Last week, I met a woman named Nakia. Or actually, first I met her son, an adorable and well-behaved boy of four named Jahking.
I was sitting in a shaded corner on a coffee shop terrace with my laptop when he showed me his toy truck. His mother was on the phone, but she kept a close eye on him as she paced back and forth, back and forth, talking. It didn’t take me long to hear her conversation was not pleasant. She was working her way down a list of emergency shelters she’d gotten from a local police station, trying to find a bed for herself and her son.
While Jahking wolfed down a box of doughnut holes, Nakia shared her story. She’d lost her job, was evicted from her apartment, lost pretty much everything except what she could cart away in a couple of Hefty bags. A recent transport to Atlanta, she didn’t have local family or a support system to fall back on, and her savings didn’t last long. She and Jahking were literally on the streets as of noon that day.
How hard could it be? I thought. Atlanta is a big city, with an extensive support system for the needy. Together we called the rest of the shelters on her list.
As it turns out, finding a bed in this town is like winning the lottery, and here’s why ::
On any given night in Atlanta, there are some 10,000 homeless people — and more than 40 percent of those are women and children — and a shortage of 1,700 beds.
Nakia’s “problem” was that she wasn’t beaten, mentally ill, or a substance abuser, (and the fact I even have to type those words is preposterous), so she didn’t qualify for most of the emergency shelters we spoke to. Other shelters, shelters with long-term programs to help mothers like Nakia regain self-sufficiency, had long waiting lists and extensive application procedures. Every single emergency shelter we spoke to was full and operated on a first-come, first-serve basis, which meant finding a bed is a game of chance. What if Nakia hiked all the way down there and was turned away? Then what?
I wish this story had a happy ending. I wish I could tell you Nakia and Jahking found a bed, a job, a program that fed and clothed and sheltered them until they got back on their feet. What they “found” is a ticket back home, to family and circumstances she thought she’d escaped years ago.
And what I found is a new cause.
This weekend, my daughter and I were working a row of weeds. Actually several rows, but since I promised her we’d only tackle one row a day—the trick to securing her continued return—I was doing the bulk of the weeding. Which I don’t mind. Surrounded by sprouts and vegetables in varying stages of growth, I feel productive, the weather is sunny, warm with a light breeze. Life is good!
When she rose from her aisle of hay and exclaimed, “All done!”
I had to smile. The relief on her face was too funny—and predictable—and I couldn’t help but tease, “Already? Wow.” I surveyed her handiwork. “You’re amazing. How about another?”
“Mom,” she replied sternly, slapping a dirt-covered hand to her hip. “You promised. Only one row.”
“I know, I know.” I chuckled. “It was worth a try.” Dismissed, she trotted off to find her brother.
Only to return an hour later. Kneeling down in the row beside me, she began to pick at weeds. I glanced at her, surprised. “What are you doing? I thought you were finished weeding.”
“I am,” she reassured. “But I’m bored, so I thought I’d come help.”
I sat back on my heels. “You’re always welcome to help. In fact,” I added, “I like being in the garden with you, just us girls.”
This drew a smile from her, but she maintained focus on her task. I resumed my leaf pluck expedition down a line of lettuce and together we worked in silence until she murmured, “Mom, you are Superwoman.”
My heart sung! My spirit soared! “Superwoman?” I tried to conceal my glee. I mean—could it be true? She finally noticed?
Warmed by the sentiment, I smiled, flattered she noticed. It’s because I’ve devoted my life to you, isn’t it? I’ve signed on to be Girl Scout leader, always offer to be school volunteer, ever the reliable athletics chaperone…
Basking in the glow of my daughter’s admiration, my imagination frittered about, enthralled with a sense of validation, honor, and the glorious reward for my years of dedication.
That’s when I lost all sense of good judgment and replied, “That’s so sweet. But you know, baby doll, I’m not Superwoman.” I didn’t want her to invest any time in unrealistic goals and expectations for herself, her future, so I told her, “I’m just a woman, doing what she loves.”
Her expression twisted in confusion. “You love weeding?”
I pulled back. “Weeding?” Now we were both confused. “No…” My hands fell to my sides, landing in dirt. “I was referring to your Superwoman comment.”
“Why did you say I was Superwoman?” I asked, but could feel the hoe slicing through the air, its blade headed straight for me.
