Mom in the passenger seat

I’m unsure of the exact moment I stopped grabbing the “oh &#$%” handle or stomping the non-existent brake on the floorboard as she drove. I’m not even sure when I stopped turning down her radio so she could pay better attention while driving. But I must have because today I found comfort in my new seat in her life; the passenger seat.

When she reached over to turn the radio up saying, “oh this is a really good song” instead of turning it down, I just listened to the words. For a moment in time, I stopped what I was doing and revisited the feeling we all can remember as a teenager. Those times when music was the only thing that “got” us and the words touched our souls. For a parent, it is like a window into your child’s heart. I wonder how many parents realize that, that their child is letting them in even when it seems like they are drowning us out.

As she drove with one hand on the steering wheel, instead of nagging and insisting on two hands at ten and two, I focused instead on her tiny painted baby-pink fingernails. She has these perfectly petite little fingers that hold delicate turquoise rings. Loosely hanging from her dainty wrist is a black and white H.W.L.F. bracelet. A bracelet that to some means nothing, but to us, means she loves Jesus and is proud of it. So proud in fact she bought them for her brothers and friends too.

She sang and intermittently interjected little snippets of life she just had to tell me, and I tried to not get caught taking a photo of her driving. She said, “mom, you do that every time!” and I just smiled because she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know the feeling a mother has when she is living in one of those stand-still moments. A moment where nothing major is happening, but your heart is clicking and storing away these mental photographs for a memory you’ll treasure always. A memory that includes her button nose barely clearing the steering wheel, and her teeny-tiny jeans with holes in the knees.

I wonder if she ever looks at me the way I look at her. You know, the way you look at someone you are inspired by, and fiercely protective of? There is effortless beauty and confidence in much of what she does in life, just naturally. She releases and loosens the hair tucked behind her ear and it just falls gracefully framing the same sweet face I can recall wiping tears from as a toddler. Just for a moment it is just the two of us of again and she breaks my visit down memory lane by saying, “this song reminds me of you and dad” and as I listen to the song (Josh Ward, Together) I realize, she does look at me the same way.

The simple moments, those are the ones that don’t just catch you off guard, they take your breath momentarily. As I watch from my new position beside her, it brought on those sweet tears that fill your eyes just enough without falling. The tears that say, “wow, God, this is you blessing me” and just taking it all in. It’s almost as beautiful as her side profile as she confidently takes on the open road in front of her, not just in this truck today, but in life in general.

The passenger seat is where I’ll spend the majority of my years as her mother from here on out. It is where I will support, listen and guide from a new view, perspective and as a bystander. It is where you can still see the full picture, but are no longer in control. It’s the waiting room at the doctors office, the phone call that they’ve made it safely, and sometimes the bare minimum when it used to be an over abundance. It’s the supporting role and no longer the lead.

It’s a beautiful place to sit as you are reminded this is their life, their choices and you’ve done exactly as you were meant and trusted to do. You’ve raised someone who is capable of making decisions, and not just surviving but excelling on their own. It doesn’t come without some sadness and moments of worrying just as you have before, but it comes with a peacefulness of knowing they’ve got this. They are in the drivers seat of life, and though they are buckled in safely, it will be a beautiful, crazy ride with a proud mom in the passenger seat.

Why I added my stepson into an old photograph.

This photo now shows all that it had before and so much more. It isn’t just the addition of another person; it showcases life. Real, down to the nitty-gritty life in all it’s glory and differences. It shows dedication, commitment and choosing each other – even on the really difficult days. The days when people who have been blessed in not experiencing the blending of two families, will almost always misunderstand us. The days when I’m told I will never be his “real” mom because he has a biological mother already. The days he is told he is not my “real” son because I didn’t give him life. Those are the days we choose each other more and now we are very much mother and son.

The photograph below was taken on my 34th birthday and it has been a favorite of mine for many years. When you look at this photograph you see a mother, son and daughter. When I look at it I see protection, love and strength surrounding our little family of three.

