What Kind of Woman Will I Be?

I was helping Avery and Lily get ready for bed, when Lily stated that she is a girl and that I am a woman. I confirmed this fact with her and followed up with, “One day you will grow up and be a woman too.”  Avery paused, mid-chapstick-application, and asked, “What kind of woman will I be?” Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that one. For the sake of brevity, I answered to both of them, “You will be smart, kind, and beautiful.” They were pleased with this answer, so I decided to leave it at that. I mean, how could I ever adequately answer that question? Adjective after adjective rolls through my mind.

I can sense a quiet desperation rising up in me that I vigorously tamp down. Time slips ever faster through my fingers, and the days in which I shape their hearts and spirits grow increasingly shorter. Have I done it right so far? Will I manage to do it right when it’s hard, when the painful questions come, when the hurt is written on their faces? Lately, I’ve felt more like a cautionary tale than a role model. I can tell them a lot of what not to do, but will I be able to show them the right way? When I allow myself to look to the heart of the matter, the question truly is if they turn out to be a woman like me will that be good enough. Yes. I think it’ll be just fine.

Things I’d like to never hear again

One of the most fun parts of my life is the conversations I have with Avery and Lily. There is rarely a silent moment with all three of us together. Well, as adorable as they are, some downright unnerving things come out of their mouths, like when we tried a new, local restaurant and both girls kept loudly declaring, while pinching their noses, “It smells gross in here!”  Here are my favorites over the past few weeks.

While lying on my bed, Avery said to me, “I made snots on your pillow.”

Lunch with Uncle Danny at Chick-fil-a:

Me: “Avery, stop rubbing Uncle Danny’s arm so he can eat his sandwich.”

Avery: “I’m just petting him.”

Driving down Studemont, Avery points at two men walking on the sidewalk and exclaims, “There’s Lady Gaga!”

One morning before school, I was telling Avery she needed to get herself dressed, to which she replied, “Go put on your make up, Mom”

Sitting on her grandpa’s lap, Avery takes a big sniff of him and says, “You don’t smell gross Grandpa.” It’s a compliment, really it is.

One of the most hysterical moments of my life happened in the bathroom of an East Texas gas station.  Full to capacity, Avery and I are crammed in a stall. I’m trying to keep her seated on the toilet while also shackling both of her hands lest she touch ANYTHING. She looks up at me and says, “So, what’s your booty look like? Is it an oval?” And that would be the exact moment when I lost my last shred of dignity.

Lily has been very interested in the topic of babies growing in tummies. She’s been trying out some different scenarios on me.

While getting her pajamas on one night, we had the following conversation:

Lily: “Uncle Houston is growing in my tummy.”

Me: “No, he’s not.”

Lily: “Uncle William is growing in my tummy.”

Me: “No, he’s not.”

Lily: “You’re growing in my tummy.”

Me: “No, I’m not.”

A few days later, she comes up with this one:

Lily: “I was a tiny baby. I grew in my sister’s tummy.”

Me: “No, you didn’t”

To her teacher:

Lily: “There’s a baby growing in my mommy’s tummy.”

Me: “There most certainly is not.”

Here are some non-baby-growing-in-tummy comments from Lily that left me speechless.

“This is my knife, Mom. Don’t touch it.”

“I’m going to eat your eyeballs.”

“My babies threw up on me. “

“You’re beautiful, Mama. You look like Spongebob.”

Yeah, it could’ve been a lot worse, as far as animated characters’ appearances go.

And here is round 2 of school pictures.  I love that Lily has stuck with her no-nonsense facial expression.  It’s so 1800s daguerreotype. They sported their custom air-brushed T-Shirts in true Elementary School picture day fashion, primarily because I forgot about picture  day.

Bless me loud

Avery and Lily have always been talkative, with Avery the chattier of the two. Lately, however, Lily has given her sister a run for her money. We’ve had some interesting conversations.

At breakfast:
Avery: Where the almonds come from?
Me: A tree
Avery: Like the broccoli tree?
Me: Ummm, yes.
Avery: How bout the cauliflower? A tree?
Me: Sure.

Dressing the girls for school:
Avery: Mama, your feet so big! They are so big for walking on.
Me: That’s because I’m so tall and the taller you are the bigger your feet.
Avery: MY feet are TINY!

