So... a few months ago I overslept. It wasn't an isolated incident by any means, but I had some classes to teach at one of my hosptials and (evidently)I was running late. Caleb had already left for the school bus by the time I made my way out the door. As I reached the end of the drive where the children wait for the bus, he attempted to flag me down... big smile on his face... and SO excited to see me. I knew what he wanted... to simply kiss me and tell me goodbye. I was in such a rush that I mouthed, "I don't have time right now!" and frantically pulled away. I proceeded down the road. In the rearview mirror I could see him... standing there... completely still... watching me drive away. Then the thought crossed my mind... What if this is the last time I see him? Do I want his last memory of me to be the fact that I didn't care enough to take the time' to slow down for a moment and kiss him goodbye? Do I want my last memory of him to be the hurt and disappointed look on his face as he disappeared in my rearview mirror?
I made it another minute or two up the road, until I could find a safe place to turn around. I went back to the bus stop, rolled my window down, and called him over to the car. I held his face in my hands, looked him straight in the eye and said, "Nothing is as important as you." I gave him a big hug and a kiss, and told him to have a great day at school before I said goodbye and drove away. As I pulled off, I looked - once again - in my rearview mirror... by the look on his face, I knew that I had gotten it right.
We all feel so invincible... immune from the tragedies of life. The reality is that everything can change in an instant. I have no control over the Lord's plan for the lives of those that I love, but I do have control over my relationship with them while we're blessed with time together here. I never want to live with the regret of a missed opportunity.
The thing is that we're human and we make mistakes. Sometimes we lose focus... but the beauty of life is that often we are blessed with a "side road" that will provide an opportunity to "turn the car around" and rectify the wrong.
As I have come to truly understand Cammie, I have had to face the pain created by ten long years of blindness. I have asked myself - on numerous occasions - how I could have failed to see what has been obvious from the beginning? Once again... I find myself hoping that my child will have the strength to forgive my imperfection as I "turn the car around".
I have found comfort in a journal entry that I wrote in 2006 following my divorce from Cammie's father. Cammie's unconditional love and ability to look past my imperfection has inspired me through some of the most difficult challenges of my life. I am doing all I can to offer her the same blessing...
(At the time, Cammie was living her life in compliance with social expectations, so I have left the pronouns in their former state to preserve the integrity of the journal)
January 3, 2006
I was prepared and expected most of the typical trials associated with divorce. Everyone talks about the struggles of managing emotions, finances, and legalities but very little could have prepared me for the inevitable sacrifice of time that immediately had an impact as I struggled to maintain and cultivate quality relationships with my children.
I resigned from my nursing position at the hospital and took a job in home health as a Case Manager in an effort to provide for a more consistent presence in the lives of my children. I had been promised a territory much closer to home and the position was self-directed which, on the surface, offered a great deal of flexibility which I had hoped would introduce a solution to my conflicted situation.
A new dilemma manifest itself when I discovered that the home health agency that I had contracted with couldn’t accept patients in the territory that I had been assigned because they didn’t have a physical therapist to back me. Since you can’t ask a physician to refer patients to home health with the contingency that they don’t require physical therapy, I was required to pick up the “scraps” in order to meet productivity. This meant driving to any and all territories where coverage was desperately needed. These territories frequently included remote locations and dangerous neighborhoods. My situation at home went from bad to worse. I would leave the house at six o’clock in the morning and get home at nine o’clock at night, cover anywhere from two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred miles each day and see as few as three to five patients. I had driven more than seven thousand miles in less than one month. I started working weekends to cover the excessive gas bill as well as the expenses associated with vehicle maintenance so that I could keep up with my finances. I seldom had time in the evening to devote to the needs of my children and they frequently complained because I was never there. When I did have extra time, I would confine myself to the bedroom and do paperwork in an attempt to stay “on top” of my cases.
