I watch as she bounds down the stairs in her pink and white polka-dotted footed pajamas. Her bed-head hair is matted in the back, and I see a speck of sleep in the corner of her blue-gray eye.
She rushes over to the Christmas tree and shakes one present, then another. As she does every year, she organizes her gifts beside her for quick accessibility.
Her voice rings out with an excited tone: “Come on Mom, get your coffee. I can’t wait to see what is in this one!”
As I turn around to walk towards our sofa, I expect to look down and see my young towhead daughter beaming up at me with her signature close-lipped smile; yet instead, I am startled to see a woman-child looking me directly in the face. Her eyes are wide when she leans in to easily kiss me on the cheek.
“Mom, seriously! Let’s go!” She hands me a package and then leaps over her sisters to sit down in her customary spot by the tree. “Are we doing stockings over presents first? I vote stockings like last year!”
Too old for Santa, she proclaims somewhat sarcastically to her father that “Mr. Claus” brought her the new karaoke machine she wanted. She is not too mature, however, to squeal the joy of a kid on Christmas when she finds her favorite candy hidden deep in her stocking.
At the end of our celebration, this tall tweenager says her annual pronouncement: “This was the best Christmas yet.”
She slides up next to me and wraps her long, gangly arms tight around my neck. I almost can’t believe that it is her soft cheek resting against mine. I watch with wonder as she takes the stairs by twos up to her room.
An hour later, I am stunned as I watch a five foot three beauty enter my kitchen.
Gone is the messy appearance of a little kid. Dressed in a simple white t-shirt and jeans, she wrapped a new scarf around her neck that tucks her dirty blond hair delicately behind her shoulders. Her lips are painted a soft pink and small silver hoops hang from her ears.
She confidently walks up to me, grabs my hand, and then completes a small turn by ducking underneath my arm.
“You look lovely,” I say to this young lady I barely recognize.
She smiles and pulls her hand away, and I instinctively try to hold on tighter for just a moment longer.
But she’s slipping through my fingers. A little more every day.
I fight back the urge to run after her. I want to pick her up and drop her on the couch so I can tickle her in the ribs and hear her squeal. I want to pull her up onto my lap and read from a picture book, using her chubby finger to count and sound out letters. I want to grab her hand and walk her across every street and into school and through each door.
These are silly thoughts, I know. She grows more independent each day, finding her way without me. I used to be the center of her world, and now I’m just a spectator.
She still needs me, I am sure.
“Mom, where did you put my gym uniform?” Or, “Can you drive me to Jennifer’s house?” is sometimes all I get in a day.
Other times, when I am lucky, we share belly laughs over a silly joke or a memory emblazoned in my mind, such as when she first learned to boogie board or performed in her first play.
And too quickly, the moment is gone, slipping through my fingers as I try to hold on.
I don’t long for the days of tantrums and dirty diapers. I am not sad that I no longer receive 5:30 a.m. wake up calls to turn on the television for Dora or the fact that I do not have to endure potty training another child. I do not miss the Crayola markings on my wall or the legos I no longer step on in the middle of the night.
But it is hard to know that you are no longer the guiding force for your tiny human, that you are no longer the sun to her small planet.
She gravitates to new things every day — friends, media, causes, hobbies — and it is thrilling and terrifying at the same time.
I long to hold her back for just one more day, keep her small and uninformed and protected.
But she’s slipping through my fingers as she rushes to grow up, a little more every day.
So instead of losing my grip, I choose to walk beside her when she lets me. Sometimes I am allowed to hold her hand, and sometimes I stand off to the side, watching her take on this scary world in her own beautiful way.
My role is no longer to be her sun. My job is to be her moon, connected by a force so strong that it will never break. I follow her along, providing light in her darkest moments, direction when needed. Sometimes my presence is large and looming, and sometimes it is small, barely seen by the naked eye. But I am always there.
She’s slipping through my fingers, a little more every day.
So I attempt the impossible for any parent to keep her within my reach.
I let go of her hand.
She slipped through my fingers. I hope my love will always guide her way.
Recently my daughter forgot her gym clothes. I know. Tweens and their irresponsibility.
Except, she mentioned all weekend that she needed to do her laundry. She’s 12 and part of her household chores is managing the washing, drying, folding and putting away of her clothing.
She mentioned it a few times, and in each instance I replied: “Okay, no problem. You can do it as soon as I switch my stuff out.”
“Do you want me to move it?” she asked.
“No, no. I want to make sure everything is dry, so just wait,” I said nonchalantly about four times over the weekend as I washed most of our family’s winter apparel, some to get ready for us, some to give away to a winter clothing drive.
After a busy weekend, just as I was headed up to bed, I saw her laundry basket sitting to the side of our washer. It never was done.
I quickly tossed it in the machine and went to bed, reminding myself to put it in the dryer first thing in the morning.
