Growing Up Mother

L & J with bikes on car

Isabella Dutton’s story in the Daily Mail about how she feels her children are “the biggest regret of her life” struck a chord with me. The story also said Isabella Dutton is 57 years old.

Consider my mind blown. I understand regrets about having children. When my eldest was born I was barely nineteen. I was weeks from starting my senior year in college. Looking back, it seems hard to believe.

My children, during those early years, had a child for a mother. I was entirely unprepared for motherhood. I was an only child until I was almost thirteen, and had never taken care of a small infant.

After my youngest was born I fell apart and my doctor put me on tranquilizers. It was a long time ago; that “child” will be forty-eight this week.

When my eldest was born I had to learn everything about caring for her. I felt completely incompetent. I learned to live in a state of exhaustion and bewilderment.

With the next child, in less than two years, I felt my life was over. One child is a bunch; two children were like a special ring of Dante’s Inferno, imps dancing around me.

With my third little darling, within a few weeks depression crept up on me me, and I could barely move around, I was so listless. How could I care for two children? All I wanted was to sit and read the obituaries in the newspaper. At the time I didn’t understand that powerful urge, but now, long in retrospect, I see how the obituaries comforted me. I think my chop logic went something like: if I die, at least I can leave these unconscionable brats behind.

My fourth pregnancy made me want to throw myself down the stairs in our two story house.
Eventually I went back to work, and I think it was as much to spend some time with adults as it was for the money.

I spent years staggering from home to work to home. Once the receptionist in the law office where I worked said to me as I was hurrying past, “You’re always running on empty, aren’t you?” I remember looking at her and saying, “Yeah.”

There were times I would have sold the lot of them for a can of beans, even though I already had beans. I’m making this light, but trust me, it wasn’t.

Once, when we lived in Honolulu, as our family was walking through Kapiolani Park, an older man came hustling up to us and offered us a million dollars for our youngest, who was a picture-book beautiful child. Several times since then my husband and I have scratched our heads, saying, “Now why was it we didn’t accept that offer?”

That boy is now one of our best friends. We are so proud of our grown children (I used to spell that “groan,” as in four “groan” children) that we talk about it to each other. “How terrific they are,” we say.

I believe that I survived and thrived as a mother because every day I did my best. I simply did not know what else to do except keep trying. I have apologized to my children because for years I truly believed I was a crappy mother. They’ve let me know in many ways that they think I was a lot better than I believe.

But probably the proof was in the pudding. We have four great adult sons and daughters, each a marvel in his or her own way.

The upshot is: we all survived and grew up, even Mom.

At times I look back and think about the other things I could have done during those years.
Yet what could I have done that would give me more joy and happiness now, as I look at each child?

My children taught me patience and endurance and how to show affection when I was so tired and cranky I couldn’t stand myself. My children civilized me into learning how to get along with other people and recognizing that each of us has our own reality and a mere brief and precious span to walk upon this earth.

They gave me far more than I ever gave them. And finally, with all the back and forth of emotion in our years of being family–not to sound sappy sentimental–they really did teach me how to love.

Korea: Cracked Child

Perhaps if any child grows up in any culture being fed lies and too much food, that child has a chance to grow up tubby, ignorant, and with iffy, unstable mental health, with little compassion or ability to see much reality.

Unfortunately Kim Jong Un, autocrat of North Korea, seems to be that child. Perhaps he is so desperate to be thought an adult that he’s going to shake his missiles at the USA, which does not like being threatened. It would be good to treat him like the barely-more-than-a-baby he is, and not retaliate, but he has the power to hurt people, all the Asians near North Korea–South Korea and Japan being the ones particularly under threat–and Americans at nearby bases, plus anyone else who incurs his juvenile wrath.

Kim and his father and grandfather all attended more to building their war machines than feeding their people. Hence the widespread starvation among North Koreans. Instead of ample good food, North Koreans have been fed a steady died of Hate the USA.

