It's complicated: on motherhood and needs
I’m on a trip right now to get some immigration issues sorted out. That sounds so boring, I know.
Both my teammate and I were flagged in the process and needed to get a
background check done in Kampala as soon as possible. She was planning on making the 7-hour drive over the coming weekend and staying for 4 days at a guesthouse. 2 days of driving. 2 days of getting business done in the city.
It was suggested I go with her for a lot of reasons. Convenience and necessity both playing a major factor.
Going with her meant I was leaving Mike and the kids in Bundibugyo for half the week.
When I pictured driving away, over the mountains and through the country, as a passenger with the wind in my hair, just gazing out westward towards Congo, well, there was something so right and nourishing about it all.
But leaving my kids also made me anxious.
So I stalled for awhile deciding.
Piper’s spidey sense went up early in the week while I was processing the thoughts and she became significantly more clingy. In the morning when I would leave for my hour-long language lesson, she would cry and ask me why I am always leaving her.
“I’ll be back at 9, in 1 hour. Then we have the rest of the day together.”
“Whhhhhhy do you haaaave to learn Lubwisi?”
She’d stomp her feet on the preschool days and say she wasn’t going because she just wanted to be with me.
“Sweetie, I’ll be at the hospital when you’re in school today. But I’ll be home in the afternoon.”
It’s hard as a parent to walk this line.
Of trying to parent well while also trying to balance other parts of my life; things like learning language, working part-time, going on dates with my husband, going to a weekly Bible study, resting alone (ha!) or going on a walk with a friend.
I want my kids to feel connected to me, and to be filled up with love so that they’re secure in who they are. This week I was concerned Piper wasn’t getting what she needed. And this piggybacked onto recent and consistent expressions of how much she misses America. I was at a loss how to make it better knowing that I was going to have to leave for 4 days. How can I tend to her when I also have to go do things like get fingerprinted in Kampala so I can stay in the country?
I considered bringing her with me.
Although the amount of driving, and traffic, and errands seemed like it would drain her even more.
She’d have to quarantine from school and friends for a week after we got back to Bundibugyo- which would be pretty miserable for everyone.
But the deciding factor was that the process of getting fingerprints could take an entire day at the police station. With a 4 year old? No thanks.
It was the middle of last week when I started laying the subconscious groundwork about me leaving. Bedtime is always great for that. My girls wanted a story about a time where my sister or I got so hurt we bled. Fun times.
“No one ends up bleeding in this story… but… do you want to hear about a time that my mom left me?”
I made it sound dramatic for buy-in, which was immediate.
I told them how my mom went on a trip to Paris, which was a different country! And she was gone for a really long time! (No more than 2 weeks, but I really stressed the weeks part) And I missed her, but I mostly just remember having a lot of fun with people who loved me. Then at the end, she came home… with treats!
I think I told it well enough that by the end, they were quiet in thought, maybe even wishing I’d go away too.
My motivation in telling that story was obviously to prepare them for Friday when I did tell them I was leaving. I had a moment and wondered if God possibly parents his children in that way too. Does he subconsciously prepare us for really big things that will happen to us in the future, by bringing people into our lives who will speak their stories of survival and resilience into our own?
Mike told the girls the next day, “there’s going to be a day, very soon, where you guys get to choose everything!”
One of the biggest issues third culture kids struggle with is lack of control over their lives. We are often looking for ways to intentionally give our kids more control because of this, and I have also changed my parenting in certain areas to allow for this. Mike’s idea for a free-for-all day was genius on multiple levels.
“Saturday” he said. “You guys get to chose what we do, what we eat, what movies to watch, if you want to do a rest-time or not…”
The thought of it all made Piper snicker gleefully into her hands.
Winnie screamed and ran around the house, jumping on our couches and generally acting wild. Boston did the same, although I’m not sure how much he really understood.
On Friday morning I had to analyze my nerves a bit. They weren’t terrible, but I’m pretty good at pushing the parenting anxiety down real low until it starts to express itself in physical manifestations, like a persistent twitch in my eye. So rather than wait for that time, I decided to invite it to come out and to have a good look at it.
