I used to actually think that when my kids were older, life wouldn’t be so crazy – that life would be easier and might actually slow down…oh, silly rabbit.
Life is going by at warp speed. If our family isn’t incredibly intentional about scheduling time together, we are the ships passing in the night. How easy it is to lose sight of one another. How easy it is to drift.
Paige and I are still joined at the hip. Brynne is in middle school but is slowly weaning herself from my clutches (sob.)
But high school? It’s a whole new world – that often doesn’t include you. With all the wonderful activities, sports, clubs, student government, classes, musicals, and friend time, it’s more like a weekly wave. Weekends, especially Sundays, are sacred, but during the week, more often than not, I’m getting the younger girls to bed when the teens come home. We say hello, how was your day, sorry about the drama, do your homework, see you tomorrow.
In some ways it feels like high school is the beginning of the end – you send them off and just hope and pray you’ve taught them how to behave, keep their pants on, and be kind to others.
This is how I usually see Cope – bye, Mom!
Cope with the backpack I used in high school and college!
But you see, stuff has to get done. Like work applications, scholarships, scouting merit badges, emails sent, college visits, and on and on. And you, as the parent, can’t or shouldn’t do the job. What to do? Remind? Nag? Talk about it incessantly until you see action? It’s exhausting for all parties, and tremendously annoying.
Let’s just say that none of these tactics were helping our relationship.
Note: the time to remind the kids about something isn’t while they’re exiting the vehicle (um, me.)
“Don’t forget to…”
“Yep, Mom, I got it.”
But, hmm. Do they?
But ho – here’s a strategy that’s working REALLY WELL! (an idea from the fabulous Happier podcast featuring Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft.)
A weekly one-hour appointment with the teens. It’s obvious, right? Well, it’s also genius.
At first, the idea was met with skepticism. Cope said, “Uh, honestly mom? I don’t think I have an hour a week for you.” Good thing she laughed after she said it. But she was right – we were having a hard time finding an hour to even have a conversation.
But she penciled me in, and that week we refined some essays, responded to college emails, and got those scholarships sent off. Done. So much relief! And you know what? It was FUN. I also got juicy tidbits of high school life (buzzword: “bralette.”) WIN.
Experimenting with the boy was harder because what we really needed to work on were merit badges and HE DOES NOT WANT TO DO THEM. Me neither.
“Are you ready for our scouting date?” I said in my overly cheerful annoying voice. However, I know the way to the boy’s heart: MEAT.
Thanks for the meat, mom!
It’s the habit of pairing. If boy associates meat and yummy food and positive attention from mom, he’s more likely to cooperate. Total success. We only went half an hour and we got the job done.
On my calendar I now have a weekly note to self: schedule Cope and Nelson hour.
The great thing is they aren’t resisting it. (shhh…I think they might secretly enjoy spending time with me 🙂 )
Schedule a weekly meeting.
Try to be consistent with time and day, but even if it changes, set the appointment before you adjourn so it’s not one and done.
Try REALLY HARD not to nag about scheduled matters during the week. Save it for your date.
Your meeting doesn’t even need to be for things you HAVE TO DO. It could be a walk together or a pedicure, but as time is teaching me: these final moments with our kids under the same roof is Precious Time.
My boy and I didn’t get our hour in this weekend because I was sick and he had homework, but right before we said good-bye this morning he said, “I think we can do our hour tonight.” Oh good, I said, happily surprised. “Maybe you could defrost some meat?”
Check. Hey, whatever it takes, buddy, ’cause I sure do love you.
(Marriage? It also works wonders!)
Let me know how this goes, dear readers. Successes? Failures? Already doing it? I’d love to hear.
And…a new school year begins. As always, we are off and running. Are you running, too? Let’s take slow breaths and think calm thoughts. This helps stave off the frazzled, panicky, snapping mama that is so fun to be around. Or is that just me?
Last year I remember thinking, “There is nothing more I can add to my plate. This pace is insane.” Well, there is more this year, including more emotion as my darling Cope is a senior. Oh dear, I need to change the subject now…
So anyway, a new school year always reminds me to sloooow down. Which is the definition of irony, isn’t it?
I have two mantras at the moment:
Remember: If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
Remember: Once your direction is clear, you can give attention to pace.
Priorities became very obvious after this summer. In a crisis, family comes to the forefront every time. Perhaps we needn’t wait for the crisis’ to prioritize.
I’m going to tell you about a very special mother who has taught me a lot about priorities: Ginny B.
Ginny B. has a very wonderful son named Benny B.
If you don’t know Benny B, I’m very sorry. For he’s a good boy to know.
He is one of those boys we point to and say, “Try to be like Benny B.” He is kind and honest and funny and always has a big smile that lights up all the space around him. After high school Benny B. went on to study and play basketball at Brandeis University – and he is still a good boy!
Well, good boys don’t get grown by accident now, do they? Just by knowing Benny B., you have to admire the family behind the scenes.
The Professor and I attended Benny B.’s college graduation a few years ago. I had met his mother, Ginny B. before, but I was very struck of how obviously Benny B. loved her.
I felt – Envy? Longing? Wishing? When my children flew the nest, would we have that kind of relationship?
