I know Charles Dickens was talking about the French Revolution when he said “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” but I also think he may have been referencing my forties.
My forties. How is it even possible?
My forties. When I no longer get caught up in the drama and realize that I am in control of my own happiness. When my friendships are flourishing and I’m rediscovering why I married my husband. When I know what is important and how to get there. When my skin is much thicker, and I’m much more comfortable in it — most days. My forties…when it all starts to come together.
With the confidence and control of your forties, there also seems to be a steady stream of bad news. Friends who for the first time are facing their parents’ mortality and must make difficult decisions. News of cancer diagnoses for those you love or sometimes their children. Phone calls about marriages ending or addictions or senseless tragedies. It never seems to end and knows no boundaries.
And while I realize that this sort of news happens at all times throughout your life, it seems to affect me more now in my forties.
We seem to spend so much of the first half of our life trying to get to where we want to be, and the second half trying to protect it. Whereas I used to just feel badly for someone going through something tough, now I become consumed with the fact that it could easily have been my marriage, my child, my health affected.
Now that I’m in my forties, I know exactly what my life is about, and how lucky I am to have it. I know how fragile the balance is between taking risks and ensuring the preservation of the life that I love — and those in it. I am grateful — every day — as opposed to just when life rears its ugly head of bad news at me.
And yet, sometimes I become paralyzed by fear. Frozen in the fact that at any given second on any given day, all that I have worked for and been given the past forty years can be taken away, and it consumes me. How can I be so lucky? How can I be so deserved when these horrific things are happening to these good people?
But thankfully, I have forty (one and a half) years of experience under my belt. Thankfully, I know I can survive what seems un-survivable, overcome what seems impossible. Thankfully, I know what I have, and no longer take it for granted.
Because I know one day, it will be my turn to get that horrible phone call or upsetting doctor’s message or troubling text, and I will have a choice. I can surrender to my fears or I can draw strength from the life I have built and the people I have chosen to be in it.
And I will live my life helping those who get their bad news, knowing they will be there when I may get mine. Because in my forties, I know that I have a lot of greatness in front of me.
But I’m in my forties, and I know that nothing lasts forever.
Note: Major spoiler alert if you have not yet seen the movie.
To celebrate the last day of school, I took my three daughters to see Maleficent. While we all enjoyed the movie, it also afforded me an excellent opportunity to address a topic that scares the bejeevus out of me: how to deal with bullies.
You see, there was a boy in one of my daughter’s classes this year that made me a little nervous. I did not know him well, except for what my daughter and her friends shared with me, which included that he received a suspension from school for fighting, often teased other students, and at times would take things out of my daughter’s hands so she would have to chase him down to get it back.
No, it wasn’t particularly traumatic for her. She was not his target, but I had concerns.
One day my daughter asked me why I thought he acted like that. Always one to seize the opportunity for a teaching moment, I replied with: “Well, my guess is he’s looking for attention. Maybe he doesn’t get enough attention from his parents, or maybe something bad has happened to him that makes him act out. Sometimes people treat others a certain way because that’s the way they’ve been treated.”
While I thought my answer rocked and was about to pat myself on the back, my daughter just stared at me. “Like what kinda bad?”
This is the part of parenting that gets me. I never want to scare my kids, but I don’t want them to be naive either. They are growing up and need to be aware that there are bad people out there — and sometimes they are people we trust; but I did not know this particular boy’s situation and did not want to put ideas into her head, so we just went on to speculate that maybe his parents lost a job, travelled or were busy with something else and the conversation fizzled.
Enter Maleficent a few weeks later. Maleficent is the tale of the evil witch in Sleeping Beauty, but told from her point of view. Maleficent actually was born a fairy with powerful wings that never let her down. She is the protector of her land and adored by all. Due to a chance encounter, she befriends a human, a man who falls in love with her, but desires power more. Maleficent suffers the ultimate betrayal when the man takes her wings in order to become leader of the rival kingdom.
The loss of her most prized possession pushes Maleficent over the edge, and she becomes obsessed with revenge, including placing a curse upon the new King’s infant daughter, Aurora.
