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Publisher’s Letter: Survival Mode

Ashley Sexton Gordon. Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes.

They were little people once, a lifetime ago. And I was haggard and worn. Sleep deprived and salty (as one of them calls me now). Clinging to the highlights, and the happys and the giggles that sometimes made their way through the chaos, and the crunched Cheerios on the floor. The good moments when photos were taken and the snot was wiped away just in time. The early days. Four young children with only five and half years between them. God bless us all.

For one entire week of vacation, a sick 2-year-old slept on top of me, cheek to fevered cheek. And when I would ever-so-slowly roll him to my side, slumbering heavily, he would jolt awake, throw his leg back over my torso and place his hot little cheek on top of mine.

I won’t survive this, I thought. But I did.

They started sports at exactly the same time. And they all needed to be in four different locations at once, playing baseball, football, gymnastics, basketball, dance and track—and the practices and games were as serious as the LSU playoff season. I drove to pass-through parishes and sat on sagging bleachers with swarms of termites circling the lights. I watched tournaments next to mothers clanging cowbells and fathers screaming at refs. I took one child after another to the doctor for a fractured wrist, a broken ankle, a defeated spirit. But sometimes, late in the evening, we won the trophy or the championship ring and I beamed like we took home a world medal.

They grew out of their clothes all at once, in one season. And the very next season they kept growing. I spent my weekends cleaning out closets and handing down clothes from the oldest to the youngest, making sure that all four had something that fit for school, for church, for dinner. Toes wedged their way out of the front of shoes. “Didn’t I just buy those last week?” And hair grew over eyes and socks grew holes in the heels and I grew tired.

I won’t survive this, I thought. But I did.

There was quiet before the storm. I’ll call it a short season of mercy that is only appreciated in hindsight, as seasons of peace typically are. A season I thought I deserved, when the kids were old enough to feed themselves and bathe themselves, but too young to ignore my (very insightful!) advice and cringe at my (very hilarious!) suggestions. Before they became tween and teenagers, that is. Those were glory days, indeed.

But like a tidal wave that has built up offshore silently, hormones rolled into my house in the form of a storm and—hit after merciless hit—they left no surface unscathed. It takes a thick skin to be a parent of teenagers. And a face devoid of surprise. And a calm temperament equal to Mahatma Gandhi’s. And sometimes a therapist. And sometimes a been-there-done-that friend.

“You are going to be on the one-yard line of parenting for about six years,” a dear friend who’s been-there-done-that told me. “It doesn’t ease up. But it’s worth it in the end.”

Relationships. That’s what she preached. At the end of this season, you want a relationship with each and every one of your children. The road is not easy. No good road ever is. But your children know you are walking this road with them through the sunny days and through the storms. You are the steady.

“Guess what, Mom? You’re going to be surprised.” My youngest, a sixth-grader, sat at the end of my bed while I straightened my room yesterday. She flicked her hair over her shoulder—maybe the first time I’d ever seen her perform that move. I eyed her suspiciously, and she giggled. “I have a boyfriend.”

Et tu, Brute?

I once believed that I wouldn’t survive this. But, been-there-done-that, got the T-shirt to prove it, I will.