Father knows Best–and it’s time we start believing it

My son is 12. (any of the parents of difficult tweens out there, you felt the sympathetic wince that statement elicits)

angry-teen-boy-350Yep, he’s twelve–and it’s been baptism by fire.

You see, he’s our first, and our most difficult. And this year has been hard.

I was a teacher, now am a professor, and I have a graduate degree in Psychology, so I should have been ready for everything this year and this stage were going to unload on me–right?

Sadly, no.

I have been pushed to the limit of my parenting skills and my psychology skills. It’s just been plain hard.

You see, my son is hard-headed (that’s the understatement of the century!) He might only be twelve, but he thinks he knows better than everybody else. And the kid has always known what he’s wanted and has had the stubbornness and tenacity to go after it. The combination of these two traits has been a nightmare.

That was unacceptable behaviour, young man

In one of our most recent battle of the wills, we tried another tact. Instead of addressing Gavin’s behavior (which was mean, spiteful, and disrespectful), we addressed it’s effectiveness.

We pointed out that his approach was not meeting and gaining his objective. In other words,

“You’re not getting what you want when you act this way! So why not change your behavior, and see if that gives you the pay out you’re looking for?!!”

I wish that my son would choose to do the right thing, because it is the right thing. That’s what I want, but sadly, he’s not there–yet.

But when we pointed out that what he considers his shortcut, is not only not a shortcut, but is preventing him from the desired end all together, he finally started paying a little bit of attention.

As I explained to him that my desire is not to hurt him, but to ensure his well being and his happiness…when I explained that we correct his behavior because we see and know more, and that he just needs to trust us, even if he doesn’t see how it makes sense or why it should work that way…I couldn’t help but see the correlation to my own relationship with God.

We know where we want to go. We see what we want.

And we see the quick route–the direct route–to our destination.

But most of the time, that’s not the route we find ourselves on. We find ourselves on what appears to be a circuitous route, one that sometimes seems to go backwards, wanders to rabbit trails, and even sometimes seems to end in dead-ends. Much of my life I have felt like Moses wandering around in the desert, knowing where I need to be, but unable to get there. Or like David, the anointed King of Israel who, instead of ruling as was his right, finds himself moldering in a cave for years.

long-winding-road-p92b_saint_gothard_pass_switzerlandWhen there is a disconnect between the life that is, and the life that we feel like we should be living, we become confused, disgruntled,  angry, and often bitter.

“Why, God? Why?” we rail.

He gives us the dream, He sets our path, but instead of the path leading to our expected destination, we find ourselves in the desert, or hidden in a cave, forgotten, moldering away into anonymity.

I’ve had lots of these moments in my life. Moments when it seems like God stopped listening, stopped caring, and certainly stopped guiding.

But as I talked with Gavin, I was convicted.

That was the child’s response, and I am not a child. It is time to put away childish things.

Just as I am asking Gavin to trust that my way is better, I need to trust that God’s way is better.

Just as I tell my son that I am looking at the big picture that he cannot know, I need to trust that God is seeing the big picture that I cannot see.

This place, where I’m at, this isn’t what I wanted. Or at least, this was not the way I wanted it to be.

I thought I’d be much farther by now.

Next year I turn 40. By 40, I thought I would be established.

I’m not.

I have a fledgling writing career.

I am an associate professor, not a tenured one.

I’m not in the ministry.

My goal to change the world and help people in some large way, has translated into a much smaller sphere of influence than I anticipated.

And it’s taken me almost 40 years to get here.

But, I think I’ve been missing the point.

I’m a writer and a professor, and that’s what I always wanted to be.

And occasionally, God has used me to touch a few, not as a missionary, not in some defined role, but as I rub shoulders with people in my daily life.

waysThe road was not the road I would have chosen, but, I have to believe, it was the road I was meant to take–the road I needed to take. God sees the big picture, the destination and the necessary journey.

It’s time I started giving God the trust He deserves. I need to have faith in a Father who loves me and who knows more, sees more, than I do.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Being a Reluctant Hero: the true role of the parent

27d71d088b682abee8b4e7488530b1c4Last night I was snuggled in my bed with Arabelle. We were all cozied up in a pile of blankets trying to hold off the last effort of Winter to make any real impression on the north Texans this year. It was chilly, but honestly, I think he failed in his attempt–no real winter here this year.

Arabelle had her head on my shoulder and my face was nuzzled into her hair. It was one of those perfect moments that make life just so beautiful.

Unfortunately, the topic of conversation wasn’t quite so beautiful. We were chatting about all the pre-teen drama that little girls create, and boy do they create a lot!

As I listened to Belle’s tales of woe, I found myself thinking back to my own pre-adolescent years, and I wasn’t feeling very nostalgic! I cringed inwardly as the memories of awkwardness, insecurity, and immaturity came flooding back. Those years are just so hard! Doesn’t matter who you are: the outcast, the nerd, the average, or the popular, it’s just downright awful most of the time.

Everybody is insecure, uncertain, and too often hurtful to others, as they try to transition from a child into this strange new world of the preteen. Too often, out of that insecurity, girls can get really catty and be downright mean. I’d lived it, and now my precious little girl was living it.

images (1)I listened to Arabelle pour out her worries and struggles with a twinge in my heart. I wanted to protect her from these years, but I knew I couldn’t. At best I could help her get through them, and part of that would be helping my very sensitive and insecure daughter to not take things too personally, and to help her believe in herself.

