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Posts Tagged ‘growing up’

It was your birthday yesterday.

When you woke up in the morning (to the loving sound of your sister singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at the top of her lungs from the bottom of the stairs) you were still seven, but a couple of hours later you officially turned eight.

Your teacher emailed me to say the class sang ‎to you at exactly 9:11am (the time you were born) and I knew you would get a kick out of that. For all of your easy-going ways, you still appreciate the clarity that comes from precision.

I got to drop you at school, something that almost never happens. You took my hand as we walked down the stairs at the back of the school yard and chatted away about something I no longer remember. Truth be told I wasn’t listening very closely; I was too busy looking at you and wondering how it’s possible for eight years to seemingly pass in the blink of an eye.

As we neared the corner where we would turn into your play yard you slipped your hand out from mine and started to run ahead, eager to see your friends, your baseball glove and tennis ball at the ready.

A glimpse.

I wonder how much longer you will let me hold your hand ‘in public.’

I wonder how much longer you will let me kiss your cheek and smooth your hair and cheer (embarrassingly) loudly for you from the stands of a hockey arena or baseball diamond.

Your older sister has taught me that these things are fleeting, only lasting a definite period of time, based on a timeline that I can neither predict nor change.

One day you will do what you have always done, and the next day you will not. You won’t even realize the change, but I will. A line will be drawn in the sand between then and now and I won’t fully realize how much I miss ‘then’ until I can no longer go back.

We went out for dinner last night and you brought along two friends from your hockey team. The three of you sat across the table from me, still young enough to have little plastic lids on your drinks but old enough to order for yourselves and go to the washroom together chuckling the whole time about a joke I probably wouldn’t understand.

You chatted with your aunt on the phone, at one point telling her you were out for dinner and “had two buddies” with you.

Buddies.

Not friends, but buddies.

For some reason the way you said it gave me pause.

You now have buddies.

All of a sudden I could see you at 16, you and your ‘buddies’ coming through my front door, in the house only long enough to empty my fridge and grab some sporting equipment from the garage before jumping in the back of someone’s car and being off again. I can almost feel the words ‘drive safely’ and ‘wear your seatbelts’ caught in my throat.

‎I try to reassure myself that there is time, so much time between now and then, years and years to get used to a new normal.

And then I realize how quickly the last eight years have gone and say a silent prayer that the next eight pass just a little slower.

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‎I’ve been spending a lot of time there lately.‎

My 20 year high school reunion is next week. Although I’m not attending, my Facebook feed is clogged with posts and updates and pictures of names and faces I had long since forgotten. Or at least I thought I had forgotten.

Now I hear songs and am instantly taken back to moments sitting on couches, riding in the back of cars, simultaneously carefree and angst-filled, in the way only a 17 year old can be.

I can see the funny sculpture his mom had in their living room, count the number of steps from the back door of the school to the front door of the house, remember the look of her handwriting on the notes she wrote and then folded into intricate triangles.

And I can even almost feel that sense of nervous anticipation in my stomach; the feeling that something, anything, everything, was going to happen. ‎

I re-live scenes from those days as though I’m watching reruns of a show I used to love, shocked to realize how many of the lines I still remember.

Sometimes I catch glimpses of her, that girl with the curly hair and the sarcastic wit, the one who liked to make people think she had it all figured out. Sometimes she even convinced herself.

I see her in the same way I see all of the others, like a wisp of a memory, the edges blurry and faded but still recognizable. I realize that she is me, or at least she is a part of who I used to be. I don’t miss being her as much as I miss knowing her.

I remember that she used to be a pretty good time. I wish we could have a cup of tea and chat, sort of like a big sister and little sister. I would try (and fail) not to give her advice.  Not so much because I think she’ll do anything wrong but because I know she’ll spend way too much time trying to do everything right.

Instead, I would try to instill in her the self-esteem and confidence that end up making everything else so much easier.

People like you.  Really, they do.  And if there are some that don’t, it’s not your job to convince them otherwise.

You are beautiful, you really are.  Believing it and living that belief make it even more true.

