Tag

lessons

The Things My Children Teach Me

At the risk of revealing too much of my crunchy side, one of the things you should know about me is that I believe people come into our lives for a reason. In fact, the lyrics of the song “For Good” from the musical “Wicked” say it best:

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return

When I think of some of the most significant people in my life, I can often guess what it is they have come into my life to teach me.

And even though our society doesn’t typically emphasize children as “teachers”, some of the biggest lessons of my life have come through my children.

My oldest is teaching me about authenticity and strength. At the time she was born, I was in a marriage that wasn’t healthy for either of us. But I stayed because it was what other people told me was the right thing to do. After she came along, I started thinking like a mother. I wanted to give her the world. I wanted her to be happy. Most of all, I wanted her to be herself. I didn’t want to change her, I wanted to discover her. Because I could see from the beginning that she was perfect exactly the way she was.

But how could I teach this tiny human to be true to herself if I wasn’t living that example?

It wasn’t an easy decision. And even after I finally decided it was, in fact, the right decision, it wasn’t easy to follow through with it. But I did. Because I wanted better for her. I didn’t ever want her to be unhappy because of someone else’s opinion about her life. I wanted her to learn to live a life that felt authentic to her, even if it didn’t align with the opinions of those around her. Wanting that for her gave me the strength to finally live my own life that way.

Now I am constantly striving to see and honor my children for the people they are without trying to turn them into what I (or society) thinks they should be. It’s a lesson I will be learning for the rest of my life.

My middle child is teaching me about love. Obviously all of my children have each taught me something about love. The middle child just has a certain unique way of stretching my heart in ways it hasn’t been stretched before.

I still remember the moment in the delivery room, the first time I laid eyes on her. It felt like gravity shifted beneath me. I was head over heels for her from the very beginning. Even through her challenging toddler behavior, I’m still mesmerized by her. The color of her eyes. The curls in her hair. Her fingers, her toes. I cherish every inch of this child for the miracle she is. She reminds me daily to slow down and notice these sacred moments with all my children. She reminds me not to take milestones for granted. She opens my heart in ways I didn’t even know I needed. She makes me a better mother, not just for her but for all my children.

And some day she will teach me about loving and letting go. Perhaps it is because my oldest always went to daycare, so I was used to her having her own independence, and my middle is the first child I’ve stayed home with for her entire life. But I dread the days of being away from her. I dread her starting preschool and school. I don’t remember life without her by my side. But being her mother means it is up to me to help her learn how to be without me. So I will do what I need to for her, no matter how much it hurts.

Love is complicated like that. But that’s what she is here to help me learn.

My youngest baby is teaching me about humility. She’s showing me that I know less now, as I’m raising my third child, than I did when I started. She’s showing me that this parenting thing isn’t something that has a “right” or a “wrong” way to it. That every child is different and every parent is different with every child and that sometimes just doing the best you can is the best you can do.

She’s teaching me about asking for help. About not being ashamed when I can’t do it all. About not being ashamed to admit (often publicly on my blog) that I can’t do it all.

Humility may not sound like a complicated lesson to learn, but in many ways it is the most complicated of all the lessons I am learning. She’s pushing me to discover my own limitations, and helping me make peace with them. She’s helping me to be more graceful with myself and others. Lessons about love, patience, generosity and respect are all wrapped up in learning about humility. Lessons about peace. For being the smallest of my children, she appears to have brought with her some of the biggest lessons. Which isn’t surprising, considering what I know of her personality so far.

Even though we are still only just beginning this learning journey, the list of things my children have already taught me and will continue to teach me is more than I could ever capture in a simple blog post. And while I know the lessons won’t always come easy, I’m grateful for the privilege of learning.

Because I couldn’t have asked for better teachers.

 

My Most Important Job as a Parent

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I think about parenting a lot. Probably because it’s what I do all day.

