Browsing Tag

Parenting

Kids

Little JoJo in the jungle: a tale of survival

December 8, 2017

My oldest daughter – my JoJo – is the second coming of both my face and my fits. And she is struggling to find her place among the elementary elite.

It started when … well it started getting really bad with the arrival of a solution to an 8-year-old dilemma, the Nipit. The Nipit is a genius product my mom discovered through the power of Amazon that’s worn on the elbow and prevents a child from bending their arm enough to get their respective digits to their mouth to suck. While it lacks in discretion – it’s bright, primary colors with loud velcro straps – holy heck it works. I’ve seen my girl with her fingers in her mouth once in the last three months. For a girl who was getting her suck on in the womb, that is nothing short of miraculous.

But, as is the case with most red and blue arm braces, it didn’t take long for the kids at school to take note. It’s different, which means she’s different, which means she’s “weird”, which means she has a giant red target right in the center of her tiny little back. Thus, the bullying began.

I’ve thought about this a lot in the last few weeks, and I’ve come to some clarity. I think the issue is, when we look into our child’s eyes, we see someone different. We see an unborn baby that got hiccups every night during our 9 o’clock show. We see the little human who turned everything upside down in the best, scariest way possible, and made us a mother or a father. We see a toddler whose hair grew in from the back forward and stuck straight up while she watched cartoons on lazy weekend mornings. We see her first birthday and her tricycle. We hear the crinkle of her diaper between thick, wobbly legs coming down the hall and her first words … “dada” of course.

When I look at my daughter, I feel her letting go of my hand on the first day of preschool and her pleading eyes when big change came. I feel cuddles from the best spooner on the planet and hear her telling me, at 4, that she was heading off to college just like Steve from Blue’s Clues. I hear her laugh. I see her crooked, gappy smile and pure, well-intentioned heart. I see a thousand tiny little pieces of myself, with her daddy’s build, walking out the door every single morning.

But that’s what I see. And I am her mother.

What kids see is another little second grader in a sea of 7, 8, 9 year olds, crowding the playground and trying not to do anything odd enough to get noticed. They don’t find her to be special in any of the ways that really count. They aren’t looking for that. They’re looking for different. They’re looking for a crack, an opening. They’re waiting for her to get comfortable enough that she shows something they view as a weakness or an eccentricity. If it lends itself to a nickname or a chant, all the better.

When the tiny opening presents itself, they put their toe in first, maybe a snide comment or whisper to a friend. Then they put in their leg, then torso, and eventually their whole body busts down that door, lashing out with hateful, belittling words that feel so good to them, so empowering. Because kids know no consequence. They know instant gratification and survival of the shittiest. It’s jungle rules out there and everyone is potential prey.

In his book, “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen”, Christopher McDougall wrote: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

I send my little girl out the door every morning as this special ball of memories and potential, and the second she steps off the porch she’s reduced to bait. And do I blame the kids being unkind? Hell no! They’re just relieved they aren’t the girl with the brace on her elbow. And I totally get it.

Because no one wants to be that girl. Growing up, I had spacey, jagged teeth and a swoopy, horrible set of bangs for a good few years. I had girls pass notes to my BFFs saying they shouldn’t play with me anymore. I had days where I curled up in my mom’s arms, as she rubbed my back in her mustard yellow fabric covered rocking chair with the melodic squeak. Ask any adult and they can name their bully. If they can’t, they were the bully. It’s a rite of passage in some ways. Unfortunately. Stupidly.

It all came to a head recently, as one particular girl turned up the torment on my babe. We’ll call her Delores for the sake of anonymity and movie trivia. Delores has a girl gang. They think JoJo’s a big baby for sucking her fingers (predictable, easy), and they make sure she knows it on a daily basis. We’d been doing the usual coaching behind the scenes … Don’t fight hate with hate … The meaner they are, the kinder you should be … If you feel sad, tell a teacher … Just ignore her … Maybe she was having a bad day or she’s sad about something. Nevertheless, it persisted.

It persisted until earlier this week when JoJo decided to express herself about it. In a drawing. On the back of her homework. Where she’s throwing a bat at Delores’ head. And it’s labeled “JoJo’ and “Delores”. Needless to say, her teacher wasn’t thrilled.

Spike was waiting by the door for me that evening. “Mom, I’m not going to tell you what’s going on, but I will tell you that JoJo got in trouble and she has to go see the counselor tomorrow and if the counselor wants to, she can send JoJo to the principal’s office.” I walked into the living room to find my little criminal, sitting on the couch, red streaks from old tears subtle on her pale cheeks.

“You’ve taken a situation where someone was bullying you,” I explained, “and turned it around so that you are now the one doing the bullying. Do you see why this is wrong?” She nodded, her bottom lip curving down like a fat, grumpy fist in an animated feature. JoJo is certainly my creative chick, and this devilish doodle was, I’m certain, just a way for her to express her frustration, but regardless, it’s not how we roll.

Her teacher referred her to the school counselor, which, to be honest, I was a little relieved about. Finally! A professional can step in here! Somebody equipped with a degree and Inside Out dolls.

The day she was scheduled to meet with the counselor, JoJo was pacing the kitchen, whining. “I don’t want to go to the counselor’s office, Mama. I’m scared. What if I get in trouble?” I challenged her to be brave, and to be honest. I challenged her to step up to all the feelings of anger and sadness and loneliness she’s been feeling and share them with a grownup who could help. (And who she’d listen to more than her own mother.)

And then, I watched her step off the porch and go back out into that dark, vast jungle. Exposed and vulnerable and wearing her Nipit like a juicy, raw steak around her neck on the grasslands. A giant piece of my heart went right onto the bus with her and drove away.

I thought about her all day. I waited for the phone to ring. Maybe the principal would call and say she was suspended for the drawing. A black blemish on her spotless record. Maybe the counselor would call and tell me what a bad mother I was for waiting so long to alert them to the situation. Maybe her emotions would swallow her whole and I’d have to come get her.

But the phone never rang, and soon it was 5 o’clock.

I can always read the general temperature of our household within seconds. When something is wrong with one of the kiddos, it’s like walking into a room carrying balloons and a birthday cake after everyone else was just told someone died. So on this day, I was very tentative coming in from the garage.

“Hi, Mama!” JoJo greeted me. My whole body unclenched.
“Hi, JoJo!”
“Mom, I met with the counselor today and it was great. I didn’t get in trouble for the drawing and she told me I should tell Delores that what she’s doing is hurting my feelings.”
“Right. That’s great, JoJo!”
“Yeah, I feel so much better! Can I call Dad and tell him?”
“Of course.”

And just like that, progress. A touch of healing for a wounded little soul. She would live to roam the prairie another day.

I, of course, immediately sat down to type a teary note of appreciation to the school counselor, positive she had no clue how thankful I was for her 5-minute pep talk with my daughter. Positive I was being a little over emotional and positive I didn’t care a lick.

And the rest of this week has been better, though I know it’s not the last we’ll hear of Delores and her girl gang. The oldest child is such an experiment. They bring this stuff home to you, and you never know whether they’re being transparent or dramatic. You don’t know what’s normal and what’s a five-alarm fire. All you have to go on is your instinct and your own experiences as a child. (I mean, aren’t we all just projecting our childhood onto our own kids anyway?)

You just want to scream from the top of the school gymnasium, [in the voice of an Indian chief] “This is my daughter, JoJo! She is strong and funny and would be a really great friend! I am proud of her! And if you screw with her, I will squash your milk carton in your tiny horrible face.” But that’s not considered acceptable grownup behavior.

It will always be hard to hear. I’m the one who carries her stories, and because of that, I know what a treasure she is. I have the backstory. I’m invested, mostly because I grew her.

I’m the one who knows she called penguins “herbies” for years, even though everyone thought she was saying “herpes”. I’m the one who put her hair in long, flowing pigtails and cut the feet out of her penguin jammies so she could wear them a few months longer. I am in this thing for the long haul.

And I could sell her good points like popsicles on the Fourth of July. She likes to climb really tricky trees and eat Nutella straight from the jar and she can sing every word to every song from Descendents 2. She dabs like a boss. She’s a talented artist and can turn any strawberry into a rose too beautiful to eat. She always wears two layers of clothing, even in the summer, and changes into her pajamas within an hour of getting home from school. She did hygge before hygge was a thing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be friends with that girl?

There aren’t a lot of choices here. She has to keep going to school and I have to keep watching her step off our porch, bait though she may be. I can’t change the dichotomy of children, the hunters and the hunted. I can’t make my daughter’s skin thicker, no matter what I feed her at home. The only thing I can do is rock her when she wants me to and keep track of her stories, so she always has someone to remind her just how special she is. Someone who’s invested. Someone who isn’t going anywhere. Someone who, after all the deep lessons have been offered and her worries put to rest, will turn away from tiny ears and say the thing that everyone really wants to say.

“Ah, screw Delores!”

Kids

Giving parenting the finger

October 4, 2017

“We’re going to give it 6 more months, and if she can’t stop, we’ll talk about putting in a rake,” my dentist/friend said, at our last family appointment.

He was referring to JoJo, my pathological finger sucker. This child … ahhhh, this child. God bless her sweet soul, I have a picture of her sucking her fingers in my womb. And then a thousand pictures after that of her doing the same. The habit is rooted in her DNA. It’s just always been part of her, like her laugh or insanely thick hair.

My girls each have their quirks. Spike does this strange thing where she rubs her head back and forth when she’s tired or falling asleep. She told me once it makes her “feel silly and dizzy,” and she’s into that sort of thing. I remember the first time I saw her do it with her chunky little baby head. It totally freaked me out. I have another friend whose twin girls used to bang their heads against the side of their pack n’ play when they went to sleep. I imagine it’s a similar sensation? Kids are so weird.