With that in mind, when she began her litany of how she didn’t measure up, I countered with all of the wonderful and unique things about her. And I had a big list that I was determined would help her see her worth.

For every positive I laid out, she counteracted with its negative.

Finally in exasperation she sighed, “I wish I was like you! You’re perfect!.”

“Wait a minute, what?” I turned so I could look into her eyes.

“Well you are!” she answered back to my look of shock, and she began a long list of all my attributes.

Idownload (1) was a bit stunned. I sat up and blinked stupidly at her for a while and then finally said, “But you know how imperfect I am better than just about anybody! You live with me! You see the times that I’m impatient or when I lose my temper. When I’m not as thoughtful or as kind as I should be!”

“But mom, you always have a reason for those things.”

“But that doesn’t make them right! It’s still wrong that I do them!”

She shrugged. “I still want to be just like you. You’re my hero.”

Wow. I’m her hero.

I didn’t ask to be her hero. I don’t think I want to be her hero. But I guess it doesn’t really matter if I asked for it or if I wanted it–it’s what she’s made me–a hero, albeit a somewhat unwilling one.

Rather than feeling flattered by that pronouncement, I felt humbled and a little scared.

My mind flashed back to a conversation we had had earlier that day where I had done something that had so clearly echoed my own mother. “Ugh! Grandma just pulled a body snatch on me! Clearly that wasn’t a Mommy thing to do! How does Grandma do that?!”

Arabelle had laughed and said that being like Grandma wasn’t so bad.

I jokingly teased her that she needed to beware, because when she became my age, she would find herself echoing what I do and say in ways that she never thought she would, even in the ways she had vowed to never be like me. “It happens to us all,” I teased her. “I’ll do something and all of a sudden I’ll see a flash of my father doing the exact same thing in the exact same way…it’s kind of creepy!”

She was going to become just like me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It hit me with a new clarity.

Contest-flier_1I’m her hero. She is watching me. She wants to be like me.

What I do and what I say, how I act and how I fail to act, all of these she sees, and many of these she herself will become. And in time her children, and her children’s children. Passed on from generation to generation…

The responsibility, when you really take the time to wrap your mind around it, is staggering.

All parents, at least all the good ones, realize that they are setting an example for their children. We understand that they are learning based on what we model, but I don’t think we fully understand what it means.

When we become parents, we really are like the potter with a lump of clay, but what we sometimes don’t think about is that, even when we are not actively molding that clay, we are still molding it.

In fact, most of the molding of that clay happens, not from our active working with the clay (active parenting), but rather from the inactive moments. The moments observed by those big, innocent eyes. Not only our observed actions, but our observed inaction. When we fail to act. When we fail to fight for something we believe in. When we let lethargy seep in and cause us to accept less than the best from life and the people around us. When we allow someone to ignore us, disrespect us, or knock us down, and we don’t defend ourselves. When we’re confronted with the obstacles in life and we don’t fight back, but instead give in.

All of these too are children see, and they will follow in our footsteps.

I find myself thinking of all the ways that I don’t want my daughter to be like me. Those are the very things that I need to work on. Yes, there are lots of ways I would be happy to have her follow in my steps I do many things well, but that doesn’t discount the ways that I want her to be better than me, more than I am.

4029757ce58eb958d4137859df44694fAnd I am realizing in a way I never have before, that the best way to do that, is to be more than I am. I need to become what I hope she will one do become, so that she has an example walking before her, one that I feel like is totally comfortable with her following–and I’m not there yet.

I know I can’t be perfect. I know I will fail and I will fall, and no matter how hard I try, those failures may hurt my daughter and she will carry some of that into her future. But I need to know that I did my best, that I became the best I could be so that she can be the best that she can be.

I didn’t ask to be a hero. I don’t deserve to be a hero.

I’d better do my best to become one though. There is a little girl who is watching me to see what heroes do, and one day she will echo the choices I made.

That’s an awful lot to live up to!

Mama to a Big Boy–a lesson in letting go

“Deez nuts!”

“Yo’ Mama…”

“Doritos and Mountain Dew!”

If that made sense to you (or if you at least recognized it–I don’t think I really understand it myself!), if you groaned and rolled your eyes, you just might be the parent of a tween boy.
Oh, and let’s not forget out about Pewdiepie, Sundee and Pizza Hut (and no, not the restaurant)… Household names, right?

Tween boys, I am finding, are a unique breed. Their testosterone goes into over drive, their sex drive rears its immature and somewhat awkward head, and all sense seems to go out the window.

It is an age of laughter (often derived from very inappropriate jokes), posturing if you’re lucky, and all out fist fights if you’re not, first crushes, first broken hearts–and the first time mom is shut out.

And I don’t like it.

As any mom of boys knows, there is a special bond between a mother and her son. Gavin was my biggest snuggler (and if you know Arabelle, that is really saying something!). I think I can say with confidence that I am his favorite person in the world. And I like it that way.

tween boyHe might get mad at me, but within an hour he’s coming up to snuggle with me on the bed or sit on my lap (and that, these days, is quite the fete with his long, solid body that seems to weigh at least a ton! My legs, and the arm he’s leaning on, go numb, but I’m not about to tell him he’s too big. Soon enough he’s going to be done with snuggles and cuddles on my lap as it is. I’m not ready to let that go until I have to–numb legs and all!).

Almost every night he asks me to take a walk with him. And on those walks, he used to tell me everything: his frustrations, his hurts, his first crushes–but not anymore. Mom is being pushed out of his private world, and I feel a pang in the vicinity of my heart. My boy is taking some of his first steps, a whole new group of firsts, and this time mommy has to watch from the sidelines. The first steps of true independence, of creating an identity away from mom and dad are starting now, and he won’t talk to me about it.