Funny, right? I’m guessing you know what happened next.
At 7:18 a.m., my daughter started freaking out that she couldn’t find her gym uniform. “I figured I would just bring it home again tonight to wash, and now I can’t find it,” she cried.
Mom fail on so many levels. “Go catch the bus. I’m sorry, honey. It was my fault. I’ll drop it off in the office. You have to remember to go pick it up before gym, though, or you’ll have to borrow one,” I called out from upstairs.
At 8:10 a.m., I drove to her school to drop it off. As I walked in with my little plastic grocery bag of gym clothes, I saw a familiar mom walking out of the building.
“Did someone forget something?” she asked.
“Yeah, gym clothes,” I replied quickly.
“You’re a better mom than I am. My kids know now that if they forget something, they’re screwed. You got to teach them responsibility! See you later,” and she was gone.
Somehow, I felt guilty about bringing her clothes. I didn’t like the way she perceived my parenting and I felt defensive. I wanted to shout, “Wait, it was my fault! She was responsible! I’m not!”
When I entered the school, I found myself word vomiting to the secretary. “She didn’t forget it. It was really my fault because I never let her use the washer and dryer this weekend and then she actually remembered it this morning but I forgot to put it in the dryer because I was tired so I told her she has to pick it up from the office and not disturb class and she’s really so much better about remembering things then she used to be and sorry to bother you, ” I spouted without taking a breath.
When I finally stopped, the nice secretary calmly stated: “We all forget stuff every once in a while, kids and parents alike. Do you know what class she’s in? I’d like to drop it off to her.”
No judgment. No advice. Just help for a kid whose mom messed up.
One of the things I do not like about raising kids in today’s social media age are the extremes portrayed about parenting. Take your kids something they forgot, you are not teaching them responsibility. Help with homework, you are a Tiger Mom. Go overboard on a school project, you’re doing it to make yourself look good. Sign your kid up for too many activities, you’re going to stress them out. And don’t ever use Pinterest.
We forget that parenting is the most personal and individualized thing we will ever do in this world.
I hate that I let that other mom’s comments get under my skin, hate that I became defensive. It was an innocuous conversation, just parking lot banter based on limited information.
But we have become so sensitive to judgment that it skews every decision.
Recently I’ve seen a trend of blaming things on the “Participation Trophy Generation.” I get it. My kids received the equivalent of their weight of trophies, medals and ribbons for the various activities they participated in over the years. Some were earned, like at a tournament or competition, and some were merely for putting in the effort and finishing the season. In our house, I don’t think they feel strongly about receiving it for competition or participation. I think they just like having a memory of the experience.
A friend, however, recently emailed me a story about her son who is eight. According to her, he is uncoordinated, shy, and a target for bullies. As an athlete herself, she tries to encourage him to compete in some activities, whether it is a sport or a Minecraft contest. Apparently he excels at chess, and is killing it at various events winning several competitions the past few months. Funny enough, though, it is the participation trophy he received for finishing the soccer season that he is the most proud and that sits on top of his desk.
“I know I’m good at chess, Chess is easy, but I wanted to quit soccer after the first practice. I hated it. I don’t think I want to do it again, but I’m proud of myself for finishing. And not dying on the field,” he told his mom.
The trophy that we all think makes our kids soft meant something to this boy. It gave him a greater sense of accomplishment than winning.
I think we want to pigeon-hole all the things that are wrong in this world on the decisions of someone else, usually a parent. And while sometimes it may be accurate, oftentimes, it’s just a rash judgment on something you know little or nothing about.
As parents, we can continue to egregiously cast a judgment net, or we can spend that time and energy crafting little humans that will do great things in this world. What works for you may not work for me.
Or perhaps, maybe you are just more responsible about doing your laundry than I am.
I recently came across a quote that said: “We are looking for affirmation, not information.”
It resonated with me because I think it hits the nail on the head in regards to what social media has been like lately. We are looking to point out other’s flaws, so we don’t have to look at our own.
It reminded me of a time with my daughter, when she stood up to a bully, and then a few weeks later, couldn’t stand up to a friend. And it made me wonder, what sort of example are we setting? What are we teaching our kids.
I’m up on Her View From Home today with a new piece. Thanks for following!
Teaching Kids to Speak Up — Even to Their Friends
When my daughter was in fourth grade, I received an email from another mother.
“I just wanted to say how grateful I am that our girls are friends. A 5th grader started picking on Joy on the playground, and your daughter stood up for her. You are really raising her right!”
I felt proud that she stood up to this bully and hopeful that all those discussions about kindness and bravery resonated with her.
A few months later, I walked into the same daughter’s room to find bright pink nail polish on her brand new bedspread and carpet. I became irate. “You know you aren’t allowed to do your nails in your bedroom! What were you thinking?”
