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present

My Children Changed… And I Didn’t Notice

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It has come to my attention that parenting requires staying on your toes. I don’t just mean when it comes to chasing a toddler or making sure your six year old doesn’t cover the floor with choking hazards. I mean that kids are constantly growing and changing and so you basically wake up to a different human every morning.

Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But sometimes it feels like that. There are the changes they make on their own to surprise you. Like when they magically start sleeping at night. Or when they suddenly decide to STOP sleeping at night and instead devote that time to new skills like climbing out of their crib.

And then there are the changes that you expect, like learning to crawl and learning to walk and talk. And the changes you know are coming but somehow they still sneak up on you, like using the stairs, feeding themselves, and jumping off the diving board.

Those are the ones that catch me off guard most often. Not the big milestones we work toward, but these sneaky little milestones that are so easy to take for granted.

Example: toddler eating. We taught her how to pick up food pieces, so we knew she could feed herself. But when it came to putting a meal plate in front of her it was easier to just feed her than to give her a pile and teach her not to shove it all in her mouth. One meal turned into another and it was just how we kept doing it. One day it occurred to me: she should be able to eat from her own meal plate now. So I gave her a plate. And she ate. Like it was no big deal. She was ready. She was just waiting on me.

It’s a similar challenge with the stairs. Our house is full of stairs. (Insert loud sigh.) We never had an open staircase when my oldest was young so this is a new ballgame for me. Believe it or not, it took me a while to figure out that in order for her to learn to navigate stairs, I had to LET HER DO THEM. Over and over and over again.

And she has been doing great. But I’m still terrified to let her near the top of the stairs. I think she would stop and go down them the way she has learned. But in order for me to know that for sure, I have to let her have access to them without me grabbing her. And that’s surprisingly hard to do. She’s probably ready, but I’m not sure I am.

Last week the six year old finished swimming lessons. She has made amazing progress this summer. At the beginning of the season we stayed safely in the kid pool, but by the end we were comfortably navigating the big pool. She couldn’t touch the bottom everywhere but she could hold her own with a grownup nearby.

But the deep end was still a no-go. She had been off the diving board once with a swimming teacher at the bottom to help her, and that was our only venture to that end. (Even that made me cringe a little). But at the last lesson, the whole class headed to the deep end. I held my breath and silently threatened her to “stay by the wall” from the edge. But she did great and the teachers were attentive so eventually I relaxed.

Until the last five minutes when they announced it was time for the diving boards. AND ALL THE TEACHERS GOT OUT OF THE POOL.

UHHH….WHAT IS HAPPENING??? My mom brain didn’t know whether to panic or video tape, and I was already preparing to deal with the shame of having to jump in the pool to save her while fully clothed and enormously pregnant.

But she jumped off the diving board, popped right back up, and swam to the edge like a pro.

Huh.

I literally have no idea how long it would have taken me let her do that completely on her own if it had been up to me. I wasn’t ready.

But she was.

And that appears to be the trend, doesn’t it? They are ready, but I’m not.

Perhaps it’s because I’m just not ready to let go. But I think it runs deeper than that. I think most of the time it is because I’m still seeing them the way they were rather than the way they are. I think I still see the baby who doesn’t regulate how much she puts in her mouth and isn’t coordinated enough to navigate stairs. I still see the girl who can’t swim.

But they are not those people anymore.

Staying present with who people are isn’t easy. If I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years, we wouldn’t truly know each other anymore, regardless of how close we were in the past. That isn’t surprising. People are constantly changing.

Even though we see our children every day, we still face the same challenge of staying present with who they are. Each day they grow and change. Every experience they have impacts the humans they are becoming in tiny ways that add up over time. If I get caught up assuming that I know who my daughter is because she is my child and I see her every day, I will miss out on the chance to truly know her and appreciate each stage of her growth.

A swimming teacher who had known my child for two weeks was more aware of her capabilities than I was. They knew she was ready before I did.

Staying present as a parent may not be easy. But it’s worth it. Because, as parents, we have the privilege of having a front row seat to watch these amazing little people becoming who they are, one change at a time.

