In Denial of Being in Denial

It was  Monday morning, and I was settling down to the dining room table with my pumpkin spice coffee steaming in my favorite mug, getting ready to teach my daughter her first class of the day, both of our least favorite: math. We complete math first so that we both have the patience of not being over tired from other classes to give math the attention it needs. And usually it goes pretty well. She may grumble a bit, or I may have to retrace my steps to make sure I haven’t made a simple computational error (which I’m known to do). But usually math doesn’t cause too many problems for us.

Today, however, it was quite the learning moment for us both. Perhaps more so for me than her.

You see, I gave her a final project assignment for multiple digit addition and subtraction, and place value that I thought was really cool, and applicable to the real world. Because, seriously, anyone who is not full of joy to work out some numbers needs all assignments to have real-world application. She was challenged with planning a sleepover party, and needing to budget both her money and time between activities. Initially she was really excited to work on this. She dove right into the planning of what she would want to do. Rent a movie or go to he movies? What kind of pizza and what size to buy? Should we have pizza before or after the movie? She was all abuzz over these decisions. But as soon as I asked her to figure out which pizza deal was better, and if she’d have enough money for each plan, her face fell. I hadn’t said anything else when I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. What the hell just happened? I wondered to myself. What did I do??

I didn’t want to rock the boat any harder, for fear of collapse, so I just silently watched her as she started adding pizza and pop prices together. And I continued to say nothing until she was finished, even when I saw her make an easy mistake of not carrying and adding the one, hoping she’d catch it herself.

She didn’t.

So, when she looked up at me from her paper, I had to tell her to recheck her solution to problem A. You’d swear that what I asked her instead was “Can you solve 2x+3y-9(16+4b)=. (I don’t even know if that’s a legitimate math problem, and if so what the fuck the answer would be). As soon as I asked her to check her answer again, the delicate balance of tears on her bottom eyelid toppled, and down flowed her frustrations from her cheeks to her paper. I knew then that I was fucked. There was no way she was going to go any further in this assignment today.

So, instead of pushing her to finish the work, I asked her to set her pencil down, and without shrugging, and using her words, tell me why she’s so upset. My kids hate when I do this, but I refuse to let them shrug and try to force me to drop the subject. Nope, not this mama. We’re talking this shit out.

Perhaps because she’s been though this so many times and is sick of me, knowing I can outlast her silence any day; or, perhaps because she really was ready to talk, she actually opened her mouth and squeaked out a “It’s just so hard.”

Huh? I’ve seen her do much harder work than adding a pizza and a pop together. How was this hard?

“What’s so hard, Lil? This was simple addition, which I’ve seen you do so many times before.”

“But I got it wrong. And I always get something wrong. And I hate getting it wrong.”

Now we were getting somewhere. I inhaled and exhaled fully and slowly, just like yoga taught me to in a situation when talking right away is not necessary or advantageous. I looked at her picking at her cuticles, avoiding eye contact with me, and suddenly understood who she was. She was me. And it was not only shocking, but also very disheartening to realize. My heart ached for her because I knew exactly who she was and why this math problem had become so monumentally huge and terrifying for her.

Having anxiety is a motherfucking bitch. It’s crippling at times, and the longer it goes unchecked, the worse it becomes. And it doesn’t give a shit if you tell it to go away or if people tell you that you should just ignore it or get over it, or that you’re too old, or smart, or capable to have to deal with it. Nope. That asshole latches on and Does. Not. Let. Go.

So because I know all of this already, but my sweet little girl is just figuring it out, I couldn’t have just told her, “Lil, it’s fine. It’s just a math problem. It’s not life or death.” Because for her in that moment, it felt like it. So, instead, I said, “I know, Lil. I really do. It feels like shit, and I hate it too. But what does feel  better is acknowledging it. Talk to me, Pookie Girl, so I can try to help you.”

I don’t think this was what she was expecting. I think she had already made up her mind that I would try to dismiss it away so that we could get back to work. So it took her a second to switch gears and decide how she was going to explain herself to me.

