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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

“You.”

20 Nov

This afternoon, as my middle child was having her violin lesson, my youngest and I hung out in the backyard with the dog, enjoying the weather that has finally begun to succumb to the truth that it is now Fall. She was playing on our playset, the dog was laying on his back chewing a huge stick, and I was seated on the patio engrossed in the final chapters of a novel. I just wanted to sit and read, enjoy the cool breeze and dying light. Escape. But my daughter, as always, had other plans. She wanted to talk, tell stories, engage me in childish inanity that I find difficult to properly process when I am not feeling my sharpest. And I am not, definitely not, feeling my sharpest these days.

Call it a midlife crisis – though I hope to live past the age of 84. Call it depression, or regret, or just a general malaise. I have always been one to do a lot of thinking, as my brain is this ever-churning machine, that howls when I wish for quiet. But these days, what I mostly do is doubt. How did I come to this life? Not just this particular point in life, but *this* life? I realize that this path has been cut mostly by my own decisions, some of them good, some of them bad. Mostly they were mine, but not all. Sometimes people make decisions for you by default, their actions taking away the options you wished or meant to pursue. You can’t control that. But sometimes even my own decisions feel foreign to me. And I wonder who the hell this is living my life. This isn’t who I meant to be. Who I wanted to be. Things are not turning out as I planned. And I am lost. So I doubt. What was the point of all that education when you don’t apply it? What is the point of loving people who don’t love you back? What is the point of exercising when you’d rather eat? What is the point of cleaning the house when no one except you ever sees it? What is the point of being kind to people who don’t appreciate your efforts? What is the point of taking care of everyone else when no one takes care of you?

How did I get here? Can I escape? And where would I rather be?

Back to the backyard…

She is stinking’ cute, this baby of mine. So sweet. And I realize this is fleeting, her desire to know my every thought, to even have my input. So, as much as I wish to disengage, to disappear in this moment, I force myself to close my book, and attempt to open my mind to her. To not just catch hold of this ephemeral moment, but honor it with my mental presence. She is skipping along the paving stones at the end of the patio, a few feet away from where I’m sitting. I’m a bit ashamed to say that I don’t even recall what it was that she was saying that caused me to present this query, but it was some fanciful story, twisting and turning, into an imagined future. I found myself asking her, “And what do you want to be?” I don’t know what I was expecting her to say, but it wasn’t this. She hesitated for only the briefest second, her hand coming up to her chin in a thinker’s pose, before turning to look me right in the eye, and respond, “You.”

I had to grab her quickly, and pull her into an embrace, bury my head against her hair, so she didn’t see the tears that instantaneously flooded my eyes. Because this wild, magical creature, this innocent child who still truly believes in Santa Claus, this baby so sweet her nickname is “Smoochie”, thinks I’m special. And it broke me to realize that. She doesn’t see me as I see myself. She doesn’t know my regrets, my disappointments, my fear, my sadness. She doesn’t know my loneliness. She sees me as strong, and capable. As kind and loving and thoughtful. She appreciates me. Flawed, broken, doubt-filled me. She knows my love, my protection. She knows my silliness. And she loves what she sees so much she wants to be me. Hell, most days I don’t even want to be me. But she doesn’t wonder why her mother who has a law degree is staying home, and working part-time as a substitute teacher, she just wants to be a substitute teacher when she grows up. She doesn’t know that I’m always tired because I hardly ever sleep well, she just knows that she is safe in her bed at night, and that her lunch box gets packed, her permission slips get signed, and her karate uniform is always clean. She doesn’t know that I worry about money, because I want her to have everything she wants, as well as needs, she just knows that her adventure-loving mom will take her to Maine in the summer, and there will be plenty of food to eat and appropriate clothes to wear.

She doesn’t need to see me any differently. But I do. I need to try more often to see myself from her point of view. Because to her I am enough. Because for all my doubts, for all my mistakes, for the missteps, the bad decisions, the moments and people that have turned into regrets, there are three things I did perfectly and wonderfully right. And while I might not have turned out to be the person I wanted to be, they still might. And they need a mother with passion, who fights for them, and teaches them the fine art of sarcasm. One who throws them My Little Pony birthday parties, and who takes away their electronics when they make bad decisions. They need a mother who reads, to them and around them. One who makes mistakes, and shows them how hard, but also how necessary it is, to genuinely apologize. They need a mother who shares their interests, and celebrates their triumphs, but doesn’t let them believe they are the center of the universe.

