Scurrying into the always familiar home of Mamaw and Papaw, I am met with the same pale yellows and olive greens hip from the 60s. My Papaw rests in his recliner, Mitzy, his ever faithful pup companion perches at his side, knowing she is his equal.
As my grandparents age, I realize, “How’s it going?” is a loaded question. One I better be ready to settle in for- for the long-haul, I welcome it.
He begins unveiling the list of ailments appropriate for that of a 78 year old. I pay attention. I encourage him, letting him know I’m sympathetic to his pains and fears about his pains. Today, he lifts up his shirt for me to examine his back.
“Do ya see anything back there, Stac?”
“Well, Papaw, I’m not sure what I’m looking for? I see a couple bumps.”
Papaw’s eyes grow large with concern, “Is there anything else around the bumps, Stac?”
“Um, I believe there’s a sunspot right between the bumps, Papaw.”
“I’ll tell ya what, they itch, they really itch—-you sure those ain’t moles?”
I pull his shirt down and give his back a firm scratch, “Honestly, Papaw, they just look like a couple small pimples.”
He carries on sharing that he hopes it isn’t shingles or melanoma. Smiling at him, I express that if he feels the least bit worried, he may want a doctor to have a quick browse. He changes the topic to his gall bladder and I listen intently.
My Papaw is a constant source of comfort to me and he always has been. The man is an amazing carpenter who worked and still works very hard. He told me once, that if he ever sits down long enough to get real still, he’d die, so his work must continue. I believe that if he needs to unveil his trials, I am fortunate to be the chosen listener.
Mamaw walks in nonchalantly, “Did you know it’s been ten years since my last colonoscopy?”
I act as if this is common knowledge and she fills us in on her trip to the doctor this afternoon. Mamaw is 76 today. I gift her our shared favorite candle, “Berrylicious,” and she literally jumps in giddiness!
“Oh, I just LOVE this scent, it is my absolute favorite.”
“Me tooooo, it’s THE BEST!” We hug and giggle- this particular scent, we thought had been discontinued. To our delight, they brought it back for a season!
Birthdays are special in our family and I can’t explain how grateful I am to hug her neck here in her home.
She pulls out a photo album faded by time, worn from eager hands anxious to be taken back. We scan each of the pages together. She’s proud. I take in the humanity of my grandmother. I watch with each passing page, how her glorious green eyes remain the same. As we progress, the eyes looking at me in person are the same as the girl, the young woman, the young wife, the sister, and mother. The sparkle is still there, the vibrancy still there. All that’s changed is the home around them.
As Mamaw recalls each photo’s happenings, I as usual, am tangled in a mess of nostalgia. Her clothes, her hair, her red-lips, their cars. A part of me longs to be in the picture, seeing it as it was in the moment. Feeling the time, the culture.
Although I know the story, I ask again, “So, how’d you guys meet?”
They each take turns reminiscing on the mutual friend’s party where their paths first crossed. They went for a walk and Mamaw was not intrigued. A year later, another party, another walk around the block, and this time-it was love. I teased Mamaw that she must’ve been dreaming of Papaw’s handsome self that whole year! And boy, he loved that!
They’ve lived in this home nearly fifty nine years, built it together the year they were married. This is a sacred space, and I feel praise arise in me, not to a higher power, but to the Story that lives in these walls.
I hug them tight as I leave, I take in the faces of my lineage. I think about the joy Mamaw spoke with as she said the names of her people, her people that she longs for. I wince at the reality that one day, they’ll be my people, they’ll be the ones I’ll speak of longingly. The time to cherish is now, not in retrospect…
I walk out the door, Papaw mutters one final comment about his sunspot and I remind him he’s gonna live to be 100. We laugh, but we both believe it…
Yesterday was tough. No one knew it, but I was silently frustrated. I got to missing certainty and the days of having an answer for everything. My youngest daughter, three year old Riot, is just desperate to know where the first mommy and daddy came from, and if this had been five years ago, the answer would’ve been so simple: God. I would’ve immediately said, ”God created them.” And that would’ve been easy and done with.
As I fumbled to put together some semblance of an origins of life spill, based on ancestors and evolution, I couldn’t easily remedy her question. I wasn’t used to that. And she wasn’t grasping it. We sat down and put on a YouTube video about it for kids. Finally, I proclaimed that perhaps she can be a scientist and learn all about this. She quickly quipped, “Yes, and then I will be in the TV and I will teach you!”