“It’s just like taking a test. I’m always last. And everyone is always done way before me. And then I feel like they’re looking at me, and waiting for me to be done. And then I don’t even finish because I don’t want to be last. I don’t want them looking at me. And then I get a lot wrong because I don’t finish. So then I don’t even try different next time.”

Well, fuck.

I couldn’t talk. My face was pinched as tightly as my throat was. I couldn’t talk because she had just put my whole life into her words. And I had no idea what to say to her. How was I supposed to tell her to carry on and move forward when I can’t do that myself? How could I be an inspiration when I was so damn stuck in this, too?

So, for better or worse, what I did do was tell her the truth. I told her that I too was always one of the last to finish tests.

And that I hate going out in public, especially doing things I’m not comfortable with because I imagine everyone is watching me and judging. I don’t go running like I want to because everyone will know I’m out of shape, and laugh at me. I don’t go to yoga class because everyone will know I can’t get myself into the more advanced poses.

I told her that anxiety has gotten me so badly that it literally has made me physically ill. That every job interview I’ve ever gone on, I’ve been on the verge of puking or passing out the whole time, and that I walked out thinking I was an utter failure. And the times I didn’t get the job only perpetuated that notion, leaving me feeling worse and worse as the revolving door of interviews kept turning.

That when I finished my Master’s degree, a professor I had told me I should really consider going on to get my Ph. D., but that I would never do it because I don’t think I’m smart enough.

That for as long as I’ve been self aware, I’ve loved stories. And as soon as I could write, I began writing my own. And there’s not much else in this world that I want to do but write and publish a book. But I don’t follow through because I’m pretty sure I’m a hack, and that no one will want to read it. And it’s just so much easier to hide and not take that chance than to face the reality of feeling so wholly inadequate.

I told her that living with these fears has left me with so many regrets and what ifs. I’ve held myself back because I was too afraid. And who knows what I might have denied myself because of it. I told her the longer you refuse to acknowledge your fears and anxieties, the bigger they grow until they overpower any will you have left.

I told her I wanted so much more for her than I have ever wanted for myself. And I told her I would do anything at all for her to show her she could do it.

She then asked me, “So weren’t you writing a book last year?” I replied that I was. “What did you do with it?” I told her that I stopped. And when she asked me why, I could only tell her the truth. I stopped because I didn’t think it was any good. I quit because I was scared. I quit.

She put her hand on top of mine, and said, “But you said we’re not quitters. That life will always be hard, but we can’t quit because what would be the point then.”

Oof, right to the gut with that one. I guess she does listen to me after all. And what could I say to that? She was right. I do say that. And I say that because I don’t want her to give up on herself when things get tough because I know firsthand what that is like. But here we were having to confront the fact that I talk a good talk but haven’t been walking the walk.

All I could muster was another, “Yeah, you’re right, Lil.” Weak, I know. But what else could I say?

And then she came at me with the one-two punch.

“But you just said you quit your book. You don’t know it wasn’t good. What if it was good? I know that my math isn’t good, but you want me to keep going. That’s not fair.”

True. It’s not fair. And it’s not how I want her to see me.

“So, if I don’t quit my math, you can’t quit either. I’d read your book, even if you did think it wasn’t any good.”

My heart.

My beautiful, brilliant, amazingly loving and true little girl. My life. My reason for doing everything. My reality check.

So I smiled, and thanked her for saying she’d read my book, and promised her that I would look at it again, and see where I could move forward with it. And when she asked if I had blogged recently, I and I told her no, she very pointedly told me that I could start there, that I needed to practice my writing if I thought it wasn’t good enough.

I couldn’t love her any more if I tried.

And after I told her I would. That I would write something today, she picked up her pencil, and finished reworking the math problem she’d gotten wrong. My brave girl.

So I guess the lesson my daughter taught me today, instead of me teaching her something as expected, is that being in denial of being in denial is bullshit. I’m not fooling anyone, least of all myself. And if she can tell her anxiety to pack it up and out, the least I can do is try to do the same myself.