Mostly what I’ve learned is this: thinking about it too much can be overwhelming. There is no more monumental task than raising a child. There’s nothing that makes you feel more deeply, nothing that challenges you more, nothing that changes you as profoundly.

Every time I “start over” at the newborn phase of raising a child, I’m blown away by how much there is to teach them. The things you would expect, like using the bathroom, tying their shoes, using a fork, fastening a seatbelt. And the things you forget about. Not looking directly at the sun. Blowing a bubble with bubble gum. How to check an Internet site’s credibility.

The simple things, like how to replace the toilet paper role. And the complicated things, like how to be a good friend.

As parents, the responsibility for most of these lessons falls to us. Can you see how I keep coming back to “overwhelming”?

But in all my self-proclaimed overthinking and subsequent overwhelm, something else has come to my attention.

It started with my one year old.

For some reason, every time I open the garage door, my one year old yells, “WOW!” Like the garage door going up is the coolest thing she has ever seen.

Every time.

At first it just made me laugh one of those warm-and-fuzzy-heart parenting laughs. And then I got to thinking how amazing children are for reminding us to see the amazing in the ordinary. My kids constantly remind me to be in awe. I remember the first time I took my oldest to the laundromat. She was mesmerized watching the wash cycle through the glass on the machine.

Being curious. Being enthralled. Being enthusiastic. Being in awe. These are things we don’t have to teach them. Kids come pre-programmed for this, to varying degrees.

We as parents just have to avoid squishing their awe for as long as we can. And if we are really lucky, they can remind us how fun it is to be blown away every time the garage door magically opens.

However, as profound as it feels to be reminded of the magic in this world by our littles, it’s actually not the point I’m getting to.

You see, my children can see the magic in the world in so many places that I forget to look. But there is one place that I naturally see it that they don’t.

In them.

Of all the amazing things in this world, both ordinary and profound, nothing inspires more awe in me than my children.

I think that my most important job as a parent might be to teach them to see it too.

If my children learn nothing else but this, then I will have succeeded. To know that they are amazing. Beautiful. Unique. Capable. Strong. To know that they truly can accomplish anything they set their mind to. To know that they are worthy of respect. Of love.

To know that they are worthy of awe.

There are many lessons that the world will teach them if I fail to, even if it means they will learn the hard way. But if they can see the magic in themselves that I see in them, then I can set them free knowing that they won’t lose themselves in the journey. Because they will become their own compass.

I can think of no greater job as a parent than to give them that gift, to arm them with their own power.

Play From a Parent Perspective

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Last month my parenting book of the month was a book about play. I picked it thinking it would focus on children and play. However, it turned out that the book addressed the impact of play throughout the human life span.

Play, as it turns out, is more than a simple action. It’s an attitude toward life. An attitude that physically changes our brain. An attitude that can lead us to be more resilient. That can help us lead more authentic and fulfilling lives. That can help us create deeper and more fulfilling relationships.

And one of the best ways we can support our children in developing their skill at playing into a lifelong attitude is by modeling it.

So how do we do that?

Mostly, according to the book, it’s about keeping a sense of perspective. For example, grades. Grades, especially in high school when they can affect college scholarships, are important. But they are not ALL IMPORTANT in the scheme of things, you know?

I was ready to learn how to support play for my children. But what does a “play” attitude toward life look like for myself?

Good question. I suppose it means not worrying so much about a little extra mess when the six year old wants to help me cook brownies. Saying yes when she wants to dye her peanut butter with food coloring while packing her lunch. Taking a deep breath when the girls are giggling in bed instead of going right to sleep.

I suppose it means not worrying so much about the toddler hating the doctor’s office. And the high chair. And strangers. Because she’s one, and the chances are she will grow up to be a perfectly pleasant human being.

I suppose it means keeping this whole parenting gig in general in perspective. Remembering what matters and letting go of what doesn’t. Keeping it in perspective. Laughing,

And not only does a play attitude apply to my parenting, but also to my life. I write this blog because I enjoy it. I don’t take it too seriously or put too much pressure on myself to get it exactly right. The same is true of housework, of cooking, of getting involved in a new school group or volunteering in the community.

