If Only

If OnlyIt started with the birthday gift from my Mother and Stepfather.  A Spiderman backpack complete with flashing lights, and a Spiderman lunchbox, with a faux-ribbed “six-pack” etched into the design.  They were, to be fair, pretty cool.  But they were a bit young.  My daughter decided on-the-spot to exchange them for something a little more befitting her 9-year-old self, which was easy enough to do since my Mother had kindly enclosed the receipt as well.  We did so that same weekend, getting a really smart looking gray-patterned back pack with lots of neat pockets and zippers.  Only when I sent the picture to my Mother so she could see what the “new” gift was, the text I received back was, “That is a big girl backpack!”, as if she were surprised by it.  Odd.

I wrote it off as quirky, but forgot about it amongst the myriad of other things I pushed aside, as this week was the start of the school year and crazy busy.  That is, until we received the birthday box from my Father and Stepmother, as well.  My daughter was opening it in the living room as I was in the kitchen with breakfast and other morning busyness.  All of a sudden I hear an annoyed cry of, “Minnie Mouse, seriously??”  I went in to see the offending material, only to find a box filled with curly ribbon, little Minnie Mouse party glasses, tiny Minnie Mouse girl rings, and a variety of other small pink bracelets and candy.  It was a birthday box lovingly prepared for a granddaughter; only, it was not for my girl.  Almost nothing in there was remotely HER in any way, with the exception of the Target gift card (which had been my suggestion and that she did, in fact, love).

As I stood there looking at her scowling at the items in the box (mainly because they were pink – a complete offense nowadays to little miss tomboy – and they were geared towards a child more along the age of, say five), it hit me.  Like a tidal wave of sorrow, it hit. That’s how they see her, isn’t it?  My family still sees her as this small little creature; a grandbaby not quite yet grown.  And how else could they see her?  I am anchored across the country from them, in a world so foreign.  And I have done little to help them know her; I mean really know her.  Connect with her in a way that makes up for all that ugly geographic distance.  The fault, I feel, is entirely mine.

You see, she has long outgrown the Minnie Mouse trappings and blinky-lighted backpacks of her younger years.  Today’s interests are more along the lines of boy-styled roller blades and tween-approved backpacks.  Sure, she is greatly enamored with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spiderman, but not the gimmicky ones of the younger crowd; she wants the older, cool-styled ones of the Marvel-type universe.  The ones that have explosions in their movies, and superpowers that stealth through the back door.  If only you could hear the excitement in her voice as she talks about the latest character she and her friends are arguing about; who could outwit who, which one they would rather be.  You would fall in love with the glimmer in her eye and the loud full laugh from her chest.

This girl has moved far beyond pink and frills and bows.  She is now fully ensconced in all things blue; boy colors and styles are her preference and boys, in general, are her playmates.  She has a couple of go-to best girlfriends; she hasn’t abandoned them completely.  But she prefers the boys, I think, because of a lack of drama; and she coolly tries to pattern herself like them (especially when she needs a self-confidence booster).  If only you could see her run and laugh as she plays dodge-ball with the boys after school; keeping up with the best of them, just one of the pack.  You would be amazed at her tenacity, and proud of her spirit.

Far and away are activities akin to tea parties and dress-up (although a good spa-day at home will sometimes tempt her, though she’s hard-pressed to admit it).  Now long days are filled with roller skating or scooter-ing down the block, dog in tow as her ponytail flies behind her.  That, or climbing trees, or splitting rocks.  Did you know that she loves to hammer on and split rocks open just to see what’s inside?  It’s one of her favorites.  If only you could be here to kneel down next to her and investigate the different colors she finds.  You would be awed by her inquisitiveness, and could marvel at them together.