You see, when I was 23 and trying to get pregnant, I heard from so many people in my life that I was too young, that I had no reason to get pregnant yet. But somewhere inside of me, I knew that I needed her. I didn’t know who she was yet, but I knew that this baby, whomever it turned out to be would give my life greater  purpose. What I didn’t know, however, was how much she would ultimately save me.

 

 

The Last of the Single-Digits

As Lily enters her last year of being of a single-digit age, I can’t help but think this is an enormous turning-point for her. Her physical development is starting to catch up with her precocious nature. And it’s readily apparent to anyone who sees her that this little girl is becoming a young woman. Already. How is that even possible?

I’ll admit, my memories of being a child are a bit fuzzy. I have general time frames at which certain things happened, and have some recollections of things I did and people I did them with. So I may be looking at Lily’s development through a very skewed perception when I wonder how in the hell a 9-year-old can already be becoming a woman. To me, she’s still a baby. I mean, 9, in the grand scheme of things, is really quite new to the world. But then I look at this long-legged beauty, and listen to the clever, witty things that comes out of her mouth, and get slapped with realty. A baby she most certainly is not anymore.

Then again, I don’t want to encourage her to grow up too fast. Meaningful, careful change takes time. I want her to have all the time she needs.

This first occurred to me when, one day this spring, she had her two good girlfriends over to play—both of whom are one year older than she is. The three girls were all outside taking advantage of the mild spring weather. I just sat and watched them. They were all wearing training bras, all in different stages of needing them. They were all wearing some sort of accessory or had nails painted. They all had cute, sassy little outfits on. They all looked very much like they were becoming little ladies. And one might assume by just looking at them without hearing their conversations that they might be gossiping about boys or talking about situations with other friends at school. But they weren’t. They were playing house. Well, a strange combination of house and Minecraft, but house nonetheless. Like with baby dolls and each girl playing a different role: mom, dad, little sister. They were making pretend food from garden materials, and playing with Lily’s tea set and toy dishes that she got when she was 2. And it was so sweet.

It was at this moment that I really came to understand the term “tween” (even though I still think it sounds ridiculous). Here was my girl in a training bra, with hoop earrings in her ears, and temporary metallic tattoos on her arms, playing house and tea party. Not quite ready to move on, and not quite ready to let everything go. A little bit like a child, and a little bit like a teen, and nothing all the way. She’s kind of stuck in this middle-ground trying to slowly traverse her way from one stage to the next. And though I’m a little bit sad at how quickly childhood goes by, it’s sort of endearing as well. I do have many memories of that time in my life, with my girlfriends, and it was some of the best times of my childhood. I’m really glad she’s able to experience it as well.

In continuing with Lily’s transition from girlhood to womanhood, I also noticed that she’s become much more aware of how other females act, dress, and present themselves. I see her looking at older girls, studying them. What are they wearing? How are they talking? Who are they with? It’s almost as if she’s trying to figure out how she fits into the womanhood equation. And when she comments about seeing other girls maybe acting in a way she doesn’t agree with, I can see that she’s sizing up their choices in relation to what I’ve given her as a perspective on what it means to be a woman. Of course I’m going to always be, perhaps, a most influential example. But I do try to explain that there really is no one definition of what it means to be a woman, and I think she’s really trying to piece out all the choices available to her.

It’s a puzzling time, I think, making this transition. She needs to figure out what her values are, and how they compare to what we’ve tried to instill in her, and what might be uniquely her own. She needs to figure out what she likes about herself and others. She needs to figure out what her strengths and weaknesses are. All awhile taking into account what she feels others see in her. And I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to be there to play a more active role in her life this past year. Not having to dedicate so much of my time and energy to my job and someone else’s children, but rather my own, has been a true blessing. Especially given Lily’s nature.

