The Language of Motherhood


My husband and son, at the beginning…

My earliest memory of my mother is of her hands. Strong, soft and sure, one holding me fast by the arm while the other sudsed me up with a soft cotton washcloth. I was sitting in the kitchen sink. It was stainless steel, cramped, and cold against my back, even though it was summer. But she had me, and wasn’t going to let me go.

Now, looking back over the last 40 years, I can see my mother’s hands over and over again. Brushing my hair, scrubbing the floor, rolling out dough, pulling weeds, holding her Bible, ironing with steam, sewing a button on, making sandwiches, tucking me in, wiping away my tears, pointing the way, holding my hands and waving goodbye…

Sometimes, often in fact, during my own journey through motherhood, I wish I was more like her. She was a doer, always busy, always with a goal in front of her – she didn’t rest until her work was done. Our house was spotless. Her hands were always busy and full.

Sometimes, when I was young, I would get frustrated. Why can’t we just relax and have fun once in a while? I would ask. Because there’s work to be done, she would say. Won’t it feel good when we’re all done?

Now, I wake up in the morning, feed the cats, feed the dog, feed my son, get my son ready for school, and get myself ready for work. I get dressed and while I’m curling my hair, I see that the bathroom could use a sweeping. I should plan on going to the laundromat tonight after work, but my son has a music concert, so it will have to wait. Backpack? Check. Lunches? Check. I pull out of the driveway…did I make the bed? Uhm…maybe not. Geez, the flower bed needs weeding…I sure wish I was more like mom.

I look at my son in the rear view mirror, and we share a smile, my hands gripping the steering wheel in a tight turn into our busy, busy day. We laugh and talk. At the stoplight, I reach back and we hold hands for a brief moment, our secret signal to one another that everything will be alright. Then, we move on.

We get home at the end of our day, and I fix supper, we eat and do a few chores, and then there’s this precious window of opportunity – about 45 minutes before my little boy has to go to bed. The bathroom floor still needs swept, but I don’t do it. Instead, I sit on the couch with my son, and we read. Or tell stories. Or play Legos. Or watch Green Lantern. Or have a tickle fight. Or just snuggle.

The time goes by, and we say our prayers…a tuck here and a tuck there, and he’s off to sleep.

It’s 8 o’clock. I go into the bathroom. I forgot the broom. Why can’t I be more like mom?

I indulge in a pity party. Mom was a better mother than I’ll ever be. She worked so hard and loved so much.

Then, I hear her whisper in my ear. You love just as much. You work just as much. You are everything just as much, just different. You are just what you are supposed to be.

I came to realize that my mother’s love language was acts of service. Every jar of pickled beets, and every starched blouse; every hot meal, and every clean floor said I love you.

My love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. So, every conversation about my son’s day at school, his favorite Skylander or Pokemon, and every snuggle on the couch says I love you.

So, mom and I are different, but the same.

Our love is different, but the same.

Our mothering is different, but the same.

It’s easy to compare ourselves with others, especially those we hold in high regard. It’s also easy to use that comparison as a way to tear ourselves down instead of building ourselves up without seeing the good that we do. We come to equate different with wrong.

Try to see yourself with loving, truthful eyes. That’s the way those who love you see you, and it’s the way your children see you, whether your bathroom floor needs swept or not 😉






For my mother…


My soon to be 80-years old mother has battled illness for most of my life. Even now, she is in a hospital several hours and miles of snow-covered road away from where I am.

Over the years, she has battled Diabetes, Congestive Heart Failure, Degenerative Disk Disease, Arthritis, Esophageal illness, and endured many, many surgeries. As if all these weren’t enough, just a couple of years ago, she was diagnosed with Leukemia. Thankfully, she has been in remission for  just over a year.

Her current condition is a result of a seemingly innocuous injury that, combined with the complexities of her other health challenges, has developed into a very painful and threatening situation. A hematoma developed on her leg and ruptured, broke through the skin, and despite immediate medical attention, is not healing properly. She has been transferred to a large, metropolitan hospital where her oncologist and other specialists are able to address the situation and, hopefully, produce a positive outcome.

