After a long silence, something I saw in church inspired me to write again. Church does a lot for me and this is just one part of it.
After a long silence, something I saw in church inspired me to write again. Church does a lot for me and this is just one part of it.
My oldest is in middle school and I am learning tricks from him!
The other day I felt a bit frantic. Up until then, I hadn’t been freaking out about this transition. You have been cool about leaving elementary school and starting middle school so I thought I would join you. “This is not a big deal,” I agreed. You’re right. I figured I could just glide into this next phase with grace and aplomb.
But then you walked off to middle school all by yourself. I heard the sound of tires squealing as both grace and aplomb ditched me and panic pulled up. I tried to grab you for a quick hug goodbye and squishy baby fat didn’t welcome my arms. Instead, they weirdly bounced off of a solid wall of muscle.
You are changing right now. Your energy is so hard to lose that you sometimes pace around our kitchen like a caged tiger ready to pounce. Your body has lost its slack and loops. You are a coil now.
I heard a workman in our yard the other day and I went to see who it was. It was you. Using your new voice to talk to your brother. I sometimes think a 50 year-old man has moved into your chest. Then, I am reminded it’s still you because you begin a sentence with the squeak of your kid voice before that old guy takes over.
You are getting quieter. That’s the one that hits me the hardest. You don’t invite me in to all of your thoughts. Most of the time, you choose silence. You guard your words carefully and share them with me only when you deem it worthwhile. I miss the open door policy you used to have. I could walk around your thoughts with you and we could check out the merchandise together. Now you are like the clerk in a fancy store. I wait in line for my turn. You listen to my request and then go in the back to check and see if you have anything available for me.
Lucky for me, though, I am one crafty mother. That sentence can be read in the literal sense or in the street wise way and they are both fact. I am one crafty mutha. I can change with the times and middle school just makes me up my game.
I will sit down with you over a snack you can’t resist. I am always smart enough to sneak in when I can. I, too, am coiled like a tiger ready to pounce. I lie in wait with freshly made brownies or a “yes” to the Goldfish crackers I know you will always eat and we will talk.
That 50 year-old man voice doesn’t fool me. It’s still the voice you use when you tell me that you think you’ll use your birthday gift certificate to buy a stuffed animal. Or the voice that asks to watch an episode of Sherlock together. That old guy assures me it didn’t scare you at all but I watch as you turn on every light in the whole house to illuminate your way to your new bedroom down in the basement. I know you are still mostly kid in there. I am smart enough to enjoy that side of you before it slips away.
I now have to window-shop your thoughts instead of being invited in. I can live with that if I must. I do my research while you are quiet. I read about sports so that you will want to share your words with me again. I ask you about an athlete you love and I get at least a ten-minute conversational volley out of you. See that? I am even using your sports metaphors in my writing now! Seriously crafty.
And off we go! I’m sorry; I mean off you go to middle school. I will remain in the background and watch from afar. I accept your quiet and understand that you want to keep more of your thoughts for yourself. I promise you that my parenting will remain full of slack and loops. My squishy middle-aged lady fat will always accept your hugs. The squishy fat is because, just like you, I love freshly made brownies. But I will always accept your hugs because I also love the hell out of you, kid.
My most recent article for ParentMap:
Such a joy to be a part of this show!
Hello all! I am thrilled to say that I will be joining a crew of amazing writers for this year’s Listen To Your Mother show in Seattle. We will all be reading stories about motherhood and a portion of ticket sales will go toward The Greater Seattle’s Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Please join us on Saturday, May 7th at 1:30pm at Town Hall in Seattle. It should be a fantastic show!
This spring I realized that the march of time is no longer abstract. It’s not measured in books I’ve read or places I’ve seen. Not a long mental list of experiences to collect. My future isn’t a fuzzy hopeful cloud. It now surrounds me each day.
Having children has made the march of time palpable in my chest. It is marked in piles of outgrown clothes in my basement and lonely yellowed toys in my yard. It is marked in new teachers, book reports and science projects.
We note our springs by which baseball coach ruled our schedules and what team names we shouted with friends as we sat in the sun. Magnets of boys in uniforms holding bats in different positions fill up our fridge. The boys remain the same but they sport long or short hair, missing or filled in teeth, and pudgy or elongated cheeks.
