The Greatest Seat of Power

My daughter called me the other day and said, “I feel like all I do all day is clean up poop.”
She was the mother of a four week old newborn who had just exploded with so much gusto it shot up his back, through his arm holes and out through his pants. Her toddler had just made a deposit on the floor next to the potty chair then stepped in it and tracked it around the house. Her preschooler was still resisting toilet training yet refused to wear training pants or diapers.
Before the children came, this same daughter had penned a literary quality novel about deep philosophical issues. Recently she sent an e-mail to me that read, “Once there was a mother with three children in diapers. She went crazy. The end.” Though it appeared her individual identity and purpose had been lost – in reality her individual identity and purpose had been found.
I recently walked through Washington D C and noticed almost every honorary statue depicted a man who led an army or held high political office. Some of their names were familiar but surprisingly most were not. The vast majority of battlefield victories had faded from our nation’s collective memory and most the famous leaders of the past are largely unknown today.
I longed to see a statue for all the invisible women who had conceived the great ideas that gave birth to this nation. I believe the greatest seat of power is in a mother’s lap. Great ideas and philosophies begin as desires in a noble woman’s heart. Those desires grow into thoughts and those thoughts grow into ideas. Eventually those ideas grow into words. Words are powerful – they give structure, form and permanence to dreams. The words that most affect us are those we learned at our mother’s knee.
While in Washington, I gazed up at the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments and walked past the White house. I viewed the courtroom in the Supreme Court building with nine empty chairs. I thought about power – the kind that lasts. I have come to believe that all great strides in knowledge, wisdom and positive social reform were once whispers of hope in a woman’s heart. Mothers have the opportunity to plant tiny seeds of ideas and possibilities in their children’s minds. If the seeds are good, when their children grow up, they became the givers not the takers of the world. The hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world.
We now have women who lead the highest institutions of government and commerce in the land. Does that make them great or simply more visible? It is not our position in society that makes us great – but our goodness, the strength of our character and our willingness to sacrifice for the well-being of others. We need good men and women to lead our nation and corporations but we need more who lead our children. What happens in our house matters more than what happens in the House of Representatives. For a nation conceived in liberty cannot remain powerful if it does not remain good. A nation will not remain good unless the children are nurtured in love. So I thought for a moment before I answered my daughter.
“Some days it feels like that,” I said, “but you are doing so much more. Try to imagine your little ones as the great men and women they will be some day. The way you treat your children today will be the way they treat the world tomorrow.”


Two Report Cards

According to my children, lots of parents pay their children if they get good grades and I am missing the good parent boat. I’ve never been a subscriber to that philosophy. When you pay a child for something that is outside their control, you set them up for a lifetime of misery. Getting good grades, making the team, being picked for the solo, winning the election and all the other anxiety that comes with growing up is stressful and competitive. I like to reward my children for the courage to try and the determination to work hard, not an outcome that is determined by some one else. An arbitrary test grader, peer voting choices or a teacher’s grading process shouldn’t determine our inner sense of achievement.
This is what I tell my children when it comes to school grades, “I want you to work hard and do your best with the gifts, resources and time God gave you. The grade you receive from the teacher is interesting but it shouldn’t matter most. The grade you give yourself matters infinitely more.” We all know we’ve received an A for sub par effort and a lesser grade when we worked very hard and gave it our best. That’s why I tell my children they should rely more on what they think about their effort. Too often we teach our children to look outside themselves for validation.
Too many of us think we are motivating our children when we are really teaching them that we should be rewarded for every good thing we do. If you get an A I’ll pay you fifty dollars. If you clean your room I’ll give you a trip to the candy store. If you get into the right college or choose a career where you can make lots of money, then I’ll be happy and you’ll be happy. So you end up with children of intellectually gifted parents stressing about every test and grade - children of athletically gifted parents scared to death they won’t make the team - children of stylish parents worried about their clothing labels. The reward we ultimately receive for good deeds and personal effort should be intrinsic or a good feeling about our usefulness to others.
My adult daughter called the other day. She was going to be graduating with her Ph. D in anthropology that week and we were making final travel plans.
“You know Mom you always told me I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard and didn’t give up. Yet it wasn’t what you said but what you did that influenced me most. I watched you work hard and achieve your dreams. I told myself, if she can - then I can. You didn’t pick my dream for me; you just showed me how to have a dream and then go for it.”
We are all one-of-a-kind human beings with unique gifts. Each of us has our own way to shine. It’s not our job as parents to pick out what our child will be good at – but to expose them to various opportunities then support them when they choose what to do and who to be. And we have to keep becoming and doing ourselves to show them how. There will always be two report cards – the one the world gives us and the one we give ourselves. The one we give ourselves always matters more.


Can I Hold You?

