There I was, sitting on a thinly carpeted concrete floor while my daughter was in karate class. Like an explosion, all the kids rushed out the door and lined up at the water fountain. When it was my daughter’s turn, a bigger kid started counting to 3, the universal sign for “hurry up, I’m thirsty!” My daughter stopped drinking, turned on her heel, looked this big kid square in the eye and said, “You’re not the boss of me,” and walked back to class, looking a little taller than she had a moment before.
I jumped up and yelled, “In your face!” Then I dropped my microphone right on his bare feet! Well, I didn’t actually do that, but I totally wanted to! Not because the kid was mean, because he absolutely wasn’t, he was just thirsty. I was just so proud of my 7 year old for standing up for herself, especially to an older boy.
It made my day watching her sweet little face with her half grown in front teeth tell him “you’re not the boss of me” even though I think he really is. He’s two belts ahead of her and I’m pretty sure that means he’s allowed to (maybe even supposed to) tell the younger kids to keep the line moving. I’ll have to check with the instructor about that. But still. I was super proud.
Raising little girls is tougher than I thought it was going to be. I want to teach my girls to be kind to others, to follow the golden rule, but I also don’t want them to be doormats. And this particular daughter, she is the one who is the most accommodating. She’s the one who gives up the good spot in the car. The one who shares her new toy before she’s even played with it. The one who lets her friends pick the game at recess. She’s the peacemaker.
Don’t get me wrong. These are all great qualities and ones that her father and I encourage, but as we encourage her I wonder if she’ll define herself this way, as the peacemaker. I worry she’ll base her self worth on the approval of others.
But then this happens! A big “to heck with you bigger, stronger kid, I’ll drink as long as I want, thankyouverymuch!” In that moment I realized she can be a peacemaker and a totally confident little girl! Being kind doesn’t negate being self-assured. She can be both.
Sitting there on that cold floor, I forgot my aching back and barely noticed that my feet were starting to fall asleep. I was too happy, too proud to notice those aches and pains as I watched my adorable, tough, sweet, self confident little girl tighten her white belt, flip her long hair, and stride back into karate to kick some big kid butt.
I know you shouldn’t have a favorite when it comes to your kids, but I do. I can’t help it.
It’s Vivian’s front teeth. They are my favorite.
She lost one last night. And in true Vivian style it was very dramatic. There was some sock ice skating, a fall, a fat lip, a tooth knocked out, and blood everywhere, especially all over her brand new, sparkling white pillow case.
There was crying and bleeding and popsicles. It was very exciting. But now, no front tooth. I’m kind of bummed and I’m not sure why.
It’s not the last front tooth we have to lose here. Eva hasn’t lost any teeth yet, so I still have those adorably tiny chompers to look at.
And I’m not terribly sentimental. I mean, I didn’t even cry when the girls started kindergarten.
So I’m wondering why I’m feeling so emotional over this one.
I think maybe because she was the first of the triplets to get a tooth. The girls were 6 months old and on a semi regular schedule. Things were just starting to get a little easier, a little more manageable, a little more predictable. We were going to take the family out for the 4th of July, first to a fair in our town complete with Will’s first big wheel race (2nd place winner that year and the 4 years following! Go Will!) And then we were headed to a friend’s house for a party. The entire day, the girls were fussy. The outing proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. I really had no idea why we even took them out. But how many months can you just sit in your house watching babies grow?
Thankfully my mother in law was at the fair to help and we had friends who helped at the party. When we got home, I saw it. A little white friend poking out of Vivi’s gum. Her first tooth! No wonder she was so grouchy! Poor baby. Then the next day, Zoe got her first tooth. The very next day! No wonder SHE was grouchy too! (I don’t know what Eva’s excuse was; it was another few months before her first tooth).
I thought it was funny that Vivian had gotten her tooth first. She had done everything first at that point, the first to have her feeding tube taken out and eat a bottle on her own, the first to come home from the NICU, the first to roll over, the first to sit up. And she did it again. By one day. I always imagined she had a spidey sense that Zoe’s tooth was about to poke through so she willed her tooth out to beat her to it.
I guess that might be why I’m feeling sentimental and sad.
Or maybe it was just a really cute tooth.
I was chatting with a mom the other day. It started out as regular chit chat. How are your kids? Did you have a fun Halloween? Isn’t the weather mild? That sort of thing. But then, as small talk sometimes does, it abruptly turned a corner into something real.
And I found myself talking about my worries about my children. About my daughter who suddenly won’t sleep unless all the lights are on, who gets nervous when I leave the room.
Is this normal? Is it a phase? Should I wait and see what happens? Is there a parenting book that addresses this? What would you do?
I had no idea what she would say. In fact, I had no idea how we even got to this place. She is not a mom I talk with often, not someone I commiserate with. Her kids are older than mine, but I’ve never looked to her for guidance.
I waited for her response, her advice, her reassurance.
And this is what she said to me:
“Do you love your kids?”
“Do you tell them?”
“They’ll be fine.”
In less than a minute, she saw my anxiety, my tendency to hyperfocus on a behavior, to turn it into a problem, then try to control it. This anxiety and desire to control is like my security blanket. Well, not like a security blanket, because I never feel warm and cozy with these wrapped around me. More like a cane really. Something to grip until my knuckles turn white, something that holds me up, that helps me walk through the uneven stones of parenting.
Do you love your kids?
Do you tell them?
They’ll be fine.
In three sentences, she ripped the cane out of my hand and I felt myself fall to the ground. Into a pile of uncertainty.
“How do you know they’ll be fine,” I asked, looking up at her, shielding my eyes. The light of what she was saying was too much for me to take in all at once.
“I work with really messed up people.” (She works in mental health and I’m sure she used a more professional term but it escapes me). “They weren’t loved as kids. Their parents never told them. They have problems. Real problems.”
