I would have preferred to think of myself as recycled art rather than a discarded road sign. Yet, there was nothing salvageable about my journey-worn frame the other day as my daughter pulled her van bulging with pillows, tote bags, rolling cases, stuffed animals, boogey boards, and blankets, out of the driveway. Her children, my life’s bounty, are bound in steel plated car seats by straps locked together with iron jaw teeth that warn, “Authorized release only.” I am not authorized believe me. My granddaughters were secure for the trip home, a menagerie of whirlwind and clutter, with my entire beating heart wrapped in their curls and blue eyes. An arsenal of water bottles, Sippy cups, Goldfish, cereal bars, and the beacon of security itself, a cell phone with charger, was placed within the ready reach of the driver, my daughter - the Mom.
Who needs road signs these days?
Our three daughters are much better mothers than I ever thought to be, or knew how to be. I’ve learned this is a common phenomenon among my friends who are also somewhat intimidated by their daughter’s maternal prowess. Heaven knows we worked hard enough in the days before daycare, pre-pre school, play dates, and Girl’s Night Out. We taught our children nursery school rhymes, kept up with their shots, paid quarters for their baby teeth, drove them to activities, and chaperoned them when necessary. All of this before Pampers, Pak ‘n Plays, and DVD’s. We fed them as we were instructed - milk, pureed jar food, peanut butter and jelly, French fries and coke. Green beans and carrots were mixed in somewhere. Amazingly, the kids grew straight with arms, legs, fingers and toes in place. And most of them reproduced.
Our role models, our mothers, offered us aprons, manners, silver tableware, and Dr. Spock, none of which worked well in our two car, microwave, Sesame Street equipped households. The speed of daily life seemed to increase. We had to be creative, think quick, and pray for the best. I tied our two-year old daughter to a tree in the front yard so she could play outside while I took care of the baby inside. When Daddy was at sea, we ate cereal for dinner and slept snuggled in my bed. My suitcase stuffed with her diapers, I took our one-year old to Europe to follow my Navy husband’s ship from port to port, leaving her with newly acquainted babysitters without a background check. I have even been known to leave a child or two in the car when I dashed into the grocery store. I hope God has forgiven me.
No wonder my daughters won’t let me load their dishwashers. I cannot be trusted. Plus, I have no sanitizer in my purse. Grudgingly, I have acquiesced to washing my hands long enough to sing the main lines from “Happy Birthday”, and encourage the grandchildren to do the same, while I hum.
In my bathroom I supply hand towels, paper towels, guest towels, Wipes, sanitizer, bar soap, liquid soap, and three types of hand lotion. The condition of the hands, a fertile ground for germs of the worst kind, I’ve been warned repeatedly, is high priority, and I am diligent to display my weapons. Yet, a careless smear of peanut butter left on a knife I’ve placed in the dishwasher proves my lack of attention to cleanliness. That I am allowed to clean the kitchen so often after the PBJ’s, juices, Goldfish, cheese straws, pretzels, chips, macaroni and cheese, smoothies, and cinnamon oatmeal, is truly a tribute of my daughters’ tolerance for a worn out “STOP” sign like me.
I used to be the one with all the answers, directions, corrections, and even predictions. I probably knew as much as Google. The kids obeyed, listened and learned because I was the Mom and I told them so. Our daughters are grown now and don’t need my directives anymore. They have Google, Facebook, and blogs. Often I have to ask them for advice. Really, there’s nothing in my stash of warnings that tells me when and when not to let a kid ride in the car without a car seat; or, when and how much sunscreen to apply, or instructions how to hook up a baby monitor. My “No!” is lost somewhere in the bag with “Stop!” so I default to “Yes, of course you can!” to the children.
When I said, “Stop!” to my kids, I meant it and they knew it. Stop playing with your food, stop teasing your sister, stop arguing. When the behavior warranted ceasing, my edgy “Stop!” was heeded, especially when I added, “one…two… ” Three was not an option. “STOP!” in my crisp, elevated voice instantly signaled danger, halted all activity, and kept my children safe.
I was challenged at first when my babies became persons with opinions who questioned my authority. So I threw in “Caution”, “Advisory”, even “Yield” signals to help them with their choices and decisions. Sometimes “Stop” didn’t allow them to travel their own paths. They’d get lost occasionally, as we all do. Like a billboard beside the highway, I’d say, “Stop feeling remorse, guilt, and regret about things you can’t change. Try something new!” “Merge and Proceed with Caution” had been my advice as I guided our three little girls into the world.
Now I want to tell them, “STOP!” already with the cell phone, I Pad, and all devices that suck in eyes, ears, and brain cells, “Look! Listen! Pedestrian Crossing!” Always glued to the activities, advice, and discoveries of their friends and their friends’ friends being transmitted on their smart phones and cyber devices, my daughters miss the traffic circling them. With highly developed multi-task skills, they interact with their children’s activities while carrying on long conversations on their i-phones. The children are used to seeing their mother’s heads bent down to the card-size box and seem fine with it. That’s what’s important. Besides, that smart little box also holds games galore for the kids to enjoy when Mommy is talking in real life.
After my daughter had pulled her van out of the driveway I sat out on my deck strewn with bunched up towels and pool toys to disconnect with a magazine I flipp through my own iPad. I heard occasional chirping from birds as I read about an amazing project created by art students from Alleghany College. Since I was feeling like a faded sign lying beside a very long stretch of highway that read, “Don’t Stop. Move On.”, my curiosity was peaked.
Signs and Flowers is a garden of twelve large flowers made from discarded road signs and landscaping in the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville, Pennsylvania. In the spring and summer of 2001, the art students from Alleghany College designed and constructed the “garden”, which has now become a popular tourist attraction while beautifying one of their busiest intersections. Out of recycled road signs the students had designed a gateway of whimsical welcome to a town! The stamp-size pictures that I clicked on, one by one, mushroomed into kaleidoscopic gardens of merry flowers.
Suddenly I realized if trashed signs could be made into tulips and daisies, I too could be recycled. What was it that God wanted me to do with the materials still in tact in my life, and how could I rewire and reattach the fading roles I had played? Like those recycled signs, could I be revived?
From the Book of Isaiah I read, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of contrite and lowly spirit to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:19)
The truth hit me like a truck. I didn’t need to be recycled. Truth known, that had already happened. Isn’t that what grandmothers are – recycled moms? What I needed was Revival, a complete refreshing, restoring, renewing in my spirit. That was exactly what God said He would do for me, “revive my heart.” I didn’t need to settle for recycle. New wine does not do well in old wineskins.
“But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17)
I may not able to unbuckle a car seat, say no to a child, resist serving ice cream for breakfast, or keep up with superheroes, but I can read stories, hold small hands in my crooked ones, share lunch with my dogs, and create Fairy Gardens. I can give my grandchildren a new vocabulary with words like “miragical” (portmanteau for magical and miracle), and I can carry my cell phone so when my daughters call for advice, I’ll be there. Rather than propping signs at my front door, I’ll hang flags waving “WELCOME HOME” in seasonal colors.
Discarded no more, my “Lanes are open for all traffic”.