I know he had a girlfriend for the first time. I know she broke up with him five days later. And I know she hurt his heart. But he won’t tell me why or how he feels or how he’s really doing.

video-game-2_2362669bHe’ll talk about the latest Sundy video, or of Call of Duty and Mine Craft, endlessly, but ask him about matters of the heart, about matters that, well, matter–and I hit a wall of silence.

I know he likes a new girl. I don’t know her name. I don’t know if she likes him. I don’t even know if I know her.

I know his latest pranks, the latest scuffles and which teacher is the newest to find her way to his crap list. These are the things he tells me.

But the things that matter…? These he is keeping close to his chest. Who he shares them with, I don’t know–but I know it’s no longer me.

This is a weird thing. An uncomfortable thing.

No. No, that’s not it.

Let’s call it what it really is–it sucks. It is completely sucky, and it hurts.

It signifies the beginning for him–the first transitions into becoming his own man, independent and separate from our little family.  I want this for him; I want him apron stringsto fly…

These are his first steps as much as those first wobbly baby steps so many years ago. And I want to be there cheering him on like I did then, feeling the mixture of pride and the bittersweet pang of crossing a threshold.

But I don’t want to let him go!

But I have to…

It is a tug of war between what I want to do, and what I need to do.

This is a bitter sweet season of letting go. Whereas, my girls and I seem to grow closer as they near adolescence, my son is growing away. And I know, boys, when they grow away, they really do grow away from their mums.

I miss him already, and he’s not even gone…I’m proud of who he will become, but…I don’t want to say goodbye to the little boy that was.

 

When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

What do you do with your cookie, and what does that say about who you are?

hand-holding-cookie-bite-taken-outWe’ve all had that moment when we’re about to take a bite of the last chocolate chip cookie, and we’re anticipating the burst of flavor that will come with it when our sister/brother/friend/son/daughter/etc. comes on the scene and says, “Oh! A chocolate chip cookie! I want one! Where are there?!”

What we do in that next moment is a window into who we are, a window into how we live our lives, and it is a window into our heart.

Do we, scarf down the cookie quickly, and only then admit it’s the last one?

mouthfulDo we shrug and say “last one” and then take a huge bite from the cookie?

Do we break the cookie in half and cheerfully offer the other half?

Do we offer the other half, but feel a tug of reluctance, begrudging the loss of half of the cookie?

Or do we cheerfully hand the last cookie to the person we love because we’d rather make them happy than have the cookies ourselves?

It’s such a simple thing, a simple test, and we have moments like these every day of our lives. How we respond in these moments defines who we are on a basic level.

I’ve watched this played out among my children. Gavin would scarf the cookie down without a thought, fearful that I would tell him he had to share. Arabelle would hand you the cookie. Lily would struggle somewhere in between.

Every year for Halloween (or almost every year–we made an exception last year) the kids pick a theme and we all dress up, even mom and dad, according to that theme. This year the kids chose Wizard of Oz, or rather the girls did, and Gavin graciously deferred to them this time. We spent weeks discussing who would be which character from the very first days of October.

wizardofoz_085pyxurzLily wanted to be Glinda, the Good Witch, so Arabelle agreed to be Dorothy. I went online and found a Glinda costume, purchased it, and two days later Lily excitedly tried it on. She postured through the house, admired herself in the mirror–she was thrilled.

But then, a couple of days later, she changed her mind. She didn’t want to be Glinda anymore; she wanted to be Dorothy. Arabelle graciously said she would be Glinda (luckily the costume also fit her) so that Lily could have what she wanted. No harm, no foul. Great.

But then a couple weekends ago, I promised Lily that we would go to the store to buy her Dorothy costume, and as we were browsing the costumes, we came to a beautiful Wicked Witch of the West costume. Arabelle’s eyes lit up. “Mom, can I be the Wicked Witch instead?”

I was stuck. We already had the Glinda costume (and Lord knows I can’t fit into it!). I had promised Lily the Dorothy costume…

“Well, hon, I guess that’s up to Lily. If she’s willing to be Glinda, you can be the Wicked Witch.” Remember, just a few days before, Lily was thrilled with the idea of being Glinda.

When Arabelle asked Lily if she wouldn’t mind being Glinda as they had originally planned, Lily started balling, “But I want to be Dorothy!”

Arabelle patted Lily on the back and put her arms around her. “It’s okay, Lily. You can be Dorothy.” Great response from Arabelle. I wwas so proud of her, but…

But it wasn’t okay. I watched as Lily, without a thought, accepted her sister’s change of heart. And I watched the disappointment bloom on Arabelle’s face.

I pointed out to Lily that she hadn’t even considered for a moment what it was her sister wanted and whether or not she should let her have what she wanted instead of Lily getting her way.

crying-little-girlShe began crying again, “But I want to be Dorothy!”

“Yes, I understand that. But Arabelle wants to be the Wicked Witch. Why should you get what you want instead of Arabelle getting what she wants?”

“I don’t know.”

“You need to think of what your sister wants too, Lily; you’re being selfish.”

There in the middle of Target she started wailing, “You called me selfish!”

“No, Lily, I said you were being selfish. You have a choice in whether you are selfish or not.”