Sloppy Joan’s thing is rubbing the yarn on her special blanket between her fingers. It’s not as ingrained in her, and obviously conditional upon her having the actual blanket with her, but it’s her habit just the same. Well, that and pooping like 20 times a day.

So, now we come to my dilemma. How to intervene.

In the case of the spit-soaked fingers, it’s a matter of dental despair. I had braces for like 20 years, so the odds weren’t in her favor to begin with, but given her tendencies to put those things in her mouth, those teeth really don’t stand a chance.

The hygienist was kind enough to pull up an image of the rake for JoJo to see. It’s your typical orthodontia gem; a mouth apparatus that looks like a torture device crafted in a dungeon at the turn of the century. We got in the car and she immediately started sobbing.

“What’s wrong, doll?” I asked, over the sound of the sniffles.
“I don’t want a rake!” she wailed.
“Honey, you have six months. You can do it.”
“No, I can’t! It’s too hard!”
“Honey …”
“And I like sucking my fingers!”
“Babe, you have to stop.”
“But why?”
“JoJo, we’ve talked about this … It’s moving your teeth. Plus, you’re putting yucky germs in your mouth every day.”
“But it’s too hard and it’s going to hurt if they put it in,”
“Nah!” I comforted.

[more sobs.]

And every day since then, we’ve engaged in tense exchanges in which she repeatedly puts her fingers – the pointer and middle to be specific – in her mouth and I, running out of patience, remind her to remove them. This might come as a gentle, “Hey, JoJo, fingers,” or, if it’s been a long day, “Honey! Get your fingers out of your mouth! For the love!”

It’s frustrating. Parenting. And you can only do so much. Take this morning, for example. The girls were screwing around wrestling at the bus stop, which is at a busy corner in our neighborhood. I yelled and yelled, “Girls! Don’t do that so close to the road! Girls! Back up!” Nothing. Like I wasn’t even there. Then, Bus #53 pulled up, honking their horn like an ambulance in a traffic jam. It slowed and the door flew open, revealing a red-faced older gentleman behind the wheel. “Hey! You girls shouldn’t do that so close to the road. You could fall into the street and get run over by a car!” Then he drove off. I smiled and yelled from the porch, “Told ya!” I can only do so much.

Hank is, as usual, much more patient about the whole finger thing. He’s always the more patient one. But what is my role here as a mother? If I don’t stay on her, she’s left to her own willpower which is comparable to my own stoned at a donut factory. If I hound her, she gets frustrated with herself, and me, and ends up melting down. I just can’t do it! This is so hard! I hate this!

I have another friend whose son is obsessed with sugar and baked goods. He finds comfort in treats, and it drives her nuts. But this boy, as I explained to her, is everyone’s spirit animal. He fears that the good treats won’t be available if he waits. Something inside him is screaming for that treat, that instant. Like the ocean called to Moana, sugar calls to him, and I get that. That speaks to me. But, as his mother, my friend questions when and how to intervene. I get that, too.

JoJo is hard on herself as it is. And my nudges to quit doing what she’s doing on a 10-minute rotation are not helping. She has a special glove that my mom found online, and when she wears that, she can keep the habit at bay. So, our discussions often turn to her neglect of the glove. Why aren’t you wearing it all the time? Do you want the rake? You have to make up your mind to really try.

But then I really back the train up, and ask myself if an 8 year old is even capable of making a conscious decision to commit to that kind of change. I mean if I can’t toss out a dozen cookies at 34, what would lead me to believe my little girl could halt such a compulsive tendency? And if she is capable of making that choice, how do I encourage her in a healthy way? When I decided to have kids, I was prepared for nose picking and hitting. Biting, sure. Tantrums, absolutely. But no one tells you they’re going to come out sucking fingers and rubbing their heads until a giant bird’s nest forms on the back of their scalp.

Sometimes I can discreetly reach over and touch her leg when I see her going for it, but other times, I find myself completely losing my shit … like when she does it right after walking out of a public bathroom or playing in the campground sandbox. It’s nasty.

I don’t want kids to make fun of her, either. I mean, let’s face it, there are totally normal kids out there getting hammered at the lunch table every day. A second grader who sucks her fingers is as easy a target as the kid who toots during ciphering.

So, there’s my stuff. That’s my battle. What kind of weird shit do your kids do? Do they lick rocks? Hide in chimneys? Pull the wings off of flies? Let’s hear it. And how do you help them? I’ve brought bribery, nasty nail polish and the glove to the table, but I’m at a loss beyond that. The whole thing just really … sucks.

Kids

My village people

May 25, 2017

Spike was mumbling the words to “You’re Welcome,” which we were listening to for the second time that morning, staring at the car’s shadow on the road below and running her tiny pointer finger over her thin top lip. She always stops trying when Maui raps. I turned down the radio for my usual morning hype sesh.

“Oh man, babe … How ya feelin’ about the field trip today? The zoo is the best. You’re going to have so much fun!”

She whipped her head in my direction and said, “Yeah, did you know that of all the kids in the class there are only two moms who aren’t going?” (I knew one of them was me.)

She wasn’t being deliberately hostile. She wasn’t. She was just using her little innocent mouth to lay out the facts for me on a shitty mom platter. This would be breakfast today.

“Gosh, hon. I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, you and Jack’s mom.” (Who is a friend of mine.)

“Oh.”

“Yeah, Ms. Kylene’s going to let us be her partner since you won’t be there.”

“Well, that’s special!”

“Yeah, it is.”

Her eyes went back to the shadow. There would be no more talk of this topic for now.

It was that she said it, don’t get me wrong. But more than that, it was the way it lingered … like a pregnancy fart in a sauna. The way the “only” just hung out there so harshly, so ruthlessly, and then it latched on mercilessly to the “mom” and the two words gripped and clawed at each other in the front of my brain.

A played out Chainsmokers song picked up where the Moana soundtrack left off. My heart was drowning in my brutal interpretation of the situation …

You are the only mom not going. The only one who sucks … In a class of 12 kids, there are 10 good moms, one other mom, and you … If good moms and bad moms played Red Rover, you’d be the only one they could send over … Other moms make animal faces on their kids’ sandwiches using grapes and basil leaves. And then there’s you … You let me down.

I couldn’t adjust my schedule and make it happen. It was one of many, many times my cape was at the cleaners and I just couldn’t pull it off. And I hate that. Don’t you hate that? I would be missing – a noticeable gaping hole – in the standard group shot in front of the ZOO sign. I wouldn’t be on the log ride or there to help little people poke the straw through their juice boxes.

And the more I thought about the juice boxes and the group shot and the stupid log ride, the more I really started to go there. You know where … That dark place where jealousy infects your character with toxic judgements and ridicule. I thought of all the mothers in their perfect boyfriend jeans and trendy sweaters pointing out the orangutan baby to my child. I thought about all the embarrassing stories she would tell, and how I wouldn’t be there to laugh awkwardly and explain them. And I thought about how there would be this depressing white space in her preschool scrapbook where her own mother’s face should be. And down and down and down I went.

We pulled in and I held her hand to cross the parking lot. I love holding her hand. Her sweet, phenomenal teacher took the torch from my weakened grip and started hyping Spikey up for the big day. I needed to tap out anyway, obviously.

“Are you excited?” she asked. Spike nodded, shyly. “I can’t wait to be your partner,” her teacher added.

I smiled, squeezed my little bug, wished her the very best of special days, and walked out, feeling heavy as hell.

Every mother who has ever written on or for any platform or publication has covered this topic to an exhausting degree. In fact, you probably aren’t even reading this because you didn’t make it this far in. Same shit, different laxative, right? But people talk about it so much because it’s such a chronic pain. We work so that we can afford to pay a babysitter so that we can go to work. It’s a gross, sad ferris wheel, where all the riders are screaming and crying their heads off on the inside, but they can’t get off. Because if you get off, they might not let you back on when it’s more convenient for you to ride.

That said, I love my job. I’m not even lying. I do. I love it. I’m one of the fortunate people who only cries and screams on the inside on occasion, and usually Mondays. I get to write about topics that typically interest me and often help people and interview amazing people and I’m hyper cognizant of the fact that I’m lucky to get paid to do that. But with that comes the restrictive straight jacket known as the 8-to-5. (Remember the good ole’ days when it was 9-to-5?) It breeds anxiety for mothers and sets the stage for disappointment at almost every turn. Most days I’ve failed before my feet hit the floor.

Now, I know it might look like it, but this is not an argument about whether SAHMs or MOPS or working moms (who have no acronym) have it worse. I’m not dumb enough to take on that debate because there is no winner. In fact, when we argue about such extraneous crap, we all lose. It doesn’t need to be said here, but I’ll put it down just so we’re all 1000% on the same page: Being a mom from any location, in any conditions or in conjunction with any occupational obligations is a bitch. A beautiful, messy bitch that we’re all thankful for every day. Not like every minute of every day, but every day.

So, it wasn’t a shiny moment for me that morning in the car (in my head). And I said to myself, “No, Courtney. No. You will stop drinking the Hate-orade and quit being a chump right this second.” And I did. But it wasn’t until later, after Spikey shared how special her day was and how special everyone made her feel, that the real deep stuff set in. That I was able to sift through the litter box and find the golden turds of wisdom in the situation.

My family is my tribe. But the mass of other people – this vibrant collage of compassionate souls and patient beings – is my village. And I couldn’t mother without the village. Sometimes it’s hard for me to ask for help. And sometimes I resent needing that help, but I do. And sometimes help just shows up, in my friends and my family, and sometimes in people I don’t know that well. And that’s kind of really beautiful actually.