In her quest to ensure Aurora’s fate is sealed, Maleficent watches over her. Slowly, Aurora’s inner beauty breaks down the ice in Maleficent’s heart. Their relationship grows, and she eventually realizes that her happiness lies in love, not hate. She says this beautiful line as she realizes her curse has ended Aurora’s life:
I will not ask you for forgiveness. What I have done is unforgivable. I was so lost in hatred and revenge. I never dreamed that I could love you so much. You stole what was left of my heart. And now I’ve lost you forever.
Like Frozen, in the end it is her tender kiss on Aurora’s forehead that breaks the curse, not the Prince’s.
Yes, I got a little misty-eyed.
But more importantly, my kids “got it.” In the van on the ride home the girls and I were discussing our favorite parts. My daughter slowly tried to articulate how awful it would be to lose something that was a part of you, and how she understood why Maleficent was so angry about it. She suddenly blurted out: “Maybe that’s how [the boy in her class] feels. Maybe someone took away his wings.”
Yes, that was it sweet girl. She opened the door and we discussed having compassion towards those that sometimes treat us poorly. We talked about how sometimes someone we trust lets us down, which can make us angry. We touched on the fact that someone could take a piece of us — our kindness, our humor, our ability to feel safe, and how that could change us from someone nice into someone dark…someone we didn’t even know we could be.
And then we got to the good part — that even someone mean and ugly and dark can do right again, especially when shown kindness.
We ended our conversation by talking about how we would treat that boy next year. What did my daughter say?
“Well, if he is in my class, I may not hang out with him all the time, but I’m going to make sure I say hello and good-bye to him every single day, even when he’s mean and annoying.”
Yes. There is no greater weapon we hold in the war against bullying than compassion.
Thank you Maleficent.
I highly recommend this movie, particularly for those kids eight and up. The themes are powerful, but the message is amazing, particularly for young girls.
Regardless of what kind of mom you are — work at home, single, full-time career or stay at home — I think the majority of us can agree that being a mother is hard. And even when you are one of the lucky moms to have a partner that is supportive and helps out, let’s be honest…moms today still carry more of the weight when it comes to the kids, which is the way most of us want it.
That’s why I write so much about moms taking some time to re-discover who they were before they had kids — when we didn’t talk about bowel movements or the color of boogers (read my post about signs you need a girls trip here.)
But what about the men in our lives? The fathers of our children? The ones who sometimes pretend not to know how to take a rectal temperature or that the smell of a poopy diaper makes them gag. The dads who say they are scared to take their three toddler daughters to Costco for fear of losing one (true story.) The men who seemingly have no problem maintaining their workout routine, errands schedule or happy hours after having kids?
According to the two women I heard at the pool the other day, dads don’t deserve a guys weekend. “Every weekend is a “guys weekend” during the summer,” I heard the woman beside me say. “He golfs on Saturday and Sunday while I take the kids to church and now he wants to go to Arizona with his college buddies. What the heck?”
I get it. I really do. My husband travels for work quite a bit. One time his company rented out the Harry Potter portion of Universal. I felt really bad for him. Another time he got to eat at the famous restaurant Nobu in Vegas while I dealt with a case of pink eye and two book reports.
But truth be told, as much as those experiences were pretty cool for him, it did come with some guilt. And I know there are plenty of times my husband would rather be at my daughter’s first grade play then at a Hilton Garden Inn just outside Little Rock.
I think men — in general — are increasingly struggling with work-life balance. The desire to “be there” for their kids as coaches, cub scout leaders and homework helpers coupled with long commutes and 24/7 work expectations can make dads equally stressed and unhappy as moms.
Additionally, with more moms in the workforce than ever before, dads also now have more responsibilities. Activities such as packing lunches, house work, and after school car pools are no longer just for the woman in the house.
For me, going on a girls weekend is no problem. I see my kids a lot. Sometimes I would say even a little too much. It’s easy for me to justify why I need to get away.
