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.

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.

Put Away Your Scalpels

Tonight I went walking with my daughter.  It was great to be outside; strolling in the sun and the breeze.  It’s been some time since I’ve felt myself really move, felt alive, watched her laugh and live beside me.  I would have missed out on today as well, if not for a little white lie.

This morning I had an appointment with my dermatologist.  Just a regular checkup, though it seems like my checkups are never really “regular”.  I am blessed on my father’s side with a large Irish bloodline.  This also means I am somewhat un-blessed with very fair Irish skin; pale, burns easily, lots of moles.  I very frequently have irregular moles removed.  Almost always, they end up benign, and we’re good to go.  This past April, however, was my 3-year cancerversary.  Having a melanoma removed from your thigh at 37 is an experience, let me tell you.  So I take my checkups seriously, and when my doc sees something he thinks should go, I listen.  But today was different.

The reason?  I have just come out of the other side of one hell of a migraine cycle.  It was basically an entire month of pain, grouchy wife/momma, weekends trying to rest, meds, early evenings, rinse, repeat.  It happens; you take it a day at a time and get through it until it fades.  But while you’re in it, it’s crap.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it; it just plain sucks.  Not only for me, but also for my family.  It’s draining on all of us.  My husband carries the extra weight, my daughter (age 7) has to give up her Momma to this mystery ailment she can’t see or fight against, and I just try to endure while my body depletes until I feel like there’s nothing left for anyone let alone me.

Since I’ve rebounded, the last several days have felt like a cloud has finally lifted.  My energy has started to return, I’ve been able to exercise again, I’ve been enjoying time with my girl and my family, I’ve just been able to breathe.  So today when my doc said he wanted to remove another mole (from the top of my foot, no less, inhibiting my mobility for a couple of weeks to heal), I was surprised how my logic voice of ‘probably a good idea’ was so loudly drowned out by my inner spirit screaming out “NO CUTTING!!”  All I could think was ‘not today; not now; I need more time to feel good, more time to breathe, more time in between hurting and being the Mom who can’t play on Saturday because she’s trying to heal, more time to be human and whole and just….ME‘.

Thing is, I didn’t think I could explain that to my doc without sounding like a raving loon.  And at that point, he was already readying the scalpel and lidocaine; I didn’t have a lot of time.  So I blurted out the only other thing that came to mind.  “Uh, I have a wedding to attend this Saturday, and I think there will be dancing.  Is your concern level pretty high on this one?”  Not very smooth; but it worked.  He said it was only a minor concern, and that as long as I had it taken care of within 4-8 weeks, we’d be fine.  He then said it was probably better to enjoy the dancing and nice shoes without the foot incision, and to have fun.  That smarted a little more than the cut probably would have, but don’t fool yourself thinking I spent a lot of time dwelling…I hightailed it out of there as fast as my mole-covered legs would take me.  (After responsibly scheduling my return appointment for 4 weeks out; I’m not completely throwing caution to the wind here, people.)

I will say I fully enjoyed my walk this evening.  Guilt free, headache free, even if it wasn’t mole-free.  I’ll hold on to this one for a little while longer.

We All Need To Be Rocked Sometime

lion-hugWhen I picked my daughter up this evening, she looked tired.  It was warm here today; her face was flushed, as if she was overheated.  She seemed a bit standoffish, not greeting me right away.  Then when she spoke, she was speaking in baby-talk.  Regressed syllables, clipped sentences.  It took me a bit of time to get her moving towards the car.  She wanted to be silly; not follow directions, play games, dawdle, etc.  I had a feeling I was in for a long evening.

My daughter is seven.  She is bright, beautiful, curious, empathic, and extremely loving.  She’s been facing more than her fair share of challenges lately, which leave her more often than not wounded and wondering.  Not much different from the rest of us, really, though we have the luxury of life and learning and how to bounce back better than a seven-year-old now, don’t we?  The regressive speak is a product of feeling vulnerable, and a yearning for being nurtured.  I also gather it’s related to spending time recently at her grandparent’s with her 18-month-old cousin; watching him being coddled and cared-for in a way reminiscent of what she feels she’s needing, when she is expected to be the “big girl” in the room must be especially frustrating for her at the moment.

The toddler-talk continued for the entirety of the car ride home.  I did my best to calmly tolerate it, while also reminding her to use better words.  When I could tell her frustration level was rising, I tried instead to shift topics or distract with music rather than continue to correct.  There’s a time and a place, and an over-tired child won’t soak in the message anyway, so why hammer it in?

