Posts Tagged ‘children’

Eleven

Eleven years ago.

Eleven years of days, hours, minutes; some blinking fast like a firefly I can’t catch, some crawling with a glacier’s pace. Eleven years ago, I was given a gift, the greatest, hardest gift. Eleven years now of guidance, growing, learning, changing, crying, praising, heartbreak and happiness. Eleven years ago, a piece of my heart was taken from within me, and placed in the outside world.

I named her Sophie. And though she had that piece of me within her, she became herself, an individual who is independent and fierce. And though she has always been exactly who she is (to me), as she approaches eleven, she struggles to find her place in this big, amazing world. And, as part of my heart, it is my job to help her navigate that path, although I fail regularly and spectacularly. Some days I barely make it to the end, wondering how anyone ever saw fit to place me in charge of another human being. But we’ve made it this far, these eleven years, all the while learning about life, love, heartbreak, and happiness together.

Have you ever laid in the dark of night with your child curled into the crook of your arm? You’re wide awake with a racing mind as she twitches and settles, falling asleep in the safest place she can imagine. Soon, over her even breathing, you are left to watch the terrifying thoughts of night race by, wondering how you will ever be able to lead your tiny human safely from childhood to adulthood, protecting her from the harms of this world, teaching her right from wrong, helping her navigate learning, and friends, and technology, and kindness and decency, and individuality, when you are unsure in any given moment whether you yourself fully understand those things.

Eleven years now, I have thought, and searched for answers, and prayed and cried, and laughed, and felt my heart expand in ways I never could have imagined. It seems impossible that much time has passed since the day I first held my daughter, feeling terrified and elated, refusing to put her in the bassinet and instead letting her fall asleep on my chest, until finally the nurse gently convinced me to let her take Sophie for a few hours so I could sleep.

Sophie's Birth Day

Year One took us from the uncertainty of how to care for a newborn without breaking her, hurting her, or coddling her, through Sophie standing on her own, on her first birthday, ready to step away already and do things her own way.

Eleven years is a gift many don’t get.

I often tell Sophie, in the moments when we are alone, just her and I, don’t forget someday when a memory pops up of us seeing a hawk standing on the ground; or us screaming, upside down, on the biggest, fastest roller coaster we could find; or seeing a rainbow that ends right above our house, that we are the only two people alive that share this memory. It’s an amazing and terrifying thought.

Year Three, and Sophie seems to remember many things, yet I don’t even know how she could. She remembers begging her Daddy not to leave, crying, and feeling like it must be her fault because he left anyway. She remembers watching Hachi with me on the couch, and how we had to pause the movie for ten minutes because we were crying so hard we couldn’t watch it. Crying for the dog who mourned his master, and crying for us because our lives had so drastically changed. She remembers the Orange Juice Incident, as she calls it, which was just Sophie throwing a huge tantrum at bedtime, and me doing the best I could to deal with it.

Sophie With Apple

Eleven years and I have laid awake more nights than I can count, racked with worry and tears, wondering, Am I doing this right? Am I making the right decisions? Will she be okay?

Year Seven, and everything changes again. I meet someone new, someone who has the potential to be that male influence she so desperately seeks out, because despite my efforts, I can never be both Mom and Dad to her no matter how hard I tried. But with new comes change, and this year revealed more to me about how broken we both had been. For much of this year things felt bleak and hopeless, that I had failed and I was submerged, barely above water, dealing with as much change for myself as she was with new routines, personalities, new family members, and opportunities.

Eleven years is a long time to figure things out, but that is a fallacy because you can’t figure it all out when things keep changing. You just hang on and hope for the best and keep getting up every day to face it all again. Some days I am so proud I can’t even speak it. Other days I am so disappointed and crushed I wonder if I will be able to carry on. This child, my child, has been given to me for these eleven years, but she is not mine. She is herself and I have to let her fail even when it slowly kills me inside. I have to stand behind her with my arms outstretched when the very people she trusted and depended on let her fall.