But the problem was, she didn’t want to choose to not be selfish. Though Arabelle tried to pretend that she was okay with it, she had gotten quiet and was obviously sad. Lily cared enough to ask her what was wrong, but when Arabelle told her, Lily would start crying again, stating, “But I want to be Dorothy.” She didn’t want Arabelle to be sad, but she didn’t want to give up what she wanted to take away that sadness either.

The whole exchange really bothered me, and stuck with me. Later that night, I pulled Arabelle aside to tell her how proud I was of her, that her heart, her love and care of people, was something rare and beautiful. I marveled at how she always put others before herself.

support-groups-empathy-signHer response humbled me. She said, “If I have a choice between someone else crying, or crying myself, I’d rather be the one crying.”

Wow. I felt like that statement shined a light on my own shortcomings, my own failure to live up to the example of my nine year-old daughter.

Would I willingly take on pain and hurt to spare someone his/her pain? I would do it for my family. I would do it for my husband, my children, my nieces and nephews, my brother and sister, but would I do it for anyone? Arabelle would. I’ve seen her do it. And even if I was willing to do it, would I do it with the grace and openness of Arabelle, or would I begrudge the action and feel resentful?

I fear it would be the latter.

And then I thought more of Lily and her reaction. She doesn’t want people to hurt, but she doesn’t really want to give up her wants and needs to take away the hurt of someone else. She feels compassion, but it doesn’t translate to action.

How often are we like that? We see the pain of others, we feel badly, but we don’t reach out to them, we don’t try to ease their pain. We see what ISIS does to children, and we feel awful about it, but not enough to try to find a way to help. We know that there are motherless and fatherless children all over our own country, and we feel so badly, but we don’t want our lives rocked or altered by the needs of a troubled child in our own home.

Compassion without action is nothing but a mask concealing selfishness.

And my little daughter has held a light up to my own selfishness. I am humbled.

What kind of person are you? Do you give the cookie away or do you keep it for yourself?

I fear that I split it in half, but give it away with a twinge of regret or even resentment.

I need to do better. I need to learn the lesson my nine year-old is teaching me.

CAM01287-1Thank you, Arabelle, for your kind and generous spirit. I am so grateful God put you in my life.

 

There is a Parallel Reality in which I Exist as a Hermit

article-1380644-08A5FA8C000005DC-229_468x345It is lucky for me that I have children. If I didn’t have children, I fear I would turn into a hermit. I would be one of those crusty (as in–I forgot to shower for a week), socially awkward (because I have not talked with real live human beings in days), pale skinned (because I would have no reason to go outside what with those nice delivery men willing to bring food to my door) writer types who stares at her screen all day engrossed in a world of her own imaginings.

You have my children to thank that I am a nice smelling, fairly socially adept, non-albino human being. They keep me anchored to the present and to real life.

A_Writer_Typing_Frantically_At_a_Manual_Typewriter_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_110305-168123-861053If not for them I would tumble from one world to another, sometimes my own, sometimes of someone else’s creation: Sookie Stackhouse (excepting the final book which was a disappointment of epic proportions!), to Jon Snow (I was a fan before all you people had even heard of him!) to my own characters to Rachel Morgan (the Hollow series) to Elena Gilbert and the Vampire Diaries (though that obsession has waned over the recent seasons) back to my own novel to…well you get the picture.

This summer, as I have committed to finally finishing this darn book that has been stewing in the back of my brain for the last three years, I have very clearly seen my own pathology. I’ve always known that I have a streak of the obsessive and compulsive in me. As I delve into this world and realize more clearly how my mind works, I realize the proportions of that pathology. My mind doesn’t work in small measures–it’s all about immersion.

I approach writing (and reading or my favorite tv series for that matter) much like a method actor approaches a role. In my pre-children days, I was an actor, and I once was asked by a director how I would explain my approach to acting. I explained it something like this. When I act, I slip into my character’s skin. I see through her eyes, I feel what she would feel, and I think how she would think. In essence, I detach from myself and become someone else.

I write in the same way. I stop being Heather, the overworked Mommy, and, in the case of the novel I am currently focusing on, I become Jen. I think like Jen, I look at the world through Jen’s eyes, I feel what Jen would feel. My best writing comes when I can totally immerse myself in her world–and detach from my own. Like I said, we’re talking hermit–I can’t help but think of Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets.” That could be me.

mom-working-daughter-140310Except for the fact of my children. Yesterday, for example, I was pulled from Jen’s world for a myraid of reasons: because they were hungry, because Arabelle yelled at Lily, because they were desperate for a popsicle, because there was a beetle in Arabelle’s hair–the list is endless. It certainly puts a cramp in my writing progress. I didn’t finish the chapter I was working on; I only made it about halfway through, and instead of hitting the 5,000 word mark for the day, I ended at 3,500.

BUT, as aggravating as it is initially, I am so grateful for those little people who pull me back to my world, my real world, and my real life. Otherwise, I fear I would be so busy reading about someone else’s adventures or creating adventures for my fictitious brain child, that I just might forget that I need to have adventures that are all my own.

With this in mind, instead of diving into my novel in an attempt to hit my goal of 62,000 words by the end of the day (I’m currently sitting at 58,000), I am putting aside the world of Jen and taking my girls to the zoo. Her world can wait. Today, I need to fully engage in my own world. I need to take a shower, talk to some real life people, and feel that hot Texas summer sun bake my bones.

