I did not want kids.
I did not want a husband.
I wanted a doctorate. I wanted to wear silk suits. I wanted to teach English and write books and hide away in a mysterious house with a cat and read during rainstorms.
And then, somehow, I married the sweetest man, and we had the sweetest little girl. And she clung to me like wind to a vine, and I could not leave her.
My husband and I lived in old houses that we could afford on a young man’s salary. Houses that we made into homes, houses where we saw architecture, and real wood, and potential. Houses where I sewed curtains, and peeled stickers off the walls, and painted cheap paneling a bright and glossy white. Houses where my husband fixed all the broken things, drains and drawers and door locks.
We planted gardens in those places, patches of tall sunflowers that camouflaged the piles of trash in the train yard behind us, onions and tomatoes and peppers that made us feel rich when the harvest came in.
Houses that we were sometimes mocked for choosing. “You guys are better than this,” we heard.
Those houses are beautiful places in my memory, places where we brought tiny babies home wrapped in soft blankets, where we entertained lifelong friends, where we learned the real stuff of marriage, self-sacrifice and forgiveness. And incidentally, places where we lived below our means instead of beyond. Where we saved money that launched us into home ownership later on, when those same mockers were still renting the same houses on the same dusty streets.
Coffeehouse drinks were a treat. I did not buy kids’ meals when we met at fast food places for playdates. Eating out was a quarterly event. I got my hair cut short and then let it grow for months to skip haircuts. I did not buy designer clothes unless I found them at Goodwill. I pinched my pennies so hard they squealed. And it was challenging. And so rewarding. And I did not feel sorry for myself. I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Ma, homesteading on the plains, building something for the future.
I did not feel sorry for myself, partly because I was determined not to, but also because of the community of women where I lived.
I raised my young family in a small town in Kansas. I saw women there, educated and socially aware, choosing to stay home with their families.
I say “choosing,” because it was a conscious sacrifice for most of us. I could have gone back to school while my baby was small, but she did not do well away from me. My youngest is not the same; she would have been ok. But my older kids, they needed me in a different way, and I felt it. I surrendered status, cash, respect, and those silk suits for them.
And so did many women I know, for their children.
We cut coupons. We did our own nails. We groomed our own dogs. We cut our kids’ hair, sometimes with greater success than others, but there’s always a hat. We went to yard sales, and we held our own sales every season to earn a little extra cash.
My kids needed me more than they needed another activity or another plastic toy. And though it hurt my pride, they needed me more than I needed to be known as Dr. Professor. They needed me more than I needed a new car or clothes.
This is not a manifesto of the stay-at-home mom, by the way. It just happens to be my story. I know women who work outside the home and do it well, whose lives are balanced, and their children are great, happy, well-mannered, and well-adjusted.
It is, however, an acknowledgement that both are needed. No woman should be dismissed. All women in all callings are needed.
I’m glad I have women doctors and not just men to choose from for a breast exam. I like going to boutiques and having my hair cut and eating in restaurants where women run it all; I like their style. I’m glad there are women working in the stores where I buy my food and my dishes and furniture; I appreciate their opinions and their conversation.
The marketplace was just not the life that God had for me.
And I saw how much women are needed in all arenas as I stayed home and watched the world go by.
My house was always the “kid house” because I wanted it to be, and also because I was often the only adult home in the neighborhood. We had after-school snacks for whoever showed up. I thanked God for coupons and for my friend who taught me to clip them like a boss, and I stocked up on crackers and cereal, 20 cents a box.
One time we lived next door to a little boy, about six or seven, whose situation was not the best. The police were there every other night, and his big brother trained fighting dogs in their yard.
He came over almost every day. I saw that his coat was so dirty from wiping his nose on it that the sleeve had become like a small glacier, hard and flat and stiff. He let me wash it for him while he played with my daughter. When he took it off, I saw little round sores on his wrists. I asked if they were cigarette burns. He said yes. I was scared that his family would know I was the one who called, but I contacted SRS. They sent someone to his house. He got a case worker. Things got better after that, he told me later. The man who had burned him didn’t come around as much.
Our porch was always full of kids. Sometimes they stole from me or did sexy dances in our yard or walked up and down the street in bikinis. I scolded them like they were my own kids. My house, my food, my kids, my rules. You gonna get it if you eat snacks at Momma’s house.