Sophie & Me

I will catch my Sophie, even when I won’t buy her excuses. I will back her, even if her words cut into me. I will defend her when nobody else will, and I will stand up in the ways I feel are right, even when nobody else agrees with me. I will love her unconditionally when she trips, when she hurts, when she’s lost, and when she’s angry.

I was told, recently, by a person who used to matter greatly to me, that I will never be the parent this person was. It was meant to be an insult, but I took it as a compliment. I will never be the kind of person who abandons my child, disappoints her, changes on her, or leaves her to cry herself to sleep at night wondering why she’s not good enough for me. I will never insult her, put her down, make her feel less than. I will expect her to act right, show respect, take responsibility for her words and actions. I will refuse to put up with any bullshit from her, and will teach her to not take any bullshit from the people around her, even the ones who are supposed to care. I will never make her feel like she has to change herself for me to accept her.

Year eleven, and I tell her, my baby, my big girl, “Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you have to hide who you are.” So many times, she’s been asked to act a certain way, be a certain way, say this, don’t say this. Now my job, once again, is shifting so I can help her navigate this rocky path, as I have learned the hard lessons hard way and am better equipped to help her.

“What if I don’t know how to be who I am, Mom?” she asks. “If I make this choice, or that choice, the choices that make me different, will it change how you see me?”

Sophie B&W

Never.

When you were two, when you’re eleven, when you’re twenty, never, Sophie, will you change in my eyes. Because to me, you’ll always and forever be my perfectly imperfect child, the piece of my heart that is fiercer than me, more independent than me, smart, beautiful, talented, funny, frustrating, walking around in this world, blazing the path I was too afraid to blaze. No matter what age, what birthday, I will be able to look at your face and see the brilliant individual person you are and the tiny fierce baby you were and know that they are the very same person, and I will love your faults, and your fears, and your accomplishments and your failures equally.

For eleven years, my heart has had a body and a name, and it’s taken form in the world and I’ve been allowed to watch, and to teach, and to love this piece of my heart named Sophie, and even though it’s supposed to be her birthday, it’s the best gift I’ve ever been given.

 

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These Are My Children by Jaime L. Hebert

These Are My Children by Jaime L. Hebert

When I was a teacher, I didn’t want children of my own.

I have 20 every day, I thought. That’s plenty.

But then I left the teaching job.

I left the relationship I was in and found a new one.

Got married.

Suddenly, having a child, well . . . it wasn’t off the list anymore.

And then my daughter was born, and everything I had thought I’d known shifted, slightly, and I wondered, How did I think I’d never become a mother?

Three years ago, I had four more kids.

They are not “my” kids. They are Luke’s. I did not give birth to them.

But they are mine. I parent them just as I do my own daughter.

One of them isn’t technically Luke’s child, either. But she’d never know otherwise, since he decided long before her birth that even if she wasn’t of his blood, she’d still be his daughter.

And that’s how it has been.

I have five children, yet I only gave birth to one. It doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme of life, if I did or not.

I feed all my kids.

Read them stories.

Listen to their stories.

Hang their art on my fridge.

Buy them shoes.

Hand out band aids. Kiss boo boo’s.

Referee fights.

Stand strong against storms of tears both genuine and manipulative.

I know all of their personalities, their quirks, their favorites. I know one hates to sleep alone, while another likes to stir up trouble because she thinks it’s amusing. One is sneaky and cries if she’s called out on it. One likes to try to say “What I meant to say was,” even though he never gets away with saying it. One wants to be seen as the caretaker but has bursts of bossiness she can’t yet contain.

I was not chosen to give birth to four of my children, but I was chosen by them to answer to the name Mom.

Do they call me their Stepmom? No, I’m just Mom. So, you have 2 moms? Yep. Shrug. Okay.

These are my children. Many people don’t get it. There are so many people, some who should know better, who don’t understand, and who even judge.

So many kids, they say.

It’s chaos.

They’re so loud, how do you stand it?

Don’t you ever get a break?