“Benny B., you and your mom seem really close.”
“Oh,” Benny B. said. “She’s my best friend. I tell her everything.”
I pounced. “How did you do that?” I asked Ginny B. “Tell me all of your secrets!”
“You know, Amy,” she said. “I just always made sure I was waiting at the kitchen table. No matter how old they were or how late it was, I just always tried to be there when they came home.”
I have a pang of guilt every time I think of Ginny B. because there are few things I like more than climbing into my bed…at like, 8. As my children grow older they are not tucked in at 7:30 every night. Darn it. Hmmm. Could the kitchen table be substituted for say…my bed?
I have decided this is a doable substitute.
I’m waiting, baby! (zzzz….)
Benny B. and the great Ginny:
I don’t know a lot about Ginny B. but I know motherhood hasn’t been all honey dew and butterflies. The family has made a lot of sacrifices for Ginny B. to be able to stay home. They make due on one income. Their home is modest and well cared for. There are touches of Ginny everywhere, from the plethora of hostas lining the front walkway, to the homemade quilts hung over furniture. There’s nothing showy about their lifestyle; only comfortable and welcoming (including a lot of delicious homemade food.)
I’m a mom who needs reminders like this. The pull of the world is strong, my young padawans. There are opportunities to be snatched, and of course we need jobs and money to live. But there’s a point where we don’t actually need to accumulate more stuff or more status or more.
Ginny B. made the decision to be waiting when her children came home. Let the chips fall where they may. This is how the chips fell: Her children love their mother. They are best friends. They tell her everything. And I just love that.
Ginny B. even loves my children, too.
Now, I’m sure Ginny B. and Benny B. have had many “moments.” Ginny isn’t, shall we say, a timid or docile flower. For goodness sake, her hair is red. She’s opinionated and fiery! But gosh darn it, she waits and she listens and the children talk.
Here is Benny B. and The Professor. They both have great hair. If you need hair product tips, just sit quietly and listen to their conversations. It’s both hilarious and enlightening.
Now listen: this is not a post to cause you motherhood guilt! For goodness sake, if you can’t always be home when the kids walk through the door, they’re not ruined. This story was just good for me to witness. It is good to see a boy with good hair turn out so well. It is really good to see Benny B. love his mother so much and to be reminded that mothers can’t be outsourced. Feel special, gosh darn it. You’re NEEDED.
Carole, a friend of mine, lost her mother many many years ago, and I haphazardly scribbled this down when she spoke – “I couldn’t wait to get off the bus and run to her, even in high school. Even when she was gone I found myself wanting to tell her things – and I can’t wait for the day when I can tell her all the things I want to tell her.”
The thing is, if we’re not around, they can’t tell us all the things.
My mother was a mom who waited for us (and she likes sleep even more than I do.) Growing up, she placed above the entrance to the kitchen: The Gathering Place. (Take heart: my mother hates to cook!)
But even when we are all grown, and my parents moved across the country, she insisted on a home that was big enough for us all to come and gather. And she still drives a minivan! (She says it’s for comfort, but I secretly think she likes to pick up stray grandchildren…:) ) Even now that I’m a pretend grown-up I know she’s waiting. #lucky.
Benny B. and my boy:Wait for them. And they’ll keep coming home.
Sometimes I should care more, but I just don’t. Where to go to dinner? I don’t really care (as long as it’s not McDonald’s). The Professor wants to choose the color of the van interior? Have at it. You want some input on a new living room rug design? Either one is fine. I just don’t care. It feels inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. Yes, sometimes I should care more. For example, I’m prone to impatiently hacking my hair off every few months (I really shouldn’t.)
But there are other Amy Absolutes:
Thou shalt not have a DVD player in the car. Because children should be bored occasionally, daydream, and look out the window. Maybe even talk to me.
Thou shalt not do all the chores. Because a working family is a happy family! And the mother is not the slave of the family.
Thou shalt not speak rudely to mom and dad. Because honoring thy mother and thy father is a worthy endeavor.
Thou shalt not use my toothbrush. Or I will never speak to you again. The Professor has had to ask for forgiveness on multiple occasions.
Oh yes, these things do matter. Technology use is my hot-button. I can get more fired-up about technology rules than most political candidates. Kids and iPhones. No. Why in the world would I put that device in my child’s pocket when there is a world to explore? When technology addiction is rampant, when a child’s brain is so malleable and still forming?
No, we shall frolic and sing with our bonnets and aprons on at all times….
The hills are alive…
I’m sad and terrified when so many of our children do not know how to read a textbook and pull out cohesive “take-aways.” When The Classics are “boring.” When Google is so easy, that “hard” is avoided at all costs. When English courses have to cut out whole books, curriculum, and reading because our teens just don’t have the brain power to sit still, absorb, and ponder Anna Karenina. I liked this post.
And yeah, I blame technology for some of that. I read less because of my phone. It sits on my bedside table, putting me to sleep and waking me up. All the dings, alerts, and Twitter notifications that go off in our pockets, pulling us away from absorbing, focusing, and being “all in.” I see the effect in my classroom every.single.day. I fight that battle every.single.day.