The people in my village pick up where I hit my limitations, where I run out of time, and where I fall short. They hide in the houses and schools and stores I pass through like a wild tornado every day, jumping in when I have to step out. I couldn’t possibly name them all or acknowledge them all, but when I really stop and think about it, they are everywhere in force. My village is big, and it’s kind.

My village has Kay, who potty trained and taught the girls to go down stairs when they were 1 and instilled faith. It has Aimee, who teaches them to read and be modest, and Ms. Kylene who calls them “love bugs” and makes them feel special on the days they otherwise wouldn’t, and Mrs Hurley who shares her own stories of finger sucking so my daughter doesn’t feel like a freak, and Coach Kasey who made Spikey take that unforgettable shot. My neighbors in my village are these gentle souls who let my kids talk their ears off while they wash their cars and who bring over cookies and don’t say a word about the fact our smoke alarm is going off. My village is centered around courageous, selfless women – my mom, my mother-in-law, my sisters, my girlfriends – with a few fellas peppered in.

But it’s even bigger than that. There are strangers in my village who stop by but don’t stay. They pass out smiles and warm gestures that restore my hope when I fear for the state of humanity. They bend down and say sweet things to my girls in the store. They listen to my first grader read and they put the straw in my daughter’s juice box when her mommy has to work.

Listen, sometimes it gets hairy, this mothering thing. There are meetings that can’t be moved and rain dates that crap on good intentions and, to be honest, sometimes there are just days when the best thing you can do for your kids is be away from them. But don’t let all this bologna send you to that dark place. Don’t do it. Look to your village, instead. Leverage your village. Love your village. Express gratitude for your village.

Your tribe will be the better for it.

Some Kinda Superwoman

Some kinda Superwoman: Kirsten

March 31, 2017

Almost 15 years have passed, but I can still call back the moment I held my first niece, all big-eyed and unassuming. It was the first time I felt comfortable holding a baby. Like, my brain and my body just knew she belonged to me in some small but important way. I remember thinking our family would never be the same, which turned out to be true. Our dynamic shifted on that day. My parents became grandparents, I became an aunt, my brother an uncle and so on. But moreso, the light that had, to that point, shined down on me and my siblings dimmed on our faces on that rainy August day and illuminated this fresh little soul, instead. We had a new axis. And I didn’t care one bit, which is rare for a baby-of-the-family type like myself. I was happy to step aside and let this tiny love nugget soak up all the attention that she so deserved and earned by being offensively adorable and blowing the most endearing spit bubbles.

A few years later, my sister told me she was pregnant again, and just after Christmas, she gave me my second niece. Then a few years later, my third niece. Then we were pregnant together and neither of us found out what we were having, and wouldn’t you know, spring brought a pair of chicks; one for each of us. Then, she got pregnant about four years after that and it was, you guessed it, another girl. At this point, it’s starting to get crazy, right? Well, unbeknownst to any of us, including my sister, she wasn’t quite done. In a surprise turn of events, this past fall Kirsten welcomed her sixth little bambina.

They’re beautiful, each of them. My sister’s husband is Mexican and Kirsten is tall, pale and blonde, so it’s a fun little genetics recipe to play with. Some are blessed with the beautiful olive tone and big brown eyes that will just straight up level you, Disney princess style, and others get to be curly towheads with our family’s signature blinding white complexion. The teams currently stand at Brownies: 2, Blondies: 3, TBD/Mashup: 1.

Sometimes I forget just how sensational my sister’s harem is. And then I have a moment of drowning in my own personal kiddie pool (by comparison) of estrogen. Three girls is a lot of emotion, I tell people. We’re never short on tears, drama or clogged toilets. And then I think about doubling down. I think about that feeling when you finish a half marathon and no way, ever, would you consider turning around and doing it again. But that’s my sister’s life. When I tap out and take my melatonin at 9, whipped and tattered from 13.1 miles complete, my sister is a short highway drive away, winding down from a full 26.2. She is a hardcore, badass marathon mama.

It earns her a bit of grace, I’d say. But she’s built for it. She’s my opposite in most every way. She knows when to just roll around in the sea of torn wrapping paper rather than frantically scoop it up and risk missing the moment. And that, I’d say, makes all the difference. Dancing rather than disinfecting. Laughing rather than laundry. It can all wait, and it will. I mean, the mess is multiplying by six at her house as we speak. But she is the perfect woman, partnered with the perfect man, for bringing a big ole gaggle of gals up right.

The stories that come out of her house are gold, as you might imagine. Someone’s always drawing on someone else’s face with permanent marker or painting themselves from head to toe in Desitin cream. Once a mouse got in the toilet. Her oldest, Olivia, who was much younger at the time, unknowingly sat down to go potty and, upon discovering the rodent clawing and frantically swimming beneath her bottom, screamed, “I pooped a mouse! I pooped a mouse! Mommy, Daddy, I pooped a mouse!” She wouldn’t sit on the can for weeks after that. There are self-administered haircuts that will live on in infamy and scars from sister-on-sister war crimes. But all in all, it’s pretty organized chaos.

People always ask me how she does it, and the truth is, I honestly don’t really know. But like any good journalist, I’m always willing to go straight to the source for you guys. So, settle in for this lovely little testimony from one of my favorite tired, brutiful mothers, who happens to be my big sister.

SOME KINDA SUPERWOMAN: KIRSTEN
– Written by the woman herself

December 26, 2015. I’m brushing my teeth and watching the screen of a digital pregnancy test. I say I’ll never forget it, but does anyone ever really forget those moments? The screen showed a clock flashing, then suddenly a “YES +”. I froze. My heart began to race and I felt hot from the inside out. This was not part of the plan. This was not on the family calendar. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but the reality is that in that moment that was not what I wanted. Two thoughts ran through my mind: First, “What will people think?” and then, “What does this mean for my plans and my dreams?” I had no idea how this surprise would fit into our already crazy family.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me introduce myself.

I’m the manager of this circus. I’m the one who attempts to hold this show together while delivering an appearance that resembles anything even near the neighborhood of normal. My fearless husband is our ring leader, and, doing various acts and flips and stunts in rings on either side of us, you will find six beautiful, intelligent, strong-willed, persistent, messy, hilarious, challenging little girls. Yes, I know, I know … SIX GIRLS! No, we were not trying for a boy. No, we aren’t Catholic. Each one of these little tyrants can take us from gut-wrenching laughter to the edge of a cliff in a matter of seconds, and to say it’s like a rollercoaster ride would be a laughable understatement.

On any given day, there will be at least one room (usually more) that I walk into and then immediately turn around, walk out, and shut the door. Today that would be Sloan’s (our fifth) and Izzy’s (our third). I truly believe that I would have better luck trying to teach those pigs to fly than I would have keeping this place clean. If you come over, you’re going to stick to my counters. You’re going to find more apple cores around my house than in the pages of a Berenstain Bears book. There’s no guarantee that a little surprise won’t still be lurking in the toilet when you go into our bathrooms. (WHY WON’T THEY FLUSH?!) I’ve also seriously considered just giving up and telling people we run a fruit fly breeding program. I mean we’ve got reproduction down in this neck of the woods. In other words, if you stop by unannounced and miss the very tiny window where I have tidied enough to present my pretend house to planned company, please bring a hazmat suit.

The truth is, whenever anyone asks me how we do it all, my answer is easy … we don’t! Hang around for 20 minutes and you’ll see for yourself.

I am not supermom. Mass chaos is considered the routine. I forget things all the time. I can’t tell you how many rolls of toilet paper we go through because, honestly, it’s too frightening to keep track. I yell. A lot. I go to the grocery store more than the bathroom. And you should see us all in the car. It’s like a clown car, only instead of men-children with their faces painted in freaky patterns, it’s grumpy, needy little gremlins fighting the entire trip over who looked at who first. (Did I mention they all suffer from extreme motion sickness? That’s right. Envy me, people.) Someone always feels left out or let down. Someone is always hungry. Someone always has to pee at the worst possible time. I’d love to tell you I’m Carol Brady reincarnate. I’d love to say that I’m patiently and calmly helping them learn to solve their problems and hug it out, but I’m not. I’m human. I’m reactive. I’m selfish.

This brings me back to the little surprise I mentioned earlier.

Two days after finding out I was pregnant I started bleeding. I wholeheartedly thought I was having a miscarriage. That was such a strange moment. Strange because I was terrified, and strange because just hours before, I’d felt so much uncertainty about what this baby even meant. This was one of those moments when I had to stop and get my poop together. (Yes, I said poop. I’ve adapted to censorship.) I had to start reevaluating what family means. I had to realize what I would be losing in this new adventure (plans, so-called dreams, schedules and calendars) didn’t amount to a hill of beans, as my dad would say, compared to this new little life.

Having a large family is extremely uncomfortable. That’s the honest-to-God truth. Nothing is easy. Nothing ever goes as planned. As I’m writing this, my husband is picking blue slime out of our three-year-old’s hair. We weren’t put on this earth to be comfortable, though. I truly believe we were put here to be challenged. That’s how we change and grow. I know it’s cheesy, but I often think about diamonds and how much pressure it takes to transform them from a nasty lump of coal into something beautiful. Challenges do that. They teach us. They mold us. I pray that when this journey of motherhood slows down, and my little gremlins are grown, I will see that I have helped mold my kids into loving, God-fearing women. I hope to accomplish that for them, but I know they are doing that for me.