I know what these judgements imply: Why the hell would you take this on? Why become a full time parent to kids who aren’t “yours?”

I find this ignorant.

So, theoretical question asker, you’re telling me that these kids are expected to pay for the choices of adults? Because two people were happier apart than together? Because one “father” chose to ignore the existence of his child? Because two people fell in love and chose to make one whole family out of several broken ones?

That it’s okay for these four children to forever feel different than – less than – my own child because she’s my flesh and blood and they’re not?

I don’t think so.

These are my children. They are the ones who seek my advice. They tell Knock Knock and Your Mama jokes to me. Snuggle with me in the early morning hours without a second thought. Shout “I love you, Mom!” across a crowded room.

Climb onto my lap if they’re 3 years old. Or ten.

If they feel different, not good enough, in my own home, what will happen to them out there in the world?

People and the media speak constantly about tolerance, erasing the color lines, the gender lines, the social inequalities. It shouldn’t be black or white, male or female, Christian or Muslim, they say. That’s why our world is so messed up, they say, because of hate, intolerance, and fear. It’s a national issue, a global issue, and it causes riots, beatings, pain, and death.

It does. That’s the truth. But all these big issues, they are carried out in certain directions by individual people. People who were taught, conditioned, and molded since the time they were small children that the world looks like this, people believe this, truth lies in this . . . and after years those small children grow up to be adults and they have to choose a path in this world.

It takes a lot to stand against the tide. It takes courage and honor and love to stand there in the middle of the storm and say, I choose this because it’s right, and it’s good and I was taught to stick to my own individual beliefs no matter who is trying to sway me.

These are my children, and I believe they have to right to be themselves and be proud of it. And I have the right to say, Those children, they’re my children, and we chose each other.

We chose each other when there were people saying it was weird, and awkward, and strange.

We chose our family when people said, Well, they’re just your step children, right?

Or, That one, she’s your real daughter? (Like the others were imaginary children?)

Or, What happens if you and Luke split up? (It won’t happen, but if it did, I’ll still have five children.)

When you’re a child, you’re a part of the family you’re given.

When you grow up, you choose the family you create.

My kids get to have the family they’re given and the family they choose. And I hope when they become adults and they are able to stand in their choices in a world that is fraught with difficult ones, they can say what they believe with conviction and feel happy with their choices, because they know that standing behind them will be their Mom – no matter what path they choose. http___signatures.mylivesignature.com_54492_292_28ECA84CB8C634F9AC8CB860B63B2A62

 

 

Why I'm teaching my kids lying never pays

Why I’m teaching my kids lying never pays

Sometimes, it feels like we live in a world of liars and their lies. Politicians lie. (It’s a job requirement?) Celebrities lie. Spouses lie. We tell lies to ourselves on a daily basis. Little white lies are often explained away as helpful ways to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Our children lie. And it’s our job, as parents, to teach them the consequences of lying.

My child lies. In fact, she told me the other day, after getting serious consequences for telling (what is in the grand scheme of things) a small lie, that when she panics, the lie is the first thing that comes out. Unfortunately, this was the third lie she’d been caught telling in a month’s time.

Luke, when I told him she said the first thought she has is to tell a story or lie, basically said, Duh. That’s what all liars do.

My child will not be a liar, though. Not on our watch. The relatively small lie she told was dealt with swiftly and without mercy, because at ten years old, we want her to understand that a lie always has a consequence. It may happen directly after the lie is told, or it may occur months or years later when she has to deal with the uncovering of the false story she told, but it will always bring consequences.

We’re making a big deal out of the small lies now, so we don’t have to worry about these lies in the future:

“No, I didn’t take any money.”

“We just went to her house. Nowhere else.”

“I haven’t been drinking.”

“I didn’t get into the car with her after she was drinking.”

“I didn’t do anything bad with him. There’s no way I could be pregnant.”