I like that idea. But still yet, the mental longing to have certainty gloomed over my day. I went to my own mother and asked if she had ever questioned her beliefs. She happily exclaimed that not once had she questioned any of it and that because she was so busy being a mom and a school teacher, church had never been about beliefs, but about that community, the familial aspect.
I pondered aloud, “So you raised your girls inside a religious tradition that you simply never sought to study?”
“That’s right, I always just loved the socialization.”
“So you’re telling me, you took us three times a week to a church you’d attended from birth, but you personally have NEVER studied through its doctrines?!”
“Huh.” My face contorted a bit and I needed to just sit with that.
Now, don’t get me wrong—My momma is an amazing human, and the favorite teacher of many a hundred students from past to present, she literally studied her entire adult life to be able to teach her subject matter deeply—-she is welcoming, kind, and thoughtful, but WHAAAAAAT? Shits playing with your kid’s mental state over here… Hello!
I’ve spent the better part of seven years purposefully and intentionally studying the who, why, where, and hows of every topic pertaining to my faith. From hermeneutics, and soteriology, to eschatology. Painfully, I did the work so I could be sure I was giving my best understanding to my children. Why? Because I believed with every ounce of my being….
For my daughters, I left no stone unturned. It baffled me that I was so deeply indoctrinated my entire life, built my EVERYDAY upon it, and my very own Momma, had simply been in it for the friendly chatter. Wow.
And, here I stand today……Without answers for my daughters. With nothing concrete to say except an honest, “I do NOT know.” This pains me. I want easy, I want short and sweet, I wanted it to be true SOOOOOOOO bad.
My eyes glance over at my mother-in-law’s urn on the mantle. Cancer, dead at 53, prayed for healing fervently. It would never come.
This is why I cannot do easy, this why I teach my kids the harsh reality that a God who could heal but chooses not to, either isn’t all-powerful or he isn’t all-good.
This is why we will sit with uncertainty. I’d rather rest there, than in a fabrication of reality. Perhaps, my kids, being raised in such a way, will be free to hop right into learning instead of unlearning, like their momma has had to do.
And, even though the day was tough and I missed the ease of quick answers, and I toiled away mentally in the “used to,” a wrong answer is still a wrong answer, and no amount of friendly chatter is worth denying that to me.
Sharing Sydney with others has always been a desire… so “Sunday’s with Syd” it is. Please join me on the journey of a glimpse at living alongside Sydney each Sunday. Now, let me take you back, if I may……
“Girllllllls!! Wake-up, Mom’s water broke, we’ve got to get to the hospital,” dad’s voice echoed into our room. My eyes opened, I looked at the clock: 12:26 am!
“Oh my Gosh, how cool is this, I’ve always wondered when it was going to happen!! This is it! It’s go-time!! Yesssss, no school for us tomorrow, yahooooo! Thank you, unborn Sister-making life better and you aren’t even here yet!” My skin was tense and chilled with goosebumps, not only from the cool night, but from the unknown entangled with an excitement only an eleven year old big sister can fathom.
My younger sister, Steph, and I had never moved so quickly. We were in the van before Mom could even waddle her dripping legs down the hall. It was a stormy April night, 1996. I can recall the details in color.
Thunder boomed and neon yellow lightening dashed about the eerie Arkansas night sky, a foretelling of how the night would unfold.
The van ride was filled with so many thoughts, “I hope Mom is safe, I hope there isn’t a tornado, if there is a tornado where will Steph and I go since we aren’t allowed in the delivery room, I cannot wait to meet the baby I’ve waited my whole life for, I can’t wait to watch her grow up, I can’t wait to hold her and play with her, it’s going to be so neat to see my parents with a baby, those clouds look pretty scary, Steph—- are you ready to be a big sister?” EEEEEEEEeeekkk, the suspense was growing with every mile behind us.
Once we arrived at the hospital the brightness of the fluorescent lighting and the stark white halls felt blinding, Mom and Dad said their, “See ya soons,” and were ushered to the delivery room with great joy.
