January 22, 2015
by Tricia
14 Comments

Growing Together: He is Me

growing together

I’ve always believed that each of us has more than one soul mate walking the planet at the same time. Because things change and life is fragile and souls need to find their matches.

I’ve also been delighted to find out, since beginning to write and live online as well as off, that each of us has more than one kindred spirit. More than one person who gets us in this quiet subtle way. Who seems to be walking our path and stopping at the same trees and flowers and moments so full of thought and emotion at just the same time.

Dina is one of those people. Almost without fail, I’ll be feeling or thinking something and then turn to her words, be they on Twitter or her blog, and find her pausing at the same thing. So I am delighted that she is here today, sharing a beautiful story about her and her son. If you’ve ever felt that you are parenting a smaller version of yourself, this one will speak to you. Enjoy Dina’s words here and then go visit her at her Commonplace.

~~~~~

He Is Me

DSC_8604

His wailing cries echoed in the hollow staircase and bounced off the closed bedroom door of his sleeping baby brother.

“It’s not faaaiiiiiirrrrr….” Over and over, he cried. No, it wasn’t. I had accidentally deleted an apparently epic recording of “Down By The Bay” that my oldest son had just sung into a discarded iPhone. Instead of helping him name the voice memo, I’d hit an errant key and it was gone.

Once, as a senior in college, I lost the majority of a lengthy take-home exam. It was a 24-hour open book thing in one of my most challenging Philosophy courses. I’d been working on it straight since picking up the prompt at 9am that morning. It was 2am the following day when it disappeared. It was due in 7 hours and it was gone. I went numb. I worked hard. I wrote brilliant words on British Empiricism never to be seen again.

It wasn’t fair.

Weeks later, from the rear of the minivan, my son asked how we can get it back. The voice recording. The finality of the ‘delete’ key was still lost on him.

He asked again. And then again.

Upon his second or third meltdown, I bristled and hardened, anger bubbling up beyond reason. I’m sure I shouted, and I’m sure it was loud—I was irritated; he needed to move on.

And just as swiftly, I collapsed, softening with a sympathy that can only come from intimate familiarity, deep understanding.

He doesn’t let go easily.

We go through erasers like candy, because “I don’t like when it’s wrong, Mommy.”

He won’t move away from the bullies on the school bus because “that’s my seat.”

He is determined. He is headstrong. He is passionate. He is fixated on fairness.

He is me.

I often wonder if it’s easier or harder to parent a child so much like you. For me, it’s eye-opening. Every day, I face a mirror that requires a reaction. As parents, we make split-second decisions; we act without forethought. We harness instincts we never knew we had. And in grasping daily at answers for my son, I find that often, we share the same questions.

As I muddle through motherhood, I’m often mystified by how little I’ve changed.

I’m still the awkward middle school girl who trips on every curb rather than sails through the hallways of preschool pickup.

I’m sentimental to a fault, saving every scrap of paper that comes home with my children from school (for now).

I get irrationally incensed at minor injustices—always the little things—like half a bag of air where there should be chips, a typo on the school newsletter, or homework over the holidays.

But now I’m the one my son turns to with searching eyes. I’m expected to stay steady, speak with reason. To believe firmly enough in the ways of the world and our place within it to teach these to him.

Back in college, after losing the bulk of my take-home exam, I pulled it together. I arranged scraps from rough drafts I’d sent to a classmate earlier in the night (this was permitted). I brewed more coffee and feverishly filled in the gaps. I raced to the printing stations in the campus center, found a stray stapler, handed it over to the professor 10 minutes before the deadline.

It wasn’t fair. Things often aren’t. But we learn to cope. With disappointment, imperfection, a life that’s all too often beyond our control.

Our children grow, and we grow right along with them. And also, we don’t. In many ways, we stay the same. We are who we are, after all. We simply get better, savvier about fitting our idiosyncratic piece into the world’s puzzle.

~

One morning, he slept late. We were all jet-lagged from a trip to California over winter break and this was the first day back to school. His bus would be here soon, so I gently tiptoed into his bedroom to wake him. I pulled him up out of bed and held him close. For a moment, his head rested on my chest, the fingers on his left hand splayed at the base of my neck. Like when he was a newborn.

“Let’s go, Mom,” he suddenly spoke. He’s always been quick to rise.

I carefully touched his feet to the floor, and he took off ahead of me. I paused to steady myself and recalled that he’s been adept at this walking thing for years.

Soon we were standing together at the front doorway looking out for the bus. I crouched down to his eye level.

“Are you ready?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Well, we haven’t had school in a while.”

“I know,” I offered, “It always feels funny in the beginning. It’ll get better once you’re there and are a few hours in.”

He dutifully trod out in the cool dark morning. I stood behind, gutted but hopeful. That he’ll find his way. That he’ll know how to respond. How to face whatever crosses his path.

We are all learning—still learning—every day, how to walk through this world that stretches out beyond and all around us. How to find our footing, steady our steps.

At least in this way, we’re walking together.

