Hey Moms, We’re All On The Same Team

I was sitting on the grass the other day with some other moms while our older kids played baseball and our younger ones banded together in various modes of chasing, snacking, and mischief-making. We engaged in half-hearted conversation while each of us, in our own way, was preoccupied with our kids.

I kept one eye on my accident-prone 4-year-old, who was bound and determined to spill juice all over the nice, clean, pinstriped picnic blanket we had squeezed onto to steal some shade.

One mom was worried about her daughter playing at the nearby playground, away from her watchful eye. Another was calling over to her son every few minutes, reminding him not to roll around in the grass (which he was) because he’s allergic. And yet another was eying her older son at first base, who was distractedly worrying about sunscreen and water, instead of guarding the plate.

None of us were content to take our eyes and minds off our kids, and see how they fared without us.

We all do it. Look at our kids and see the potential failures and disasters, while hoping for the best. We want some control over their outcome because we see them as a reflection of us. Willing all the best parts of ourselves on them, we hope they’ll embody the fictitious one-day-children we imagined we’d have – before we were actually parents.

As they age, we realize our kids are both falling short of, and exceeding our expectations at any given moment; making them trickier to raise than the pretend versions we dreamed up.

We’re left wondering what to do with these make-believe children we’ve created. The ones with even-keeled emotions, laser-focused attention, and charismatic charm, who thought we were nothing short of amazing and longed to do everything we loved, right by our side, till forever and eternity. (Or at least until we aged into blissfully fulfilled, older versions of ourselves, dripping with grandchildren and satisfaction for a job well done.)

And what about the parent we thought we’d be ― before we lived knee-deep in the trenches of child rearing, trying not to step on landmines, and holding our breath?

What if we let them both go? The fantasy versions of our kids and ourselves. What if we kicked ‘em both to the curb with a “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” and accepted all of us for who we really are?

Raising children is like playing Craps. (Sometimes it’s like actual crap, and there’s a lot of literal crap involved.) But for metaphor’s sake, we’re tossing out a handful of genes, nurture, and luck into the world and hoping for a parenting “win.”

I, for one, am never quite sure how it’ll shake out. Like when my oldest comes undone over a missed free throw, putting his lack of resilience on full display for all the world to see. Or when my 4-year-old inevitably does spill his apple juice, and wipe his dirty hands all over another mom’s picnic blanket.

Part of me wants to skulk away and disappear because their behavior is a reflection of my inept parenting, or at least that’s how it feels.

But what if we didn’t feel that way?

What if we forgave each other our kids’ behavior? What if I stop worrying that you’ll take my kid’s lack of resilience to mean I haven’t tried like Hell to give him coping skills? And what if you stop worrying that your kid’s lack of focus makes me think you aren’t working just as hard to instill tenacity?

Let’s stop interpreting our kids’ behavior as our parental downfalls.

How about instead, we embrace the cracks in the system and agree to have each other’s back? We could all breathe a little easier knowing we’ve made an unspoken agreement to assume best intentions when our kids (and ourselves) fall short.

Aside from overtly violent, deliberately rude, or just plain mean behavior, aren’t we all (our kids included) trying to get it right most of the time?

Let’s operate under the assumption that while we don’t want to offend those around us, with tantrums, or sticky hands, or snotty noses, or lack of manners; it’s going to happen.

Despite our best efforts, parenting gets messy.

And when it does, we need to find a universal common ground: We’re all doing our best.

We hold out hope that our kids will pay attention, be mature, make smart choices, and exude grace. We hope the same for ourselves, but we’re hardwired to make mistakes ― because we are complicated, imperfect, emotional beings.

Our kids will break things; they will cause a scene, they will stare at some distraction on the ground instead of covering first base, they will wipe their greasy hands all over your linen pants, or drop the F-bomb in the middle of preschool circle time (OK…maybe that’s just mine). No matter how carefully we watch them, or coach them, or love them, they will fall and scrape their knees; they will spill the juice. Every. Last. Drop.

But what if we embraced the messy?

What if we exhaled and let go of judgment, and fear of being judged? What if leaned on each other, instead of retreating for fear our kids’ breaking points will deem us failures as parents?

Instead, when the child wrapped around our leg is a screaming ball of inconsolable gibberish, or interrupts with 57 Mommys! while we try to talk, or breaks down and cries on the pitching mound, or douses the adorable, once-clean, picnic blanket with apple juice, we say, “It’s OK.” And our eyes match our words, and we mean it. And digging into overflowing pockets and purses for half used napkins, we clean up the mess together.

Because we’re all on the same team. Team Mom. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

This post was featured on Huff Post and Red Tricycle.