And she’s grown; oh, how she’s grown.  No longer does she have the slightly stubby fingers or legs of a toddler or child.  She is long, and lean.  She reminds me of a colt; all muscle and leg and speed and sinew.  She comes all the way up to my collarbone now, she’s so tall.  I sometimes steal opportunities just to stare at her when she’s unaware; when she’s all serious and concentrating, or when she’s just calm and serene.  The “little girl-ness” of her is almost completely gone; she’s really starting to take on her newer, more mature frame in face and body.  It’s really a sight to behold; it breaks my heart and fills me with joy all at once; a feeling I know you would recognize.  If only we could gaze at her together, then look at each other; we would not need words to understand that you have for so long felt what I now know.

But, you see, there weren’t supposed to be all these if only‘s.  Long ago, when I imagined my future and my family and my children, I always pictured you near.  Weaving you in and out of our lives; holding you close for all the milestones and important events and even all the little mundane ones, too.  You were supposed to know all of this, already.  You were supposed to have held her close, at every turn, in every year; feeling the differences in all her growing selves, knowing all the changing versions of her.  But decision and circumstance have kept me so far away for so very long, and like a thief I have stolen all of this from you.  From her.  From me.  And the reality is that you don’t know.  And you have missed so much.  If only I could change that; if only I were home.

But I can’t; and I’m not.  Not yet, anyway.  Though I still hope to be, someday.  But until then, I will try to do better.  For you, and for her, and for me.  I will try to make sure that you know her more; and often.  So that our world is less distanced; so that we have less if only‘s.

One Tommorow At A Time

Blue-streaked beauty

Blue-streaked beauty

It was an interesting juxtaposition. My 8-year-old child, sitting in the salon chair waiting for her hair cut, as the other girl walked by. She was probably around twenty-one; average height; athletic – you could see how muscular her thighs were through her jeans. She was wearing a tank top, casual sweater, and purse slung across her relaxed torso. She had just chopped a good 6-8 inches off her already long brown hair, and was obviously happy with her fresh new look – almost emboldened by it; you could see it in her posture.

As I watched her carry her new self out the salon door, I found myself longing for all of those qualities – not for me, but for my daughter. Hoping for that bold independence for her; that she gets there, one day. And realizing that there is a part of me that is terrified to admit, in some small way, that I worry “what if she doesn’t?”

My headstrong, confident girl is not always present lately. That day, when she would normally have been so insistent on exactly what kind of cut/color streaks she wants at the hair salon, she instead couldn’t focus on a choice. Indecision is prevalent, and comes with the behavior struggles we have been managing.

The stylist and I eventually helped her land on a blue-streaked bob, but it took a while. She was really happy when it was finished, and commented “I can show my friends tomorrow at school!” I remember thinking that I was glad her new hair would help give her a good tomorrow.

We will get there – she will get there – I know it in my heart. I just don’t yet know what that road will look like. And sometimes it is difficult to keep all my momma worries and hopes at bay while we take it one step at a time.

Parents want so much for our children – we would give them the world if we could, and we often try. But this journey has been a good lesson that sometimes, trying to give them the world puts weight on their shoulders that is simply not theirs to carry. Sometimes, it’s enough just to give them tomorrow. A good tomorrow is a gift in and of itself.

One tomorrow at a time.

In Reverence to Change

It’s an over-used adage: ‘Change is a good thing‘. It’s heard and read so often, sometimes, that you breeze by it without even registering it. The same thing can happen when you’ve been working towards a change for a long time; the results can fail to register as well. But occasionally something will happen so big and bold, it reminds you just how good change can be. And when you also realize that it’s your own blood and sweat and sacrifice that’s caused it, the reward is that much bigger…

A common change that we all try to make is to be ‘better parents than our own’, right? Well, the same is true for me, but in specific and measurable ways. I have, for the better part of twelve years now, been actively working on changing my own DNA when it comes to parenting. Reason being, I was raised by an impatient yeller (excessively so). Don’t get me wrong; this impatient yeller loved me (and still does) more than anyone else on the planet, and I have never doubted that for a second of my life. But yelling also came with the territory. We’re Irish: it’s in the blood – my Dad got angry and yelled; his Dad got angry and yelled; most of my Dad’s family gets angry and yells. We all do it. It doesn’t make it okay, but it’s how I learned to parent. And when I became a step-parent twelve years ago, it’s what I did, too; until I made the decision I was going to learn how NOT to.

