliana has already been here for one month. She still feels so tiny and new and fresh, and I still feel so far from from being an "expert" mom. At the same time, it is hard to imagine CJ and I without her - it just feels right that she is part of "us" now.

I love so much about her. I love the full head of hair I didn't expect her to have. I love the way she curls up against my chest and falls asleep, the rhythm of her small chest breathing in and out, the delicate coos and whimpers she makes in her sleep. I love the way her tiny lips curl up in smiles - involuntary or not. I love that I can (sometimes!) calm her down when she is crying, that she feels safe in my arms. I love watching her with her Daddy, love the tenderness in his eyes when he looks at her and the fact that he calls her both "Sweet Pea" and "Stinker Butt." I love the way she holds her hand by her face, pinky finger extended like she is ready for a proper tea. I love the way she makes strangers smile.

Don't get me wrong. The past month hasn't been a rosy walk in the park. Breastfeeding was awful at first, so much so that I thought it could never work for us. Getting up in the middle of the night is never fun. I've felt helpless and overwhelmed, frustrated that Ellie won't sleep, doesn't like the Moby Wrap, isn't eating enough. I've worried about her future, about all that I can't protect her from. CJ and I have fought about parenting decisions. In fact, yesterday at this time I was in tears, telling God that I couldn't do it anymore.

But in spite of the hard times, I am so grateful that God gave us Elliana. She is a beautiful answer to many prayers, and I am honored to be her Mommy.