They’d always teetered on the brink of “Yes, let’s have another, and No, our girls are too big- it’d be starting over.” But on this night, they were like two giddy first-time parents about to meet their Love in the form of baby, all over again. It had been eight years since there’d been a baby in the home. And, even as a child, I was keen on their love for each other and this new life they’d created together.
Mamaw and Papaw showed up within the hour. Thank Goodness. The nurses were kind and had turned on some Disney movies, brought us Shasta Cola in cute teeny cans, and Mamaw brought crayons and coloring books. You can always count on Mamaw to have some form of entertainment in tow.
Labor and delivery was a “quick and “easy” 3 and a half hours,” I’ve heard Mom recall. But for the sisters who had begged for this baby for YEARS, it felt like a small eternity. Before we knew it, Dad was hustling out to greet us with that proud new-dad smile, “She’s here! It’ll be a few moments before you can come in, but Mom’s doing great!”
Time. Passed. Slowly.
When Steph and I were able to go back, the emotions were intense, such a big love already manifested in us… I easily recall being mesmerized by her tiny perfectly manicured hands and nails. She was swaddled in the cutest baby burrito fold, but her hands had broken free, and although they were pale and cool, those tiny little hands were just like mine. I’d always been told I had beautiful hands and nails, and here I was, standing in awe of this miniature human, who had MY hands. My hands. It was Love right there in front of me, in the purest form.
Those moments of light and airy exhilaration were precious, but short lived. Within the hour, our Sydney was being ushered to the nursery with a team of folks surrounding her. “What was happening, what are they not telling us?” Dad, Steph, and I stood in the nursery window as unsettled onlookers. We could see Sydney wiggle uncomfortably with each poke and prod.
Going back to Momma’s room, we were met by a freshly wounded woman, not only bodily wounds, but a soul that was desperate for answers. Steph and I decided to spend some time resting on the extra bed as Mom, Dad, and the doctors conversed.
Later we would learn that Syd’s pale white hands I had so admired, partnered with her score on the Apgar scale, and her shallow breathing were all tell-tale signs that something was wrong. And because nothing had shown on any ultra-sound the entire pregnancy, the medical team was at a loss. They decided Sydney would be better served at the neonatal unit at Children’s Hospital.
I watched as the Doctor pleaded with my mom to rest, she’d literally JUST given birth. But-she wasn’t having it. She got up, packed her bags right back up, and paced the floors, aching for nothing more than to be wrapping that new baby in her arms, she was so excited to nurse a baby again. But instead, she looked on at the baby in the incubator and waited anxiously for the Angel Flight helicopter to arrive.
I’ll never forget our nurse named, Hope, coming in to chat with Steph and me. She saw how fearful we were, and tried to ease our minds with talk of how amazing Children’s was, but when I blatantly asked if Syd was going to die, she didn’t say no.
I stood by Dad in the second story window. We stared ahead, dazed. The soft tiny little baby girl of my dreams nestled in the hard plastic incubator alone, being rolled out to the giant helicopter. “Would this be the last time we saw her alive?” I looked up at Dad for some sort of reassurance, but instead I saw silent tears dripping from his face. He was afraid. I’ll never forget that moment, he was feeling all the fears I was feeling but at a greater magnitude. I turned my head away from him, to give his heart the privacy it deserved.
And then I watched as that long-prayed for Sister of mine, took flight.
I can’t tell you what the build-up of excitement for nine-long awaited months, culminating with uncertainty, and ending with outright despair and fear does to an eleven year old’s mind and heart, but I can tell you, it isn’t a lesser than experience than that of an adult. It’s obviously different from a parent, but it is not less than…
My Mother, my Queen.
As the helicopter holding our angel-baby disappeared out of sight, momma got up, left the hospital without the doctor’s approval, and made it to Little Rock by the time our Sydney arrived. Momma would be in the know every step of the way concerning her baby.
Steph and I however, left the hospital that day, not only without our baby, but without our parents.
And we didn’t know that just those few short hours earlier, on that stormy ride to the hospital, that those words, that that conversation, would be the last we’d ever experience with this version of our parents. The only version we’d ever known, fading into the distance of our memories, like the storm fading into the distance of night….
Our parents would never be the same….
Our lives would never be the same, either…
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Please, join me next Sunday to find out what becomes of our junior angel-flight crew member, Sydney…