Driving around looking at Christmas lights with my brother David, a.k.a. Uncle Danny
(1st house)
Lily: Oh Wow Mama!! It so pretty! You make it for me?
Me: Yes
(2nd house)
Lily: ooooh, loooook! Mama, you make it for me?
Me: Yes
(10 houses later)
Lily: Mama! You make it for Uncle Danny?
Me: Yes
(And she just continued from house to house with the list of every person she knows. Apparently I’ve been quite busy)

Playing after school:
Avery: Mama, do you have eleven money?
Me: Yes I do.
Avery: That’s good. That’s good. I have a hundred money.
Lily: I need coins. Uncle Danny have coins.

Lily: I want my hoo hop!! (hula hoop)
Me: What’s the magic word?
Lily: Abracadabra!!

Holding my wooden Santa from Russia
Lily whispers to Santa: I want a tuba, a trumpet, a guitar, a tiger, and a witch.
Avery whispers to Santa: I want a princess with blonde hair, a pink dress. A grown up, not a baby.

Avery: I want to go to Nenna’s house. The chickens will be so excited to see me!!

Avery: Where Santa Claus live?
Lily: At Wal-Mart.

Avery: Where the gasoline go?
Me: In the tank.
Avery: Like Nemo?
Me: Exactly.

Listening to “Bad Romance” on a never ending loop
Avery: Where is the bad romance?
Me: California. Definitely California.
Lily: How bout the Bass? I want Bass on Mama’s phone. (Meaning “All About that Bass”)
Avery: I want see the Lady Gaga on Mama’s phone.
Me: Yeah, I don’t think so.

During our night time prayer:
Me: Thank you God for Avery. I’m so proud of her. She’s doing great work at school, and she works so hard on her letters and numbers, and she plays so nicely with her sister
Lily: And she hit me in the face, and she need obey!
Me: Well, yes, God, please help all of us to behave ourselves.

As part of our bedtime routine, I take a turn snuggling with each of my babies. I hold her close; I sing her lullaby; I speak a blessing over her, and I give her as many kisses as she requests. We alternate who goes first from one night to the next. The blessing I say is from Numbers 6:24-26, which are the words that God instructed Moses to have the Hebrew priests speak over the people of Israel:
“The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
I bless my children in this way, not because I believe any words are magical or a good luck charm, but because these words embody my most sacred hope for them. When instructing Moses, the LORD indicated that the priests were to speak the blessing in that exact formulation, demonstrating that this blessing comes from God himself, and the priests are simply the instrument that conveys the blessing. From their earliest memory, I want my daughters to know the LORD’s gracious will towards them.
I had already snuggled Avery, sang, given her blessing, and kissed her a dozen times all over her face as she requested. By the time I had finished singing Lily’s lullaby Avery had drifted off to dream land, so I said Lily’s blessing in a whisper. When I finished and bent to kiss her good night, she exclaimed, “Bless me loud, Mama!” I suppressed a chuckle, and did just that. I blessed her loud.

Single Mom

So I’m a single mom. I find myself saying that a lot lately, like I’m trying it out to see how it sounds, to gauge the reactions on people’s faces. Frankly, avoiding that label is one big reason I stayed in an abusive marriage as long as I did. The label “single mom” conjured up images of sadness, brokenness, abandonment. I didn’t want to be a single mom, until I realized that it was the only road out of a perilous situation. So, here I am, six months into being a single mom. The best part is not feeling impending doom breathing down the back of my neck, fearing whether or not I would be able to keep my babies and me safe. The sense of freedom we all feel is palpable. My girls are growing and learning at a dizzying speed. I am blown away by them on a daily basis. They’re safe, and they know it. We just had our first Thanksgiving as our new family. We spent a week at my mother and stepfather’s idyllic, country home, complete with a barn, a pond, and autumnal trees. My amazing brother, A.K.A. Uncle Danny, was kind enough to take pictures of the girls and me for us to use on our Christmas card. I’m so happy with how they turned out that I can’t wait to share them.

Why I Stayed

I don’t think he’ll hurt us.

Those were my words, in the middle of a terrible night, eyes wide and searching, trying to see my way through the dark.

That’s what every woman says before it actually happens.

Those were words spoken by a true protector, a man who saw it all as if in the light of day, not swallowed up by the dark, holding up a light to the truth. My brother.

If he’ll do that to the wall, he’ll do that to you.

Words of a friend looking at the sheetrock, the recipient of the previous night’s rage, a friend who walked that dark road a long time before me, a friend who managed to find her way out.

Why did you stay? Why did you stay after the man who was supposed to love you called you crazy, stupid, warped, lazy, controlling, fat? Why did you stay when he used physical force against you?  Why did you stay when he put your life and Avery’s and Lily’s lives in danger?