I hate to break it to you, but summer is going the way of the dodo bird…

mean-old-ladyWhen you think of teachers, usually a few memorable ones will pop to your mind, the best of them or the worst of them. For me, the first who always comes to mind is Ms. Putsky, my first grade teacher. She was ancient back then, so my guess is she’s long gone by now, which is a good thing for all first graders everywhere. She was awful. She came from an era of corporal punishment, and though that age had moved on, Ms. Putsky had not. She was known to break rulers over hands, to intimidate and to mock. Political correctness–hell even kindness–was not in her repertoire. I remember her moving my desk to the front of my class, breaking all my pencils, calling me names, and, on one occasion, even throwing away my shoes (they clicked in the hallway when I walked and it annoyed her). I had many wonderful teachers along the way, but sadly, she is always the first to come to mind.

Whether a teacher with a positive influence or negative influence comes first to your mind, the reality is someone does, because a teachers influence us all. There are certain people from certain professions you might go your entire life and have no interactions with, but a teacher, well, none of us can go through life without living day in and day out with them, at least for portions of our lives. Which is one of the biggest reasons I chose to be a teacher, to have influence, to give back, to be a positive influencer, not a negative memory like Ms. Putsky is for me. Most teachers go into the profession for similar reasons (God knows it isn’t for the money!).

teacherWhat people don’t realize about teachers is, though we may love our jobs and love the big or little people we pour ourselves into, there is a large part of us that lives summer to summer. After all, if we’re going to pour ourselves out and into others year after year, we need  the chance to refill, or we too, will turn into a Ms. Putsky in our dotage–that’s what happens when you’ve poured it all out and yet you’re expected to keep pouring from an empty watering can (though, I have to say, in the case of Ms.Putsky, I think she just hated children and derived pleasure out of tormenting us!)

When we first step through the door of our classroom in August, we are already having a few stray thoughts of what we’re going to do next summer (often, the things we somehow didn’t have time for that summer). Throughout the first semester, the thoughts are fleeting, but they’re there. We start making lists. We start noticing all the things that aren’t getting done because of all the piles of grading we have, but those tasks have only been shortly abandoned, and though we might look at the yard work that is needing to be done, the floors that need a deep cleaning, things have only been neglected for a short time, and so they don’t press on our consciousness too terribly much. Besides, we think, with Thanksgiving Break and Christmas Break, surely we can at least catch up on those to-do lists then.

teacherburnoutAnd we do, at least somewhat. The only problem is that this list gets inevitably longer every day that passes, and, if, like me, you have a young family who seems to absorb mommy’s time like little sponges, you can never really get everything done that you had hoped to do, so you start telling yourself spring break, I can catch up on all of this when spring break rolls around.

The only thing is, that by spring break a teacher is starting to burn out. The constant social interaction (especially for the non-extroverts of our profession) is wearing us down. The piles and piles of essays to get through start to feel like a ball and chain around our mental ankle. The school responsibilites and the home responsibilities seem to press in, and by the time spring break hits, well, that to-do list, pressing though it might be, takes second seat to the desperate need for a break. So, instead of crossing things off that list, the list gets longer.

summerThat is when we teachers start thinking and dreaming about summer break in earnest. We start making lists of all the things we will accomplish: the home improvement tasks we will tackle, the deep cleaning we will do, the piles of books we will read, the places we will go, etc.. We begin our countdown and we watch that approaching day in June with at least as much anticipation as the students, and when that day finally comes, we think we will actually get everything we hadn’t had a chance to do during the course of the school year–finally–done.

The only problem is, at least for me, it never seems to happen that way. Here I am, looking up and it’s mid-July, my summer is half over, and my list is still so incredibly long. I blame it on the little people in my life. They seem to add two things to that list for every one I cross off.

mombalancing actI have to admit, I look at my childless teaching friends with a fair amount of envy (yes, Heidi, I have you in mind!). Whereas so much of my time is spent feeding my children (someone should really warn pre-mothers that they will need to prepare three meals a day for those little darlings…that means shopping for said meals, cooking said meals and cleaning up after those said meals…how much of my time disappears in that cloud of smoke?), cleaning the piles of laundry that they seem to go through on a nearly daily basis (how many shirts can my son wear in one day!! And why does he have to change back and forth from clothes into pajama pants throughout the day creating more and more clothing that makes it’s way down my laundry shoot?!), cleaning up after their general mayhem (the debris that somehow ends up scattered throughout my house on a daily basis resembles a small tornado in force, magnitude and destruction), carting them from one summer activity to another (next year I think I am going to keep track of the miles and minutes that I rack up from being the chauffeur…I think it would be quite shocking), and entertaining and spending quality time with those little people (by far the most enjoyable of the time-consuming tasks). There goes the bulk of summer, poof! And I haven’t even touched the things that I want to do or the special projects that have been waiting patiently for me to finally get to them over the course of the long academic year (it makes me tired just thinking about it!).

good-lifeWhereas, my childless teacher friends (Ahem, yes, you again Heidi) get all that time to do all sorts of things: traveling to Houston, traveling to Las Vegas, traveling wherever the whim takes them…going to concerts and shows, fancy restaurants and movies, reading the piles of books that I wish I could read…their time is their own. It has been so long since my time has been my own…

So, yes, here I sit half way through my summer, and my house still has not entirely gone through its deep cleaning. I still have not sorted through and organized my garage, much less my attic. My bathroom is, as yet, unpainted, and the dining room chairs, well, I had almost forgotten about my intention to paint them this summer. The great pile of books I intended to be through by this point sits largely untouched (I’ve gotten through a few, but there are still so many waiting!) and the book that I intended to be done writing by the end of July still has a little less than half way to go, and only two weeks to meet my goal. Sigh…

Back_to_schoolAll of this, and I am starting to see the words “Back to School” pop up in ads and at stores. My children have begun wondering who their teacher will be for this coming year, and I feel the second half of the sands of my summer slipping through the hour glass at an alarming rate.

