Is This Goodbye?

handsDear Child,

We are standing at a crossroad.  Before us are two choices.  The first would keep us on the familiar path we’ve been travelling.  It’s the one on which we walk together, sometimes stopping to notice a wondrous bug or a rainbow, sometimes jumping in puddles or stomping on shadows.  This path is full of adventure that is meant to be shared and we’ve done just that.   We’ve held hands while skipping, chased each other in a game of tag, and collapsed in a heap at the side of the road laughing ourselves silly.  In everything, we’ve been together.

But now, the road is splitting.  I want to stay the course – the familiar one.  You are drawn to the other road.  You assure me it’ll be fun, an adventure like nothing we’ve seen before.  ‘I’ll go first’ you say, for the road is too narrow to walk side-by-side.  You beg and plead for me to drop your hand.  You’re old enough, you declare, to take the lead.  ‘Let me show you the way,’ you suggest.

You want your wings sooner than I’d like you to fly.  Fear tempts me to clip them in order to keep you close just a little while longer.  I even try to guilt you into spending more time with me – a weak move, I know.  Your earnest face reminds me that love does not hold on.  It trusts in the flow.  Real love is able to let go when it’s time.

I have been your human guardian this many years.  Now the time has come to trust the work I’ve done and to let you go on ahead.  It’s time you had your own experiences without being weighed down by my presence.  I will not be your ball and chain.  I will not stifle you.  But I may cry a bit trying to keep these promises.

We used to play that game, remember?  The one where you said, ‘I love you, Mom.’ And I’d reply, ‘I love you more.’  We’d debate back and forth trying to prove who loved whom more.  It was always a stalemate.  You’ve stopped playing that game with me, which makes me think that maybe I do win – that I do love you more than you love me.  Well, even if it’s not true, it feels that way when you barely glance in my direction or refuse to answer my questions with anything other than grunts and groans.  Deep down, beneath my insecurity, I know this is simply the way of it.  The natural evolution.  And you do love me, more than you’re willing to admit aloud.

This is an opportunity to be the kind of mother I can be proud of.  It takes all I have to shut down my protective instincts and loosen my grip on your precious hand.  I know that the moment I let go, you will slip away.

Perhaps you’ll return once in a while to check in.  If I leave the door open, you can pop in from time to time and share a story or two about your new adventure.  I’ll be here, following behind you a pace or two, in case you need me.  I’d follow you anywhere, my child.

Go then, quickly, before I change my mind.  And take my blessing with you.  May you find all that you need and enough of what you want.  And may you never forget that I love you.  More.

Love,

Mom

Loving Baby Teen

I wish I could tell you what we were fighting about, teen daughter and I.  But I don’t remember.  There was a disagreement, I guess.  Or maybe just a misunderstood intention.  Whatever the cause, it took me by surprise – for the millionth time.

It’s like that these days – parenting a teen.  One minute I’m cruising through a benign day without conflict, and the next moment I’m ripped from the illusion of peace into a full-blown drama.  With increasing frequency this scenario unfolds.  Yet still I fail to divert it.  I feel as helpless in this regard as I would trying not to fall out of bed.  And the only way to prevent that is to put up a barrier.

I’ve tried that, putting up a barrier between me and Principessa .  But it feels all wrong blocking her out.  I want to be a good parent, a constructive communicator, a positive influence.  But truthfully, I don’t always know how.  And I don’t always know her.  She is changing, as she should be.  As we all do.

I try to glean wisdom from my own experience as a teen and come up short.  I recall only years of unrest followed by an extended period of regret and blame.  My intention to be different – to overcome the stereotypical strain in the parent/teen relationship – falls unanswered to the bottom of the wishing fountain like a heavy coin.

Perhaps my wish is all wrong.  It does seem delusional to hope that we will be the first mother-daughter pair in history to emerge unscathed from the formative years.  But still, I wish.

Because I made a promise so long ago when I birthed her, my first baby.  Standing over her crib, staring into an angelic face, I vowed that I would protect her and nurture her and never, ever, make her doubt my love for her.  I prayed in earnest for the wisdom and courage to be the mother of my dreams to this deserved little being.

Sometimes I think I am that mother.  Other times I feel like the mother I battled at fifteen, beaten down and weary from repeated rides on the emotional roller coaster.  If only I could keep myself on stable ground.  This is the key I need – a way to hold steady whilst the teen tornado swirls around me.

I remind myself that teenhood is tough.  Impossible at times, as I recall.  No matter how overwhelmed I am, my adult life can never compare to the confusion, excitement, and uncertainty of the teen years.  With this in mind, I loosen my grasp on utopian ideals and renew a promise made long ago to the infant version of my young lady.