I sat down with a journal and a pen and a quick minute to spare.
Why don’t I want to go on this trip?
1. I feel like they need me right now and I don’t want them to feel abandoned.
2. I can’t stomach imagining Piper crying at night wanting me to tuck her in.
And then… when I got really honest with myself… I pulled this out;
3. There could be an accident while I’m away and one of my kids could die.
4. I could get in a car wreck and my kids would lose their mom.
I moved on.
What could be good about this trip?
1. Alone time, which I desperately need but never feel like I get enough of.
2. Ethiopian food.
5. Running errands with Lindsey.
6. I could look for a rug for the girls room?
7. Not getting kicked out of the country.
I could see it would be good for me to go, I would probably really enjoy a lot of the trip, but I was afraid. I was afraid of the possibility of something bad happening.
It can be so difficult to know what to do with that fear sometimes. I remember after having Winnie I realized that a part of my motherhood, and I’m assuming most women’s, is loving your child so much to the point where the love leads you down pathways to new doors that never existed before. You open them, poke your head into a room filled with ‘what ifs’ and only see absolute devastation.
“What if” this happened… or that happened…or this…or that?
“Do you feel this way too?” I asked Mike one night while he rocked our first newborn to sleep.
“Every time I start thinking like that I immediately pray this really basic prayer. “Jesus help my little girl to grow up big and strong.” and I just keep saying it if I need to. That’s what I do.”
God has asked us to take big risks for His sake. When Mike and I stand in the middle of the decision-making process it sometimes feels like all I see, from every angle, are the doors that house my very worst fears right behind them.
But for my sake, and for the sake of my children, we try not to look out at those doors for too long. I consider them, of course, and I do my due diligence as a mother. But the portal into fear does not rule our life.
Instead, we look up. We look up at Jesus and we ask for His peace as we go through our days.
When I can’t look up, I get down. I get down on my face and I plead for His presence and His gentle guidance.
And He delivers.
It’s who He is.
He delivers us through our fear.
I often see how He addresses the insecurities in my heart, but not in the same way walking through a door and spending time nervously looking around the room at what if’s would do.
His comfort is a magnifying glass, it says “I see you, I love you. Trust me.” It uplifts and inspires me to have more faith.
Our life on earth is not promised to be easy, but He promises to be with us until the end.
There are times when my felt need for His deliverance out of anxious thoughts, or imagined fears, is very real. And this is true every time I leave my kids for an extended trip.
Friday late in the morning I asked Piper if she wanted to make cornbread with me, and as she was blissfully stirring the ingredients around in the big blue plastic bowl, I broke the news about my trip. She didn’t like what I told her, but she was able to handle it.
I let her get messy and grease the pan with a big swab of soft butter.
“How long are you going?” she asked, greasing up and over the sides.
“You’ll have the weekend with your dad, then Monday, and I’ll be home on Tuesday.”
“That’s too long.” She said, pouting.
We poured the batter in and scraped the bowl, watching that final yellow ribbon dribble down and add to the rest.
“Will I get to eat cornbread?” she asked.
“Yep. All weekend. We made a double batch. And tomorrow is the day you get to do whatever you want with Daddy.”
“And tonight is a girls night, just you, me and Winnie.”
She was happy about that too.
It isn’t always easy to figure out something new and exciting to do in Bundibugyo, so we went the pedicure route. In the US, pedicures seem mundane to me. But in rural Uganda, they are exotic. I’ve only painted their nails once, so this was new and special for us.
We borrowed some colorful toenail polish from our teammate, spread blankets out on my bedroom floor, and I pulled out a big bottle of lotion. They stuck their legs out and I massaged handfuls of the lotion their feet, which were creased with thin lines of African mud, even after they had just scrubbed them in the bath.
“I want a pattern.” Winnie said, as if she was running a project and she hired me as her assistant. “Blue then watermelon, then blue then watermelon. Like that, all the way across.”