The idea is that developing this attitude as a parent not only models a more resilient approach to life for my children, but it also opens up the opportunity for me to model passion for them. So that they don’t simply learn the value of perseverance and hard work, but rather they also learn to use those skills to pursue what they love.

“People always say that you can reach the top by ‘keeping your nose to the grindstone’, but as sports performance specialist Chuck Hogan observes, this is not true. People reach the highest level of a discipline because they are driven by love, by fun, by play. ‘The greatest performers performs as they do, and do so with such grace, because they love what they are doing,’ Hogan observes. ‘It is not work. It’s play.’”

 The bottom line? Play can be the key to opening our minds, living more fulfilling lives, being more deeply engaged parents and humans, and teaching our children to do the same. And it’s all driven by authenticity and love, rather than “should’s” and “should nots”.

Do I know exactly how to do this? Nope. Maybe that’s part of the fun.

Stop

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I started listening to the audiobook “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids” by Dr. Laura Markham. I’m barely through the introduction and it’s already making me think.

In the introduction, there’s a brief story about a parent teaching his young son how to mow the lawn. The child accidentally mows through a flower bed. As the father begins to lose his temper, the mother interjects and reminds him, “We are raising children, not flowers.”

I thought it was a beautiful reminder about remembering what matters. Especially since it’s something I’m constantly trying to do better at as a parent.

This weekend, nesting has finally hit. Which is great because it’s a long weekend, so the husband is around to help with kids, thus giving me a slightly higher chance of actual productivity. However, it’s also important to point out that I’m three weeks away from having a baby. My physical capabilities at this point don’t exactly match my ambitions.

I spent the morning cooking freezer meals (a.k.a. making a huge mess in my kitchen) and then attempting to clean up, all the while being distracted by cupboards that needed reorganizing, etc. My parents were coming over for lunch so I was trying to get the kitchen into a somewhat less chaotic state when I turned around and saw a trail of small ribbon scraps in the doorway leading into the living room.

I followed the trail of scraps to find my six year old mid-scatter. There were notes taped on the front door and a trail leading from the front door to the kitchen.

My first reaction? “Oh hell no.”

To my credit, I didn’t say that out loud. It came out more like, “Ohhhhhh…. I am not excited about this.”

And then I stopped.

It was ribbon scraps. She was decorating for grandma and grandpa to come. What was the big deal?

So I sat down on the step and took a deep breath and said, “Ok. You know how mommy’s been working on stuff all morning and how she’s trying to get the house cleaned up? Sometimes when I’m tired from cleaning and I see you making a new mess, my first reaction is to feel frustrated. But I don’t want to be like that. I think it’s very sweet and creative of you to decorate for grandma and grandpa. Can we make the deal that it will be up to you to clean up your decorations?”

Of course, she was fine with that. And she was thrilled to see their reaction to the decorations. And she cleaned up her ribbon pieces when all was said and done.

A clean house is nice. But it’s not what matters most.

Family Game Night

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It was a long week for this crew. The final weeks of pregnancy are no joke. The kids both battled some sleep disruption that had us all up earlier than usual more than once. By Friday evening, the six year old was showing obvious signs of wear and tear: dragging her feet to go to school all week, crying at the drop of a hat, etc.

So when the girl wanted to do a movie night, a pretty common occurrence around here on weekends, I said no.

Don’t get me wrong. A movie night would have been wonderfully easy. But it hasn’t escaped my attention that screen time doesn’t do much to help the frazzled feelings of a first grader.

So I turned down the idea of movie night. And when the tears started well up, in a stroke of parenting genius (or insanity), I suggested a family game night.

That did the trick.

We put on pajamas and put the toddler to bed. The girl headed downstairs to prepare for game night while I wrapped up a few things. By the time I got down to the family room, she had an elaborate setup including pillows, a balloon, a blanket, gemstone cards, and some spools of ribbon.