“Your kids will be fine. Just love them. Tell them that you love them.”
And I knew in that moment she was right.
It seemed so easy. Too easy. But I knew she was right.
I can’t control my daughter’s need to be in the room with me at all times. That’s her need. Her feeling. Her fear. But I can stop myself from making it into more than it is. From obsessing about it. From showering her with my anxiety.
I have no idea what is going to happen to my kids over the years. I can’t control how they will perform in school or sports, what fears they’ll have, how other people will treat them. I can’t stop them from experiencing pain, from suffering.
But I can love them. And I can tell them. And I can trust that they will be fine.
I have a big family and I came from a big family. It’s not quiet in my home. It wasn’t quiet in my home growing up. When I was a kid the TV would be on in one room, maybe a radio on in another, a wrestling match that almost always ended with a broken lamp, and maybe a fight or two – all going on at the same time. And I loved it!
Second Generation Chaos
There’s a little less wrestling and a lot less TV in my house, but the noise and chaos remain. We have a school age son learning to play the violin. We have triplets worn out by their first year in kindergarten who occasionally melt down in tears. We have a mom who whistles and sings and dad who shares his loud music collection. There’s fighting, yelling, and more than one conversation happening at once. Our nearly dead clothes dryer squeaks so loud you start looking for the earplugs and sometimes there’s food burning on the stove, setting off the smoke detector.
And it’s not just noise -it’s a little bit lack of organization and schedule. I don’t know if it’s me or being raised by hippie parents, but my body does not want to be on a schedule – I feel a physical aversion to it. I’m like a toddler who doesn’t want to go to bed on time, even though she needs the sleep. My brain throws itself down on the floor in a complete tantrum, “I don’t wanna do the same thing at the same time every day!”
My Calm Friends Have Peaceful Homes
I’ve had the privilege of visiting my calmer friends’ homes, where there is less yelling and more patience. The space is cleaner, neater, more organized. A load of whites is done every Wednesday. The vacuum is run every day. There’s no faint scent of “litter that should have been emptied yesterday.” It’s so nice to walk into a space like that. And not just the neat part, but the calm part. Some of my friends just exude peace and to be near them is like stepping a sweet scent. I feel calmer when I’m near them, just being around them helps keep my crazy at bay. Now, I’m not saying these women are perfect. I know there are no perfect moms.
I used to think this was my goal – the calm, neat home. To curb my temper. To clean up the house. To run a load of whites every Wednesday. To get my act together. But now I know better. My calmer counterparts are not my goal. They are not me. It’s in their nature to be calmer and more peaceful. That is one of the reasons I love them and love to be around them. But, calm and peaceful is not my default setting.
My New Goal: Embrace the Chaos
So instead of trying to be something that I’m not, I’m going to start embracing who I am, to appreciate my nature.
What that means is yes, our house is filled with noise and chaos, but that’s not a bad thing. The noise comes from dance parties, sock skating, tickle fights, and attack hugs. The chaos that begins with a burned dinner ends in a pizza party. Embracing the chaos means throwing out the schedule to play my violin along with my son, staying up late on a school night to let the kids watch the Princess Bride, and throwing a birthday party for our guinea pig. These are great times for our family: loud, joyful times. And they’ll be great memories for my children.
Already I’m more content at home, now that I have given up trying to be something that I’m not and trying to make our family like someone else’s. Now we have the freedom to be our amazing, loud, crazy big family.
It’s a beautiful sunny day. It’s autumn. The leaves are at their peak in bright colors. The weather is cool and sunny. And here come the perfect moms walking out of school.
I pass them as I’m walking in. They’ve dropped their kids off already. On time, of course. They are laughing and smiling and talking on their way out. They are younger than me and beautiful. Shiny long hair, no gray yet. Wearing hip, casual clothes effortlessly. They could be in a magazine, with a caption, “How to be the Perfect Stay at Home Mom!” These ladies are killin’ it!
First-time-mom-me would hate them. She’d be jealous of these perfect moms because they are beautiful, they are fit, they are wearing expensive clothes, they seem like they have it all together. They’ve formed a bond with each other where I always felt a little out of step. And first-time-mom-me, well, I didn’t feel like I had it all together. And I felt like I should. Like it was obtainable. Like those women were the models for it and I had to achieve that before I could enter into the perfect mom club.
Well, current me knows different.
Current me knows this: Shiny long blond hair mommy, she just found out she needs a hysterectomy and her heart is aching at thought of not being able to carry another child. Designer jeans lady, her father is at home on hospice care. Yesterday the nurses told her it was going to be very soon. Cute work-out clothes mom, well, the teacher thinks something is “going on” with her son and she recommends taking him to a behavioral therapist for his “strange” behavior. And that mommy holding the perfect looking 2 year old, her husband had an affair. She wants to get as far away from him as possible, but when she looks at her kids, she’s not so sure she can.
Of course I don’t actually know these women. But I do know that there are no perfect moms. I have met some amazing women in my 9 year career in mothering and not one of these moms didn’t have some battle going on in their lives. I know the perfect mom is a myth.
So even though I don’t know these moms, I know these moms. I know that they are taking care of their aging parents, that their child hasn’t slept through the night – ever, that they are recovering alcoholics, that they are late on their mortgage, that they haven’t spoken to their sister in three years, that they had several miscarriages, that their son has a developmental delay, that their daughter has cerebral palsy, that they fight with their husband every day, that they are dealing with depression.
There is so much behind the looks, the designer clothes, the manicure, the salon hair, the handsome husband, the pretty house.
As current me walks past these women, I am happy for their smiling, happy for their laughing. I know there’s pain behind it. I’m glad they have each other. I smile at them, wave to the 2 year old, and walk my kids into school.