Tricycling 101

For four years I’ve stayed in close proximity to a secondhand, red and blue tricycle as it rolled across pavement and down slanted sidewalks.  The plastic may be faded and the tassels may be missing or tattered, but this tricycle has a wicked rear bucket that hauls loads of rocks and toys each day.  Most of these four years, my back was uncomfortably hunched as I pushed the bike along with my outstretched hand.  More recently, I have stayed close by as Parker, my two-year-old son, slowly scoots up and down the sidewalk in front of our house. 

However, all of this changed a few weeks ago.  I watched as Parker placed his bare feet upon the faded plastic pedals and made one full rotation causing the tricycle to move forward by a few inches.  Surprised, he stopped and looked up at me, a proud grin quickly growing on his face.  “I did it!” he exclaimed. “Watch, Mommy, watch!” 

He carefully mounted both feet back on the pedals and pushed them around a few times while I gently nudged the back of his seat, giving him a little momentum.  This went on for a bit, and then I watched him keep going all my himself.  He rolled down the sidewalk in slow waves of motion, the pedals moving around and around while Parker rode his tricycle!

Outwardly, I cheered and clapped excessively.  But I was surprised by how I felt as I watched. I can remember pure excitement for each new milestone that Jackson, his older brother, acquired, but this time was different. You think you kinda sorta maybe know some stuff with the second child, but time and time again you learn you still don’t know all that much. 

Watching Parker roll along left me feeling bittersweet.  Two-year-olds change so quickly. In the same week, he started wearing underwear AND learned to ride a bike.  I felt a weary ache knowing that I may never push a little tricycle down the sidewalk again.  In a flash, that season in motherhood was over.  Of course, my back quietly claimed a victory for my posture, but my heart experienced the loss of being needed, which is so much of what motherhood is all about.  

I have decided that this course in Tricycling 101 is one of the first steps in learning how to embrace our children’s ever growing independence.  It’s a taste of what is to come.   Eventually, I will send little boys off to school and to their friend’s house.  They will ride bikes around the neighborhood; they will drive off in a car; they will move away and build their own lives.  So much of motherhood is learning to let go. 

The days that followed his first ride were a bit rough on Parker’s knees as his new skill resulted in quite a few spills. He would push too hard with one foot and the bike would teeter out of balance, tip over and send him tumbling onto the sidewalk.  I would pick him up and hold him close and then bandage up his skinned knees. At times, he would grow frustrated, pushing with equal force on both pedals.  The bike would stand motionless, resulting in loud wails and whining as he tried to figure out how to move the tricycle forward. But as the days passed and he worked at pedaling, he learned to push with alternating feet.  The pedals began to move smoothly in their circular motion.  He was gaining ounces of independence.  

All new ventures, whether it’s riding a bike or becoming a mother, are challenging for our hearts and minds and bodies.  We don’t get it all just right when we start something new.  We look a bit uncoordinated.  We fall over.  We get frustrated. But if we keep at it, the end result is worth all the effort and all the mishaps.  We learn we are capable of the hard stuff.  

Yesterday Jamie and I took the boys to the Greenway. For the first time, we loaded two small bikes into the van and walked along the river while the boys rode their bikes together.  This time, it wasn’t bittersweet at all – it was beautiful. We even made it ten whole minutes before someone started whining. 

Parker has passed his course in Tricycling 101, and I think I’m going to pass it too.  I’m not sure which class I’ll take next, but I’m hoping to enroll in Boogers Aren’t Food 101 or Beers For Moms 101. In the meantime, we will just keep on pedaling, around and around, down the sidewalk, along the river, savoring the simple motion and the newfound freedom that is held on the wheels of an old, red and blue trike.

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Homeless and Hungry

My two young boys and I were sitting at a stop light on Elm Avenue patiently waiting to get on Interstate 581. Up ahead, a man stood on the concrete divider holding a sign that said, “homeless and hungry.” I prepared myself for the non-encounter. The same scene has unfolded hundreds of times in my life so I went into autopilot.  

I shut out the figure approaching. I steeled my heart. I looked straight ahead. I contemplated locking my car doors.  

Jackson noticed the man and asked, “Mommy, why is that man holding a sign?” I gave my best non-answer, “I’m not sure, baby.”  

We continued to wait while he slowly walked closer.

Soon the light turned green and the cars in front of me began to move. The homeless man was right beside our vehicle by now; just as I gently pressed the gas pedal, Parker yelled out his open window, “Hey, man,” just like he was calling to a friend. There was no fear in his voice. No steeling his heart. No avoidance of eye contact. It was one human acknowledging the presence of another human. Parker’s blue eyes saw what I had missed. He saw humanity first.  