“I invented a new game!” she announced.

I’m going to be very honest with you all here. My first reaction was not excitement. You see, the girl has always been very creative. However, invented games often tend to be complex with very fluid rules that can be difficult to keep up with. In the final hour before bedtime on Friday, I wasn’t sure I had the energy.

But I sucked it up and pretended to be excited.

And you know what? It turned out to be great.

The game she made up was actually pretty simple and organized. She got to cut pieces of ribbon, which for some reason she always loves doing. She got to have us follow her creative lead and honor her ideas.

AND we practiced counting and adding. We practiced reading gemstone names and talked about the different kinds of rocks. We refreshed our “safe scissor etiquette” lesson. We practiced taking turns and being flexible.

All those learning opportunities from one game invented by a six year old. I love these parenting moments when I find the energy to follow her creativity and it leads somewhere better than I ever could have.

I’m glad I sucked it up and said yes.

 

 

 

I Wrote a Post About Donald Trump and Realized It Wasn’t About Him At All

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I wrote a post about Donald Trump.

I really have no interest in writing about politics. I don’t even care to comment on all the reasons why I don’t want to contribute to my opinions to the Internet web on this year’s candidates.

I wrote it because I was venting and then I left it in my pile, not sure what to do with it next.

I revisited it today while cleaning out my drafts folder, thinking perhaps it was time to delete it and move on. After all, it’s not really the kind of topic I care to share in my writing space. But as I read it I realized that, even though it is about Trump, it isn’t actually about him at all. It is about the power of language and communicating. It is about some of the amazing people I know who have developed and mastered this skill, and the lessons I’ve been lucky enough to learn from them–lessons I’m still trying to manifest in my own life. It is about kindness as a priority.

And because this is a place where I write about things I want for the world and for my children, I am sharing it.

 

Why I’m Not Impressed By Trump’s Radical “Honesty”

I used to be just like Donald Trump.

Ha. Ok. Maybe not just like him. But when it came to saying what was on my mind, I was an open book. And by open book I mean active volcano.

It’s not hard to make a case for such radical honesty. I find that a lot of people like the idea of the blunt “truth”. In a world where it can be hard to tell if people are deceiving or misleading you, the idea of people saying exactly what they think or mean can be appealing. Especially in politics. So part of me can understand why Trump has gained so many followers with these tactics. A volcano is captivating for a little while, especially if you can look past the destruction in causes.

When he responded to the Orlando shooting tragedy by thanking people for congratulating him on being right about radical Islam, I did what many people did: I expressed my concern about his communication habits on social media.

And just as one might expect from social media, people interpreted my post as an open door for a debate.

One debate partner in particular accused me (and my entire generation) of wanting everything to be “sugar coated” and stated that it was time for us to learn some “hard truths”.

Like most things that are “sugar coated”, the comment stuck with me. Not because I was particularly offended by it, but because I recognized it.

You see, I used to make the same argument in my defense of my own radical honesty. I didn’t see the point in “sugar coating” things. To me, editing myself meant being less honest or less clear in my message.

And yet, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of speaking is if no one can hear WHAT you are saying because of HOW you are saying it? Still, I couldn’t see a better way than brutal honesty.

Then I stumbled upon the quote, “Sometimes being kind is more important than being right.” And I started to notice that the people I admired most in my life were people who were both brave AND kind in their communication. Somehow they found a way to speak their truth, and yet they did so in a way that never threatened anyone else’s truth. They used their language not to raise a wall but to build a bridge.

What would change if we valued each other more than we valued our own “message”?

If I choose to slow down and consider what I want to say before I say it, that isn’t sugar coating; it’s being thoughtful. If I reword something so that people can more easily hear what I’m saying, that isn’t being political; it’s being intentional. The choice isn’t simply to spew like a volcano or say nothing. I can speak my truth AND I can do so in a way that doesn’t harm or disrespect another.

