Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

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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Sophie the day of her haircut, right after she cut the ponytail but before the clippers.

Sophie the day of her haircut, right after she cut the ponytail but before the clippers.

There’s a piece of advice out there that’s easy to give and hard to live, if you’re a parent. Let your kids discover for themselves who they are, and by extension: let them make mistakes, and let them do things that allow them to stand out, within reasonable bounds.

For many of us, with our kids, our first instinct is to hold tighter. When they’re toddlers, we go to catch them when they’re falling, and hurriedly reassure them they’re okay. But 99% of the time, they aren’t hurt or even bothered by falling. If anything, it’s us adults overreacting that causes them to freak out.

And so it is with kids who are beginning to discover who they are. We can’t make those decisions for them. We can’t answer those questions. What are their likes and dislikes? What parts of their personality are they proud of? What makes them mad? How do they make choices?

These things are so important for allowing our kids to form who they are . . . but how many of us actually let them do these things?

It’s taken me two years to loosen the reins as a parent, and only then because I finally began to see the damage I was doing by trying to control everything. Sophie basically didn’t have control over anything . . . so she lost control over everything.

As Luke and I began to blend our family together, we found what worked for the kids. Giving them control over their bedtime meant that if they abused it by, say, staying up too late on a school night and not doing well on a test, then they would have a consequence: a week of a bed time we chose. (This never happened, by the way. They often put themselves to bed at 9pm).

We put a TV and DVD player in their bedroom, something I used to be adamantly against. However, like everything else, I discovered that once the sheen wore off the concept, they never abused the privilege. In fact, my daughter asked me one night when it was just her, “Do I have to turn the TV on?” And P.S. – if you think it’s not a miracle for four children to agree on a movie at bedtime every night, you’ve never seen the miracle in action. Not one time have they ever fought over what movie they are watching. If anyone disagrees . . . rock, paper, scissors – done.

It was a slow process of undoing the damage I had caused from me trying to be in control. I had to understand that there was a difference between parenting . . . and dictating. I had to learn that when you give kids reasonable choices within boundaries, they learn to make choices, and work things out. I don’t have to walk around with the constant worry, the time schedule, or the endless task list anymore.

Sophie with Jake and her long hair, BC (before cut).

Sophie with Jake and her long hair, BC (before cut).

And yet, sometimes, there’s still things that happen that freak me out. When Sophie mentioned a while back that she’d like her hair cut like Daddy’s, I never really believed she’d go through with it. But Sophie is Sophie: a stubborn, bossy, smart child full of attitude. And I wouldn’t want her any other way.

So the call came on a Thursday afternoon as I was picking up some groceries. Luke had taken his son Jake and Sophie to his brother’s house for haircuts. Jake got his head shaved. Luke said Sophie was next and she was pumped. I spazzed out right there in Walmart, as I envisioned street punks or cancer victims. “How short? Are the sides going to be (gasp!) shaved? Like actually shaved? Will she look sick? Will people think she needs a fundraiser? And . . . how short?”

Luke assured me that I would see it when it was done (thanks) and that Sophie was still all in. He called again after the cut to let me know they were on their way home. I was still panicked with images in my head. But I knew I needed to accept that this was what she wanted. So I asked one question, “What does Sophie think of it?” The answer: “She absolutely loves it.”

For some reason, that’s all I needed to hear. It didn’t matter what it looked like. Hair grows back, and it’s something she can experiment freely with. It didn’t matter if she shaved her head forever, or dyed it blue (which I would do myself anyway if I could), or if she 80’s permed it. She loved it. And that was good enough for me.

She more than loved it. In fact, she cut off her own ponytail gleefully and giggled on the video Luke took as her sides were – yes – shaved.

Later, when Sophie got home, I had to come out on the porch with my eyes closed for the unveiling. The hair on top of her head was an inch, maybe. The sides and back were shaved. You could feel her soft little vulnerable head. But it was totally badass. Just like her – she is a Gemini after all. Soft and vulnerable, but totally badass to cover it all up.

So, my nine-year-old daughter shaved her head. She spikes it up with mousse and sprays it blue. It’s totally awesome and totally her. As the night wore on after she cut it, I found myself feeling incredibly proud of her. She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her decision. She wanted to try this haircut, and she had the courage to go for it. It’s that go-get-it attitude I wish I had. She has it, at nine.