They need me. Flawed, broken, doubt-filled me.

And in *this* life, I have three amazing children, who look to me for everything. And it took the baby of the group to remind me that for all the myriad things I get wrong, I sometimes get this part exactly right. And in that moment, I found that I really do want to be me.

 

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Unemployed

18 Sep

Approximately a month ago my sense of self got on a bus, and without so much as even a single glance over her shoulder, rode away from me. She was wearing a hand-me-down kindergarten t-shirt (courtesy of her older sister) and sparkly purple Tom’s on her feet (courtesy of her father who is far more style conscious than me). She was happy, proud, and confident. And when those school bus doors opened, she untethered gracefully, and floated away. No tears, no hesitation, no complications. And then she was gone. For 7 blessed hours. Gone. And I was alone. For 7 blessed hours. No tears, no hesitation, no complications. In fact, I was rather pleased…

 

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But that was a month ago, and since then my feelings have become a bit complicated. Something for which I was wholly unprepared. For the past 9 years I have been a stay-at-home mom. A ridiculous appellation since I am almost never at home. Especially for the past two years when that littlest one, the one who didn’t even say goodbye, much less cling fearfully to my leg, as she trotted off to kindergarten last month, was in preschool approximately 25 miles away from our home. For nine years I have had a full-time job that required being on call 24 hours, including hands-on duties for all the waking ones. And while the job hasn’t ended, the parameters have changed significantly. Now, all three of my children are in school together. I have a 3rd grader, a 2nd grader, and a kindergartener. And I am super blessed that they all attend the same K-8 school, therefore riding the same school bus. I was overjoyed to watch that school bus pull away for many reasons. Full days with no kids? Now I can go grocery-shopping alone! (It’s intoxicating to take time to consider choices in the dairy aisle, or better yet, the beer aisle.) Now I can nap in the middle of the day! Now I can spend hours reading! Now I can go to a matinee movie! Now I can watch hours of inappropriate-for-children television in the middle of the day! (Whoever it was that recommended Sherlock is my new best friend.) Now I can deep clean my house! (Well, that one hasn’t happened yet, but it could.) Now I can spend as much or as little time at the gym as I want! (Because I’m not just killing time between preschool drop-off and pick-up.) Now I can do whatever the heck I want!! Seemed an intoxicating prospect. And it was. For approximately a day, or maybe two. Until the guilt and doubt began to filter in past my defenses. Shouldn’t I be doing something? Volunteering? Cooking a weeks worth of meals in one go? Writing the next great American novel? Working part-time at Target? Shouldn’t I be doing something? I tried to stave it off, reasoning with the encroaching guilt and ennui by saying, “Hey! I spent 9 years in the trenches, I deserve a little leave time. I deserve to lay on my couch eating bon-bons if I so desire.” Which I don’t, but isn’t that what women of leisure in novels do? And from time to time it works. I hold the guilt at bay. I enjoy back-to-back episodes of tv shows I missed on Amazon Instant Video. I catch a matinee movie. I enjoy a leisurely lunch with a friend. Though always with my phone turned on, ringer volume up, because like I said, the job isn’t over, and I’m still on call 24/7. But sometimes, it gets the better of me. The guilt. The doubt. The confusion. The hollowness that used to be a very full sense of self.

Anyone who knows me, and I dare say anyone who reads this blog, could probably tell that I am *not* one of those moms who lives exclusively for and through her children. I love them, yes. I would lay down in front of a train for them, yes. We have amazing adventures together, yes. They are the best thing I’ve ever done, and will ever do, yes. But I’ve never been the kind of mom who derives her self-worth from her children. I don’t helicopter. I frequently tell them to leave me alone. And occasionally I even secretly rejoice, or internally whisper “I told you so”, when they fail at something because they didn’t listen to me, and the hardest lessons learned are sometimes the best. And that’s why this malaise that has settled so heavily over me in the past month is so damn confusing. I am ecstatic that they are all in school! I have a freedom that is almost a decade in the making! And yet… and yet. I’ve heard it said that after a long incarceration former prisoners have difficulty integrating into society. And while I am not having thoughts a la Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption, I do kind of understand the shock of not knowing your role. I feel like I’ve gone off script here, and my day time hours are now one long ad lib, a kind of improv in which I am seeking suggestions from the audience. I still do not derive my self-worth from my children, but it’s amazing to me how much of my sense of self I was deriving from my role as their mother. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be now. At least not from the hours of 8am-3pm.