And honestly, if my truth is harmful to another, I can choose not to speak it. My truth isn’t any less true just because I choose to keep it to myself.

I had focused so long on gaining the courage to express my beliefs that I had forgotten the point of doing so. Language isn’t just a vehicle for me to make a statement. Language is a way for us to connect with each other.

Anyone can throw a rock through a pane of glass. Not everyone can build a stain-glassed window. Donald Trump may be really good at making statements and expressing opinions. But then again, so is my first grader. It doesn’t require any skill to blurt out whatever you are thinking. Having an opinion and saying it out loud doesn’t impress me. That requires the maturity and competency of a toddler.

Being able to speak your truth in such a way that you create something of value without harming anyone in the process–that is a skill worthy of attention.

Baby, Nobody Has A Good Reason To Be Mean To You. Ever. 

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I picked her up from school on Tuesday. It was the week of Valentine’s Day and we had spent Monday decorating her Valentine’s box to take to school for her party. I loved this project with her because it reminded me of my own elementary years and what fond memories I have of creating that box each year.

“How was your day?” I asked, as usual.

“Fine, except (names two girls in her class)  told me that my box was ugly and that it was the worst one.”

Here’s the kicker. We hadn’t even taken her box to school yet. We were taking it on Wednesday.

Is there anything that makes a parent’s blood boil faster than hearing about someone being mean to their child? Seriously.

I kept my calm but I told her that it made me so sad and frustrated to hear that people would say that. I vented some of my thoughts out loud, telling her that I didn’t understand why anyone would criticize someone else’s creativity and that that was just ridiculous that anyone would even say something like that and if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.

I was still frustrated by the situation when we got home. As we got out of the car I said, “You know, I’m so disappointed that someone else would treat you like that. It makes me mad and it makes me want to march over to school and put them in timeout. But the truth is, I can’t. Because I’m not their parent and I can’t control how they act. The only thing I can control is what I do as your mom.”

And I stopped and knelt down to her level and looked her in the eye and said,

“Please hear me when I tell you this because it is so important. Nobody has a good reason to be mean to you. Ever. If somebody is mean to you, it is about them. It is not about you. If someone doesn’t like your box, that is fine. We all like different things and that’s ok. But that is not a good reason for them to be mean to you. They could still be polite and kind. Even if they don’t like your stuff or how you do things, even if they don’t like you or disagree with you. That is never a good reason for them to be mean. You may not be able to change how they behave but you can know what you’re worth and you can believe in how you deserve to be treated. You always deserve kindness and respect. Always. No matter what. Everyone and everything deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. There is no such thing as a good reason to be mean to someone. Ever.”

This bullying and mean girl shit is out of control. It’s happening in KINDERGARTEN, people. How does a five year old even know how to be mean??

I suppose that’s a rant for another day. Because it is an easy rant to get carried away with, and one that ultimately leads to blame, which doesn’t seem to help anyone.

So today I’d like to stay on the topic of taking responsibility for what we can control. Every child and every human will probably encounter a situation in their life in which someone is mean to them. We may not be able to change the way others treat us, but perhaps we can change how we allow ourselves to be treated. I can’t change the people who hurt my feelings, but I can choose to remember that the pain they inflict isn’t my pain to carry.

And I may not be able to march into Kindergarten and put everyone into timeout, but I can tell my child ever day, “No one ever has a good reason to be mean to you. Ever. So if they are, let it go. Because it isn’t your pain to carry.” And I can pray every day that she will believe me. That she will grow up knowing how senseless meanness is, and that that will not only guide the way she behaves but also who she chooses to invest her time in.

When other people act in a way that feels desperately and painfully out of our control, it’s easy to forget we have a choice at all. But we do.