Spiky blue hair.

Spiky blue hair.

When we tell our kids we accept them as they are, we have to mean it. We have to accept that this is actually who they are, and love them for all of it. Help them when they need help, and set them straight when they want to act like an ass. But love them for all of it.

I love my daughter and her spiky blue shaved head. But more importantly, I love that her hair represents the courage she has to be herself, no apologies. It’s a hell of a thing for a nine-year-old to teach her mom.

They Never Tell You This About Being a Parent

They Never Tell You This About Being a Parent

They never tell you becoming a mother changes everything. They do, but you don’t listen. It’s something you have to learn yourself. They never tell you that the child you get may not be the one you expect. You don’t sit around surrounded by baby clothes dreaming of the day your four-year-old tells you she’s sick of you, or having to explain to someone why your child thought it would be okay to give their now-deceased bird a bath at midnight, or that you could sit and cry so hard because whatever you’re doing for your child feels like not enough.

They never tell you that.

To live it day in and day out is exhausting. I have discovered something recently, which I actually always knew, but lately it is much more apparent. My child is not like other children in regards to her temperament and attitude. She is smart, funny, sweet and loving, independent and friendly. But she is also hard-headed, stubborn and increasingly frustrated by the lack of control afforded to a four-year-old in this life. She has been this way since before birth, actually. She was a bright but extremely demanding baby who was never content to sit and observe the world. She wanted to jump into it face first. She learns everything the hard way. It is frustrating for her, and extremely frustrating for me.

I am a quiet person who likes to please people, I avoid confrontation, and when I was little, I always did what I was told. I know, because my mother is constantly telling me, “You never acted like that!” about Sophie’s latest fit, tantrum or episode, and I agree, because I remember being the shy but happy kid.

Sophie is not even in that realm. She fights the world tooth and nail, literally trying to wrestle any control she can with her bare hands. She will fight just to fight, she will defy and push boundaries just because she can. I truly believe it is just her nature. She is a strong-willed, independent person, and has been since the moment she came into being. I have set limits, I have provided structure, the base of the hierarchy is well taken care of, and I have never been afraid to discipline. But still…

I struggle everyday to understand it. I struggle everyday to teach her that right now, I am in charge. Every day, there are a hundred battles waged because she needs to see if I am still in control. She pushes and pushes to see if I will break.

I won’t.

It’s hard, it’s tiring and I feel like a failure sometimes. But I need to be strong for her now, because she won’t just give respect because she’s supposed to. And if I don’t have her respect now, I won’t have it later, when I really need it.

I know I was given the child I was meant to have. We are supposed to learn something important from each other. I can’t change her basic strong will, just as I could never “just be more outgoing,” as countless people have told me throughout my life. That’s like telling a fish to walk on land.

I just hope I’m doing this right. In the hours when all avenues have been exhausted, it feels hopeless. I wonder why anybody thought I could handle this. I have had to be more firm with her than I ever thought possible. I can’t let things slide. When a line is drawn by me, she will try to cross it just because I put it there. She cries and screams and makes me feel like I am the most awful person that ever walked the Earth. But in the end, I have won a small victory, and more likely than not, that line will not be crossed again. And then, without any help from me, she will tell me she’s sorry she did that and she wants to be good. I try to understand her, I try to understand why. And I think the why is just because she is who she is.

I think, just maybe, in these incidents I move up a notch in her mind. In the little game we must play, my token is advancing and I can see that somehow she will turn into a strong person, a smart person and an independent person, and I will have helped her get there. It’s my job, right? I’m not raising a child. I’m raising a person, one that will be different from every other person out there. I want her to be proud of that person, and I want to be proud, too.

So, when everything seems dark, at least I know we’re heading somewhere. There is a place we’re trying to reach. Someday, when her therapist convinces her to forgive me, I hope she realizes that my only purpose was to try to help her become great. That’s really what Moms want for their kids, I think.

But nobody tells you that.

