a new mantra

Her words sank in and offered me a whole new way of looking at things. Previously I would have seen my shortcomings, my failures as a mother. On top of that I would have inflated the emotions of my son to eclipse anything else.

Now I saw an opportunity to empower him.

I find it so amazing how just one little thing, just one little sentence can turn a light on in a room I didn’t even realize was dark.

But Zachary, you did just the right thing, didn’t you? You called out and mom heard you and you found each other. You took care of yourself.”

This was new.

Not the chatty mom who made a pit-stop on our way out of school. My poor children are quite accustomed to my tendency to find and stop at any opportunity to have a meaningful connection with someone.

But when I make such a pause and my children are young enough to not realize this and they keep going, they loose me. They look around and mom has mysteriously disappeared. Panic may set in to their small little hearts.

Thus what happened to Zachary this day. And when his nervous holler for mom found it’s way to my ears, I responded how I always did. “I’m so sorry, honey! I stopped and didn’t tell you. You must have been scared. I am so sorry.” Because, of course, this is all about me and how terrible I am.

But then she affirmed my son and his ability to find his way out of a sticky situation.

He took care of himself. Wow. That is something that has taken me almost 40 years and a lot of therapy to do. And my then three-year-old did it without even really thinking about it.

Children solve problems. All the time. And I WANT my children to be problem solvers. I want them to know how capable they are. But I realized in this moment that sometimes I take away their natural problem solving skills because I am so wrapped up in my own self.

This became my new mantra. My eyes were opened to how my children solve problems all the time, all over the place. And I could point that out to them. So that then they know they have this very important skill. And hopefully it grows.

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relief

Relief washed over me. As the movie ended I realized I am not all that different and terrible than most any other loving, human parent.

I have gone back and forth about whether or not to publish my next post. The words have been sitting in my computer since last year. This is one of the loose ends I set a goal in January to tie up.

But I have been dragging my feet every step of the way.

It is no secret how vulnerable I am here. Some of you may think that it comes easily. Sometimes it does.

But other times it doesn’t. And so far, this next post has been the toughest.

I am not sure why. Truly, the post celebrates growth. And in that I my desire is to communicate hope. If I can change slowly bit by bit, anyone can.

But in the process I admit something to my readers that took years for me to admit to myself. And I feel ashamed about.

Even after I cleaned it up and uploaded it to have it all ready to go and just needed to press “publish”…..drag, drag, drag. I was going to push that button on Thursday.

My feet turned cold. Well, I will have a good one for Monday, I thought. But secretly I wondered if I could find anything else to write about to replace it. Maybe it could sit on the eternal shelf.

Then I watched The Odd Life of Timothy Green. And I realized my dear little post that feels so incredibly naked to me, so trusting of those around me to be gentle and kind to me and my son after reading it, is a common story.

I face what all parents face.

There are times when we want to take those things that make our children unique and beautiful and change them or cover them up. We think we are trying to protect them, working for the good of our children.

But really we are simply passing on our issues to our children, instead of dealing with them ourselves. And from experience I can tell you, passing them on is so much easier than facing them.

So one more day until I post it. I want as many other parents out there who maybe struggle with themselves in the midst of parenting to know that they are not alone. So feel free to spread the word.

Until then, go rent the movie. It’s definitely worth it.

eyes to see

Sometimes I need help remembering what life is like from his perspective. I have a tendency to be human and forget that not everyone sees from my point of view. Especially my children.

When one of them gets a hold of my camera and starts snapping, there are often at least one or two pictures that shock it into me. Life literally looks different when you are the size of a child.

This time it was the youngest. He looks up at things I look down on. He sees things I ignore. He treasures things I want put away.

And somehow seeing that different perspective captured in an actual image that was taken with one part creative license and another part random chance drives the point home to me clearly.

My perspective is not invalid. And neither is his. But they are entirely different from one another.

My parenting may not change much as a result. Except for my understanding and compassion for my children. Which is everything, really.

So thank you, my son, for asking to take pictures with my camera. And thank you, me, for saying yes and being willing to let someone small handle something big that cost a good chunk of money.