One of my favorite stories to tell about Lily, and one I think I’ve already included in a birthday reflection, is from when she was about 10 months old. She had a very favorite book that we read approximately 1 million times a day. And one day, she picked it up and held it out to me. I asked her if she wanted me to read it, and she grunted and clapped her hands. And when I jokingly said, “But what if I don’t want to?”, she stiffened her arms out to her sides, balled up her fists, and yelled. I still think that memory is both hilarious and telling of her. Lily wants what she wants. And God help you all If you make her angry.

And even though she has definitely come to realize she can’t have everything she wants, she’s still just as fiery and quick to anger. But now she will pout, stomp upstairs to her room, and shut out the world. I understand that sometimes she just needs some time alone. But luckily I also have the time, energy, and patience to be there for her. Because every time (I’m not exaggerating), every time she gets into one of these moods, if I come to her room to see if she wants to talk after she’s had time to calm down, she always does. She wants me to hold her hand or snuggle her, and just listen to her. She wants to cry and yell, and be heard. And I’m forever grateful that she lets me do that. That I can be present for her. Because I know so many children who never had that, and how it made them grow distant, angry, self-critical, and even harmful to themselves and others. And I’m grateful that Lily loves and trusts me enough to know that no matter if she’s angry with me or someone/something else, or if she knows I’m angry with her, I’m still going to come into her room, sit on her bed, and ask her if she wants to talk about it. And I hope this will help her through whatever challenges this next year will bring.

And I expect there to be many challenges ahead of us. With homeschooling on the horizon, it could be a recipe for trouble even though it will also most probably bring us closer. What I hope is that Lily will continue to see how much I believe in her, and transfer those beliefs to herself. I hope she will go back to loving school, as much as she loves learning (which are, of course, not one in the same). I hope she continues to grow as an artist now that she will have ample time on a daily basis to experiment with new ideas, mediums, and techniques. I just hope that every hurdle we come upon, we will jump over together. Whether she is giving me a boost or the other way around.

Because as I love my children equally but different, I love my firstborn in a way a parent has to love the person who brought them the greatest gift of parenthood. I see so much in her, and I would do anything for her. She was my first sidekick, my first baby, my only girl, and hopefully my future best friend.

And so, Miss Lily-Girl, I wish you more happiness than you can ever know. I love everything about you, even the things you yourself don’t seem to appreciate. Because you know what, Pookie, everything inside of you makes a whole you. And without them, you wouldn’t be the girl I know so well. Embrace all your quirks, interests, shortcomings, fears, hopes, and dreams because every bit of those things make you the funniest, cleverest, pun and joke-making, intelligent, talented, beautiful little sassy-pants that you are.

I saw a story online that told of a mother who always told her daughter, “I wish you enough.” And it resonated with me. Yes, I wish you the world, but only so far as the world brings you that which fulfills you. I wish you enough from life to make you happy. Because no matter how much you have of toys, clothes, books, travels, whatever, as long as it makes you truly happy in your soul, it will be enough to sustain you. And that is what I wish for you, my dear girl. I wish you enough.

I love you, Pookie. I hope you have a most marvelous last single-digit birthday. Thank you for being my baby.

To My Kiddos

This morning I read a news article explaining that the original founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, were arrested in the Capitol for protesting ‘big money’ in politics. Knowing a bit about the two, and knowing that they regularly speak up for and out against issues that they find important, I wasn’t really surprised by this information. But maybe because it’s the primary election day; or, maybe because we’re in the midst of a political movement that has been a long time coming and needed, and the likes of which we haven’t ever seen; or, maybe it’s my own growing desire to do something of similar meaning and importance; or, maybe it’s a firestorm of all of those things; whatever the reason, I felt compelled to seize this feeling, and make this an opportunity to hopefully teach my kids a little something someday. Thus, this letter is born.

 

Dear Lily and Ollie—

As your parent, I want so very many things for you. The normal stuff—love, friendship, health, opportunities, and of course happiness. But I also want some pretty complicated things too. I want you both to understand things about life that took me far too long to figure out, or at the very least, accept. But these things I want for you aren’t things I can give you. No, these things are far too valuable, and which you must earn on your own. And I worry each day about you missing out on them, and feeling like I could be failing you if you do. Please understand that it’s not that I don’t want to give you these things. If I could, I’d open your skulls, and crack open your ribs and shove these things deep into your brains and hearts. But like most things that are worth anything at all, these things will only be worth it if you go out and get them yourselves, and define what each means to you as individuals.