~~~~~

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Dina Relles is a lawyer, writer, and mother of three young sons. Her essays can be found in The Atlantic, Brain, Child Magazine, Literary Mama, Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere, as well as on her own site, Commonplace. She loves connecting with other mother-writers, drinking coffee, and people-watching from her front stoop. You can find her on Twitter @DinaLRelles.

January 21, 2015
by Tricia
10 Comments

When motherhood felt magical

For some time now, I’ve been looking back, wistfully, to the days when motherhood felt magical.

boy with umbrella

Not that it was ever all pixie dust and unicorns. I don’t have to tell you that it’s really never been that way. And my memory has a way of tinting every moment with just the right shade of sepia and the right hue of rose to make even the toughest times glow with a beauty to which the present day will never compare. That’s human nature, I think, a self-preservation mechanism that helps us continue to put feet to the ground and eyes to the sky. It’s oh so crucial for parenthood.

But when I wipe away the filters of memory, I’m still left looking back on days when the balanced tilted noticeably more towards magic and away from reality. The days when I had just one child, only one little person needing and wanting and demanding all of my attention. The days when I left my house to go to work everyday and came home to be a mother everyday and I could keep a nice, dark, thick line between the two. The days when motherhood was new and milestones were new and I had the time in my life and space in my heart and attention in my mind to notice the smallest details of those milestones, track the micro-movements towards them, and celebrate each individual accomplishment, no matter how small. And then the days when mothering siblings was new and the world burst with possibilities for a budding new relationship and all of the things our little family of four, finally complete, would be. The days before school and forms and policies and schedules (and friends, and playmates, and birthday parties, and after school activities (and on, and on, and on)) crowded the margins of our world so fully that they eventually spilled over and swarmed the whole page with responsibilities and obligations. The days before we needed two sets of child care. Before we doubled the numbers of doctors and appointments. Before everything just simply grew and it didn’t just double, it quadrupled.

kids at the park

Those days, when motherhood felt magical, were simpler. They were easier. And even when I wipe away the sepia, I forget that they didn’t feel so at the time. That, in those days, all of the challenges of new parenthood were as new as our school and schedules feel today. That, even in those days, there were decisions to make that I felt completely unprepared to face and new worlds to plan for that were completely ambiguous.

Yes, today is more complicated than those days I’ve been aching for. But those days were not the simple breezes I like to think they were.

Still, I’ve been letting these feelings and this ache for a simpler time ground me on a path that feels dull and unavoidably burrowed in reality. Motherhood has not felt magical for quite some time. It has felt like to-do lists and disciplining, yelling and corralling, making and cleaning and fixing and starting every day all over again in all of the senses of that phrase that are drudgery and none of the ones that are renewal. For some time now, I’ve been feeling that I’ve lost my motherhood spark. I’ve lost my zeal for this life that I really do love when I can look past the complexities that would be there regardless, just in different form.

At first, I just gave into the situation. I simply accepted that this time is challenging and there is nothing to do but live through it and wait for the other side. I had faith that there is another side and enough time and movement will get us there, to where the things that are challenging today slow down and subside or become second nature and I can once again forget about big decisions and all the what-to-dos and what-is-bests and focus simply on laying in the grass with my babies beside me or curling up on the couch for an hour of stories and pictures. I’ve been waiting for the day to come when I have nothing more to do than to breathe in my children and their pixie dust and wrap myself in their magic.

handprints

Of course, that is the unicorn. The mythical day when everything is sorted and the time is there and readily available for the taking, rather than demanding to be a product of the making. That day does not exist in my future. There will always be a decision to make, a plan to formulate. To live with intent as I have vowed to do this year (and every year to come), I’ll have to think and choose and do.

So what about the magic? Is it lost forever, to be packed away with the the high chair that we just booted from the kitchen and the crib that will soon follow?

I don’t think so. Or, at least, I’m not ready to believe so. Not just yet. For now, I like to think about that motherhood magic as I do the receiving blankets that are still scattered around our house. We’ve kept most of our receiving blankets from our two sets of newborn days. In the years since we’ve swaddled a human, they’ve served a blankets for babies and bears and monkeys, not to mention capes and sarongs and shrouds to conspicuously hide toddlers. I pick them all up every so often, wash them, and believe that I’ve packed them all away in a dress up box somewhere. But then one turns up. At the bottom of the hamper. Snuggled under the couch. It just appears out of nowhere, it seems, and before I know it I’m turning it over in my hands and remembering when I could tuck tiny feet inside it, as those feet thunder through the house. And then one of my children comes along and snatches it from my hands and suddenly, it’s found itself inside playtime once again.