But what about dads? Do men that travel and work long hours deserve time away from their kids and family?
I say yes, and here’s why:
+ Dads today are stressed. Men today face the same challenges women did in the 1970s and 80s. How can you be a good parent and a good employee? Men often are not given the same leniency as women when requesting time off for their children’s well-being, such as illness or school-related activities. Most men today want to be more than just the provider, but the 24/7 work environment makes that tough. Just like working moms, when a dad is at work, he’s thinking of home and when at home, he’s worried about work. Separating yourself out of that kind of stress-charged environment can be exactly the re-boot a dad needs to get back in the game of life.
+ Managing mid-life crises. While aging can hit a woman hard, hitting that mid-life milestone for a man can rock his world. Sometimes it just takes a weekend with his buddies to realize how good he has it.
+ Guys don’t share. Most men don’t call up their bestie after their boss yells at them in the middle of an important meeting. Or they don’t text their buddy to say: “Dude, I just found the most amazing pair of sandals!” It’s just not what they do. But they may share a sentence or two about how it felt to get passed over for that promotion during halftime or their fear for how their son who may be struggling in school while drinking a beer with their oldest friend from high school. And that sharing can get them through an entire year.
My husband, his best friend, and his dad on a guys trip.
+ Remembering what it was like B.C. (before children). We moms always complain about how we lose our identities after we have children. I have to imagine men feel this a little bit too. Every night my husband walks into a house full of pony tail holders, barbie dolls and stuffed animals. He has sat through hundreds of Disney princess movies, worn rainbow loom bracelets and gets introduced to various American Girl dolls on a regular basis. Even when he started teaching his daughters his beloved sport of soccer, he watched them do it with tutus as uniforms and tiaras on their heads. And while I think he loved every second of it, I can imagine it must feel good for him to get around some testosterone for a few days that is not just at his office.
+ Quid pro quo. One of the biggest things we have worked on in our marriage this year is trying to stop keeping tabs on who has done more for the family. For a long time, this is how I saw things: I do all the cooking and cleaning and chauffeuring and coordinating and child caring. He spreads fertilizer and picks up our daughter from soccer on Mondays — if and when he is in town. Clearly not even in my mind.
For some reason women do not value their partner’s contribution as much as theirs. We constantly underestimate what men do such as time spent picking up something at the grocery store on the way home from work, fixing a bike, refinancing the mortgage or even the rare occasion they do the dishes. Thinking your husband doesn’t do enough is something you should work out together…not a reason to tell him you don’t think he deserves some time away.
But let’s face facts. I don’t feel so guilty taking my trip(s) if he takes one himself!
At the end of the day, life is for living. It is healthy for you and your marriage to have some time away to focus on yourself and strengthen your friendships. If trust or his behavior is what is causing you doubts about his going away, then those are issues you need to work on — and fast.
But taking one for the team and letting him have his guy-time. Well, you may just be surprised. He may even do the dishes when he gets back.
Do you encourage your husband to have some guy-time? Do you “let” him go on a boys weekend? Let me know in the comments below.
The other day my kids delivered a crushing blow. They told me that their dad was funnier than me. In fact, they called him “hilarious.”
What? How is that possible? Do they not read my blog? I am a hoot and a half.
After the initial sting wore off, it got me thinking….how do my kids see their dad? Am I missing something? Yeah, he’s kinda funny, usually more when he drinks, but he can be funny like making me chuckle every once in a while. But hilarious? Was I missing something?
So I decided to do some research. Using a very scientific methodology, I asked my children what else their dad did better than me. Here’s what they came up with:
+ Play soccer/running. Well, duh. He’s only been playing soccer since he was like five. He should be better. And I am sure he is part Kenyan, so no wonder he can run 47 miles without stopping.
+ Getting up early. Ouch. This one hurt. Apparently my kids have caught on that I’m not a morning person.
+ Boogie Boarding. OK, I had to give them this one too. He’s got mad skills. And I’m not a fan of getting in unless the water temperature is above 80 degrees, so he actually just wins be default.