Two years ago I wrote about my gollum-like fascination after finally getting an iPhone. It’s been life-changing. I can actually find your house now with that nifty GPS! I keep an on-line calendar, use reminders, check Instagram, comment on Facebook and blogs, schedule appointments – I LOVE my phone. I love it. I love it too much. Which is why I wanted to keep it out of the hands of my darlings as long as possible.
“My friends make fun of me everyday,” The Boy tells me. After revealing he had to ask permission to use technology at home, his friend literally rolled on the floor laughing. Now, every time he sees The Boy using his iPad at school he says, “Nelson, did you ask permission??!”
Come on now, are technology rules SO WRONG?
Last month when I assigned a homework assignment, it involved downloading the Adobe Voice app. Every single student whipped out their smart phone. I realized maybe my high school kids were right…they were the oddballs. But aren’t oddballs adorable?
My oldest darling, Cope, is a junior in high school. She has a flip phone, which is “absolutely mortifying.” The Boy, a freshman, flat out refused. He would rather not have a phone than to be seen with something “so lame.” Which sounds terribly materialistic, but there are a few things in a boy’s life that really matter (girls, meat, shoes…and phones?)
Let us back track to last week when The Professor said, “I think we should get you a new phone for Mother’s Day.” My contract was up, you see, and I’d been drooling over the new and improved camera feature. I didn’t object to The Professor’s wishes 🙂
Yesterday, we giddily (read: me) visited a Verizon store (where the customer service is out of this world, awesome) and discovered that not only could I get a new phone, but we could upgrade to a better plan (text me! I now have unlimited texting!!!!) and also transfer my daughter’s phone number to my older iPhone and pay LESS than what we were paying for her flip phone.
What’s a mom to do?
We took the deal.
Yep, I sold my child’s imagination for a few silver coins. The world is ending.
I had a moment. “Wait, wait, wait! I only want her to be able to take photos, text and call – THAT’S IT!” It turns out we can control the cellular data (for $5/month!) but if she has wi-fi? Well, it’s free reign.
I felt ashamedly resigned. I rationalized like this: she’s a good girl. she has a good imagination. she still loves to read. and sing. and yeah, she’s a bit addicted to youtube videos but mostly if they involve Lin-Manuel or cheesy BYU studio C outtakes. Also, I know that technology, used the right way, is AWESOME. We can change the world right from home!
At least, as far as I know. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe they’re all tech addicts at 3a.m. If you know of such behavior, you better tell me.
We held out for almost 17 years. Maybe it was time to extend the leash a little further. In a few short years, mom isn’t going to be around to set the parameters (I weep.)
The best part was having our stellar Verizon gal, Kelly, transfer Cope’s old number and plan to my older iPhone, knowing her flip phone would suddenly stop working. She was going to freak out. When Cope came home from school I showed her my new phone, which she drooled over, as I casually asked, “I called you today – why didn’t you call me back?”
“Something is wrong with my phone.”
“You must have dropped it.”
“No, mom, I swear. I didn’t drop it!”
“How sad,” I said. She sighed.
At this point I very slowly took out my old iPhone. Before I could say anything she screamed. And started hopping up and down. It was rather wonderful.
After having yet another technology discussion (I like to be thorough 🙂 ) she reached out her hands, snatched the iPhone, and whispered, “Precious.”
Heaven help us all.
Alas, it’s not all roses around here. The Boy has taken this injustice very personally. We obviously have favorite children.
“Mom,” he says, following me around. “You’ve got to let me have Snapchat now – you gave Cope an iPhone!”
That, my friends, is the latest battle. What say ye? Do tell.
Just because it’s fun. And because a mom needs a record of such things!
1. “I’m going to marry David Archuletta and we won’t talk – we’ll just sing to each other.”
2. “If Santa doesn’t bring Pringles, Christmas will be ruined!”
3. “Unbelievable. It’s unbelievable that you could be that piggy. You’re just like Dudley.”
4. “Paige, put your dishes in the dishwasher. (sigh…) She has so much to work on. She’s going to be a terrible mother if she keeps this up.”
5. “I need a good pen! A good pen defines a person!”
6. “I want a goat. It’s good for the environment. I will name her Arabella. And I will toilet train her. Mom, will you take care of her when I go off to college?” (no.)
7. “We all know we can go a year without tater-tots…buy why?” (after mom’s decree)
8. “Do you know how much crap I get for having to ask my parents to use my phone?”
9. “Mommy, I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to ever forget it: you are the best mommy in the whole wide world.” (favorite child status)
10. “You know, for a child who bore four children you have surprisingly small hips.”
The Professor did not contribute to this round as I have not seen the Professor in a great while. We think he still lives here. Occasionally there is a sighting and we wave to one another.
There he is! Hello, Professor! You’re looking mighty cute with that beard and stern expression on your face. This is the season of the winter widow, where the man is on the road and on the court coaching boys to jump high and shoot big. We are proud of the man. And his boys (they are AWESOME.)
So thank you, darlings, for providing me such entertainment. More real quotes here.
The problem with educating your children is that they become…educated. When Cope came home from Ocean Classroom (and after a period of love and kindness) I was informed we were doing it all wrong – “We need to get chickens again and eat our own eggs. And we need a goat. Mom, that face wash is ruining the ocean! And FOR SHAME – YOU’RE USING PLASTIC???!”