THREE PEAS IN A POD

Sweetly tucked just under my wing, yet still standing on her own is my daughter Gracie. Her beauty has always taken my breath away and her independence has always tested my strength while educating me simultaneously. This girl differs from the rest. She is an original. I see a young girl who loved softball and had dreams of becoming a lawyer and attending Harvard.

On my back is my son Gage. Just look at his sweet face and how he’s proud to wrap both his arms around his momma, but is still held up by me. He loved his momma more than anything and his sissy was a close second. Baseball and basketball were life, and he had dreams of being in the MLB or NBA.

Then there is me, proudly standing on my own two feet. No matter how many times I fell down, I always got back up. I became well-versed in God’s redirection and going back to the drawing board, editing and revising my life until I became a better woman and mother. I see a woman falling in love with herself for the first time and making her children proud. This photo became my life’s mission statement a visual anthem that said together, we had everything we needed and could make it through anything.

It is crazy how much history and memories a single photo can hold. On this exact day my boyfriend was preparing a surprise birthday party for me at my home. We had started dated seven months before and he had a son from a previous marriage, Cole. Cole and Gage knew each other from school and introduced us because Cole’s dad was the boys baseball coach. I was in a stage to push everyone away and pull my children closer. I was fine with a boyfriend, but not marriage, and most definitely not another son.

His son. That is what Cole was, he was my boyfriend’s son. He was unique and unlike my children. I struggled to understand and connect with him. He wanted to be just like his dad and their bond was unlike anything I had ever witnessed between a father a son. There was no room for me. If we walked beside each other, Cole would come in between us. He liked me but he didn’t like me having any attention that could be his. It was difficult to navigate and I won’t lie and say I didn’t get frustrated, cry and want out.

After a year of dating, we moved in together. Things were still challenging, but I loved his father, so we committed to making it work. Cole desperately missed having a mother, and I wanted no part in that. If you read my post, No, you already have a mom, then you know the story already. He’d ask to call me mom, and I’d say no. Yet, I did all the things a mother would do for her child. We spent countless hours at the dining table doing homework, working with teachers, reminding him to brush his teeth, to change his underwear, doctor’s appointment’s and everyday mothering. He had everything he needed. I just left the loving part to his dad. I couldn’t bring myself to be his mom plus he had a “real” mom, and I had my “real” children too. It was us three plus them two and it didn’t equal five. It equaled three and two.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.

One day by the grace of God, things changed, my heart softened and became protective of him. There was a moment when I could no longer sit by and watch as Cole was let down and hurt. I realized that the person letting him down was not the only one; I was letting him down too. He had not stopped asking to call me Mom, and it was clear he needed me to say, yes. Maybe, I needed to say yes too, so I did.

From that moment Cole became my son, my real son. He didn’t become my son when his father and I eventually married three years later. Or at a point when he was more pleasing or easier to love – he became my son in the middle of messiness and a storm. He became my son the day he chose me, the day he asked me to be his mom, and the day I chose him in return. God placed us together knowing that storms make trees take deeper roots and two trees intertwined were stronger than one.

For approximately six months I’ve looked at this old photo of my sweet babies and I, knowing and feeling that something was missing. Each time I would share it, I felt a twinge in my heart that something was missing. Then I realized the something missing, wasn’t a something, it was a someone.

In a world where stepparents are cropping/editing out or even just leaving their stepchildren out all together, I wanted to add in mine. Luckily I have a dear friend who helped me re-create the first photo with the addition of Cole. My heart (and possibly Cole’s) needed him in this photograph that reminded me occasionally of who I am today as a woman and mother because he is just as much a part of who’ve grown into and become over the years.

