There is a book on my shelf called Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle.
It’s a pleasant and witty memoir about motherhood that I would recommend to most females. I suppose, there are a few men who may also enjoy it, but it’s full of comments like “I’d like to think it was due to PMS, but since I made it through the day without eating my body weight in M&M’s, I don’t think that was the problem”. In my experience, guys tend to shy away from this topic. If you’re a guy who is currently backing away from the computer, I will now be moving on, so please proceed with your reading.
To all the women reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re thinking, “Um, why is she reading a book on motherhood? Is she……” Nope. I was wandering around Barnes & Noble when the sparkly greenness of the cover caught my eye. I opened to a random page, read one paragraph and burst out laughing. In public. While surrounded by strangers. I figured that if one paragraph could make me accidentally humiliate myself, it was worth a go. Plus, I can’t always read books about street kids, poverty and missions statements. Sometimes a girl needs something light and fun.
I read. I laughed. I tried to bring Sean in on the fun by sharing parts that he found only mildly entertaining. Then I read the last chapter on the plane on my way home from Honduras and the world I had just left collided with the world I was reading about.
“Motherhood is the thing in a woman’s life that catches her by total and complete surprise.”
“There is nothing that prepares us for the way that moment [when your child is born] cracks open our hearts and pours in the type of pure love we never knew existed. A love that isn’t about us but is just about wanting to love and protect this little helpless person…”
“We become mothers and immediately realize our job is to raise these little people and pour into them and pack in eighteen years of wisdom, love and protection, only to let them go out into a world that seems scary and way too big for our comfort… We have to let them go.”
Earlier, I had a conversation with one of the most adorable 11 year olds I know.
How long have you lived here?
Where were you before here?
On the street.
(Math Moment: 11 years old – 5 years in the center = sleeping on the street as a 6 year old.)
Why were you on the street?
My step dad told me to get out of the house.
Do you have any siblings?
A little brother.
Where is he?
Lo regalaron. They gave him away.
You give away birthday presents or clothes that no longer fit.
And this is where I become Judgey McJudgerson. Where was this moment that caught his mom by surprise? Where is this pure love that we never knew existed? Where is this struggle to let this child go freely into the world only AFTER pouring 18 years of love and protection into him? I, of course, would never do anything like this. Clearly, this selfish woman freely walked away from her children and her responsibility in order to fall into the arms of some man who has proven himself to be a jerk with a capital J.
Let’s reel it in a little.
I have glimpsed the life this mother leads from a distance. Literally, I have seen it. Standing next to my air conditioned rental car, staring across the nearly stagnant river filled with trash that separated me from the shanty town of ‘houses’ made of sticks, tarps and pieces of tin. While waiting, a woman offered me her 5 year old son. As in “Hi, do you speak Spanish? Will you take him with you?” I was appalled that she would give her child to a stranger, until I noticed the angry bruise that encompassed her right eye. I was waiting by the car because I had been told that it’s too dangerous for me to enter this community. Being a fan of making smart decisions when possible, I waited. But the fact remains that hundreds of women and children live in this community and face the same dangers that I would have if I had gone in. Therefore, they regularly experience whatever I was being saved from. Unlike me, they don’t have the ability to keep themselves safe.
I have never performed a sociological study of families living in poverty in Honduras, nor have I stumbled upon the results of said study performed by anyone else. But I can comment on trends that I’ve seen. The chances for a single mother to find a job in which she can support her children are roughly -13%. (That is a negative 13%, not a dash, then 13%. And yes, I pulled that number out of the air.) She will usually find another man who can at least give the illusion of supporting her. The problem is that new step dad very rarely wants some other man’s kids in his home. The lucky ones end up with Aunt Gladys, Grandma Maria or neighbor Vicki. The less than lucky ones end up on the street.
Which is where my adorable 11 year old found himself as a 6 year old. (This is the part of the story in which I give Judgey McJudgerson a slap and banish her to the corner.) After being sent from his home, he was on the street for a few months and began huffing glue. He sheepishly relates that his mom found out and was upset. She somehow discovered Proniño and got him in. Even though she has to travel more than an hour on numerous public busses, she visits him every.single.visiting.day.
And my idea of what a mother’s love looks like shifts just a little.
With our children, we worry about ‘screen time’ and bacteria and cognitive development and our three year old’s sense of self. And we do this because most of us don’t have to worry about shelter and starvation and violent husbands. What does loving your child mean when you’re overwhelmed by the latter? I’m learning that sometimes it means finding a children’s home or a family that will care for your boys when, for you, it’s not possible. During my last trip, I talked to a mom who used money allocated for rent to visit her son. She’s facing the very real possibility of homelessness so she can share an hour or two with him along with a Pepsi and some cookies. This was not a financially sound decision, but it was an outpouring of the love that she is able to give. I gave another mom a ride to the bus stop and listened to her gush about how proud she is that her son is in junior high, is getting good grades and has started studying welding. She knows she wouldn’t have been able to offer him any of these opportunities and instead of feeling jealous or ashamed, she’s grateful.
At first glance, these women would never live up to our standards of what being a mother should look like. But hanging around a little longer and digging a little deeper you’ll find little nuggets of selflessness and sacrifice that few of us are called upon to make. And in those nuggets you see the very essence of a mother’s love.