How much of my to-do list will be pushed off to next summer, and then the next, and then the next, until my little birdies fly the coop and my time is my own again?

And yet that doesn’t make me any happier, for if I was to choose between the two, my time or my birdies, I would choose to keep those little loves close every single time.

To-do lists will always be there. Concerts and vacations will always be there, but they will not be, and how I will miss them when they go!

first-day-of-college-cartoon1So, as much as I hate cleaning (and I really do HATE it!), and as much as I beat myself up for the never-ending to-do list that never diminishes, I am glad for the opportunity to spend this time with my little sponges. Soon enough, they aren’t going to want to spend their precious summer moments hanging out with their mom!

When life is speeding by too quickly, what should you do? Why shop, of course!

Unlike most people who take stock of their year at the end of the calendar year, I tend to take mine at the end of the school year, being that I’m a teacher and all. I’ve found myself spending a lot of time thinking about this year, and I have to admit, my thoughts have been very bitter sweet. It has been a year of firsts, and a year of feeling myself on the brink of a new chapter and new beginnings.

During the school year, I am too busy to really think about things, but in the summer, I am able to give free rein to my reflective nature and I have felt the movement of time like a train headed straight for me, and I feel that most when I look at my nine year old daughter Arabelle.

gavinGavin is older; he turned eleven in May, so maybe he should be the one who makes me feel the movement toward change most, but somehow the changes with him seem more subtle. Yes, he’s up to my chin, and yes, he had his first real crush this year, but other than height, there have been no physical changes. He’s matured (thank God), and I know there’s more coming, but, well, somehow either the changes aren’t big enough, or maybe because I’ve been anticipating them, it hasn’t had the emotional impact that the changes in Arabelle have had on me.

strawberry shortcakeArabelle is nine. Did you catch that? Only nine. She has always been my sweetest child, honestly, the sweetest child I have ever met. She always makes me think of Beth in “Little Women.” I have also called her my Strawberry Shortcake. That was just the kind of kid she has always been. She will give her little sister the last cookie. She will look out for the outcast. When she was about three and I had two cookies, with one significantly bigger than the other, Gavin quickly grabbed the large one, and not only did Belle not make a big deal about getting the smaller cookie, she looked at her cookie and said, “Oh, look at my cookie, the cutie, cutie little cookie.” That’s my Arabelle.

adolescentThis year Arabelle has started rolling her eyes at me…and slamming doors…and shooting me this look that says, “Mom, how can you be so stupid?!” She’s happy one minute, and bursting into tears the next. She ignores me, and outright disobeys (not a lot, but that she’s doing it at all…). My sweet girl is changing.

Not all the change is bad. She’s a lot of fun to hang around with. She always has a book or a notebook with her because her brain is always thinking about things, whether it be God, life, philosophy or her next story idea. She’s funny. And she still is sweet, just more of a grown up sort of sweet.

These things have been going on all year, but I still looked at my daughter and saw a little girl–at least for a while longer–but I heard the clock ticking, almost physically sometimes. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. It’s just a matter of time.

Excited Shopping Woman isolated on white

To deal with the advancement of time and this whirlwind of change, I have done what every mother would do (well, at least that’s what I tell myself), I shop.

Shopping, much to my husband’s dismay, has always been one of my coping mechanisms, and since I love fashion, there’s always so much shopping potential.

Though I love women’s fashion, the 30+ pounds that my children left me (thanks so much kiddos) and my own lack of willpower have kept me from vanquishing (thank you all you cupcake specialty stores and the new Krispy Kreme that is less than 10 minutes away!) the poundage and thus keep me from dabbling too much in that industry. My layers of pudge and my big kahunas often make the trends look quite ridiculous on me. So what is a girl to do?

paper-doll-costumeWhy, but what are children but big dollies that I can play with and dress up! 😉 Problem solved!

I never went through a doll stage or a Barbie stage as a kid. I was more into painting and drawing, reading and writing, so my children have brought out the latent urges that I bypassed in my youth. My husband says I’m making up for lost time. I personally call it therapy. I can’t shop the trends for myself, but I have these two skinny, beautiful daughters who look good in everything (even those full body rompers–they may be two of the only people anywhere to pull those off), so, when I need shopping therapy, it tends to benefit their wardrobes, not my own.

When they were younger, I went through a Gymboree stage (doesn’t everyone?), but as they got older, I shifted to a Gap stage–less cutsie. But then I started to explore boutique brands, and there is just some of the cutest stuff ever out there! I crossed over into dangerous territory!

So, as Arabelle enters the last stage of her childhood (as signified by the necessity to go training bra shopping a few weeks ago! Yikes! Again, remember, she’s nine!!!!!), I have found myself wanting to dress her in as many of my favorite brands as I possibly can before her will and taste (which leans toward Justice) makes her unwilling to wear the things I love. Perish the thought!

CAM00914-1So I have bought more Matilda Jane, Giggle Moon, Mustard Pie, Jelly the Pug,  and, my favorite of favorites, Persnickety, in the last few months than in the nine years proceeding this one. Call me silly, but it is my way of saying goodbye to the child she is before embracing the young woman she is becoming…and it is reminding me to appreciate the last couple of years I have with Lilian before she too begins to leave childhood behind.

