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Posts Tagged ‘parenthood’

When I was in elementary school my mom worked nights. As a kid, this was really the most amazing thing because it meant she worked while I slept and was at home during the day. She was there when I got home from school, always ready with a snack and excited (or so it seemed to me) to hear all about the day’s adventures. And on those days when she’d had a good night at work and didn’t need to sleep very much during the day, she would let me come home for lunch.

There was something so amazing about going home for lunch. When everyone else was pulling out brown bags filled with squished sandwiches ‎and bruised apples, I was heading out the door, racing to the pick-up spot. It felt vaguely dangerous, like I was breaking the rules just a little. (I was a by-the-book kind of kid so leaving school grounds was about as daredevil as I got.)

She always prepped lunch before she came to get me so it was all ready to go when we walked in the door. The table would already be set, the dishes out, the can of soup sitting on the counter just waiting to be opened. Lunch was never anything fancy, it was macaroni and cheese from a box, or beans on toast, or ‎pancakes. No matter that the food wasn’t fancy, the very act of sitting there, across the table from each other, just the two of us, made it feel very special.

And no matter what we ate there was always something for dessert. Usually it wasn’t even particularly “desserty,” it was yogurt or fruit, but because she would put it in a little bowl all on its own and serve it after the meal, it felt like dessert. ‎My favourite was when she would slice a banana and sprinkle the slices with a little bit of sugar. It would sit there in the bowl, the sugar sparkling in the light, and I would feel loved. The fact that she would go to the trouble to do it, all of it, mostly for no other reason than she knew I liked it.

Now I’m the mom and my kids are now at a school close enough to our house that coming home for lunch is an option. Four days of the week they have to stay at school because I’m at work but most Fridays the option is there for them to come home.

Only now that I’m the mom I’ve realized that whoever made up the bell schedule has done it in such a way as to ensure I have just enough time to get nothing done. ‎There’s just enough time to not get the groceries, not get the laundry done, not cross things off my to-do list. It would really be easier if they just stayed at school.

But then I see the look on their faces when they ask if they can come home. And then I remember the little bowl of banana slices sprinkled with sugar and I say “yes, of course you can come home for lunch.”

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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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My favourite part of Mother’s Day is when I get to read the cards, the homemade cards that the kids make at school.  They are usually stuck together with white glue, bits of yarn and so much love that it’s all I can do to stop my heart from bursting.

The cards are always beautiful, in their own colourful, simplistic, innocent way but for me the best part are the words.

It’s always the words that get me.

When they’re too young to write their own words their teachers help them.  They ask them the question and they write down the answer and then they send the words home to me.  If I could say anything to the people out there who spend their days teaching our little kids I would say thank you for so many things, but mostly I would say thank you for the words they send home to me for Mother’s Day.

The words are never eloquent or flashy or even grammatically correct but they are always the most beautiful words I have ever read.

“I love my mom because she puts notes in my lunch.”

“I love my mom because she always gives us popcorn when we watch a movie.”

“My mom is the best because she makes me baths with lots of bubbles.”

I remember the times I yelled instead of whispered, the times I demanded instead of asked, talked instead of listened.  They remember the notes and the popcorn and the bubbles. When I think of being a mother I think about all the things I should have done and could be doing to make their lives better.  They think about all the things I actually did, the small little things that showed them how much I love them.

I sometimes think I’m doing a horrible job, that I’m doing this all wrong.  They show me that the job I’m doing is fine, good, great even.

And while the card is a gift they give to me, believing their words is a gift I give to myself.  The gift of a pat on the back, and a sigh of relief.  The gift of realizing that I’m doing the best I can and the acceptance that my best really is good enough.

On any other day of the year I have a hard time believing it, but on Mother’s Day I see it right there in front of me, written in crayon and decorated with sparkles.

And who am I to argue with that?

From me to you.

From me to you.

So as we all prepare for Mother’s Day, my wish for you, for all the mothers out there, is that for one day you believe all of the best things that everyone else already knows to be true.  That you understand that you are a great mother, not because you are without faults, but because you are perfect in the eyes of your children.