Because out of it comes a priceless reminder that my set of eyes is not the only one in the world. That life is different when you’re four. Or eight. Or almost twelve. Or anyone besides me.

forever preschool

When will he finally get this? To be fair, he is truly doing an exceptional job learning. But even still, I find myself quick to be frustrated with my youngest son. He is all of four years old now and we are constantly working on the tasks of his life-stage.

Learning to not get his way and handle himself appropriately.

Learning to speak up for what he wants instead of whining or whimpering.

Learning to respect others, get along, and use his words.

And all the while figuring out who he is and how the world works.

Simple.

So why do I not have more patience for the poor boy? I am not in new territory. I have done this before. Twice. And yet there is something in these moments of teaching and coaching that reaches beyond this one child. Whatever it is seems to trigger a quiet desperation inside of me. One that is distinctly disproportionate to the four year old at hand.

Eventually, after one of the days of family togetherness that didn’t bring out the best in us, a light bulb goes on. I am not just disturbed by Zachary and his age appropriate behavior. I am also discouraged with his older brothers and the fact that they have not mastered the tasks of preschool yet, either. And I am disgruntled with my husband because he has not mastered the tasks. And while I am at it, I am completely stymied with the entire world for not mastering the tasks of preschool.

Which really, of course, all boils down to the fact that I am irritated with my own self. Because I have not mastered preschool either.

So my distinctly disproportionate desperation comes from the knowledge that no one ever truly masters these tasks. My son is doomed to live a life of humanity. And so are his brothers. And his father. And the rest of the world. And me.

I must have tricked myself into thinking these tasks should be easy because the age appropriate time to address them is when we are small. And my frustration only magnifies when I realize NO ONE has mastered these simple tasks, including me. The futility of the situation glares at me every day.

The problem is, the tasks I speak of may be simple but they are also enormous.

And so I have changed my mind. Instead of thinking the tasks are small because we teach them to small people I realize the tasks are just as gargantuan as they sound and that is why we start learning them at such an early age. Because truly, these tasks require a lifetime to even begin to grasp.

But I have to believe it is worth the effort to try.

whispers and a break

My heart is twisted and wrung completely out as I watch my son struggle. Four out of the five times I have been to the hospital with a child have been for him. IVs, staph infections, broken arms, and ear surgeries are petrifying for children.

I have seen more bravery from this child than I have living in my entire adult body. Because of course, I don’t define bravery as the absence of fear but the overcoming of it.

And with all of those trips to the hospital, I could offer my son comfort with my very presence. Hugs and kisses from mom softened the pain and made things more bearable. Just being there with him. Never leaving his side. Whispering encouraging words in his ears. Telling him I love him.

But in this moment, I must simply sit and watch. And make no mistake, it is excruciating.

Karate testing day always throws him. Most people don’t notice. He hides it like a master illusionist. But I, his mother, know exactly what his face looks like as he holds his tears at bay. And every time, I squirm inside.

But this is the absolute worst it has ever been. He is required to break a youth board, as he should be. We all know he is plenty strong enough to do it. If he came at the board the same way he tears through the practice target, there would be nothing but splinters left.

But he hesitates every time that board shows up. Of course he does. He is tender. He is kind. He is a lover.

So I watch him struggle. And fighting the instinct to swoop in and save or help or whisk him away from difficulty is one of the most difficult things for me to do as a parent.

He is in the best of hands, though. After more tries than it should take of kicks and elbow strikes, as we see him breaking down and wiping away tears he wishes were not coming down his cheeks in front of all of these people, his instructor pulls him close and tenderly whispers to him. He hands him the board and sends him back to his spot on the mat.

My son covers his face, pushing his nose into his elbow in a way that I know he wants to disappear from this moment. One of the other instructors goes to him, sits next to him and gently whispers in his ear.

A few minutes later, as class is excused and the children get up to have their boards signed (karate tradition), there are more whispers to him from a third instructor who walked around for days, perhaps even weeks with an unbroken board. He knows better than anyone in the room what my son is experiencing right now.

I have no idea what all these whispers are. But I am eternally grateful for them. Because I sit frozen on my chair. All that is in me wants to go and hug my son.

Instead, my hand grips the thigh of my friend next to me. She whispers me through this, reminding me of what I already know. That this will require something from my son that he has to find inside himself.