We always talk about our responsibilities as parents and how difficult they can be. God help us all, it really is difficult. But what we don’t discuss enough is what we get out of it. Each and every one of my babies has a totally different personality, and each one of them teaches me something different about myself. It’s like being in a fun house and having six images, all different, but all reflecting me. They are my mirrors, pointing out everything beautiful in my life, but also every flaw. Sometimes what I see is hard to swallow, and even harder to accept, but without them I’d never unlock that piece of myself. I wouldn’t challenge myself to keep growing, and keep going.

Everyone tells you that your kids grow up fast. I have a 14-year-old! Trust me, it does go fast. Every day with them is a gift. I won’t pretend for one second that I appreciate this gift the way I should on a daily basis. I won’t pretend that there aren’t times I think, Man, two kids would have been so much easier. What I will say, though, is that I will be eternally grateful for the moments I laid in bed feeling like the biggest failure in the world (and there are a lot of them), because those are the moments that humbled me. The ones that built and are building me. Those are the moments I had to pray for strength and step outside my comfort zone. I can’t quit this gig. I can’t give up. I have to become more. I have to keep pushing myself. The stakes are too high. I have to keep running, knowing each day I’m a little more equipped for the marathon. Eventually, I will get to a finish line and all the inconveniences and all the mistakes made and lessons learned will amount to something so much bigger than me.

When our little surprise baby was three weeks old, she gave her mama another big scare. She came down with a pretty serious infection. What followed were months of uncertainty. Months of stress. Out little seven-pound gift from God once again brought me a reminder: Life is so precious and makes you no promises. When I look at her, the reflection is one of gratitude and appreciation for what God has entrusted to me.

I used to worry about what everyone thought of me. I used to strive for the façade of perfection, or even normalcy. My large family may look like an inconvenient mess to many, but I just don’t care anymore. God knew it would take six girls to get through my thick skull that His purpose is so much bigger than anyone’s opinion. Love is not some beautiful fairytale. Love is hard. Its fabric is flaws and mistakes, discipline and tears. It’s laying in bed at night feeling like you can’t do this anymore only to get up the next day and try again. That’s the gift my large, insane, beautiful family brought me. The gift of love.

Thoughts

Calling a Code Brown

March 23, 2017

Last week, I ran into my sweet new friend in the parking lot at preschool.

“Hey! Did you get a new car?” I asked her.
“No, I got in an accident.”
“Oh my gosh! Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I’m not that person. I don’t like to be Debbie Downer.”
“But, I don’t care if you’re Debbie Downer. You got in an accident?”
“I’m just not having a good week. I screamed at the kids yesterday for no reason, and I’m cranky, and …”

I was watching a very familiar ball of yarn – one I personally keep in my nightstand, next to the melatonin and emergency candy bars – unravel.

She’d taken a mental health day from work, she went on to say, because things were just piling up. Between yelling at her boys and being annoyed with her husband and questioning all of those pesky major life questions, she was mentally depleted and in need of a mindless, indulgent Netflix binge. As I stood there, an unforgiving morning wind intruding in our conversation, I listened as this strong woman, who I deeply care for, talked herself down into a hole. It was a ritual I’d practiced myself and with almost all of my girlfriends, my sister, and my own mother. I waited for an opening.

“Listen, I know exactly how you feel. All moms feel that way. We all have those lows and days where we feel totally defeated, and it’s OK! I promise. I was standing with my toes to the edge last week. And now you’re up. We all just take turns.”

I think we can all agree it’s time to call it good on the charade. Being a mom in any capacity on any day that ends in “y” is a crazy occupation. Crazy! Anyone ambitious enough to think they’re going to climb that ladder has another thing comin’. Between the demand and the clients and the hours, mere survival is considered an above par performance on the job. There are two kinds of days: The days you have enough milk for their cereal, and the days you have to go out into the garage and grab a new gallon. The days you catch the bus, and the days you chase it down and get reprimanded by the driver. The days you make it to work without incident and the days you hit the bump and spill coffee down your white button-down blouse sleeve.

I can tell you, within 10 minutes of my children waking, what kind of day lies ahead of me. I can feel it. Like the air before a tornado – Mother Nature’s hot breath. But we don’t show the sweat on our faces, no. We smile and we press on and we push all the shit way down deep because we think it makes us less of a mom or less of a wife or less of a woman if we aren’t acing all the things, all the time. Well, guess what … that’s bullshit.

I always say, God makes ‘em cute so you don’t kill ‘em. In my case, he doubled up just to be sure and made them funny, too.

On one particularly trying morning, I slipped and let the truth serum seep in. When Cheri in my office asked how my morning was, I said, “Oh, I’m fine, thanks, other than the fact that I want to go on strike against my entire family for a few days.” A spark flickered in her eyes. “You know,” she said, like a kid at confession, “once when the kids were little, I told my husband he had to take them and I checked myself into a hotel for the weekend. I just watched TV, did a little shopping, ate.” We laughed like idiots, and I thought about how many other times I should have put out the invitation for other mothers to share their tales from the trenches.

In the parking lot that morning, if I squinted really hard, I could see the little armies waging battle inside my girlfriend. One side was fighting in the name of vulnerability and transparency and saying all of the depressing shit she was really feeling, while the opposition was willing to die on that hill for the sake of smoothing it all over with a laugh and a shrug. I’m familiar with that war, that struggle. How much to share, when to share it, how to sugarcoat it, which parts of the day’s failures I should censor for fear of how it will poison the perception of my otherwise “tidy” life.

We women, we are an efficient bunch. We are anticipatory. We are prepared and organized and concerned. We shoot ourselves in both feet day after day after day by getting everyone up and dressed and fed and out the door. We sign permission slips and send notes about doctor’s appointments and talk to the sitter at length about the quality and quantity of the baby’s bowel movements. We do it because somebody has to do it. But sometimes, being the somebody who does it just chews you up and spits you out.

In holistic nursing, there’s something called a Code Lavender. When the code is called for a caregiver, he or she is given a purple bracelet to wear, signifying they are in emotional distress. People might be a little kinder, a little more understanding, a little quicker to forgive minor oversights. Well, I’d say it’s time for moms to get a code of their own. Code Yellow, maybe? Code Brown? (Signifying we’re in deep shit.) That way, we can offer hugs, or cocktails, or comforting cuss words to our fellow comrades who are momentarily flailing.

If you have a perfect household with a perfect spouse and perfect children and everything is all Marie Kondo perfect everywhere, that is incredible. But, for the rest of us, it’s really easy to feel lonely sometimes. We think we’re alone in thinking our kids are assholes on occasion. We think we’re the only one who wants to stop for a drink after work on Thursdays instead of sitting in the carpool pickup line. We think there’s a conspiracy that our neighbor’s house is always suspiciously clean while ours is reproducing dust at a mind-boggling rate. We hide our secret Lucky Charms addiction and exchange kale salad recipes.

But the Code Brown could revolutionize our sorority.

For example – and this is entirely hypothetical – if I saw you pulling into the local watering hole on a Monday afternoon and we locked eyes, and you just happened to flash your poo-colored wristband, I might offer to pick up your kids and keep them busy for an hour, no questions asked. And you would return the favor two days later, when it was me sporting the bracelet. If you saw me carrying a snot-covered, entirely hysterical child out of the grocery store and glanced down to find a doo-doo-hued decoration south of my fingers, you would know to say a silent prayer for my sanity (and my child). And I would do the same for you that Friday when you replicated the scene in the McDonald’s playdome. It’s an emotional exchange program, rooted in support and understanding.

So, who’s in? Who’s comin’ with me here?

Let’s remove the stigma staining our struggles and choose, instead, to help a sister out. Friends, I do not mind having your children over to play for a bit, no strings or expectations attached. It does not inconvenience me to listen to your recount of just how irrational your daughter got over al dente noodles last night. No one can hear a mother’s cries and gripes like another mother. I say it can’t count as a true failure if you speak it aloud and set it free.

I’m here. And I know you are, too.

Mindfulness

Working on my core

February 28, 2017

Let’s start with a game.

I’m going to ask you to pick three words. The first three words that pop into your mind, OK? The prompt is: What drives your day?

Three words … and … go.

Got em? OK, what were they?

Full disclosure, so it’s all out in the open, my three words were: work, schedule and kids

Don’t forget your words.

So, I wanna talk about this book I read. Because we NEED to talk about this book I read. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, the dope pages of “Present Over Perfect.”

Present. Over. Perfect.

This audiobook came in for me at the library on the same day the Lauren Graham book, “Talking As Fast As I Can” came in. I was getting ready to leave for my Florida trip, I wanted something light, and so I opted for Lauren first. Now I’m watching Gilmore Girls because, let me just save you the suspense, the book is likely one trillion times better if you are watching or have watched the series. Which I hadn’t. So now I am.

Anyway, her mouth was really moving because it went super quick. Having wrapped the Gilmore diaries, I looked down the Tuesday after my quick Tampa weekend and saw the other audiobook, “Present Over Perfect” sitting on my passenger seat. I’d almost forgotten about it. I put in the first CD and a sweet voice filled the cabin of my SUV. Minutes later I was crying, clutching my chest and holding my breath. I think I was nodding, too.

Um, wait, did I write this? No, I didn’t write this. I’m not that good. This was instead a classic case of my very favorite thing; when it feels like the author, in this instance Shauna Niequist, chose her words specifically for me, her attentive audience of one. Shauna is, naturally, part of the poignant sorority that boasts the likes of Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton and Jen Hatmaker that I so wholeheartedly worship. These truthtellers have got it goin’ on, you guys, I’m tellin ya.

Sobbing like the latest Bachelor cast-off after just 5 pages is a promising sign. And it proved a match. Completing this book in its entirety was like having a conversation with myself after we hadn’t spoken in years. It drudged up a lot of honest crap I’d been denying or shrugging off for years. It was a mirror I’d tucked in the back of my closet and now I was staring right at all the blemishes and cracks and imperfections.