If you know my mother, you know that she is a fighter. Even her name, Marcella, means female warrior in Latin.  I almost laugh out loud when people meet my mom for the first time and tell me what a quiet, sweet and soft person she is. Of course, she can be soft and quiet, and sweet, but she is also a she-bear in the shadows, prepared to protect and defend to the last claw, if necessary. Has she always been this way? I don’t know. As far back as I can remember? Yes.

In the face of all our family stories, funny, fantastic, or tragic, she has been there. The she-bear. Of course, she is human, too 🙂 There are weaknesses, as there are for all of us. But, they are all wrapped up in this vibrating ball of fur and claws, and her sheer will to survive always wins. Always.

I could tell you lots of stories about her. Stories of hard times, stories of heart ache, stories of victory, stories of making something out of nothing, and of making the best out of something, anything. And, one day, I will share some of those stories. But, for now, consider this a little introduction from me to you, of the most strong-willed woman I have ever known.

Now, today, as she fights, as she braces her will against the forces of nature that would seek to lay us all to waste in time, I imagine the fur bristling. Her Madeira Wine painted nails growing long and thin and sharp. Fight on, Mama. Fight on. I am there with you, in spirit. We will fight together, side by side.

Loving you…

My Cup Runneth Over


“Mommy, do you have to go to work today?”

I stop, turning from the door to give my little boy one more hug. He’s sitting on the couch in his pirate jammies, nose stuffed and eyes watering from the head cold that’s keeping him from school.”Yes, baby. I have to go to work today, but you’ll have fun with daddy.”

“But, I’m going to miss you.” His blue eyes cast their gaze downward.

I touch his cheek. “It’ll be okay, baby.” I bend to give his head a lingering kiss, taking the time to breathe him in. I will miss him, too.

Once more, I move toward the door. “Mommy?” He asks, a bright tone in his voice. I look back. “Mommy! I just remembered! I’ll be okay because I have lots and lots of loves in my heart!” I smile. With my face, my heart, and my soul.

“Yes, baby. You have lots and lots of loves.” We share a smile, the moment, and I walk out, closing the door behind me.

My heart is full.

For days, my son’s words float through me, and finally, they settle and I realize that my son not only feels loved, but he knows that he’s loved. In a world where so many words are left unsaid, and feelings are left for granted, I’ve purposed within myself to love my son intentionally. To me, that means capturing moments with him and reinforcing not only the emotion, but the meaning of my love for him.

I tell him I love you often, but at least once a day, I do it with intention.

I pause whatever we’re doing, stop in the moment, and look into his eyes. “Cub, I love you.” I wait until I see it click, and then I smile, and we hug. Sometimes he says it back, and sometimes he doesn’t, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he knows. What matters is that in that moment, and for the rest of his day, his week, his year, his life, he is loved.

His heart will be full of loves.

On the days that he’s home and I’m not, or he’s at school and I’m at work. On the days when he’s away at college, starting his first real job, or living on his own, I want his heart to be full. I pour it in even though I know the world will poke holes and try to drain it out. I pour it in because I know the world will poke holes and try to drain it out. And somehow, the love keeps coming. This precious gift from God that renews itself in a mother’s heart. It overflows. And, I know that one day, when I’m gone, the love will keep pouring down, into that precious heart. I love you.

We are Fargo

By now, most of us have heard of the Wicked Witch of North Dakota.

She is a woman who has taken it upon herself to judge her fellow “villagers” in the Fargo, Moorehead, and West Fargo triad. Evidently, she feels parents are not doing a good enough job of taking their children’s health in hand and has decided to take matters into her own hands, thoughtfully choosing Halloween to make her stand. How considerate of her.