Tears immediately streamed out of her eyes. “I tried to tell Joy that she should do them in the bathroom, but she said it would be fine. She wouldn’t listen!”
After I calmed down and rational thought returned, I spoke to my daughter about it in more detail. I wanted to understand how she could stand up to a bully older than her, yet couldn’t get her friend to follow our house rules. To read more, visit here.
Recently my daughter joined a new soccer team. We live in a different town than the rest of the young girls and are new to the club. We are outsiders.
At her first game, I walked onto the field and noticed small pockets of parents chatting with each other. Normally, I am fairly outgoing. I readily introduce myself to strangers, and I’m an expert at small talk. But something about the situation made me feel self-conscious. My husband was at my older daughter’s game, so I sat alone in my folding chair, head buried in my phone, I just couldn’t get up the nerve to approach the small circles of parents ten feet away from me.
Three games later, it was the same. I smiled and nodded at some of the parents who looked familiar as I lugged my chair over to my spot, but my husband and I sat off by ourselves.
Right before the game started, I noticed a man shaking hands with a mom about eight chairs down. Then he moved to the next set, and then the next. When he arrived at the family beside me, I heard him say, “Hi there, I’m Joy’s dad. I just wanted to introduce myself since we don’t really know anyone on the team. I know the games about to start, but who is your daughter again? What number?”
Finally, he approached me, and we exchanged pleasantries. He opened his chair next to mine and excitedly exclaimed, “I haven’t been able to get to any games before this, so I’m stoked. What school do you guys go to?”
We chatted intermittently for the rest of the game, and then afterwards, instead of every family immediately heading off to their individual cars, people mulled around a bit. One dad came up to our new friend, and then introduced himself to us. I saw a woman standing off to the side, and pulled her into our circle by mentioning I thought her daughter played a great game. Another mom joined to chat about an upcoming tournament. Before I knew it, the entire team’s parents stood in a group introducing themselves to each other.
That dad is a circle breaker. He changed the entire dynamic of the sidelines in two minutes. It was powerful.
I like to think of myself as a circle breaker. It’s easy for me. I will talk to anyone who will listen, I like to think I know a little about everything, and because I’ve moved around quite a bit, I’ve broken into mom circles in four states. I even have little circle-breaking children.
But we’ve all been there, been in that awkward situation where it just seems like the other person isn’t interested in you. Either their head is in their phones (guilty), they seem entrenched in another conversation, or their body language screams, “Stay away!”
But if there’s ever been a time for circle breaking, it’s now.
This weekend, we took a trip to Medieval Times for a belated birthday dinner outing for one of my daughters. Our minivan pulled to a stop about 11 rows from the building. The parking lot was well lit, and my husband jumped out of the minivan and started walking to the entrance. He called out over his shoulder, “You have the keys, right?”
I sighed. Keeping track of keys to a car with an automatic starter is exhausting. I stood by the side of my car rummaging through my purse, finding gum wrappers, pencils and store receipts, but no keys. Just as my hand wrapped around the metal key chain, I heard a frantic voice speaking to my three daughters and their friend who congregated just in front of our automobile.
“I am trying to get here,” she pointed to the screen on her phone. “But I can’t get the address right. Do you know the address here?”
The woman wore a hijab, and a small girl clung to her coat, peering up at the older girls with huge brown eyes.
I approached the woman and asked, “Do you need help?”
She responded, “Yes, please. I need to get here,” she pointed to a red dot on her phone. “And I am very lost. I have been waiting for someone to come out, but it has only been men or large groups and I did not feel comfortable. Two women said they could not help me.”
I told her the address of our location, and she breathed a sigh of relief as directions popped onto her screen.
We chatted for a moment longer, and then I asked, “Can I walk you to your car? Do you need anything else?”
“No thank you. I am okay now. Thank you for your kindness.” And with that she was gone, dragging her daughter behind her.
I wondered to myself how long she waited in the parking lot for the right woman to approach. I was happy my husband rushed ahead, and I was there for her. I felt for a brief moment, we were part of the same circle.
Our country is off its rocker right now. There is violence occurring in the name of hate and violence occurring in the name of love and violence for the sake of violence. Families are fractured by political divides and neighbors who were once friends now avoid each other’s eyes.
If there was ever a need for circle breakers, it is now.
I think about how awkward it felt for me to approach a group of parents, a group where we all shared a common interest in our daughters’ soccer team. And then I think of how difficult it must feel when there are true differences between you and other people, when the circles seem impenetrable because they are made of steel.
Now is the time to reach out. Now is the time to include. Now is the time to put our phones away and interact with the people in our kids’ schools, community and work places. If we don’t want to be a country divided, someone will have to break their circle open. It has to start somewhere.
