Nowhere Boy Thoughts

 

 

I mostly agree with Anne Lamott on her Mother’s Day thoughts. To clarify, I agree that it’s a tough day for many people—motherless children; childless adults; parents of wayward, lost, deceased, or disappointing children; children of abusive, mean-spirited, dismissive, or absentee mothers. Then too, there are the mothers who cannot let their children go. Not now. Not ever.

You get the picture. We live in an imperfect world, and sometimes it’s a wonder people turn out as well as they do.

One of the things I recall from SOC 101 is that one of the primary functions of the family is to raise the young. The family, not just the mother, has the responsibility to look after the development and well-being of children. It takes a village and all that. Aunts, mothers’ friends, neighbors, grandmotherly types (ha ha—like me), and other females can all play the mother role.

In church Sunday a woman who happened to be holding a baby for a young friend was asked to say the opening prayer. She didn’t hand the baby off to someone but promptly stood, walked to the stand, and babe in arms, said the prayer. Her husband later remarked that he couldn’t recall ever seeing a man give a prayer holding a child but had seen several women doing so. Women are coded differently, he intimated. Maybe they have a nurturing gene—or something.

On Mother’s day evening, I watched Nowhere Boy, a movie about John Lennon’s youth and his complicated and sometimes stormy relationships with his aunt who raised him, Mimi, and his mother whom he hardly knew. I’ll use estranged to describe the relationship between Lennon’s parents, Alf and Julia, and complicated to describe the one between Mimi and Julia, Lennon’s aunt and his mother.

For many reasons, John Lennon lived with Aunt Mimi and her husband for most of his childhood and adolescence. At some point, he became increasingly involved with his mother, to Mimi’s disappointment and concern, and Julia encouraged his musical gifts. A fun and free-spirited woman who eventually gave birth to three other children, Julia doted on John, and with her he felt acceptance. In the movie, he moved in with her and her family for a short time (just a few days as I recall), and Mimi was heartbroken.

I wasn’t there so anything I write is based on the movie and on my subsequent reading, but from my “research,” it appears that John was a resilient child who had the love of many adults, including his mother and her four sisters, especially Mimi. Julia loved him ferociously and was overjoyed to have him back in her life. As an aside, when John was finally reunited with his father, twenty years had passed.

Tragedy struck one afternoon when Julia was struck by a car leaving Mimi’s house. I have no knowledge of the effect on the rest of the family, but John and Mimi were both devastated. Distraught, he cried out, “I was just getting to know her, and now I’ll never see her again.” (paraphrase). Much of his music was influenced by Julia, and his older son Julian was named after her.

The point of the above? I don’t know except to say that mothers, however imperfect, can and usually do make a difference in a child’s life. But so can aunts and grandmothers and teachers and others with the desire to nurture. According to what I’ve read, John stayed in close contact with Mimi until his death in 1980.

 

I Can Do Hard Things

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Sometimes I read Facebook posts and think, “Been there, done that.” Come on, admit it. So have you. Often this thought occurs when reading about the trials of being a mother/parent/employee. But today I’m thinking of three young women who’ve done things I’ve never done and likely never will.

One of 30-somethings was walking around Habitat with me last week, looking at treasures and talking about life, families, love, and work. We commiserated just a little about no one “here” knowing much about our families and the vast network we are part of elsewhere. It works both ways, of course. No one “back there” knows much about our lives here.

I realize the above is true for every person who’s left his or her place of birth to go out into the wide world. It’s also true for people like me who’ve had the opportunity to live, love, work, and play in other areas and then return home sweet home. In Myrtle Beach, friends at work and church saw me as Jayne the friend, wife, mother, and teacher but rarely as Jayne the daughter and sister. When family members came to visit, they were perceived as “visitors.” In Camden, many acquaintances see me as I am now, without the people and roles that I formerly held.