Our history has slowly filled with people we have outgrown. Friends who were once close that we now only run into at the grocery store. We remark that they have moved from tiny blinking shoes to braces with neon bands that jump out from their smiles. We mark time in places we used to live, parks we played at and schools we attended.
A family expands. Those are the exhausting years. Years when it feels like every ounce of your energy is spent investing in that expansion. That time is a time of reigning in chaos and trying to harness the uncontrollable.
But now I see that a family also contracts. The kids will move on, the rooms will empty. The toy storage will return to bookcases. The chaos will melt into quiet. Those are the years that seem closer to me now than the years of putting together a nursery, assembling cribs and changing diapers.
But the actual days themselves have an exasperating habit of marching forward with complete disregard to my thoughts or needs. Time is not concerned with what I may or may not be ready for. I have seen the way that its insistence can feel cold and hard.
A friend’s last days with her son were the exact same length as those days that she didn’t even realize were fleeting. Days when his lungs danced and his legs ran and his arms were fluid like rivers. How dare those days not give her some hint of their remarkable beauty? Could they not have stretched themselves even a tiny bit to let her memorize them? And how dare they have the gall to keep going on as long as always now that he his no longer here.
How dare time refuse to bend to our will?
The only power we have is to stop. We can give ourselves the gift of realizing that we are in the middle of a bridge. Do not take that for granted. Do not go by eyes shut just waiting out the next big moment. Inhale the beauty of this day and this time.
I try to stay calm and perhaps even enjoy working on that book report that has my son so frustrated. I am quiet as I watch the ribbon of play, disagreement and compromise that my sons continually unspool. I smirk as I try to keep up with the laundry and fold this year’s baseball uniforms over and over. Because I now see that someday they will be crumpled and forgotten in the back of a drawer.
But today is here. It is spring and there are two boys who need attention. We lay out our blanket and sit in the sun. We pop our umbrella and huddle on a bench. We have one more season. One more year.
A coach shouts, “Play ball!” And they do.
Phases come in and out of your child’s life. It is a part of parenting that becomes clearer the longer you’ve been at it. The problem is that it’s difficult to recognize which obsession is a visitor in your kid’s life and which one will become a member of the family when you are in the midst of it. The only way to realize it was just visiting is to look back on the other side once it has packed its bags and moved on. In the meantime, you decide whether your kids’ interests are ones you want to fuel and encourage or ones you’d like to send packing.
I was with another parent this weekend as she lamented her daughter’s love of Barbies and princesses of all sorts. Believe me when I say I get that. I can understand what that must feel like as a mother. You want your daughter to have strong goals and aspirations. You want her to be proud of what makes her valuable and worthwhile, not what dress she is wearing or how pretty her hair is. Strong role models are extremely important in forming a sense of self. When most of us think of Barbie, despite her many – ahem – attributes, being a strong role model is not one of them.
Because that’s what we want for our kids, right? Whether we are raising a son or a daughter, we want them to have interests that we hope will help them. We want strong role models and exposure to the values that we wish for them. We don’t want to spend our energy explaining around their interests or saying, “Honey, I know you love this but…” We are happiest when their passions or interests align with our values and dreams for their lives. This is especially true if their current passion feels like one that will stick around for a while.
And this brings me to football.
I’ve written before https://www.parentmap.com/article/mom-stories-the-great-pretender about not being entirely comfortable with my son’s love of football and my desire to respect him and connect with him over what he loves. But, recently, my relationship with the game has gone from uneasy to downright queasy.
Now, my discomfort over cheerleaders in tiny outfits whose sole purpose is to be out there to glorify a bunch of men seems quaint. As in, “Aahh…remember when it was only an old-school sexist throwback that bugged me? Those were sweet days…” as I drink my tea out of a flowered cup and saucer in the sunshine kind of quaint.
Also, the presence of cheerleaders is literally on the sidelines of the game itself. In addition, I don’t love the commercials they often play for a few reasons but I could overlook that as well. I felt like you could love the game and enjoy learning about the players or talking about their achievements without having too much of an emphasis on the aspects that I find troubling.
Then, my son saw the video of Ray Rice punching his wife (then fiancée) out in an elevator. He told me after the fact. I would never, ever have allowed him to see that had I known it would be a part of him watching the game on a weekend afternoon.
