I yelled at a stranger’s kid today

It was a normal summer day for us. We ran, we ate, we swam, and we ate some more. Today was a normal summer day, barring one exception, that being the moment when I found myself parenting a stranger’s child.

My daughter has always been fearless in the water. Up until last summer she would enthusiastically shout, “watch me dive” before throwing herself into the pool. I would watch her sink to the bottom for an obligatory thirty seconds, before fishing her triumphant, squirming body out from the shallow depths. Every now and then there would be a fellow momma that would be wading by, chasing after her own mermaid or merman, who would stop just long enough to let me know that my daughter was drowning. Never mind the fact that I was standing over her, arms outstretched, laser eyes focused on my child. I would disguise my annoyance with a laugh and swear to myself that I would never be that woman. I would never assume that I knew better or usurp another momma’s autonomy. But who am I kidding? There are many moments when I become that woman.

There was a boy today at the pool, the same age as my little person. I knew we were in for an interesting afternoon when he kept squirting me directly in the face with his projectile water apparatus. His grandmother was there with him. She was confidently rocking a bikini, and rightly so, and I wanted to hug her in between being soaked by her grandson. Thankfully, he soon set his water torture device down and asked to play with my daughter’s diving rings.

My girl loves to share her diving rings, and often uses them as a way to make friends with other kids at the pool. She is by no means perfect. There are days when sharing means she bosses the other kid around. There are days when she feels jealous of someone who is a stronger swimmer. And there are days when she is sugary, sweet perfection.

They started out playing well together, each taking two rings. Then our new friend decided that he would rather grab the rings that my daughter had just retrieved, than dive for his own. I could tell she was confused when he latched on to the rings in her hand and began tugging at them. Hard. I was sitting in the water a few yards away and started to get up. Then my brain started screaming, “Whoa helicopter mom, sit your butt back down!” So I did. I sat on edge, watching various emotions play across my daughter’s face, and I felt my stomach twist in knots at the life lessons she was potentially learning.

Here was a boy, aggressively tugging my daughter back and forth, attempting to pry her toys from her hands. He was ignoring her words, words that I have taught her to use when people invade her space. I saw her face, her smile that didn’t reach her eyes as it normally does, trying to figure out if this was play or if this was mean. It was only a few seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. A lifetime in which I recalled moments from my childhood of being thrown onto the ground at recess by boys that “liked” me, or so my teacher said. Moments when I was too naïve or too sheltered to realize that a boy who I out “wrestled” was angry, not just because I had won the “game,” but because I didn’t succumb and allow myself to be kissed, as my more experienced friend had. Times when being tossed and dunked in the pool by a boy meant that he wanted to be my boyfriend.

I knew what was coming next and I sprung up. Sure enough, just as I started to move towards them, he reached out and shoved her head under water. Before I realized it, my teacher’s voice was bellowing at him for all to hear, as I crashed through the water. I didn’t care. Grandma was laying out on the other side of the pool, but to her credit she jumped in at the sound of my voice. By the time she reached my side, I had finished lecturing her grandson about shoving people under water and how he needed to ask nicely for toys that he wanted to play with. As she began to rip into him, I turned to my daughter and told her that she should still share with him. At first she protested, but then she handed him two rings and he apologized. I then played pool police for the next thirty minutes, tossing rings for each of them to dive for.

The truth is, he was a sweet kid, and only his parents know whether or not he knew any better. I want my daughter to know better though. I don’t want her to equate hurt with affection.  I knew she was watching me as I chastised this stranger’s child, and I realized that as much as I wanted to whisk her to the other side of the pool, I couldn’t. She won’t always be able to run away from the boy who shoves her on the playground. I have to teach her to stand her ground and set boundaries, without losing the kindness that radiates from her core. So I made an effort in front of my daughter, to play with this kid as long as he followed my boundaries. When he chucked the rings back at my face, I told him he had to hand them to me if he wanted to play, which he did. The afternoon ended peacefully, and we all amicably said goodbye when it was time to go.

I don’t know if they way I reacted was right or wrong. I just pray that as my daughter encounters similar situations, that the sweet kindness of her spirit will not only be unharmed, but that she will also become unafraid to fiercely protect her boundaries.

We made veggie pot pies for dinner and a bell pepper salad with some unique farm-to-table produce that a sweet friend shared with us. Comfort food for a normal, slightly odd kind of summer day.