Back to my young friend’s visit to Habitat. I learned from our chat that her first child was born by C-section, a fairly common practice within the past twenty years or so. But here’s something that’s not so common. Within two weeks after her baby’s birth, she was driving a tractor, stopping now and then to nurse the baby. I was amazed to hear this. This feat, so casually mentioned and evidently easily performed, stopped me in my tracks.

Have not been there, have not done that. I’ve had babies but never driven a tractor, much less a newborn who needed nursing.

Another young woman of whom I’m thinking drove from South Carolina to California with her five children for an Easter visit with family and friends. She’d said goodbye to them a few months ago when she and her husband and children moved to the Palmetto State and was hankering to see their faces.

Again, I was amazed. If the weather looks threatening or messy (like Monday), there’s no way I’m going to drive to Columbia, much less across the country. The young mother mentioned above drove 6,000 miles across nine states—with five children, one of them a toddler. Just thinking about bathroom breaks with kids makes me kinda crazy.

Have not been there, have not done that. I’ve driven alone with young children but no further than 150 miles.

Without going into specifics, today I spent about three minutes with a beautiful young woman who’s been stuck in Camden for four days. And yes, stuck is the appropriate word for her plight. Between destinations, she’s waiting on money to be wired for a bus ticket out of Dodge, She had a black eye, black and blue and painful to look at. No wonder she was so antsy and apprehensive. I’d be looking over my shoulder, too.

I leaned forward and told her things would work out. She murmured something likeIt’s got to.” I could have piled on some platitudes, but I refrained. Later, I saw her pacing back and forth, back and forth. She’s in the middle, her old life behind and the new one ahead and vague.

Have not been there, have not done that. In the middle, yes. Abused and afraid, no.

I’m not saying I’m a wimp or a softie–although I could be both and more. I’m just saying that my admiration for the young generation shot up during the past several days. All three of these people impressed me with their courage, confidence, and choices. And they reminded me of my grandchildren who’ve already been taught, “I can do hard things.” Now if I could follow their example….

What about you? Have you witnessed examples of people doing hard things? Have you done some hard things?

Cherry Pie Tempation

It can’t be that fattening, right? And after all, it has fruit in it. At least that was my thinking when I bought the cherry pie a couple of weeks ago. Usually, I just scoot right by the pies when grocery shopping, but on this particular afternoon, my progress through the crowded aisle had come to a dead stop right in front of the dessert choices. The apple pie crumb pie looked good but not quite inviting enough to tempt me. That’s when I saw the cherry one. After hesitating about ten seconds, I tossed it into the buggy.

I maneuvered the cart though the rest of the aisles as I picked up yogurt, milk, bagels, apples, grapes, bananas, and a yellow onion. No cookies, chips, or ice cream landed amongst the healthy choices. But then, there was that cherry pie. The picture on the box looked so tasty. And well, it conjured up a memory of a Sunday afternoon decades ago.

Dinner was over, and the rest of the family had skedaddled to do whatever whatever they chose. I, however, was stuck with kitchen duty that day. As I removed the plates and leftover food from the table, I noticed two pieces of pie, tempting and tasty, left in the pie plate. I wanted one—or at least a sliver of one and asked my mother if I could have a piece of a piece.

I’ll never forget her reply. In fact, it’s become somewhat legendary among the females of my family.

“Of course, you can a second piece, but you need to know that’s how people get fat.”

She didn’t say “gain weight” or “get chubby.” She said “get fat.”

At that time, I was on the skinny side of the curve. Seriously, maybe the 35th percentile for weight. Not only was I not in any danger of becoming “fat” (hate that word), but also there was no talk anywhere about the dangers of kids’ diets and exercise. Those topics were just not part of the social conversation. We played outside A LOT, and very few people had sedentary lifestyles—at least not the people I knew.

But when my mother warned me about the perils of a second slice of pie, though a small one, I cringed. Even as a child, probably ten or twelve years old, I recognized the truth when I heard it. Choices count.

“No Ma’am, “ I told her. “I think I’ll pass for now.”