I can hear you now, Lily, “Ok, Mom, stop being so damn vague. Get to the point.” Or, at least that’s what I imagine you’ll sound like someday when you’re old enough to read and appreciate this. Ollie, tell your sister to calm down. I’m getting to it. So impatient she is. 😊

What I want so badly for you is something I was not able to give myself until recently. I want you both to feel safe enough to always be brave, and fierce, and radical. To do what’s right, not what’s popular or expected of you. To believe in something so deeply you’re willing to risk everything for it. To put yourself out there and try. And to put yourself on the line sometimes. You know, “fight the good fight”.

I want these things for you because no one ever achieved anything great by sitting on the sidelines. And what I want for you is greatness. Not necessarily in the sense that you need to be President or someone rich and famous. But greatness in the sense that though you may question yourself or doubt your choices, you’ll never regret them because you’ll have earned a life that makes you genuinely and wholeheartedly happy. I mean happiness that seeps into every cell of your being. Happiness that cannot be permanently erased by a slipup or momentary hard time. Happiness that is so inherently a part of who you are that no one can take it away. But the only one who can give you that is you.

And so you need to live each day with the intention of doing all you can to better your life. To find that place of deepest contentment. But not be afraid to shake things up to get there. You need to go to sleep every night knowing that you truly did all you could that day to be the best you, work toward the best world, and that what you’ve done could have enacted change or goodness for others, and lead you to your greatest happiness. If you cannot do that, you mustn’t be too hard on yourself, but promise yourself to do so tomorrow. But don’t sell yourselves empty promises. Believe me, that’s only a temporary soothing. It’s a Band-Aid where you need stiches. Use your words, and use your heart, and act. Take a plunge, knowing you could, and likely will at some time, fall hard. Then get yourself back up again, brush off those bits of gravel from your pants, and climb up and jump again.

Of course, don’t be foolish. Your dad and I have hopefully raised you better than that. Do your research. Think. Inspect. Ask around. See for yourself. Experiment. And listen to others. Don’t always take what they say and adopt it. But listen. Always be listening. And choose wisely. There are so many chances to take. And there are so many battles in this world. You can’t fight them all. It took me until my 30’s to realize that. You must be more like Atticus and less like Scout. (Surely, you’ve both read To Kill a Mockingbird by now! What kind of mother would I be otherwise??) As long as you are helping others, and not harming yourself or anyone else, know that we will support your choices.

And just remember that everyone is someone. We all have thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears, mistakes, etc. If you can look into the eyes of every person you meet, and see them as a person, an individual, regardless of their actions, behaviors, or choices, and see what is universal in us all, I think you will never really make a terrible mistake. We’ve tried to raise you with empathy, and with consideration for others in hopes that when you see a wrong being committed, you’ll act to stop it. And when you see a need being unfulfilled, you do what you can toward filling it. Everything we have done and continue to do is for you two. For your greater good and so that you will become amazing adults. And we hope you can use our examples as a springboard for doing so much more. Losing my job for speaking out against poor education practices is small peanuts really. But I have the hope that it was one of the first examples of you seeing your parents standing up for what they believe in, even though it had a somewhat unfortunate outcome. Follow us, kiddos, but eventually pass us. Forge those trails on your own. Look back and we’ll be waving. We will always be here; we will always support you. So don’t be afraid to be yourselves and do what’s in your heart. Because if you do, you’ll never want for a thing. And what more could we hope for you both?

Love you with all my heart and soul,

Mom

Halfway to double digits!

