The Hip Mama Paradox

By Maria Cowell, Guest Author

You have to have a lot of moxie to go by a moniker like Hip Mama. Or some seriously sophisticated swag and head-turning looks. After all, a hip mama must be some kind of babe or completely self-actualized woman. But the truth is I am pretty average in the swag, looks and self-actualization departments. I don't have much of those. What I do have is a reminder that I am not really in control and never have been. And I thank God for that.

During my days of never ending diaper changes and pacifiers (my kids') I happened upon a book entitled "The Hip Mama's Survival Guide," by Ariel Gore, an account of one mom navigating her way through early childhood. Her kids’ childhood, not hers.

"I have two kids and have it all together, so I must be pretty hip myself, "I thought. In fact, why not proclaim my hipness to the world through a vanity plate for my kid-toting, red-hot, mini-van?

And so I did. I order the plates and promptly forgot all about it in my day-to-day life as a busy young wife and mom.

If type A personalities are ones who are always in control, always have a plan, always have everything mapped out, then I was an A+. My life trajectory was simple: get top grades in high school to get top college scholarships, graduate with honors, get an awesome job in my field, meet a wonderful guy, have a great career, the 2.5 kids and white picket fence. By my mid-30s, the trajectory was right on speed and angle.

And then the trajectory plummeted.

One day at MOPS (Mothers-of-Preschoolers) my daughter, Sophie, could not stop asking for water. She was lethargic and disoriented. We rushed her to the hospital and she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Normal blood glucose levels are 80-120. Hers was 661, a number I will never forget. A number that would have put her in a coma if we had waited any longer. She was only three.

I entered a world no parent ever wants to enter. I now had a child with a chronic illness for which there was no cure. A world of painful finger prickles and intrusive needles. A world of constant worrying about my child going blind or losing a limb. What if I messed up the insulin dosage and put her in a coma? I was terrified.

Two days after her diagnosis my vanity plates arrived in the mail. HIPMAMA. In bright blue letters. Mocking me. In my sleep deprivation and crushing fear, I did not feel very hip. I felt defeated, overwhelmed and out of control. I looked at the plates and burst into tears. There was no way I was putting those on my van. I packed them up, ready to ship back to the DMV. They sat on the desk, forgotten, for over two weeks as I took a crash course in Diabetes Care 101.

But then something happened.

In His gentle, loving way, God reminded me that I had never been in control. He had. He had been before Sophie was diagnosed and He would continue to be in her lifetime and mine. It wasn't my supposed hipness or education or anything else that enabled me to navigate life. It was God's grace and benevolence to me in all situations good or bad.

So, I put the plates on and enjoyed them and all the fun chuckles and comments they inspired. And boy, were there some doozies!

Fast forward ten years and history repeated itself. My 15-year old son, Sophie's older brother, came down with the same symptoms. We took him in but I did not need to hear the doctor's diagnosis. I already knew his pancreas was shot. That night by his bedside at the hospital, I cried, and cried and cried. Unbelievable! Why is this happening to our family? Why do I have to have two kids with this horrible disease when other people, awful people, people not as kind or loving as me, don't have a care in the world?

But you can't stay at the pity party forever.

You eventually have to go home and move on with your life. And in the process of dealing with the adjustments, I found my own attitudes adjusting. In little increments, I began to have more empathy for others living in unchangeable situations. Difficult relationships, chronic illnesses, unfulfilled longings. I learned to talk less and listen more.

Thanks to modern technology like insulin pumps and glucose meters, my kids have a fairly normal life (if adolescents can be termed "normal"). You can't tell by looking at them that the night before they were crying tears of frustration about their diet limits, or high sugars kept them vomiting all night. They keep that to themselves. Likewise, I started understanding for the first time that we don't always know what is really going on with people, what others wrestle with in the night watch. They keep that to themselves.We may look normal, but we all have private struggles and giants facing us down.

I don't want to hyper-spiritualize my kids' situation or trivialize it by saying it was to teach me a lesson. I don't claim to have such knowledge. Only God knows why things happen as they do. I just know that the impact on all our lives has shaped us and helped us trust God more. It has helped me be more sensitive to others' battles.

And so a vanity plate that smacks of narcissism is a paradox in my life: a visual of my humble dependence on God. A daily reminder of the moment I began to realize how unhip I truly am. And for that reason alone, it's a moniker worth keeping.

What are the paradoxes in your life? Whether you are a person of great faith, some faith or no faith, how do you handle the curveballs life throws? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Maria Cowell is a marketing professional at a private K-12 school in Los Angeles, and a former reporter and editor for newspapers in LA and Glendale. Follow her musings, meddlings and moments at

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