Now whenever I think of having a second piece of fried chicken, a extra dollop of ice cream, or a loaded baked potato instead of broccoli, I remember a Sunday afternoon exchange between my mother and me.

Big deal, you might be thinking. Who cares about cherry pie? What I knew then was something that has been reinforced over and over and over throughout the years. Choices count. As Sartre said, “We are our choices.” Do your homework or go to class unprepared? Pay your bills on time or get a bad credit rating? Clean your house or allow it to get so cluttered that you feel unsettled? Walk around the block (or do some type of exercise) or do your laps on the couch? Finish college or drop out?

It’s your choice.

I succumbed to temptation and bought that cherry pie a couple of weeks ago. I also bought some small cups of ice cream to plop on the top of our warm slices. Right before beginning this post, I got the pie out of the freezer to read the directions and learned that there are 340 calories and 17 grams in one eighth of a pie. Seriously.

When I told my husband the bad news, he asked, “What about the sugar?” I could hardly believe my eyes: 17 grams of sugar in one eighth of a pie. And this is without the cup of ice cream!

We decided to wait for another day to enjoy that tart, red, juicy fruit cooked in the flaky crust. I also decided to go for a short walk around the block, do a little work on my fall classes, and sweep the kitchen. Choices count.

Don’t Be So Backwards!

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about my mother more the last few days She’s in my heart and on my mind every day of my life, but lately I’m even more aware of her influence—the things she taught me and my siblings, the way she lived her life, her beautiful singing voice, the love she showed to all within her sphere, the adoration and downright awe she felt towards her grandchildren, her ability to turn a house into a home, her love of the twittering little birds, and the list goes on and on and on.

Not to say she tolerated any misbehavior or slackness on our part. “You better straighten up and fly right, “ was something I often heard directed towards me—and my brother, Mike, too. Ann and David were either less mischievous than we were or they were masters at appearing that way. It never occurred to me that Mama’s expression was weird; I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Here’s another phrase my mother tossed my way whenever I didn’t want to do something she thought would be good for me, something that involved getting out of my comfort zone. “Don’t be so backwards,” she’d say. While I didn’t mind the flying right phrase, I detested the backwards one, maybe because I knew she was right.

I’ve been thinking of that “nudge” from my mother today while preparing for a lesson that I’m teaching tomorrow. It’s on the scriptures and just how powerful they are in helping us live better lives. When I say “better,” I mean dozens of things like getting through grief, showing love, not being offended, having courage, being kind, turning the other cheek, and realizing the power of choice in overall happiness or miserly.

This morning, I reread something I wrote about Queen Esther in Eve’s Sisters a few years ago.. Esther showed such courage in her young life, and her boldness saved the Jewish people. I like to think of her posture, chin up and back straight, as she said, “If I perish, I perish.”

We might not have the power to save our people on such a grand scale, but we all have people we can help. We can all fast and pray and get more in tune with the Spirit. We can all fight the good fight and be assured that no matter how scary things appear, life can “turn on a dime.” In less than a week, Esther went from being a pampered recluse who hadn’t been summoned by her husband in thirty days to becoming Queen Esther with a capital Q.

I hope that somehow my mother knows I took heed to the things she taught by word and deed. For the most part, I stand straight and fly right. And I’m a lot bolder now, more willing to shed the backwardness and step out of my comfort zone. I love listening to little birds too. And I’m in awe of my children and grandchildren.

Involvement or Interference?

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Because of a project I’ve been working on, I’ve become reacquainted with some of the women of the Bible. Although I knew about them and their families and histories, rereading their stories has given me additional insight into their courage and faith. The two women I’m referring to are Jochebed and Hannah.

In case your memory of Jochebed is a little sketchy, my version of her story is that she gave birth to Moses at a time when Pharaoh had ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be murdered. The midwives refused to do this, and they lied to Pharaoh, saying that the Hebrew women were vigorous and strong and that they gave birth before a mid-wife had time to arrive.