I have loved the elementary years with my children. I have loved them little. I will miss all the cuddles. I will miss being their favorite person in the world (and the smartest one too!). They have been wonderful years.

But, when I look at Arabelle, I see the beautiful, smart, thoughtful young lady she is becoming, and I am just so belleproud.

I look at Gavin and I see this handsome young man, and I just think wow! This young man is mine, and I am so proud of who he is becoming.

And I know, that in saying goodbye to the childhood years, I am saying hello, to many new firsts. New beginnings. A whole new adventure all its own.

And I always have loved an adventure!

Deferred today, but not Dead

I have found myself contemplating the nature of dreams.

The last unit of this school year was titled “Dream Deferred.” I think it might be my favorite unit of my teaching career. So often, in this technology filled world, we do not give our children (or ourselves) the opportunity to reflect, and that is what this unit was really about.

What are our dreams? Are deferred dreams always negative? Are dreams worth pursuing at any cost? How do dreams, and the pursuit of dreams, change as a result of our society and culture, religion, SES, etc.?

I think our answers to these questions change a lot over time.

dreams4American culture is a highly individualistic, even narcissistic. We ask our children what they want to be when they grow up. We talk to them about their dreams and aspirations, as if it is entirely up to them. We tell them they can do anything if they work for it hard enough (which simply isn’t always true). We send them out into the world, believing that they can do it all–without having realistic conversations with them about what it all means. It’s a dream it–achieve it mentality. It sounds great, but tends to lead to disillusionment when the realities of life–family, responsibility, they need to pay rent–start pushing their way in.

STEM-LogoMy Asian students approach dreams very differently. Their culture is not one that promotes individualism, but rather community. Their aspirations are not a result of personal passions, so much as the dictates of their family and cultural expectations. Very often, their pursuit is not of a “dream,” but rather for status and wealth, which bring honor and prestige to their families. Many of them struggle as, the society they find themselves in and which naturally affects them  (American), comes into conflict with their heritage.

As with so much of life, things on either extreme lead to dissatisfaction. Life tends to be lived in the middle ground, but when our expectations don’t match up with that…someone, or lots of someones, are unhappy.

I, being a product of my culture, started my path with much of the mentality of the typical American perspective. My aspirations were big, larger than life, and I do think that I probably could have attained at least some of them by now–but at what cost?

Years ago, I remember one of my coaches telling me that I could be a truly amazing basketball player if I really worked at it. I was a good basketball player all ready, but not great. If I were to work year round, every day, if I were to dedicate myself to it, I had a chance of being something special.

I was in high school at the time. I remember thinking about what he said, weighing it, and deciding that I didn’t want it that badly. To be truly excellent at basketball meant that I would have to give up theater and music. I would have to give up cheerleading. I would have no time to practice the piano. Would I ever have time to read a book again?

I suppose my coach may have been right, but just because I could have that, didn’t mean that I should.

kiddosIn the same way, the young me, hadn’t thought through the affects that meeting and marrying my husband, and our subsequent children, would have on the attainment of my dreams. Had I never met Aaron, I think I would have been closer to fulfilling, or possibly even have fulfilled, many of my dreams by now…but at what cost?

Are my dreams so huge that I would throw love and family to the curbside to attain them? If I had it to do over, would I change the path I took?

Absolutely not. My family, despite the personal sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis, are worth the deferment of my dreams. I do not exist in a vacuum, nor would I want to.

American society, does its children a disservice when they approach the concept of dreams. We hold the dream up, as if it were worth any cost, without bringing the conversation of family, love, and responsibility into the conversation. This leads to disillusioned young parents as they struggle to make their concept of a dream match the reality that they find themselves in.

This isn’t to say that I believe that the Asian families have hit the mark. I think that they too, have fallen short of what leads us to happiness.

dreams 5If we live life solely for the accumulation of status and wealth, solely for responsibility, we will find that our lives are spent on a hamster wheel, every day the same with no sense of fulfillment. Humans are passionate creatures. We need time to allow the sides of us that feel, that create, to have their time too. To be a lover of art, to create art, does not mean that I must be an artist as a profession. Just because I am a businessman by day, does not mean that I can’t indulge in my need to create art. Our dreams do not need to be synonymous with our professions.

And deferred dreams are not dead dreams. Just because I am a teacher today, does not mean that I can’t be a writer tomorrow.

And as with so much of life, isn’t it the waiting, the dreaming, the anticipation of the dream happening, that makes the attainment of it that much sweeter? Like a child waiting for the gift that he knows is under the Christmas tree…if it were easy to attain, I wouldn’t value it quite so much.

 

Confessions of a glassy eyed, frazzled, (sometimes crappy) Mother

I live in a state of overwhelmedness.

I am not alone. Though I am a newly evolved creature, only evolved in our modern times, there are many of us.

You see us everywhere, though you don’t know it.

Racing from our homes early in the mornings (earlier than many of you even have to be up)…

Dropping our children at day care (preschool, elementary school, etc….insert any of a number of locations, or several different ones as the case may be)…

Rushing to soccer practice (ballet, baseball, gymnastics, football…pick your poison, or more likely poisons)…

Racing around the aisles of the local grocery store as if we were at the roller derby (glancing at our watch and then making a crazed beeline for the checkout while biting back a naughty word we never would have said in public a decade ago)…

We’re everywhere, (doing an endless list of duties) though you don’t recognize us.

We look like everyone else (well except for the slightly glazed look to our eyes that sets us apart if you  pay attention).