Enthusiastic she was saving the world from her wasteful and consumerist mother, I had a silent counter-argument… just wait, honey. just wait until you’re a mom packing lunches and walking through knee-deep snow to water chickens only to find them slaughtered by a weasel and golly gee, can’t a girl use her favorite face wash? Oh, and yes, let me skip outdoors to milk the goats daily. I shall wear braids and an apron. And sing.
Sometimes it’s fun to be patronizing.
Now the girl is taking Psychology. She spent Sunday afternoon educating her mother. Hey parents, leave those kid alone.
“Mom, what do you think of this: in the UK there are adventure parks called The Land, designed in the 40s, where kids can make fires and uses knives and saws.”
I said: “Fires?”
Apparently this is a thing. This adventure playground looks like it was inspired by a junk yard. “It’s one of dozens in the UK fostering an endangered human behavior…RISKY PLAY.”
“Kids who are not at risk or who don’t feel like they’re at risk (at danger) or don’t find risk in socially acceptable ways – like handle scissors before age 6, flip pancakes, chop potatoes – they will either become afraid of everything and not know how to handle real life situations OR they will seek out risk in socially unacceptable ways like doing drugs…”
She spoke passionately, wearing her brand new smarty-look glasses and gave me these gems to consider:
“If you’re always hovering and giving stuff, helping, never letting them fail, they’re much more likely to feel entitled, angry, and ungrateful.”
I took mental notes. No more hovering. No more stuff. Fail, darlings, fail!
“If you never let kids feel like they can handle themselves than they’ll never be able to handle themselves.”
This discussion made me think of my own childhood, a more relaxed time, where I was a free-range child in a Nebraska suburb. We roamed unsupervised for hours at a time. When I was 5 years old me and my twin brother walked to school. Alone. It was a mile there, a mile home. We often got side-tracked. It was glorious.
Our mother drove us maybe once a year. No matter how late we were running – and we were often running – We walked in sun, rain, and snow with other unsupervised children.
Once I arrived at school at 9:30 (school started at 9.) “Where were you?” my kindergarten teacher asked. “Just walking to school.” I remember how big her eyes got.
In second grade I picked up a dead squirrel in the road, and brought it to school for show ‘n tell (my teachers loved me).
We got into all sorts of mischief. Those memories remain some of the happiest of my life.
Oh, guess what else we did? We jumped on trampolines! (okay, okay, I broke my neck but that was a fluke.)
As I’ve grown up and become a mother, it’s less socially acceptable to let my children play or walk places independently. Parents get arrested for such things. We’re meant to feel like we’re sub-par parents unless we’ve got EYES ON THE CHILD every single second.
Once, when Cope was six months old, I gave her a fork to play/eat with. The women came out of the woodwork – OH MY GOSH WHAT ARE YOU DOING????!!!! YOU GAVE HER A FORK!!! AHHH! SHE’LL POKE HER EYE OUT AND DIE!!! WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU? That fork was snatched so fast out of her hand it made both our heads spin. Publicly shamed, I didn’t make that mistake again. We gave her forks in private. And she learned to eat with it.
I partly blame the media. With the speed of news, we hear about every kidnapping, car crash, accident, drowning, and child murder that ever happens. The thought sends chills and horror through my body. But guess what? Kidnapping rates haven’t gone up. Child accidents haven’t gone up. Just because we walk our third-graders to school or teach them never to talk to strangers, doesn’t lower their risk of being kidnapped. The rates have remained the same since the 70’s.
Cope quotes Rosin again, “We’re always saying kids are growing up so much faster now – they’re not. They’re just mimicking adult behaviors. And then when it comes time for them to exercise responsibility and become adults they don’t know how. They can’t.”
My own mother studied human behavior extensively in the 90s. She hated the 1980’s self-esteem movement. “Telling yourself how wonderful you are all the time is stupid,” I can hear her saying in my head. “Teaching kids how TO DO THINGS makes them feel good about themselves.” Which was why I scrubbed the disgusting kitchen floor every Saturday. And golly gee, I do feel good about myself!
By skipping milestones (not letting our kids cross the street, get jobs, walk to the store alone) are we actually depriving our kids of becoming capable? How sad. Because that’s not the intention of any parent I know.
When I was in college I had a roommate who went home after one week. I felt terribly for her. She just couldn’t hack it. She told me she had never done her own laundry or dishes before. She was too scared to find her classes. I was shocked her parents would actually let her come home. I imagined my parents saying, “Are you joking? Suck it up. After a semester we’ll discuss.” (obviously there are exceptions to every situation!)
Want more? Read this: How To Land Your Kid in Therapy by Lori Gottlieb: “Why the obsession with our kid’s happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods.” Yikes.
Obviously I need to be a tad more neglectful, let the darlings feel a little more discomfort, fail more and bigger – let them discover that they are perfectly capable of getting right back up.
I vow to try.
But children, beware. Does this also mean: no more driving to school with your forgotten gym shorts, requesting a teacher, hounding the coach because your didn’t get enough playing time, or worse…writing your homework essay? (for the record, I’m batting 50% at these four.)
