They were such beautiful children, and I loved to be in their presence. But, usually I entertained them, and then I went home, leaving them to my sister to calm down and get them to bed. I felt no guilt, for I was their aunt, and it was my job to be the good guy to my sister’s role as the bad guy, giving them all the sweets she denied them. They were a quartet of lovable imps who brought me great joy at a time when I was learning that parenting was one of the hardest jobs in the world.
Without any preparation at all, I was suddenly the mother, and was no longer the aunt. I learned that payback can be brutal, for now, I was the one left at the end of the day trying to get them to go to bed while totally hyper off of the sugar that others had given them. The shoe on the other foot is a great teacher.
They were so different, and no one discipline style worked for each of them, so, I had to learn how to connect with each one in ways that helped them feel comfortable with me as a parent, and not any more as a playmate. It was hard for all of us, trying to change roles. It is why I did not insist that they call me Mama or anything near it. I had been Gina, just Gina, not Aunt Gina, so I just stayed Gina.
But, the way they said it and the way I heard it changed, as now my name had a deeper meaning for them and for me. When they said, “Gina,” I heard, “Mama.” I was the person who would be responsible for healing boo-boos and kissing knees, providing hugs and wiping away tears, and making sure they had good food all day long.
For the first few weeks, they all slept in the bed with me, which, of course, meant I did not get much sleep. I never knew that little feet could hurt so much when slammed into your stomach, or that children tended to constantly move when asleep. I also never knew where their hands and feet would be on my body on awakening. I was glad when they felt comfortable sleeping in their own beds. No more Ben-Gay days!
It was weird that as the adult, I had the hardest time adjusting to this new relationship between them and me. I had been used to having my life all to myself, except the times I spent with my husband. With just him and me, we often went out to eat, not bothering to cook for just two people. But, now I had to cook three meals a day, meaning that I had to learn to shop in bulk and to cook enough for anyone who wanted seconds. Boy, can little children eat! One of the worst mistakes that I made was over eating.
The youngest boy came to the table. I had cooked turnip greens, and I served them with cornbread and buttermilk. He must have been about five years old, and he told me he wanted some turnip greens. I told him what my aunts had told me growing up,”If you ask for it, you must eat it.” Well, he affirmed that he wanted both turnip greens and some buttermilk, and I served him both. But, after two or three bites of the turnip greens and one or two sips of the buttermilk, he decided that he did not like either one.
I insisted that he eat what he had asked for, and the war of wills began. I was not backing down and neither was he. Finally, in a bid to end the stalemate, he put the turnip greens in the buttermilk, and gave me a “let me see you beat that” look. I made him drink it all down, and I did not relent through the tears.
Of course, I ended up with the clean-up, so I am not sure who won, but I never did that again. Recently, he told his kids this story as I sat there, and now they know why their father does not eat turnip greens or drink buttermilk. As a result of that childhood trauma (his words), he does not make them eat anything they say that they do not like. I just remind myself that it’s a different generation and move on.
I also did not know that those little bodies cost a lot to cover. Why should their clothes cost so much, when it does not take much material to cover them? So, I had to learn to look for bargains, no longer paying whatever the store wanted for the garments. Yet, I came to love shopping with them, but two at a time, the boys one day and the girls another day, but never all four at the same time. That is a recipe for stress-related drinking!
The most wonderful part of raising those four little ones was the magnitude of their ability to love. The hugs and kisses they gave me from day to day helped me to get through the hardest of days. They seemed to know when I was struggling, and they would spare my feelings when I obviously did not know what I was doing. They were patient with me in ways that no adults that I worked with ever was, allowing me to learn on the job without any criticism. I think they felt sorry for me.
In Matthew 19:14, it states, “But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’” I understand now what Jesus meant by becoming like children, for children trust their parents wholeheartedly to be there for them. They love you and want to know that you love them back. When they know that they are loved, all is good in their lives, no matter what happens. Those lovable imps taught me this lesson well.
Today, they are parents and three of them are grandparents, and I am still “Gina.” They are still a quartet of lovable imps, but on a more adult scale. I am thankful for the opportunity to mother them, and for the love that they still provide to me today. Above is a picture of some of my crew, as that quartet became 15 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren, with another great-grandchild due in June.