Make the first move, go after what you want, trust your gut.  It’s okay to kiss the wrong people sometimes, it makes you even more thankful when you kiss the right one.

Two weeks from now my reunion will have come and gone and the faces that faded before will fade once again.  A song will be just a song and I will stop asking “what if” and go back to wondering “what’s next.”

At least until the next time I find myself on memory lane.

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‎You and I, we seem to be in an almost constant cycle of renegotiation.

I tell myself that we’re just figuring things out, that as you grow and want more independence it’s only natural that I’m going to struggle to know how much to let go and how much to hold on. ‎ We’re just working out the new rules and responsibilities within our relationship.

It sounds much better than the reality which is that we can’t seem to see eye to eye on anything these days.

If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job at this. I’m trying to do the best I can but I’ve never been a mother to a ten year old before and if there’s a manual out there, I can’t seem to find it. I fear you are paying the price for my inexperience. While I realize that your brother is a whole different species (pretty much) I feel like at least he will benefit from me having been through it once before it’s his turn. You would probably point this out as yet another example of the unfairness of your world as the older child.

When I was your age (cue eye rolling now), I kept a journal. I thought it was a very grown up thing to do and that was pretty much my goal for everything, to be a grown up. One of the other reasons for my journal-keeping was that I promised myself I would always remember what it was like to be a kid so that when I (finally) became an adult I would be understanding to what kids go through.

It was a nice idea.

Of course the concept that I couldn’t really grasp at the time was being a mother. If I’m being honest I can barely grasp the concept right now. Sure I can remember that when I was 10 I wanted independence and for my parents to trust me and to stop bothering me to do this and that and the other thing. But now I’m on the other side of the fence and I know why parents say no and not yet and because and because I said so. I remember what it was like to be you, but I haven’t yet figured out how to be me, mothering you.

In reality, you and I have been in negotiations since shortly after you were born. First it was figuring out the eating thing and then the sleeping thing and then the not jumping down the stairs and the graspingof the concept of no and on and on it went. Our relationship seems to be a series of very short term contracts in which as soon as we finally figure out the terms and learn to live by them, we end up back at the bargaining table.

Your brother is very different in that respect. ‎Whereas you and I are a work-in-progress, he seems to have arrived with a long-term contract already in place. There is very little discussion of terms or roles or clauses. I’m sure the time will come but for now I’m glad I can focus my energy on you and I.

I feel the pressure to get this right; the fear of not screwing this up hangs over my head and keeps me up at night. I fear that one wrong word, one wrong look, and you will turn away and not turn back. And yet, in the heat of the moment, all I can seem to say are the wrong things. It’s only after that I find the words that would have been so much better.

I only hope you know how much I’m trying. I hope you can ‎see how much I want to give you what you need while still keeping what I can’t give up. I can’t let go, I don’t think I will ever be able to, but I will try to loosen, to lessen, to listen.

This mother-daughter thing is tricky. If I take a minute to look at it from a different perspective I’m probably still renegotiating my relationship with my own mother, and her with her mother, and on and on we go.
And maybe it’s because it matters so much, and we so much want it to be perfect, that we end up tweaking and twisting and bumping up against each other so much.

But I can’t promise that it will ever be perfect, all I can promise is that day after day I will get up and meet you at the table, ready to take on whatever is coming next because the stakes are so high and there’s no giving in, no giving up.

You’re just too important.

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‎You’re seven today. In less than two hours it will be official. You’re very precise about these things, even asking me to find your watch so you can make note of the exact time at school.

9:11 a.m.

Right about now, seven years ago, we were still trying to get used to the idea that you were coming today, a couple of weeks earlier than planned. We left the house in a bit of a rush a few hours earlier, forgetting your sister’s shoes as we carried her, half asleep, out the door to the car to be dropped at grandma’s house on the way to the hospital.

We chatted about baby names on the way, in between contractions. We were still waffling on a girl’s name. Soon enough we would realize we wouldn’t need one anyway.

In a way it seems like only yesterday, the memories and feelings of those first moments and hours with you seem so clear. Sometimes I can’t recall things that happened last month or last week but almost every minute of that day seems etched in my mind forever.

