Today I’m beyond excited to host my beautiful, brilliant and all around dear friend Addie Zierman as she shares her story of how love showed up in her life. I love this story because reading it is like a deep breath, one that leaves you thankful, cheering and determined to love well, now… or sooner.
It wasn’t grief, and it wasn’t a tragedy – but it was Life and it was too much for me at the moment, as I sat cross-legged in my Mommy Class with my six-month-old son.
I was a new mom with a five-year-long graduate program winding to an end and a “book-length work of publishable quality” coming due in lieu of a thesis. The Minnesota winter was edging toward us, and I was feeling isolated by all of it: the work of motherhood, the physical distance from my own family, and the stress of trying to find space to finish my book while my new son seemed to require so much.
It was the last class of the session, and the topic was self-care, and I spewed it all out, the stress and the struggle, without entirely meaning to. I talked about the book, the classes, the meetings, the up-all-nights. “When are am I supposed to find time for self-care?” I asked everyone and no one at once.
She stopped me outside of class, and the wind cut against our jackets, our baby carriers heavy on our arms. She was in the hard, early months of her second pregnancy, but I didn’t know that yet. I barely knew her at all – a few exchanges in class, one afternoon play date.
But she said, “I’m taking your kid this Friday,” and when I protested she held up a hand and said, “I’m taking your kid. You need time to finish your book, and I’m taking your kid. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
I stood there in the cold, and her eyes were full of sincerity and stubbornness. She didn’t ask if she could. She didn’t offer a wimpy, well-meaning, “Is there anything I can do to help?” She insisted. She forced me to take what I needed. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.
It’s been five years since that first fall day, and Kenna has become my closest Mama Friend. I couldn’t tell you how many times she’s watched my two boys over that time. How many of their diapers she’s changed, tantrums she’s dealt with, time outs she’s distributed. I call her and say, “I know you’re supposed to take the kids today, but Dane has a cold…” and she doesn’t let me finish. “Send them over. We love germs,” she says.
When I got pregnant with Liam and spent the first 15 weeks dog-sick she brought me meals and took Dane and brought me tall glasses caffeine-free Diet Coke while we sat outside in the late fall sun.
When I finished my thesis, 7 months pregnant, she was there at the reading, weepy and cheering. When Liam was born on Tax Day, she was the first one to the hospital with a flower pot of cookie-pops and all the love.
When Dane threw a Lego at Liam’s head and Andrew was gone and I wasn’t sure if I should take him to the ER for a stitch or not, she didn’t ask – she just drove over, sent me off, cleaned my kitchen while Dane slept upstairs, unknowing, in his bed.
When I had my first miscarriage she brought over a Christmas cactus and a giant mocha. She said, “This matters, and I will never forget,” and then she let me talk about something else.
When I had my second miscarriage, she watched the boys while I got that second ultrasound and then for the rest of the day while I took the medicine, while I cried and waited for it to do its work and dissolve the empty sac that should have been holding a baby.
I lay on the couch and watched Sherlock on Netflix and she called and said, “The kids are doing great. I’m planning on feeding them dinner and getting them into their jammies. Take as long as you need.”
Having kids is one of the best things in the world. But also, it’s entirely exhausting. It makes it hard to find the space to process the highs and lows of life when there are little people constantly tugging on your shirt, talking, asking, needing.
The things that you feel so deeply barely brush against them as they float over their heads – which is as it should be. They can’t understand that you need a minute. Just a minute.
In these past five years, my griefs have been mostly small and my joys have ben big, but the grind of life itself has often been enough to undo me. And in those moments, my Mama Friend showed up again and again, with her insistent care and her stubborn love. She’s let my kids trash her house and eat all of her crackers. She’s prodded them to use the potty chair and to eat their peas.
Again and again, she does the simple, humble, exhausting work of love in the language that I so desperately need to hear it at the exhausting center of the Pre-K years.
She texts me a photo of our four, mangy kids snuggling in front of a movie while I’m at Panera, working, and I feel it lift like weight. I can be away. I realize. I can think and work and be away from them, because my kids are loved. They’re just fine.
When my publishing contract came through and it was a two-book-deal, Kenna cheered and took me out to dinner, and then she got immediately down to business.
“How are we going to make this second book happen,” she said, and it wasn’t a question. “I’ll plan to take your kids at least once a week.”
“No, no,” I said, “We’ll figure it out,” I said.
But she just looked at me, her face stone-set stubborn, her eyebrow raised.
“I know,” I said. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“Exactly,” she said with a smile.
Addie Zierman (@addiezierman) is a writer, blogger and recovering Jesus freak She recently published her debut memoir, When We Were On Fire through Convergent Books. It was named by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the best books of 2013. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons and blogs at addiezierman.com.
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