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(Disclaimer: In no way do I mean for this post to imply that I am without blame in my life. I know that I have made mistakes and been mean and unkind more times than I am even aware of. We are all human and we all strive to live in a way that is in alignment with what we believe and I, like most people, often fall short. I can only hope the people I’ve been unkind to had the strength and grace not to carry my pain with them. I also recognize that my child is human and will probably be unnecessarily mean to someone else at some point(s) in her life. I hope this message addresses both sides of the situation.)

Can We Talk About Report Cards for a Minute?

Report cards.

When I was a kid, I used to love report card time. I usually did pretty well in school, so it meant a chance to be recognized in my strengths. I knew other kids who dreaded them. It meant hard conversations about things that already felt hard enough as it was.

Now that I’m a parent, I imagine there are still the same broad spectrum of feelings about that little manilla envelope that I have to sign off on three times a year.

This is one of the times that I’m most grateful for the years I spent working in education, and for the brilliant group of friends I have who are still devoting their energy to teaching kids every day. Because those experiences and relationships have given me a different perspective from which to approach things like parent teacher conferences, grades, and–you guessed it–report cards. What I’ve learned has totally changed the way I approach these opportunities. Here’s what I’ve learned:

What report cards are NOT:

  • Report cards are not fuel to get angry at my child.
  • Report cards are not fuel to get angry at my child’s teacher.
  • Report cards do not define who my child is.
  • Report cards do not define who I am as a parent.

What report cards ARE:

  • Report cards are an opportunity for a conversation with my child.
  • Report cards are an opportunity for a conversation with my child’s teacher.
  • Report cards are a way for me to practice being curious rather than jumping to conclusions.
  • Report cards offer clues from a different perspective into my child’s possible strengths and challenges.
  • Report cards are made by humans. Humans who love my child and want her to do well. Humans who see a side of my child that I don’t see. Humans who may not see the side of my child that I see.

Bottom line: Report cards are an opportunity for me to impact the way my child feels about school and learning for the rest of her life, for better or worse. How I respond to those little numbers on that piece of paper can either fuel her excitement or dampen her spirit, can build her confidence or chip away at it.

And I know which path I want to choose. Because at the end of the day, it isn’t the grades that matter. It’s the person. The sweet little human who can’t wait to show me what she wrote in school, the one who brings home 6th grade chapter books on library day because she is so impatient to learn to read, the one who draws little curly q’s on all of her letters on all of her worksheets.

If I do anything at all with four report cards a year, it will be to use them as fuel in her brilliant fire.

Careless

  
The hard parenting days have been accumulating like dust. One after the other until I feel like I’m in a haze. Until I feel like I am muddling through instead of being intentional.

It was a long day. I know it was. We drove to Lincoln and back, we went to the zoo, we picked up our new minivan and dropped off our old car. Things that you forget are a lot for a four year old. 

We got home and were rushing about getting ready to go on to the next step of the day. She was playing with her sister and making her laugh. I reminded her probably three times, each time I passed through the room on the way to the next thing, to “be careful” “be gentle” “be kind” with her baby sister. The next time I walked into the room, I found her trying to pick up baby sister with one hand.

I lost it. 

The day, all the days before, it all came to a head and I lost it. I hauled her to her room and yelled. I yelled that I couldn’t believe she would do that. What was she thinking. Had she not heard me a hundred times telling her to be careful. She knew better. How could she. 

I told her I was so mad I couldn’t think straight. And that she was not to come out of her room. I paced. I fumed. Every time I closed my eyes or tried to regain my composure, I saw her being careless with our sweet baby and I lost it all over again. I went back in and yelled more. When she didn’t respond the way I wanted, I stormed out again. Then back in to yell more. Then out again. And every time I went back in it got worse. 

And then I burst into tears. Because I feel helpless. I googled “what to do when sibling doesn’t seem to care they are hurting baby” and nothing helped. I called and texted my go-to friend until she answered.

And thank God she answered. 

She listened to my tears. She encouraged me. She reminded me this is normal. She reminded me that my child was just that… A child. She was my cheerleader. Thank God she answered. 