And then I look at you now, at seven (or almost) and can’t believe it’s you. I see you run around with your friends, learn to ride a bike, meander along the sidewalk on your way to school, your backpack bouncing every step of the way, and I almost lose my breath.

Last year you played hockey for the first time, falling down every second step but always getting up one more time than you fell down. This year you decided you wanted to be a goalie and, admittedly, I wasn’t sure. But you did it. You made the top level competitive team in our area and skated out there every day, padded up in so much equipment that I often wondered how you could move at all, let alone stride from side to side and end up doing the splits.

In your final game, one your team needed to win for the championship, you played the overtime and then the referee announced it would go to penalty shots. I looked at you down on the ice, all alone in your net, and I wanted to yell at them to stop, that you were only six and couldn’t possibly be expected to do this.

But you did. And when you made the final big save and your team went and scored at the other end I could see your grin from ear to ear, even through the bars on your mask.

And suddenly, in my mind you were eight months old again, sitting and splashing in the tub; two years old again, tottering around the house with an ever-present apple in your hand; four years old, heading off for your first day of school; six years old, graduating from senior kindergarten.

Perhaps that is the way it always is for parents. While those around us see our kids as who they are, in that moment, we can’t help but see them as they were, the previous versions of themselves all rolled up together.

So you’ll have to forgive me if today, when you blow out your candles, you look up and see a few tears in my eyes. I’m not sad, I promise. I’m just so proud of the little boy you have become and so excited to see what comes next.

Happy Birthday Buddy.

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‎For months he’s been asking when it will happen, coming home from school or hockey or a birthday party telling me everyone else has lost a tooth and asking when he will finally catch up.

I told him it will happen when it happens, the kind of wisdom you hate as a child but what else could I say? If it was my first child I probably would have been calling the dentist and looking it up online – he’s almost seven, shouldn’t he have lost a tooth already?

If it was my first child I would have assumed something was wrong, not wanting to deviate at all from the standardized development charts that I pretended to ignore but actually refered to religiously.

But he is my second child, and so I know it will happen when it happens, ‎and because he is also my last child, I know I will be sad when it does.

I will be happy because he is happy, and I will be happy because it’s a confirmation that things are going the way they should, but I will be sad because it’s yet another step on the path away from his childhood.

‎Happy and sad.

Bitter and sweet.

Too fast and too slow.

Before I became a mother I did not know how these opposite things could exist together, in the same moment.

Now that I am a parent I understand that they exist together, side by side, in almost every moment.

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‎”Please,” she said, over and over and over again. “Please can I go, please, please, please, please?”

I saw the pleading in her eyes, like she’d never wanted anything as much as she wanted this and, in that moment, I believed that she probably never had.

A year ago she was crying herself to sleep almost every night because she didn’t want to go to a new school. Didn’t want to leave her friends, didn’t want to start fresh, didn’t want anything to do with the plans we had made. We tried to convince her otherwise, tried to explain how much better it would be, tried to help her see the bigger pic‎ture. Of course it was impossible. Of course a nine year old can’t see the big picture. Of course she just wants friends and most of all, the holy grail of friends, the best friend.

“I promise I’ll be careful, Mom. I promise.”

I hated that she could see the fear in my eyes so clearly. That she could already see, even at her age, that it is the fear, my fear, that stands in her way. I smoothed down her hair and answered that I know she would be and that I would let her know later that day what had been decided.

‎They came to the door last Friday evening and once the girls were upstairs he said he wanted to talk to me about something. My mind raced through all the possibilities of what it could be and I hate to say it but all of them were negative. Did the girls get in a fight? Did something happen? Was something said that shouldn’t have been said? I’m always so bad at dealing with these situations, what if I don’t know how to react?

But it wasn’t bad at all, it was good. They were going away for a couple of days, doing something really fun, and they wanted her to go with them. She had been picked. Their daughter could bring only one friend and my daughter had been chosen.

My heart warmed for her; that she would be able to experience, if even only for a brief time, being the chosen one. She was now what she wanted to be so badly all those teary nights before. She was the best friend.

