The Breaths We Take

“OK, now exhale,” the young doctor matter-of-factly stated as I felt the cool metal enter my spine. The nurse laid me down gently and then positioned my arms and legs like I was Jesus on the cross. “Just focus on breathing, through the nose, out the mouth. In and out. It will be over before you know it.”

I offered a close-lipped smile. Never a fan of platitudes when I’m nervous, I focused on holding back my tears while counting white ceiling tiles. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until my husband arrived and sat down next to my head.

“I can’t feel my legs,” I told him, exhaling deeply.

“I think that’s the point,” he replied.

A few minutes later, a team of sixteen medical professionals all seemed to continue saying the same words over and over to me.

“Just breathe, Hon, you’re doing great.”

“Keep breathing.”

“In and out, in and out. There you go.”

I focused on slowly sucking oxygen into my lungs and then releasing it into the overcrowded operating room until we heard first one cry, and then another. And with those breaths in and out, in and out, I became a parent.

 

First night home together, weighing a combined 8 lbs. 13 oz.

When you have children, moments are made in the breaths we take. The exhilaration and fear of watching their little tummies move up and down in the crib the first night when you place your hand gently on their chest to make absolutely sure they are still breathing. The excited gasp as we watch our children take their first steps. The exhale of relief when a high fever breaks. Holding our breaths as we watch our son or daughter shoot a goal or play a solo or recite a speech. Panting as we push their first two-wheeler from behind, and loudly cheering as we watch them cross another milestone off the list.

Sometimes it is an exasperated sigh of disappointment when our child doesn’t meet our expectations. Or, sometimes we can’t catch our breath from the laughter we share regarding a good joke.

Sometimes we feel their hot breath on our cheek, as we wipe away their tears from a nightmare or belly ache. And sometimes they sense our presence as we hold our breath in the darkness of their bedrooms, leaning over to steal one last kiss before going to bed late at night.

In and out. In and out. The breaths we take carry us through their childhood.

And then these magnificent creatures turn thirteen. My breathing is sometimes labored trying to keep up with their busy schedules. I gasp in shock when I see a beautiful woman-child in my kitchen staring me in the eye instead of looking down at the dirt-smeared face of a three-year-old tugging on my pant leg.  I choke back fears of monsters they may encounter and dangers that are all too prevalent. I exhale, slowly, before I speak, knowing that my words must count.

“Almost 13”

The breaths we take in these years are important. The breaths we take matter.

In and out. In and out. Our breaths carry us through the times our teens push us away, and they soothe us when we open our arms to take them back. They give us pause. They calm the chaos. They provide the peace.

Thirteen years of in and out, in and out, yet it seems like it went by in a single breath.

I know there is so much breathing yet to do. I imagine the gasps I’ll make upon seeing my daughters in a wedding dress, the exhalation of watching graduations, the nervous panting waiting for them to return from first solo drive in a car, and the euphoric cheers I will shout when meeting my grandchildren.

I will remember every pant, every gasp, every sigh. I will cherish every time my children took my breath away.

Because parenting is about the breaths we take. And I wish I could slow mine down.

 

Children Are Meant to be Unfinished

“And don’t forget you didn’t finish the laundry,” I yell defiantly.

I watch the slim profile of my daughter stomp up the stairs, her dark pony tail swinging side to side. I can hear her breathing through her nose, in and out, in and out, like a bull about to charge. I watch as she turns the corner, out of my view. I brace myself, waiting for the door to slam, yet thankfully I hear a quiet click of metal on the wooden frame.

I stand still, one hand clutching the railing, the other clenched so tightly I can feel my unshaped nails indenting my palm. I can feel the tension in my right shoulder-blade. I slowly release the bite I have on my lower lip, my weak attempt at trying to keep my rage locked up inside.

Today’s argument with my tween daughter is no different from the ones we have almost daily lately. It could be about finishing her homework or putting her dishes away or completing her chores. Sometimes it’s about her attitude with her sisters or her tone with me or her inability to finish anything she starts. My lectures seem to be on a continuous loop with no end in sight.

Each morning I wake with new resolve to be a better mother, one who does not nag so much or finds innovative ways to motivate my kids.
But somewhere during the day, I watch as my daughter refuses to follow our house rules, chooses to ignore what needs to be done.

Sometimes we let her fail and succumb the consequences of her forgetfulness. Sometimes we help her organize her day. Sometimes I remember that everyone needs a little help now and again.

And sometimes we seem to make progress, only to go two steps back the next day.

“Be more laid back,” I tell myself. “Not everything is a big deal or a teachable moment.”

But as she gets closer to adulthood each and every day, I worry. Will she learn the skills she needs to succeed? Will she live a life to her potential or will she merely get through a day?

I am startled as I see her small body appear on the stairs again, stomping down step by step, avoiding my eyes. She holds a white laundry basket in her hand, and I bite my tongue as I watch it bump into the spindles on my staircase.

Her shoulder bumps into mine as she struggles to turn the corner, and the metaphor is not lost on me.

