Imagine a butterfly and a firecracker meeting one day at an ice cream social. One thing leads to another. Despite the obvious challenges of this relationship, they fall in love, get married and have a kid. And that kid would be my daughter. Giant heart. Deep soul. Feisty, feisty, feisty! So being her Mom has always felt a little like stumbling around in the dark on Christmas Eve. You know there’s “good stuff a waiting”, but where the hidey-ho is it? Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to groping along, one step forward, two yogurt containers under her bed back, and then – BAM- blindsided by splendorous joy.
Like most mothers and daughters, it’s complicated. Any which way I turn, I feel a little bit like I’m in a wildlife special. “Here we see the mother bear. Taking on a swarm of bees, hysterical raccoons and two tranquilizer darts to protect her offspring.” This is my kid. Half my DNA. There is simply nothing that compares to my fierce mother love-pride-neurotic need to worry that comes with knowing this girl. We’ve always been prone to lively discussion. Been willing to debate the deeper stuff. Like the “gross old-lady-ness of turtlenecks” or “how appropriate is glitter lip gloss over forty”. We can fight like cats in a bag and make up in an instant. We don’t do mornings. We are allergic to cleaning. We love animals. We are so much alike, it’s scary. She’s my “Mini-me”
Of course, I blame her grandmother. She put the parenting hex on me. Standing in the kitchen, insisting I use silverware at the tender age of 12. Fascist. Sighing a long, long sigh, my Mom prophesied, “Someday, Hollylu! Someday you will have a child JUST LIKE YOU!”
“La-la-la, not listening mother. I will have 10 children. I will name them cool names like “Denim” and “Lace”. We will own a pet store. And we will eat only finger food.”
Fast forward three decades. Alone with my laundry, I have time to ponder the universe. I fold my daughter’s third blue Aeropostle t-shirt (Why does anyone need three blue t-shirts almost exactly the same?) And it hits me. Egad. Mom was right. In so many ways, Annalee is JUST LIKE ME. Social. Tender. Stubborn as a famous farm animal. But in just as many ways, if not more, she is a total mystery. She has will power. She has actual talent. She wants to be fashionable. And she likes to cook. Weird.
We managed through the elementary years pretty well. Our major disagreement centered on the state of her unusually wild tresses. Each morning, as I attempted to tame her mane with hair bands and barrettes, she’d stare fiercely into the mirror like a lioness. “Mom. My hair wants to be OUT not IN.” She brought home an endless list of the unlovely. She collected the broken and beat up. She found charm in castoffs looking for love. And my love stretched as she grew and made room for the unexpected.
And then, she turned thirteen.
Whaa-happened? Back to the wildlife special. “Here we see two big horn sheep. Settling their issues by ramming their heads together with the equivalent force of a freight train.”
I woke up one morning and my IQ had dropped 50 points. My blonde little muffin could turn into the ferocious HONEY BADGER with absolutely no warning. My fashion advice, unappreciated. My cooking, suspect. (Even more than usual). Clean laundry, a sacred rite. Her bedroom, a sanction nine government clean up area. Her phone, “So outdated, mother.” Suddenly, I was to be visible only when beckoned. And she preferred I walk three steps behind and to the left. (Prince Philip, how have you managed not to push the queen off the balcony for 50 years?)
It’s not like people didn’t warn me. I’ve heard all the stories. I read the books. Listened to the PBS special on the “teen age mind”. Hey, my generation was so angst filled we came of age blubbering through movies like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. I get it. Teenagers are COMPLICATED.
Complicated I was expecting. Breathtakingly rude, astoundingly short sighted, and unbelievably hard to get out of bed- well those things caught me a little off guard. But don’t despair dear reader. Although off balance, I was still well armed. Everyone knows. The only way to fight a honey badger is to BE A BIGGER HONEY BADGER.
I know. I know. It amazes you how smart I am. Why, the most logical thing to do when your kid turns into some mythic fire-breathing creature, is POKE it with a STICK, of course. Dr. Dobson must have missed that chapter.
“Honey, fill me in. Is having your hair flopped in your face like a sheepdog considered “trendy” in junior high?”
And so, we were pretty evenly matched. Summer was some fun.
The one thing we have in our corner is the fact that we are really good at admitting when we are wrong – later. AND coffee. So I guess that’s two things. But increasingly, I’d climb under my covers and wonder. Does she like me anymore? Have I turned into the enemy? Is she singing depressing Adele songs because she’s depressed or because she likes Adele who only sings depressing songs?
I worried that when junior high started up again, she’d slip even farther away. Or maybe I was pushing her away? Maybe, subconsciously, I wanted her to be away because when she was near, I was so confused. I started out patient and understanding until I exploded and became the exact opposite of patient and understanding which makes me… yep. You guessed it. The honey badger.
In bed, under the covers, I prayed. “Dear God. Help me to love her the way you love me. I don’t want to be a honey badger. Amen.”
God understands prayers like that. God works in the real.
