I'd always dreamed of being a mom. Always. Being a mother has brought me more joy than any other experience in my life. I love being a mother. I guess we all were quite naïve when we entered motherhood. Perhaps it is best that way. Looking at what motherhood might cost a mother might have scared me from walking down that path more than half a century ago, but I doubt it. I think no matter what, I would have chosen to be a mom.
|Amy, Keicha, Ryan, Julie, Jonathan|
Now, as I look back on my life knowing the pain, the sorrow, the grief, the heartache that being a mother has brought me I still would not change a thing. Truly, all grief I’ve ever experienced over the death of a child has been tempered by joy and gratitude for being a mother. The journey through motherhood is one I would never want to miss. I would do it all again.
In fact, sometimes I wish I could go back and live all those days with my children over again. Just one more time, I'd love them ALL under my roof again. ALL of them.
I’d listen to their banter, and laughter, and I'd laugh with them. Oh how we laugh when we are together. I'd watch them chase each other around the house teasing and taunting and acting like a bunch of pups frolicking in the joy of having spirited, like minded playmates and likely call out, "watch out or one of you is going end up crying."
The household in which I raised my children was anything but quiet. When the children were small they roller skated and rode their tricycles in the house. They practiced their high jumping skills by moving the family room couch to the middle of the room so they could run towards it and jump over it. The result was that Julie in particular could not only jump high and wide enough to clear the couch. She also learned to stop running quickly before she ran into the fireplace. Her track coach once told me he loved how wide she jumped when she ran the hurdles event. “She learned that at home,” I said with a laugh.
Garbage bags or sleeping bags provided were repurposed to slide down the basement stairs. An old bedframe with only springs and no mattress perched under the apricot trees in the back yard provided a unique trampoline, a place to build forts with blankets, and a place for summer night sleepovers. My kids were inventive, resourceful, and imaginative when it came to turning found things into just another way to have fun.
If I were together with all my adult children, I'd listen to their informed and insightful conversations that would include very divergent points of view. I would, and do, rest assured that no matter how different they all may be from each other, they love and respect each other so much that they will remain a pretty tight group. They may have their squabbles, but I truly doubt anything could ever destroy the bond they have with each other.
These bonds and this devotion to each other was hard won. Even though the early years of my children’s lives together were spent establishing and creating childhood bonds with me and with each other, our family was split many years ago by a judge in Utah.
It happened when my children’s father and I went through a divorce. My five children ranged in age from fifteen to five. In those days, custody of the children was not an issue in most divorces. In the case of my divorce, custody was not even discussed. As a stay at home mom, I was the major caretaker. In fact, at the time of the divorce, I didn’t even have a job. The home in Utah was awarded to me, and so was the custody of the children.
A year after the divorce, I decided, after much urging from my parents, to find a job in Colorado. I had no restrictions on the custody I had been awarded, and the children only occasionally saw their father, so I proceeded with my plans to rent out my home in Utah and move my children with me to Colorado. Once their father learned what was happening, on a day when visitation rights were to be established for him, he instead surprised the court by filing for custody of all five children.
After a hearing, the judge could see no reason why I should not maintain custody. He then did a very interesting thing. He asked my thirteen-year-old daughter and my fifteen-year-old son what they wanted to do. Both said they wanted to stay with their father so they could stay with their friends. Probably most teens would have said the same thing.
And so, the trajectory of our family was irrevocably changed. After that fateful day in court, my two oldest children remained in Utah with their father while I flew home in a state of shock and devastation with my three youngest children.
Through absolutely no fault of my own, I lost children legally before I was finished raising them, loving them, and being with them as a mother should be with her children.
Being a mom has brought me some of the greatest emotional pain in my life. I am not the only one who suffered because of this legal decision. My children, every single one of them, also suffered immeasurably from this judge’s decree.
In the years when our family was divided down the middle with two children living with their father and three children living with their mom, so much was lost. I think of all the time I lost where I could have been involved in those teenage years with my two oldest children and my heart nearly breaks. I wasn’t there to watch over their schooling, their choice of friends, the way the spent their time, or the choices they made. I didn’t get to make or help pick out prom dresses, or even a wedding dress, for my daughter. I wasn’t there to advise, console, comfort, or admonish when two teens needed a mom in daily attendance. So much was lost. One never gets back time once it is gone.