The other day my little girl reached up to me with her soft gentle arms and asked, “Can I hold you Mommy?”
She did not ask, “Can you hold me?” She asked, “Can I hold you?”
As I picked her up and snuggled her close, I knew she was asking the one question that will always bring us peace and joy.
My husband is also a wise soul. Whenever we go on a family hike and he notices the youngest child looks tired he says, “You know I’m getting so tired. Think you could hold me for a while?”
Then he picks up the exhausted child and carries them until they’re rested. They never figure out that Daddy is really holding them. They believe they are helping their father by holding him. That is the essence of real love.
Too often we waste too much time waiting for the other person to appreciate us, notice us or honor us. We forget that someone has to do the appreciating, noticing and honoring first or we’ll all be waiting forever and gravely disappointed. We can’t force others to love us. We can only choose to love them. When we feel lonely, we need to go out there and help someone else feel less lonely. When we feel unappreciated, we need to go out there and help someone else feel appreciated. When no one honors us for our hard work, we need to go out there and honor someone else for their hard work.
My tiny daughter was wise beyond her years when she asked to hold me. For while she was holding me I was holding her and it didn’t matter any more who started the whole thing. That’s what happens when we want to do the kind, thoughtful or loving action first. We ultimately receive what we give.
The other day I heard two of my young children arguing.
One child said, “I’m me and you’re you.”
To which the other child replied, “No! I’m me and you’re you.”
They kept up this argument for a long time. This is the universal battle that never ends between individuals or nations. We are so sure that we’re right and the other guy is wrong that we forget to see that we’re both right and we’re both wrong.
We all see the world less the way it is and more the way we are. We have tunnel vision and forget nobody will be important to each other until someone sees the world through the other person’s eyes.
Money might make the world go round, but holding and hugging, caring and compassion is what makes us want to stay on for the whole ride.
Now when my husband and children come home at the end of the day, I try to remember my young daughter’s wise question and ask, “Can I hold you?”
Then when skin touches skin you can’t remember who started this moment of joy because you are both being hugged. You’re just mighty sure you don’t want to be the one who ends it . . . and all is right with the world.


It Matters

While resting in a hospital bed after giving birth to my tenth child, I answered a phone call from my oldest daughter.
“Mom,” April gulped, “my back hurts and I can’t walk.”
“Some people feel labor pains that way, “I answered. “Better get over here and get checked.”
“But what if it isn’t labor after all?” my daughter answered. “I don’t want to go to the hospital and have those guys send me home.”
Now I know most mothers and daughters don’t go into labor that close together but that is exactly what happened to April and me. A few minutes and pain pills later, I was in the labor room again, only this time coaching instead of pushing.
I became a new mother for the last time and a new grandmother for the first time so close together it left me panting. My husband and I used to watch our young children growing up and sentimentally lament, “Boy I hope it won’t be too long between the time we have our last child and when our first grandchild is born.” Little did we know.
Experiencing pregnancy, childbirth and new motherhood along with my daughter felt like a mystical linking of generations one moment and a medical experiment gone mad the next. My daughter and I raced each other for the bathroom, craved the same frozen yogurt and kept each other company in the waiting room at the obstetrician’s office. Everybody we met asked us if we’d seen the movie “Father of the Bride Part Two.” Talk about a crazy way to bond.
Yet the moment I saw my grandson enter the word, I was awe struck and euphoric. It was like singing, dancing and flying without leaving the ground. The circle of life, love and family didn’t end! My baby was having her baby.
There in that labor room as I stroked my daughter’s moist forehead, I realized in the most tender sort of way that everything I’d done as her mother for the past twenty-four years was worth it . . . absolutely everything. Every single moment I’d chosen to spend caring for my child was far more important than anything else I’d determined to do with my life. As I watched my first grandchild enter this world, I knew my part in the creation and development of his mother was my life’s most important work. I understood the whole purpose of this life was bringing down children from God and helping them find their way back to Him.
Before that moment, I simply could not begin to comprehend the importance of loving someone. It occurred to me that a thousand years from now, my babies would still be rocking their babies and the miracle of life of love and love would go on forever. I also understood that taking part in the creation and development of another human being was the greatest way to give birth to my own best life. I’d never even imagined I could feel so much joy.
Now when I see an exhausted and discouraged mother, I pat them on the back and whisper, “It matters. Everything you are doing for your family matters – so much more than you know.”


The True Meaning of Success

I was driving home the other day when a billboard caught my eye. It was a large picture of an older woman with her arms crossed in front of her chest. She had a broad smile on her face. The caption read, “Put poor kids though college . . . pass it on.”
Hey, I’m doing that too, I remember thinking.
Only the poor kids are all mine. Ross and I have always lived on a modest single salary. People told us you can’t raise a big family without two incomes these days. You can – if you want to bad enough. We had a dream when we married. We wanted to raise a large family and make investments in our children. So we made plans and went to work so we could offer all our ten children a university scholarship when they graduated from high school. We knew investing in human beings brings meaningful dividends.
As the years went by we both had opportunities come to us that would have required we limit our family size or the amount of time we had to spend with our children. We passed. We had a vision. We knew what felt right for us, a personal formula for success that felt good to us in our own soul.
We all need a vision – an inner flight plan that takes us where we want to land. If our vision only includes acquiring more material possessions and not blessing the lives of others . . . that is what we will end up with in the end. Through the years we have observed people with stuff visions. When they achieved the big house, new car or notoriety they sought, it did not make them happy. Lives spent on self and acquiring more possessions never satisfies. The thrill of ownership fades as quickly as the red paint on a new sports car.
I starting writing newspaper columns so I could afford to give all my children piano lessons. Writing about being a mom was something I could do at home. One thing led to another and pretty soon the columns became books.
One Saturday morning I was signing books at Barns and Noble when someone walked up and said, “Wow, you’re an author. That’s so glamorous. I’ll bet you lead a pretty exciting life.”
I chuckled as I recalled the morning’s events before I got to the store. I’d snuggled with my husband and a half dozen kids in bed, done three loads of laundry, cleaned up after soggy waffles then nursed and changed the baby. Before I hopped in the van to drive to the bookstore I spied a pile of do–do on our driveway covered with flies. I noticed my toddler near the mess minus his pants and underwear.
“Do you know anything about this?” I asked
“Sorry Mom,” my little boy answered. “I had to go real bad and I couldn’t wait.”
So I quickly dragged out the garden hose and ran some bath water. We splashed until my little boy laughed so loud it made my heart sing. I was late for the book signing, but I really didn’t care. All the people I cared most about weren’t at the store.
“Actually,” I said turning to the stranger talking to me at the author signing table, “writing is pretty boring compared to being a mom. Now that’s exciting.”
When it looks good to the world but doesn’t feel good in our soul, it isn’t success.