It was my bad. I accept that. I should have been watching it with him. We don’t have cable TV for a reason but I let my guard down and allowed him to watch a game on a mainstream network and he saw that horrifying footage. I cannot take it back. It wasn’t pretend. It wasn’t a movie or a show. He knows who that player is, what team he plays for and he knows that the person he knocked out cold and dragged around is now his wife.
That feels like way, way too much for me to help a 10 year-old understand and there is no going back and having him unaware that it exists. I did not want to have a conversation about domestic violence with my kid yet.
Remember that these men are also his current heroes. How do I help him understand that?
Just this morning, it happened again. As we eat and get ready, we always listen to the radio. A sports reporter was discussing the upcoming College Football Bowl games that were just announced. My son was really interested and asked me to turn it up for him. I obliged.
What I did not expect was for the discussion to turn to the rape case against a star player for one of the teams. I do not want to field a question about rape at the breakfast table with my 2 young sons because my kid loves football.
Doesn’t Barbie seem kind of quaint now?
As I said, I don’t even begin to feel equipped to field – I know it’s a pun – these questions yet. I know that this stuff happens in parenting. We have to answer questions before we’re ready. It comes with the territory to a certain degree and I accept that.
But I also feel like this is the second time in the span of a few short months that I have been forced to discuss a pretty horrific topic because of this specific sport. I’m really pissed about that.
This line of allowing him to follow his current passion is getting harder and harder for me to walk and I’m mad. I would love to tell myself that this is just a phase because, dear NFL, I would love nothing more right now than to send you packing.
I don’t know if I have ever mentioned this before, but I live in a house with all males. Well, scratch that. We got a female hamster in August and she is a lovely little thing but she doesn’t exactly stay up late with me chatting about our problems. So, for all intents and purposes, I live in a house with all males.
It has come to my attention over the last 14 years of living with one or more of these creatures that men and women are sometimes different. There is nothing about this that should shock me. Of course we’re different! I should, at this point, also make clear that I am sometimes slow. Subtleties are often lost on me. So I was very proud of the fact that I was (with help) able to understand a new boy thing recently.
My family has a storied history of taking me out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner when big things were to be discussed. Worried about my lean toward new punk rock friends in high school? Dinner date with mom at Country Kitchen! Dad concerned about my boyfriend in college? A sudden invitation to lunch at Wendy’s! I believe that it was a way to open me up in a new setting. My mom & dad have mentioned a few times that having me in public was a way to keep a lid on my fiery temper and propensity toward yelling. Tomato, tomahto. Either way, I have come to conflate problems and talking about your feelings with eating one-on-one in a restaurant.
As our older guy gets bigger and has more of the typical pre-teen feelings and issues, I have been encouraging my husband to take him out to dinner. “Why don’t you guys go out for pizza together and talk?” I ask. “Maybe,” was his usual response. But nothing ever happened. It was becoming a source of frustration for me.
First of all, I couldn’t fathom not wanting to go out to eat. If someone even hinted to me that I should take someone out to eat, the sound of the door slamming and my purse flying would be the only response as I headed out! That is one subtlety I would pick up on. Second, I didn’t understand why he didn’t want to talk to our son. I’d grunt something about men being non-communicative cavemen as I shuffled off. To blog. About my feelings.
But one day my husband, perhaps finally hearing my grunts of frustration, stopped to mansplain it to me. “I’d rather take Emmett out biking or go play ball with him. That’s when we really talk. That’s when we open up.” Oh! A visual montage of all the times they ran out the door to play or bike or hike together started running through my mind. Ok, then. I get it now, I thought.
So I decided to try it myself. Last spring, Emmett and I began to walk to school together whenever the weather was bearable. I’ll be damned if that man of mine is not a genius! Most of what Emmett talked about was football. Ok, fine. No real breakthroughs there. But, he also sprinkled in real feelings, thoughts and concerns. On his own! Without me even mentioning it! Brilliant.
