Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts

Monday, November 28, 2016

Small Plates and Generous Blessings



On Thanksgiving,  I love to pull out my grandmother's pretty dishes.  They're fragile now, having seen countless meals and soapy sinks over the last 90 years.  They were made in the 1920's and I like to wonder about all the dinnertime conversations they've heard, all of the celebrations they've shared, and all of the changes they've witnessed, in people and in our culture.  Grandma's dishes are much smaller than my dishes.  The dinner plate is probably 2 inches smaller in diameter. The soup bowl is bigger though.  The cup and saucer are tiny.  Dessert dishes are petite, but bread and butter plates are larger than the salad plates.  There are plates and bowls for everything.  Serving bowls and platters galore.

I remember getting them out for suppers at my grandparents' home when I'd go stay with them.  They were created during a simpler time for simpler appetites. When people had bread and milk, fruit preserves, cheese and onion, and buttermilk for supper.  I remember those suppers.  A little fruit in a bowl, some cottage cheese in another, a slice of homemade bread with butter, a glass of milk, and a slice of onion.  Every single night.  Sunday dinners at Grandma's were always roasted chicken, a small serving bowl of potatoes, lots of vegetables, bottled fruit, and dependably pie.  One roasted chicken fed everyone.  The plates were small and the portions were small.  And nobody died.  Now our plates are large, people are larger, and attitudes enormous. My grandparents were not poor by any means, but they were educated, intelligent, God-fearing, simple, and grateful.  They lived to be in their 90's and they were happy, smart, healthy, and worthy.  Small plates worked for them.


I have learned some lessons while washing my grandma's dishes.  One is that paper plates are never right for dinner unless you're camping or Mom is in the hospital.  There's something ritualistic about getting them out of the cupboard, placing them on the table, making the table look pretty, looking at the pretty little flowers during the meal, remembering all the other meals eaten on the dishes, and then carefully washing them and gingerly putting them away until next time.  Another lesson is that small plates are good.  Nobody needs to eat as much as they want to.  Food is to keep us alive, not entertain us as a hobby.  And pretty things are important in a world that's vulgar, loud, and selfish.

I used to feel badly about myself when I'd listen to friends or family talk (or complain) about all they had to do, all their projects and responsibilities.  Some were so organized it made my head spin. Soon I was convinced that I was some sort of malfunctioning and defective woman because I wasn't tackling all that others seemed to be handling with ease.  I wasn't the PTA president while raising 14 kids, taking 12 of them to soccer and 9 to piano lessons, making dance costumes, dishing out freezer meals on paper plates, keeping an immaculate house, planning homeroom parties for 6 kids on the same day, organizing service projects for the neighborhood, singing in the choir, teaching aerobics at 4 a.m., shopping with coupons so my groceries were free at checkout, remodeling a home by myself and installing my own counter tops, working on a cure for cancer, and keeping scrapbooks current for all said children.  



I was sitting in on violin lessons for two hours every week for two children, taking them every week to the library to get their 14 books each and reading those books so many times I still have them memorized.  I was studying scriptures to learn more about God so I could teach my children both formally and when gospel metaphors arose.  I did a lot of things as a mother, but the one thing I am probably most happy about is that I dropped everything I was doing whenever my children wanted to talk to me or needed me.  I stayed up lots of nights to catch up on work that didn't get done because our conversations were long and enjoyable or long and necessary to help answer their questions about maneuvering the outside world.  I can't remember all I did because I wasn't keeping score.  I was just doing what seemed needful, necessary, and nice.

Then it hit me one day.  After everyone's children grew up the "proof was in the pudding."  Their mothers had not really been that great at mothering.  They'd been really good organizers and chauffeurs and laundresses, and super-excellent scrap-bookers, but they'd not been such good teachers, listeners or confidants.  One of my children's friends told me once that they wished their parents would just listen, or just be happy to have everyone together without over-scheduling. Another confided to me that they'd never had a gospel discussion with their parents--ever.  They'd never had a "birds and bees" discussion or been taught about handling money.  I realized that a large plate heaped with a load of food is not all it's cracked up to be---being that super-mom character is not realistic.  You cannot have it all.  You absolutely can't.  You cannot be all things to everyone and still be everything to all.  I realize that my plate is smaller than others.  But it's just as full with the few things that are important to me as the other woman's large and carefully piled plate.  My pediatrician always told me not to force my children to eat.  "They'll eat when they're hungry," he said.  It's true. When a child is hungry, they will eat.  Because food is not entertainment.  Food is life.



If my plate is smaller than yours, if I have two children and you have 24, if I can barely keep up with my household responsibilities because of chronic illness, if I'd rather read or paint than be the mom that takes the neighborhood to see Britney Spears, if my idea of Christmas vacation with my grown children is to simply sit together in the same room only looking into their faces and listening to their stories, if I'd rather cook a simple meal and think about the blessing of it than pick up takeout for the 14th time the same week, and if I'd rather have one very expensive pair of boots than 140 pairs of cheap, nondescript shoes, please don't judge me.  You might just need me to save you from your over-eating, over-indulged, over-scheduled and over-affected life when you have a nervous breakdown.