The fall schedule rolled in like a hurricane. I resumed my tawdry affair with the minivan. Rolled myself from band practice to play tryouts. Took work phone calls outside the gym, writing insanely important stuff on the side of Burger King bags. Wondering who birthed these extroverted peeps. Why weren’t they home rotting their brains with video games like normal children? Who told them to “reach for the stars” while their mother goes gray in the parking lot?
After the first week of rowing on the “back to school” slave ship, I caught the “back to school cold”. Worn out and stuffy, I took a shower and slipped into my pj’s before wandering out, barefooted, to the van to pick my girl up from youth group. I just wanted to be in bed. I pulled into the dark parking lot and watched the glowing glass doors like a hawk. Minutes ticked by. Kids of every conceivable size and shape drifted through the double doors, but not one that belonged to me.
We reached the 30 minute mark. That’s six days in van time. (Van time is a lot like “dog years.” And ANYONE who has ever completed two business deals, filed their taxes, given themselves a really bad mani-pedi and knitted enough scarves to keep the Duggers warm while waiting on just ONE kid can pick up what I’m laying down.)
The only thing that saved my child from having her frothy mouthed mother rampaging through the church in search of offspring was… no not maturity, or love, or patience or anything remotely “parental”. I was in my pajamas.
When my Butterfly-firecracker daughter finally flitted to the car, I went all Mariah Carey (in the bad years). I believe the words “responsibility”, “conscientiousness” and “oh my word God did not PUT ME ON THIS PLANET TO BE YOUR CHAUFFEUR” were batted about. We drove home in angry silence. I stomped up to bed. Honey badgers need their sleep.
Under the covers, I prayed some more. “God, I am so grumpy. I am sucking the joy right out of my first born. Potentially, you will have to pull a Zachariah and strike me dumb. I simply cannot open my mouth without H.B. showing up. Amen.”
It’s hard to be this spiritual.
Anywhoo- you get the picture. Each morning, I’d vow to do better. Plan and scheme. Imagine pleasant niceties being exchanged, deepening the mother-daughter bond. Then we’d get all the way to 8:45 before we’d duke it out over the coffeepot.
The very next night after the “youth group blow out”, I had to give my daughter a ride. Again. The chauffeur pool is rather small. On the way to church, we were quiet. It was a beautiful September evening. The leaves just hinting at the gold to come. I reminded her I would be waiting at 8:30. “I know,” she said. But there was a softness in her voice.
I soaked in the lovely trees as I drove home. My cold was still waging war on my sinus system and a hot shower sounded too good to wait. As the water streamed down my back, I tried to remember a peaceful season of parenting. Was their ever a peaceful season?
Throwing on pajamas and socks, I set out to pick the kid up. I drove slowly in the dusk I cracked the windows to let in the evening air. And I had a vision. A flashback. We were all driving home in the dark. The kids were very little. The streets were black and wet. It must have been sometime in the spring. In the gleam of the headlights, tiny tree frogs were hopping across the road. Mike careened to a stop and we ran around in the mist, squealing with glee. We cornered two little frogs in a McDonald’s cup and brought them home. My two blonde pumpkins talked to the froggies as we released them into a mesh bug catcher. The three amigos convinced me to wait until morning for the “release” so that the kids could watch them hop away. After everyone was tucked into bed, Mike and I lit some candles and snuggled on the couch while the frogs sang to us from the kitchen counter. I remember feeling completely contented. Very peaceful.
I rolled along, reveling in the memory. They were so little then. We were a unit. A team. No one was vying for my authority. Everyone liked my ideas. I wondered. Had I appreciated it all then? The simplicity to be found catching frogs in the dark.
The golden twilight and the peaceful moment pulled me into prayer. “Jesus, help me to see the beauty in this time with my children. I don’t want to only see it in the rear view mirror.”
I swear I am not making the rest of this story up.
I was almost to church, when suddenly I drove by a giant frog. Seriously. The biggest frog I’d ever seen. So big, in fact, I turned the van around and drove back for a second look. He sat on the side of the road like a little despot. I could almost see his crown. A jogger ran by and the amphibian king didn’t move. Maybe he was just a rubber toy. I longed to investigate. But once again, I’d driven off in my pajamas and shoeless. I pulled up as close as I could. He sure did look real.
Reluctantly, I turned and headed for church. Sitting in the parking lot, I texted my friend. “I just saw the world’s biggest frog.” Clearly this was breaking news. What on earth did we do before texting? At 8:30 on the dot, a blonde streak flew through the door and hopped into my car.
“Look, Mom.” She said beaming. “I’m learning to be responsible.”
I felt a lump in my throat. I smiled. “Thank you for being responsible.” As we headed for home, I told her about the frog. “I so wish you could have seen him! Should we drive by and see if he is still there?”
“Absolutely!” she responded with a glee I hadn’t heard in quite some time.
We drove down the streets in the growing dark. A family of raccoons ran in front of our headlights. “Looking for a frog-leg dinner,” I joked.
“If that frog is half as big as you make him sound, maybe they’re running for cover.” We giggled. The darkness of the car was snugly.