ALL MY BABIES IN ONE BEAUTIFUL PHOTO

This photo now shows all that it had before and so much more. It isn’t just the addition of another person; it showcases life. Real, down to the nitty-gritty life in all its glory and differences. It shows dedication, commitment and choosing each other – even on the difficult days. The days when people who have been blessed in not experiencing the blending of two families, will almost always misunderstand us. The days when I’m told I will never be his “real” mom because he has a biological mother already. The days he is told he is not my “real” son because I didn’t give him life. Those are the days we choose each other more and now we are very much mother and son.

When I look at this new picture, I still see my beautiful and independent daughter who now has made room for another brother and wants to be a Science & AG teacher instead of a lawyer. Gage is still on my back, still smaller than most and loves his momma and basketball, but now wants to be a Veterinarian. Right in the middle where he belongs is my other son, Cole. I see a handsome young man who loves with a very open, gracious and giving heart. I see someone who selflessly spent hours every day for at least a week if not longer making me a Christmas present that no other parent received. I see a boy who came into my life scared of losing his father to a woman he thought was trying to take his place when all I wanted to do was share it. And, who just wanted a normal family with a mother and father – like I did. Cole is who I needed to become a better woman and mother, and I like to think I am who he needed to help him become a better man.

Being a parent has zero to do with biology and 100% to do with love and choice. Sometimes that choice is not ours to make but Gods, and he reminds us that while it may not always be easy, it is always worth it and for our good. Three plus two now equals a family of five. A real family.

A homeless heart.

The way I see it is we are all one paycheck away from homeless, one lost job from a tent, one mental breakdown from a tarp and one life shattering moment from a cart holding all that is left.

Every morning on my way to work, I see the same homeless person, pushing a shopping cart with all the possessions they own and hold dear to them. And, each time I picture myself. When I see a tent hidden behind a bush, or a tarp made into a tent tucked away, I can imagine myself hiding inside. The dirty clothes, the dirty faces, the shameful eyes looking down at their shoes with holes, it is all me. I feel all of it and I do not know why. For as long as I can remember, I have always felt as though I will be homeless at some point.

Maybe it’s because when I was 17, I left home one-night, dead set to get away from the toxicity my home life had become. It was probably the most unplanned, unprepared for and simultaneously the wisest decision I have ever made. Back then there were no cell phones, I left without food, without setting up a place to stay and not a single person to call for help or even a dollar to my name.

And even then, being alone, unprepared, and without much of anything I was better off on the street than at home. My memory from that time is shoddy at best which is a blessing in disguise. The memory that remains is that I found places to stay, I got a job, graduated high school and that although it was the loneliest I had ever been, I was not truly alone because it’s by the grace of God that I’ve never been without a home again.

Failure and struggle makes me curious, people with a past intrigue me immensely. When I see a homeless person I want to know their story. Much like a kindergartner at carpet time, I want to sit crisscross applesauce with my hands under my chin and take in their entire life story. Because I know it isn’t always alcohol, drugs, crime and laziness that cost them a warm place to sleep, a suuportive loving family, a warm meal, or a sense of peace within their mind or within four walls.

It wasn’t any of those that cost me my own home, my own family or my safety. A few years back I wanted to collect and take blankets to the homeless, because when they were cold, I felt cold. When they were wet, I felt wet. But no one understood that or would help me with the project, because it was dangerous for a woman to do alone. And, knowing that kept me from doing it, but that feeling of wanting them to be seen, feel heard and know there was zero judgment has never left my heart.

Once when I was pregnant with my daughter, a man who appeared homeless, was stuck in the middle of a crosswalk in his wheelchair. One of his wheels was caught in a small pothole and he only had one leg to propel him forward. My father was a double amputee, and my heart went out to this man. There was no one else around, so I put my car in park, got out and walked over to him and offered to push him the rest of the way.

He told me to get away from him, he told me he did not need nor want my help. And, with all he had, he made it across all by himself. Sitting in my car I remember crying, in part I am sure because I was pregnant, but also in part because he reminded me of my father. I remember sitting there wondering how my desire to help could make him angry, why was his pride so prevalent? The truth though was that my pride was prevalent as well as were my assumptions. I assumed he needed assistance because of what I saw, I assumed he couldn’t do it because of how I would have felt if I were in the same situation. And, I was wrong. My heart was in the right place but I was wrong.

