In my mind I was wearing a cape. I was Wonder Teacher. I swirled my golden Lasso of truth over toddlers and they both admitted to and apologized for biting their friends. I tossed my Golden Tiara and unruly pre-k students immediately gave me their attention. My Bracelets of in destructibility protected me from tears, whining and arguments with incoherently exhausted little ones. I had skills. Preschool teaching skills. When I spoke? Kids listened. They even -mostly- did what I said. My days were spent playing in multi colored macaroni tables, sand tables, serving meals and cleaning up meals, potty training and teaching pre-reading skills and social skills. I loved it and I was good at it.
I remember my last day as Wonder Teacher. I stood near the classroom door at 5:30 watching totally out of control parents attempt to stuff wriggly preschoolers into jackets. I tried not to look smug as they struggled to do what I’d been doing with ease all day- getting their children to obey. I smiled as I moved in to rescue those having the hardest time. I used my tough but loving teacher voice. It worked. I hope they thought my smile was just my love for their kids…..it was.
I was also smiling about my secret. I’d taken an at home pregnancy test that weekend. I was excitedly: pregnant. As I watched those little bodies file out of my classroom, I was convinced 100% that I was going to be fabulous. Actually- I was pretty sure I was going to be a better parent than every one of those people who had just rushed out of my room.
I was ready. I had skills. I had a teacher voice and I wasn’t afraid to use it. I knew the warning signs for toddler meltdown. I knew scheduling and the value of structure.
I was also: 21. A newly wed. And yes-we planned our pregnancy. We’d been together for years and we were sure we were ready for kids.
That night I ended up in the emergency room. I remember the invasive touches in the place I was feeling the most fear ever. I remember a few of the doctor’s words: “Spotting. Threatening to miscarry. Nothing to do but go home- try bed rest and wait.”
Overnight, I went from Wonder Teacher to paranoid bed rest wreck. I cried through Oprah. I cried through bags of Salt and Vinegar potato chips. I cried when my husband had to do laundry after work. I cried when I had to call work and let them know I was hanging up my Wonder Teacher outfit for good. I cried when I had to drop my college class. I also: continued to spot. Just enough to keep me on bed rest. I spotted just enough to cause panicked calls to my husband at work saying things like: “I think this is it. Don’t bother coming home….you’ll be too late.”
Except it wasn’t. Somehow that little guy refused to let go. So did I. I prayed.
I had never felt so scared, out of control, or lonely in my life.
Eventually, bed rest ended. Along with any residual ideas that I was “ready” to be a parent. Tiara? Pretty sure that was accidentally flushed during a bout of morning sickness. Golden Lasso of truth? Snapped in two when I used it to hoist myself out of my bed rest recliner. (Bought that chair on clearance at Sears- it never did work right.) Indestructible Golden Bracelets? Hocked at a pawn shop to help pay mounting doctor bills, rent and to make up for the instantaneous loss of income that came with bed rest. I had nothing. I didn’t even have friends.
We’d all “grown apart.” Marrying young caused the first round of loss. Getting pregnant (on purpose-yet) caused the second. I suddenly didn’t have much in common with college students or smug preschool teachers. t church- I didn’t fit in with the “moms” or the “college and careers.” I was in woman-limbo.
I was alone with the stark realization that: I was not ready for this. No amount of book reading or college classes on early childhood development had prepared me for this. My poor husband loved me the best he could. Honestly? I longed for someone with a uterus with a “no vacancy sign” to talk to.Actually- I needed someone who’d felt as inadequate in the face of becoming a parent as I did– regardless of the status of their uterus. I listened to a LOT of talk radio. (Enough to give me nightmares.)
We moved to a tiny duplex on a dirt road. We decorated the nursery. We were properly baby showered. I think I planned it for the most part. It was held in our tiny place. Like I said: no real friends at that point. I’d pretty much withdrawn from life, due to necessity and bed rest and probably some depression.
After a failed external-version (google it… it’s when doctors try to turn a breech baby from the outside… and yes- t’s as horrible as it sounds- unless it works and saves you from a c-section. Which: ours didn’t.) we scheduled a birthdate. December 13th, 1989. a most fabulous and frightening day.
Fabulous- because I finally had become a mom. And frightening because: I had no clue how to “do mothering.”