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  1. Working to pay the bills.
  2. Cleaning of any sort, especially toilets. When I was little, toilets were clean…and I didn’t have to do it.
  3. The whole concept of exercise. There’s a reason you don’t see little kids on treadmills!
  4. You can’t just stick your tongue out at someone when you’re mad at them and be BFF’s two seconds later.
  5. One word. Gravity.
  6. The food doesn’t just appear on the table, sometimes cut up into easy to eat bite-sized pieces.
  7. If I imagined it when I was little, it was real. No matter how hard I imagine it now, it doesn’t become real.
  8. The messy hair-just rolled out of bed-look is just not cute on an adult.
  9. I can’t spend long hours just doing nothing because then I feel guilty.
  10. I forgot what it was like to be a kid.
Sophie in full princess mode.

Sophie is an only child…and may remain that way. At this point, there are no plans for the pitter-patter of more feet. Yet-what’s that I hear? Little feet and giggling voices. Oh, yes, that’s right. All Sophie’s friends want to hang out at our house! Listen, people, she’s three! I wasn’t expecting this until, oh, I don’t know, six or seven? I don’t remember when I started having friends over…I guess maybe it was three or so. But I wasn’t prepared for it yet. In some ways it’s kind of nice. Sophie is not stuck to my side like a burr saying “Mama, play with me. Play with me!” She gets to use all those toys with someone who actually wants to play with them. She’s having fun. That works for me.

The girls blowing bubbles in the kitchen.

I feel bad sometimes because I know she gets lonely just being the only one here with her alternately busy and exhausted parents. And I’m not going to consider having another child just so she can have someone else to play with. That would be nice, but it isn’t a good reason to have a child. That’s why she has friends, right? There’s some kids we know through my Mom that play with Sophie, and also our new next door neighbors want to play with her, too. The thing is these kids are at least 3 years older than Sophie. Which is good because they are old enough so I don’t have to “babysit” so much. They pretty much take care of themselves once I show them where the bathroom is. I just wonder if Sophie at some point will be too young for them. Maybe they like playing with a younger child because they can be the boss. Sophie doesn’t seem to mind this setup. I guess I really don’t either. It’s just another reminder that she’s growing up, faster than I had imagined. I know she’s not that little toddler anymore. Making a mess, of course!

We’re barreling toward “big kid” full speed ahead.

I was staring at the back of a Golden Grahams box this morning. I actually had a purpose this time, I wasn’t just staring off into space, dazed, because my child bounced onto my bed at 7am this morning wanting to watch cartoons. No, I was looking at one of those optical puzzles where you stare at the wavy lines and an image is supposed to appear. Well, after about five minutes, my eyes started to hurt and I was no closer to seeing any image. What happened? I used to be good at those back when they were cool. Remember, for about five minutes when those things were all the rage? Ah, yes, that’s right, I was a kid then. That’s probably why I can’t see them now but I could then. Kind of like in the Polar Express when the adults can’t hear the bell. I’ve grown up and it seems like nothing is fun anymore.

The box I was looking at

They say that when you have children, you can revert back to your childhood with them and relive all the awesomeness of being a kid. Well, here is my confession. Despite the fact that I loved being a kid, my adult brain can’t seem to handle all the kid-ish stuff Sophie loves. When she asks me to play with her, my eyes glaze over after about three minutes. All the toys I know I loved as a kid don’t hold any sway over me now. It’s like my brain is saying, “Been there, done that, move along, people.” It really distresses me. What happened to life being fun? To having curiosity about life and the world? It just seems like I’ve hit a point as an adult where I’ve seen too many ugly things and dealt with too much adult stress to even remember what being childlike was, even though Sophie is right there in the thick of being amazed by the world.

In class, I have one girl who asks me to read her the same book every day. She loves this book and is obviously in the process of committing the whole thing to her 4-year-old memory. Which is awesome. But every day when she asks me I inwardly roll my eyes, while outwardly smiling and saying, “Sure I can read it to you…again!” And so I zip through “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” without much thought. But the other day, as I was reading it, I began to think about why she likes this book so much. It’s the same reason I loved it as a kid: funny words and illustrations that make you study them. The vug under the rug is scary…because what kid hasn’t thought about what is hiding in unseen places? And who wouldn’t want to go around all day saying “There’s a noothgrush on my toothbrush?” That’s funny, right there! I realized I do the same thing when I read stories to Sophie…I read them and she loves them but I get easily bored when she brings me the same Berenstain book for the 400th time. But for her, it’s fascinating. And I’m starting to remember why, and also starting to think that’s the problem I’m having here at age 30.