I had always taken pride in being a good nurse and I loved my patients and co-workers dearly. I’d frequently bend over backwards to cover any staffing or patient care deficits, but it wasn’t long before my performance at work began to slip. I simply couldn’t meet the demands created by the circumstances in my life. I was falling short in my parenting and household responsibilities as well. I had “Mount Everest” in the form of laundry heaped on the kitchen floor and dirty dishes piled in the sink. I had no idea how the children were performing in school and they frequently vocalized their resentments regarding my lack of involvement in their lives. I was unable to execute well in any area of personal or professional responsibility and the demands on my time became overwhelming. I felt absolutely despondent as I struggled to find a solution. With four children under the age of eight to provide for without child support and without family nearby to turn to for help, the prospect of losing my job produced a great deal of anxiety so I devoted more energy to my duties at work.
It's difficult to explain the responsibilities of life to a child. There were times when I wondered if they would ever understand the love and sacrifice that constituted a lack of presence in our home and the frequent demands that seemed to take priority at work. At one point I experienced absolute burnout in the form of an emotional breakdown. I stood in my supervisor’s office and sobbed. I had been working twelve to fourteen hour days each week in an effort to make ends meet and was absolutely exhausted. I desperately longed to be with my children. In my devastation I confided in her, a divorced parent of three sons herself, "Do you think they'll ever get it? Will they ever really understand?" A serene smile spread across her face and her response gave me hope, "Oh yes, and someday... they'll be your biggest fans."
I discovered that she was right in the weeks that followed when I was blessed with a beautiful experience that answered my question and put my heart at ease. My son, Cameron, was always the first to complain when I couldn't afford to buy him something that he wanted, and was quick to fault me when I couldn't spend the kind of time with him that I had always hoped to devote to the lives of my children. He is a very creative child and his favorite activity, at that time, seemed to be wasting my card stock and printer paper with his many "quality pieces of artwork". I would frequently find mounds of paper that had been wasted on scrappy illustrations and doodles. I consistently hounded him about what constitutes waste and explained that although his drawings were very beautiful, I needed my paper for work. On this night, in particular, he and I engaged in a heated discussion about what he considered "appropriate and necessary paper usage". To make a long story short, I kicked him out of my office. There were times when Cam didn’t get his way that I was convinced he absolutely hated me and this was one of those moments.
The next day, I arrived home late from work. I had tension in my neck from the stressors of the day and a pile of paperwork to get done. My former husband was getting remarried and the boys had accompanied him out of town for the wedding. Needless to say, I was feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Although I was surrounded by silence, everything around me seemed to scream for attention from the unkempt house to the pile of paperwork waiting to be completed. I grabbed a bite to eat, set my emotions aside, and made my way to the office. I began to leaf through Cameron’s “portfolio” of doodles and drawings for a clean sheet of paper. As I did, a post-it note briskly fluttered to the ground. My hands gently froze in motion as my eyes dropped to the precious illustration at my feet. Banned from the printer paper, Cameron had resorted to drawing on a promotional pharmacology pad of post-it notes and his masterpiece had fallen from the pile. As I picked it up, my eyes flooded with tears. It was a rudimentary sketch of me that sweetly captured the moral of the story and offered the peace of mind that I so desperately needed.
It was an endearing portrait of a nurse with a big smile on her face. She had long, flowing hair and wore a large white hat with a cross boldly scratched on the front. In the background was a gurney. On top of the gurney lied a patient, his legs and arms pointed straight up in the air as if he had just keeled over. The desperate grimace sloped across his face indicated the need for immediate medical attention. The nurse looked heroic, larger than life in the forefront of the medical emergency. The word “mom” was affectionately written on the side.
To this day that memory stirs strong emotions when I reflect on the realization that somehow my young child was able to see beyond the circumstance that complicated our relationship. His admiration came in recognition of my efforts, regardless of my limited capabilities. At that time in my life, I was blessed with what I needed most… to catch a glimpse of myself through the eyes of my child. I needed to realize that regardless of my apparent inability to meet all of his expectations, somehow he understood. That night, for the first time following the divorce, I felt comforted and knew that everything would be okay. Cameron, who was often the most critical of my efforts was, in fact, a member of the “Mommy Fan Club”.