“Cause you have endurance! I don’t know any mom who could weed as much as you!”
Ouch. Bubble-filled fantasies popped. My ego deflated. There’s a kick in the rear.
But as those innocent green eyes held me in their gaze, I knew I couldn’t be upset. I had to take her at her word—the one she meant to be a compliment. And while it may not have been the one I had hoped, it was her own, and wholly genuine. Heartfelt.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Rising from my knees, I walked over and placed a kiss on the top of her head. “Thank you, baby. I appreciate that, and it was kind of you to say.”
She beamed, pleased with herself. I grinned, heartened by her self-contentment. Both of us were satisfied with the moment, the kind which may prove scarce as she grows into adolescence.
So me, I took my lump of sugar when and where I could—as any smart mother would. One never knows when the next batch will arrive!
After all, it’s the life called mother. Have any moments to share? 🙂
Working mothers remains a hot debate. Whether you stay home and raise your children, or work outside the home while you partner with your spouse, motherhood and work when spoken in the same breath seems to touch a nerve. Why? Is it because the “sisterhood” is breaking down? Are we turning on one another? Eating our own?
Perhaps we’ve simply lost touch with our common purpose, motherhood. No one can be a mother, but a woman. People can “mother” and “nurture,” but there is no replacement for women. There is also no replacement for feeding our families, and feeding our souls. Should we be forced to give up our professional dreams as we raise our children? Should we be criticized for pursuing our passion if it takes us outside of the home when our children are young?
It’s a question I’ve lived with for many years. I began my life as a career-minded young woman. I secured a good position with a medical sales company and worked for ten years before facing the question. Should I give up my position to stay home and raise my children?
Fortunately for me, I also discovered my passion for writing. It was an easy overlap as I progressed through my second childbirth. 🙂
That’s when I stayed home for good. I stayed home because I wanted to be with my children. I wanted to be the one who cared for them, laughed with them, enjoyed each and every moment with them. But I never lost my desire to work and produce. In fact, it’s one of the best things about my garden! Kids don’t hand out awards, financial or otherwise, when Mom does a great job. They don’t recognize your achievements with promotions or bonuses. They simply smile, give you a hug and draw you a picture.
And sometimes that’s enough. For a while. But when they grow older and begin to live their own lives, you find yourself with time on your hands. For me, I filled it with writing. But not everyone has the flexibility that I did. Not everyone made the choices I made. Does that make them wrong?
Condemn Me Not is my latest release and explores this very topic. Veering from my romantic fiction, this one is all about the mothers and daughters. While I adore romance, women’s issues are near and dear to my heart, as is fleshing them out!
Would love to hear your opinions…;)
My daughter cried herself to sleep last night after thinking about how fast her childhood has gone by—and she’s twelve! Imagine how I feel, I wanted to tell her. I can still remember the wonder of her birth, her clumsy first steps, and her stubborn refusal to speak before she could form complete sentences.
My little get-up-and-go girl wasn’t one for cuddling (like my pass-out-on-my-shoulder son). One of my fondest memories was when she was just shy of a year and had a hundred and four degree temperature. She felt so poorly, that she let me cuddle her for hours in the emergency room. If I close my eyes, I can still remember the feel of her breath on my neck and the soft cotton of her Onesie as I rubbed her back.
I remember when my son called me a “big, strong woman” when I lifted a box of kitchen pans from Costco into our cart. Now that he’s taller than me, I doubt I’ll hear those words again. This week, he’s studying to get his learner’s permit. How in the hell did this happen?
Time is going by faster than I can catalogue all the memories. One of my greatest fears is getting Alzheimer’s and not being able to remember even the smallest things about my life. But before I jump to a disease that wipes my memories away, I also fear that I may be living each day without truly soaking up all the ways I can spend with my loved ones.
For the last fifteen years, I’ve been blessed—blessed beyond compare—to be a stay at home mom. I wouldn’t trade the experience for all the money, success, or fame in the world. But even being at home with the kids, I still know there were times I was too busy with something else to listen intently, watch them closely, or appreciate the joy of being around them.
So this morning (I’m writing this post on Mother’s Day), while they sleep on the day meant to celebrate my contribution to their lives, I vow to spend the rest of my days doing a better job of being their mom. It’s been the greatest pleasure of my life.
If you get a chance, share a memory of your kids with us. Just thinking of them will make us better mothers.