A lie right now about how her sister said something she didn’t say has nowhere near the impact of the lies above. But the small lie leads to the bigger lies, always. With each lie a person tells, it becomes easier. The lies roll off the tongue. They pop into the brain instantly when the liar is thinking, Now how do I make myself look good here? Or, how do I stay out of trouble? Every time my daughter lies, if left unchecked, it encourages her to lie better next time. Eventually, we will not be able to distinguish between the truth and the lie.

That’s a dangerous path to travel. Especially when she looks around her and sees that her world is filled with people getting away with lies. It’s in the news, it’s pretty much the basis of social media (look at our pretty made up lives!), and it’s even evidenced by the people she sees often. One person in our lives covers the lies that have been told with a lie so that the previous series of lies makes sense!

A life built on lies isn’t the life I want for my daughter, or any of my kids. It will only lead to destruction. At the very least, people will remember the liar and not the person.

Lying Leaves a Long-Lasting Reputation

I told my daughter this story to illustrate that fact:

When I was in grade school, I befriended a girl who didn’t seem to have many friends. I played with her for a few weeks, until one of the other kids in my class took pity on me and told me nobody wanted to be friends with her because she lied all the time. I started listening to the stories this girl told and realized how farfetched everything seemed. She was desperate to be liked, and yet her insecurities caused her to lie about everything. Nothing she said could be trusted. I backed away and eventually stopped being friends with her.

To this day, when I think of her, what immediately pops into my head is: That’s the girl who was a liar.

That’s the thing about building a reputation like that. Nobody ever forgets. And even if the person who’s been lied to tries to forgive a liar who has come clean or is reformed, it will always be there in the back of his or her head: that little voice that whispers, Is that a lie? Is he lying now? She said she won’t lie anymore, but how can I trust that? What if it’s just another lie?

Teaching That A Lie Always Has Consequences

In our house, a lie results in previous freedoms and privileges being taken away, along with consequences added. For example, since my daughter lied, we actively show her that the freedom she experienced before she lied is no longer allowed, because we can’t trust her to be truthful. We can’t assume that what another person said is true if it comes out of her mouth. We will check, in her earshot, by explaining to that person that she has lied and we need to verify that what she says is accurate. Anytime something comes up that wasn’t a big deal before has to be dealt with differently. We say, Because you lied, we can’t automatically assume you will do what you say now, so we have to have proof.

And the added consequences were chosen by her. She had a choice to take over the chores of her brother and sister, in addition to her own, either:

a) Until we were satisfied she had fulfilled her consequence- i.e. there was no time limit, or

b) Do all normal chores (dishes, laundry, vacuuming) for a month on her own and keep her television privileges, or

c) Do all chores for a month and give up TV privileges, but be able to ask her brother and sister for help with the chores. However, it was made clear that neither of them were under any obligation to help her when she asked if they didn’t want to.

She chose option C as her consequence.

The rough part and the beneficial part are one and the same: she is constantly reminded that all of this is because she lied. Many things are prefaced by saying, “Remember, because you lied, we have to do things this way. And you chose your consequence, so you are not allowed to have attitude about it.”

Lying is a huge, multi-layered issue that has many different meanings and emotional reactions for people. People who have been lied to feel hurt and frustrated. People who lie feel ashamed, unable to stop, or even unable to see themselves as liars. Many people who lie begin to believe their own stories and refuse to see when they are shown their own lies.

Rewarded For the Truth

The flip side to all of this is that our children have always known that we give no consequences for telling the truth. No matter how scary it is for them to tell us what actually happened, it is far better than the avalanche of consequences that come with lying.

In fact, they are told time and time again that they will be rewarded for the truth. If they broke a rule and told the truth about it (without someone else telling on them first), they will receive consequences for the broken rule, but praise for telling the truth about it.

Yet still . . . the lying. Even when kids know the truth will set them free, in a sense, they sometimes still choose the lie. This is what frustrates me most about the whole issue, and is also what makes liars so effective most of the time. They lie because they are confident the lie will never be discovered!