Of course, when the US divided North from South Korea and American and Soviet negotiations failed to put Korea together again, we, the food-rich USA, helped set this up. South Korea, in the division, received far more arable land than North Korea did. But can you imagine how the USA and other countries would be happy to help if North Korea would stop being the Asian bully?

For the story of how this division came about, see The Jade Locket and the Red Star, by Joan Uda, ebook on Amazon.com.

BELOW: Generals Archibald Arnold and John Hodge saluting in front row of dignitaries during US-USSR negotiations, March 1946. Personal collection. Archibald Arnold was my father’s CO. General Hodge was commander of American forces in Korea.

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“Perfect and Improving”

Back in the days when I used to preach every Sunday–twice–I talked about how I believe one of our life’s tasks is to work to become better persons. I’m in the tradition of John Wesley, who believed that in theory at least a human being could become perfected in faith, though I don’t know quite how that translates into being an ordinary person walking around inside an ordinary life.

M., who was an active member of the church, came up to me afterwards and said, “I get it. We’re made in God’s image, so in a sense we’re already perfect, even though we have to try to do better. Perfect and improving!”

M. had been a homicide detective in one of America’s toughest cities. The back story, told to me by M.’s wife, not M. himself, was that M. had shot and killed a man in the line of duty when the man was firing a handgun at him and other people. “It was a ‘good’ shooting,” his wife told me, “but he can’t forgive himself. For a long time he wouldn’t come to church with me, and quite frankly he was never a believer even though I’ve always been active in churches.”

I talked a lot about grace in those days. I’m one who believes grace is always available to anyone who seeks it. I also believe it’s visible in the lives of those who care to look for it–an unexpected lift I get when looking at a mountain from my front window, or playing with the Apricot Rocket, our 22-month-old bichoodle–half Bichon Frise, half poodle.

M’s wife told me, when she called to let me know M. had been diagnosed with metastasized prostate cancer and to ask me to pray for him, that he had found grace, and now believed that he was forgiven for killing the man he’d shot.

A few weeks before he died, Lowell and I drove roundtrip 1600 miles for a visit to M. and his wife. For me it wasn’t to say goodbye; it was for one of the long, far-ranging talks M. and I had enjoyed during the years I was pastor and he probably the most active member. We hashed over religion, spirituality, politics, philosophy, managing churches, police work, teaching, food, and anything else that wandered into our conversation.

He was peaceful while we talked and afterwards for the extra day we stayed. Days after we arrived home, and his wife called to tell us that M. had died peacefully, with a smile on his face.

When I think about what was truly memorable in my years in parish ministry, I think of M. first. One reason, I think, was that M. never liked to be thought of as a policeman first. He didn’t want people to look at him and think, “Cop!” He was a human being first. He treated me first as a human being, too. He wasn’t always on his best behavior, not always minding his p’s and q’s for fear I was judging him. I never did that with him or anybody else. As a pastor I didn’t have a hot line to God. I saw myself as a struggling sinner like everybody else.

In fact, I figured God was always watching me with an eyebrow raised, thinking, “What now?” “Would you like to rethink that?” “You can do better.”

A life lived trying always to please God by being a better person probably isn’t the easiest way to live. In the long run, though, I can say it leads to happy older years. Health issues come, and grace helps with those too. 

Just saying.

My friendship with M. was an indescribable treasure. What great fun and enduring bond.

Korean Unrest

Is anybody interested in why North and South Korea are divided after centuries of being one country–until 1945? It isn’t an ancient division; it’s the USA who divided one people into two, splitting families, creating intensive poverty in one Korea–the North–because most of the farmland, factories, and railroads were in the South.

It’s the USA and Soviet Union who failed to restore the Koreas to one nation; read how in The Jade Locket and the Red Star, available for Kindle on Amazon. Well researched and based on photos, Army documents, and other documents.

How to Get Old without Growing Up

Once upon a time I decided that the passage of time controlled my chronological age, but that I had no intention of “growing up.” I was a kid, maybe fourteen or fifteen, and the adults around me seemed to have accepted too many dumb and dull things in their lives. My mom and dad seemed to have abandoned the joyfulness and even intellectual ferment that I’d seen at one time or another in both of them. 