The truth is, I need a job. Or, rather, to be more accurate, I need income. Not like I need a job to give me something to do to fill my hours, and exercise my once fully-functioning and decently impressive brain (though I suppose I kind of do, and would probably really, really enjoy it). I mean I need someone to pay me. I need money coming in, not just pouring out. But I don’t want a job; I want a unicorn. An employment opportunity that pays decently, uses at least a reasonable percentage of my brain power, and gives me the flexibility to chaperone my kids’ field trips, stay home with sick ones when necessary, or pick up at a moment’s notice whichever one of my puke-prone kids landed themselves in the nurses’s office this time. And from time to time I want to watch Sherlock, damn it! I want to read a whole book in a day! But that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Again the guilt comes crashing down, because there are plenty of full-time working parents out there, parents I respect greatly, and they make it work. They take their own vacation time or sick days, they shuffle logistics, they make it happen. It just hasn’t been my reality. I’ve been able to drop everything, and tend to my children without having to concern myself with others’ schedules or expectations of me. And I’ve loved that job. But the pay stinks; sadly, love and appreciation doesn’t pay the mortgage. And while I suppose I could activate the currently inactive Florida Bar membership (of the legal, not drinking variety), I can’t afford to grind 50+ hours a week for pay that would barely cover the supplemental childcare costs. Nor do I want to. I want to be there for my kids. I need to earn some money. I want to enjoy a little time off. And in this stew of conflicting needs and desires I’m having difficulty integrating into society.

Who am I now? I’m still me. The same person I was the day before my youngest child joined her older brother and sister on the school bus. Neurotic, emotional, funny, passionate me. But to be honest, now I feel lazy. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I revel in that. Laziness can be an art form. But sometimes it disgusts me. And I’m torn. I need a job. I don’t want a job. I want a job. I don’t know how to get a job. I want to occasionally volunteer at my kids’ school. I want to occasionally chaperone field trips. But let’s get back to that part about me needing income. Sigh. Who am I now? I guess I’m unemployed. I’m an unemployed stay-at-home mom.

And the irony of expressing these feelings today? I’m writing this while I’m sitting in the waiting room of an orthodontist’s office while my oldest child gets braces. During a 2 hour appointment. Good thing I’m still unemployed.

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Hug them, kiss them, lie to their faces

15 Apr

 

Parenting is often steeped in hypocrisy. This afternoon was no exception. I was eyeball deep in the “do as I say, not as I do” ideal; banning my children from playing with/watching/interacting with any electronics as I sat at my desk with my twitter feed open on my smart phone and a live blog open on my ipad, while I restlessly flipped between news outlets on my laptop. Just trying to gain footing, reach some kind of understanding of what was happening in Boston. Walking back from the bus stop this afternoon, my children & their friends scampered ahead, and I used that few minutes of solitude (and aforementioned smart phone) to send a goofy, playful e-mail to one of my friends regarding the possibility of catching a minor league baseball game together this weekend. When my friend Katie came out of her house and saw me messing around with my phone she asked if I had read the news. Feeling every ounce of silliness drain from my body as I saw her face, she told me the basic outline of the initial reports out of Boston. Two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I heard her words, understood the gravity of the situation, was grateful to hear that her friend had cleared the finish line 10 minutes before the explosion and was okay. But I didn’t really hear her. I didn’t really understand.

