It is my hope that you all are enjoying your Labor Day with family and friends. So long summer.
Make your bed.
Brush your teeth.
Sit for devotion.
Check your backpack and lunch bag.
Seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? This is what I expect every morning from the Dynamic Duo. There’s nothing that includes slamming the bathroom door in your sister’s face while making sure that it scratches her across the foot, all because she invaded your privacy. Then 30 seconds later being angry with her because she left you upstairs alone. No time for twirling or flipping, complaining or being attitudinal. Just get with the program and act happy about it.
Y’all, we are 1 week into the school year and this morning I was a complete lunatic. I was impatient, annoyed and very, very loud. It would not surprise me if anyone walking past our house could have heard every word of it. At least they were all family friendly words…I think. It was not one of my best moments as a mother, but it wasn’t my worst either.
And I’m sure that there will be many more just like it because I think motherhood (like life) is like that. Sometimes you’re at your best and other times, not so much. People are always talking about making memories or creating magical moments for their children, but the truth is that all of the moments are memories for them because they occurred in their lives.
This is not the first time that I’ve lost my cool with them. In fact, I used to think that it was some sort of game that they played with me. You know, the “let’s see how we can push mom over the edge today” game? They have become very good at it. Ultimately I know that it’s inevitable that I will lose my temper at times, but I can’t help but to worry if they will later tell stories to their children from their memories depicting me as some shrew. Always yelling, overly critical, lacking in patience. This is not me every moment of every day, but it is sometimes and I do wonder what will stick with them. Forgive me for worrying about my legacy.
In this world where everything bigger is better and over the top is expected, I find myself sometimes struggling to just keep things simple and to just be “normal” – whatever that means. I don’t know how to be anyone else besides myself , so I’m a fairly “what you see is what you get” kind of girl. The question is, what do they see? Have you ever wondered about how your kids really see you? Isn’t it frightening? Because you know that they notice everything and have memories like elephants, although elephants on crack because they never really remember ALL of the details. Like that one time 10 years ago, when you promised to take them to the movies, but then you FAILED to do so because your car broke down or some lame excuse like that. Grown, yet still bitter. They watch you and even if they get the details a bit fuzzy, they remember.
A while ago I wrote a post about one of my favorite childhood memories with my father and it’s so simple, almost embarrassingly so. It was about a summer afternoon spent waiting for him and my brother to make some repairs on a house that we owned and were renting out, and it involved a grape, no strawberry Ne-hi. Remember those? There was nothing fantastic about it, but in all of its simplicity, it was wonderful. Of course Big Poppa and I want the girls to remember our vacations, nights spent at the theater and the first time they see the Joffrey Ballet Company perform The Nutcracker. However, what I really want for them to remember is if I comforted them when their heart was broken or their feelings were hurt. I want them to remember that I encouraged them to try new things and learn to fail gracefully – then get back up and try again. I want them to remember that I told them that being smart is great, but smart and hard-working is even better. I want them to remember hours spent reading and giggling and imagining. Baking. I definitely want them to remember baking with me. I want them to remember ME, not the events and photo ops that I concocted for them. It won’t all be good because I am who I am - I make mistakes and yes, sometimes I lose my temper. They will probably remember this morning when I went all ballistic on them and went screaming through the house “WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG? GET YOUR STUFF AND LET’S GO!!!!” That’s okay because sometimes they need to know that they have crossed the line. I guess I could have been a little quieter about it. Next time.
For now I will continue to focus on what’s good and simple and real and our normal. I think they get me. I read somewhere that if you really want to know what your kids pick up from you then listen to them while playing, particularly if they are playing as parents or as a school teacher. In these scenarios they tend to mimic their parents because they are their primary authority figure. I listen when my girls are playing with their dolls and I have to say that there are a lot of “sweeties” and “honeys” and hugging and kissing going on in their mothering. I see and hear a lot of myself when they’re playing and I haven’t cringed yet. So far so good.
So really, there is no reason that we have to go out of our way to create memories or make magical moments for our children. Eventually, it’s all memories and if it’s all done in love, it will all be magical.