I struggled to open every bottle with my lotioned up hands (rookie move) but enjoying my daughters like this was delightful.
“I want all the colors.” Piper said. “I want this color of pink, and this other pink, and the blue, and this green…”
I made their toes beautiful, and mine too. Then we snuggled together and watched Curious George as the house got dark.
I got a thoughtful text from my teammate asking:
What will the easiest goodbye for your kids be in the morning- for me to drive the car up there and help you load or for you to come down here?
I was tempted to pack and load everything once they were asleep, and slip away early in the morning unseen, but I want my kids to continue to learn how to say hard good-byes, and to get through it.
Instead I packed my bag in front of my kids before bedtime, so we could talk openly about me leaving. And as if a sweet mercy had been personally delivered that next morning, Piper slept in to 7:15 am in her own bed. Which is extremely rare. I had to wake her out of a deep slumber to let her know I was leaving soon. She didn’t have an hour to pace the house being anxious about me departing, instead I held her and let her fully wake in my arms.
Lindsey brought her car up 15 minutes later while the kids watched me load my things.
It was comforting knowing Mike and I both weren’t leaving, like 2 years ago when we went to the Congo for 2 weeks. That trip was defined by looking up at Jesus, then getting down on my face in prayer. And the ways God showed up and brought us through that will forever be etched into the story of our family. It built our faith. It was one of the hardest things Mike and I have ever done as a couple. But God delivered.
This trip was only 4 days long. We could do this.
What unknowingly lay ahead for me, was a not a quiet car ride at all, but full of lively conversation, of pulling over to identify trees with canary yellow blossoms, of discussing literature and culture, of pointing out incredible Ugandan fabrics and the women wearing them.
Which all ended up being wonderful.
What followed that was a stay in a guesthouse in a neighborhood that lost all electricity. My phone battery dwindled down to 1%, and my computer was dead, and I was happily forced into a tech-free retreat. I sat on the patio of the vacant guesthouse for awhile and closed my eyes as the warm equatorial winds blew. The smell of onions sizzling in hot oil snaked out the kitchen and through the windows.
I had no where to go, no one to tend to, no words to say to anyone.
I finally got the stillness I’d been craving.
I had also brought with me a book I’d been wanting to read, called Sacred Rhythms: Spiritual Practices that Nourish Your Soul, by Ruth Haley Barton.
I slowly read through the first chapter, which as if on cue, was about solitude. And suddenly it seemed this trip was about more than just getting a background check done.
“The longing for solitude is also the longing to find ourselves, to be in touch with what is most real within us, that which is more solid and enduring than what defines us externally. This is our soul, that place at the very center of our being that is known by God, that is grounded in God and is one with God.”
I was being reminded, quiet reflective time isn’t selfish. It’s a vital entry point in connecting with God. As basic as breath.
When I called Mike that night, it seemed our kids were being restored in other ways. Our friends had invited them over for Sunday morning waffles and ice cream. Homemade ice cream.
They also watched movies and ate mac n cheese all weekend.
It’s late Monday night now. The fingerprinting only took 2 hours this morning, so we were able to venture out and we bought groceries and other supplies. I got each of my kids a special treat. I think Piper will love her calculator. She’s a sucker for a calculator.
The power just turned back on- after being out since Saturday, so I’m here using my last quiet moments to read and write a little.
I wonder if there are any parts of this weekend that will carry over to my life in Bundibugyo?
Are children's deep needs for connection and a mother's deep needs for refreshment mutually exclusive? Even though it feels that way right now, I don't think it has to be the case.
Will I be able to set up a better practice of finding a time to quiet my soul? Perhaps a morning every week?
I wonder what Pipers emotional temperature will be when I get back? And Winnie and Boston? I look forward to seeing them, and figuring out new ways to love them well. Maybe more walks with Winnie? Baking more with Piper? The river with Boston? And a long weekend off for Mike.
These are the longings of my heart right now; to enjoy God more fully and love my family more intentionally.