When we got home I focused on minimizing her stimulation level (no television), and maximizing her comfort level (giving her my full attention).  I put on some music and we played a game together while Daddy cooked dinner.  As she continued with the tiny words, I tried a different approach.  I told her that I knew it might feel safe to pretend to be little sometimes, but think of all the things she would miss if she didn’t grow up?  Measuring how tall she was against my chest, riding the bigger slides at the water park, getting to go on overnights with her Girl Scout troop.  Those were pretty cool things that only big girls got to do, and she surely wouldn’t want to miss out on those, right?  She answered back in her normal seven-year-old cadence and added a few of her own achievements – getting tall enough to no longer use a car seat, riding the cooler roller coasters, and tackling me when she hugged me, which she then proceeded to do.  After the tackle, she got quiet, looked up at me, and said, “But what about rocking, what if I get too big for rocking?”

I pulled her onto my lap and held her close.  I told her, “You will never be too big for rocking, baby.  We all need to be rocked sometime, even big people like Mama.  I’ll always rock you, no matter how big you get.  Promise.”  Then she clung to me tightly for what seemed like a moment in between worlds – where baby and big girl and Mama all blended together in one swirly thought – and we just rocked there, together.

I don’t even remember who won the game…

Into the Wind

Piglet-goes-against-the-wind

As I left my office building today, the wind was blowing.  Not just a slight breeze, but a real guster.  My hair kept covering my eyes, forcing me to readjust my load to clear them so I could see my way.  As luck would have it, I had parked quite a bit farther from the entrance than normal this morning, which only extended my path.  As I made my way to my car, I found not only was my view compromised, I was actually fighting against the wind just to walk, as I was headed directly into it.  It just so happened that also, at that moment, I was anxiously hurrying to pick up my daughter due to an issue at her day care.  I tried to walk rapidly, but every step I took into that damn wind seemed more and more arduous, like I was fighting against everything just to reach my goal.  My goal of getting to my car, getting out of that parking lot, getting to my daughter.

Honestly, most of this week has felt like that; like walking into the wind.  For the most part, my husband and I often count our blessings when it comes to our daughter.  We have markedly few complaints; she is healthy, brilliant, and thriving.  But we have had a particular set of challenges this year we’ve been working on improving with her that occasionally rear their head.  And when they do, they leave me feeling – as a mother – short-handed, confused, deficient and heart-broken.  Like that wind is relentlessly battering against all of us as we fruitlessly try to walk directly in its path, once again.

I know, overall, we are making progress.  I can see it in her, in us.  I know the wind does not blow all the time.  And I will try to remind myself that during those times it is gusting, and we are staggering against it, those are the moments we are becoming stronger; we are learning to weather it, together.  And we will, eventually, reach our destination; as blustery a path as it may be.  We just have to keep moving forward, even if it is into the wind.

Blood, Sweat and George Washington

The ups and downs of parenting; unpredictable, sometimes unmanageable, and yet often immensely enjoyable.  Case in point – my daughter; she alone is a 7-year-old ball of volatility.  Combine that with parental efforts at lab work, random rites of passage and motherly attempts at hairstyling, and you’re on your way to a snapshot of the last 24 hours in my parenting journey.

Initially it started off with my daughter’s desire for lovely bouncy curls.  She wanted ones resembling those she received at the hair stylist the other day after a quick trim (and truly, they were quite fetching).  The problem?  Momma is not adept at styling hair.  Mostly, we leave that to our Auntie – she owns her own salon, and can do mighty amounts of hair magic.  But currently she lives 2,500 miles away, which leaves Momma quite on her own, and very in the lurch for delivering on the hair front.  Since it was late on a school night when the request (more like ‘demand’) was made, and we currently don’t have any curlers, I had the bold idea of trying to rag-roll her hair as an experiment.  She seemed up for it, so we washed, half-dried, and rag-rolled our way to a happy little knot-tied head in no time.