So I got home, fired up all the electronics available to me, and I watched it unfold. Horrific images of senseless, blood-soaked destruction filled my screens. Juxtaposed against stories of those who helped, the amazing images of those racing into the smoke, toward the wreckage and screams. I sat there becoming more numb by the moment, every mouse click sucking away a tiny piece of my soul. Because, what? What? WHY? I could feel tears threatening as my thoughts swirled. The impact of these bombs reaching far beyond those grievously injured or killed in the blast zone. The runners who had trained so hard to fulfill a dream that would never cross the finish line. Or worse, the runners still on the course being redirected, told they couldn’t finish, not yet knowing that their loved ones, the ones who had supported them through all their training, the ones who were waiting in the jubilant atmosphere of the finish line to cheer and congratulate them, had been ripped apart on a city sidewalk. The chaos, the confusion, the fear. Clearly on a much smaller scale, but I could feel that same feeling, the one I got on the morning of 9/11/01, rising in my chest. Constricting my throat, my heart. My brain slowly numbing. The detachment. The impotence. I think that’s the worst feeling. That there was absolutely nothing I could do to help. I remember that feeling clearly as I watched Manhattan crumble those many years ago. There was nothing I could do. Mourning seemed insufficient. Fear seemed irrelevant. This afternoon that feeling crept back into my chest. Occupying the unhealed, ragged space created by the school massacre in Newtown. And as I sat there with all my social media open and firing, I thought what a blessing this wasn’t available on 9/11. Because social media is a powerful tool. I think it really showed it’s mettle today – there were many beneficial aspects of having mass communication available to the masses. But the imagery, the instant footage, it was almost too much. And while I started to drown in this tragedy, I could hear my children and their friends playing in the next room. The five of them were deep in some collective make-believe game. Lego creations, action figures, and their own play-acting being put to the test. It was so incredibly sweet and innocent, the sounds floating out from the family room, while the images on my screen were gruesome and terrifying. And I struggled to hold in my tears. Because I didn’t want the kids to know what was going on until I had something concrete to tell them. I didn’t want to scare them with my reaction, my own shock, disbelief, and grief. So I tamped it down. I tamped down my heart-wrenching sorrow for the victims and their families. I tamped down my rage and disgust for the type of cowardly man that would wreak such havoc upon innocents. I swallowed my emotions and felt the numb detachment wash over me. Because I am lucky. This tragedy was not personal to me. I did not know anyone injured. The only person I knew running the race had safely crossed the finish line and moved well clear of the area of destruction before it happened. Yes, I am lucky.

After the friends went home, and I had some time to process and make some sense of the varying news reports I called my children together. I very simply and succinctly told them that something bad had happened in Boston today. That two bombs had exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and many people, though none we knew personally, were very seriously hurt, some killed. And then I lied to their faces. Because I told them that they were safe. (Excuse me a moment while a take a break to sob my ever-loving guts out. Now that they’re in bed asleep I can do that.) I told them they were safe, and that was a lie. How can I possibly promise them that they are safe? And their sweet, concerned faces looked at me so expectantly, so trusting, so sure of me. And I think that’s what is making me sob right now. They believe me. And that’s good. I want them to believe this lie. But it cuts me to my very core that I’m not sure I believe me. How could I? Especially when I hear that one of the two confirmed dead is an 8 year old child? Some mother or father was probably still out on the course as their child was being blown apart. How do you recover from that? And then I read that the families of the victim of the Newtown massacre were seated in a VIP section near the finish, and I think, how do you recover from that? How do we, collectively, recover from this? I lied to my children tonight. I can’t guarantee they will be safe. Anywhere. And, pardon my French, but that scares the shit out of me. They trusted me when I told them that they were safe. Safe with me. Safe at school. But I had to lie to them. It’s something else that comes with the territory of parenting. Because despite the fact I can’t be sure, I will do everything in my power to keep them safe. And that will have to be enough. Because it’s all I have. I will lie to them. To the very end, if necessary. Because I can’t guarantee their safety, but I can foster their childhood. I can keep them from these terrible images. And I can continue to discipline them for lying about picking up their toys. I can read them bedtime stories with my gangly 8 year old gathered into my lap. I can let them feel safe in the vast expanse, and the boundaries, of their childhood, of my love. Because I can’t keep them safe. Clearly, I cannot. And while the horrific truth, the impotence implied by that settles over me, I more fully understand what I can do. I can hug them. I can kiss them. I can lie to their faces.

 

 

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim