Being Mama

Happy Mothers’ Day to all my mama friends!  It is good to take a day to celebrate the women who should be celebrated everyday.  I have great respect for women who don’t have children, by choice or circumstance, but we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the women who bring kids into the world and do their best for those children.  Today, I celebrate my mothers — plural.

The beautiful woman who gave birth to me was just shy of 19 when I was born.  While she loved me and wanted to raise me, she realized that she was not equipped to deal with being a mother and a full time student.  She made the difficult decision to give me to her older sister who was married and had a more stable life to offer me.  While I wish things had been different, I truly appreciate the courage and selflessness it took for her to do that.  I know her well and love her dearly.

The woman who raised me was not able to have a baby herself, though she really wanted one.  To her and her husband, I was a blessing.  While my parents and I have had tough times and many disagreements, I know that they gave me the best of what they had to offer and that they both love me as if I had been born to them.  My mom and I are a lot like oil and water, but she is my mom and I love her.

My grandmother, Gladys, was the driving force in my life.  She is the truest example of unconditional love that I have.  There is nothing she wouldn’t have done for me or for any member of her family.  She showed me how to be strong in the face of adversity, tough in tough times, and how to love fiercely.  Everything I know about how a mama loves her kids I learned from her.  She was not perfect, and as an adult I realized how flawed a woman she was, but she helped make me the woman I am today — warts and all.  I was privileged to be alone with her as she passed from this life nearly two years ago.  I believe in my heart that she wanted it that way and that it was her final gift to me.

My nana, Mildred, died when I was five.  I don’t remember much about her, but I do remember spending time with her.  Mostly I remember bath time.  I loved going to her house and spending time with her.  I’m sorry to have lost her so early in my life, but I’m glad to have known and loved her in my own way.

Fourteen years ago, it became my turn to be mama.  “Mama” was actually Imani’s first word.  Both of my kids still call me that, and it warms my heart to hear that word.  I am their first home, and I hope to always be the place that they feel most safe.  I fed them from my own body, cared for them, cried and prayed over them, and felt pride in their every achievement.  My kids are my greatest masterpieces, my collaboration with God in creation.  I know that they do not belong to me, and that they will leave me someday to build their own lives and families.  Still, I will always be their mama, for better or for worse.  I hope to have given them all they need and even some of what they want.  I hope to have built them strong, compassionate, and loving.  I hope, despite my mistakes, that I have helped them become good people.  Nothing else really matters in the grand scheme of things.

Thank you, John, for giving me these beautiful children.  Thank you, Imani and Iain, for making me a mama.  Thank you to my mothers and grandmothers who shaped and formed me and made me Lisa.  Today, as we celebrate mothers, I am truly grateful to be a mama.  It has been a wonderful blessing in my life and I am proud to be called mama.



It’s been a while since I’ve been here.  Lots to do at the end of the school year.  It’s a busy time.  Still, I needed to come back to the blank page and put down some thoughts.  From the title, you can probably guess what’s been on my mind.

Shame is something I carry a lot of, and it has hurt me a lot throughout my life and career.  It clouds so much of my daily life and my relationships: with my husband, my parents, my kids, my colleagues, my friends…  I don’t think that most people see me as someone who deals with shame, but — like so many others — I am.  Some of it is just silly stuff.  Some of it is big, scary, and heavy stuff.  Still, the point is I carry it and it colors how I see the world.

Some of this shame comes from the constant feeling of having to be perfect.  As a child, I felt that I had to be good all the time.  Actually, I believed I had to be better than good — I had to be perfect in every way.  If I was perfect, then my parents would love me and they wouldn’t fight or be angry with me or each other.  I had to be the perfect student, the perfectly polite little girl, and the perfect representative of our family.  I never felt I measured up to that expectation or that it fit me at all.  I lost sight of myself and what I wanted, and I fell prey to unscrupulous people who saw my weaknesses and victimized me in a variety of ways.  I was so busy trying to be what others wanted me to be, that I had NO CLUE who Lisa was.

These days, I still feel uncertain about me and who I am.  I want to be a good wife and mom and I have a tendency to place very unrealistic expectations on myself and others.  I am quick to anger, mostly at myself.  Deep down, I still want to be somehow perfect.  I am still the little girl, eager to please and dying inside because I feel inadequate to the task.  What really hurts me is the idea that I may have unwittingly passed this legacy down to my own daughter.  In my heart, I know that I have never wanted her to be perfect.  I already thought she was awesome just the way she is — and my opinion is corroborated time and again by folks who know her and spend time with her.  But I worry that she thinks she has to be “perfect” in order for me to love her.

No, baby girl, you are the perfect you, just as you are.  You require no fixing to be acceptable in my eyes or anyone else’s.  While you may need to learn to adjust your attitude and behavior to fit certain situations, you do not need to be someone you are not.  I love you as you are, whatever your talents, whatever your faults.  Be you, and rest assured you will always be loved.


Did I write that for my daughter, or did I write that for myself?  I know she needs to hear those words and believe them, but are they the words I’ve needed to hear all my life too?  I think so.  I know so.  I have needed to believe that I am okay just as I am for a long time.  Every argument with my husband, every meeting with my employer, every disagreement with my kids has made me feel like I am at fault — and the feelings of shame wipe me out like a gigantic wave.  One little problem at work can make me feel like I’ve committed some huge and horrible crime.  I feel worthless and small, and like I’m the worst (fill in the blank) ever.

I can never fully regain the childhood that was taken from me.  I must keep moving forward and seek to heal myself as well as I can.  Somehow, in spite of all the pain and shame, I have forged ahead and created a pretty good life for myself and my family.  I am the only one who can keep the hounds of shame at bay.  While it may not be my fault, it is my responsibility.  I have to stop it within myself in order to stop the cycle from going forward into my daughter and beyond.  It is hard work with heavy lifting.