Fast forward to now: my step-sons are grown and out of the house, and I have added an 8-year-old daughter to the mix. My ‘impatient yelling’ self is much more reigned in. She still pops out occasionally, but I am significantly more aware and in control of her; and most of the time, I can actively make a better choice regarding her reactions. Today, however, I was hit smack in the face with the distinction of choosing to make an effort to improve a behavior, and choosing to be present in the moment that you do it. It may seem like an odd insight; but I don’t think I have ever truly experienced the difference between the two – and I mean really FELT it – until today.

My daughter is amazing; healthy, brilliant, thriving. But she is also, at times, emotionally challenging, and has some things in that area we have to work on with her. This morning happened to be one of those times. I was clued-in when my husband, on his way out the door, popped into the bathroom with a desperate look on his face and said (after checking on our daughter’s ‘getting out of bed’ progress), “I’m sorry, she’s on the floor with her hands on her face saying she wants Momma…”. I took a few moments before I responded to her (I knew I would need them; I knew how this would go). And in those moments I was reminded of some advice I’ve been reading from an amazing blogger (Hands Free Mama) about being present – really living in the moment – and I made a choice. I decided then and there that, today, we would be late – late for school, late for work, late for everything – and that it would be okay. There was nothing monumental we would miss; nothing tragic would happen because of our lateness. And I decided to be okay with that, and let all the stress of rushing to get out the door go along with it. I stopped what I was doing to be there for my daughter because she needed me, and the moment needed me and, quite frankly, we weren’t getting out of that house if I didn’t. Once I was fully committed to my decision I took a couple of deep breaths, prepared myself for the long-haul, and headed upstairs.

As I entered her room I could hear her crying; she was already hiding in the closet. I walked over and knelt down in front of her and softly said, “You know what I noticed just now?” She shook her head. “I noticed that with all my rushing to get out of the house this morning, I haven’t taken the time to ask you if you need anything from me today, so I thought I would. So, is there anything you need, or that I can help you with this morning? I’m all yours.” At that she turned her big teary blue eyes to me and started lamenting about not being able to decide what to wear. From there, we moved into fears about going to school, then anxiety about cleaning her closet. None of it was really logical, but emotions rarely are. She then fixated on cleaning the closet floor, and I knew better than to try and avert her from it until she was done (she sometimes gets into modes like these when extremely overly-emotional or anxious). So I just settled in, calmly talked to her, and let her whirl until I found the opening to re-direct. I eventually got her focused on breakfast and getting dressed and moving a little farther forward, but not by pushing; more by letting her flow the way she needed to. We eventually wound back up in the bathroom (finally clothed and fed) with me finishing up my routine, and her brushing her teeth. She was keeping a close proximity to me even though she was done, and was sitting on the edge of the bathtub. I found myself, in that moment, making another choice. I turned to her and said, “Well, we’re almost ready to go, but you know there’s one other thing I have to do today first. I don’t know about you, but I could really use a big hug.” I then knelt down in front of her again (being on her level really helps out), which made her grin because at 8-years-old, she’s actually taller than I am when I’m kneeling. She just kind of gazed at me for a few minutes, gently playing with my hair, then she giggled, saying, “You have funny gray hairs on the top of your head, Momma”, with a big grin on her face. Then she leaned in for a big hug; long enough that I could still feel her with me even after she bounded out of the bathroom to go find her shoes.

Eventually we got out of the house (really late), got her to school (even later), and I got to work (later still). And I was right; nothing monumentally bad happened. In fact, probably the opposite. Because I took the time to get her in a better state of mind, she actually had the chance at a half-way decent day, vs. me forcing her out of the house in a panic-stricken state which would have ensured her day was a bust (and mine, as well). Lateness isn’t fatal. Stress and (seeming) failure and tears and grief are far greater foes. We would do well to remember that more often. As I drove to work I felt comfort in the knowledge that I had made good choices for the morning, lateness or not.

