A gesture worth a thousand words

Three generations

A friend recently told me that a note I sent her reflected the way I was raised. When I confirmed that hand-written cards and letters started at a very young age in my house, she suggested it told a larger story about the role my mother has played in my life.

That theory made me think back to a few years ago, before my mom’s 60th birthday. I had reached out to family and friends in an attempt to gather 60 messages. I asked each person to share a favorite memory, inside joke, funny story or something they admired about her. My goal was to present my mom with a stack of 60 red envelopes, each containing a special birthday note from her nearest and dearest.

As the messages trickled in, I noticed a pattern. The same words kept appearing. Strong. Elegant. Positive. They talked about her sense of humor. Many included a nod to loyalty and faith. They said she was inspirational and intelligent and encouraging. It turned out to be a truly amazing gift.

With gratitude, I realized what my friend was talking about. The very characteristics these people had used to describe my mother had become the bones of my spine. 

There are a lot of memories I could add to that original stack of messages describing my mom. But one gesture rises to the top.

Last February, I woke up alone in a sterile hospital recovery room after a traumatic birth experience. Mr. Wonderful was with our new daughter in the nursery, where she was being monitored.

At some point, I looked up groggily and saw my mother standing there with her hand over her mouth. I had asked her not to come to the hospital when I gave birth for a couple of reasons: I had a feeling my labor would be an all-day affair so I thought I’d save her from endless hours in a waiting room. But I also wanted to give my growing family an opportunity to bond privately and ease into our new normal for a few days on our own.

We promised to update her via text on the big day — and we did — but when Mr. Wonderful told her I was being prepped for a C-section after 17 hours of labor, she knew something was wrong.

Driving at night is one of this woman’s least favorite things, but she got in her car after 11 p.m. and made the 45-minute trip to the hospital, stopping only briefly to peek in at our little girl in the nursery on her way to find me. When I saw her standing at the foot of my bed post-surgery, it was almost 2 a.m.

Seeing her face was a pleasant surprise after the comedy of errors that led up to this moment.

“Hi. Did you see her yet?” I asked, wondering if she’d met her granddaughter.

“I came to see YOU.”

“Don’t you want to know her name?” I questioned.

“I came to see YOU,” she repeated. “To make sure YOU are OK.”

I don’t remember what I said next, but Mom left immediately after that conversation, making the same drive a second time in the middle of the night. She saw me for less than 5 minutes.

I’ve replayed that conversation in my mind often since, and I can’t think of a more fitting example of a mother’s love — a proper welcome to motherhood — especially inside the holy mess of a birth story gone awry. 

It’s a gesture that lines up beautifully with every message inside those red envelopes. And it’s one that I will never forget.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. It was from you that I learned to be me. Te quiero mucho.

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And then one day, they’re 10.

TEN

TEN.

Somewhere along the way, logic kicked in. Critical thinking showed up. And competitiveness planted a firm stake in the ground.

They went from hiding behind their father’s thighs to, “I want my own YouTube channel.” Excuse me? You cannot tell the nice waitress what you want to drink, but you  want to host your own online show? For the love.

The little boys are twins, but sometimes I refer to them as Big Brother and Little Brother even though they’re approximately seven minutes apart and Little Brother is approximately 1 inch taller than Big Brother.

Today they’re 10. This age marks my fifth year as their bonus mom, which means I’ve already known and loved them half their lives. The last five years have presented a rainbow of emotions, but I reguarly feel my heart lift up out of my chest when when I get to witness the emotional growing pains of childhood. When I get to watch confusion turn to comprehension. But also (and equally as important), when I have to stifle my laughter at conversations like this:

Big Brother: “Can I tell you what I learned today? To put other people first.”
Me: “Well that’s an important lesson. What are some ways we can do that?”
Big Brother: “Not thinking I’m the best one in the world.”

That’s a start, son.

At 6, Big Brother began a steadfast vegetarian stint — his own decision out of the clear blue.

“Is crawfish … meat?” he asked me one Saturday afternoon at a crawfish boil. I confirmed it was true. He kicked the dirt, but the boy did not give in. Little Brother wanted to know why they were losing precious playtime to this pouting, and Dad answered without missing a beat: “Your brother is struggling with his new lifestyle.” (That man slays me on the regular.) The meat strike lasted 3 months. Impressive.

Around 8, I watched Big Brother blossom into a voracious reader after a year of wrestling with fluency. This kid went from tears and slamming doors and “I hate books!” to Harry Potter’s No. 1 fanboy.  Did you know there are approximately 1,840,000 words in books 1 through 7? He’s read every one. That boy does not mess around.

And let’s talk about Little Brother, who once suggested we donate some money to children in Africa, “where many kids are born with a disease called claustrophobia.” God love him.

At 9, Little Brother vowed to have his future wedding at McDonalds “if mywife is cool with it.” He’d be a good husband, too, because he forgives quickly. Take this after-school declaration, for example:

“I’m never forgiving Japan for bombing Pearl Harbor!”
(1 day later)
“I wish I lived in Japan because their candies are so good. Also, they have SO MANY vending machines there.”

Mercy, I tell you.

These tweens are incredibly self-aware, big-hearted and FUNNY. They’re creative, sensitive, and opinionated.  But they’re also very very different. One loves dancing and baking and books. The other is all about Legos and football and fidget spinners.

In a world of raging sound bites, theirs are really the only ones that matter. Happy birthday, my sons. Embrace the masterpieces you are.

