It's a phrase we hear often in our home. "My other mom bought me that" or "my other mom used to [fill in the blank]." One Friday as we were walking from the zoo to the parking lot, one of my girls nonchalantly said to me, "I have lots of moms."
Lots of moms.
Oh sure, many children might say the same thing about their best friend's mom or a special woman from church who mothered them. I know many families who refer to special friends as their "adopted sister" or "adopted son."
But, my kids mean it. I am at least their fourth mother.
Can you imagine? For my second youngest, that means he has been in more homes than he is years old. He has missed out on crucial bonding experiences that can only be restored by God's grace.
The other day we were listening to the Frozen soundtrack. At one point, my 5 y/o tells me that "this is the part where her parents die on the boat, but that's ok because she can get a new mom and dad, right?"
That makes sense, though, through the eyes of my children. When one mom is gone, another becomes available. Normal, right? For them, yes.
We talk a lot about family in our home. Our children don't all come from healthy families, so they often simply don't know what a healthy family looks like. We find that we are regularly having to define family to them. ("Families walk together at the zoo." "Families have good days and bad days." "Families help and support each other.") My kids know that I while I am not their first mother, I am their last. But knowing and deeply understanding aren't always the same. I am frequently reminded that it takes thousands of positive experiences to counterbalance only a few negative ones.
A few weeks ago, we had a wind storm that knocked a big oak tree into our house, causing damage to our roof and attic structure. Oddly enough, on the outside the tree looked quite healthy. There were no bare limbs and the leaves were full and green. But, there had been some rotting due to insects and animals, and that was precisely where the trunk broke. What's outside isn't always what's inside. That's why God looks at our hearts.
On the outside, my children are beautiful and look normal, but on the inside, there is so much unseen hurt. This hurt permeates our days and turns even the most benign occurrences into triggers. Not getting a glass of water before bedtime can result in a 45 minute tantrum. Choosing the wrong park for a morning play time can inspire a screaming fit coupled with hitting or biting. But underneath it all is hurt - pain too deep for words. And, this is where things sometimes breakdown. It is also why we sometimes rock our oldest at nighttime or spoon-feed our almost 4-year-old. Emotional ages in our family do not mirror chronological ones.
One of my girls will frequently tell me she likes me. She has not yet told me she loves me, although she often says she is glad to be in our home. In a way, I admire her honesty. She isn't ready to love me, and that's ok, because every other adult that she has loved is no longer around. But, she also isn't ready to say it just to score points with me. I give her credit for that.
The other day at my parents' home, my son looked at my mother and said, "Mommy belongs in our family." So profound for him. Here is an almost 4-year-old whose vocabulary consisted mostly of parroting words back to us just five months ago. He struggles with sorting items such as shapes or colors. And yet, somewhere deep inside, our gracious God is beginning to heal his heart. Not only was our son able to initiate such a thought, he was able to understand what it meant to belong.
"And I will restore or replace for you the years that the locust has eaten...."
Thanks be to God. Amen.