My parents were bright, both of them, both going to the University of Iowa in the early 1930’s. My dad trudged off the family farm in southeastern Iowa to escape his two-by-four wielding father, and his difficult life as eldest of seven siblings. He worked his way through, maintaining a high enough GPA to qualify for law school, though he left after a semester to get a job and marry my mother. My grandfather, I believe, was not about to have his smart,  pretty elder daughter quit school and work to put her husband through–her PTH degree, as it was called after the war when so many demobilized military people were flooding back into civilian life.

This was before WWII, and in many ways I think their schooling during the Great Depression made them exceptional.

So where did all that energy–that quest for learning and maybe even intellectual ferment–go by the time I was in my mid-teens?

Dad put most of his into being a success at retailing clothing, and Mom into being the wonderful homemaker she was. 

In my teens I judged them bitterly for that, not because of what they were doing, but because they never seemed interested in all the ideas I read about and tried to discuss with them. Because they were arch Republicans, there in the heartland of America, Iowa, who thought Democrats were scum–just like all their friends.

I didn’t then know enough about politics to fault them on their conservative political beliefs, but I knew my Sunday school lessons quite well, and my dad forever seemed to have me reading the Bible, from which I extracted very little except the Gospels and I Corinthians 13, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…”

I faulted them on the way they seemed to leave the Gospels behind at the church building every Sunday. I knew nothing either, back then, about American middle class religion–but when I looked at it for myself it didn’t seem to have much of the Spirit in it. Dull to death, boring as mud.

If that was growing up, I wasn’t going to do it.

How did I do this? I’m not going to tell everything. Ladies of my generation don’t, and though I’m no lady of that type, I’m with them on this point.

But I went through college in three years, I’m not quite sure how. I’ve had four children, starting when I was in college, and ending before I finished my last graduate degree. I have three master’s, all of them supposedly “professional” or “terminal” degrees though I don’t see that as true: creative writing, law, and ministry.

It’s a lot of hard academic work if my only desire is to escape growing up, I grant you that. Nevertheless it worked. Here I am in the early part of my eighth decade (early 70s if you have to work as hard to translate that as I do), hardly grown up at all.

Sorry, Dad, I’ve never “outgrown” my idealism; I’ve used it as a helium balloon to help me along my path. I don’t believe in everything I did when I was twenty (no, I’m not telling my dumb ideas then either), but I still believe in everything that was half sensible.

Like sharing.

Like going out of one’s way to be kind.

Like not being greedy or grabby.

Like taking time for meditation, reflection, prayer. (All of this is good because the human ego can get pretty silly, selfish and blind).

Like doing one’s best even when one doesn’t feel like it.

Like being a good example to children–whenever that doesn’t interfere with not growing up.

Life is good, even though I have a few days when it’s tough to remember that.Image

Two Moms

Alice McA circa 1944001

My mom, Alice, the adoptive mom

Last year I received the court and social work records from my blind adoption as an infant. Now I like to think of my birth mother and adoptive mother as my mothers A to Z. My adoptive mom was Alice, my birth mother Zelda. And in between were plenty of other caring adults: E for Edna, L for Louise, my two grandmothers. And then there was my nurturing and formidable dad, W for Warren.

Each one of these people, and others including aunts, uncles, and many teachers, did their absolute best for me, reminding me of Hilary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village. I remember the uproar when her book was published–“No, it doesn’t,” shouted some conservative press, some of whom had no doubt been reared by their own “village” network of caring adults.

Increasingly we see children with one or two overwhelmed parents, and lucky are those who have a capable, loving-hearted grandparent to step into the breach. I know such a person, a grandmother, who devotes much of her time to her working daughter’s three young boys, and whose husband is mortally ill, being cared for hundreds of miles from their home.

Here’s to you, CM, and all those like you, who offer the grace of caring for children. You do it for those particular children, but it’s a true gift to all of us.