Some people seem to come into the world with a place already waiting for them, a spot in the sun where things just seem easier and smoother and softer. My son is one of those people. He draws attention and bats his eye lashes and has people of all ages commenting that he’s adorable. He makes friends effortlessly because he genuinely doesn’t care if you like him or not, so convincingly that you can’t help but try and make him like you in return. He has his own struggles but even they have an effortless quality to them. It’s not a matter if “if” but “when.” You get the impression that he sees the world as being full of possibilities and his greatest challenge is deciding what to try next.

My daughter, on the other hand, will seemingly always have to work to find her place. ‎She has a hundred amazing talents but is satisfied with none of them; constantly trying to prove herself to some silent critic. She cares if you like her, she cares more than she wants to admit. She wants you to like her but works incredibly hard to look like she doesn’t. She seems to see the world as being full of obstacles, coming at her one after the other after the other.

And now she had almost made her way over a big hurdle , if I could only get out of her way. I wanted to, I really did, but at the edges of my happiness for her, I felt the fear creeping in. How could I let her go? How could I pack her bag and send her off with these people I know only in passing? How could I wave goodbye to her and send her off without me?

But how could I not let her go? How could I say no when she had been picked, been chosen, and when I know she would have such a wonderful time? How could I say no to the chance for her to make such amazing memories?

“Please Mom, please! Have you decided yet? Please?”

If I said no, if I didn’t let her go because of my fear, of my desire to keep her safe in the only way I know how – by keeping her right beside me – then what have I taught her? I have taught her not to be careful, but to be fearful. I’ve taught her not to trust her instincts, but to mistrust everything around her. I’ve taught her that while someone else may have picked her, I don’t believe in her enough to let her be chosen.

And so I finally said “yes.”

I hugged her close so she wouldn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes.

“You can go.”

She yelled with joy and ran to start packing her bag although she wouldn’t leave for four more days. It’s all she talked about and she hardly slept from the excitement. And when she left it was my turn to say please.

Please be careful. Please don’t do anything you know you shouldn’t. Please stay safe.

Please take care of my little girl. Please don’t think I’m crazy for all of my worrying. Please treat her like I would. Please bring her back safe to me.

That was two days ago and now she’s back. She’s sitting here beside me on the couch, home safe and sound with lots of stories of all the fun she had. I smile and sit back to listen to her, the words spilling out of her, tumbling one on top of the other in a hurry to be told.

I just sit and listen. I won’t tell her that I didn’t sleep while she was gone. I won’t tell her that I thought about her every hour and that I was sitting on the stairs just inside the front door waiting for her to get back. I won’t tell her that when I saw the car pull into the driveway I went and stood in the kitchen so it didn’t seem like I was hovering, even though that’s exactly what I was doing.

I know this is just the beginning. I know there will be many more times spent sitting inside the front ‎door, looking at the clock and waiting. I know there will be more questions and pleases and trips and answers I don’t want to give. More waiting for her to come home safe from wherever she was. Hundreds and thousands of silent prayers sent out into the universe to watch over her when I can’t.

Always bring her home to me.

Always keep her safe.

Please.

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She came into the room with her arms full. A baby in one arm, probably about six or seven months old, and all of the baby’s accessories in the other. She struggled to sit down on the floor in front of where I sat, the baby now looking at me over her mother’s shoulder.

The baby was dressed up in one of those adorable, poufy, over-the-top dresses that people give you when you have a baby girl. The ones they wear once, for a special occasion, and then are banished to the back of the closet. She wore a matching headband with a big pink bow; a bow so big that it was almost the same size as her head.

In a word, she was adorable.

I smiled at her while she drooled on her mom’s shoulder. I could imagine how the mother had struggled to get herself dressed in the five minutes remaining after everyone else was ready. How she pulled something out of the closet, hoping it would fit because there was no time left for second (or third) options.  How she realized it didn’t really matter anyway, everyone would be looking at the baby, not at her.