I usually begin my yearly birthday posts by going back to the post from the previous year to see what highlights I picked out then, and to see in what ways my babies have changed.  In the past, there have been numerous changes. New abilities. New interests. New hobbies. New character traits. But this year I was quite surprised to see just how much Ollie is still the same. And at first I wondered how this could be. He seems to have grown so much. But yet, at his core, he’s still very much the same person.

Initially I wondered if his constancy was a good thing. Did it indicate a lack of progress? Was he not developing as he should? Was he content to be stagnant? But the more I thought about it, the more I really believe that it’s a unique and wonderful thing. How many people can you honestly say aren’t affected by what is around them—popular culture, others’ interests or behaviors, music and/or tv, etc.—and merely stay who they are no matter what? I know that I’ve personally been affected by others many, many times. I know that I’ve tried to change who I am to fit some mold or role or expectation of who I was to be. But not Bubba. He just keeps on rolling as before. It really makes me so proud that he’s so content with who he is that he doesn’t seem to feel the need to change.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t find new things he’s interested in or want to join Lily in whatever she’s obsessed with at any given moment. Over the last year he has become a huge fan of Beanie Boos, Pokemon, Star Wars, and Minecraft because his sister was into them first. But I attribute that more to his adoration of his big sister. That boy wants nothing more than for his sister to want him around as much as he wants to be around her. Some days he gets lucky in this area, and somedays not so much. But he never stops trying to make himself her best friend. It doesn’t matter how many times she yells at him, or makes him cry, or pushes him away, he always comes back. Not that he’s a walking punching bag. He just seems to be able to know that underneath the sibling squabbling lies the coolest person in his life. And though she may huff and puff and roll her eyes when I tell her he just loves her so much, even she can’t resist his smile.

Ah, that little smile of his. Those full cheeks, and big, blue eyes, and dimpled, pointy chin combine into a perfect storm of cuteness that I dare anyone to resist. Bet you can’t. I know at least I can’t. And I’m pretty sure he knows this too, much to his benefit. Lily was always so damn clever and manipulative at his age, that I would give in sometimes just out of sheer amazement at her negotiation skills. I had to give her credit for her hard work, after all. But Ollie needn’t even go that far. He just needs to flash one of his smiles or sad, pleading looks, and I’m hard-pressed to say no. Of course I do say no sometimes, but it takes all my willpower not to give that little cutie everything he asks for and more.

Thankfully he doesn’t usually want much. He’s like any kid who wants a new toy anytime we enter Target, but he takes “no” fairly well when that’s the final answer. He’s an easy-going, easily pleased little guy. If he gets upset or angry, he’s usually over it within a few minutes, and then he’s back to whatever he was doing beforehand. He may still be very sensitive and easy to bruise emotionally, but at least he’s quick to forgive and forget. I’m thankful for that too because if he held a grudge every time he got upset, he’d be a perpetual grey cloud. But him, a grey cloud? Nope. No way. Thunder sometimes when he’s off-the-wall crazy and rambunctious. But never the rain on anyone’s parade. Always the rainbow.

And with this past year came the addition of school into his life. And with school, so many new people with so many different personalities. And also with school came less Mommy. And boy was it a task to get used to this at first—well, at least the Mommy part. He adjusted so well to meeting new kids. Kids who looked different than him, talked different than him, behaved different than him. And not once was this ever a problem for him. Bless his little heart, he never once asked me why most of his new friends had dark skin, or why some of them didn’t speak much English, or why some of them yelled or pouted, or talked back to the teachers. As long as they wanted to play Legos with him or build with Magnatiles (His FAVORITE things to do!), they were perfectly ok in his book. And if another student was disruptive or trying to get him to act out, he would just continue doing whatever he was doing, completely nonplussed and unconcerned with anyone else. Sometimes he’s just so damn good-natured, he’d let his friends squeeze the hell out of him with love or wrestle him to the ground with playing. And he’d just sit back and absorb it, and move on. Nothing seems to faze him.