There is a profound moral to the story. I now realize that it’s not the quantity of time that you spend with your children, but rather the quality of time that matters the most. As I reflect on my own childhood, the memories that stand out in my mind are the seemingly insignificant events that have become sacred over time. Love was expressed through the little things like helping dad wash Old Red Eye, family trips in the country on Saturday afternoons, floating the river on inner tubes, Sunday dinners at grandma’s house, and my most favorite memory of all… sitting on the bathroom countertop while dad methodically scrubbed the grease from his hands after work. He would patiently and enthusiastically listen to every detail of my young life and as the dirty water drained from the sink, any feeling of discouragement, hurt, or disappointment would drain from my heart.
Multiple books, magazines, and newspaper articles discuss the relationship between wayward children and single parenthood, directly attributing one to the other. Of course it’s always best to have a solid family unit that consists of a mother and a father, unified in nurturing the children in a traditional family setting. However, these publications can offer little hope to parents whose circumstances fall outside of the social norm. What for them? Are they doomed to raise misguided children? I have come to realize that regardless of circumstance, quality parenting requires quality time. We need to utilize the time that we are blessed with to create the occasion to teach moral principles in a manner that will leave a lasting impression. We need to teach, both in word and deed, those principles that will strengthen our children and direct their paths toward greatness. Life will inevitably provide the opportunities, but it is a parental responsibility to identify and embrace them.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
I have learned a valuable lesson from my child... a child who had the capacity to look beyond the physical limitations on my time, energy, and body. I am following her example. By learning to do likewise - I have learned to love perfectly... I have learned to love with the heart of a child...
You put a big smile on my face when you turned around!ReplyDelete
There is a lesson in there for us all.
Thanks for sharing this blog. I really enjoyed it.
You are an inspiration!
I enjoyed every precious morsel of this post. Memories of my own children's drawings come rushing back to me... my daughter drawing a picture of her "Maddy" in a dress holding a flower with the sun shining down while she (me) stands in the tall grass.ReplyDelete
Indeed, our time with them should be qualitative, not quantitative.
I know how important it was for you to turn around. Children are much more attuned to our attitudes and feelings than we realize. My son began working with me from the time he was about two and a half years old. I'm a carpenter and my son would sometimes ask for a handsaw, some nails and a hammer...mostly because he was bored. One day he found a short board to use as a vertical upright, cut some legs to make a base, and nailed a block of wood on top of the vertical shaft. He then proudly presented it to me. I thanked him and asked him what it was. He told me it was a hat rack to put by my easy chair. I could take my cap off and put it there when I got home. I have no idea how many years it stayed right there by my chair, but it was quite a few. Visitors would always ask about it and I proudly told the story. How precious the little things are. The "little things" really are some of the most important events in our lives.ReplyDelete
Someday my son might forget he ever made that hatrack...but he will not forget how proud I have been of him. Someday Caleb might forget about you turning around...but he will never forget how much you love him. I believe Cammie has never held your imperfections against you. As she progresses through her transition and life, her love for you will only grow stonger.
As for quality vs. quantity: I, too, believe quality is more important than quantity. But, never underestimate the power of quantity. As I mentioned, my son went to work with me from two and a half years of age. The more time you spend with a child, the better you get to know them. You only THINK you know them until you spend every waking minute of their life with them...waking minutes that include teaching, correction, yelling, laughing, talking, working together, and many other bonding aspects of life. My son is the hardest, most confident worker I know. I'm convinced it's because of all the time we spent together. I subtly taught him how to work and then rewarded him. This takes time, and more than just quality time...it takes meticulous patience and guidance over a long period of time. We should always make the time with our children quality time. But we need to spend as much time with them as we possible can...why?...because every minute with them is precious, and quality. :)Suzi
Well said. At that time in my life I had to focus on quality time - because that was all I had.
I have been richly blessed with an amazing husband who consistently demonstrates, both through word & deed, Christlike principles. He is an inspiration to me in so many ways. He has willingly stepped up to the responsibility of helping me raise my four children... children that he did not bring into the world, but he devotes every ounce of his time, money, and heart to helping me guide them through it. There are still days when I wish I had more time with my children. I - too - have taken them to work with me. Before I know it they will be grown and I will miss every moment of the time that went "unspent"... so I make the most of every opportunity and pray that the Lord will guide us in our efforts to teach them to walk in his light.