Mary was named National Geographic’s Most Powerful Woman of 2015, and while I don’t “worship” her the way some religions do, I revere her. I always imagine the type of young girl she must have been, to be chosen to raise the most extraordinary man and influence the world has ever known.
Sometimes I feel very inconsequential, like I’m never doing enough, that I’m not “living up to my potential,” the message “CHANGE THE WORLD OR YOU’RE NOTHING” constantly being thrust at us. It’s exhausting.
During the bustle and hustle of Christmas time, I’m so happy to pause and think of Mary. Quiet and serene, holding a small baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a dirty barn in a field under the stars. Or maybe she was loud and boisterous and had a wicked sense of humor. I don’t know. But she’s sitting in the barn wrapped in pure love with some cows, her Joseph, and their beloved baby. She’s thinking nothing of social media likes or platform or being important. She’s just loving her baby. This scene is pure peace. I want to sit under the stars with her and just hold my babies, hearing nothing but the cattle lowing…
A few years ago I realized that the greatest thing I would probably ever do in this life was raise good children. What a wonderful way to change the world.
Halloween started out as magically as it always does in New Hampshire with this scene lighting me up daily. The foliage was spectacular this year.
We crunched through countless leaves, breathed the crisp wood-burning air, and debated over just the right costume.
As the kids are getting older, Halloween is also evolving. This year I only had two trick-or-treaters. Eldest was somewhere on the ocean blue, and Boy was deemed too old and went to a dance. Where once there was four trick-or-treaters, now there are two.
Hermione was practicing her spells and getting her hair ready. Apparently, even wizards have to do their own hair! But tragedy struck early when Hermione lost her wand at Hogwarts. We were right on time for a fun-filled evening when halfway to the first house when she realized she was missing a very special accoutrement.
I looked at my watch. “How about we go look for it after we trick-or-treat?”
The thought was too horrible to imagine. You see, after spending every penny she had ever earned ($36), Ms. Paige bought a Hermione wand. For three months she had looked at it daily, inserted batteries, and taking it out to wave around so the little magical tip would light up. And then every night she put the wand back in its special wand box.
For three months she had dreamed of walking around in the dark with her long wizard cloak, flashing that wand in the dark and lighting up the world. Go trick-or-treating without it? For shame!
So we went back to look for it.
We looked up and down and all around. It wasn’t in The Professor’s office or in the dining hall or dropped outside, or with Moaning Myrtle in the girl’s bathroom.
She put on a brave face until the panic was too great and mighty tears fell.
Soon, half of Hogwarts was looking for Hermione’s wand!
“Honey, I’m sorry, but I just don’t know where it is.”
“No, no, no!” she sobbed. “I need my wand!”
We were now, at 6:30, quite late for trick-or-treating.
When all seemed lost and Hermione’s devastation had wrecked her Halloween, Brother saved the day: he found the precious wand in-beween two couch cushions.
Never was there a happier Hermione. Tears were dried, hugs given, and finally we set out into the night.
Hermione and the soccer player gathered their many treats.And said hello to Daddy who was dressed as a football coach for a Halloween Saturday night game!
With only a few houses left, we walked through crackling leaves and held out our pumpkins for a few more tricks or treats.
Throughout the night, many children wanted to hold Hermione’s wand. I have a very sweet Hermione. She has a very soft heart. She didn’t want to, but she handed it to children who waved it around to light up the sky with that special lit tip. She watched it carefully, nervously. You see, it had already been lost once and Hermione was feeling even more particular and possessive of her prized possession.
All was well until we came home and what should Hermione discover? The wand’s tip was broken. It lit up, but the clear plastic tip that sat atop the wand was gone.
Now, my sweet and soft-hearted Hermione could not handle this discovery. The great depth of despair was heard round the neighborhood, I’m sure.
“I’m sure we can fix it, ” I assured.
“No! We can’t!”
“This is the worst Halloween!” she sobbed. “I hate this Halloween. It’s the worst in the whole history of Halloween!” The sobbing went on for a full half-hour as I scoured Amazon for “harry potter replacement tip bulbs” to no avail. Tricky magic wand makers. You can’t buy a replacement tip, but you can buy the whole wand!
Hermione was so out of control that she was banished to bed. She cried so loudly that we could not be in the same room. Finally, when she was quiet and hiccuping I laid next to her on her bed. Her cheeks were wet, her hair soaked with sweat and tears. The sadness hung heavily in the room. Poor Hermione.
I kissed her cheeks and left. I went back to the computer and clicked on the Hermione wand. Only $36. Free shipping. I put it in my cart. But just before clicking, “Buy,” I let the mouse hover.
What was the right thing to do here?
For the first time I realized Amazon was not my friend.
When I was a kid and my toys broke, my parents most definitely did not rush out to the toy store to buy a new one. They were sad with me and said, “I’m sorry.” And then went back to reading the newspaper. They did not have an Amazon with a “1-Click” shopping option.
But…how happy I would make her, my girl who is truly appreciative, who says, “thank you so much mommy for being such a nice mommy,” almost daily. Who kisses my cheeks and never forgets to hug me good-bye. She isn’t a spoiled brat. She would truly appreciate this gesture.