Maybe he’s so good with his classmates because he knows what it is to feel something so strongly and to love so fiercely. He still showers me with hugs and kisses, and “I love You”s . It took him until about November before he would stop crying when I left his classroom each morning. He still makes me give him about a dozen hugs and kisses (no, seriously, I’m not exaggerating), but at least he lets me walk out looking at his smiling face instead of sobbing face. And I’m more than happy to oblige him in his need for affection because I think every child should have absolutely no doubt in their mind that they are the single most important thing in their parents’ lives. He certainly knows it, as does his sister.

And I suppose in a very selfish way, I’m also glad to know he still needs me as much as he once did, even if the need is different now. This is something that has taken me almost nine years of parenting to figure out. No matter how independent your children get, and how much they will do on their own and not ask your help with, they always need you. Always. They will never stop needing your love, attention, support, appreciation, lessons, structure, advice, interest, information, affection, worry, presence, communication, honesty, etc. And I saw this very clearly this year sending Ollie off to school. Sure, I’d pick him up and he’d be all smiles from having so much fun in school that day. But he always told me he was glad to see me, glad that I came back. And at first it struck me as odd and somewhat sad that he’d think otherwise, but I guess being in a new situation like that can bring out one’s fears in that way. But the fact that I kept coming back for him eventually led him to not worry so much anymore and to enjoy being with others. So even though he doesn’t need to hang on to me as much anymore, I think he needs my being there, and knowing I always will be. And that’s certainly something I can easily give him.  Every day. For eternity.

And so I look forward to watching him over this next year. Watching him grow even more into a little man. Losing his baby soft roundness and cutesy voice. Watching him continue to not give two shits what anyone might think about his nail polish or pink stuffed animals. To continue coming up with crazy stories or building newer and more inventive towers, buildings, and worlds. To watching him make more and more sense of written words on paper, and to write stories of his own. To watching him run, and climb, and crash, and fall, and get back up again, and smile all awhile. And to be there to be his wrestling partner or to chase him up the stairs squealing as I tickle him to death. I look forward to watching any changes that may take place, but more so to watching him continue to be the sweet, self-assured, kind, easy-going little love bug he’s always been.

So, my Bubba, I wish you a most wonderful 5th birthday full of what you love best: smiles; practical jokes; Cheez-Its; annoying your sister; hugs and kisses; high-pitched squeals; big belly laughs; funny, made up songs; and lots of sweets. I love you, my little man, more than I have the ability to express. I hope you feel every day just how loved you are, and how much more wonderful our lives are because of you in it. We are so very lucky to be your family. And I wake each day thankful I’m your mom.

 

Go the fuck away

Originally I thought it would be prudent to begin this post with a statement about how much I love my children, my husband, my life. But upon further consideration, I decided that was not needed. Of course I do. This doesn’t change, however, how much I’d like to tell them all to go the fuck away and leave me alone in peace for five fucking minutes. Is that so much to ask? Apparently, yes.

I first started tinkering with blogging way back in 2006 when I was pregnant with offspring #1. And even though I was more or less on my own to do as I pleased whenever I pleased, I still had interruptions in my daily existence: cats puking or crying to be fed, waking up to pee three times a night, having to puke myself at my body’s whim, being too large and unwieldy to sleep properly. The list goes on from there.

I started blogging occasionally about my pregnancy and life at the time, even asking Santa to let me sleep in, peacefully, with no interruptions for one day. Even then my request was denied. Of course it was all in jest. I still had my whole day to take a nap, or waste three straight hours reading, or spend countless hours researching baby-related topics online. No one really needed me for anything.

Now it seems that there isn’t a time when someone isn’t  asking me for something, or yelling at me because of an argument. As I type, my annoying-ass cat is scratching at the closed door and crying to be let in. And just prior to sitting down to type, I attempted my first yoga practice in two months. But how can one really be in the present and focus on breathing when three different people come to the door, the cat continues to cry and scratch, and I can hear the sounds of My Little Pony coming from below.

It’s enough to make me want to get up and leave. Forever. Damn, that’d feel so good.