We Go, or We Die

We go, or we die. It’s a statement that will never leave me. Simple words, weighted in life experiences that I can’t fathom, spoken in broken English by an African teenage refugee. This beautiful girl with the brightest smile spoke these words in the same matter of fact way I tell my five-year old that if she eats candy, she’ll get holes in her teeth. And then this precious soul laughed. A bold, contagious laugh that left me no choice but to laugh with her, the truth of her words hanging between us as we hugged and she went on to her English class.

It’s been a little less than two months since I heard this phrase, and yet I think about it every day. Thankfully, these words are not true in my life in the literal way they are for too many, but I see the truth of her words everywhere. Those five words embody perseverance, they laugh in the face of sitting down and giving up. We are all persevering in one way or another. Not a single one of us will escape trials or crises in different ways at different times. When you live your life believing that if you don’t go, you’ll die, your life requires a degree of faith.

The size of whatever burden we are carrying in a particular moment is insignificant. There are days when I feel that if I have to prepare one more meal, clean one more toilet, or say “no, you may not have another snack” one more time that I will lose my mind . And as dramatic and silly as I know I sound, I can’t not do any of those things. I could, but the gross, hangry, chaos that would ensue would be equivalent to death, so I go until I find joy again in the marathon of parenting a little person. There are other days when I simply have no clue what God is doing in my life. Those days are particularly frustrating, those punched in the gut by life days, but I know that I have a choice to go in faith and trust that God’s got me or to die a spiritual death. I know that the way I go is being watched by two little eyes and one little heart, the sponges of the sweet soul who spends her days trying to emulate her momma. That burden is heavy, but I hope that she will learn to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans12:12). The way we go is as important as the actual going. To go in love, to go in faith, to go in hope, this is what I pray to be able to do throughout my life.

I’m so thankful for the truth this student spoke into me at the beginning of this summer. Her trial that day was simply making it to summer school. She had to take TWO city buses just to reach the nearest school bus that would transport her to her classes. Her family had just moved, and she wasn’t sure of her address. Confused and unable to speak more than a few sentences of English, we thought she would have to be dropped from her course. We couldn’t risk her getting lost chasing buses in unknown parts of the city. When she showed up with only a couple of hours to spare before the attendance/drop deadline, we were astounded. We shook our heads in disbelief. I would never have made it. I would have heard three buses and said I’m out, and I’m a native English speaking Texan. It had taken her hours. She was hungry, she was tired, but she had made it. That’s when she spoke, her eyes sparkling with laughter. “Miss. In Africa we go, or we die. So today I said I go.”

I usually kick off my shoes when I first walk in the door, until I carry them upstairs later. Found my little person lining up her shoes with mine this afternoon.

 

A New Season

Women wear so many different hats, and often more than one at a time. I’m a single mother to feisty five-year old. I’m also an English as a second language teacher. I’m a Christian. I’m a runner. I’m a food-a-holic. I don’t have answers to the crazy ups and downs of life. What I do have is faith, and a growing desire to live out my faith in small steps of love within my Austin community. In this season of my life, I have slowly been waking up to the fact that loving like Jesus happens in our own backyards, not just on mission trips to foreign countries. Loving like Jesus means choosing not to gossip about a co-worker. It means taking some mac’n cheese to your neighbors that you’ve never met. It means spending time nourishing your friendships. It means loving without expectations and truly meeting someone in the small, mundane tasks of everyday life.

I started LoveBabyFood shortly after my daughter was born as way to share my parenting journey, but as we have both grown, it has become a space to share the small steps of faith and love we take every day, and for fun, what we eat along the way. Renaming this space seems to make the most sense, a choice that I’ve wrestled with for a couple of months now. And just as God has been molding my heart to love as he loves, in the brokenness of our daily lives, and just he has been preparing my heart for the terrifying moment that my daughter will enter kindergarten, I finally realized that I need to let go of “what was” and embrace this season of our lives. So while this space will still be made up of the same heart, soul, and recipes, its name will grow with us. Thank you for your support of LoveBabyFood, and I hope you will continue to enjoy Love, Faith, and Food.

Thank you is not enough, but thank you.