We need to stop identifying ourselves and others based on our plates and what's on them.  My plate is small.  I have physical limitations that keep me from taking a large plate and heaping it full.  Bless your soul if you have a large, piled-high plate and you can manage it well.  Please stop asking why I only have two children because I once frequently asked that same question.  It's none of your business, and you are not a better mother or woman than me just because your reproductive system is prolific.  Please don't judge my uterus or my home or what you think my bank account contains based on the overstretched limits of yours.  Please stop wondering or gossiping about how you think I look totally healthy, but I'm not. It's not for you to worry about.  You worry about your plate and I'll worry about mine.

I love my pretty flowered plate that's fragile and only holds necessary nourishment.  It's lasted and it's worked because it's been treated with respect and love and care.  It feeds my body which is a gift from God, and it feeds my soul.  With thanksgiving in my heart I express my gratitude for my beautiful, fragile, small, but infinitely important plate and all the beautiful blessings on it and that flow from it.  My plate may be small, but it is wonderful and the miracles that continue to come from it are bounteous.  Indeed, God is truly generous.  Like my grandpa used to sing: "tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free."


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Motherhood has Blessed My Faith in God




I was almost 27 years old when I had our first child. I quit my job 2 weeks prior to my due date, hoping to finish preparations for our new little baby, but he was born the next day, quite in a little hurry to get here. He was tiny and skinny at barely 6 pounds, 22 inches. We were thrilled, scared, excited and happy.

The day we all went home, he was scrawny as he swam in the new car seat. We padded it with blankets to protect his little head, but he was still so small. With the awkward seat facing the rear of the car, I could not stand the thought of riding anywhere but next to my baby and so I did. My husband drove us home and all I could think about was how completely dependent this tiny little soul was on us.

That first night in our apartment, I did not know what to do. The baby was crying and obviously hungry. I wanted to nurse him, but my milk had not come in. He did not like the pacifier. He would not take a bottle. My husband got him to sleep and we fell into bed, exhausted. Only an hour had passed when we woke to a wailing little baby. I was scared. I could not get him to stop crying. I was so exhausted and too weak to walk the floor with him all night, frightened I would drop my precious baby. So I prayed. Like I've never prayed before.

I remembered the little infant seat we purchased to use for feedings and went to find it. I put my itsy-bitsy boy inside and covered him up. Then I collapsed on the floor next to him, gently rocking the seat back and forth with my hand, trying to help us both to sleep.

It was a long night. Baby would wake up, I'd feed him as best I knew how, put him back in the little seat, and stay by him again, and gently rocking him until my arm went to sleep. We did this several times through the night, all the time while I was praying to God. Please, I pleaded. Please, help me. My little boy needs me. You know what he needs, but I don't. Help me to help him.

By morning, my baby and I were bound to each other. We had made it together. He had been patient with me, his brand-new mommy, and I had protected him, my new little baby. And I knew that God had stayed with us all night.

Three years later, we added a darling daughter to our family. I was not afraid to bring her home that first night. I had learned how to listen to God about how to take care of new babies. I was more relaxed. I knew what to do. That night home, the four of us---my husband, our little boy, and our baby girl and me, we all celebrated and bonded as we shared the wonder of our little family together.

Our son is now 24 and is on his way to medical school this summer. Our daughter is 21 and will start teaching junior high this coming fall. How speedily the time has commenced. There have been terrifying moments when our children have been hurt and very sick. Our son served a church mission where he thrived and I survived. We have seen them hurt by romances and friends. We have seen them fall and pick themselves back up. We have celebrated their successes and watched them grow. It has been beautiful.

I thought I knew what faith in God was before I became a mother, but if I did, it was insufficient, or a different kind of faith. Perhaps merely the kind of faith that everything would all work out, as people often say. It changed suddenly for me when I held those babies in my arms, knowing I was their only earthly mother and my husband their only earthly father. We had a huge responsibility and needed heavenly help. I could no longer afford to believe, because now I had to know. I needed to know that God would bless and protect my children. I needed to know He was really there. I needed to get closer to God so I could know what He wished me to do. It forced me to pray actively, even begging a lot of the time, for help in knowing how to be a good mother. I am grateful that God answered my prayers, not always immediately, but He always did and still does.

What motherhood has done for my faith in God is given me more compassion for Him as my Father. If I love my children as much as I do, and I know that God loves them still even more, then why would He not want to bless them and look out for them? He is their Heavenly Father and He is also mine. I can and do trust Him. I feel confident that He knows all, and I only know a shred.

What I think might be best, God knows is not. He has the whole view and I can only see a few hundred yards. Having babies has helped me to know God, to rely on Him, count on Him, and ask Him. Motherhood didn't change my faith in God as much as it gave me faith in God.