Let’s dive right in.

“Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairytale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.”

Let it soak in. Let it marinate and send sweet reflections through your scattered mind. But don’t linger too long. This is good. Really good. But Shauna was just getting started here. She was toying with me; Dangling her heart-squeezing verbiage in front of me like a gorgeous orange carrot to a tired, famished bunny, so I’d wrap my front paws around them and she could just then … at the perfect moment … yank me into her web of truth.

“Many of us, myself, included, considered our souls necessary collateral damage to get done the things we felt we simply had to get done – because of other people’s expectations, because we want to be known as highly capable, because we’re trying to outrun an inner emptiness. And for a while we don’t even realize the compromise we’ve made. We’re on autopilot, chugging through the day on fear and caffeine, checking things off the list, falling into bed without even a real thought or feeling or connection all day long, just a sense of having made it through. … I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize that the best thing about me was I was organized.”

Or capable, or a great multitasker, or punctual or anal. Remember your words?

“But what I eventually realized is that the return on investment was not what I’d imagined, and that the expectations were only greater and greater. When you devote yourself to being known as the most responsible person anyone knows, more and more people call on you to be that highly responsible person. That’s how it works. So the armload of things I was carrying became higher and higher, heavier and heavier, more and more precarious.”

My current currency is completion. A demand comes in, I respond and then I’m paid in checkmarks. I can take something off the list. I can crawl into bed knowing I’m rich in lines drawn through the middle of pressing matters like ordering new checks, refilling the dog’s prescription and sending peanut-free, gluten-free, sugar-free cookies in for the school fundraiser. I’m walking through my life collecting chores and calls and duties and no one is keeping track of the gold stars I get in return, how many pieces of flair I have on my lapel. Except me.

My collateral damage can be tallied in many forms, but perhaps saddest of all is my connection with my husband. This is not to say that we aren’t in a good place or we’re having problems, but the life and the routine I’ve built for our tribe certainly has the potential to break what has always been so good about us. The rich stuff. The stay-up-late-talking-and-laughing-over-gin-and-tonics stuff. My hand to God, he sent me a calendar invite to “hang out” this past Sunday. A calendar invite! I accepted and then immediately felt the asshole aspect of the situation rain down upon me.

The other day in meditation, I silently asked myself if I was giving enough to my marriage. On the drive to work that morning, I saw a “Henry’s Plumbing” van. I’ve never seen a “Henry’s Plumbing” van in this town, or in my life and now a toilet tender’s business bearing my husband’s name was turning in front of me. Just 24 hours later, a sign we kept in our bathroom that said, “I love you because _____” fell down. You know, the kind you write on with a dry erase marker? We’d had it for years. We’d leave silly and sweet little notes on it from time to time. Well, it fell off the wall. Gabrielle Bernstein talked a lot in her book, “The Universe Has Your Back” about signs. Ask for them. Look for them. Be open to them. Well, I got three of them in as many days.

I made the comment to Hank that I often feel like we’re business partners, particularly during the week. We are tending to our tasks and checking in on the progress of various projects. “How’s that poop test result coming, Jones?” “Doctor said to have Sloppy Joan lay off the corn kernels, Banks.” And so on. I can’t pinpoint when I committed to full-on ruining all of the things that made us fun and all give-a-damn about everything. I just know that it happened in spite of our best efforts to stay cool.

“It seems to me that one of the great hazards is quick love, which is actually charm. We get used to smiling, hugging, bantering, practicing good eye contact. And it’s easier than true, slow, awkward and painful connection with someone who sees all the worst parts of you. Your act is easy. Being with you, deeply with, is difficult.”

“It is better to be loved than admired. It is better to be truly known and seen and taken care of by a small tribe than adored by strangers who think they know you in a meaningful way.”

“What kills a soul? Exhaustion, secret keeping, image management.
And what brings a soul back from the dead? Honesty, connection, grace”

“The world will tell you how to live, if you let it. Don’t let it. Take up your space. Raise your voice. Sing your song. This is your chance to make or remake a life that thrills you.”

I know, brothers and sisters. I know.

This particular thread running throughout the pages was the big one for me; The slap that jolted the reality to the surface for me. If you think of your social connections like an onion, the center is likely comprised of your husband, kids, immediate family and ride or dies. Next, would be good friends and extended family. Then we’re looking at friends. Then acquaintances and gym buddies, and so on. As you work your way out through the layers, the connections get softer and softer. But what happens, and what has been happening with me for years, is we spend so much time committing, saying yes, donating our time and our talents to the people in the outer layers that we exhaust all our good stuff.

By the time I leave work, take care of any outlying obligations, make dinner and get through the kids’ checklist of “necessities” for the next day, I certainly don’t have the mental lightness to roll around and play tickle torture. I am depleted and primed to fail.

And while this all seems to be the norm these days, and I know that my priorities, in all their backwards glory, are not uncommon for mothers, the whole thing really is super freaking messed up, right? Because I volunteer to help causes that are important but not that close to me personally, I miss hearing JoJo’s recount of her bee experiment that day. And we all know those stories are always best the first time around. Because I said I could step up my freelance game for extra sitter money, I rush through the bedtime ritual and feel annoyed that my five year old dare ask for “one more butterfly kiss.”

It’s a mess.

My flow is all fucked up.

It’s clogged with boulders of bullshit excuses and obligations made to third- and fourth-layer acquaintances. I have to learn to choose no when yes means less of the good stuff. Less cuddles, less sanity, less conversation, less eye contact. I have to learn to say no even though the yes is wearing pretty clothes. Even if it means more money or smart connections. I have to learn that if yes doesn’t feel good in the moment, it’s not going to feel good on a Thursday night at 9:30 when the laundry needs folded and Sloppy Joan has gotten out of bed for the 14th time.

“I almost left her behind. I almost lost her when I started to believe that constant motion would save me. That outrunning everything would keep me safe. You cannot be a mystic when you’re hustling all the time. you cannot be a poet when you start to speak in certainties. You can’t stay tender and connected when you hurl yourself thru life like being shot out of a canon, your speed a weapon you wield to keep yourself safe. The natural world is so breathtakingly beautiful, people are so weird and awesome and loving and life-giving. Why then did I try to hard for so long to get away without feeling or living deeply?”

Go back to your words. Think about what they mean to you and what you wish they were instead. Because, why not wish for what you want?

I want to move work to love, and schedule to passion, and kids to … well, the kids can stay. But I want to stop letting responsibility be my defining asset. So I can get it all done? What’s the good in any of that if I’m miserable? Who’s keeping score anyway?

It’s time to shake things up and slow things down and really, truly, deeply focus on the middle of my onion. People are always saying they need to work on their core, strengthen their core, build from their core. Well … there ya go. This is the kind of core work I need. Screw abs, I want to be present for Spike’s story hour and the chicks’ gymnastics show in the front room, with Sloppy Joan wearing her “bathing soup” as a leotard.

These are the people I so desperately want to hold close to me. Because at the end of the day, I’d rather be focused than frenzied. I’d rather be late to a meeting than missing as a mother. I’d rather be known for my mess than tidy and tired.

I’d rather be present than perfect.

Kids

The push and the pull … and the push

January 19, 2017

When we pack up our sweet little popup and head out to commune with Mother Nature, it is 100 percent guaranteed that my children will sniff out and frequent two places: The playground, crawling with feral wilderness kids, and the camp store. And these chicks are con artists, I tell ya. They can hit up their PaPa for a 5 dollar bill like a Las Vegas hustler and have a Rocket Pop in hand before we’re backed in and level.

On our last trip for the season, the third visit to this particular park that year, the older girls started wearing a path in the pavement. They’d go around the same loop on their scooters, always stopping at the camp store for a minute before hopping on their Razors and racing back to the site. They’d done it so many times, I’d eased up on my strict surveillance of the situation. And anyway, I was doing laps myself, mom strutting behind Sloppy Joan as she strolled about on her tiny legs under a bright yellow canopy of leaves, pointing at every dog, fire and bug. It was what I imagine sloth poetry is made of.

After a 30-minute .5 mile, we came up to the camp store and my mother sitting perched just outside with her tiny white rat dog on her lap.

“Ummmmm …” she said.
“What?”
“I thought you were in the camp store.”
“No, I’m walking with Sloppy Joan. Should I be in the camp store?”
“Well, the girls went in there. I think they were going to buy something. I thought you were already in there.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“Right.”
“Right.”
“So …”
“So, I guess take Sloppy Joan and I’ll go check it out.”

I walked in and followed the intentional maze of tall wire shelves – past fridge magnets and Wiffle Ball sets and boxes of instant potatoes – until I reached the line. At the front of that line stood two little girls, their chins barely reaching the counter. The oldest, with her disheveled ponytail and Chick’s Rule sweatshirt, stood confidently as the middle one offered shaky support from just behind her, biting her top lip for comfort.

[Mom enters the scene.]

“Hey guys.” I said.
“Hi Mom,” JoJo sighed, knowing this put a damper on their hustle.
“So, whatcha got here?”

They had a lot of stuff, you guys.

Two candy bars, two packages of glow sticks, one notebook, one box of crayons and two, rather sizeable, stuffed animals. Dogs, if I remember correctly. I have no idea how long they’d been at the counter.

“It’s $33.50,” the irritated 17 year old with no children said to them (but looking directly at me).
“And how much money do you have, girls?” I asked.
“I have $5,” JoJo offered.
“So, if you have $5 to spend and $33.50 worth of toys and candy, what do you think you need to do?”
“Get more money?” JoJo proposed.
“Or, maybe, I was thinking … put some things back.”