I forgot how to have fun with life. Everything is so stressful and we’re broke all the time and we’re forced to be adults every minute of the day. It’s so dreary! And tiring. The thing is, I remember vividly how much I loved being a kid. Everything was awesome…My Little Ponies, building forts in the woods with stuff my mother didn’t know I stole from the house, gumball and M&M machines at the hardware store, stopping at the boat landing for no reason at all to go swimming. There was no purpose in life other than to just be. Even going to the dump was fun…yes, I’m a redneck on this one, I am from Maine after all. My uncle would pick me up and take all our trash, his family’s trash and my two cousins. And every time, we would stop at the corner store on the way to the dump and he would buy us gum and Jolly Rancher sticks and Ice Cream from the little freezer and whatever else our little candy-loving hearts desired. I was in heaven. Going to the Dump. How many times would I say trash makes me that excited today? How about never?

So, all of this deep thinking came from the back of a cereal box. Who says they’re not educational?

Sophie and her pink bouncing ball today

Sophie wanted me to take a picture of the bright sun

Here she is in the sun

Another crazy sun picture

I am one of those people who is always doing seven things at once. It used to be called ‘multi-tasking,’ I think, but now I’ve read in several places that doing more things at one time just stresses people out. Gee, really? I never would have guessed!

I thought with summer here, I would have all this time to get stuff done that I was, honestly, too exhausted to do during the school year. But my list keeps getting longer. Here is a sample of how high I’ve set the bar for myself:

  1. Work on home improvement things, such as: paint the floor of our concrete porch, finish faux painting my daughter’s resale shop furniture, finish touch up painting from last year, finally paint our kitchen cabinets, put up trim boards that have been stuffed in a closet for months, finish painting in the bathroom, finish changing out old electrical outlets. This is just a sample, of course! However, I am happy to say that we have done a lot since moving in last June! This place was in need of heavy renovations before we could even live here…there were metallic monarch butterflies in the bathroom. Nobody should be made to live in that horror.
  2. Read books. Why does this sound like a chore? It’s really not, because I love books. But it takes time to read them, even though I read faster than most people. And time is hard to find! Try sitting down in a comfortable chair to read a book when a three-year-old is awake in your house. It is an exercise in extreme frustration! And I have too many other things to do while she’s napping or sleeping to sit down and read! Let me just say, thank goodness she still naps!
  3. Work on my scrapbooks. I have two right now that I want to finish, plus several more waiting in the wings. One is Sophie’s from age one. (She’s three now, so you can imagine how many more I have in mind for her!) Plus, I am putting together 2 scrapbooks of my parent’s 2003 trip to Italy. My mom bought all the stuff, but a scrapbooker she is not. So I offered to do them for her. A lot of work, but they are turning out awesome! Plus it is good practice (and good samples) for when my business idea comes into being.
  4. My actual job, as a preschool teacher. I have the summer off, but I want to plan for next year, plus I am dealing with those issues from my previous post. (I emailed my boss and she told me to write down my issues and send them to her. I don’t think she knows quite how heavy these issues are, but I am going to do the letter and send it to her. Fingers crossed!) So I have songs and poems to gather, materials to gather, ideas and lessons for units to write down, etc., etc.
  5. Be a decent parent while I am at home with my three-year-old all day, every day. You would think this would be easier since I teach three-year-olds for my actual job, but, sadly, I make many mistakes as a parent. I am not as patient as I would like to be, and I don’t do as many “kid activities” as I think I should. It’s hard to devote large chunks of time to playing dress up or mooshing homemade play doh or coloring pictures with that nagging voice in my head saying…shouldn’t you be doing this…and this…and this, and this? It’s one of those day by day things, I think, where I keep saying, “I’ll do better tomorrow, I promise I will!”

There. A list of five things. Simple, right? Just relax, stop trying so hard. That’s what I hear from my husband. His mindset is very different from mine. He doesn’t have the constant to-do list in his head that I have. He is not the main house cleaner, child-raiser and bill payer. He gets to just plunk his tired self on the couch and shoot people for three hours in Liberty City because he has the “I work two jobs” excuse. But that’s a rant best saved for another post…