However, it wasn’t until the drive home that evening that the impact of my decisions really hit me. As I was on my way to pick my daughter up, I was wondering (for the millionth time) how her day had actually gone; what kind of mood she would be in when I got to her. I was replaying the morning’s happenings in my head. And it was then that I had a revelation; my memories of the events weren’t what I expected. Normally I would focus on my stress, her anxiety, the upset tears, my efforts to stay calm, etc. They would all be jumbled together in one big frustrating mess. But this time, the memories were clear and crisp, not to mention surprising. I remembered the feel of the carpet on my legs as I knelt down in front of her closet; the color of her blue eyes and messy blond hair as she looked up at me; the warmth of her hand as she took mine to go down the stairs; the sound of her voice giggling and feel of her hands on my ‘funny gray hair’ as I sat below her in the bathroom; the weight of her as she leaned into me for that huge, long hug. That’s what I remember about this morning. All those little moments, like snapshots in my head and heart. They are clear and sparkling in my mind because I was there; I was truly present for each of those moments today. And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t just choose not to be angry today; I CHOSE to be PRESENT.

I did this. I made this happen. No one but me. By consciously making a choice to be present, to give myself to the situation, to be different for my daughter and for myself, I created these moments today. I made this change. It’s several hours past when it first hit me and I’m still floored by the vastness of it. I’ve been working so hard at controlling the anger/yelling piece for so long, it astounds me that today I surpassed that in a way I didn’t even realize I was striving for. Just by choosing to BE IN THE MOMENT changed the whole game. Changed my whole memory of the event. It’s staggering, really, the impact of this specific change.

And it’s such, such a good thing.

Today

school_busToday my baby girl started Third Grade.  You’d think the summer had barely passed us by the way she hopped her way to the bus stop, new backpack on her shoulders, as if it was old-hat by now.  I was at my designated spot in the car across the street, an “acceptable” distance away so I can still ensure she’s safe, but not too close that she appear uncool to have mom trailing around.  I watched her with her friends, laughing, reconnecting.  Smiling as she got on the bus, grinning while she made silly faces at me when it passed by my car on its way off the block.  I managed to keep the tears at bay until she was out of sight, though it was harder to ignore the desire follow the bus the way I did her first day of Kindergarten.  I was almost as emotional today as I was that first school day four years ago, though for completely different reasons.  Such different feelings, such different milestones.

Today we documented this milestone, with pictures and hugs (too many, by her account).  Third Grade is a big deal, you know.  But a bigger deal is my hope for her this year, as she heads back into that school that she knows so well.  We’ve had some really big struggles over the past couple of years; some we’re still facing.  And she’s working so hard to overcome them; we all are.  So today, as I managed my tears while I went on to start my own morning, I thought of all of the anticipation this school year brings – good and bad – and all that goes along with it.  Not the least of which was the simple hope that this first day go well for her; there seemed to be so much riding on first impressions today, for some reason.

Today I was relieved to talk to her, and get a good report.  She was happy to see her friends, really liked her teacher, loved her new room (they have two ceiling fans, and they have carpet!), and had a great time at after-care.  She was in a fantastic mood for the rest of the night as a result; which doesn’t always happen.  It was the best possible outcome.

Today we read her favorite book before bed, and the main character (also grade-school age) mentioned how embarrassing it was to find notes from her mother in her lunchbox.  I occasionally did this last year for her during times that she was struggling, or seemed to need an extra pick-me-up.  I asked her what she would think about me doing that again this year, whether that would be okay.  She looked at me sideways and said, “So NOT cool, Mom.  But you CAN say ‘Peace out, YO!’, that would be cool.”  The way she said it was so smooth and full of bravado, all I could do was laugh.  Then Daddy laughed, then she laughed too.  It was a great happy moment.

Today I put her to bed without incident, and listened to her bubble and chatter and tell me about her favorite parts of her day.  Then after she fell asleep I snuck back up to watch her slumber a while, like I do every so often, just to soak in the silent serenity that is the beauty of my daughter.  All eight years full.