I will still love you and protect you and nurture you with the fever of a new mother, but add to that the wisdom of a seasoned one. Fifteen years ago you gave me the gift of motherhood – a gift I cherish more than any other.   I renew my commitment to that gift with a strength and compassion equal to ten million mothers.

 Principessa, you are growing into the person I tried to imagine when I first met you.  And I couldn’t be more amazed.  You are perfectly you.  And I am me.  I cannot guarantee that we will not hurt each other as we grow – we are as human as always.  But I can promise that I will never love you less than I did when I first held you in my arms.

 Spread your wings, then.  Take the world (and your mother) head on, and be the strong, independent woman you are.   You will always have me, you will always be my baby, and you will always have a home in my heart.

Girl In Hiding

If I showed you who I want to be – showed you the stuff that makes my heart sing – you might laugh, and I would be regretful for exposing myself.  So I choose not to show you.  I keep my dreams, beautiful dreams, in a cocoon where they are safe.    I would rather hide them and protect them than risk losing them to ridicule.

I don’t dare to show you who I am inside because it’s the only part of me that I believe is beautiful.  And I don’t want you to tell me otherwise.  I’m afraid that if you see the real me, you won’t see the perfection and then I’ll have a decision to make – to believe your opinion or my own.  And, well, I haven’t always been convinced that my opinion of myself is accurate.  Because it’s hard to tell who’s right.

The me inside, way down deep, hasn’t been found out, not completely.  But sometimes it leaks out.  It can’t help itself.  It sees its reflection in a word, a thought, a loving expression, and it can’t contain all its beauty.  So it speaks or writes or sings or dances.  It wants nothing more than to share its magical vision.

Sometimes, when the beauty escapes, people say ‘ah’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘you are so wonderful.’  But the beauty is shy.  It scares easily.  It hasn’t learned to trust the world.  If the world sees how great it is, the world will demand more, on a schedule, and will expect its money’s worth.  The heart will learn to expect too.  And demand from itself.  And the heart will have to deliver even when it wants to rest in the quiet of its cocoon where it can hear the truth and replenish.

The heart can’t see clearly when people crowd around telling it this and that.  So it stumbles, and worries that people will be disappointed .  Maybe they’ll say, ‘You’re not so beautiful after all.’ And the heart’s fear will have been confirmed.

It’s safer then, to stay hidden inside.

Habits Are Hard to Break

Habits are hard to break.  Especially the destructive ones.  If only they weren’t so satisfying.  Like thumb-sucking for example.  “It feels so good!  It’s so HARD to stop” explains a certain nine year old.  Yes, nine.

I distinctly remember how proud I was that Peach found her thumb, a way to self-soothe, at the advanced age of two weeks old.  I may have even danced a jig at the thought of dispensing with the customary ball and chain, AKA binky.  Thumbs are always there for you.  They can’t get lost or dropped on the floor of a public restroom or forgotten at home.  Smart baby girl.  Love a thumb-sucker.

That is, until she sucks her way into orthodontic danger zone.  Kindly orthodontist informed us that this habit, if continued long enough, could result in irreversible structural deviations.  In no uncertain terms he explained to Peach the dire need for her cooperation in the matter.

Peach has heard a similar spiel from concerned family members and has not been impressed.  But this time, as we exit the orthodontist office, she solemnly admits, “He was pretty convincing.”

We strike while the iron is hot.  Out come the star charts and verbal agreements and socks to cover sleeping hands.  Hard times ahead for Peach.  She’s tried jumping this hurdle before and managed only to fall over it.  Bravely, with renewed resolve, she agrees to try again.  Her forlorn eyes tell a sad story.  Her best friend, her ‘thumbly,’ must never enter her mouth again.  Laying her head on her pillow, she raises her mitts and wonders aloud, ‘What if….’

“Don’t go there.” I advise.  “Take it one step at a time.”  I remind little Braveheart of the many skills she possesses and the challenges she’s overcome.  “There is a muscle inside of you, the inner strength muscle, that has the power you need.  The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.  The stronger it gets, the easier it is to resist a habit.”

I offer my full support.  But the fact remains, there is only one girl who can close this deal.  After arming her with all the strategies I can think of, I kiss Peach goodnight and exit the room with fingers crossed.

At the crack of dawn, elated nine-year old runs out of her room waving sock-covered hands proudly above her head.  “I did it!  Look, I left the socks on ALL night!”  With new-found confidence, she launches into a triumphant monologue that resembles an acceptance speech.

Peach prematurely tells her admiring audience how she conquered the demon thumb-sucking habit.  I listen with a ridiculous smile plastered on my face and enthusiastically join in daughter’s celebration.  She is flexing that inner strength muscle with conviction.  I’d swear she’s grown overnight.  She stands tall and proud and ready to take on the world.

“You know,” she observes, “Not sucking my thumb wasn’t that hard.  Once I put my mind to it, I was all set.”