Groans and those dreadful whines that announce the impending arrival of an actual, super-annoying cry started spilling out of child No. 1. My face was filling with the incinerating heat of extreme mortification. I turned to the gentleman behind us and, out of obligation and respect for the assault on his leisurely stroll to the friendly camping store to get coffee filters, mouthed a sincere, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine!” he said too kindly. “I love watching other people parent, and it’s a good lesson for them.” (I feel it’s vital to the story that I mention the dude looked like Jim Gaffigan.)

Two minutes later, we left the store with one candy bar, one package of glow sticks and one sour little camper. (Spike was fine. She, I deduced, was merely along for the ride.)

“What happened?” Mom pounced as we walked out.
“Oh, I’ll tell ya what happened. My children were trying to buy Christmas with a $5 bill and no parents. That’s what happened.”

She. Fell. Out.

I finally laughed, too.

Later, when I pulled JoJo aside to talk to her about the responsibility of carrying money and making smart purchases and always, always letting someone know where you’re going and what you’re doing, I realized that her frustration wasn’t just about the fact that I’d cockblocked the purchase of the one stuffed animal that brought her to an even 500. It was more about the embarrassment. She felt a false sense of confidence because she’d been to the store with me and now she just wanted to prove that she could be grown up, too. She could make a transaction. She knew what was going down.

Only, little bird, you don’t.

And thus the internal battle begins. I can appreciate the fact that she had the self confidence to walk into a store and do something “adult”. It’s amazing actually when you think about the fact that they had been casing the joint the whole time. And the last thing I want ever is to squelch my daughter’s spirit. But obviously certain things require supervision and guidance. She’s just in such a dang hurry to grow up, that one, always offering to cook dinner and watch the other kids. “You’re 7!” I want to scream. “Be my baby forever!”

It’s a tricky thing, instilling self-assurance in our kids. We want them to be carefree, but cautious. Capable but reliant. Brave but tentative. We tell them they can do anything in this world, as long as they let us hold their hands and take them there to do it. It’s a balance, I suppose, like everything. And it’s often necessary. I mean, my 7 and 5 year old clearly can’t be trusted to go off on their own with a sweaty handful of bills and a thirst for entertainment.

But even though I know it was the right one, my reaction on that day and in other situations, both before and after their Treat Yo Self 2016 binge, have me pondering some of the big motherhood questions. Am I standing back enough? Am I promoting independence and a sense of wonder? Am I flapping their hesitant wings with heavy hands, or am I teaching them to fly?

Seeking answers from within your social circle won’t help. Getting together with girlfriends is really just an exercise in self deprecation and unconditional acceptance. We shower our fellow soldiers in the comfort that they are doing the absolute best they can, and then solidify the support by immediately countering with a one-upper of a personal parental failure.

“You guys, I haven’t cooked a meal from scratch in 6 days.”
“That’s OK, I caught Susie eating a used Q-Tip out of the trash Tuesday night.”
“Oh, man … well, at least she’s eating. Henry only eats AirHeads and olive loaf.”
“I say give it to him. At least you’re feeding him. I forgot to make breakfast twice last week. Just plain spaced it.”
“It’s all good! I got mad at the boys for insulting my banana bread with a smiley face made out of chocolate chips in it, so I picked up the whole loaf, took it to my room, locked the door and ate the entire thing while I watched Breaking Bad and pretended to cry.”
“Awwww, you put a smiley face in it? You are such a good mom. I aspire to be the mom who makes food into faces. I was out of stationery this morning, so I wrote Desiree’s teacher a note about her eye drops on the back of a past due notice from the cable company.”
“But you’re communicating. Unlike my husband!”
And so on …
We can stop there.

If we’re really honest, none of us know what the hell we’re doing. And even if we did, sometimes it doesn’t matter anyway because the little shits have these minds of their own. The nerve. We spend all of our time with our kids pushing them and pulling them, and then second-guessing ourselves so we push them again. And then we leave them and spend the whole time dissecting what we did while we were with them. The bottom line is we just care too damn much.

Last weekend, Hank’s mom brought over some old photo albums. I flipped through as she squinted down at the snapshots and recounted old neighborhood buddies, the days they had no money, and injuries. Sooo many injuries. Stitches and staples and gashes galore. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess because they were boys and because I never went anywhere, and because I left home and got married right away, I was just always like, ‘Go! Try it!’ and they got hurt sometimes. But it all worked out.”

After she left, I thought about how strictly I police the girls sometimes. (Not always. Because sometimes I watch Mad Men and “fold laundry”.) I can hover like a rescue copter with the best of them, just waiting for the signal to drop my ladder. And I love to call out up-to-the-second instructions: “Don’t do that!” “Get down from there!” “You’re going to fall!” “Wait for a grownup!” “Look both ways!” Necessary? Often, yes. Beneficial? Probably not always, no. A little psycho? Perhaps.

But nobody tells you when you’re supposed to cut strings and nudge them out of nests and let go of their hands. I mean, I feel like, unless somebody instructs me or they demand it, my timeline for those initiatives is … never.

I do want to put them out there. I want them to feel like they can own their feelings because they were born from their own decisions. I want them to be bold when something stirs in them. I want them to explore. I want them to take risks. (The push.) But I want them to be safe. I want them to be aware of the possible outcomes. I want to protect their little bodies with traffic guard arms and their hearts with the wisest words. (The pull.)

My conflicting feelings on this matter have never been as palpable as they were this past Saturday morning as JoJo and Spike took to the basketball court. See, Hank thought, in the interest of saving some of our Saturdays, it would be best if we just put both of the girls on the team for first and second graders, even though Spike is in preschool (she is old for her class). The second the game started, my rescue chopper instinct kicked in. My curly haired babe was flailing. She was smaller, weaker and slower. The argument could definitely be made that this was not our finest parenting decision.

But the buzzer rang out at the end of their little game and she was still standing. Crying, because she got hit in the cheek, but still standing. Through with basketball because the kids were running over her too much, but still standing. Disenchanted because it wasn’t like playing P-I-G on the tiny hoop in the basement, but still standing. She was still standing, and she was fine. So why shouldn’t I be? Everyone needs that one story, “Well, my parents didn’t even believe in age groups! They just threw me in with the 10 year olds and left for an hour!” This, I suppose, will be hers.

Had I not walked into that camping store that morning, JoJo would have learned a tough lesson about finances. It just wouldn’t have been from me. But she would have gotten the lesson anyway. (Still, the thought of that is horrifying. “Where are their parents?” asked everyone anywhere watching that situation play out.) They’re going to fall off the bed whether I tell them to stop jumping or not. They’re going to run into each other, and get knocked down and slip off monkey bars. I guess it’s just the deciphering between “that’s where you come in” and “that’s part of life” where it gets muddy for me.

Maybe the balance rests in the letting go. Or maybe, like in Mean Girls, the balance does not exist. Maybe we never really let go because that means our job isn’t as important as we think it is. And I know parenting is important as hell. So, maybe instead, I’ll just concede a few things …

Spelling quizzes and checking their homework folder will be mine.
Tests and final school projects will be theirs.

Pep talks, protection and well-meaning warnings will be mine.
Perseverance and victories will be theirs.

Boo boo kissing, cuddles and words of advice will be mine.
The lessons will be theirs.

(Negotiations are ongoing.)

Thoughts

These three resolutions made the cut

January 5, 2017

Happy New Year, you beautiful souls!

I don’t know what your Christmas looked like, but mine was fantastic, to the tune of a tummy-flattening stomach flu (second time in three weeks), a 103 fever for Spike and 2500 rainbow loom bands scattered across the floor like birthday confetti thanks to Sloppy Joan. Ahhhh, the holidays. A time of sugarplums and pure insanity.

Anyway, you blink and Bam! A brand new year has arrived. Everybody’s so excited to see 2016 go and I’m over here all just like fine with the ways things are. [gulp.] But I’m going to put my big girl pants on, stuff some optimism in my pockets and step boldly into 2017 with my chin up and hope in my heart.

The best part about turning the page? Resolutions. I love ‘em. I do. I typically come in at around eight goals because, you know, I’m desperate for improvement, and I typically hit one or two. Last year I checked off backpacking, trying one new thing a month, and I’d like to think talking less and listening more, but that’s subjective.

This year I got a little … we won’t say less ambitious, we’ll say wiser about resolutions. I hear a lot at work about setting SMART goals. They should be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely/Trackable. Ohhhhhh! That makes so much more sense than saying, for instance, “I want to stop living by a schedule” or “I want to be a better human”.

Also, while I was enjoying some much-needed, stay-in-my-jammies all day time over the holidays, I came across Gabrielle Bernstein’s Facebook Live on goal setting. “Don’t make them negative,” she said. “Put a positive spin on them.” So, instead of saying, “I’m not going to let myself eat crap anymore.” You might say, “I’m going to truly fuel my body.” Find a way to take all the terrible things you need to quit and make them sound pretty. I’m up for it.

So, I see you 2017, and I’m comin’ for ya. Here’s what I’ve got my sights set on …

We’re tackling our fourth Whole30 in this house, and this time, the hope is I can reintroduce every food group but sugar. I have not kept my addiction to sugar a secret and it’s time to say goodbye once and for all (except for birthdays and warm donuts). Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I’d also like to push myself to get stronger. I always look down at a scale, but I’m starting to think scales are stupid. I want to look over at a bicep instead. I want to feel like a badass and have the package to drive the message home. I find the weight room at the gym to be such an intimidating place, filled with men who really, really use the mirrors. I need to get in there in the new year.