Another me thing I have to work on.  It’s all a process.  We are all works in progress, all God’s masterpieces.  I’d like to think he’s just not done with me yet.

My Little Man

  Imani was 3 when she came to me and begged for a little brother.  “Mama, please have another baby!  I want a boy…”  It seemed so simple to her.

John and I started trying for baby number two in 2001.  I was 33, and it had not taken me long to conceive Imani, so we were not thinking that this would take long either.  We were excited about the possibility of growing our family, and things for us were good.  John was doing very well at his job and making good money.  My freelance and teaching career was going well.  We had just bought an apartment in a wonderful neighborhood.  Life felt easy for the first time ever for us, so we planned to have another baby.

You know the old saying: man plans and God laughs.  Well, God cracked up for sure on this plan.  He may still be laughing…

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a gorgeous day.  Neither John nor I had to work that day and Imani had not yet started pre-school.  The phone rang early and woke John.  It was my mom in Philadelphia, telling us that it seemed someone was dropping bombs on the World Trade Center.  In his very groggy state, John assured my mom that he would go check the news to see what was up.  Was my mom serious?  How could anything like that happen?

John stomped down the hall and around the corner to the living room where our tv was.  Within a few seconds, I heard my normally soft spoken husband scream — yes, scream — my name.  I flew out of bed and arrived to see the second tower hit by a plane (John says it was footage, but I believe it was the actual occurence).  Regardless, that sight changed my life forever.  We learned quickly that both tower of the WTC had been hit, and then we learned about the Pentagon and the field in PA.  It was all shocking and devastating.  Imani, though we tried to keep it from her, was traumatized by it all.  Our family was rocked back.

The rest of this experience is for another time and another blog entry.  The main point is that John and I put our baby plans on hold after this horrifying experience.  The world just didn’t seem like a safe place to bring another life into the world.  We decided to wait.

Within a few months, it was clear that our financial situation was beginning to falter.  For various reasons, both John and I lost large amounts of our annual income.  Also, the quest for a baby, which resumed in early 2002, became questionable.  I couldn’t seem to conceive.  I wondered what was wrong with me.  Stress?  Age (I was only 33…)?  I couldn’t figure it out.  Then, a friend of mine who was pregnant suggested that I stop drinking coffee.  Crazy, right?  I did it anyway.

I got pregnant in June.  My pregnancy was difficult from day one.  I had fatigue and morning sickness to beat the band, all while I had lots of work to do and no way of putting anything on hold.  At 20 weeks, I had a sonogram and learned that I was carrying a boy.  Imani and I were overjoyed!  John, having been the man of the house, had wanted another girl (to be surrounded by women… go figure.).  So, we prepared for the arrival of our Iain Alexander.

My pregnancy continued to be difficult throughout its duration.  The sciatica was excruciating!  Still, I played a full length solo recital at 32 weeks of pregnancy.  I stopped working well in advance of my due date of 3/21 (Bach’s birthday!).  Iain, ever the imp, was born 9 days early!  I’m glad he was.  He was still 8 lbs. 3 oz.  Had he gone to term he would have topped 10 pounds!  No thank you…

The early days of having two kids was hard for me.  John was working long hours and was really stressed out about his work.  I wasn’t able to bring money in for the family, and taking care of a five year old and a newborn was remarkably hard.  I took solace in the beauty of my babies.  They were a blessing.

All along, I tried not to compare Iain to Imani.  Imani had been so advanced as a baby and toddler.  I didn’t want to put that on Iain.  So I constantly asked the doctor, is he normal?  He was the whole time.  He reached every milestone on time.  All was well, but something nagged at me.

At 2 1/2, I began to notice that Iain wasn’t maintaining eye contact as much as he had.  So did my friends.  He also seemed to be slowing down in his development.  A friend who works with kids suggested that I have him evaluated, so I made an appointment.  That appointment was the beginning of years of evaluations, tests, trips to the neurologist, and two years of special ed preschool.

I was told that Iain was autistic.  It felt like someone had dropped a house on my head.  I was devastated and John, God bless him, was in denial.

We were told to mourn the child we thought we’d had.  We were constantly told to lower our expectations and that there were things Iain would simply never do.  My response was simple: bullshit.  They may know autism, but they didn’t know my son.  I did and I still do.  My little man was not going to be pushed aside and treated like a disabled kid.  He had more potential than anyone could see and I wasn’t going to stop fighting for him.  I never have.

Everything we were told he couldn’t do, he has done — in spades.  Today, Iain is integrated into a regular ed classroom, with some small group time and a para pro for support.  He has friends, he is a cub scout, he does art, swimming, and takes music lessons.  Yes, Iain is different, but he is far more “normal” than he is different.  He talks and communicates very well.  I think he’s pretty freakin’ brilliant, and most folks agree with me.

This morning, I walked him to the end of the driveway to get the bus.  I told him I love him.  He said, “I love you too, mama.”  I waited until he was four to hear him say those words.  Now he says them every day.  Everyday is a miracle with Iain.  He is a blessing in my life and I know he will grow up to do great things.  I have no doubt that he can marry and have a family someday, if he wants to.  I know there is a woman destined to love my son as a man, just as I love him as my little man.

My little man is a success story.  Not every day is good, but most days are just fine.  I will never stop fighting for him to have all he needs.  I will always be here to love him, guide him, and to tell him never to give up.  He may have autism, but autism doesn’t have him.  The world isn’t ready for the awesomeness of my Iain.  They’d better catch up.