A Time Capsule Of Us

 

The other night I woke in a panic, with that unmistakable feeling I’d forgotten something. My eyes darted around the dark, taking stock of familiar surroundings, while my mind raced to retrieve what it was that sent me reeling.

Then I remembered. You. The one who made me a mom, my first baby. You are going to be in 5th grade. Not today, or even next month, but next year. If this year’s any indication, it’ll be here in the blink of an eye.

We’d just visited Open House, admiring the fruits of your 4th-grade year, which you eagerly showed your dad, brother, and me; proudly touring us around your classroom. For some reason, this year, the one on the heels of the 5th year you’ll spend as an elementary school-er, caught me off guard.

While you showed off your hand-drawn map of California and glazed, clay Grizzly Bear, I realized we’re standing smack-dab in the middle of your childhood. You are over halfway to “adult” and equidistant between training wheels and a driver’s license.

I thought there was more time, to do more together, that I always meant to do.

Like, read you more books. I didn’t know the clock was counting down minutes to the exact one (somewhere between Where the Red Fern Grows and A Wrinkle In Time) when you declared yourself too old to be read to. No hard feelings, but could I pleeeaase just let you read…alone?!

Tonight underscored what I already knew—you’re a big kid. I felt nostalgic for our time used up, and regretful for the time I’d wasted making you “hold on a second” until seconds piled into months and years that I’ve spent doing a bunch of who-knows-what, instead of what I meant to do with you.

I sat in the dark, wanting to climb the stairs to your room, crawl into your bed, and wrap my arms around your now-up-to-my-chin body (obviously I didn’t because you love sleep and um…boundaries!) Instead, I fed my Judgy-Inadequate-Mom-Demons moments of us— the good stuff—to keep them quiet; and prevent me from nosediving into the deep end of the mommy-guilt pool I’d been circling.

I did impossible math in my head, adding up milestones and memories until they equaled 10 years old; validation I had actually poured into you as much as I had left out.

I saw you, tiny and pink, wrapped in blue, polka-dot muslin, asleep in my arms while we rocked in the worn, sage-green chair that is now in your brother’s room, but was then brand new, our safe haven for discovering nursing and the pitch-black stillness of 3AM together; when we were just beginning.

I saw your first, wobbly, barefoot, pudgy-toed steps toward me, in our old house with warm bamboo floors and sunlight streaming in, making your new-tooth smile look like a washed-out home movie.

I saw your boppity-bouncy toddler gait evolve into steady, even strides running alongside me through busy streets to catch trains that took us to museums, swimming lessons, and afternoon tea in rainstorms, where we discussed dragons and pirates, and you wondered all your what-ifs to me out loud.

I saw the first time I broke us, by yelling louder than I meant to; but then how we were fixed with hugs, and apologies, and Candyland.

I saw euphoria overtake your small body as the singsongy arrival of the ice cream truck sent you darting out the door, knowing I’d follow. Sitting in the sun, on the curb, creamy drips falling from sticks, we soaked in the sweet laziness of summertime, and made our own schedule — before school, homework, and baseball practice.

I saw us planting our first garden. To your delight, we actually grew a watermelon, which you named Jr., and checked on daily until you pronounced “him” full grown and planned a party in his honor, including balloons and cake, because you were a kid who believed in everything (even garden fruit) with your whole self.

I saw us at the cafe we’ve frequented since you were a tiny lump, and I, an exhausted new mom in search of caffeine and signs of adult existence. Look at us now; me with a cappuccino and you across from me with tea (instead of strapped into a stroller with a sippy-cup). We discussed your science project and the political climate in our country—because you’re big now. We played hangman and tic-tac-toe, and ordered chocolate crepes with whipped cream—because you are little, too.

I saw us passing through time, until at last, we caught up and I found what I needed.

Closure.

You’re not the extension of me you once were, needing me always, my hand to hold, my arms to hug, my lap to snuggle into for bedtime stories.

But you still need me, and I still see us, even if we’re changing.

Like when we watched “Toy Story 3” “for your brother” but he lost interest somewhere around the opening credits. You stayed, sinking into me on the couch, while we laughed at Buzz Lightyear’s “Spanish Mode” and exchanged knowing glances when Andy gave away his childhood toys.

You do actually let me read to you…sometimes…if you’re tired, and the plot is darker than you’d care to read alone; though you’d never admit it.

And while we’re both reading, or writing, it’s not long before I look up and realize you’ve quietly settled nearby; reassurance I’m still a moon in your orbit.

We’ve outgrown this side of childhood. But thanks to insomnia and mommy-guilt, I’ve gathered up memories for safe keeping, and made a time capsule of us. You may be over halfway to adult, but we’re just beginning to discover who you’re becoming as you grow up, as we grow up together, like we’ve been doing all this time.

This post was featured on HuffPost and Red Tricycle.