With my fourth Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday, I find myself grateful for the experience of having my own child and family. Every day is both a blessing and a challenge. Cleaning up messes, receiving sticky kisses, disciplining a small child, and cuddling during family movies are all a part of my daily routine.
Frequently, I’m late to events with friends because of “one more kiss,” and all too often I show up at work with a messy up-do and only mascara on my face because that’s all the time I had to get ready after rushing my family out the door.
When our son was just six months old, Philbert Smith, Eagle Rock’s now-retired Director of Students, sat down with Kevin and I to discuss the possibility of becoming the next houseparents for Pinon House. Having no clue of what raising a child would entail, and having no point of reference for the challenges we would face, we nevertheless eagerly accepted the opportunity.
Imagine yourself with your own six-month-old. They aren’t really crawling yet and they definitely aren’t talking. They have some pretty basic needs — requirements that often occur in the middle of the night — that once again disrupt your sleep schedule.
That’s fine because you can always go to sleep early the next night and catch up, right? Okay, take this scenario and insert 14 teenagers into the equation. Sounds disastrous, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing. The love you give your child is now being shared with his new “roommates.”
All of a sudden, he has 14 older brothers and sisters who will snuggle with him and play with him, and watch over him like a family of hawks. It’s instant built-in babysitting, except you don’t drive the babysitter home after a date. They just walk a few feet to their room.
More important, it provides the opportunity for our boy to grow up in one of the most diverse and accepting communities to be found on this planet.
That being said, houseparenting at Eagle Rock also comes with 14 teens who require their own versions of love, support, guidance and discipline. I’ll never forget our first trimester as houseparents. I would fall asleep after putting Luca down around 8:30pm, and Kevin would wake me an hour later to spend some time with Pinon house.
At 10:30pm I would go back to sleep, only to be awakened a half hour later when Luca would wake up for one reason or another. I usually slept fairly soundly from about 2am to 6am, when it was time to start a new day. It was sleep deprivation on a level that only those in Marine Corps boot camp can appreciate.
I’ve only had one Mother’s Day that did not include welcoming home Eagle Rock students. Luca was 11 days old at the time and the day featured brunch cooked by Kevin and his father and some handprint craft I really wanted to do while both grandmothers were in town.
Today I spend Mother’s Day texting and calling the mothers, grandmothers, aunts and female guardians of our Piñon House students, wishing them all a happy Mother’s Day and thanking them for giving me the opportunity to love their young person.
In fact, Mother’s Day is one of the most selfish days of the year for me because not only do I get to spend the day with my own child, but I welcome home my extended family. While the mothers of Eagle Rock students say goodbye to their loved ones, I’m excitedly awaiting their return.
Houseparenting is not for the faint at heart. It’s hard when the students need you at 2am. It’s hard discovering how to best support them through some very challenging situations. It’s frustrating not feeling like you’re enough! I mean there’s 14 of them and only two of us. Kevin and I not only care for their needs, but the needs of our own child, our careers, and most important, each other.
But, when my son throws on his shoes and says “I want to play with Anaya,” or gets excited to play guitar with Myles, or shares cereal with Priscilla and Yxcelline, or listens to Victor read him books, or plays trains with Evan and Jefer, or shares grapes with Amr, or watches Lydia’s musical performance, or sits next to Danial at dinner, believe me when I say it’s all well worth it.
Growing from a family of three to a family of 17 overnight is way up there as one of the craziest decisions of our lives. And it’s one that I’ll never regret. I’m not going to tell you that I would have made the same choice had I known how hard parenting and houseparenting can be. But I’m so grateful that I did it.
So, to all the mothers and grandmothers sending your young people back to Eagle Rock this Mother’s Day, I salute you and I thank you. Thank you for sharing your young person with me. They teach me more about parenting and they challenge me to find the best version of myself. They love my child like he is a member of their own family.
I am a far better mother because of your strength in sharing your child with a family you’ve never even set eyes on. And I truly hope that someday, we will meet. Meanwhile, Happy Mother’s Day.
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About the Author: Anastacia Galloway Reed is a professional development associate and houseparent at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo., where she works with schools and organizations across the country to reengage youth in their own education.