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!

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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!