My relationship with my daughter is like an unfinished chore. Something you don’t want to deal with, but you know needs attention. I want her to be finished, now, so the petty arguments and fights can be done, and we can move on to the good stuff.

But what I often forget is children are meant to be unfinished. Children are meant to continue improving and learning and finding their way.

What sometimes feels like a chore instead should be approached like sculpting a masterpiece, letting the clay form where it is supposed to under my hands. I will try to slow down the process however, knowing this beautiful piece of art doesn’t need to be finished just yet.

I have to fight the urge to “fix” my daughter, fight the desire to change who she is. I have to fight the pressure to teach her everything I want her to know before she leaps into the world on her own.

Because children are meant to be unfinished.

But her laundry, well, that still needs to get done.

Why This Prude Talks Embarrassing Stuff

“Oh, Mom. Seriously?” my daughter remarks. “Way more information than I needed to know.”

I hope she doesn’t see the blush creeping up my cheeks.

“Well, you should know about this stuff. All of it,” I reply. I was in the middle of a play-by-play of what it was like to have your period, and I wasn’t sparing details.

“Mom, can’t I just read the book. And they told us most of this at school,” she begged.

“Nope. We need to be able to discuss this kind of thing and so much more. Wait until we start talking about S.E.X.”

And that was when my daughter’s head exploded.

Well, not really. But I think she was hoping it would.

This may not seem too big of a deal for you. If you have openly been talking about penises and vaginas since your child’s first bath, then I salute you.

For me, talking about this sort of stuff is painful. It makes me want to stick pins in my eyes. I feel like I may die of embarrassment.

But I do it anyway. Because I know it may make the difference in my daughters’ lives.

You see, I had an awesome relationship with my mom growing up. We often went shopping or to lunch. We ate dinner together as a family regularly. We were pals.

Except when I first menstruated I didn’t tell her because I was embarrassed. We didn’t talk about that much and I thank Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for giving me the skinny on periods.

I didn’t talk to her when most of my friends started having sex with their boyfriends, and I started pushing boundaries myself. I would be ashamed if she knew I was even considering having sex.

And I literally almost cried with relief when at 17 my doctor said, “Your blood test shows you are anemic, so I’m going to put you on a birth control pill to help regulate you a bit.”

My mom shook her head up and down while she sat beside me while I thanked God that I did not have to talk to her about the possibility I wanted contraception.

I was lucky. My mom was strict and by good fortune I did not put myself in too many precarious situations. I often wonder what would have happened if I had a more serious boyfriend in high school. Would I be brave enough to ensure I used protection every time? Would I have walked into a Planned Parenthood to obtain birth control?

I am not sure of the answer, but I know both are more likely than me going to talk to my parents about it. Anything but that.

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It’s not that my mom told me never to bring difficult topics up. It’s quite the opposite in fact. She always said I could come talk to her about anything. But between her not bringing it up and me feeling abashed, it was easier to avoid it.

I don’t think it’s my mom’s fault. She is from a different era, and married at 18. She did not grow up in the same world that I did, and certainly not the ones of my kids where every media outlet is sexually charged.

But now with three daughters of my own, I know I must have these conversations — these painful, excruciatingly embarrassing conversations — with my girls, because their futures may depend upon it.

So, I continued to educate my daughter on tampons and cramps and what happens when you take a shower and you have your period. We talked about the menstruation process from beginning to end…well, at least everything I knew about it.

And she even asked me a shy question or two. I looked her in the eyes. I didn’t mince words. I was direct.

When I felt like there was nothing left to go over, my almost 11-year old daughter walked into the room. “Whatcha guys talking about?”

I waited for her older sister to shout: “Run for your life! Mom is talking about disgusting stuff.”

But instead, she casually stated, “You know, just about getting your period and stuff.”

I sat in shock. The girl who turned crimson when I even said the word menstruation took it all in stride.

“I’m outta here,” my youngest said, grabbing an apple and turning on her heel.

“Wait,” I called out. “Listen. I don’t love talking about this stuff either, but the more we talk about it, the less embarrassing it gets. And we need to be able to talk about it. I don’t ever want you not coming to me because you are embarrassed. About anything.”

I had their attention.

“So, we’re going to keep having these conversations. More and more. Because I want you to know you can come to me about anything. Even when you’re embarrassed. Especially when you’re embarrassed. And if we all talk about it, sometimes you can even go to each other if you’re not ready to come to me.”

I looked deeply into their eyes, looking for affirmation, a connection not their before.

“Yeah, mom. You can talk to us about periods and sex, and Dad can talk to us about soccer and farts. We’ll totally be covered.”

They turned and hurried up the stairs before I could even think of a response.

But I felt like I won. My prude, Pollyanna self got through an embarrassing conversation and I didn’t die.

I’ll take that as a win.

 

 

 

 

Slipping through My Fingers

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.

Gym Clothes and Participation Trophies

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.

Guest Post: Teaching Kids to Speak Up — Even to Their Friends

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.

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