shotgun

What is he doing here? I am surprised almost every time I notice he is next to me. My son now sits in the front seat of the car. In fact, that was the highlight of his twelfth birthday a few months ago. Forget the gifts or the fun. The best part for him was getting to sit shotgun.

There are some definite up sides to the whole thing. This means that now, in our minivan, the boys cannot touch each other when we are driving around town. Tremendously helpful. Peace is possible (sort of).

And since he is right there next to me, I can pass him my phone when I remember a text I need to send and simply dictate. When his little brother drops something, he can see behind my seat and pick it up for him. He can change the station on the radio (confession: not always a “pro”).

But now I have someone next to me pushing buttons, asking questions about driving (four more years, but now that he can see out the windshield he’s all about it), and just generally being in my space.

And as a mom of three, I don’t have much space. My “adult world”, no matter how limited my visits there may be, has been my place to take off the mom hat.

Now I have a twelve year old who is learning the ropes. He needs to come visit that adult world bit by bit with increasing frequency, just to try things out, look around, and get a feel for the place. Developmentally this is time.

Emotionally speaking for me? Not so sure.

I may, from time to time, feel as though my toes are being stepped on. I may feel a bit territorial. Especially when it comes to my van. The one I have been driving around for the last eleven years. Sharing the van, but having the front section all to my adult self.

But this is good. Always good for me to have something tangible to represent the intangible. I see things clearer that way. They make more sense to me.

So now I see – with my son sitting in the front seat of the van – that I am going to need to share things I haven’t had to pry my fingers from just yet in this adventurous process of motherhood. And like I said, it is time. He is ready. He will never learn to function in the adult world if I don’t let him in.

And so begins the process of learning to have a relationship with my growing-up son who will always be my child, but will not always a child. 

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performance rejection

He does not perform. The thought occurs to me as I walk by my eight-year-old working diligently on his current project. He is making an Angry Birds Space encyclopedia.

Just before this ah-hah descends on me, I am grumbling in my head. Why doesn’t he work this hard on school projects? This is what I mean when I say give 100%. I know he has it in him, why doesn’t he use this motor more?

Because unlike his mother, my son is NOT a type-A personality. He is a good-enougher. He is an I’m-not-defined-by-my-performance kind of guy. He is someone who enjoys life and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

And I love that about him more than I can say. Even though I go crazy over it from time to time. This beautiful freedom he lives in rubs against my performance-driven, rule-following, live-up-to-all-expectations nature.

And that is SO GOOD for me.

As this new revelation about my son and how he ticks sinks in, I swell with admiration. He puts his heart and soul into the things he determines are worthy of such priceless energy.

Not into what will score points with his teacher, the people around him, or even his mother. He will not do things just to look good in the eyes of another. He will not perform.

He does, however, have much heart and soul to pour into things. And he does use that energy from time to time. On projects that matter to him.

This is all very helpful for me to consider. Because as his mother, I need to help equip him to navigate through this world. And to not loose himself in the process.

There are times when he will have to harness this energy even though he doesn’t want to because that is what his life requires of him at the given moment. But those times are probably fewer and farther between than I as his mother think they are.

Yet at the same time, how wonderful for him to know with such certainty that his life cannot be lived to please others. He must be true to himself. How does he know such a thing at this tender age?

I marvel at moments like these. I think I am helping my children discover pieces of themselves and figure out where they go. And then they hand me pieces of myself that have been missing all my life. 

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.

my moment on the couch

Why is this so hard? I leave the boys in the garage, buckled in their seats and ready to go to the World Famous San Diego Zoo. They are only missing the keys to the van and me.

I, however, need a moment. A moment to breathe. A moment to let myself feel as frustrated as I am. A moment to give myself some compassion and try to pull something out of myself I don’t think is there.

Because parenting is hard sometimes. Really, truly, very hard.

I had been listening to a bounty of bickering ALL WEEK LONG. I had done what I could to set us up for success at the beginning of Spring Break. I noticed the boys were having a difficult time remembering how to talk to one another, how to listen to one another, and how to treat one another with a general sense of respect.

You know, the kind of respect I, as their mother, would hope they would treat any other human being with. Apparently brothers are exempt “human being” status. So I reminded them what respect looks like and that every person is entitled to being treated with said respect, even brothers. And I told them this was our project for the week.

Needless to say, things did not go as I might have hoped. By now we were all completely saturated in our collective humanity. And in my desperation and exhaustion with it all, I was looking for my children to be different and change their behavior to be the way out. But I know that I know that I know that I know….that the only way out is for me to lead them.

But I don’t think I can. I don’t think I can change my attitude. Because I am so utterly tired of their bickering and arguing and childishness. However, they are children. And I am the adult.

And these are the moments when parenting is entirely impossible. When I have given all of the patience and grace that I think I have inside of me. But the job requires more.

So I let myself have that moment, inside my house, on my couch. And I practiced giving myself compassion, mercy, and tenderness. The kind I imagine God has for all of us, even parents who have reached the end of themselves like me. Honestly I didn’t think it would help much but it was all that I had.

I told myself this job is just as holistically difficult and insurmountable as it seems. “Of course you are spent and frustrated and done with bad attitudes,” I said with gentleness. And maybe a touch of attitude all my own. And I soaked in that compassion and understanding for a moment.

And then I reminded myself that they are not going to change their attitudes until I change mine. And it will be hard all day long to lead them out of here. And it will likely be hard the next day, too.

“But you are their leader,” I said. “So lead them.”

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.