The baby started to fuss and her mom laid her down on a blanket in front of her and dug a toy out of her bag in the hopes of keeping her entertained for a few minutes. In the meantime she searched through her large shoulder bag, pulling things out as she went, spreading them out on the floor around her. Containers of snacks, toys, soft books, teethers, on and on it went until she had made a small circle around herself.

I could sense her frustration; could almost hear the words she was saying to herself in her head. Why can’t I ever find anything in this bag? Why is she getting fussy now? Why did I even bother to come, we should have just stayed home.

I could imagine it so clearly because I had been there, I had been her. It seemed like just the blink of an eye ago; even though it had actually been years.

She eventually pulled out a bottle, mixed it, gathered the baby up in her arms and started to feed her.

My own two kids were sitting quietly beside me so I could watch the baby and her mother uninterrupted. I tried not to stare.

I crossed my arms over my chest to keep them from reaching out for her. I bit my lip to help swallow the words I could feel rising in my throat. “Can I give you a hand?” I wanted to ask.  “Can I hold her for a minute while you get organized?” I wanted to say.  “Can I feed her for you?” I desperately wanted to inquire.

But of course I did not.

I don’t know this woman or her baby.  I am a complete stranger to her and of course she would not hand over her baby to me, just because I asked.  But I still wanted to ask.  I still wanted to give her a break, give her a few minutes to find what she needed, organize her bag, wipe the drool off her shoulder, fix the earring that had come loose.  I still wanted to feel that baby in my arms, to make funny faces at her and see if I could make her smile.

Because when you’re the mother in the moment, you don’t appreciate the moment, can’t appreciate the moment.  Instead you have to focus on the things you can’t find in your bag, the lid to the bottle that won’t close, the whimpering noises your baby is making when you just need her to be quiet.  I know, because I was once a mother in the moment and that’s exactly what it was like.  There was so little time to do all of the things that needed to be done, and hardly seconds left to think about enjoying it.  And with that came the guilt of knowing you weren’t appreciating it the way you should.  Fatigue and guilt, guilt and fatigue, around and around it goes.  People tell you it’s fleeting and you nod your head but in reality, you don’t believe them.  You feel like your baby will be little forever, you will be tired forever, this day will go on forever, your life will be like this forever.  How can you appreciate a moment that you believe will always be there?

And when you’re the mother outside of the moment, with one with two kids who are anything but babies and who are quietly entertaining themselves, you focus instead on all of the moments you missed.  The times you can’t get back, the feel of a baby in your arms, their soft cheeks and pursed lips. I know, because I am now the mother outside of the moment, wanting so desperately to go back, to go back and leave the laundry in the dryer, leave the dishes in the sink and just sit, sit there with that baby in my arms, taking it all in.

When you’re the mother in the moment you can’t see the beauty, because you have so many other things to do.  You wish your baby would just lay on the blanket and play quietly, just for a couple of minutes so you can get something, anything, done.  Your back and shoulders ache from carrying the baby around for hours on end and all you want is a break, just a break to have a shower, have a cup of tea, have a conversation from beginning to end, have a complete thought.

But when you’re the mother outside of the moment you don’t have to worry about any of those things.  You have a shower when you want, drink all the tea that you want, and think more thoughts than you probably should.  Now is when you can appreciate rocking a baby to sleep, no matter how long it takes, or playing with the blocks on the floor, no matter how repetitive it is.  Now I would carry that baby and not feel the pain in my arms or my back, rather I would notice that the ache in my heart had finally disappeared.

It struck me, sitting there and watching her, that there must be some way to bring together these two groups of mothers.  Some way that those of us who are now outside of the moment can help those inside of it.  Not with advice, but with actions.  Not with suggestions, recommendations or ideas, but with time, understanding, and a pair of arms that are open and willing to lighten the load, carry the burden, and let an adorable baby drool on someone else’s shoulder for a change.

Maybe one day we will be able to offer and accept help, without guilt, without question, without strings attached.  Just one mother needing to remember what it’s like to think about only herself for a few minutes, and other mother needing to feel the warmth and strength that comes from being needed again. Two mothers, together, helping each other find peace and happiness in the moment.

Maybe one day.

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