And so I wept and wept and then I took a breath. I went back inside and I fed my child and bathed her. And sat her down on her bed and I said,

“Today has been hard. This evening was hard. I know you’re feeling a lot and so we will talk more about this tomorrow. But I would like it a lot if you could listen to me. Really listen with all your heart. And hear just a few things. And let them be in your brain and your heart while you sleep tonight. And we will talk more tomorrow. 

The first thing I would like you to hear is that I love you. I love you with all my heart and soul and strength. You are my world and I am your mama and I will do everything I can to take care of you and keep you safe in this big world. And I will always love you. Always. 

She gets uncomfortable in serious talks, bless her heart, so she wanted to talk about mama fighting bad guys with swords. And I said yes, I would do whatever it takes, and we could talk more about that tomorrow, but right now I just needed her to hear my love. 

And then I told her the second thing I needed her to hear: that she was good. She was good good good. Amazing and smart and beautiful. That even on the days where it felt like she was in trouble all day, even on the days where she did bad things, that no part of her was bad. I could see how beautiful and sweet and kind her heart was and I was so proud to be her mama. 

And third, I could see how hard today was for her. I could see that she missed dad, that changing cars was a big deal, and that it was a long and tiring day. And I knew that sometimes on hard days we feel overwhelmed and we don’t know what to do. And that now, on bad days, she has to share mama with sister and that feels hard. I told her I was trying. That being a mama was like learning how to swim. It took a long time and a lot of practice and you just had to keep getting better slowly and that I was always trying to get better. And that sister was still new, and that it wouldn’t feel this hard forever. 

And then I told her the fourth and final thing, and that it was important. That I thanked God every night for making me her mama. Because that meant God trusted me to help her find the good and pure and beautiful and special things that were in her heart that weren’t in anyone else’s heart. That she was amazing because there wasn’t another heart like hers in the whole world. And that I was so lucky to get to learn about her special heart. 

And that baby sister, even though she just seems like a baby, that she had a special heart too. A heart different from anyone else’s heart. And that God thought we were the perfect family to help unwrap this beautiful gift of a heart. And because there was no other heart on earth like hers or baby sister’s, that we had to be careful and take care of each other and those special hearts. 

And I cried and told her I was sorry that I had been so frustrated with her and so impatient. I told her that even though I got mad at her for her big energy, that I knew she would use that energy to change the world and make it a better place. And she looked and me and said,

“Mama, I already have changed the world.”

And so I bawled and I drank wine. And I said out loud to my husband, but mostly to myself, that I was ashamed of how I had treated her today. Because she was a child. Yes, she was smart and maybe she knew better. But she is still a child, with big feelings that she doesn’t know what to do with yet and big thoughts that she doesn’t understand yet and that she isn’t bad. She isn’t bad. She isn’t the bad guy here, and I’ve treated her like one. I coo and awe over her baby sister and then I yell at her to slow down, be better, stop. And she just needed her mama to slow down and see her. 

I have yelled and yelled at her to stop being careless with her baby sister. But I have been careless with her. I can see it in her sweet little eyes when she looks at me. She is learning who she is, but until she had the skills to figure it out for herself, she will believe whatever I believe about her. Whatever story it is I tell about her, she will believe. And she will tell that same story about herself. 

And for the past few weeks, my tone of voice, my lack of patience, my anger and frustration, have told her that she is bad and wrong. That she is too much. 

Realizing this breaks my heart. 

And makes me feel relieved, that I realized it now. That I can wake up tomorrow and do my best to start fresh. With a different story. A better story. I can teach her what she needs to learn, about self awareness and self control, without making her believe that she is bad or broken. 

Because she isn’t. She is perfect. And I am so unbelievably blessed to be her mama. I hope someday she knows how much she has taught me. About being careless or care-full. About love and hard days. About how easy it really is to change someone’s world. 