Next we had a not-so-pleasant task to attend to.  We needed to take a small blood sample from my daughter’s finger for a food sensitivity test we are running on her.  As they kindly sent us two lancets, we had already used one on Daddy’s finger a few days earlier as an example (which didn’t seem to be as useful as we had hoped).  Now we needed to do the actual deed on her finger, and she was not having it.  We tried preparing her for it, reasoning, cajoling – nothing.  We then tried the ‘forceful hold’, which led to immediate hysterics and a physical clamp-down.  Not pretty.  We took a break so we all could breathe, which resulted in her locking herself first in the bathroom, then in her bedroom.  Then we all sat down for another conversation; she gave us a rather convincing argument of why she didn’t need the test at all, and we tried to use the kindest possible way to knock her argument down and explain that we were doing it anyway.  She somehow let slip that she had poked herself with a sewing needle earlier that day; oddly enough, that was our in.  We were able to convince her that the lancet wouldn’t hurt any more than the needle; that (along with a bribe that eventually was upped to $20) finally got her to reconsider.  Her last request was that she be able to push the lancet herself, to which we agreed.  Only given that we were now 45 minutes into the ordeal and the parental units were tiring quickly, we didn’t realize that we had actually fallen for a carefully calculated ploy.  No sooner had I set the lancet in my sheepishly grinning daughter’s hand did she launch it behind the dresser; the heavy, immovable, unable-to-reach-underneath-flat-against-the-wall dresser.  We’d been had; and my patience was about gone.  We retrieved the lancet and again resorted to the ‘forceful hold’; we finally got a finger free, and got the lancet in place.  Again the hysterics ensued, at least until the blood started to flow; then she was fascinated.  “Wow, Mom, look at it drip!”  All at once, she was fine.  We filled all five circles in no time flat.  My husband and I just looked at each other in wonderment.  The whole ordeal had taken over an hour; we were exhausted, sweating and spent.  I wasn’t sure which turnip we had really just gotten the blood from; her, or us.

A mere half hour later, my daughter popped out of bed and into the living room full of excitement.  It seemed the lower front tooth she had been wiggling for the last two days had finally worked its way loose.  As she animatedly waved her tooth in the air, she yelled she had lost it and then gave us a huge happy grin.  Only she looked less like a seven-year-old and more like a boxer in round seven of a prize fight; teeth and gums smeared with red, and more blood oozing from the gap in the front.  Honestly, it kind of freaked me out.  I was ready for the gap in her teeth; I was not so ready for all the blood.  She was so thrilled, standing there smiling from ear to ear, and I was trying ignore my gut instincts towards my daughter and her bloody mug.  I pasted a fake smile on my face and steered her towards the bathroom where we rinsed her mouth out, secured the tooth in her fairy pillow, and finally got her snuggled into bed.  I was hard pressed not to immediately follow her; it had been one heck of a night, and I’d had enough blood and sweat to last me quite some time.

Lest we forget about the rag-rolled hair…  Fast forward to next morning; she was super excited to take the rags out to see what the result was.  I reminded her that it was an experiment, and whatever the outcome, we could always make sure it looked okay for school.  I unrolled the first couple of strips, and we could already tell the experiment was a dud; her hair has natural curl already, and I think the strips were just too thin and her hair really took it in.  It was really more of a funny kinky curl instead of the lovely large rolls she was hoping for.  As I took more of the strips out, her expression got worse; I reminded her of the ‘experiment’ discussion, and that I could simply re-wet it and dry it straighter for her.  Once they were all out, she took a final look in the mirror and exclaimed, “Mom, I can NOT go to school like this.  I look like Mayor Washington!”  It took me a minute to grasp her train of thought, but once I did I asked her, “Do you mean George Washington?”  Her response, “Yeah, Mom, my head looks just like George Washington!”  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I also corrected her, and explained that George Washington was actually a president, not a mayor.  She then corrected herself, “Okay fine, but I STILL can’t go to school looking like PRESIDENT Washington!!”  I’m happy to report that after employing a little water and hot air, her hair was presentable for the day; no George Washington in sight.

It was such an absolute shift from the night before; no stress, no pressure, no guilt over bloodletting my own child.  Instead it was a complete release of laughter and joy and sincere delight over the amusement of seven-year-old logic.  It almost felt like compensation for the trials of the previous evening.  I suppose, in a way, that’s exactly what the ups and downs of parenting are. You face countless struggles; many unpredictable, even unmanageable.  But the rewards are often more enjoyable than you would ever imagine; they make all the blood and sweat worth it.

Boiling Point

I stood in the kitchen and watched the water boil.  I stared at the droplets as they spun and bubbled and rocketed towards the surface, bursting as they finally reached the top.  Only I wasn’t thinking about the water, nor was I thinking about the pot or the stove.  I was actually thinking about my daughter, and how closely that roiling liquid matched her emotions a mere three hours earlier.