About a month ago, I finished reading Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers. I was riveted by this tale of four indomitable women, who were bound together through loss during the Roman siege of Masada. Women, who under different circumstances would have ostracized one another, instead protected one another. For me, the beauty of this historical fiction was in the way each woman’s past drew them to stand side by side with those who were suddenly not so different from themselves in their suffering. They could not save each other from their grief or from their pain, but they could fortify each other with unconditional love born in empathy.

My pregnancy radically changed my life. I am not alone in this. The conception of a child is life affirming and life altering. For some it’s pure joy, for some traumatic, and for some a mixture of both. Nearly five years later, my life is filled with unspeakable amounts of joy and love. The traumas I endured are always present, but they are slowly becoming my friends. I no longer need to ignore them, to pretend they don’t exist. I still shake uncontrollably, my heart pounding in my chest when I talk about them, but I can look at them now. I can appreciate them now. I can be thankful for them now. Yes, I would not be who I am today without them, so I am grateful for the blessings that they have brought about in my life. God brings healing and good in all situations, and my life and the life of my daughter are a testament to that truth.

I get emotional when I think about those who stood with me in my most terrifying, earth shattering, gut wrenching moments. I have never truly thanked them. Sometimes there aren’t enough words, sometimes you’re drowning and can’t properly think to form words, sometimes you can’t say thank you without becoming too vulnerable when you’re summoning all the strength you have just to go on. The words thank you will never be enough to adequately express the soul deep gratitude I have for the men and women who stood with me, for those who stood for me in my weakest moments. I am beyond thankful for these people.

I thank God for the woman who became my neighbor when I was about six months pregnant. Our daughters were born just a few weeks apart. I thank God she came over every day, that she was my first mommy group and that she never asked any questions. She just loved us. Thank you, to this woman, who brought over warm meals to feed us before our much prayed for journey back to Texas finally began. Thank you for driving us to the airport, for dragging our four giant suitcases, stroller, and two carry-on bags up to the check-in counter. Thank you for telling the woman behind the counter something in Hebrew, which in my stress and exhaustion I couldn’t comprehend, but that prompted her to let us to bypass the lengthy security checkpoint, and allowed you to help us through the terminal. I remember following you in shock when you beckoned me. You, my first mommy friend, hauled my suitcases through the airport, handed me your American cash leftover from your last trip overseas, and hugged us good-bye. I sat safely at the gate, my daughter entertaining those around us, repeatedly thanking God for miraculously getting us quickly and calmly through the first hurdle of our journey. I thanked God then, and I thank him now, every single day, for you.

I thank God for the woman with whom I basically grew up with, so to speak, in Israel. I’m so thankful for your inner and outer strength. You rise to any challenge and your heart is as warm and loving as it is fierce. Thank you to this soul sister, who walked and talked all over Tel Aviv with me, who never judged, only listened. Thank you for being my strength when I had none. Thank you for helping me pack, weigh, and re-pack our bags. I will never forget your superhuman strength, when dismayed I thought we would never get all of our luggage to fit in our tiny European size car, you said yes we will, and you lifted and pushed those absurdly heavy bags until all doors closed and we had room to sit. You are my hero and I thank God for you.

I thank God for my family, the family who financially, emotionally, and spiritually supported us. I will never have enough words to express how deeply thankful I am for all that you endured on our behalf. Your acts of selflessness went above and beyond what any daughter/sister/granddaughter could expect. Thank you for the bible verses you poured into me that fortified my faith that God would protect us. Thank you for the frequent overseas trips you made, for considering to relocate to be close to us, for never letting me become guilt ridden, and for restoring normalcy and peace in our lives. Thank you for being our bubble, our tribe, and our truthsayers. You are our greatest blessings.

I thank God for my childhood friend, my sister, my daughter’s godmother.  A steadfast woman of quiet strength, you would come over at the sound of any tear or fear in my voice. Thank you for being our safe-haven, for opening your home to us whenever we needed a peaceful place to go. Thank you for taking days off work to spend countless hours sitting in courthouse waiting areas. Your calm bolstered me. Your patience soothed me. Thank you for the kitchen dance parties and for filling the little person up with love. I am so thankful for you.

Thank you to my church growth group. What was perhaps to you a small act of kindness on Mother’s Day a year ago, was so much more to me. Still to this day, I am overwhelmed. Thank you for quietly handing me flowers and a small balloon, since my little one was too young to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” It meant the world to me and I still tear up when I think about it. I am so thankful that God has brought each of you into our lives.