Because you have, baby girl. You’ve changed my world for the better. More than you’ll ever know. 

Where is the manual for this parenting thing?

Can you guess which one is mine?
Can you guess which one is mine?

Today was our first soccer practice.

It’s not really practice, it’s more like a camp for little soccer newbies. It’s run by some of the local college players and is only one evening per week for four weeks.

We bought all the gear. We went over the basics in the backyard. We packed our Gatorade and signed in at the table and found the group we were to go with.

And by the second station, she was in tears.

It could have been that it was a busy day. Preschool Easter egg hunts and late bedtimes the night before because of swimming and afternoon snacks of Easter candy probably didn’t help. It also could have been her recent trend of not wanting to do things that she doesn’t know how to do. Which is what concerned me.

I don’t know how we got in this habit of her only wanting to do things she knows she can succeed at. Ironically, it goes against everything that I preached in my time in education about redefining our relationship with the idea of “failure” and all the experiences and learning you miss out on if you’re driven by a fear of failure.

She loves praise, like a typical firstborn. She likes succeeding and being good at things. But for the life of me, I don’t know how she got so “bad” at being “bad” at things.

The real kicker is, she is good at soccer. Being among the older kids in the camp, she could have easily excelled. But the running of the camp was a little chaotic and so the directions at each station were often less than clear.

And when you don’t know the rules, you don’t know how to win. And if you’re afraid of not winning, it makes you not want to try.

Sigh.

I’m a fairly tough-love parent compared to other parents I know. But I also do my best to be encouraging and patient and compassionate. So what do you do here? Send her back in even though she is uncomfortable because you know it’s in her best interest to learn how to be in situations where she don’t know how to succeed? Or let her pull herself out because she doesn’t like it? I want her to give something a fair chance, but I also want her to listen to her feelings. A complicated balance for a four year old.

I didn’t force her back in, but I didn’t welcome her to the sidelines either. I asked why she was crying and what she was afraid of and pointed out that the other kids didn’t know what was going on either. They were all just running around like crazy and why didn’t she go have fun?

And then came the, “I don’t like soccer.” Which would be fine had she actually TRIED soccer. But she hadn’t. She had been skeptical and complained from the beginning. Not because she didn’t like soccer but because she didn’t like not knowing how to win at something before she ever even tried.

It’s so hard to know where the line is between being a controlling parent and being an open-ended parent is. On one hand, I want to teach her that she has choices and that I will respect those choices. But on the other hand, if she doesn’t learn how to honestly try something, how will she find the things she loves? It’s not ok for her to be driven by fear.  For her to only choose things that don’t scare her. Because that’s the opposite of authenticity. She is choosing based on what she thinks others will think.

And yet another layer to the complication is this: the class DID suck. It was horribly run and chaotic. They didn’t teach them any skills, they just turned them loose with soccer balls and told them to go after each other. They rotated quickly through stations, but several of the stations did the same thing. So just as the kids were getting the hang of the rules and the boundaries, they had to stop and move. For a little girl who was expecting to go learn something, I could see how it would be confusing and disappointing.

I could let her quit, because she doesn’t like it and I understand why. Because it seems like a waste of time the way it is run. Or I could make her stick it out. Because In life, she is going to encounter situations where circumstances are less than ideal and she may need to learn to make the best of it. Teach her resiliency or teach her to listen to her self. How do you choose?

Honestly, I was hoping that while I was writing this it would suddenly become clear. It hasn’t.

I told her I didn’t want her to quit, because I felt like that wasn’t an actual representation of the way soccer is. And I wanted her to try actual soccer before she decided whether or not she liked it. But I also told her that I didn’t think that this class was the best way to learn about soccer. So I would call the ymca tomorrow and see if I could get her on a team instead.

I guess maybe when I don’t know what the right thing to teach her is, the only thing I can do is lead by example. To listen to my inner voice of discipline and also listen to how I feel about the situation, and then do the best I can to honor both.