I’m not saying every time you’re chatting with your friends you have to ask someone in; BUT be aware. When you see someone hanging off to the side nervously checking their phone, think about introducing yourself or even offering an inviting smile. When you see a new person at school, attempt to strike up a conversation, no matter how awkward you feel. And when you see someone who needs help, give it.
I hope more parents become circle breakers like the dad on my daughter’s soccer team. And I hope we become more approachable to people who may be fearful of prejudice, people unsure of the world right now. I hope we lead by example for our children on how to build relationships, build a community, build a positive life.
I forgot how easy it was to be a circle breaker. I forgot that most circles are tissue thin, if you just introduce yourself or make the first move.
More importantly, I forgot how easy it is to bust circles from the inside, just by being the one to let someone in. Most times when someone starts breaking the circle, everyone else follows happily along. I particularly like to show circle breaking off in front of my children. It seems to make their force even stronger.
Now is the time for circle breaking. Are you in?
The small-framed tween girl slides to a stop in her sock-clad feet directly in front of me.
“Ta-da,” she sings, using jazz hands as her chocolate eyes dance with excitement.
“You can’t wear that to school,” I respond too quickly.
“Why not? I think I look awesome.”
“It doesn’t look right,” I declare. The words spew out of my mouth like bullets, and I instantly want to siphon them back in as I watch my daughter flinch. “I mean, you are not supposed to wear it that way.”
A six foot, purple, zebra-print scarf wrapped loosely around her tiny head. Rather than looking like a headband, it looked more like a mis-wrapped bandage for a head wound.
I stared at the beautiful creature in front of me who was valiantly holding back the tears building in her eyes.
I wanted to shout, “Wait, I was wrong! It looks beautiful! You are beautiful!” But the truth was, she looked ridiculous.
It was not our first fashion standoff. Gone are the days where I select her daily wardrobe — the adorable dress with matching hair bow and color coordinated socks or a trendy, leopard print sweatsuit with an accompanying hat. I try with moderate success to sideline my control issues and continuously tell myself that I am fostering her independence, her creativity, by allowing her to wear what she wants. I did not say a word the time she went to school wearing more beads than Madonna in the eighties. I kept my mouth shut when her outfit comprised of leopard print on the bottom and stripes on the top. I even smiled brightly when she attempted a make-shift bump-it hairstyle she saw on Youtube.
I will not be the one to diminish her self-esteem, her self-worth, by commenting negatively about her appearance.
But I just did. Or did I?
Raising confident, courageous daughters is hard. Women face an onslaught of images every day telling us we are inadequate, and Photoshop changes our perception of “normal.” It is easy to feel our teeth are not white enough, our boobs are too small, our waist is too big, and our makeup is wrong.
Given enough power, these messages can break our spirits and increase the desire to conform, instead of love the things that make us different.
As the parent of three girls, I watch my words carefully and meticulously focus on the positive; I know the words I say aloud become the voices they hear in their heads later on in life. I go over-the-top with compliments and and shun others when they mention anything negative about weight, appearance or intellect.
But in this moment with her, I ask myself if I confused promoting self-esteem and self-worth with only saying what I think my girls want to hear?
It is a tight-rope I walk with my daughters. I want them to feel empowered, beautiful and accepted as they are, but I know that self-confidence is more than receiving compliments. Learning to accept and manage criticism, whether constructive or malicious, is an important life skill, yet I feel crushed between the desire for honesty and the motherly instinct to protect them from pain, whether from me or someone else.
I strive to find balance, promoting positivity in all aspects of their lives without creating gigantic egos. Can I be their biggest cheerleader and lead critic at the same time?
The defiant statement, “Well, I like it,” zips out of her mouth and I sense she is struggling to hold back a foot stomp. I know my next words are important, so I choose them carefully.
“Listen, sweetheart,” I begin. “There is a secret code women have called the girlfriend rule. You only use it in extreme circumstances. It states that when your girlfriend is wearing something so bad that she may embarrass herself, you tell her. You tell her because you love her, not because you want to hurt her. That scarf, well, this is one of those times.”
“But, I really thought it looked good,” she muttered, casting her eyes downward.
“I know you did,” I reply softly, pulling her close to my side. “But I think it would look even better over your shirt. Do you want me to show you how to tie it? And how about I get that new headband from Christmas. Do you think that would complete your look?”
“Yeah, I know where it is,” she squirms out of my grasp and heads back to her room.
When she returns a few minutes later, she is smiling in a sea of shades of purple that would make Prince proud. It’s not what I would have selected, but it suits her perfectly, and her confidence is exuding out of her pint-sized body like an exploding star.
“I changed my hair, and I think I like this look even more,” she casually states while moving her braid in order to place her backpack over her narrow frame.
“I love it,” I emphatically state, catching her eyes before she heads through the door.
I reach for my keys as I follow her, heaving a sigh of relief knowing I won this battle of self-esteem. If only the war wasn’t so damn long.
This post originally appeared on Mamalode.