Still. I hesitated.
If I clicked, was I being a hovering, helicopter parent whose child wouldn’t be able to leave for college? Was I enabling? Or was I just being nice? I remembered the news story I had heard on NPR that we spend way more money because of the ease of clicking “buy now!”
It’s just so easy.
I pushed back from the computer. I did not click, “buy.” And I was sad for Hermione.
The next day Hermione came downstairs. She was still down in the dumps, still mourning the magical tip of her special wand.
“I’m sorry about your wand,” I said. And then went back to doing the dishes.
That’s life, isn’t it? It sometimes really stinks.
A few hours later, Hermione had bounced back. She waved her wand around a couple of times. Adjusting.
One of the hardest things about being a parent in the land of more-than-plenty is saying No when you are able to say Yes.
There’s nothing in my nonexistent parenting handbook that says, “For best results, Do EASY!”
I wouldn’t fault a parent for buying a new wand, but I am curious. I could have saved the day, but I didn’t.
It’s been a great summer. We’ve traveled to foreign lands, gathered for sweet reunions, and swum and swam the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans blue.
We’ve soaked up summer, swimming at the local lake every day, and eating too much ice-cream. It’s been glorious.
Among all the great and grand adventures, something very ordinary occurred in my home that had a tremendous impact on me. Kim, this one’s for you.
In July my dear sister-in-law, Kim, and her husband, Glenn, (my husband’s brother, and my awesome marathon buddy!) traveled all the way from Saudi Arabia with their four young children: Tate and Finn ages 6 and 4, and Kenna and Taryn, 6-month-old twin girls.
Ah, I’m obsessed with the twins.
Let me eat your foot.
What it’s like to live in Saudi Arabia deserves it’s own post. It’s been hard, especially for Kim who is not allowed to drive and has to dress as according to local custom, every time she leaves the Aramco compound. Fresh fruit and vegetables, flour, mascara – what’s that?
Coming back to the U.S. required all sorts of documentation, planning, and luggage (the baby formula alone could feed a small zoo). It was quite dizzying what they accomplished.
Kim, super mother to four delightful children, arrived at our front door very very sick with strep throat.
A few days later, (after rudely sleeping in whilst my guests had been up with babies throughout the night and had fixed their own breakfast,) I stumbled downstairs to say good morning. I found my kitchen entirely too clean, with warm, fluffy pancakes awaiting me (their marital teamwork is impressive!). Glenn was even sweeping the floor.
Kim was at the kitchen table with 6-year-old, Tate. He had a pencil and a workbook. He was writing his letters, carefully focusing on each swirl and twirl of the alphabet, while his mother balanced twins on her lap, patiently pointing at the paper, redirecting when Tate became distracted by a fly, and encouraging when necessary (often.)
I was so struck by this scene.
I could see myself, years earlier, at the kitchen table with my oldest child, Cope: when summer was long and hot, when we had endless hours stretched out before us, when we had a schedule that required no driving to activities. Back then I was stricter about things like bedtime and television (only Saturday mornings)!
Every morning in the summer we read, we wrote, we learned all the notes on the piano. And every day, desperate for entertainment, we took a very slow walk and had a very long bath.
After writing, Kim followed Tate, and I followed Kim, to the piano. I witnessed this mother, a younger (and idealized) version of myself, patiently teaching her child how to play. When he complained, she paused and said she would wait until he was ready. She didn’t yell or take away all his stuffed animals (ala Tiger Mother!) She just waited until he was ready.
I could practically see Tate’s brain and all his synapses connecting as he concentrated. He was so earnest. His little hands splayed out, connecting each finger to a note on the piano. He played his scales and then moved on to Old McDonald Had a Farm. When he nailed the song, his pleasure filled the whole house.
“Watch this, Auntie,” he said to me, grinning.
I felt a pang of…guilt…mixed with inspiration and resolve. I thought of my Paige, the youngest child. Was she was getting the same kind of mothering her older siblings received? Or have I gotten too busy?
It wasn’t that the early days of mothering were simpler or easier. In many ways it was harder, with younger children to look after, a house that always needed cleaning, 12 dorm boys to “mother,” and constant fatigue from not enough sleep. But the difference is we were less busy outside the home. And I admit it, I was more diligent about some things – like printing up all the American Red Cross swim guidelines so I could teach Cope and Nelson how to swim all the strokes and float with their clothes on for two minutes. Now? Ah geez, who can I hire???
Like most families, the youngest child has a very different life then her older siblings. This week, for instance, Paige happily came to preseason soccer practice everyday while I coached. She swung on swings, wandered the playground.
The life of younger siblings life most often means being dragged to this and that. It’s life in the car and waiting. I’m not saying it’s all bad. Life is good for her, but it’s just different. Maybe this is how youngest children get spoiled; parents feel guilty about not teaching them how to clean a bathroom so they reward them with iPads. Am I totally off base here?
As far as summer goes, I’m very anti-commitment. I resent camps, clubs, lessons, and anything that requires driving. We don’t participate in much. Summer is for us, because just wait. School will start and we will go, go, go.
