Life Lessons and Laces

This summer has been particularly challenging for my teenage daughter. She spent it working hard on studies to complete freshman year of high school. The most difficult for her was Algebra. Having a mom who is basically a mathematics idiot certainly did not help.

By misfortune that resulted in a positive, her dad was laid off from his job in DC, thus, he was able to spend the last month tutoring her. With advanced degrees in mathematics and physics, he literally is a rocket scientist. Who better to serve as her teacher than dear dad?

In the final countdown of preparing for her last exam, they crammed several chapters into hours of review yesterday. By this point, they had each had enough…enough of math, enough studying, and enough of each other. After fielding a few calls and texts from each of the exasperated duo of teacher and pupil, I was up to my limit as well and let them both know it in not the most gentle way.

Once home and able to observe the lesson firsthand, and all of their mutual frustration about how she was repeatedly skipping steps leading to the wrong solution, a thought struck me. I remembered teaching her to tie her shoes. She refused to wear the kind with Velcro straps or buckles and insisted on laces because she was “a big girl.”  We both repeatedly and with loving care taught her over and over again how to hold the laces in her stubby fingers using sing-songs and cute anecdotes to form a bow. This recalcitrant teenager had once been that precious, little, angel child. This  obstinate father, had once been the guy who spent hours teaching her the simplest of life’s tasks with joy.

Algebra was her new set of velcro-less shoes and without the shiny buckles. With all her strength of spirit, independence, appearance, intelligence, and confidence, we had forgotten in some ways, she is still a little person. Her fingers are less stubby and instead of stickers and marker smears, they are now adorned by metallic blue nail polish.

I reminded her dad that just as he did so gingerly with her five year-old version, he needed to tenderly teach the fifteen year-old version how to tie her laces using equations and polynomials.

Although the years have truly passed so quickly, we somehow lost sight of the  patience we once had with her. No doubt part of this is her constant reminder to us that she’s “a big girl.” I can only imagine that there will be many more of these tutoring lessons as life goes by. In the future, hopefully when she doesn’t tie the laces tight enough and they come untied, or when she ties them without thinking and they end up in knots, we will remember our roles. Then proceed with tolerance, love and probably a few concentrated breathing techniques until her laces form well tied bows.


Sitting in the kitchen at Mamaw’s house, listening to her direct my 63 year old mother how to prepare a dish she has oft prepared, helped magnify the reality that regardless of the age of your children, you will always be their mother. In her 89 years on this earth, my grandmother, or Mamaw as she is lovingly known to her family, has raised eight children. She is surrounded by scores of grandchildren and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She has lived now to see four generations brought to life from her life and experience. Imagine the beauty of that?!

As my mom prepared the dish, Mamaw sat at the counter, watching each step. I could hear my mom respond under her breath, much like I did at 15 when my mom stood looking over my shoulder. I love watching her hands at work; hands identical to her mother’s. These are the same hands I see when I look down at my own. Strong hands. Hands that have  accomplished much, worked hard and produced something. Hands that nurture and protect.

Now, as mother to a fourteen year old girl myself, surely there are moments that mirror this exchange; moments of motherly love inevitably passed down through the veins. I watch my girl with anticipation of all her potential being fully realized. I instruct and marvel; words she may exchange for nag and hover.

The truth is, mothers cannot help but to mother. That instinct is born at the first stirring of life in our womb. I still remember  that moment well. After a long day and night, preparing a dinner party for 25, I finally sat down to rest…my four month pregnant belly starting to extend. I felt a little flutter, much like a goldfish swishing around a glass bowl. Joy washed over me, helping me forget my tired feet.  The motherly instinct grew astronomically from that moment on; sometimes completely overwhelming all rationale. The instinct to mother fills our thoughts as we watch our children take their first steps, walk through the school gates, pass the graduation podium, down the aisle, and over the threshhold of motherhood themselves. The instinct to mother keeps us from sleep, steals our breath and drives us to instruct our 63 year old offspring to stir the pot and turn down the heat before it boils over.

I enjoy watching these moments of motherly love between my mom and grandmother. It makes me proud to be from a heritage of strong, genuine, women who hold the future in their hands and faith in their hearts. ❤


A New Life

Neena was shivering from both pain and fear. She had never been away from home before; never without her mother. Yet here, some 12000 km from the woman who held her hand and wiped her tears for 20 years, she was. Due to the war in her country, she arrived to Houston just one week before. As she lay in the hospital bed, nurses poking and prodding in areas where she had rarely been touched, I held her hand and spoke to her about what would happen next and what the doctor would ask of her. Once the Pitocin has been administered, the waves of pain came upon her quickly, her body convulsing and crying out against the frame of the small birthing bed. She cried. She wanted her husband. She wanted her mother. When the time was right, the Anesthesiologist came in and helped her into position to receive the epidural. At sight of the needle, Neena refused the dose. With some cajoling and a lot of comforting after another contraction took over her body, she gave in and leaned against her pillow in an upright position. According to the nurse, she was ready. They would be back soon with the doctor. The epidural calmed Neena and I encouraged her to close her eyes and try to relax then went to the waiting room to speak to her husband. He only a kid himself, had a look of nausea and uneasiness that made me a little nervous. I couldn’t watch over him and be there for his bride. He sipped some juice and listened as I gave him an update. Neena was doing fine. She was resting and not in as much pain but she was scared and needed him. In his country the men do not stand bedside as their wives squeezed out bundles of joy wrapped in fluid and mucus. He shook his head defiantly. It wasn’t going to happen. His friends would laugh at him. I convinced him to come in and visit Neena to at least wish her well.

Within a few minutes of arriving in the room, the doctor came in and confirmed that Neena was in fact ready to begin. She was more worried about her husband seeing the wonders of the female body than pushing the baby out. He was a bit trapped and couldn’t really leave unless the doctor stepped aside so I asked him to just stay at the head of the bed and hold her hand. Just then Neena squeezed his hand causing his face to wince. As I held her hand and told her good job and that she was doing great, her young husband lay his hand on her forehead. There it was! The tenderness she needed in that moment caused her to smile and they looked so full of hope.

Quicker than I expected, their new little baby girl had welcomed the world with a loud cry and was laid on mommy’s stomach for her to marvel. Neena looked away in uncertainty. She hadn’t gone through proper prenatal care and had not been given books by adoring friends, colleagues and neighbors. She didn’t know what to expect while she was expecting. The baby- wrinkled, bloody, bright red from exhaustion looked foreign to her inexperienced eyes. Neena looked at me asking what was wrong with her baby. I told her she was perfect and a beautiful baby girl. The nurses took baby J away and brought her back looking much more like her young mother expected. As Neena cradled the sweet pink baby with a wave of black hair, she kissed the scrunched-up tiny forehead much like I’m sure her mother had done to her the first time she was cradled. ❤