Without going down the road of the origins of the holiday or arguing who should celebrate what, let’s look at contemporary reality. For all practical purposes, our western Halloween observances are centered on children. We encourage them to enjoy their imaginations on this night over all other nights of the year. We tell them that, on this night, you can be anything you want to be. Superheroes, doctors, astronauts, robots, faeries. On this night, preschoolers toddle down the street, holding the hand of a loved one while wondering at the lights and decorations. They practice saying thank you to the friendly neighbors who smile and give them Tootsie Rolls. Older children spray imaginary spider webs while saving the world one grimacing jack-o-lantern at a time. The grandma next door admires a princess’ tiara and everyone hits the house on the corner because they give out “the good stuff.” Do I even need to pull out my The Great Pumpkin wildcard?

Unfortunately, for some children, thanks to the WWoND, the dream will be cut short because, instead of the candy their “slimmer” friends receive, they will be handed a slip of paper. The friendly pumpkin on the corner will serve as a temporary distraction from the cruel message it precedes. Some younger children might not be able to read the words, and some might not understand. But others will. Say, the ones 6 or 7 years old and up. The words will say something like, “You [sic] child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season.” But the message…ah, now, that will say something much, much more.

To the child who receives such a letter, the message will be many things. Things like, “There’s something wrong with you.” “You don’t deserve to have the same fun tonight as your friends.” “You’re not good enough.” You’re not pretty enough.” “You’re not athletic enough.” “You don’t live up to my expectations.”
Labeling. Judgement. Cruelty. Injury. Harm. Brokenness. Legacy.

Some of these children and their families may have the ability to laugh it off. And, I say, more power to you. But, for some of the children who will receive such a note, on a holiday that is supposed to lay all children equal, the effects can be devastating, lasting far into their lifetimes.

For several years, there have been increasing reports in the media of children and young adults who have taken their lives due to being overwhelmed by bullying, cyber-bullying, and general harassment over their physique. Too fat, too thin, too tall, too short. These little souls had swords of words driven into them by people who were thoughtless and cruel. Those acts crushed their self esteem and tore their hearts asunder, and somewhere on a table in a house on a street in North Dakota, a woman has a stack of paper daggers aimed at the hearts of the children of her city.

I do not know her name. I don’t know her address. I don’t know her. But, I have felt the pain she is willing to throw at the innocents of Fargo, and there is one point that we agree on. It does take a village. It takes a village made up of a nation that is willing to stand up for its children. To protect them from cruelty. To protect their innocence. To protect their dreams and their futures by pouring so much love and encouragement into them that the harsh words of a stranger fall feebly to the ground and blow away with the wind.

And so, to the children of Fargo, and their parents, I stand with you. If you knock on a door or ring a doorbell and find yourself face to face with the WWoND, and she hands you a piece of paper, be strong and know this. She is secretly more afraid of you than you are of her, all bullies are.

Forecast for Happiness

Yesterday was going to be special. My husband and I had plans to spend the morning outside with our son – going to the farm park to pick a pumpkin. We took him there for the first time last year, and had a wonderful experience. It had been a beautiful day – cool but sunny and dry. Happy memories in the making captured against a cloudless blue sky.

Cub with pumpkin 2012

We let him wear himself out running the hay maze, indulged in his first pony ride, and took our time walking the pumpkin field to find a pumpkin that was “just right.” It was a perfect day, and I have an entire Facebook photo album to prove it. But, that was last year.

This year, our Saturday started out like most do in our household. Feeding the animals, feeding the humans, running the dishwasher – getting all  the necessaries out of the way so we can enjoy our fun family time. Eventually, I made my way to the bathroom to get ready. I glanced out the little hexagonal window and my heart sank. The world was grey. Dark and heavy. The trees lining our backyard stood in silhouette against a sky full of clouds.

In the time it took me to put on my makeup and curl my hair, my day was brought to ruin. The pumpkin field was probably going to be too muddy, the air was going to be too cold, and there would be no blue sky backdrop to carry our memories over until next year.

As I flipped off the light switch, determined to soldier on and find a way to salvage the day, I glanced once more out the window, and what I saw took my breath away. Sunshine and blue skies! No shadows, no grey, no heaviness. No clouds. I craned my neck in all 8 directions of that tiny window and saw no hint of the tragic day I had seen just moments before.