Even though she knew she would get in trouble, even though she knew the consequences would be severe, and even though she knows right from wrong, my daughter still chose the lie.

And the worst part about it is: it’s because she thought we were too dumb to tell the difference. That’s really what it comes down to, that someone who lies believes they are good enough at it that it will be taken as truth, and that the person they are telling the lie to isn’t smart enough to know it’s a lie.

Ouch.

All this is to hopefully set our kids up for down the road, when the issues they face will become big and unwieldy. Coming to us with the truth, about any situation, is encouraged and expected. Because we need to know when they’re facing a tough choice and don’t know how to handle it. We need to train them to talk openly now, before they are facing the tidal wave of hormones and peer pressure that’s going to  hit, so that talking to us is automatic.

Not scary.

Not dreaded.

Not awkward and weird.

Just . . . natural.

It shouldn’t be natural to tell the lie. It shouldn’t be natural to save face simply because you’re human and made a mistake.

But in our world, more and more often it seems, being human and making mistakes is frowned upon. People don’t want to deal with the messy and the complicated. Or, truthfully, they were never taught how to deal with the messy and the complicated. If Mom & Dad are so focused on what the outside perception of their lives is to their friends, neighbors, and coworkers, how can they possibly think this won’t create issues for the children who emulate them? If Mom & Dad teach their children that it’s wrong to lie, but shrug off white lies or willingly corroborate someone else’s lies (We overslept! I lost the form! We have an appointment that day! Etc., etc.), what do they expect their kids to take away from that?

Hint: it’s somewhere along the lines of, Hey, Mom & Dad say lying is wrong, but they just told Uncle Dan that we’d be out of town next weekend, so it can’t be that big of a deal.

Quote by Blaise Pascal

Quote by Blaise Pascal

The Strange Taboo of Truth Telling

Here’s the problem with the truth: it’s hard to hear.

You tell your kids to always tell the truth, no matter what, but then little Billy tells you truthfully he’s hated your homemade spaghetti for years and only eats it because he feels guilty, and you get mad or upset. Billy’s telling the truth, but it was hard to hear and he feels like he said something wrong.

Now, in the future, when Billy goes to tell a new truth, say, Hey Mom & Dad, I’m struggling with some feelings I’m having for other boys and I don’t know what to do about it, he will think twice. Based on other times he’s told the raw truth over the years, he feels hesitant. Because the reaction he gets will most likely be shock, anger, or disappointment instead of solutions and acceptance.

We all want everyone else to tell us the truth, but when it comes time for the truth to be told to us, if it clashes with the world we’ve constructed for ourselves, we don’t know how to deal with it. We don’t want to hear that people are not who we thought they were, or that we have flaws that bother other people, or that the real reason cousin Kaitlyn doesn’t want to come to your house is because she’s creeped out by your son’s behavior toward her.

The problem with the truth is it strips away all the social niceties we expect and presents us with a version of life that is real and raw and uncomfortable. With the truth, we don’t get to hide in the comfort of our safe beliefs about life and the people in it. Instead, we are faced with real feelings and with the motivation behind why people really do and say the things they do, and not the easy excuses they’ve been giving us.

There’s a reason why everyone says the truth hurts.

But I still want to teach my children that despite that initial sting that comes with truth, it’s better to press on and expose what’s really going on rather than hide behind easy lies.

Because in the future, they’ll be able to stand on their own two feet and see the world for what it really is, the good and the bad. They’ll be able to hold people accountable, see through someone else’s bullshit, and never allow themselves to be taken for a fool.

That’s a valuable lesson – one I wished I’d learned when I was younger.

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Do you agree that lying pays for many people? Have you ever been lied to by your child or someone close to you? What did it do to the relationship? Do you think lying has become more accepted (or ignored)? Let me know your take on this thorny issue in the comments!

Today, Sophie turns 9.

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Suddenly, my daughter is a completely independent human being with her own thoughts, likes, experiences and moods. Why is this important? When I think back on the past 9 years that I’ve been her mom, I realize that for a lot of her life, I saw Sophie as an extension of myself, and she didn’t really seem to mind.

