Sunday, March 9, 2008

Assembly Required – Role Modeling Joy as a Single Mom

"Mom, can you help me fly my airplane?" Carter asked this weekend on his 8th birthday.

Here’s something that hadn’t occurred to me. After the party guests go home, after the house is tidied up and we all take that breather from the pounding noise at the Chuck E Cheese equivalent we just experienced, Carter would want to share his sweet gifts with me.

I have a college education, and believe it or not, an engineering degree. But still I get a bit daunted by this type of request. "Remote control", "kit", "assembly required" - these were buzzwords that translated to Dad’s job! After a while, it became convenient for me to rely on Tom for tackling these projects while I tended to our home.

Today I let the laundry sit. Carter needed help with his airplane, so I sat with him at the table. Carter watched me with eyes that anticipated, "Mom knows what she’s doing". Taking a deep breath to relax my butterflies, I carefully read the instructions with him and we assembled, charged the batteries, and took the plane for its virgin flight.

I had forgotten what a feeling of success these types of toys can bring. With every successful flight, I felt a zing of confidence building in me. If I can handle this, I might be able to handle the hovercraft he got, and then the trebuchet model kit the boys have waiting to be assembled. Perhaps I might even graduate to the Snap Circuits integrated circuit board kit (okay, even with an engineering degree- that might be pushing it!).

It occurred to me that what’s really being assembled is my heart. It’s not a sacrifice to handle Tom’s traditional role of toy assembly parent; it’s an honor. I now know why Tom gladly jumped at this job- it was one of his ways of teaching joy, his greatest legacy, to our boys.

Tom was so good at having fun that like many married couples, we tended to allow that fun role to go to him, while I carried on with some of the necessary household duties. Now the Lord is challenging me to find that right balance of tasks versus fun with the kids.

Lord, help me to continue to assemble the pieces of Tom magical formula for building Your joy into these boys' hearts. Because I got so practiced at the tasks of the household while Tom enthusiastically embraced fun at a minute-by-minute basis, I now find that I need to adjust. As strange as it sounds, I thank you for the situation I’m in. There is joy in the struggle of missing Tom, but knowing that without Your will allowing me to walk without him, I may never have allowed myself to get out of the task mode enough to fully experience the joy of Carter’s eighth birthday.

You’ve prepared me with everything I need to raise these children in Your grace to become men who will glorify You throughout their lives.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

When Pain Outweighs the Joy

It doesn't happen often, so when it does, I grab hold of the Lord and remember that it will pass.

That night was one of those rough nights. I wasn’t really aware that I was headed for a rough night until I actually got there and sat in that auditorium as the kids started playing their violins.

Up to that point there were warning signs that my heart knew what my conscious mind wouldn’t admit – that there was a pending reminder that Tom was missing.

Early in the day I found I couldn’t get anything done. I piddled around the house and lectured myself at how much I had to do and why was I wasting time. I just couldn’t get myself motivated. Something was bothering me.

When I got to the auditorium I found myself snapping at the kids. Why was I angry when Christian wanted to use the bathroom and then resisted using the ladies room? Why was I impatiently rushing him, or shushing Carter when he asked perfectly normal questions about the recital?

The music started and the wave of memory flooded over me. I was alone. We had been in this same auditorium a dozen times in the past two years watching the children play, and Tom was always at my side.

I was so lonely. So lonely. These four precious boys being so cute and skillful and I had no one to share it with. I suddenly missed the way Tom would smile with that twinkle in his eye that said, "all that time I would make jokes about violins versus guitars was all just kidding, you’re doing a great job, Kitty, getting these boys trained on the violin."

The other moms gathered around me afterwards. I had forgotten about them. How they would want to welcome us back into this routine. It was sweet and uplifting. It was also awful. I wanted him. I just wanted to get this first over with so that I could rejoin these ladies and really enjoy them.

But tonight wasn’t the night for getting over it.

Because even after the recital, it wasn’t over. "Mom, remember the french fries!" they gleefully shouted as we climbed in the car. Oh yeah, the french fries. Tom always celebrated their performances with a huge order of McDonalds french fries. It’s a tradition that dates back to Tom’s childhood when his dad couldn’t afford the hamburgers, so their family’s "going out to eat" was a celebrated dinner of french fries at McDonalds.

I’m so grateful that He gives the boys a break from grief while it hits me hard. If it hit us all like that at the same time, we’d be a mess.

But the whole recital-McDonald process was grueling for me. Joyfully grueling. We laughed – the kids were cute and kind and fun and I laughed so hard. But inside I felt this deep wound surfacing. I just wanted to get home and get them in bed – no just skip getting them in bed – just have them asleep and me away from them so that I can get by myself and grieve.

Obediently, they got ready and prayed and shut the lights out. I thought the coast was clear and I could just be alone. Then footsteps. Carter approached in complete tears, "Mom, I can’t remember anything Dad said to me. I can’t remember any sentences."

My heart broke for him. And for me.

This is one of those moments that you just chuck your own agenda and your own feelings and put your kid first. I climbed into bed with him as though every ounce of me wasn’t screaming inside, "I just wanna be alone!" Together, we pulled out my laptop and watched every bit of Tom’s memorial DVD together.

Carter talked about that awful day. About how everyone cried at the funeral. About how he looked for Dad this morning in the house because he wanted to ask Dad to build a tent for him outside, and then remembered that Dad was dead.

We cried together and laughed together. I reminded Carter that he’s so much like Dad that Carter’s now my "Captain Sunshine".

My prayer is that Carter continues to smile the way he does - and especially the way he did with Tom. That these rough nights are the exception, not the rule.

Lord, I will trust You that Carter learns that he will be okay, that joy can always be a normal part of his life even without Dad. And I ask you to bring me back to that settled place where I can relax and be more in the moment with Carter. That I can help him experience joy the way Tom helped him experience joy. That You slow me down so that I am really there with Carter - building that legacy of joy - moment by moment.