Just ask them, they’ll tell you.

All you have to do is believe.

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My baby turns nine today.

I know in my heart she will always be my baby but one of these days she’s probably going to get embarrassed and groan when I say it. For now I’m thankful that she usually just smiles shyly and gives me a hug.

It’s so cliche but I don’t really know where the time has gone. When I try and think of the distance between where we were then and where we are now, memories, snapshots of a hundred different moments come flooding through my mind, and yet I still can’t believe it’s been that long.

My thoughts are a jumble. I waiver between nostalgia and tears; fear and appreciation; wonder and anxiety, seemingly unable to focus on any one emotion for longer than a moment. Until I had kids I never realized I would be so emotionally invested in someone else’s birthday.

Especially hers.

Because the day she was born is also the day I went from being a woman to being a mom; went from caring about myself to thinking so completely about another person; went from the idea of what motherhood would be to the reality of what it really is.

The older she gets the easier and also the harder it gets. I feel like I have an ever-growing list of things I’m supposed to teach her and I’m barely scratching the surface. And as I watch her grow into an amazing person I marvel at how much she has learned all on her own, with no help from me at all.

It is becoming less about daily tasks and more about ‘the big picture’ and I realize that as time-consuming as they were, the daily tasks were actually easier. I know how to change diapers, give baths, brush hair, make snacks, pack backpacks. These tasks are nothing when faced with having to show her how to have self-esteem, how to dream, how to find inspiration, how to be her own person. How do I teach her things that I still struggle with myself?

But I am also slowly grasping the fact that as much as she is my student, I am also hers and she has already taught me so much. In nine short years she has shown me so much about myself and the world, so much more than I could ever imagine.

So on her birthday I will give her a hug and probably shed a tear for the baby she no longer is. But I will also stand back and marvel at what she is becoming and will feel proud, for just a moment, for the small part I have played. And I will be excited and thankful for everything she has brought to my life.

Happy Birthday, my baby.

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I was running behind schedule. I stood in the kitchen glancing sideways at the clock while moving furiously between the fridge and the counter, moving things, cutting things, organizing things, putting things away.

I was (not so) silently cursing myself…again. Why didn’t I make lunches the night before?? Usually I do, but I was too tired this time. I had errands to run while waiting for my daughter to finish her guitar lesson. Then I had to wash and blow dry my hair, always a longer process than I think it’s going to be. When that was finally done I just wanted to sit on the couch and decompress. I knew I would regret it in the morning, pay the price for my decision to relax but in that moment I didn’t care.

Now I cared.

Another glance at the clock told me that I had two more minutes to finish everything before it was time to go wake up the kids. No breakfast for me, I would need to grab something later. Sigh. I had been up for less than an hour and already I felt hopelessly behind.

Then something caught my attention from the corner of my eye. I turned to see my son slowly walking into the kitchen, eyes squinting from the light.

“Good morning, Mama.”

My mouth hung open in shock. Here was the kid who I have to pry out of bed every day, the one who insists he can’t take off his pajamas, or put on his shirt, or even walk down the stairs by himself in the morning; now here he was, fully dressed, standing in front of me.

“You got up and got dressed all by yourself?!?” I was so surprised I could hardly form words. I knew in my head that this was a direct result of the time change on the weekend but I wasn’t complaining.

Suddenly I saw a blissful change in my morning routine. If he could/would do this every morning then maybe I could have breakfast – a real breakfast that didn’t come in a package and have the word “bar” in its name.

This could be life changing.

I reached over, gave him a huge hug and told him how proud I was of him. He explained that he had gotten dressed very fast because he didn’t want me to come upstairs before he was done and ruin the surprise.

“I even brushed my teeth Mama, see?” He said, opening his mouth wide so I could inspect. I gave him another hug and a kiss. Then I decided to see how far this could go.

“Hey Buddy, do you want to go wake up your sister for me?”

He was off like a rocket, so fast I had to yell “do it nicely” after him for fear he would decide that jumping on her bed was an appropriate wake up call.

I turned back to the kitchen and managed to get five extra minutes to finish my chores and eat a piece of toast.

Bliss.

I began to envision a whole new life, not unlike the feeling I had when the kids (finally) started sleeping through the night. I could exhale. I saw my mornings stretched out ahead of me, relaxed and unhurried. It’s amazing what a difference a few extra minutes can make.

That was yesterday.

This morning my bedroom door opened at 5:47am and my son proclaimed (loudly), “Mama, I got dressed by myself again!”

Groan.

This would be what is meant by being careful what you wish for.

I get it now.

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She smiled.

When I asked her how her day went, she smiled.

I needed more; I needed details, didn’t she realize the not-knowing had been driving me crazy all day?? I pressed her for more.

“You wore your glasses?” I asked. “How did it go?”

“Fine. When I walked in the door with them on people asked if they were new. I said yes.”

Of course she walked in the door with them already on. No slumping over her desk trying to summon up the courage to put them on; not my little girl, at least not today.

I should have known.

I smiled to myself, shaking my head in amazement. I don’t know where she gets her spunk, her drama, her courage. Sometimes I just stand back in amazement, unsure how this creature, so unlike me in so many ways, actually came from me.

This girl who from a very young age would walk into a room of complete strangers and manage to make a new friend in less than five minutes. The girl who has performed in front of hundreds of people without so much as a quiver in her voice or a hitch in her step.

“Okay,” I said, speaking mostly to her back as she walked away, already moving on to the next thing.

“I’m glad.”

Perhaps this whole thing was much more about me than it ever was about her. I made it a big deal because it had been for me; that didn’t mean it would be for her. I shouldn’t have assumed it would be the same for her as it was for me.

She is her own person and although there may be instances when my experiences may teach her something, it’s just as likely that I’ll be the one learning a lesson.

A good reminder that sometimes the hardest thing about mothering is learning when to get out of the way.

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I don’t remember the last time you slept in bed with us. You used to do it all the time; I used to dream of the day when it would stop. You managed to take up a lot of room for a little person and your knees and elbows always found their way into the small of my back, digging around between my ribs.

I don’t remember the last time you reached out to hold my hand to cross the street. Now when I try to reach for yours you roll your eyes at me and whine “moooooooom.” Apparently you’re too old for things like that.

I don’t remember the last time you cried when you went to school or daycare or to your grandparents. You always went fairly willingly without us, always yearning for a new adventure, the next challenge you could tackle alone.

I don’t remember the last time I read a story to you without you reading along with me. I am so excited that you can experience the wonder of reading books by yourself; opening doors to a whole other world for you. But I miss reading out loud to you, rocking with you in our chair which neither one of us really fits in anymore, let alone together.

I do remember the last time you used a bottle and how proud of you we were for finally giving them up. At the time we thought you would never willingly throw them away. We spent many hours coming up with strategies and tricks to get you to move to a sippy cup. I was sure we had somehow ruined you, your teeth, your stomach, by letting you use them as long as we did. Now I wish I wouldn’t have made such a big deal about it.

I do remember the last time you rode a bike with training wheels. You were so desperate to be a big girl. I could see you sitting on your “little kid” bike at the end of the driveway, watching with envy as other neighbourhood kids rode by on their two-wheelers. I wanted to tell you that it’s okay; not to rush; to enjoy being a kid as long as you could. I knew you wouldn’t listen even if I did say the words out loud.

I do remember the last time you fit into the dress that my grandmother had made for me. You pranced around the living room in it, even though the zipper would barely close and it was about 4 inches too short. After I managed to convince you to change out of it I tucked it away in your closet so you wouldn’t pull it out and try to wear it again. Now it will be put away as it was for the years before you wore it. Put away to be pulled out years from now, maybe when you have a daughter yourself and maybe she’ll dance around in it just the way you did, that last time.

So often being a parent is about the “first times.” The first step, the first word, the first smile. I’m slowly learning that it’s actually the “last times” that mean the most.

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