Today my baby girl had a GREAT first day of Third Grade.  And tonight I breathe a little easier and am grateful.

Goodness Shines Through

Violence. It’s everywhere lately, isn’t it? On the news, television shows, the papers; you can find it without even having to look for it. It’s so prevalent, we almost get used to it, I feel. Reports of fights, murder, abuse, rape. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t encounter some sort of story on at least one of these items somewhere. What a world, right?

Even television; violence seems to be a central plot-point to the most popular shows today. How many “CSI” series are running concurrently now, anyway? And can you have a Crime Scene Investigation without first there being a crime? Well, no, you can’t. And it seems to be worsening; many of the shows that came out last year were pushing the envelope way more than just your run-of-the-mill ‘CSI’. I’m talking about things like ‘Hannibal’ and ‘The Following’. Sure, great drama; but if you’ve checked any of them out, they’re extremely heavy on the graphic from a violence perspective. And they’re not alone. Thing is, they’re huge hits. Which makes me wonder, why the desire for more?

I’m not innocent, here. I watch my fair share of crime shows; though I stay away from the graphic ones. I can stomach them, but I choose not to. They simply turn me off. But I also see violence in shows and movies that don’t necessarily have that as their central theme. Sometimes, it’s part of the purpose of telling a story, so I get it. It’s part of life. And as I mentioned, it’s everywhere lately. So you can imagine my surprise when it hit me in the face last night when I watched a movie and was completely caught off guard…

It was a great movie; lots of themes about fathers and sons, responsibility, etc. It was a quick scene about two high school acquaintances coming to blows, only one got the upper hand and really took it out on the other. I mean really went at him. The other one was badly injured, wound up in the hospital; it was rough. Even rougher on me was the fact that this type of violence has touched my life in the past, and this particular scene hit way too close to home. The age of the actors, the sounds of the fighting, the boy lying on the ground. I was instantly transported back to another time entirely, unsuspectingly; and what would have just been some random violence in a movie took on a whole different feel.

I remembered vividly the phone call about the attack; though this one wasn’t from classmates, it was unprovoked and unexplained from strangers, and more violent. I remembered feeling helpless, with nothing I could do until being allowed to come to the hospital. Desperately wanting to go there as fast as I could while simultaneously wanting to avoid it at all costs because I was terrified at what I would see. Once I did arrive, using every bit of strength I had to conceal my fear and worry so as to appear calm when he saw me so I didn’t upset him more. Gathering in that small room with rows of chairs and solemn faces while strangers with scalpels and sutures put him back together. Waiting to find out if it would all be okay, if HE would be okay, all the while knowing that no matter what magic they worked in that operating room, nothing would ever make it OKAY.

All of this rushed over me in a matter of minutes while I sat on the couch, movie paused, remote in my hand, tears running down my face. It’s been years since all of this took place; and yet it came back so quickly, like only yesterday. Since then I’ve seen someone I love break in more ways than just bones and body. Violence has a way of permeating everything it touches like a virus and spreading outward; like a dark cancer. Untreated, it will consume your whole being.

I would guess that’s partly why I struggle, at times, with being the overprotective mother to my now 8-year-old daughter. It’s difficult, as she grows, to let her have the wings she needs; to not hover so much. To let her ride her bicycle with her group of friends down the block as they laugh without a care; let her run through the backyards of sprinklers and games of ‘tag’ so freely. Because I know what lurks when you don’t watch closely enough; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s an image you can never remove.

But you can fight it. You can be vigilant. You can attack that cancer with light and goodness and send it back to its hole where it belongs. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen that broken boy heal. I’ve seen him overcome demons in ways I never would have imagined, and some he is still fighting. Is he unchanged? Not even close; nor are we. Violence leaves scars on everyone it touches. But if we let it keep us down, then it wins; the cancer keeps spreading. Only when we fight back – even when it seems hopeless – only when we dig out of the darkest pit and move forward past the broken places, that’s when the healing becomes the victor. That’s when the goodness shines through.

