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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Last night I was crying…and making lunches. 

I hate making lunches. 

I hate it more than I ever hated changing diapers or playing blocks or watching Caillou – and don’t get me wrong, I hated all of those things. 

But I wasn’t crying because I hated it. I was crying because we had just come home from my daughter’s high school orientation night. 

I had the night marked on the calendar for weeks and I was super excited about it. Have a tour of the school – amazing! Learn about the policies and rules – love it! Meet some of the staff and hear about all of the great courses and programs – can’t wait!

Of course, as is inevitably the way of motherhood, the milestones I so eagerly anticipate also end up being the ones that slap me in the face. 

I listened intently as the principal outlined course credits required for graduation, supports available from the guidance team, and the importance of each student “finding their own path.” I even chuckled a little (on the inside) comparing it to my own high school course selection process – pick what you’re supposed to pick and move on. 

I was feeling good as we headed out on the tour, my daughter walking ahead with a friend as hubby and I exchanged wry smiles at the back of the line. I soon became disoriented- hallways filled with lockers, stairs and more stairs, doors and doors and more doors. I was already lost. 

The lump in my throat started to form in the “construction” classroom. In my day we called it IE – industrial education. I’m not sure why I took the class in high school but the smell of the sawdust and the sight of the big saws took me right back.

I made a cutting board – which my parents still have – and I worked to perfect the look of “cool disinterest” when interacting with Clayton, my heart thumping crush of the time. Come to think of it, embarrassingly, he was probably the reason I took the class. I don’t remember what I did last weekend but I can close my eyes and clearly remember every detail of th day he asked to borrow a pencil. 

We were there for her – my daughter- but for 10 minutes in that classroom it was about me. Or at least the me I was back then. 

We switched gears and moved to the arts wing. The drama teacher ran through all of the great programs and I beamed at my daughter – this will be so great! – I mouthed to her beside me. A musical! A Spring play!!! I could picture it all so clearly for her – and in that excitement I also felt the first tear tickle the back of my eye. 

I mostly held it together on the car ride home. My daughter was venting about how hard it’s going to be and she’s not going to understand any of the math stuff and did I know she’s terrible in science and what if she fails gym and can’t get into university?

I nodded and hmmmmd and said all the things I was supposed to say. But inside my head I was screaming “NO”!

How can this be happening? How is it time? A single blink of the eye ago I was laying on the floor of your room with my arm stuck through the bars of your crib wishing – praying – that you would just go to sleep already!!!! And now we’re here. And in a few short months you will be there, in the school with all of the hallways and the stairs and the doors and big saws and musicals and I can’t. 

When I opened the front door I wanted to stagger upstairs, lay down in bed and pull the covers over my head. But, as is almost always the case, there were things that needed to be done first. 

And that’s how I ended up standing in the kitchen, cutting up cherry tomatoes…and crying. 

At one point I had to put down the knife because the tears blurred my eyes so much I couldn’t see. Hands braced on the counter, I was 5 seconds away from a full-on ugly cry. 

Then it hit me that this moment, this very juxtaposition of things, summed up motherhood for me in a way I could never articulate myself. 

Motherhood is crying…and making lunches. 

Motherhood is feeling all of the feels…while still doing all of the things.  

It’s holding hands…and letting go. It’s glimpsing foggy memories of who you were…while holding the light up so she can see all the possibilities of who she can become.  

It’s excitement…and sadness – woven so closely together that you can’t even see where one ends and the other begins. 

And it’s knowing that if things go the way they are supposed to go, it’s a million more moments just like this. 

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‎”Don’t!”

“I didn’t do ANYTHING!”

“Mom, he made a face at me!”

“I did not!!”

Guys, can you just ignore each other, please?? Just look out the window or something. We’ll be home in 10 minutes.

Thirty blissful seconds of silence.

“Let’s play a game”

This could either be a blessing or a curse.

“The first one to see a truck, yell truck!”

“TRUCK!”

“TRUCK!!!”

“I was first!”

“NOOOOO! I was first!! You cheated!!”

A curse. Definitely a curse.

“Mommmmm, she cheated!!”

I’m not sure how a person could cheat at a game that involves seeing a truck and yelling.

Leave it to my kids to find a way.

It’s in moments like this that I can’t believe there was a time when I wished for them to talk. A time when I wished for them to be old enough to have a conversation and interact with each other. A time when I was excited for them to act like brother and sister.

“Mom!!! She’s pointing at me!!! Make her stop!!”

‎Close eyes.

Bang head slowly against steering wheel.

Repeat. ‎ ‎

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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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‎I could hear the voices as soon as I entered the school yard, excited, happy voices, the sound pouring out the open windows of the second floor. I smiled, their anticipation and excitement rubbing off on me, even from a distance.

I walked around the corner and took my usual position at the edge of the grass, still visible from the doors that would soon be flung wide open in reckless abandon. I checked my watch; it would just be another minute or two.