I thought about this moment long past our drive home. I thought about how we each can be defined by various labels, how we sometimes build walls with our categories, and how we often fail to acknowledge humanity first and foremost. Countless labels strolled through my mind.

He’s homeless.
She’s Spanish.
He’s gay.
She’s a Democrat.
They’re wealthy.
He’s Christian.
She’s vegan.
They’re Muslim.
He’s poor.
She’s Japanese.
They’re Republicans.  
He’s straight.

There are bits of truth in each label as we often identify with certain ideals, beliefs, and groups. But sometimes, the labels drive us away from each other – they uncover quiet seeds of fear or mistrust. They divide the world into “us” and “them.” However, when we shed our labels, we are merely human. Underneath each label there is only “us.” We must dare to dive below the surface, to faithfully cross boundaries. In walking toward humanity we discover hearts and souls akin to our own. 

Sometimes, the division between us is so vast and deep, it seems impossible we will ever find our way toward recognizing humanity first. Each day we are constantly reminded of our physical, social, religious, economic, and political differences. How will we ever truly connect with each other through this exhausting maze of conflicting labels? 

But then I remember Parker in the backseat. I wonder if maybe it’s not as difficult as it seems. Maybe all of us have the capacity to know each other better. Maybe it is as simple as we make it. Maybe it starts with a grin, or a nod, or the wave of a hand as we call forth to another soul, “Hey, man!” Maybe that is the spark that ignites the flame that builds connection.

May our eyes meet and connect.
May our voices speak and connect.
May our hearts draw close and connect.
May our souls be brave enough to know each other well.  
Beyond labels. Beyond fear. 

“When we get close to each other, we stop being afraid. It’s just the way of things. Fear can’t survive proximity.” Glennon Doyle Melton

Ode To Motherhood 

Motherhood is the warmth that washes over you the moment the nurse places your swaddled baby in your shaky arms. The way your heart soars with love and pride and good intention. It is snuggles and kisses and sheer amazement for the tiniest toes you’ve ever seen. It’s swaying back and forth to a rocking chair’s creaky rhythm while you watch delicate eyelids grow heavy with sleep. It’s waking every three hours to feed a hungry belly, the way exhaustion becomes permanently intertwined with life. It is a brand new kind of love.

Motherhood is determined hands grasping both of your pointer fingers while bare feet wobble across a cluttered floor. It’s riding a feverish wave of firsts – first smile, first food, first word, first step, first birthday. It’s piles of diapers, then potty training, then pee sprayed across the bathroom floor. It’s please and thank you, no and NO! It’s bandaging scraped up knees and snuggling under warm blankets while reading books before bedtime. It’s tantrums and spilled milk and chaos, lots of chaos.  

Motherhood is answering questions all day long. What day is today? Do I have school? What’s for breakfast? Can I have chocolate? Why not? Where are my dinosaurs? Did somebody play with them? Why is it raining? When will it stop? Can we play in the rain? Where are my boots? Motherhood is a complete absence of silence.

Motherhood is giggles and sticky fingers while baking chocolate chip cookies. It’s roasting marshmallows by the fire and catching lightening bugs just after the sun sets. It’s slides and swings and backyard baseball. It’s building forts with sheets draped across living room furniture. It’s high fives and hugs. It is seeing the world once again with the inherit wonder of fresh, young eyes.

Motherhood is getting a shower and realizing the kids conspired to go outside wearing only their underwear while they “mow” the front yard in January. It’s looking like a fool, everyday. It’s laughing at yourself, at your kids, at your own insanity. It’s minutes that feel like hours. It’s sobbing, whining, pleading, and arguments. It’s cooking dinner for children who refuse to eat for entire years. It’s waging an endless war on crumbs scattered across the kitchen counter. Motherhood is, at times, quite ugly.

Motherhood is listening to fears and worries, both big and small. It’s learning when to step in and when to stand back. It’s second guessing yourself constantly. It’s knowing that we don’t have all the answers. Motherhood is teaching love, kindness, respect, and compassion through our own actions. It’s setting limits. It’s the overwhelming task of nurturing a life, of helping someone thrive.  

Motherhood is always changing as time passes, as kids and Moms grow and become. I won’t pretend to know what is in store. I’ve heard it gets even better. I’ve heard it gets even harder. I imagine that both are true. But I do know I’m thankful for this journey, for my very own Mama, and for the monumental love that Mamas hold in their hearts. 

“MAMA! MAMA! I need you! I pooped! I pooped!” I hear Parker yell from somewhere upstairs. Time to go; motherhood is calling. Let’s just hope he made it to the potty.