I need more of what scares me in my life. For example, Hank surprised me with a trip to see one of my besties in Florida in February and let me tell you a secret … come close … closer … closer … this is going to be really embarrassing for one of us … I have never flown by myself. Yes, I am 34 years old. Yes, I do grownup things like pay bills and buy food to cook it and keep a household of people alive. Yes, I am terrified to fly by myself. But I’m doin’ it! I love the feeling after I do something new and it turns out completely fine and, on top of that, it’s awesome. And most new things are just like that.

I want to use my vacation days for vacation and not just sick kids and furniture deliveries. Americans throw away like 600 million vacation days a year. Let’s all agree that’s just sad. When I think of my happy places, with my happy people and all I’ve yet to experience, I just want to turn in PTO and get going. Twenty years from now a house filled with things won’t mean shit compared to a heart papered in postcards from beaches and mountaintops, signed by my four favorite people (plus me, of course).

About two weeks ago I started on this one. I began unfollowing every major news outlet on Facebook, Twitter and email notifications. No more “Alerts” or “Updates”. I find that the majority of what’s published poisons my spirit, and the pieces I need to know always find me in other ways. Peace, to me, is better than drinking from the fire hose of negativity fed by our popular media outlets. It’s just noise at this point, and everyone wants to shout so their voice can make the ugliness even louder. Well, I don’t.

The second prong in this approach is the adoption of a flow rather than a routine. This one will actually be pretty brutal for me. If we’re buds, you know I live and die by my schedule. Up for the gym by 4:40 a.m., out the door for school and work by 7:16 a.m., lunch at noon, snack at 3 p.m., dinner on the table by 6:30 p.m., kids in bed by 8 p.m., melatonin at 9 p.m., nothing after 10 p.m. It is the fabric of my being. It’s ingrained in me the way Let It Go is ingrained in my children’s vocal cords. But living in a flow might look more like …

4:43 a.m. – I think I’ll sleep in a bit and do yoga at home instead of running at the gym.

Noon – I’m not too hungry yet, maybe I’ll finish up this story and then grab a late bite instead.

7:30 p.m. – It’s bath night but we really should go for a bike ride instead, it’s so beautiful out.

8 p.m. – I feel flustered. I think I’ll meditate for 15 minutes.

No one – and I mean no one – would describe me as a gal who can just roll with what comes, so this one’s my wild card, but I’m optimistic. Maybe sugarfree me will be more malleable, too.

Whatever goals you set for yourself, I hope the next 360 days bring you hope, love and lots of wholehearted contentment.

Kids

Motherhood: Praise-seekers need not apply

December 21, 2016

During my awkward but beautiful NKOTB elementary school years, my family spent a lot of time camping. Biannually, usually spring break and once in the summer, we would take a big trip to Myrtle Beach or some other southern spot with great historic locations my father could hike up his tube socks and take us all to. There were five of us in that travel trailer. Sometimes, it was cozy and could hardly contain our Griswald family contentment. And other times …

People hit each other.

The details have faded as the 20+ summers since this one particular event have passed, but I still recall the bullet points. There were these sunshine yellow melamine dishes tucked away in the cabinets of the trailer. For whatever reason, I loved them. We’d unhitch and level off and my mom would go about her routine; putting groceries away and optimistically teasing the amenities. “Those swings look like they go pretty high guys, I don’t know …”. She would hum the latest Top 40 hit from Genesis. Dad would cuss through the setup outside and go find wood. (He was always finding wood.) But of everything in this waltz we watched a thousand times, there was something about those canary dishes that signaled we were really staying. We were on vacation.

One warm afternoon, after the melamine coffee cups had been washed and the Sunbeam bread used to feed the local ducks was tucked away, my brother came in and took a giant proverbial crap right in the middle of everything.

Back then, Matt hated being with us. He barely spoke and when he did it was to complain about what we were eating or where we were or who was there. It was super obnoxious. My parents were just trying to be memory makers, right? They carted us around to check off the snapshots every family had in their photo album in the 1980s … kids on a beach … kids in front of a roller coaster … kids on a hike. It was never enough for him just to stand in formation, put a smile on his face and pretend to relish the thrilling rides at Dollywood. Oh, no. Not Matt. He had to make his disgust and general dislike for the people who grew him known.

Anyway, on this one warm afternoon, after Matt nudged her and nudged her and nudged her, my mom, the sweet lady who weeped at Casey Kasem’s long distance dedications and introduced me to the Shoney’s breakfast buffet, God bless her … well, she completely lost her shit on my brother. Right there in the camper. Her arms were swinging and sounds were coming out at triple speed and didn’t quite form all the way and my brother’s eyes were wide and wild as he succumb to her fury. He had walked across the limb so many times, and on that day, in the camper of family dreams, the limb snapped.

I watched it. The whole thing. So did my sister. So did my dad. I don’t think any of us took a breath for the entire 56 seconds my mother spent physically and verbally retaliating against her almost-teenage punk of a son before storming out of the trailer in tears. Huh, I thought. I guess Mom went crazy.

Then I grew up, had kids of my own and realized we’re all just one forced fart, recorder recital or “She hit me!” away from crazy.

Being a mother is a thankless, soul-sucking, humbling, disgusting, exhausting occupation. I used to imagine my mom pulled everything out of her ass. I needed something for a school project, she got it. I was sick and wanted saltines with peanut butter, she made them. I wanted to try gymnastics, she signed me up. She drove me. She watched me. It all just got done. I never thought about why she needed to take a hot bath and pound peanut M&Ms by 9 o’clock every night. I just never considered it.

And neither do my kids.

I babysat for my niece one summer break during college. She had this little car she could ride on. It had mermaids and fish all over it and sang this stupid song … “I’m a happy mermaid, down in the sea – something, something, something – and dance with me.” She used to scoot around on that thing pressing the button on the steering wheel every 2 seconds. So to my tired ears, it was just, “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a …” for minutes on end. The funny thing was, she loved the end of the song. Whenever she got distracted and made it to “… and dance with me,” she laughed with joy. And then she’d go back to pressing the button with the hope of hearing it in its entirety. Of course her rapid trigger finger meant, “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a ….” The insanity! But now, I am that mermaid car. I am the button on the other end of a child’s fingertip – constantly trying to get it all out, to get to the end, to the point.

The number of times I repeat myself in a day can clock in at no less than 900.

“Get dressed, please … Get dressed, please … Get dressed, please.”
“Eat your breakfast, please … Eat your breakfast, please … Eat your breakfast!”
“Get your coat on, please … Get your coat on, please … Get your coat on, please.”
“Tie your shoes, please … Tie your shoes … Tie your shoes, please.”
“Come on, please … Come on … Come on.”
“Eat your dinner, please … Eat your dinner, please.”
“”Stop jumping off the couch, please …”
“Clean your room, please …”
“Brush your teeth, please …”
“Go to timeout, please …”
“Get in bed, please …”
“Stop talking and go to bed, please ….”
“Go to bed!”

No one hears me. At some point between when they exited the womb and they started using more than 3 words together at a time, my voice was tragically muted. I know, and you dear reader likely know, that if I don’t move the circus along, no one gets where they need to go. No one gets to the bus stop on time and I get yelled at for chasing it down a few stops away. No one feeds the dog and she dies. No one gets their library books and the teacher sends a scathing note home. I’m just trying to help! “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a …”

And yet, the gratitude tank runs dry most days. Living in a home with young children means you better be prepared for prison rules, man. Because only your child would take a giant deuce in the middle of the dinner you spent 3 hours making. And then tell you they hate what you made anyway. Only your child would rub her hard moss-colored boogers against the only white shirt you own. Only your child would headbutt you when you’re trying to kiss them, or kick your nose during a friendly tickle or pee on your bath rug or vomit in your hair on your 30th birthday (that really happened). Kids are cruel. They don’t know and they don’t care, and when they do know, they still don’t care.

You have to go into it knowing you won’t collect on those gratitude IOUs they’re leaving all over the tubs they’re pooping in and rooms they’re trashing for at least another 18 years. And that might be ambitious. And you aren’t really allowed to care. You’re expected to be durable and flexible and resilient. You’re expected to be both Betty Draper (in the early seasons) and Sheryl Sandberg, depending on the scenario, and settle for a fart vapor’s worth of appreciation for both social archetypes.

I’ve spent hours planning my menu on Pinterest only to have Sloppy Joan turn her plate over and throw it across the table more times than I care to share. I’ve had chicks climb into my Epsom salts detox bath because they were cold and it looked fun. I’ve walked in to find every item of clothing from the bottom bar of the closet ripped off the hangers and thrown around the room just minutes after I finished putting them away. I’ve had more little people watch me poop than a pony at a county fair.

But we love them.

Sometimes it looks like rocking ourselves in a corner with drool streaming out of ours turned down mouths, but we love them.

It’s an abusive love. Like the way people with ulcers love flaming hot Cheetos. We love their toots and boogers and ridiculous requests and come back for more day after day after day. We plot our escapes and then crave their sticky, sweaty, vaguely pissy scent the second we drop them off.

Being a mother is thankless 23 hours out of every day. But man … they really reel ya in during those 60 minutes when it really counts, huh?

It’s rarely with words. Though sometimes it is sweet, silly, wonderful words I reach into the air, grab and write down somewhere to relive later. But more often it’s a little warm body climbing into my lap while I’m distracted with another conversation. Or a drawing that comes back in a folder from school with stick figures holding hands, the taller one labeled “Mama”. Or a cheerleader. Or an impersonation. Or a cry in the middle of the night. It makes me feel needed and seen and responsible. Yes, it’s a thankless job. It isn’t for the weak or the praise-hungry. The pay is shit. But if you play your cards right and keep your eyes and ears open, the benefits can be pretty sweet.