Jochebed kept Moses close by for three months, but when he began to grow and become more active, she knew that she couldn’t keep him quiet forever. Trusting that God would preserve him, Jochebed put her sweet baby in a basket covered with tar and placed him in the Nile River. She knew that Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe there and trusted that the princess would rescue Moses.

When the princess spotted the baby, she felt compassion on him, and although she wanted to raise him as her own (my take on it), she knew that such a small baby would need a nursemaid. Out comes Miriam, Moses’ sister, from behind the bulrushes and tells Pharaoh’s daughter that she knows someone who will nurse and nurture the baby until he can be weaned. The princess agrees to this arrangement.

The day of separation for Moses and Jochebed comes at last, and he is raised in Pharaoh’s palace with many advantages, including an education that prepares him for his vital leadership role as an Israelite leader.

What would have happened if Jochebed had said NO to letting him go?

Hannah is the other mother on my mind. She had wanted a child for years, and yet she remained childless. Although her husband Elkanah never complained about her childless state, she was grieved by it, especially when she saw the children who had been born to Elkanah and his first wife.

When Hannah and Elkanah traveled to Shiloh, she went to the temple to pray for a child. Eli the Priest, after inquiring about what he perceived to be her drunken state, learned of Hannah’s fervent desire for a child and of her promise to give him to the Lord “all the days of his life.”

Eli told Hannah to go in peace and promised that God would grant her petition. She trusted in that assurance completely, and after Samuel was weaned, Hannah kept her word. It must have been difficult to turn her precious little son over to Eli, but Hannah felt that Samuel was indeed a gift from God and wanted to turn he over to Him.

The day of separation for Hannah and Samuel came at last, and she went back to the tabernacle and presented the child to Eli to be raised there. I don’t know how often she saw her son after that day. Some speculate that she visited him regularly. I don’t know. I do know that (to me) it gives deeper meaning to the oft-cited phrase, “Let go and let God.”

What would have happened if Hannah had said NO to turning Samuel over to Eli?

Moses grew up to be one of the most influential men in all history, a man whom the Lord knew “face to face.” He led the Israelites out of Egypt and later gave us, through God, the Ten Commandments. Samuel was a remarkable man whom God used as a great prophet and judge of Israel.

I can’t help but wonder what their lives would have been like if their mothers had continued to keep them close or to meddle in their lives. Sociologists and psychologists study a social phenomenon called helicopter parents who hover over their children, even adult ones, ready to swoop down and take over regardless of age or of the child’s abilities, desires, or predilections.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to step back and when to become involved. And sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between involvement and interference. I have no answers to this dilemma. I just know that we might never have heard of Moses or Samuel if their mothers hadn’t turned them over.

What do you think? How can mothers know when to when to let go? How do they stay on the involvement side without crossing over into interference?

Lots of Rainbows

Sunday was an awesome day from dawn to dusk and then some. I never need a reminder of how special my mother was, and yet since it was Mother’s Day, the day was filled with memories of her words, actions, looks, advice, laughter, personality…and well, you get the picture. I had to give a talk in church, and the topic was how a mother can influence her children to live the teachings of the gospel. While the talk including some Biblical women whose lives demonstrated faith, love, courage, kindness, and hard work. I just had to let everyone know that my mother had all those sterling qualities in one 115 pound package.

Here’s the quote: “Like Rachel, she was beautiful, and like Leah, she was hardworking, dependable, and faithful. Like Hannah, she was grateful for all of her blessings, and like Mary and Martha, she kept a good balance between her spiritual and her work-a-day life. And then, like Dorcas, my mother was mourned by her friends after her death.”

By the way, I lifted that right out of my new book, Eve’s Sisters. I’d like to think that my mother would have been pleased to hear such sincere praise, but then again, she might have been embarrassed at the extra attention.