My younger children also lost all those times they could have spent with their older siblings. One never gets back the occasion once it has occurred.
To that judge in Utah that ruled to split my family down the middle, I would like to say, "You, with all of your legal power, hurt my family more than you will ever know.”
I wonder if he ever again wondered about the welfare of our family as a whole, or of each child as an individual. I wonder if he ever even thought of us again. Did he really consider the financial, the emotional, and the spiritual costs that his decision would place upon all of us? Did his decision ever wake him up at night? Did he spend sleepless nights wondering how to restore all that was lost by his decision?
When faced with making, as my daughter has said, a decision worthy of the wisdom of Solomon, this judge abandoned his responsibility and asked two minor children to decide their own custody arrangements. These children were not old enough to vote. They couldn't be licensed to drive. Under law, they still had to go to school, but this judge left a decision, that they could never have had the skills to make in their hands. I would say to this judge all these years later, “You did great harm to them and to all of us. The legal system failed my family dreadfully, and each of us paid the price."
All those years ago, when my family was shattered and broken into two distinct pieces, I wondered how all the problems that were created for all of us as a whole and for each individual would be resolved. It was ordered that all the children spend as much time together as they could. The order seemed to place precedence over the children visiting each other over the children visiting with the parents. Or so it seems to me now. Perhaps, what really evolved from the situation was that the children spent more time all together with their father in Utah then they spent individually or collectively with me.
As a single mom, I had to work to provide for my children. My earning capabilities were severely limited due to a lack of education and a lack of experience. I worked as a very poorly paid secretary school secretary. The irony was that while I had spring breaks and summer breaks off, I did not end up having those times with my children because their father, a teacher, was also off of work and the two teenage children were by that time beginning to work. They seldom were able to come to visit me or spend time with me. The three younger children spent every summer with their father and siblings. Spring and winter breaks were also nearly always spent with their father.
Practicality was not the only deciding factor that led to the visitation arrangement that developed. In my heart I had determined that I wanted my children to spend as much time together as siblings as they could. The relationships they forged with each other was of great importance to me. I wanted them all to experience and create a sense of family that would surpass the limitations that time, money, and a legal decision had placed on the family unit.
Early bonds are not easily broken when they are carefully established. My children and I have endured as a family. We love being together. Each family gathering is a cause to celebrate each other and the family we are.
The law has great power, but it can never have the power that love has. Love wins. It always wins.
My children have lost a sibling and I have lost a child to death. That loss was another loss that was painfully woven into the fabric of our family. As a family, we experienced much of the sorrow, the shock, the pain, the grief that came from the death of our dear Julie together, or by sharing our grief with each other. This experience gave us another thread that has sewn our family together into a beautiful covering to provide mutual love and healing for us as a family and as individuals.
Death is often seen as the ultimate show of power, but death cannot destroy love either. Again, love wins. Love always wins.
When I think back to those years when I dreamed of being a mother, I wonder what I thought being a mother would look like. When I brought my first born home from the hospital, did I have any idea of all that being a mother would bring to me? If I had, would I have had children?
The answer to the first question is: No. I had no idea what being a mother would mean when it came to how I lived out my life. None of us ever do. The answer to the second question is: Yes! I would not have wanted to miss out on being a mother. I love being a mom.
Somehow, my children navigated those teenage years and became successful adults. They are pretty amazing as far as I’m concerned. There are no other adults I enjoy hanging out with as much as I enjoy my children.
I have been blessed beyond measure by each of the lives of my beautiful, bright, articulate, funny, complex, and thoroughly delightful five children. Knowing the pain, the sorrow, the grief, the heartache that being a mother has brought me would not change a thing. I’d do it all again. I’d do it and savor every single minute of it. Thank you Ryan, Keicha, Amy, Julie and Jonathan for being my children. Thanks for letting me be your mom. XO