For an hour or two. Then, I’m sure I’d make my way back home again. I love these people more than I hate them. And even though my kids can definitely be assholes sometimes, they can’t help themselves. Kids, I think, are naturally designed to be assholes. Can’t blame them for nature.

But because of all of these irritating aspects to my life,  I don’t feel any shame in telling my kids “no” sometimes. “No, I will not play with you right now.” “No, you can read yourself that book.” “No, get your own snack if you’re hungry enough.” “No, I will not watch you do the same thing for the 10th time.” “No, I will not indulge your every whim.” Mommy is trying to preserve some sense of self.

Is it selfish to tell my kids to go away because I want to read my book instead of cheer them on for doing the most menial thing? Maybe. But I don’t give a shit. 99% of the times when they ask to play or read or “watch me be a puppy” for the umpteenth time, I put a smile on my face and agree. They need that attention and reinforcement more than I need to read sometimes. But sometimes it’s all I can do not to scream at them to leave me the fuck alone. And it’s these times when I simply tell them that we all need private time to ourselves, and that I’m in the middle of my private time. They’ll have to come back later.

And they do. They leave peacefully–no harm, no foul. And I get ten more minutes of reading time. Or ten more minutes of reclining in bed, staring the the ceiling, and breathing. Or ten more minutes of chugging vodka. Just kidding on that last part…maybe.

I have a handful of vivid memories of my parents playing or reading with me as a child. A handful. Partly due to the distance in time since these events. But much more likely due to the fact that my parents thought what was best for my brothers and me was for us to entertain ourselves. Go play. Use your imagination. They were not there for our amusement, and we knew that. And surprisingly, I turned out just fine.

I don’t know when the shift in parenting began that parents suddenly became playthings for their kids. When we were required to set up playdates and tag along for the benefit of other parents. When we became their chauffeurs. These kids have become our dungeon masters, calling the shots.

I say fuck that. Yes, I will continue to tuck them into bed ten times a night, and give them another drink of water, help them zip up their jammies after going to the bathroom for the third time in one night, cut their sandwiches “just so”, and watch them jump around on one foot like it’s some sort of impossible feat conquered. But I will not give up any more of my self. My “self”. What makes me me. What brings me individual joy.What makes me happy apart from them. What sustains my soul.

I look around at so many childless friends of mine and am secretly jealous sometimes. They go out for drinks after work with no advance notice. They can wake up at whatever time they please. They don’t need to worry about being home from a dinner at a respectable time for whomever is watching the kids. They can do whatever they want whenever they want. Or simply do nothing at all.

And I can’t. But I chose this life. I chose to have children. I planned all of this. There weren’t accidents or unexpected circumstances. I made my life this way of my own free will. And I don’t ever regret it. Honestly. I can’t even remember my life before kids, and I think that must reflect something about what it was like. And so I’d never choose to give all of this beautiful madness up.

What I am giving up is the selflessness I’ve been operating under for the last eight years. In this season of giving, I’m giving to myself. I’m giving myself the freedom to take time for myself. To do what makes me happy apart from my family.To release myself of the unending guilt that comes with parenting. To believe that my needs are equally important.

Because, ultimately, I can come home miserable from work and be Mean Mommy for 4 hours. Or, I can sometimes leave work miserable (as is always the case), go to yoga for and hour and a half, or read for an hour, or write for an hour, and be Nice Mommy for 2 hours. I believe those couple fewer hours being home is a worthwhile sacrifice that my children and husband should be more than happy to support.

It’s not an easy thing to do. I will likely continue to harbor some guilt at attending to my needs first. But a miserable mommy equals hell for everyone else. So, this is an enterprise worth working toward building, though it can’t be done alone. I will need the support of my husband, children, and also friends and strangers alike. I will need others to understand that I need this time alone. That I am not a shitty mother for thinking of myself first every now and then. All parents need to start moving back toward a time when having children didn’t mean giving up your identity.

And so, I encourage other parents–moms and dads alike–to rise up with me, throw your fist in the air, and tell your children to leave you the fuck alone. Trust me, it feels awesome. And I think your kids will thank you.