Later in the day, I headed to the coast and stopped in Conway for a visit with my daughter Elizabeth. She’s the only one of my three children I got to lay eyes on (in person) that day. I had some face time on my iPhone with the other two AND with my seven grandchildren. (The fact that I had to use my iPhone instead of my computer was the first indication that I was going to have connectivity issues.)

Elizabeth treated me to a delicious Mexican dinner and presented me with some lovely treasures, including a bag with the peace symbol on the front. Then we communicated with Paul and Amanda and their two precious children using my phone and their iPad. Olivia spent much of our time “together” spinning around in circles. Then she proceeded to be Mama’s little helper by feeding her baby brother a little bit of milk. Amanda describes Ethan as a “chill baby,” and he certainly demonstrated that trait last night! Although he couldn’t have been getting much nourishment, he patiently endured his sister’s efforts without a whimper.

Ah then, we repeated the same communication via phones and iPads with my daughter Carrie and her five children in Rincon,GA. It was thrilling to see Braden looking so tall and acting so grown up. He’ll be 9 in two weeks. The girls told me all about their muffin and doughnut sale of the day before. Brooke raised $52 from the customers, and then Emma gave her $7 of her hard earned money for her old bike so now they both have wheels. Colton told me that his favorite muffins tasted blue, and Seth just stared at the screen looking like an angel baby.

Time to bring this to a close. I’m sitting in an internet café because I can’t get connection with my tiny MiFi or the hotspot feature on my iPhone. Doesn’t that seem a little weird? Why am I paying so much money every month for a service that I can’t use??? It’d be easy to get angry, and yet I find myself remembering a song that Brooke sang to me Sunday evening, the same one that I heard the Primary children sing earlier that day. I didn’t memorize it, but it goes soemthing like, “I love to look for rainbows whenever there is rain.” I have lots of rainbows in my life and am focusing on them. Thanks for the reminder, Miss Brookie!

TLC and Reality Checks

A lunch conversation brought to mind a few more thoughts about fathers and their importance in the life of a child. As we talked about the roles mothers and fathers, it occurred to me for the umpteenth time that they are indeed different. Mother Nature coded us differently from the “get-go’ and that 23rd pair of chromosomes continues to affect our thinking and behavior throughout our lives.

While there are exceptions to this, women are the nurturers. Men are the fix-it people, the ones who see a problem and want to solve it right away. Women want to make things all better, and men want to tackle the issues head on. This way of thinking even affects the way parents handle issues with their children.

Parents look ahead to the future and feel uncertainty, anxiety, and perhaps even downright fear when they consider their children stepping into it. The world is fraught with danger and peril, and each parent wants to prepare the child for it. Their ways of preparing youngsters for the world of tomorrow is different, however. Mothers are more likely to see the possible dangers and warn the child to be cautious and careful. Fathers, on the other hand, are more likely to tell the child to step up to the plate and be strong.

The different parental approaches remind me of the difference between justice and mercy. Both are good; both have their value. And yet too much of one without the other is potentially harmful for the development of a well-rounded and responsible individual. When our children were small and would wail, “That’s not fair,” I was inclined to commiserate with them and agree that while it isn’t always fair, that was just the way it was. “Sorry, Sweetie,” I’d say. Their father, on the other hand, would often quip, “Who says life is fair???”

Sometimes parents can switch off and take turns between nurturer and tough guy, but a child needs both approaches. He or she needs justice AND mercy. Sometimes she needs a big dose of TLC and sometime she needs a reality check. When my daughter Carrie was a college student, she was having a little too much fun, and her grades were slipping. I gave her some encouraging pep talks and reminded her of the importance of education. Truthfully, I don’t think it fazed her at all. Her father told her that if her grades didn’t improve, the gravy train was over. That got her attention, and she immediately began to turn things around.

Maybe some single parents are able to be both the nurturer and the task master, the one who tries to make things “all better” and the one who encourages the child to “man up” (even with female children). But me? I needed both  mercy and justice when raising children, and I think most households do.