Apparently, there’s a big difference between being “Wonder Teacher” and “Mom.”
The baby cried. I cried. I was pretty sure I’d already failed at mothering before we’d even let the hospital. The day we were given our “release” I held that baby like someone was going to take him away from me. I was pretty sure they shouldn’t- couldn’t just send us on our way. Didn’t they know? Hadn’t they figured out that we were clueless? As my husband pushed the wheelchair to the front door- I kept thinking DPS was following us, ready to snatch the baby and give him to someone better prepared.
There were nights just a few weeks later, when I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that I kind of wished they had. If I was a DPS worker- I wouldn’t have approved myself as a parent. Because the baby was born in December- we pretty much didn’t leave the house until Spring. Remember: This was back when we were pretty sure that babies died immediately on contact with outsiders and cold…. things have changed. Thank you Jesus for Carseat cozy’s and Purell. By spring I was ready to lose my mind.
I couldn’t even imagine what had possessed me to think I was ready for this. Books? Oh my word what they DIDN’T talk about was exactly what I needed to know. Things like: How not to wreck your kid in the first 12 months. How to make sure no one starves. How to have sex with a baby in the room. (Or not, because it will ruin them for life.) How to not leak breast milk at church. How to feel like a woman when you’re milking yourself like a cow with a breast pump. How to be a mom when your mom worked and you can’t really remember what it was like before she was working….How to be a mom when you grew up in a messed up home. How to not have your brains turn to mush from PBS overdose. Yeah- those things? Generally- not covered.
There is only so much talk radio and Christian MotherGoose one can hear before needing a nice little vacay- inpatient somewhere. By Easter, I was due for one. But, I didn’t have time. After all- I was now: Mom.
One day- while listening to (yet more) Christian talk radio- (It was my desperate attempt to learn how to be a mother.I didn’t know where else to turn.) I heard about this thing called “MOPS” it was apparently a place where jacked up moms got together to get it together.. and talk about and care about each other. Oh- and you didn’t have to have it all together to go. Thank God.
That Sunday I marched up to my Pastor, and told him we needed one of those groups. He replied: “You need to meet Liz C! She’s getting ready to start one.” My hands got sweaty and my heart pounded. Maybe there was hope for me after all.
Soon after, I was “appointed” MOPPETS coordinator (Those preschool teaching skills weren’t a total waste.) and I found a place to be and to be a part.
I’m often asked: “Why? Why would you volunteer that much time and resources to MOPS?”
My answer: Because every mom matters. Every mom needs a place to be- and be a part. Every mom needs a safe place to admit she’s clueless and to realize she isn’t. Every mom needs a place to share the things she’s learning along the way. Because: over the years- places I had holes, in both my heart and my mothering- have been healed by God through the people and teaching he brought me through MOPS.
Because, if we want to see a world where people love one another- we need to learn to do it. MOPS is where I learned that. MOS is where I went from helpless to hopeful. MOPS is where I learned I don’t have to have all the answers- and it’s ok to get help. MOPS is where I learned to lean into God. Not be afraid of Him. Once I had headspace for more than Barney-MOPS is where I learned to search the bible for answers I longed for, and to deal with the tension when I could’t find them. MOPS is where I found my voice.
MOPS is where my smugness and helplessness were put to rest. (And I don’t mean bed rest. That’s way too impermanent.)
I don’t know how you found your way here today- but- maybe you’re looking for something or somewhere like that. Maybe you just want to know- you’re not alone. You’re not.
If you’re a mom- and you need some of the things I mentioned— click here: MOPS search for a group in your area.
If there isn’t one: START ONE. Trust me- if I can do it- so can you.
Dear Lord- I remember my smugness. I remember the overwhelming loneliness of bed rest. I remember the panic of realizing I actually didn’t have a clue how to be a mom. I remember the fear of wrecking my child. (Verdict’s still out on that, I suppose.) I remember the help and hope I found at MOPS. Lord- be with every mom who finds her way here today. Let her know she’s not alone. Let her know she is loved and that there is a pace for her at MOPS. That we need her. Because we are better when we mother together. I love you Lord- and thank you for using MOPS in my life- please help me to give back…. and to make a difference for others- every mom matters, lord- you promise that you gently lead those who have young…. lead us Lord- to you and to each other- in Jesus name- amen.