 

 

What do we tell our children?

ces-snp-reynaAfter an election year filled with vitriol, many parents like myself were left trying to figure out how to explain the outcome to our children. I wondered what our boys were thinking and feeling. What was going through their thoughtful minds? Children are often told that grown-ups know best. They may assume that they should emulate adults, especially those in leadership roles. That includes the president of this country, however, and I most certainly don’t want my sons emulating our president-elect. So what do we tell them?

We tell them that sometimes adults get it wrong. Sometimes adults don’t know best. We tell them that we will be kind anyway. We will be brave anyway. We do not abide by bullies. We tell them that the future of our society does not depend on what happens in the White House. It depends on what happens in our house. And respect will continue to reign in mine.

When the courage and irony of parenting becomes loud and clear.

Sometimes it’s time to suck it up and do the thing that makes you uncomfortable. For me, it was writing this guest post for author Catia Holm on the irony of parenthood and drawing courage from unexpected places. Here’s a snippet:

For crying out loud

True confession: I hate loud noises.

I hate loud noises and I have twin stepsons. Naturally, loud is part of the package. “Loud” is in their bones. “Loud” is the very definition of who they are when they’re together. But the truth is that I seriously loathe loud. God’s honest truth is that anxiety shoots right up my spine at the first sounds of those inevitable screams between young brothers running through the house.

This so-called “noise sensitivity” is part of who I am as an adult child of an alcoholic, or an ACOA, as we call ‘em. Yeah, there’s an acronym for that. When unpredictable commotion is a regular part of your environment growing up, it can create a visceral reaction in pretty normal situations as an adult. So now I’m the grown-up. And my kids are the ones, well, being kids.

So I close my eyes when the disorder takes over. I take deep breaths. I talk myself down from that loud ledge of uneasiness when the twin tornado comes roaring through the living room. When the television is deafening. When it sounds like a herd of elephants are tap dancing upstairs. Sometimes it works. But sometimes it doesn’t.

The back patio provides some relief, although I can often hear the sibling rivalry from out there. And that’s when I ask myself, “Is it them? Or is it me?” It doesn’t take long to decide it’s me. I’m the adult after all. Or at least I’m supposed to be.

And then I pray for Patience to show herself. Thankfully, Wisdom is usually nearby to tap my shoulder with a gentle reminder that although our childhood experiences influence the present, they don’t have to dictate our reactions.

On one particular occasion, I sat on that patio in a panic of self-doubt, feeling angry and unfit to parent.

Read the rest of this post (including the cringe-worthy text message that slapped me with a dose of reality) at CatiaHolm.com.

Camping with kids: 10 weird essentials

camping with kids

Mr. Wonderful and I took The Little Boys Club on a cub scout campout recently (the second time in 18 months that we’ve spent the night in the woods with 30 little boys) so we know what “the essentials” mean to us: Food. Shelter. Water. Airbed. Body pillow. (Am I the only one who expects to get a good night’s sleep in a tent?) But here’s the reality: When it comes to camping with kids, you’re gonna need some specific items. For example, well-named snacks. Snacks are serious business.

The trick is to put the munchies in a gallon-sized Ziplock bag and call them “extra special camping fun treats” or something with lots of adjectives. This works well for road trips, too. I fill bags with fruit, crackers, applesauce, popcorn, gum and leftover candy from the most recent holiday if I’m feeling extra generous with the sugar. These “super cool snack packs” will fill in the gaps between meals and incite your children’s love for comparison as they argue over who got the better gum flavor.

Read nine other weird essentials for camping with kids over at Austin Mom’s Blog.

When ‘qualified’ simply means willing and able to love.

reyna headshot

Does this pic make me look qualified to write about motherhood?

Earlier this year, a friend emailed me with a link to an open call for writers and a note:

“Thought of you. I think they could use a different mom and family perspective.”

The link took me to Austin Moms Blog. Say whaaaaaaat?

A mommy blogger? I smirked. I was skeptical to say the least. Mostly because as a stepmama, I struggle on the daily with feeling like a legit parent. Even though I’ve watched our twins grow from preschoolers to nearly third-graders, it’s still hard to believe I’m in charge of little people sometimes.

And then, when it sunk in that this friend actually thought of ME when she saw “mother” and “writer” in the same sentence, I was kind of flattered. As a bonus mama, it’s easy to feel vastly underqualified to raise not one, but two small humans you didn’t birth yourself. But then again, what makes one qualified, really? Compassion. Patience. A sense of humor. Intense adoration for their father. Not a bad place to start, eh?

After all, many women are made mothers by children who were borne not from their wombs, but from their hearts.

The more I thought about my friend’s suggestion, the more I felt confident that I could offer at least some skeptical stepmoms or frustrated bio moms a positive perspective on blended families.

So I waited two weeks. And then I gave myself a pep talk and I applied. I submitted writing samples like this one. And this one. And then two weeks later, I thought the blog’s co-founder had the wrong number when she called and asked to speak to me.

Friends, I’m totally honored (and intimidated) to have been chosen to share my adventures in parenthood with other mothers. And it doesn’t matter how you became one – because what I’ve come to understand is that we’re all just learning as we go.

So now you can find me at Austin Moms Blog! Weeeeeeeird. Will you humor me and read along?

Kids eat free in Austin: 90 Options

kids eat free austin

Food doesn’t get much better than free, especially when it comes to mini mouths and picky palates. Satisfy your selective snackers and adventurous eaters alike at any of these Austin restaurants where kids eat free (or mostly free) – usually with the purchase of one adult meal per child. Some restaurants offer kids eat free deals on more than one day of the week, so you’ve got tons of options to choose from. These sweet deals could change at any time though, so consider calling to confirm details before you go. Check out these 90 kid-friendly restaurants in Austin listed alphabetically by day of the week.