Maybe homeless is better than home for some. Maybe homeless is safer. Maybe they lost their home, when they lost the people inside those four walls that made it a home in the first place. Maybe they couldn’t bring themselves to walk back through a door that their child would never run to again. Or a spouse that would never be there to greet them. Maybe it was too hard, too much and they gave up. I can understand that, I could see that, I can feel that. Hard takes on different forms to different people, and what is hard for me, may not seem as hard to someone else and vice versa – but it is still hard.

Homeless doesn’t mean worthless, it doesn’t mean hopeless and it surely does not mean unlovable. Maybe for them it just means wild, liberated, free and possibly daring for some. I’ve heard so many times that a homeless person is well off, that they have a home and a family but that they choose to roam instead. I can’t imagine what that would feel like to have a family member choose to be homeless, dirty, hungry, unsafe and alone.

I’m not blind to the fact that a majority of homeless people are lacking the mental health and medical care they need and that those situations alone are the leading factor to becoming a sole tenant in a tent, a tarp and a shopping cart. That most are not in their right mind, and that yes some are even dangerous, and some are struggling addicts. I’m not blinded by the severity and the statistics. My heart just reminds me that we have no idea what made them walk out that door, or that there was ever a door to begin with for them. Yet, people treat homeless people like garbage solely because sometimes they smell bad, look bad or act poorly. And, that breaks my heart.

The way I see it is we are all one paycheck away from homeless, one lost job from a tent, one mental breakdown from a tarp and one life shattering moment from a cart holding all that is left. The only difference is how we are able to handle those situations with the resources we’re given. And, that should be enough to change judgment into compassion, because one day that could be me, you or someone you love.

You deserve better.

The worst part is that there are people who think this is what they deserve! That this is the best they can have. That no one will love them outside of this relationship. That they have nothing to offer the world, no dream to chase, no voice to be heard, or gift to be shared. They look in the mirror and see failure, ridicule, embarrassment and despair, when instead they should see strength, honor, integrity, beauty, hope and success. And love, damn it! You should look at yourself in that mirror and see LOVE, for yourself.

Some of us are raised with such convoluted ideals of what is expected and acceptable in relationships. Even when we know better, we don’t choose to do better. We relent, we condone, we allow others to interject their opinions and what they feel our relationship should produce or protect. Truth is – it is not their relationship. I’ve heard wait until you’re with someone for 15 years – that is a real relationship, real dedication, and real love. The hell you say?! Real love, real dedication – has no essence of time. Period. Love is an ongoing action, not a timeline.

Being a self-proclaimed love addict that had the belief that one day, if I put up with enough these disastrous, abusive and detrimental relationships would surely blossom into a loving and healthy lifetime commitment, was a fallacy. I’ve literally laid down and allowed men to walk all over me my entire life, starting with my own Father. That feeling of worthlessness was like sewage that continued to spill into relationship after relationship. You want to know why that is? Because we believe what we are fed, things like the adage “you might as well stick it out – because the next person has just as much issues as the one you are with.” LIES! People listen here, that is completely inaccurate. Did you ever think that maybe all these closed doors, all these U-turns, was GOD saying “Hey, I love you, this is not right for you and you need to go a different direction?” Not, stick around and continue to be beat down, unloved or beaten at all.

Everyone has their flaws like leaving their clothes beside the laundry basket, forgetting to take the garbage out, not always helping with the kids, but serious issues, deal breaker issues — there are men/women without them. You can do better!