No matter how I got on to them, they never stopped coming back.
He who disciplines a child loves that child.
And a child somehow knows it.
We had mani-pedi parties for anyone who wanted their nails done for the first day of school. I had video game parties for any teenager home alone in the summer. I helped with homework. I took them for ice cream. I bought kids’ Bibles and told them about Jesus And, in certain circles, I am still famous for my milkshakes. When word hits the street that Mom’s blender is running, my kitchen is full of kids waiting to put in their order.
These kids have broken my furniture, raided my freezer, and dropped glasses full of ice cream in my kitchen. They have mocked me on the way out the door after sitting in my house for hours, and I call out after them, “HELLO, I CAN HEAR YOU.” And those same kids come back the next day to get a break from their silent houses.
This winter, we had the chance to take a little boy sledding with us. His parents both work and don’t live together. I don’t know their story, and I know they are doing a good job with their son. But after a day of sledding, snowball fights, forts, and hot chocolate, he said, “This was the best day of my life.” I don’t know why, but it still makes me cry.
I don’t ask all women to do what I’m doing. I just want all women to be appreciated. Every woman in the neighborhood doesn’t have to stay home. Just a couple is enough to keep an eye on things.
Women, we need you, everywhere you are. Moms, you make a difference, everywhere you are.
Thanks for doing what you do. Thank you for all the invisible work that gets done because you sacrifice yourself.
Thank you to the doctors and lawyers who study and work late into the night, because you care about humanity, and then get up early with your own kids. Thank you to the women who clean other women’s houses and check me out at the grocery store with smiles on your faces, even though I know your backs are tired and your feet hurt. And thank you to the brilliant women who decide to stay in houses and guard the home front.
None of your work is wasted. There is need of your touch in every area.
A year or so ago, I heard this phrase in prayer, “The Year of the Women.”
At first I thought it was limited to 2016 in some way, but a few days ago, I was praying over it again. “Lord. I thought when you said, ‘The Year of the Women,’ it was that one year, but You keep bringing it up.”
And I heard this in reply, “When I say something, I do not undo it. I build on it.”
I was reminded of the many references to time in the Bible, the seeming relativity of days and years in certain scriptures.
In 2016, I sensed a season of women being heightened, not some emergence that would be highlighted and then fall away. Looking back, it makes sense. Women would not surge forth and then do nothing with their growth and new sense of purpose and confidence. Women continue to be set free.
At the time, I wrote several posts about it, and the first couple were simple and empowering. Things like “God is raising you up! He is strengthening you, women! You have a voice–use it!”
I kept getting more and more insight.
And then I saw the most beautiful part. This movement of women looks different within the church than the movement of women in the world. I kept hearing this phrase, “Going up together.” I kept hearing, “You women will go up, but you will go up together. And because of this your families will be covered. No one falls through the cracks in my kingdom.”
I saw many women standing in circles, linking arms like fishnets. And I saw all the many responsibilities that women have and are so often dismissed.
But these responsibilities make up the fabric of our society.
Things like caring for children, for homes, for older relatives, looking out for neighbors, creating safe places in communities and neighborhoods, just by being present. Often volunteer organizations are run by women, as well as Bible study groups, after school clubs, playgroups for toddlers, and support groups for a million other things.
As these women stood in these circles, with arms locked, they were catching each other’s responsibilities. I saw children and elderly people in wheelchairs, floating down, and the women caught them, together. I saw these women making meals for each other, I saw them cleaning house for each other. And in this way, they were able to go up, together, with no child staying home alone, no family going without meals, no woman having to miss an appointment or meeting because she had to sit with granddad.
The women covered each other.
They carried each other.
We don’t always bend easily to the solutions God shows us. They nick at the flesh. Community has a way of doing that. You have to deal with actual flawed messy people to have it.
But God just loves it. He loves throwing us all together and seeing how we overcome and grow and irritate and infuriate and learn to appreciate each other.
That is my prayer this Mother’s Day. That you know how valuable you are. Your very own calling. And you can look at your sister and know how valuable she is without feeling diminished in any way. That you can celebrate each other’s gifts, because her gifts help you accomplish your dream, and your gifts help her accomplish her dream.
You sisters, you need each other.
And you go up, together.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Thank you for all you do.