Thank you to the family, friends and strangers who have prayed us through this journey. Thank you for coming alongside me without judgment, for teaching me what it means to stand next to someone in their darkest moments and to love them. Thank you will never be enough. But thank you.

 

 

 

 

Never Forget

An elderly woman was sitting quietly at a small table. Her thinning, snow-white hair was perfectly coiffed, her face was tastefully made up, and her pantsuit had been meticulously pieced together. Her hands shook ever so slightly as she methodically broke off pieces from a hefty glazed donut and chewed carefully. As I sat myself in the seat opposite her, she lifted her eyes to meet mine, our faces breaking out in mutual smiles. “Hello Hether,” she greeted me, only it sounded more like “Hello Hayter.” I grinned. I loved this precious woman.

I only knew her for about a year. She would come to the conversation classes at the English school at which I worked in Israel. She often arrived early or stayed after class to socialize in English with the teachers or other students. I knew all about her daily schedule at the assisted living home where she lived, and we had many lengthy discussions about her impressive exercise routine. She spoke to me often about her health, and how hard she worked to keep her mind and body in shape.

I no longer remember her name, but I do remember her gentle nature and the musky scent of her perfume. I remember her gravelly voice, the brightness of her red lipstick, the single gold chain clasped around her wrist, and her arthritic, sun spotted hands. Most of all, I remember her graceful poise, and the gratitude she expressed for each day she was alive. And the donut conversation. That I will never, ever forget, for as long as I live.

“Do you know why I am eating this donut today?” she asked. I had no idea. “My doctor tells me this is the only day I can eat a donut.” She inhaled deeply and pushed her sleeve up revealing a row of numbers tattooed on her arm. She spoke slowly. “When my sister and I were in the camps, we were so hungry. We were starving. There was no food for us anywhere. I will never forget that feeling. So on this day, every year, I eat a donut. Because I can. To remember.”

We both sat in silence as she finished her donut.

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Good Morning Prayers

Every morning on the way to school, my little love and I say our “good morning” prayer. As we drive, I say a little prayer for a day filled with safety, love, and gratitude. Then my sweet girl says her prayer. This morning she remained quiet after I finished, so I turned up the radio and we drove along peacefully. We were about a minute from her school when she urgently said, “Mommy! I didn’t say my good morning prayer!” She then earnestly prayed for my shin splints, before praying for my sister and her new baby. I noticed that her words were selfless and intentional. I told her that I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. She was quiet for a minute. Then she explained, “I think God told me to pray. He reminded me to pray. Not with words, I can’t hear him. I feel him in my heart.” My eyes were brimming with tears as we pulled up to her school, in awe of the way God moves in our lives. Hand in hand, we walked into the play yard. The hardest part of any day is the moment that I have to let that precious hand go and walk away. Today though, my momma’s heart was full of thankfulness and reassurance that my daughter is not only watched over by loving teachers, but that she is watched over, without fail, by a mighty and loving God.

“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Matthew 19:14

Fourteen Miles

Sunday was an overcast and humid day. Looming rain clouds threatened to dump cascades of water on us at any moment. The trail on which we ran was quiet, the water beside us was peaceful. We pointed out turtles to each other and the brilliance of what little sun there was reflecting on the water. We laughed at the angry geese charging down our path and teased each other along the way. We ran by choice, therefore we could relish in nature’s beauty. We ran by choice, therefore we didn’t feel desperate when we grew weary and hungry. Our run, this challenge by choice, would end in celebration. We would have a fun meal with my parents and daughter at a trendy brunch spot. We would be able to soak in a hot bath, ice our aching joints and spread tiger’s balm over our sore muscles. We would fall asleep safely and securely in our homes.

It hurts my heart to imagine how desperate refugee mommas must feel as they endure dangerous and exhausting journeys to safety. Their treks do not end with a family celebration, a delicious meal, and a hot bath. Their children are not waiting for them at the finish line, happy and healthy, cheering them on. I will be forever grateful for the encouragement, prayers, and financial support friends, family and strangers provided for Maria, and for other refugee women and children like her. It was an honor to run for these brave women, for these momma bears, for these heroes.

I at this mustard cauliflower pasta all week long to fuel me for this run. I modified the recipe a bit and loved every bite.

I ate this mustard cauliflower pasta all week long to fuel me for this run. I modified the recipe a bit and loved every bite.