They say if you want a different outcome, you must do things differently. In each relationship, I tried that. Any previous failures from ended relationships, I would try to preempt and rectify in future ones. If the guy before was unfaithful, I made myself more sexual, more available, more pleasing. If the guy before was unhappy or felt unimportant, I learned to cook, to provide, to take care of. If the guy before was deceitful and untrustworthy, I tried to open more, communicate more, to allow and invite an openness in the relationship. If the guy was emotionally, mentally or physically abusive, I would modify my looks and my behaviors. I would give up my life, my fun, my wants and needs and dedicate myself completely to helping and fixing them. DO YOU SEE THE PROBLEM HERE?? The problems and changes to be made were not mine to make. It was simply the wrong relationship. I didn’t trust myself enough, I didn’t listen to my brain or follow my own intuition which was screaming incessantly that this was not okay, I can’t fix this, I deserve better!

It is important for you to realize this: It is not your job to take on the success or failure of a relationship in its entirety. If the marriage/relationship is failing and you are the only one fighting…STOP. Cheaters, cheat. Liars, lie. Abusers dominate and destroy. And Addicts, simply transfer their addictions. You do not need to stay in any of these situations. It is your choice – not God’s choice, or the Bibles choice, because if it was, it wouldn’t hurt you. God would never ask you to sin, or put yourself in harms way. It is not what is best for your children, or what is best for you. You will undoubtedly lose yourself as you continue to lose this battle.

Here is the thing, yes, we tend to fall into relationship ruts, and picking a different type of the same bad guy repeatedly. But you have the ability of modifying and updating your hardwired picker – your picker doesn’t have to remain broken. You are wiser than you give yourself credit for. And, my favorite part is this: Not every person will abuse you, not every person will cheat on you – repeatedly. Not every person will be systematically deceitful, selfish and manipulative.

In my lifetime, I have loved entirely and completely three men – an abusive alcoholic, a kind and gentle lost man, and an honest to goodness good man. The honest and good men – do exist. I didn’t have to settle. I didn’t have to allow someone to hurt me to feel loved temporarily. Or chase him for attention, affection, or temporary stability. He chose to stay, he chose to be kind, to be considerate, to listen, to communicate and to love me for me – even when I feel like I don’t deserve it. And, he makes that choice every day, because he chooses to.

You’ve heard the saying do not compare your behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel, and it is true. Trust me, I lived in a highlight reel life, I boasted and hung tightly to every UP, because I was so tormented by every LOW. I thought I needed to be thankful for the good times, because they made the hard times worth it, which is true to a point – a breaking point. When the hard times are many and the good times are few, you must be strong enough and value yourself enough to look at why that is, and when necessary, draw the line. Enough is enough.

There are several unhealthy relationships that are littered with guarded secrets, ultimatums, unstable foundations, infidelity, deceit and immoral actions. The worst part is that there are people who think this is what they deserve! That this is the best they can have. That no one will love them outside of this relationship. That they have nothing to offer the world, no dream to chase, no voice to be heard, or gift to be shared. They look in the mirror and see failure, ridicule, embarrassment and despair, when instead they should see strength, honor, integrity, beauty, hope and success. And love, damn it! You should look at yourself in that mirror and see LOVE, for yourself.

In my mirror, I can choose to see all those negative things as well, I can see my flaws and imperfections, my failed endeavors, relationships, parental screw-ups, employment mistakes, and lord knows what else. But, you want to know what I see when I look in the mirror? I see my daughter. I see her impressive beauty, her intelligence and witty personality, and her STRONG sense of self-esteem. I see my sons, their goofy ways, kind hearts, and loving souls. The reflection of my green eyes that I love, that have cried tears of happiness more than sadness, and that many have investigated, viewing the goodness of my heart. I see a woman who has been real, honest and fought when necessary and is learning to let most battles go. I see a woman who is beautiful because of my actions, my children, my mind, and my heart – not because of my physical features. And most importantly I see a woman who is gritty, quick-witted, stubborn, hilarious, bold and authentic. There is no one like me and GOD did that on purpose.

That is what I choose to see, and what I will continue to raise my daughter to choose to see. It is what you should choose to see. Choose yourself and take back the ownership of your life. It will be the best investment you will ever make.