Happiness restored, I gathered jackets, keys and camera, eager once again to embark on our glorious adventure. Even so, this little lesson was not lost on me. With the whisp of temporal misty darkness, I had been willing to cast judgment on my own future as well as that of my family. Sadly, I was quick to assume and accept that our day together was not going to be all that it could be. Somehow, it would be less than because it wasn’t going to be as good as last year. Thankfully, our stories are alive, changing from moment to moment, just like the weather.

I was wrong about our day, but not because the clouds rolled away and the sun came out. Not because our day was rescued by a last minute blue sky. I was wrong about our day because I had forecast my happiness based on my observed circumstances. As I began to think about it, I began to wonder what would have happened if the weather had not changed. Had I really been willing to lay down the fullness of my joy just because some clouds got in the way?

We have all experienced dark times – those clouds that seem to linger. And, it is tempting to lay down our joy. But, we don’t have to. According to the Bible, the joy of the Lord is our strength. That being said, I have long thought that joy has been greatly underestimated in our culture. We (I) need to make a daily endeavor to embrace joy. When we choose joy, even on the cloudy days, we gain strength. And, since joy seems to beget joy, we will encourage and empower those around us, like an infectious laugh.

So shine on, my friends. Shine on.

A Few Words on Love and Motherhood


I had given up on the idea of being a mom. My first husband didn’t want children, and by the time I reconnected with my college sweetheart and we married, I was 38 years old. I remember thinking that what I had was enough – a wonderful niece and two nephews, a great-niece and nephew, and the many children of my friends. There were plenty of little ones to love. This must simply be the path I was meant to trod, and I told myself that I was content.

Then came the evening of May 6th, 2008. I remember that, all day, something seemed different. Nothing was wrong. I wasn’t sick or overly emotional – no sense of impending doom clouded over me. I just felt like something monumental was about to occur, like the sacred alignment of certain stars that only happens once in a thousand years. My two little stars turned out to be two little lines that mystically materialized in a tiny plastic window, and my life changed forever.

Overall, my pregnancy was uneventful. My age automatically put me on the “high risk” list, but I had no complications other than fatigue, swollen ankles, and a persistent, sometimes violent, aversion to clam chowder.

As my due date approached, it was determined that I should have a C-section. The thought of surgery made me nervous, and the thought of being awake during said surgery honestly kind of freaked me out. But, as with all things that are unavoidable and hold the promise of a happy outcome, I decided it was best to make peace with my fears and focus on the positive.

The day of my son’s birth was like liquid – I stepped into the gentle, sure current of a peaceful but powerful river and trusted that all would be well. Kind nurses, a thoughtful husband who asked for a private moment of prayer, and a doctor who held my confidence moved in concert to ease me into motherhood. I remember the doctor saying, “Marilyn, he has lots of hair!” I remember my husband’s smile, the cry of little lungs hanging in the air like music, and seeing the bundled face of an angel.

It would be some time before I got to hold him, but the moment came, and it was oh, so sweet. And, then, I felt it. This wave of something welling up from within, like sunshine and eternity spilling out from some hidden place. I was overtaken by a new kind of love, and my heart was remade.

I watched as my husband held his son and sang to him before having to leave for the night, new worlds opening up in the eyes of the man I love.

Then, we were alone, this new little being and me. Because of my surgery, I couldn’t pick him up when he cried or stand to change his diaper, so I insisted on holding him in my arms. All night.

I sang to him What a Friend we have in Jesus because I wanted him to know he need never feel alone. I told him I’d love him forever, and together, we could make it through anything. I told him to be brave and happy because never a day would go by that he wouldn’t be loved. I held him, gazed into his eyes, smelled his hair, let his tiny fingers curl around my pinky, and just lost myself in the bliss of the miracle of my baby boy.

Eventually, there was a shift change sometime in the night, and an older, wiser nurse came to me saying, “Darlin’, you need some rest too. Let me hold him for a while.” It took some prompting, but I let him go with the promise that she would bring him back soon.

I lay back against my pillow, closed my eyes, and smiled. I thought I had plumbed the depths of love in all its glory and pain, but I was wrong. I began to suspect that, actually, I had known very little about love. Until then.