Authenticity and Being Present

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Every experience you have changes you. Sometimes they are big, sweeping, overwhelming, sudden changes. Sometimes they are slight, unnoticeable. But even the slight and unnoticeable compound over time.

That means we are constantly changing, whether we realize it or not. We are constantly becoming someone else. Therefore, true authenticity requires presence.

What does it mean to be present with yourself? It means being able to listen to your feelings and your thoughts. To truly listen requires curiosity; the desire to seek and see. It means not assuming. It means not “knowing”. It means listening and accepting what you find.

I think it’s hard to be present with yourself, to stop to listen to your true self at each opportunity and then be open to what you find. It’s hard and then it’s easy. It takes practice and then it becomes habit. A habit worth creating.

When my oldest daughter was born, it quickly became obvious to me that I could never be a stay at home mom. When my second came along, I was aware how fleeting time was and how precious these moments were. I had changed and what I wanted was different. Rather than assume that my original feeling was “who I was”, I stopped to check in and found a different answer.

There’s a second layer to this challenge: finding people who can stay present with you. We like to think we “know” people. It’s comforting. Sometimes we take comfort in thinking we know someone better than they know themselves. It’s not easy to think about people in our lives changing and becoming someone different. We often assume such changes are negative and will take people away from us.

But the truth is, people are always changing whether we want to see it or not. In truth, the friend you had yesterday is someone different today. Even if the change is so small it isn’t noticeable.

Do you surround yourself with people who stay present with you? It is always fascinating to me to meet someone I haven’t seen in a while and consider who I was back when they knew me… to think that the person they think they are interacting with no longer exists. Even more dangerous are the people who see us every day. When we see someone every day, it’s easy to believe we know them and it’s too hard to see the little changes that build up over time.

And on a similar note, do you stay present with those around you by accepting their present authenticity? Or do you assume you already “know” them?

And perhaps most importantly of all, how does this affect how you interact with your children?

It is easier to assume we know ourself and others, but the truth is, the “self” is like a landscape: it is constantly being changed. Sometimes drastically by a tornado. Sometimes slowly like the growth of a blade of grass. But always changing.

It is only when we are aware of that change and curious about its impact, both in ourself and others, that we can truly embrace our own authenticity and that of others.

Doing What Matters

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My four year old has completely rocked the transition from only child to big sister. She loves her little sister and hasn’t seemed jealous of having to share mom’s attention at all, and is often content to entertain herself for periods of time now.

I think I got so used to her demanding my attention that it never occurred to me a time would come when she wouldn’t always ask for it. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t still need it.

The evenings are busy. So are the days for that matter. And don’t even get me started on the mornings. We hit the ground running to get everyone fed and dressed and delivered to preschool on time. Evenings mean laundry to fold and dishes to do. Most evenings are like this but Wednesday’s in particular are busy. We have gymnastics in another town so by the time we get home it’s dinner time and everyone is exhausted. We have started the tradition of making that movie night: we shower before dinner and then snuggle on the couch and eat pizza and watch a movie. It helps everyone wind down before bed.

This last week I noticed how hard it has gotten to just sit down and uphold this tradition. When we get home now, in addition to bathing and feeding the oldest, I have to bathe and feed the little one, pump, and then cleanup the dinner dishes and sterilize bottles, and so on and so on. I was rolling through the motions when I realized I was missing one of the few times I actually set aside time to sit down and hold my oldest. My heart broke a little. Because I know better. The to do list can wait. She is what matters most. Sitting next to her and watching “Frozen” for the billionth time just so I can feel her small head on my chest for as long as she is willing to put it there.

There will always be laundry and dishes and bills and housework. But I only get these small, precious humans for a little while. I can’t even think about how much I’m going to miss these days when they’re gone because it already brings tears to my eyes. This is what matters. They are what matters. Snuggle dates on the couch and sitting next to her bed while she falls asleep and letting her crawl in between us in the mornings and playing my little ponies all day long. Anything that means I get to be present. With her. That’s the only work that matters.