Recently, I saw a video on Slate that defines this behavior and gives a fantastic (and pretty hilarious) history of it in American romantic comedies. They have dubbed it: Recsposition: The scene of exposition in a romantic comedy in which the male lead discusses the status of his relationship, while playing sports. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/09/23/recsposition_supercut_the_romantic_comedy_trope_where_men_express_their.html
For me, it was one of those rare moments when we see something and it puts a stamp on something we believed to be true but didn’t realize it was universal or have a way to describe it. So, now I have a word for it. My husband and I can have shorthand in the future. “Honey, I’m out for a little recsposition with the boy,” he could say. I will nod and understand. I will not grunt or mutter about cavemen.
Boys are different. Thank goodness I slowly catch on.
In the beginning, I loved being a mom so much! I embraced motherhood with my whole heart, and when it came, I was lucky enough and smart enough to enjoy each moment as much as I could. With my boys came a joy larger than any I had ever known.
I just loved goofing and dreaming with them. I love imagination, and I adored creating worlds and games with them. I loved going to the park, visiting flowers, hunting for bunnies and playing with friends. I soaked in their squeals as they held their first bug or blew the fluff on their first dandelion. Watching them make new discoveries sustained me.
Recently, I have felt like motherhood had lost a lot of its sheen. I feel like being a good mom now that my kids are older often entails a lot of stuff I don’t like. It’s helping them get homework done. Teaching them manners. Intervening in fights. Letting them fail. Letting them struggle sometimes. Pushing them to try their hardest. Encouraging independence. Setting limits. These are all incredibly important things, but I have felt, sometimes, like motherhood had lost some of the joy of those early years.
I have been aching for the happiness of those early days of play and discovery.
I have realized, too, though, that what might seem mundane or even annoying can still have joy in it. I am trying to remember that those old joys have not been lost, they have just been replaced.
For example, the lunches of my first days of full-time motherhood consisted of my baby and I in a quiet kitchen. I listened to Fresh Air with Terry Gross as we silently ate together. I was so excited to meet his personality. What would he sound like when he could talk? What would he love? Hate? Care about? I tucked away each new revelation and began to piece his puzzle together.
Those quiet early days have been replaced by a lunch spent with two big kids. Silence isn’t really a part of my life anymore. Now we ask each other questions, gossip, make plans, negotiate, laugh and fight. But amazing things are happening in those questions or plans or fights. I watch Emmett teach Nate things and Nate teach Emmett things.
Spending time with them again this summer has reminded me that I haven’t lost anything in motherhood. It’s not about losing something that you loved in them. It’s about watching for the next thing that you will love. One phase replaces another.
The other night we sat outside on the top of our hill and watched a lightning storm. Those are rare here in Seattle, and the boys were amazed by how gorgeous it was. The three of us stayed up late snuggling outside, talking about it. What makes lightning? Why does it look like it does? Is it scary or exciting? How far away is it?
Then we talked about how volcanoes can trigger lightning flashes during eruptions. That morphed into a conversation about super volcanoes. That morphed into a discussion about Yellowstone National Park. Nate then told us he wants to be a park ranger there someday, which morphed into Emmett discussing his plans for the future. Those are my new beautiful moments. These are our new discoveries. Instead of piecing their puzzle together, I have the privilege of watching them work to sort it out themselves.
I have to keep my eyes open for these times, but they are just as beautiful as snuggling a newborn. A moment like the other night can be just as special as watching a toddler making discoveries. There is as much joy in those moments if I stop myself and remember to soak it in.
This is parenting: The ebb and flow may change, but the themes are the same. We are constantly teaching, listening, watching, helping or not helping as need be. Their lives are in constant motion, and our lives ride those currents. I am 10 years into this parenting gig; 10 years is a good, long while. Long enough to see patterns. Long enough to feel changes and notice the passage of time. I have begun to recognize the replacements, and I am trying to stop and celebrate them.
This summer reminded me that the new conversations we have and the new things that they figure out are just as joyful as our early days together. Those conversations are new discoveries. Our job as parents is to never take those moments for granted. They may look or seem mundane, but they are far from it. Nothing has been lost. It has been replaced.
Hi all – Summer has me in her clutches! Not writing much but wanted to post a quick link. My friend Ming-Ming has created a wonderful new product. Dishes designed to help teach your kids table manners while they eat. Take a peek…
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Living the writer's life in Seattle
I'm constantly running after my toddler Ale (Á-le). I'm out of breath and having the best time!