A few of weeks ago, my daughter – an incoming third grader- was invited to her first night time birthday party. Four hours away from mom and dad, not coming home until after 9:00 p.m. Her response? “Yessssssss!” It was to be dinner, a movie and hanging with her girlfriends. Also, it just so happened that the party fell one day after she celebrated her 8th birthday. What could be more perfect? Absolutely nothing! However, for me, this was the first time that she would be away for an extended period of time with people that I really don’t know. I mean, I had met them before, but the mom and I are merely acquaintances. I can’t tell you the dad’s name; I don’t know where they are originally from; and I don’t know how many kids they have. Although my girl has been over to their house to play once for a couple of hours, I really don’t know them. So, my comfort level was a bit less than my daughter’s. Her dad and I agreed that she could go, but I realized that I needed to further our conversations about how she should handle herself when away from us. After all, she’s only eight and this is just the beginning of her expanding her social circle.
I’m not just referring to conversations about behavior – using indoor voices, being respectful, no climbing on furniture, etc. – we’ve had those. I’m referring to bigger issues like unwanted touching, drugs, alcohol and weapons. I know what you’re thinking “…but she’s only eight…parents are there to supervise.” I know, I know! I thought the same thing. Truth is that we are on warp speed. Everything starts younger now and parenting is not nearly as “uniform” as it used to be. When I was a kid back in the 60’s and 70’s, there was more of a commonality in what constituted right and wrong. I could do something “wrong” several blocks from my house and not only would I get in trouble from some adult who saw me, but by the time I got home my parents knew about it and were waiting with a punishment of their own. Not so much today. Not only is the concept of “right” and “wrong” very subjective, but correcting other people’s children has become taboo.
So, I sat down with my girl and told her that she could go to the party, but that there were a few things that we needed to talk about. After I quizzed her over our contact telephone numbers and our address, we had yet another discussion about what to do if someone makes her uncomfortable with inappropriate touching. Tell them “NO” using a loud, strong voice; go to an adult (if perpetrator is an adult, go to another adult); don’t listen if someone wants you to keep it a secret; if it feels bad, then it is bad; insist to use the phone and call home. Then we moved on to conversations about weapons (specifically guns) and a little about drugs. Guns: if you see one do not touch it, leave the room immediately, tell an adult and call home. Drugs: No medications should be taken unless given by mom or dad. NOTHING! If you want to know if it’s okay or not, call home and don’t trust what other kids tell you. There was more to the conversation than this, but you get the gist of it. Of course, it was child friendly while letting her know that I meant what I was saying.
After our talk she went off to play and I sat wondering how in the world we got here? When did we stop being a society that cared enough that an adult would willingly notify a child’s parents of his or her misdeed, to a society where an 8-year-old is responsible for their own safety? Teaching them to be self-aware is one thing, but teaching them to protect themselves from the very people who are put here to care for them is something else. We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge a growing lack of community. The kind of community that protects, nurtures and cares for our youngest, most vulnerable members. It made me sad, but more determined that my kids will not become victims. Not only do I not want them to see themselves as victims, but I want them to feel empowered to fight back or to appropriately respond in certain situations. Child molestation is nothing new, but awareness has grown, in large part due to social media. I need my daughter to know that it’s not something to keep quiet about and it’s certainly not her fault. My statements were not about gun ownership, but about gun safety because accidents happen all of the time due to carelessness. Furthermore, how many of us tried to sneak sips from our parent’s alcoholic drinks (or knew where their stash was) when we were kids? I’ll include myself in that show of hands. No, none of this is new. However, because we seem to be a society where increasingly everyone is so focused on our individual selves and less on caring for each other, we no longer can blindly send our children to be in the care of another adult. Nor can we assume that when our kids are out playing surely someone else is also keeping an eye on them and their safety.
My girl went to the party and had a great time. When I picked her up she was beaming and strung out on a sugar induced high. She came home and filled her little sister in on all of the details with that air of authority that comes with attending your first night time party. Everything went fine, just like I thought it would. I’m glad that we had our discussion and I’m sure that we will have many, many more in the years to come. Unfortunately, I think this has become the way of things, but fortunately, I can help her (and her sister) find her voice.