Sadly, we rolled by the curb where the Frog King had been enthroned. Empty. “He must have been real because he hopped away.”
“It’s okay Mom. I believe you.” I turned the van around and we imagined frogs and raccoons having a street fight. We were headed back down the road when I saw a lump in the gloom just outside the headlights on the opposite shoulder.
“That’s him!” I shouted, pulling off the road in a cloud of gravel.
The dust settled. The Frog King sat unblinking in our headlight beam.
We both started screaming. Maybe because the frog was so big. Maybe because it felt good to scream without malice.
“You know what we have to do,” I said, composing myself and looking seriously into my daughters open face. Her eyes were so pretty now. Sparkling in the streetlights.
“You have to catch him.”
“I have to catch him?” she screeched. “I can’t.”
“You can!” I said scrambling around in the minivan clutter. I came up with her cereal bowl left in the van since breakfast. “I don’t have any shoes on.” I thrust the bowl into her hands. “Use this!”
She screamed again and hopped out of the van into the dark. Shouting directions from my open window, I watched her inch up to the monstrous, unmoving, unblinking frog.
From her new perspective, she shouted back to the van. “No way, Mom!”
“Yes, way!” I shouted back. “Catch him!”
“No way! The bowl is too small!” We were screaming again. She ran back to the van as I dug a little deeper into junk.
“Here, take the CD case.” The CD’s flew across the van floor.
Half out of the van now, I shouted encouragement with my stocking feet sinking into the gravel. Again, my first born inched up to the freakishly large amphibian. In a move that was far from grace but amazingly brave, she plopped the case over the frog.
Instantly, the CD case sprang to life, bouncing forward, then backward, then forward again. Our screams filled the darkness outside the bright beam of the headlights. In my flannel Tweety Bird pajamas, shoeless and without supportive undergarments, I left the still running van to join the chase. The CD case lurched for the brush. “Catch it! Catch it!”
Both of us were rather afraid to touch the CD case, but we managed to stand on top of it.
“Mom! Mom!” I looked down into my daughter’s breathless face. “Stop screaming!”
“I can’t!” I answered, breathless myself. We stood and listened to our pounding hearts. It was a minor miracle that no one had summoned the cops. What with bright pink pajama bottoms screaming in the night.
Note to self: Curtail shoeless, bra-less, pajama clad public outings until youngest is safely off to college.
Somehow we managed to scoop the frog up and into the case. We drove home, talking loud and over each other but still hearing. Our captive periodically thumping his protest from the CD case prison.
Careening into our driveway on two wheels we raised a ruckus, flushing the boy from his bed and Dad from the computer room. The boys were impressed. A photo session commenced. Much more screaming. At one point my husband, son and daughter were all asking me to stop. But every time the leviathan moved, I responded with a visceral yelp. Finally, father and son headed off to return the Frog King to his kingdom.
I thought for sure she would go with them. “No. I’ve had enough of a frog chase tonight.” She answered, smiling in my direction. “I want to stay here with mom.”
I smiled back. We made cocoa and snuggled on the couch. I lit some candles. We replayed the evening pretending to be commentators on a wildlife show. “Here we see the CD case, the natural enemy of Frog Kings.” It was getting late. Tomorrow was school and work and life. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked over her shoulder.
“That was a crazy adventure, Mom.”
“Sure was.” I stared at her, trying to see the little girl I once knew.
“You know,” she said softly. “If I could choose between all the moms in the world, I’d choose you.”
The lump was in my throat again. “I love you too.”
Soon I climbed up to bed myself and crawled under the covers. And then all the dots connected at once. God had answered my prayers. Powerfully. Undeniably. Answered. Ka-bam!
Earlier that night, my heart had wandered back to a simpler time. To golden pictures of a family with small children chasing tiny tree frogs in the road. I questioned God. Had peace left the building? Would honey badgers spar over coffee pots for the rest of my mothering days? Once they could think their own thoughts, was I more of a nag than a nurturer? And God answered.
The adventure grows. A Frog King waiting in the twilight. Waiting for me to notice. Waiting for me to go get my first born. Waiting quietly beside the road for the CD case. On a dry, September, Northwest evening. This is how God gently, extravagantly, answers the prayer of a mother driving in the dark.
And God said, “My magic does not stop with tiny frogs hopping in the road. My adventure is ever expanding, ever changing. And no cereal bowl will contain it. Your daughter is growing and you must grow with her. And I will fill your CD case to overflowing. And your joy will fill the minivan and my love will bind you together even if you never agree on turtlenecks. Follow me. One day at a time. And my adventure, my call for you will be more than enough. And as you look for me, I promise to always, always provide a light in the dark.”
I slipped out of bed and onto my knees. Thank you God. Thank you for answering prayers. Thank you for children growing into adulthood. Thank you for love that stretches and pulls and bends into wisdom. Thank you for the adventure always expanding, always changing. Honey badgers may bristle and fuss for a time. But just around the corner, in the spot I can’t quite make out, the Frog King is waiting. Because an infinitely patient and loving God has called us, every one of us, to (junior) HIGH ADVENTURE.
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