Questions asked by many when the truth of my marriage had been revealed, after I admitted the emotional abuse, after I admitted that he’d already put hands on me in anger, after I admitted how his actions had taken me so close to losing my precious ones.  My reasons look weaker and weaker.

 

Marriage is hard. You have to tough it out.

He’ll change.

I love him, or at least I used to love him.

He’ll change.

It’s best for the kids, even though he treats me badly.

He’ll change.

I don’t want to have to start over. Create a whole new life.

He’ll change.

I don’t want to be labeled “divorced.” A Single Mom.

He’ll change.

Last and saddest.  But we had such a beautiful wedding. Fairy tales always have happy endings.

 

Those are some of the reasons I stayed with an abuser. Now I’m free. I don’t have to hide anything anymore. I don’t have to cover for him, so that we can save face. I’m not alone.

 

I packed up our family and wedding pictures yesterday, preparing to sell our house. I was choked with grief. Not over the end of the marriage, but because I had to admit that the story those pictures told was never real. The man who held my hand in those images was not the man in reality. Those beautiful, beautiful pictures were lies.

As Avery, Lily, and I said our nighttime prayers last night, Lily said, “Thank you God for crying.” She took my breath away. Yes Lily, I thank God for crying.  It’s the only way to begin again, washed anew.

He has Power

The truth: it sounds so definite, a circumscribed object, like a tin can on your pantry shelf that you can pick up and look at and set on your counter and say, “Yep, that’s the truth.” More often, we treat the truth like clay. You drop this gray lump on your counter, look it over, and say, “This truth is ugly. Let me mold it a bit, create a more pleasing shape, make it something more palatable than a gray lump.”  Some of you know, but many do not, that my marriage has ended. I feel like for many years, I was taking the truth and trying to shape it into a form that I could tolerate, even feel pleased about; however, as if water was constantly rushing over it, my clay would not hold its form. My pleasing figure constantly returned to the formless gray lump of the truth. No amount of kneading or pressing or holding that my hands could do would preserve the appearance. Two months ago, I released my hands, because I saw, at last, that my attempt to hold it together was putting Avery, Lily, and I at the mercy of a dangerous person. Now, we are safe and surrounded by strong, loving people who have closed ranks around us during a time of great vulnerability. The exact image of our future is yet unclear, but I know that my daughters and I will live a life filled with joy.

My girls have born up tremendously well during this turmoil. They can tell that something has changed, but they are surrounded by so much love and stability that they accept their new life. One night, Avery crawled into bed with me. I could tell she was trying to think things through.  I asked her if she knew what a shepherd is. She shook her head. Laying in the dark with her in my arms, I told her that a shepherd looks after the sheep. He cares for them, keeps them safe from harm, feeds them good food, and gives them a place to rest. Then I told her that God is our shepherd, and we are His sheep. He is always guarding us and providing for us. Avery thought for a moment and said, “But Mama, you’re my shepherd.” My bright little girl, I told her that she’s like a baby sheep, and I’m her mama sheep, and God is the shepherd of us all. I’ll always be with her, taking care of her, but God watches over us all. She accepted this answer and nestled in for the rest of the night.

I began teaching Avery and Lily the verse Psalms 23:1, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” Avery says it with great care and articulates each word. Lily boldly declares, “My Lord, My Shepherd, Not Want!” I love how she gets right to the point. It’s very fun to see how the Bible lessons she gets at church each Sunday impact her. One Sunday evening, when we were saying our prayers, Lily said, “Thank you for Chwist.” Not wanting to lead her, I asked Lily to repeat what she’d just said, when Avery loudly proclaims, “She said, CHRIST.” Lily replied, “Yeah, yeah, Thank you for Christ.” Her new favorite word is Behold! Lily loves to enter a room, throw her arms wide, and declare, “Behold!”

Monday evening, we had the treat of dinner with all of my brothers and my dad. Avery and Lily got to eat loads of chips, salsa, Meximole (their word for guacamole), and ice cream. It was a great event for them, surrounded by all of their uncles and grandpa and to get all that good food. We got in the car to drive home right as one of our Texas thunderstorms had passed. As we were driving, we had the blessing of seeing a beautiful rainbow. Avery and Lily were amazed. My dad told them, “God put that rainbow in the sky.” Avery thought for a moment and said, “He has power.” I couldn’t agree more. He has power to save. He has power to deliver us when we don’t even know we need deliverance. He has power to provide a path to safety for all of His sheep. He has power. Yes, He does.