Perhaps there is a bit of a frantic, harried air to us, if you know what you’re looking for (Who am I kidding? We probably look frantic or completely dazed depending when our last cup of Starbucks was consumed–easily identifiable, well at least as half cocked!) .

Who are we?

We are working mothers–a new breed of mother. An exhausted, overwhelmed, and often discouraged group of women.

Synonym for working mother?

insainityInsane.

in·sane
inˈsān/
adjective
1. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill.
     synonyms: mentally ill, mentally disordered, of unsound mind, certifiable
2. characterized or caused by madness
     synonyms: maniacal, psychotic, crazed, hysterical
3. in a state of extreme annoyance or distraction
     synonyms: mad, crazy
That sounds pretty much accurate. Insanity–caused not by the chemistry of the brain, but rather the chemistry of the circumstance, or more accurately, “Life-stance.”
working momCircumstances imply that it can be changed or altered, but, unless I somehow miraculously end up single without children in the morning, I don’t see that a change of “circumstance” would really alter the state of existence which keeps me certifiably insane (or at least I feel like I could be) half the time.
I am, by varying degrees, alternately crazed, hysterical, mentally disordered, affected by moments of extreme annoyance and/or distraction–all on a daily basis.
To be a working mother means that I am being pulled in a million different directions, by a varying number of sources, at any one given moment, in other words, simultaneously.
Mad_HatterI am wearing so many different hats, that you might call me the “Mad Hatter.” (wink, wink, so very punny!)

What this means in reality is that I am tired all. of. the. time.

I never feel like I am giving enough to anyone (and that is usually, sadly, true), and so most days I feel like I suck.

I suck at everything.

I suck as a mother. I suck as a wife. I suck as a person. I suck as a contributing member of society.

I have an invisible F plastered to my forehead. F for failure. F for fool–for I am a fool to think I can do so much and somehow do it all well.

failureThere are simply too many irons in the fire, and that means that something is going to burn–or so often, lots of somethings.

juggling_momWhen you’re juggling so many balls, they begin hitting the floor, and then, I, the juggler, feel like I suck.

It’s not that there are more balls in the air than anyone could possibly handle.

The problem is me, the juggler. The finger does not get pointed at the ball, it is pointed at me. When that ball hits the ground, I hold the blame. Me. No one else.

I’m not the mother I want to be, the wife I want to be, the teacher I want to be–and I am certainly not the “me” that I want to be.

I can’t be, and I know that in my head, but the heart… well that is something else entirely.

And as if living under that perpetual shadow of guilt isn’t enough, then there are emails like this one from my 6 year old’s teacher:

Dear Heather and Aaron,

Lily has left her backpack in the car today.  It seems that she has a habit of misplacing things.  Please help her to become better organized and  ready to go.

Thanks,

Ms. ———-

It’s the end of May and my 6 year-old forgot her backpack for the second time this year, and I get a “you’re a crappy Mommy” note from her teacher.

parents-to-blameAnd this isn’t the first time.

I get one when I don’t have the opportunity to read with Lily because of one of my son’s late night baseball games.

I get one because I forgot to sign her folder on a night we really did read.

I get one because Lily, wanting to read on her own, misplaced her “book baggie book,” and, for a couple of days went to school without it because things were too busy at home to search the house from top to bottom and find said book that somehow ended up at the bottom of the toy bin.

I get one to encourage me to come have lunch with my daughter, because the stay-at-home Mommies do that and the children of us sucky working mothers are feeling left out.

I get one that encourages me to volunteer in the classroom like the stay-at-home mommies do, after all, it’s not fair that only some mommies do it all.

I seem to get one for ever real and imagined shortcoming this teacher believes I have.

Every time I get one of these notes, I feel the judgment being passed on my parenting. I feel the pointed finger and the scowling face. I feel the recriminations.

Working-Mom-Ecard-e1353971518875But the thing is, I already feel guilty most of the time. I don’t need her help in that. I feel guilty for the things I miss, the things that I am too busy–or too tired–to do, or to do as well as I wish I could–when my kids tell me about a last minute project at 7:00 at night and we have to scrounge around the house to try to make something work, when my daughter is a living painting and I can’t get off of work to see her, when my son has his “graduating from 5th grade Awards Breakfast” in the middle of my fourth period final and, instead of going, I have to settle for pictures.

I don’t need a disparaging note to make me feel like a crap mother–too often I already feel that way.

I am not alone in this. I think all working mother’s exist in this state, though to varying degrees I’m sure. It doesn’t matter that we are doing what is necessary to keep our families afloat.

working mom 2It doesn’t matter that we struggled with low level depression through the “stay at home” years, and this is a necessary component to our emotional well being.

It doesn’t matter that by working, I’m able to provide my children with the big house with the pool. Or that I’m able to pay for football and gymnastics and camps and lessons and all the things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

When my children turn sad eyes to me because I can’t go to their presentation, all the reasons for doing what I do, don’t seem enough. When a teacher (who has never had children herself by the way), points out my failings, all the benefits in the world fall short.

All I can do is do the best I can, and pray that it is enough. That my best will be good enough. That the good I am able to do, imperfect though it is, will outweigh the dropped balls and the metaphorical “scorched dinners.”

I may not be able to be the room Mommy, but no one loves their children more than I do.

I might see my husband like a ship passing in the night (much less having an actual date with the man who started me on this whole path to insanity!), but he knows (I think) that everything I do is because I love him and our children.

And it might take me a decade to write my book (hopefully not–I’m shooting for July), but it will get done.

At the end of the day, all I can do is the best I can do–and hopefully love makes up the difference.