Not So Solitary

hawksLast week we took a much needed couple of days away at some family property in the country.  As we drove up the gravel road, two birds flew low above the car.  We originally thought they were owls; brown and tan in coloring, large wings.  It was majestic the way they flew and soared through the air.  I watched them go, then was distracted by the fact that I had to stop the car so as not to run into the house; you know, the little things.

We unpacked, got settled, and came out to take stock of things on the deck.  It was then that my husband noticed the birds again, this time alighted in a large tree about 100 yards off.  This particular tree, unlike the rest of the forested area, happened to have no foliage on it for some reason, so they were markedly easy to spot.  Not owls, we now realized, but two hawks of some sort.  My husband pulled out his spotting scopes and mounted them on the deck table so we could all take a really close look, which ended up being a fantastic idea.  They were beautiful, and amazing to watch.

What was most interesting was how fascinated I was with them even though they didn’t do much of anything.  They sat a lot, looked around a lot, one flew off with a loud cry while the other stayed.  But I was completely transfixed.  They seemed almost magical, for some reason.  So serene, so unaffected in their quietness.  It was like a meditation just to observe them.

The second one eventually flew off on a mission, so we took its cue and went off on one of our own, exploring for a while as well.  But later, as dusk settled in, so again did the hawks.  Same tree.

Before, they had been apart from each other, in different parts of the tree entirely.  But this time was interesting; they were on the same branch, quite close in proximity, almost like they were sitting together intentionally.  They stayed like that for quite some time, very still, not really even scanning around them.  It made me so curious; were they family?  Companions?  Mates?  Communicating in some way?

Eventually, one flew off, but the other remained.  I watched it for as long as the light would allow; it was still there, the last we checked.  My husband pondered if that was perhaps their roost.  For some reason I would have thought they would roost somewhere more sheltered (as if I have any kind of intimate hawk knowledge).  But maybe?  For some reason I have always thought of hawks as a solitary bird.  Maybe it’s because whenever I see them, I only ever see just one.  But our sighting certainly changed that theory.  These two clearly were a pair, and it was so beautiful to have had the opportunity to watch them together.

As the light finally faded, I found myself hoping that tree really was their roost, and they would be there again the next day.  Only dawn would tell…

Do You Believe In Magic?

Tooth PillowMonkey lost another tooth the other day. She was excited to again put it in her tooth pillow, go to sleep, and wake to find out what the Tooth Fairy would bring. After I tucked her in, however, it wasn’t long before she ambled out to the living room, a somber look on her face. I asked her what was wrong, and she quietly said “Momma, you lied to me.” It was then that I saw what was in her hand; the small little container that usually lives at the bottom of my jewelry box within which I keep her baby teeth (some of you may remember me talking about this before here). Then, it all came together, what was really happening. The veil of mystery had finally been lifted for my almost-8-year-old daughter; she knew.

She went and sat sadly on the stairs, head hanging down. She told me she knew I was the Tooth Fairy because I had all her teeth, and the notes the Tooth Fairy had left her. She asked again why I had lied. At first, I didn’t know what to say. I try, most of the time, to be as honest with her as I can; but this was a clear violation, and I had no way to counter it. So I knelt down next to her, and simply told her what was in my heart.

I shared that sometimes, Mommies and Daddies have a hard time letting go of their babies. It’s difficult for us to see them grow into big girls. When they’re little it’s so wonderful to see them play and imagine and believe in all the magical things that little kids do. So occasionally, Mommies and Daddies do things to help the magic stay around just a little longer, even though maybe we shouldn’t. She said, “Like pretend to be the Tooth Fairy?” I nodded yes. It was then that the most amazing thing happened… My girl looked up at me with her big blue eyes and said, “But Momma, I won’t ever stop believing in magic, no matter how big I get.” I almost didn’t know what to say, I was so struck by the weight and beauty of her words. “Me either,” I whispered, as I leaned over and hugged her as tightly as I could.

If that’s not evidence of magic, in itself, I don’t know what is.