Like most people who saw themselves walking down the life path towards parenthood, I had some pretty clear ideas of what kind of mama I wanted to be long before I bought my first pregnancy test. I’m sure my list looks like many such lists. Fun but firm. Fair. Loving. Nurturing. The kind of mama who plays and supports and creates and builds up.
In my four years as mama, reality has required that I let go of some of those ideals. Change the mama I want to be, even just a little bit, because, in some ways, the ideal wouldn’t really be the best I could be for my children.
But reality has also challenged those ideals in a good way. It has forced me to define what nurturing really is and to really put details against how one can be both fun and firm. It has forced me, in many cases, to decide. Am I really going to be this/do this/stick to this? Reality has presented me with moments that stared directly into my heart and said, “If this is the kind of mama you want to be, now is the time.”
On Saturday, I took our girl to her first gymnastics class. The one that, four months ago, she picked over returning to ballet class. The one that I was a bit reluctant to switch to, but I supported her and let her decide. The kind of mama I want to be knew it had to happen.
The kind of mama I want to be also knows her children. So even though my girl has come a long way since those very early days of tear-filled goodbyes and refusals to go to class, I expected a bit of trouble at the transition into a new situation. I also expected her to love it. If her love of somersaults (her new, summer skill), and her constant jumping (aka, throwing herself) onto the couch were any indication, maybe gymnastics is where she’s meant to be.
And she did cry as I left. She had to be unhooked from me and carried off. But when I peeked in later, I saw her engaged. In the circle, holding hands, following along. She looked good. I relaxed.
When I peeked a bit later, I couldn’t find her. But I blamed that on the tinted windows, partly blocked by gym equipment.
With about ten minutes until the end of class, I walked back in. And, finally, I spotted her. Sitting on a balance beam, on the floor, on the side. All by herself. Sobbing.
And I never know what to do in those situations. Do I run to her, as all of my instincts shout for me to do, pick her up and flee? Or do I trust the process – believe that there is a process – and all will be well if I don’t interfere and I just let go, just a little bit?
I trusted in the process.
At the end of class, she came running to me. Still crying. Looking lost and hurt and scared.
“She wasn’t hurt.” the teacher assured me when I asked what had happened, “She just missed you and melted.”
“So did someone tell her to come sit here?”
“Well, it was better than having her just standing there in the middle, not doing anything.”
Sitting and crying by herself was better? I don’t agree.
Our girl is sensitive. She struggles in new situations. She is introverted. She warms up slowly.
But with a little extra care, she blossoms. With a little bit of nurturing and comfort, she joins in and has fun and she soars. We’ve seen it before. And it’s beautiful.
But without that little extra bit, she withers.
This was a tough lesson for us to learn as her parents. We are still learning. The world says that this is something she should fix about herself. Jump in. Be strong. Don’t ask for help. Don’t show that you’re feeling a little scared. Toughen up.
And she is growing up. And she is toughening up. Just a little. Just the right amount. But she is still a little girl.
A little girl who spent the better part of an hour sitting on the side, sobbing, completely ignored, while others ran and climbed and tumbled. The thoughts that must have gone through her head as she sat there terrify me.
I’m not ok with that.
And so, I had to choose. The mama I want to be encourages her kids to stick with things. Don’t judge on just an hour. The first is always rough. Give it another go. Give it a fair shot.
But the mama I want to be also doesn’t put her children in situations that will make them cry or feel bad about themselves. She nurtures and builds up and removes people from our world who aren’t willing to do the same.
The mama I want to be says that, for now, we’re done with gymnastics. Not because I don’t think gymnastics is right for my girl. Just last night she was still throwing herself onto the couch and climbing across every piece of furniture. But because we haven’t found the gymnastics class that is right for us.
The kind of mama I want to be will keep looking.