Kids

Little JoJo and the case of the first grade burdens

November 21, 2016

photo-1476303510132-6391bdd06a91

We’re working through something in our house right now … or, rather, something is working its way through us in our house. I’m not sure which way it’s going to be honest.

When you have kids, girls in particular, you anticipate some emotional ebbs and flows. I mean, think back to those tumultuous times. You get out first in ciphering. The teacher busts you passing a note about needing to poop. You get Danny from New Kids on the Block as your future husband in MASH. You want to play ninjas and your friends are all about house. Your pants split up the butt. Someone points out you’re digging out your wedgie. Those early (and late) school years are a social minefield and you’re just trying not to get blown up every day. True to the timeline, it seems our oldest chick has hit a valley and to be completely transparent, we’re not quite sure how to pull her out.

A few weeks back, on my birthday, JoJo invited me to her school. “I want to buy you lunch, mama!” she offered through that delicious, jack-o-lantern grin. How could I turn down chicken fries and refried beans charged to a card my 7 year old routinely exhausts with bags of Doritos and impulse cookies? I moved a meeting and accepted her invitation.

Now, I try really hard to be the cool mom. Because, you know, I’m guessing it beats the alternative. So, at 11 o’clock sharp on a Tuesday morning, I wedged my old woman butt onto the sticky, minuscule little stool next to my daughter and started working the lunch table.

“Hey Madison! What’s new girl?”
“You’re JoJo’s mom, right?”
“Ahhhh … yeah! Remember, I was at the Valentine’s Day party? With the fruit kabobs and M&Ms.”
“Oh, yeah.”
“Yeah, so, what’s the word? What’s happening in the first grade these days?”
“Well, we’re learning about the water cycle.”
“Whaaaaaa?!?!?!”
“Yeah, you know, condensation, evaporation, runoff …”
“Whoa. That is so cool.”
“I guess.”
“And Mary … is that you? How are you ya little cutie?”
“Hi.”
“Mary, did you get a lot of Halloween candy? JoJo said she saw you trick-or-treating.”
“I did! Like, a lot.”
“Oh man. What’s your favorite kind?”
“Kit Kat. Duh.”
“Yum, I love Kit Kats. So, do you live in our neighborhood then?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, fun! We’ll have to have you over to play sometime.”
“Yeah, but I can’t Friday. Missy’s having her sleepover Friday.”
“Missy is?”
“Yeah … all the girls are going I think.”

But all the girls were not going. Because my little girl was not going. I knew this because she runs all of her social engagements through me first and there had been no Elsa invitation sealed with a sticker. No call from a mother. No, “Can I, Mom, can I? Please, please, please.” None of that.

In these situations, there are always two navigation options. The high road, which looks something like:

“Oh gosh, Mary, that sounds so awesome. We hope you girls have a great time at Missy’s and we’ll find a day to have you all over soon.”

Or the gutter, which is more of a:

“Oh. Really? Well, Missy’s house smells like cat urine and she’s only allowed to have sugar between the hours of 1 and 3pm. So have fun with your lame little sleepover. I hope someone sticks her hand in a bowl of lukewarm water and she gets a terrible new nickname, like ‘Pissy’ or something even more terrible. We’ll be watching Kidz Bop Live on repeat and hittin’ Reddi-Wip straight outta the can at our crib, sucka, so, smell ya on the other side.”

But that is just so, so ugly. And I’m really trying to counterbalance some of the ugly in the world right now.

Not to mention I think the sleepover was really a minor symptom of a much bigger problem. Hank and I had started noticing some changes in our JoJo well before my birthday lunch. A shorter temper, angrier reactions, more emotional than usual (if one can fathom that), not wanting to go to school. Do I think that Pissy and her party were the sole catalysts for these changes? Nah. But I think there’s a piece to the puzzle there.

photo-1469571486292-0ba58a3f068b

Looking at my oldest daughter is like picking up large fragments of a shattered mirror. Not all, but so many of her mannerisms are identical to my own. Perfectionism? Ah, there I am. Trying too hard to please everyone? I see you, Courtney. She carries these pieces of me deep inside her, so I recognize them right away. She worries … my God does she worry. She holds herself to an unattainable standard and it levels her when she doesn’t reach it. If she isn’t winning it all, she’s losing completely. She is her toughest critic. If people don’t adopt her approach, she disengages. Over the years I’ve learned to curb some of my self-sabotaging habits, but my little girl is so far from recognizing her struggles as struggles. She just straps them on her tiny back and sinks.

Birth order is a funny thing. People always say, “Typical first child,” and for the longest time, I thought that was crap. (Spoken like a true youngest child.) But now I’m not sure. When you’re first in line, followed by a class clown who always gets the laugh, and an adorable little parrot, it has to bring a lot of pressure.

I agonize over helping JoJo find her place. She is a wonderful student, and learning, to this point, has come fairly easily for her. But that brings its own set of challenges. She looks at things differently. She over thinks and inflicts a lot of self punishment. She spends an exhausting amount of time and energy dwelling on defeat, large and small. I wonder if she’s hopping around in my footprints. If I’m unintentionally showing her how to slide right into that all-or-nothing straight jacket and tighten the straps.

Hi, my name is Courtney, and I need help being a parent.

As I age and grow as a wife, mother and temporary inhabitant of this world, I’m finding that when you are open to learn, you discover great teachers everywhere. I had plans to attend a mindfulness workshop with my brother a few nights ago and one of the participants, who’d attended the class before, mentioned that she keeps a soft stuffed animal with her in her car. Whenever she starts to get “too in her thinking mind” (translation: close to losing her shit) she reaches over and touches the soft dog. This brings her to her senses, literally – touch, taste, smell, sound, sight – and away from that trail of toxic thought. It’s a mini mediation. It brings calm.

Inspired, I went home that night and grabbed a small emoji pillow JoJo had won in a claw game. (Sidenote: Can they just eliminate all of the gosh dang claw games in all of the gosh dang restaurants and waiting areas already? Can that be a universal agreement? No, I don’t have any quarters. There are no. more. quarters.) I sat my girl down and explained to her that I wanted her to carry the pillow with her. When she felt herself inching toward yelling or pouting or losing her temper, she should rub her thumbs back and forth on the winky face and think about what it feels like. Is it soft? Is it cold? And what it looks like. Is it yellow? Are the threads coming undone? The idea is to diffuse her neurological nuclear attacks. To bring her calm through sensory awareness.

[Experiment update to come at a future date.]

It’s so simple to disassemble and assess myself. What’s working. What isn’t. What takes me off track. What stirs things up for me. But with my kids, it’s like a constant A/B test. In Marketing, it’s common practice to pit two similar strategies in design, messaging, etc. against each other and compare the results. The approach that performs better is the lever you pull going forward. There’s so much of that in parenting, except it isn’t just Choice A and Choice B. There can be hundreds of choices to test. Hundreds of strategies to try.

Is she sad because she didn’t ace her test? I need to help her fix the one she got wrong so she feels it’s complete. Or maybe I should try explaining it a different way. Whatever, she has to get over this perfection thing.

Did the girls in class leave her out? I need to have someone over for a playdate. I need to talk to the teacher. No, I need to tell her about how little girls were mean to me when I was little. I should get her a diary.

Are the other two getting too much attention? I need to take her on a mommy date. Or maybe help her find a hobby she likes. I should have let her bake those dang brownies from scratch. I need to celebrate her more.

It’s taxing trying to be the fixer.

And so maybe we shouldn’t. In “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,” Brené Brown talks about how hope is actually a byproduct of adversity. If we swoop in and try to work through things for our children, or find ways to numb the discomfort for them so they never have to feel it, we are taking away some degree of pain, yes, but we’re also robbing them of those earned feelings of hopefulness and optimism.

Not to mention sometimes I think that all that mopping up messes and bandaging bad experiences gets to me. Like I sponge up all of the ugly and sad, only to have it eventually erupt out of me and all over them after a particularly long day.

Then, the other morning, the biggest Brené gift yet was placed in my lap with a generous red bow. So I opened it. Christmas come early! After surviving a stupid morning triggered by a 2-hour fog delay, I raced to put JoJo on the bus. As I finally watched her hesitantly shuffle across the street to the big yellow bird, which would carry her to the battlefield to face problems I’ll never see and can only hypothesize about resolving, I hit play on my audiobook and listened as the narrator read Brené’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.The smooth voice filled my car …

wholehearted-parenting-1

And the game changed.

I don’t care what stage of parenting you’re in. What problems your children have, or you have, or this world has, those words are a beautiful, soul-shaking truth bomb. I will print them out and hang them in my closet, in my office and on my fridge. They are the ticket. They are the door, the bridge, the gospel. I want to have them tattooed onto my crowded, burdened brain.

I can not wipe my daughter’s struggles clean. Whatever she’s working through now, it won’t be the last time she has to sort through things to find her balance and her bearings. My fear and worries and apprehension and anger won’t absolve her of adversity. But I can hold onto the hope that letting her work through whatever she’s facing now, knowing I’m standing right at her shoulder, will carry her one step closer to being a capable little warrior of this world.

I will pull up a chair at her table. I will curl up next to her in her bed after the battle. I will let her snot and sob on my sweater. I will hand her a small emoji pillow or a tissue or a baseball bat (whoa, just kidding there). I will do my best to be strong, confident and vulnerable in all the best ways, so maybe she feels empowered to do the same. I will show up for her when the Pissys of the world don’t. And I will work toward being wholehearted and kind to myself so her sweet, impressionable little ticker starts to fill up, too.

(Unless anybody has any better ideas. In which case, private message me immediately.)