A few kids trickled out before the bell, sneaking past the teachers guarding the door. The voices grew louder, a few cheers rang out in the distance.

Then the bell rang; chaos followed.

The small trickle of kids turned into a full on flood, the doors swinging open so hard and fast that they banged against the concrete walls. ‎The little kids came first, their excitement more subdued, uncertain, restrained, until the screams of the older kids behind overwhelmed them.

My eyes welled up a little, I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the sheer, uncensored ‎joy, or maybe the nostalgic “kidness” of the situation. Whatever the reason, I wiped my eyes and scanned the crowd for the two that were mine.

I saw him first and smiled, but it quickly faded from my lips. His backpack dragged behind him, his arms weighed down with indoor shoes and a long forgotten sweater newly rediscovered at the back of his cubby, and on his face, a frown.

I started walking towards him, my arms open, and when he spotted me he stopped pretending and his face crumpled.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” I said, kneeling down and folding him into my arms, shoes, sweater, backpack and all.

“I don’t want it to be the last day of school,” he said between sobs, tears rolling down his face.

Some kids cry on the first day of school, my kid cries on the last day.

I couldn’t help but smile but I hid it behind his shoulder while I squeezed him tight. I knew it would pass, that a few hugs and a popsicle and a cuddle ‎in his chair would ease his sadness. I knew he would forget this.

Just as I knew I never would.

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‎I heard a small cough from the top of the stairs as I checked my purse to ensure it contained all of the necessities I would need for the day ahead. Up until that little cough the house was quiet; I was the only one awake.

He didn’t need to be up that early, not today. On a regular school day this was the time I would be kissing his cheek in his bed and he would be groaning for just “five more minutes.” Of course today, the day he could have five more minutes, he was awake anyway.

I turned my head to see him slowly making his way down the stairs, his blanket and favourite stuffed animal – a little brown bear wearing blue pajamas which he has named Toby – in one arm and the other bent slightly, rubbing the last remnants of sleep from his eyes.

“Hi Mama,” he said softly, a little smile on his lips. “I heard you and wanted to see you before you left.”

Wanted.

He got up out of his warm bed to walk down the stairs because he wanted to see me, to give me a hug and a kiss before I left for work.

He wanted to see me.

Most of my days are filled with people who need things from me; people who call me and email me and stop me in the hallway because they need me to do something, finish something, read something, find something.

But this morning, with the early sun streaming in the window, a little boy placed a sweet kiss on my cheek and wrapped me up in a hug and held on tight for almost a whole minute.

And he did it for no other reason than because he wanted to.

And I can’t even put into words how great it felt to be wanted.

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a gift

For a couple of years when I was a kid I wanted to be a big animal vet, horses specifically. There was just something about them I loved, not to mention the whole draw of living on a farm and wearing jeans and boots all the time, which I somehow assumed went with the job. Then I wanted to be a travel agent. Flying off to distant lands, helping people plan their dream vacations; I couldn’t really see a downside. Then I wanted to be a journalist. Not a journalist in front of the camera but rather one behind the scenes, doing the research, putting together the pieces and then writing the words to bring it all to life. But no matter what form my life was going to end up taking, I knew one thing for certain: I was not going to settle until I found my calling.

I was, and still am, a big believer in the idea that there is something I’m meant to do.  There is something out there that will just click with me and I will love it and be good at it and be successful at it and it will not feel like work.  I grew up with two parents who worked extremely hard at their jobs and each achieved success in their fields but every day when they walked in the door, I could tell by the looks on their faces that it felt like work.

I ended up pursuing journalism and got halfway through the program at school before discovering I didn’t love it.  I stuck with it though, at the very least so I would have some letters after my name to fall back on until I found what it was I was searching for.  Then I met a guy and started dreaming very different dreams.  I started thinking that perhaps my calling had nothing to do with a career but rather that being a mother was what I was actually on the Earth to do.

Um, not exactly.

Two kids and ten years later and I have discovered that although I love my kids with a strength and conviction ‎that I can’t express or explain, motherhood is not my calling. I see mothers who truly love being mothers and I know, definitively, that I am not one of them. I love my kids with every ounce of who I am but, to be honest, being their mother almost always feels like work.

It took me a long time to get to a place where I could say that out loud (or at least out loud on paper) and not feel bad about it. It took me a long time to feel like I could share that part of me without also feeling like I had to apologize for even thinking it. I’m glad I finally got there; so relieved that after the days, weeks, months and years of feeling ashamed of the feelings that I wasn’t feeling, I can now accept myself and stop hiding it. I totally agree that motherhood is a gift, one that I will always be grateful that I was given but, as with some gifts, it has never felt like it fit quite right.

As they grow older, my kids need me in a much different way than when they were babies and toddlers and pre-schoolers. They need me in a much less physical way and although there is no doubt they still need me, their growing independence has left gaps in my days that I only used to fantasize about. When I spent hours in a rocking chair with one or the other attached to my body I used to dream of the gaps; of times when I could once again think thoughts of me and make plans for me and be inspired by the possibilities of what I could do.

Don’t get me wrong, most of my days are still filled to the brim with the kids, their activities and homework and friend problems and the constant search for missing library books, missing hair clips and whatever else manages to disappear on a regular basis, but now my mind has time to relax, even if my body doesn’t. I have time when I’m sitting on a hard wooden bench in a gymnasium watching my daughter chase after a soccer ball. I have time when I’m sitting on a hard wooden bench in a freezing cold arena watching my son stop hockey pucks. I have time when I’m sitting in front of a computer waiting to be inspired. I spend a lot of time sitting, and thinking, thinking and sitting and yet I’m no closer to finding any answers.

When I was a mother to babies I was filled with so many wishes and had no time to make them come true; as a mother to older kids I have all the time in the world but I seem to have forgotten what it means to wish wishes just for me.

I thought I had a plan for my life. I planned on school and I planned on a husband and I planned on the kids and the house with the two car garage but I guess that’s when I stopped planning. I wrote it all down on the pages of my life, hoping it would all eventually come true and I am so lucky that most of it has, but now I’m lost because I never planned what happens after.

And on the dark days I’m frustrated and disheartened to think that maybe I don’t have a gift to give, that I don’t have a role to fill beyond the one I play within these four walls. I get down on myself, I start to believe the negative thoughts in my head that tell me I have nothing left to offer, nothing to give that is worth anything.  On those days I feel like I’m trapped in a rut, a trench so deep and so wide and so long that I can’t see over the top of it.

But I’m not ready to give up just yet.  I’m not ready to pack away my perhaps childish idea that somewhere out there is the thing I’m meant to do and if I find it, when I find it, something inside will click into place like a key fitting inside a lock.

I have to believe it’s out there.  I have no choice but to teach myself how to once again start wishing wishes for me and finally start filling up the pages of the rest of my life.

 

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project.  Click HERE to learn more and if you don’t know about Glennon Melton’s amazing memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, now’s your chance – it’s now out in paperback so pick up a copy!  It will have you laughing and crying, all in the same breath!

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I shot a glance at the rear view mirror and caught a glimpse of her in the back seat, sitting quietly, staring out the window. I knew something was wrong but she wouldn’t say what it was. I had questioned her a few times throughout the morning with no progress. I decided I needed a captive audience.

So we left a few minutes earlier for her hockey practice than we needed to ‎and I stopped at the drive through to grab a tea. Then we pulled into a parking spot at the arena and I asked her to come sit up in the front with me.

Apparently all she needed was a change in scenery because no sooner did she sit down in the passenger seat than the flood gates opened. She was feeling down, one of those days we all have when we think we’re not good at anything, a never will be. A day when everything seems hard and sad. A day when nothing is wrong but everything is wrong.

When I looked at her face, eyes down-turned and wet with tears I was struck suddenly by the familiarity of it ‎but in a way I couldn’t quite place. And then it hit me where I’d seen that look before. I’d seen it in the mirror.

I’ve felt the very same way, more times than I can even count. Feeling like you’re good at nothing, worthy of nothing, proud of nothing. All too often I try and give advice; try to find solutions to the problems and put band-aids on the cuts and watch from a distance as they heal, even with myself. But this time I tried to turn all of that off and just say what I thought she needed to hear; to say what I wanted to hear when I was feeling down on myself and stuck. ‎And when I thought about what I most wanted to hear at those times, I opened my mouth and said, “I will always be a fan of you.”

She looked at me with questions in her eyes so I asked her if she knew what that meant. She shook her head ‘no.’

I told her I would always be the number one cheerleader of her life. I would always keep track of all of the amazing things she did and does and will do and when she can’t remember them, I will remind her. I will always scream the loudest and yell the longest and embarass her with how much I love her. When she forgets how special she is, I will tell her, over and over and over again. When she fails or comes in last or falls on her face I will help her up and remind her how amazing the effort was and help her try again. ‎I will be the voice in her head that tells her she can when everything else is telling her she can’t. And I will tell her she can so loudly and so insistently that she won’t be able to hear anything else. I will be a fan of her.

And when she looked at me this time I could tell that she understood, and that the words I said were the ones she needed to hear. Sometimes her and I are not on the same page, or even in the same book for that matter, but this time we got it right.

We hugged and talked a little more and then headed inside. I smiled to see her step seemed a little lighter, her eyes a little brighter, her face more open than it had been before. It’s a wonderful feeling to find out you don’t have to carry the weight of the world all by yourself.

She scored a goal at her game that day, her first real goal of the season and I screamed so loud you could hear me through the entire arena. And oh the smile on her face, ‎I could see it from a mile away, even hidden behind the bars of her mask.

There is a time and place for teaching, for hard truths and stark realities. She will learn to lose and fail and be chosen last. The world will teach her all of those things better than I ever could and maybe I’ll stop trying to compete. Maybe, instead, I’ll just stand and cheer.

The world is a critic; maybe I’ll just be a fan.

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