For now, I’m deciding to believe that the magic is still there. I just have to look for it and hold onto it when it happens along.

~~~~~

It’s one-word prompt day. I chose ‘magic’

January 14, 2015
by Tricia
11 Comments

Bored

lego time

She never actually says the word. And good for us all that she doesn’t. Because the words that come next, from me, have been plotted out in my brain for years. Most of the things we believe about parenthood, the ways we plan to be as mothers, the ideals with which we’ll raise our children, fade as reality makes clear what dreams do not. But on this topic? On this one I have not wavered. The word ‘bored’ is not to be uttered in my presence.

Nevermind that our shelves are stacked from floor to ceiling with toys, a sight that causes my eyes to ache almost daily, because oh, the clutter. I don’t even have to point to the plethora of materials at her fingertips, just waiting to be maneuvered and transformed. Because the size of her imagination rivals them all. She knows it. I know it. And she knows I know it. So she rarely tells me that she is bored.

feet and playdough

Instead, she’ll occasionally utter, “I don’t know what to do.” Call it a matter of semantics but I’ll take “I don’t know what to do.” over “I’m bored.” any day. Not just because it doesn’t grate on my ears the same way. But because, to me, it conveys something different. “I don’t know what to do” tells me that she knows she has options. She knows there is a whole world of possibilities and, though she stands a mere three feet off the ground, she knows they are all within her reach. She knows that the moment she takes a first step, she’ll be doing something and the minutes will fly by like seconds. She knows there are always things to do. She just can’t choose. Her brain is still forming and she needs help with the planning. “I don’t know what to do.” is a statement I can answer with a reasonably sized list with just a couple of options to make the selection easier. We do a lot of toy-related decision brackets in our living room.

I’m bored, on the other hand is a two-syllable white flag of defeat. It is a declarative statement that opens no doors, requires no response. It conveys to me that she has given no thought about how to fill her time or what she feels called to do and she’d rather that someone just plop an activity into her lap. (And she’d prefer that activity to be watching TV). I’m bored is not a planning problem. It’s a motivation problem. It’s a problem of refusing to engage. It’s a problem because I refuse to do the work for her.

Parenting is, of course, a long game. The trick is to think ahead to what today’s lesson does for tomorrow’s life. What am I teaching her now that will help her years from now when she is working, living, thriving on her own? I’m, admittedly, bad at this, partly because I much prefer to live in the current moment and partly because I don’t want to spend much time thinking about the days when she lives under her own roof. But years from now she will start a new job. She will want to impress her boss who will probably give her scant details and vague instructions and expect her to get started on her own, ignited by a fire she lights. And when that day comes, I want her to have no idea where to find a white flag of defeat. I want her to take a stand, recognize the options in front of her, and engage.

~~~~~

Linking up with Lisa for One-word prompts. I chose ‘Bored.’

January 12, 2015
by Tricia
0 comments

It was that kind of day

yellow heart

It’s been a long day. You know the kind. I know you do. It’s been the kind of afternoon where the possibility of a sweet bedtime with butterfly kisses and one more story and wanting to linger for just a bit more is nothing but a bit of dandelion fuzz that was swept out our hands when we walked outside into a gust of wind. And that was hours ago.

I’m over at Mamalode today talking about that kind of day. I know you know the kind. Meet me there and, together, we can commiserate and find new hope in the shape of a yellow heart.

January 7, 2015
by Tricia
12 Comments

Again

sunset

And here we are again. In the car just after 8am, willing the warm air to push faster through the vents, our breath pooling in clouds in front of our eyes. “Do you think I remember how to get there?” I ask her. “I’ll help you!” she says. And off we go.

Here we are again, her small fingers wrapping around mine and clasping with surprising strength in the open gate of the school playground. She’ll go and be fine and won’t shed a tear. We’ve been talking about this moment for days and beneath the cold and the hesitation and the dreams still fresh in her mind of pajama mornings with waffles and Legos, she really wants to be here. But this moment is the hardest. So she holds on tight and I try to break free and I spend the ride home wishing I had just let her hold on until she was ready.

Here we are again, in the car heading backwards, away from her and it feels so strange. A man is pulling strings of white lights off a tree as we pass and as we drive the season is dismantled and tucked away. This is it now, we’re in it, the velocity of the routine will now carry us forward, feeling strange and awkward yet vaguely familiar and it’s that vague familiarity that will keep us moving though we’re a bit unsure and still wishing for Sunday.

Here we are again, taking off shoes and coats and settling into a house that feels just perfectly sized when we’re all together but far too big when it’s just us two. But we bustle about, cleaning up breakfast dishes again and pulling out toys again and trying to just keep moving so that we forget that we feel a little bit lost and that something is missing.

Here we are again and it’s not even noon and my sights are set on 3:00 because after that the day takes care of itself and she comes home and then he does too and we’re together again and I can forget for a few hours that we haven’t been lounging around all day. I can, again, move about to the cadence of playtime and dinner making and questions and answers. And just yesterday I was starting to feel ready, the questions and answers dragging on me and feeling heavy and oh the quiet, I want the quiet. But now I have it and I miss the noise.

Here we are again, starting another year and it’s only a matter of time before I forget about stockings and stars and twinkling lights as we find the groove and settle into it, prepared to take another year by storm.

~~~~~
Linking up with Lisa for her 1-word prompt challenge. Pick a word and join us!

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