Bingo, Baby!  Mind over matter.  (Now if Peach could set her mind to cleaning her room and flex the ‘I can do it’ attitude in the organization department, we’d really have cause to celebrate.)

It’s a bittersweet end to an era.  My baby is growing up.  She is crossing bridges under her own steam.  She’ll need me less now – now that she’s a habit-breaking champion.

I believe the theory that says a parent’s job is to put herself out of a job.  I’m all about teaching self-sufficiency and raising self-esteem.  Yet still, my heart tears a bit each time I surrender a piece of the best job I’ve ever had.  So I turn my advice on myself and flex my own inner strength muscle in order to summon the courage it takes to let my little bird fly a little farther away.

Stop The Wind

My three year old son and I were playing at the lake.  I watched, amused, as the plan for his boats unfolded.  With an intense look on his face, he set to work on his fleet.  The wind was strong that day, repeatedly interfering with my son’s plans, tipping and scattering boats at the shoreline.

I could see my son’s frustration mounting.  Finally, he turned to me and demanded, “Mom, make the wind stop!”  I chuckled at the notion that my son thought I possessed that kind of power.  The would-be hero in me wanted – really wanted – to have that power.  An image of Deb Dunham, goddess of nature, waved her hand, effortlessly righting every wrong.  The longing to grant my child’s every wish, heal his every hurt, and protect him from every harm is my raw desire – unwise and impractical, yes, but very real.

I recall my baby’s first night at home.  A tiny, innocent, vulnerable little being in a too-big crib, in a too-big room, in a too-big world.  Too big to protect him from.  How would I ever keep him safe?  How would I keep my own heart from breaking when he suffered the inevitable hurt?

It occurred to me that this is the price a parent pays for the purchase of a love this big.  The amount of pain I would endure would be in direct proportion to the amount of love I feel.  And yet, I am willing to take that risk.

As the years go by, I am learning to rely on the natural balance of life as a stabilizer to keep me grounded, reminding me of the benefits of my limitations.  When I can’t be a perfect parent, my children learn tolerance for imperfection.  When I can’t do everything for them, they learn self-sufficiency.  The truth is, it is in not giving children all that they want that they receive all they need.  Rudolph Dreikurs said, “We cannot protect our children from life, therefore, it is essential that we prepare them for it.”

When my children are grown and re-inventing parenthood, I will empathize with their struggle to be everything to everyone.  And I will remind them to be gentle with themselves – for their benefit and mine.  After all, I will still be their mother, and they will still be running around with my heart.

I. Need. Help.

(Dedicated to ShaZam)

In my twenties, I practiced extreme independence and self-sufficiency.  I didn’t need anyone.  I could handle myself, thank-you-very-much.  From changing the oil in my car, to teaching myself how to sew, there was nothing I wouldn’t take on.

This fierce ‘hear me roar’ persona is one of the qualities that attracted my husband, I’m told.  Looking back, I must have appeared to be quite a catch – a girl who wants to be with a man but has no intention of depending on him.  Husband, bless his thick skin, wasn’t even put off by my frequent declarations of independence.  Me: “I don’t need you, you know.”  Husband: “Yes, dear.  You’ve made that clear.”

To my husband’s amusement, I would throw my 110 pounds into impossible tasks like loosening lug nuts on a tire or carrying roofing shingles up a ladder, refusing to accept help.  He only offered unsolicited help once.  His genuine concern over my safety was met with a Hulk-like reaction.  I didn’t quite sprout muscles or turn green, but my voice did deepen as I spit venom in my husband’s direction.

It’s comical now – my staunch opposition to assistance.   I naively equated dependence with weakness.  My black and white thinking saw no middle ground between complete independence and helplessness.  I wouldn’t let anyone help me for fear that I would be surrendering my power to them.

This supremely invulnerable alter ego continued into motherhood.  I tried to do it all – with a smile.  When number two baby came along seventeen months after number one,  and husband left for a business trip one week later, I finally fell off the scaffolding.  Cradling a colicky baby and a screaming toddler I cried into the phone, “I can’t do it.  I. Need. Help.” …..and the walls of the city crumbled.

The image of invincibility that I had built up was, ironically, as delicate as glass.  What looked like strength was actually weakness.   An attempt to cover up fear.

These days, I hand my husband a jar before I try to open it.  I take my car to the mechanic for an oil change.  I ask a child for help with the computer.   And yet, I feel stronger than ever.

I’ve learned that I do need people to help me through life.  And they need me.  We are inter-dependent.  Us people, we are gifts to each other.  When we wall ourselves off, we do so at our own peril.  And we rob each other of the gift of being able to help.

I still pride myself on my ability to care for myself.  I like being independent.  But I also enjoy knowing that I can ask for, and accept, the love and kindness that others have to give.

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