He waits patiently next to his instructor until the last board is signed. And then he says, “I want to try again.”

He throws a few elbow strikes as we all hold our breath. The tears begin to well up again when his instructor suggests a spinning back kick. On the first try, the CRACK of the board rings out followed by an eruption of cheers and applause.

I couldn’t be more proud. Not because my son broke a piece of wood. But because he refused to let that piece of wood break him.

stopping for snuggles

What is she doing?

The scene flashes before my eyes quicker than my brain can process what I see. There is a clearing where I get on the freeway and another ten freeways converge and veer off. I see a woman standing there, safely centered in the middle of a grassy area with her car pulled off the road. The expanse is surrounded by fast-paced, southern Californian roads and freeways. She stands out like a sore thumb.

She is holding her baby.

Her body gently sways back and forth as the look of patience and compassion adorns her. So many thoughts rush through me as I try to put the pieces together.

I have vivid memories of driving with my baby screaming behind me, helpless and frazzled as I navigated to our destinations. The tension would mount in my shoulders, tying my muscles into knotted rocks.

I was always so convinced of the nuisance I was to other drivers, sure they could hear what was happening in my car. They knew what a terrible mother I was a) for not being able to keep my child from crying in the car and b) for getting in everyone’s way as I drove so flustered and frantically.

But this woman let that all go. She stopped. And for this moment, when I saw her, she was living out her priority that her child was more important than her destination or what other people thought of her.

And she has come to my mind so many times in the last week. I have been raw and surging with hormones. I’ve been processing some family stuff. I’ve been wrestling with a desire to write more that clearly doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. And I have been reading The Hunger Games – with all it’s intensity (dying I love it so much, by the way!) – which has delightfully pulled all of my emotions right to the surface of me.

As a result, I’ve been a little short tempered with my children. This is my Achilles’ heal, my continual battle with myself. Not getting loud and shaming when my patience runs thin. And while it is true that my children are neither perfect nor angelic, my temper is my problem, not theirs.

And in the middle of one of my “You better get your shoes on or you will be late for your preschool fieldtrip!” episodes, my four-year-old looked up at me with his crocodile-tears and big hazel-brown eyes and adorable little face and cried out, “I want some snuggles!”

He does this from time to time when I loose my cool.

And it is as precious as it sounds.

And I immediately think of that mom safely off to the side of the freeway, swaying back and forth with her baby cradled against her body. And I stop, and I snuggle my four year old. Know what? Turns out snuggles is just what I need right now, too.

the face

What do I say to a face like this? These puppy dog eyes, red and splotchy from tears with hot cocoa stains around the mouth for finishing touches. The fact that he is about the most adorable child God ever created works in his favor almost all of the time.

My former self would have known just what to do when face to face with this forlorn little boy. I would have forced the older brother who wanted to play by himself to play with this child. We must sacrifice everything – including our very selves – in honor of being nice. I don’t care if you want a moment alone. Can’t you see this face?

But I am not my former self anymore, even though parts of her tug on my heartstrings from time to time. So while it kills me to look at this deliciously pathetic face, as a mom of three I also respect that everyone needs time alone now and then.

I had been listening and after quite some time playing nicely with someone less than half his age, the older brother had requested said time alone respectfully. And I haven’t heard a lot of respectfully around here lately. The three-year-old stormed off to his room where he proceeded to weep bitterly with angry sobs.

I followed him in and scooped my snuggliest child into my arms. He was offering his love and adoration for his older brother in the form of intense desire to be together, doing what his world revolves around, playing. And he was rejected. And it hurt.

And I have to admit, I was a little at a loss of what to do. It is fair to need some alone time. It is also fair to be hurt when someone doesn’t want to play with you, even when they are not being mean about it. How can I help my children understand boundaries, respect, and love? There was no simple answer here, so I sat holding my youngest son and felt the tension of the situation for a while.

Sometimes people’s boundaries are not what we would like them to be, but that does not give us the right to make their choices for them. Even when we are the mom. And it’s hard.

I was encouraged that after some snuggles for one and some time alone for the other, the boys figured out for themselves how to play together again. At least for about another five minutes. Then I got to see this face again.

What situations have you faced lately that don’t have clear cut solutions?