Lately, though, it’s becoming all too real. My little baby, my madhouse toddler, my sweet and sour sidekick is no longer mine.

She is hers, and hers alone. In the past few years, I have had more of an education of how to raise a person, and not just mother a child, and let me tell you, it’s not easy!

There’s so many people who can tell you to let your child fail in order to help her learn from her mistakes. Have you ever stood by and watched while your child fails? It’s excruciating and took every ounce of willpower I had to let her stick it out and not try to swoop in and fix things for her.

Do you know how to get a child to tell you the truth? You have to let her tell you the truth, and hear it, without letting it upset you. Because a lot of time, the truth is hard to hear. When your child tells you the truth, she is telling you she’s done something wrong, or that she has an opinion that you don’t agree with. And if you really want her to be able to say the truth and speak her mind, I’ve learned the hard way –you have to let her, and not punish her for it, and pretend you’re bulletproof. Even when you’re most definitely not, and let those truthful words eat you up when you’re lying in bed, or staring out the window, or crying quietly in moments of desperation when you’re sure you’ve done everything wrong.

In her 9 years so far my daughter has also learned how to count on people. And that sometimes, you can’t, no matter how hard you want to. In learning how important it is to tell the truth, she has seen that many other people, even adults, don’t tell the truth or just say what they think she wants to hear. The disappointment of learning that people are human is very real, but also very necessary. Because it helps her to know that she has to accept people exactly as they are, and not try to pretend they are something they’re not.

Now that she’s 9, my Sophie has also learned that actions have consequences, and that every choice she makes is hers. This is not easy to help a child understand, since it takes a parent actually following through on those consequences to help her see that this parent means what she says, and that doing wrong results in life not being fun. Never was this truer when, in desperation, I told her about a year ago that she was grounded for a week for a particularly creative session of back talking, and in an even more awesome display of parental ignorance, I dared her to keep going and earn another week of grounding.

Which she of course did.

Those were the longest two weeks we have both experienced, and I was as much punished by that decision as she was. By the end of those two weeks, we were both exhausted and swore that would never happen again. It’s become a joke of sorts, “Remember when you grounded me for two weeks and actually stuck to it?” Yes, yes I do. And guess what, so do you, so it must have worked on some level. At least we both learned that I mean what I say.

It’s all these hard moments in parenting when we start to realize that the little kids who relied on us for everything, and those not-yet-formed people who were happy to go along with what we said and we only had to endure the tantrum here or the weepy tears there, are no longer here.

Instead we are now helping raise kids that are inching closer every day to being grown-ups, and the time that we had to teach, inspire, help and care for them is growing shorter. At 9, she’s going to be further along and more knowledgeable than I was as a teenager, and who’s to say what she’ll know at ten, twelve, or fifteen?

Our journey together has changed, it’s not just me and Sophie against the world. There’s more people in our lives, our family has grown and changed and she has more people to teach her, to help her, to frustrate and annoy her. And at 9, as I’m sure it was at 8, she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that her Mama loves her more than ever for her sweet words, her stormy tears, her grouchy moods, her shining achievements, and her amazing talents.

In short I love her just as I did that first day when I wouldn’t let that tiny infant sleep in any bassinet, even though it was right beside my bed. No, I wanted her right there on me, close to my heart. And even though her travels today take her further away from me as she lives in this world as an independent busy child, in my eyes she’ll always be right where she belongs, close to my heart.

A heart shaped leaf my daughter gave me. My hand on the left, hers on the right...

A heart shaped leaf my daughter gave me. My hand on the left, hers on the right…

On this, her 9th birthday, and all the birthdays to come, that will never change.

These are my latest two layouts, using pictures I took during my recent Maine vacation. For the ocean one, I made the big picture a part of the background. And for the sleeping girl, I “extracted” her from the picture and placed her in the frame. This allowed the focus to be on her sleeping face and not on distracting background elements. What do you think?