And sometimes I worry that the little one is not getting the best of me.
Oh, we still have charts, a “zone” chore wheel, one on one time, but mustering up the discipline to sit down and be still and teach letters has waned. My older children have moved on, and in many ways I’ve gone with them. It’s so exciting, to be busy with freshman orientation, ocean classroom, and gasp – dating! In addition, a mother has dreams of her own…writing, running, pursuing…it’s hard to know what to forego and for how long.
I’ve already done the Arthur puzzles a thousand times. I can’t get excited about High-Ho Cheerio. There’s also the “been there, done that.” I’ve outgrown play dates and learning circles.
And yet, the littles need it. Does it really matter that I’m bored?
How easy it is not do that hard, mundane “stuff” of teaching the younger ones, as if they’ll just magically pick up “how to fold the laundry” on their own. I now understand how “the baby” of the family often has a vastly different parent than the older ones had. Why the baby doesn’t have his or her own scrapbook. Was mom and dad just too tired to take the pictures?
Like, l totally get why my younger brothers got everything they wanted (they’ll recall it differently, ha! :))
I remember someone telling me that we had to be careful as our children became older, that we didn’t neglect the younger ones. At the time I thought it a ridiculous statement. If anything, it was the babies that took my attention. The older ones became independent while I was nursing and changing diapers. But now I understand. It’s too easy to get lazy, to feel tired, to stop parenting.
Young, new mothers might not understand that their example is every bit important as more “veteran” mothers. As new moms, we often think we have no idea what we’re doing. But we do know! It’s instinct. It’s maternal. It comes. We know what we need to do. How great it is, this two-way street of learning between mothers at all stages.
I called my other sister-in-law, Jill, to tell her about this revelation, of watching Kim work with Tate and how I needed to buckle down with Paige, to read and write and do more math. Jill, the mother of four girls said, “I KNOW! I THOUGHT THE SAME THING!”
Kim, we all want to be like you 🙂
So, as I look towards fall, I know that life isn’t going to stop. We still have to drive, deliver and pick up children from here and there. We’re not giving up soccer practice or going to school or parent-teacher conferences or the grocery store. But I’ve also concluded that there also has to be more “No” for the better “Yes.” There has to be those Nine Minutes. After that we can go back to benevolent neglect (kidding!).
And gee, wasn’t my “baby” Paige thrilled when I told her we were going to read and write everyday just like we talked about at the beginning of the summer and then didn’t do so well because we went to Europe (see, life is HARD :). We were going to make music together and she wasn’t going to love it every second, but like my mother always said, “like that has anything to do with it.” (Thanks, mom!) Also, we were going to do MATH!
Paige only THINKS she detests math. She whined and complained, but this newly inspired mother wasn’t giving in. And just this morning, after weeks of working hard together, Paige showed me her math score: 100%. She was beaming. That my friends, is called self-esteem: doing the hard things and the right things because they have to get done. It makes you feel mighty good about yourself.
This whole scenario reminded me of the expression, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That might be true. But you certainly can remind the old dog of the tricks she already knows. And I’m happy to report, it comes back pretty easily.
To all you tired, new mothers who don’t sleep much, who are a little wide-eyed from this great adventure called motherhood, who don’t think you know what you’re doing: you do know. keep inspiring us older dogs. We need you more than you know.
And dear Kimmy, thank you <3
I’m sorry, Tate, for burning your hot dog. I’m trying to pay better attention 🙂
My friend Eric has ALS. Just about everything about it is awful. But sometimes we talk about the upsides. For instance, he knows what his family means to him. Life is about experiences together, rather than things. It’s heartbreaking to watch Eric’s physical body slowly stop working, and yet he’s still able to be positive. How does he do it? It has everything to do with his mind.
I’m also a podcast geek.
You may see me out running, pulling weeds, or driving in the car talking to an invisible person, nodding vehemently, or shouting “YES!” I’m likely listening to a podcast; there are just so many people to learn from out there in the world.
A recent favorite was Michael Hyatt’s, Watch Your Mouth. Ka-zaam! It was right in line with everything I’m interested in: being proactive, making better habits, becoming happier. This episode was about changing our vocabulary…which of course comes right from the brain.
As a man thinketh, so is he.
Our words have power. We know they affect others, but do we also realize they affect us? Do we realize our words affect our behavior? Even if we don’t say them out loud?
The mind is a powerful thing. We see the things we want to see and the more we use certain words, the more they become engrained in our brain and actions.
Think Eeyore versus Tigger.
Imagine if we made the mindset shift from “I have to” to “I get to.” I’m convinced our marriages would soar. Our children would smile more. Our families would flourish. Change the family? Change the world.
Using Eric and Hyatt’s list as a guide, here are my personal pitfalls; can you relate?
1. Driving: Eric can’t drive anymore. And he really liked driving his truck. I, on the other hand, view driving back and forth to school, church activities, parties, soccer, etc. as a huge waste of time. However, a mother recently told me she didn’t mind driving her child to school 35-minutes one-way every single day. “I have her undivided attention and she has mine. We don’t have to even look at each other. We just talk – it’s the most quality time we have.” Hmmm. Mindset shift. Instead of, “I have to drive the kids to school,” we could say, “I get to be the last person who says I love you just before he plunges into the middle school wing.” We go from burden to opportunity. (Besides, no driving = no Target! and what kind of life would that be?)