+ Putting movies on in the car. You learn something new every day. Apparently even though they are only driving three miles to Ace Hardware, my husband will put on a movie. Sorry, babe. You’re busted.
+ Tickle fights. Yeah, mom isn’t into this one that much. I do often hear a lot of giggling right before they go to bed. And sometimes there are epic battles that include launching stuffed animals across three rooms. It’s pretty impressive.
Dad doing one of the things he does better.
Well, I guess I can sort of see why they think he might be fun. And in retrospect, there are some other things he does better than me that I don’t always share. He actually could change a diaper faster. And made better airplane noises when feeding the girls pureed squash. And had more patience when teaching them to ride a bike. And grill. And he slices cheese better (mine are never even.)
And while my ego is still a little hurt, it just fuels my desire to win back my crown of being more funny than Dad. But for today, I’ll let him have his glory. He’s sort of fantastic, and it is almost Father’s Day after all. Everyone deserves a bone sometimes.
May all the Dad’s out there feel the love this weekend. You are appreciated, even if we don’t tell you because we don’t want your heads to get too big.
Today’s post was inspired by Mama Kat (makatslosinit.com).
Today is the last day of school for my not-so-little-anymore turkeys. I always have mixed emotions about it. As a work-at-home mom, I look forward to not setting the alarm clock every day or checking homework or worrying about library books, gym shoes and piecing together lunches each day.
My little turkeys
Some of my other multiple personalities feel differently. Type-A mom hates not having a routine, a schedule, a plan for each day. Crazy academic mom dislikes the fact that I have to force my kids to practice piano or write in their journals or practice their cursive. Overachiever mom feels like she has to get all the fun packed in for fear we’ll have another polar vortex winter filled with the stomach flu.
So, I decided I would write a contract with myself about how I will manage this year’s summer vacation, which I may or may not share with my kids. Writing something down always makes me a little more accountable, and gives me something to reference when I’m having a bad Mommy day.
Hoping this will not hold up in the court of law:
I, Whitney Fleming, being of permanently exhausted mind and a tired body, do solemnly swear the following to my children:
+ That I will not freak out each and every time you ask me to play Minecraft on the iPad when it is a gorgeous day outside. Instead, I will try to stop what I am doing and find something fun for you to do. I may even try to participate, but mama still has to pay the bills. And check Facebook.
+ That I will let you do fun, messy stuff even though it drives me crazy. I will let you play in the mud, bake cookies, try elaborate crafts, run in the sprinklers, and do science experiments. You are growing up so fast and I know there’s not much more time left. And Lord knows how many times I said no to the play doh.
+ That I will let you have a lemonade stand, go on bike rides to get ice cream, climb trees, and go to the pool as often as possible, even when I want to do other important stuff, like vacuum or write about what funny thing you said to me that day. Because these were all important things in my childhood, and I’m about ready to throw out the Wii. Just kidding, I’m not going to throw out the Wii. I need it for the winter.
+ That I will try to have patience when you all poke and prod and annoy and tattle and tackle and push and bust into my room saying ridiculous things like “Mom, she won’t stop looking at me” or “She won’t give me my underwear back!” But no promises, I’m only human.
+ That I will accept a dip in the pool is as good as a shower, S’mores for dinner is perfectly reasonable and having friends over is more important than worrying what they’ll think of my dirty house.
+ That I will understand that you sometimes don’t want to read or practice your writing or learn math facts. I will remember you worked hard this year, did well, and you deserve a break. Sometimes.
+ That I will not go bat crazy when you didn’t make your bed (again), put your dish in the sink (again), left your games out (again) or spilled your milk for the thousandth time. These are little things that happen and I know that some parents would give their left arms to go through these things with their kids again. I will have gratitude. After I get my Zen back.
+ That I will participate in the bike rides, in the games, in the mess. Because sometimes I don’t do things because I forget how much fun they were when I was your age…how much fun they still are now.
This is my sort-of promise to you. Like you, I’m trying to grow and learn and be better. I’ll give you a break, if you give me one too. Here’s to a great summer, you little turkeys!