2. Work and School: I recently heard on Gretchen Rubin’s fabulous podcast Happier that people see a huge dip in their happiness on Sunday morning around noon. That’s when we begin to think about the work week ahead. Oh man, I get it. But what if we said, “I get to go to work on Monday and impact kids?” or “I am so lucky I get to go to school. I’m so lucky to get an education.” Ask anyone who’s job hunting or unemployed. They’ll tell you: “You are so lucky to have a job!!!” As a mom working at home, I can say, “I get to get up early and start breakfast, pack lunches, and spend time with grumpy-pants.” I get to! And some moms don’t.
3. Exercise/Running: You might be surprised (or glad!) to hear that I too constantly struggle with motivation to run and/or workout. Even though it’s a habit, I still catch myself saying, “I have to go run.” My goodness, how lucky are we, that we have legs! Sometimes I practice being grateful while running. “I’m so lucky for these strong legs that can run miles and miles.” Because I run early, I’ve witnessed the sun rise. I’ve interacted with moose, snakes, chipmunks, snow falling, raindrops, a mother goose and her goslings, too many barking dogs 🙂 Change your vocabulary from “I have to” to “I get to run today!” and you’ve got a game-changer.
4. The To-Do List: How many times a day do we say, “I have so many things to do.” Well listen, that’s just never going to change. And To-Do’s are a matter of choice. We get to choose what we want to do and when we do it. We are in charge of our calendar. “I get to vacuum the floor at 8 a.m. today.” “I am choosing to bring dinner to my friend because I love her.” “I am choosing to drive to Lowe’s and buy lightbulbs.” Changing our vocabulary might not make us LOVE buying lightbulbs, but the vocabulary tweak is important. Life doesn’t just happen to us. We choose our what, where, and when. Any hey, no lightbulbs? No light.
5. Making Dinner: “I have to make dinner. AGAIN” could be changed to, “I get to go to the grocery store where there are literally tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and Goldfish crackers to choose from. I get to peruse cookbooks and blogs or cook my mother’s tuna fish casserole! Tweak “I have to” to “I get to have dinner tonight. I’m so lucky to that every time I open my cupboard there is FOOD, glorious food!”
6. Travel: Recently I found myself dreading, “I have to plan this trip” while picking up a European guide book. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But I realized I was dreading the planning because I don’t know how to plan a trip to Europe. I’ve never been there. No one is picking us up at the airport, holding my hand, walking me through customs. I believe fear and indecision is the crux of much of our “I have to” vocabulary. But once we make a decision, we can make the mind shift. Not everyone gets to go on vacation. We get to.
7. Medical/Dental Appointments: “I have to pay how much for braces??? Did you say $6000 per kid?” And then everytime the bill comes or everytime I hand over the HSA card I’m thinking, “I have to pay $1000 for that?” Guess what? No one makes us go to the doctor. No one makes us get braces for the kids. Change the vocabulary to “I’m so lucky to have access to healthcare while people around the world have no doctors, no access, no dentists, no nothing.” “I’m so lucky we have enough money to make monthly installments for my daughter’s very expensive mouth. Her smile is going to be so beautiful. I’m so glad I can help her.” (cut the sarcasm!)
8. Parenting in General: We’re tired. I know we are, but it’s too easy to get snarky, snappy, and annoyed. It’s too easy to eye-roll, to make habits that last the lifetime of a relationship. We do it with infants: “I have to change another diaper.” We do it with our toddlers: “I have to take him outside and walk really slowly and look down every single drain.” We do it with our teens: “I have to have another conversation about texting.” Imagine the change in our relationships if we said, “I’m so lucky I get to spend time with my baby today. (even if she’s a little stinky :)” “I’m so lucky I get to be here when he learns to walk and says ‘Dada’ for the first time.” “I’m so lucky that God entrusted me with such a powerful personality!” “I’m so lucky to be a mother!” Woah. Mind shift.
I’ve found that this small tweak in my vocabulary, from “I have to…” to “I get to…” leads to this magical word called Gratitude. It’s no wonder that happiness is directly tied to being grateful.
I remember the day my friend Eric could no longer lift my son’s bike out of his truck. I remember the day he could no longer take cereal down from the fridge to give to his daughters. He can no longer lift his arms to scratch his nose, swat a mosquito, or wipe away tears. I get to do all of those things.
We went for a walk the other day because he can still make very small movements with his hands to move the joystick of his wheelchair. We were going down the road, me walking, him rolling. I didn’t say it, but I sure thought it: “I’m get to walk. I’m so lucky.”
On the way back, Eric slowed to a stop. I looked down to see a snake slithering across the road and eeked out a small shriek. But Eric appreciated. His eyes zeroed in on the snake. Instead of screaming and running down the road I managed to stay still and watch, as the snake used it’s body to slither across the road, making a seamless “S.” Eric said, “It’s so cool how it can do that. So effortlessly.”
Every day, we get to see little miracles like this. But only if we recognize them.