My seven-year-old beauty…  She is an only child, for all intents and purposes.  Her three older brothers outnumber her by so many years (at 22, 24, and 26 years of age) they are more like awe-inspiring heroes than arm-slugging, room-sharing siblings.  She often laments this fact, pointing out that having a little sister around would make playing so much easier at home.  Truth be told, she struggles to find the right balance with relationships that are not family-oriented, and it’s likely much to do with this exact reason.  Not that we aren’t aware of it – we are; acutely so.  We’ve made extra efforts to find outside social avenues for her for several years now for the sole purpose of giving her more social interaction.  And though she is markedly confident in so many areas of her personality – academics, athletics, trying just about anything new – socializing, especially in the untested waters of all things “girl”, is still a struggle.

Don’t get me wrong; my daughter is far from shy.  She charges forth with unbridled enthusiasm towards any friend that gives her a second glance.  The introduction, itself, is not the problem.  Well, maybe it is, in the fact that she is SO forward she sometimes knocks the recipient off guard.  See, she is convinced that everyone she meets wants to be best friends immediately, just the way she does.  And she’s completely baffled when, for some reason she never understands, they may not.  This is where the issues come in; navigating the waters of 2nd-grade friendships when you haven’t a boat or an oar, let alone a team to row with.  It’s a tricky business, paddling alone.  And she’s constantly desperate to find anyone who will join her.  Fortunately she has garnered a couple of good friends in our neighborhood, but they are a bit older and more mature than she is, and there are still times when misunderstandings occur.  Unfortunately, they seem to weather these situations much more easily than my daughter does, and she often comes off as the immature odd-girl-out.

Hurt feelings – we’ve all had them, and they suck.  I’m 40, and they still sting; at seven, they’re practically world-ending.   Take this evening’s crisis:  four friends, happily playing, wind up at our house for a brief “breeze-through”.  During the stop one of them mentions going to another’s for some always exciting trampolining.  Problem: the girl with the trampoline can only have one friend over, per her mother’s instructions.  Cut to crickets and silent stares from the rest of the crew, as each of them wonder just who the ‘lucky one’ will be.  No need to wait long, as trampoline girl announces she’s already offered the spot to one of the other girls (the girl who happens to be my daughter’s best bud).  Drama ensues.  My daughter immediately bursts into tears because 1) she was playing with her best bud way before trampoline girl showed up tonight and 2) she never gets to go anywhere and 3) she was supposed to be able to jump with all of them and 4) she is never going to play with any of them again and (the list continues as she melts into a weeping puddle on the chair while the other three simply stare at her).  At this point I intervene by calmly stating that it’s close to bedtime anyway, and we have some things to do, and I’m just going to go ahead and keep her home for the night and we’ll just see everyone tomorrow.  This successfully redirects her ire away from them and over to me long enough to get the other girls out the door.

But remember the boiling water I was talking about earlier?  Well, here it comes; clearly I have forgotten to take the kettle off the stove and it is now screaming at me with a fever pitch.  All those hurt feelings of being left out and pushed aside by her friends have now been compounded by being embarrassed in front of them by her mother and forced to stay home like a baby.  The kettle quickly morphs into the form of a 50 pound seven-year-old banshee with wailing fists and kicking feet.  My daughter is rapidly spiraling out of control, and I am forced to decide what to do with her.

I, myself, am not the bastion of emotional control.  I grew up learning that when you’re mad, you scream.  When you’re angry, you explode.  I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to unlearn this exact pattern.  Part of the little kettle has come from the big one, in my house, and that fact is not lost on me.  So in moments like this, I have done an immense amount of work to train myself to remember that I have the ability to decide how to act.  Learned or not, we all have a choice.

Tonight’s meltdown took every ounce of patience and breathing and courage and momma magic I possessed, but I made the decision to offer a safe space for my daughter.  And I will tell you, it was excruciating.  I stared at my lovely girl and watched her boil.  I watched her heart break for a full half hour; watched her rail at me because she did not understand the hurt and frustration she was feeling.  And I had become the target; she clawed at me with her words, hit at me with her fists and kicked me with her feet.  Each time I calmly yet strongly prevented the blows and told her, softly, “I will not let you hurt me, and I will not let you hurt yourself.  I know you are angry and upset, and that is okay, but it is not okay to hurt people.”  I offered her two choices; to get into a warm bath, or to go to her room until she was done with her feelings.  I simply kept repeating the same things over and over, like a mantra.  I did not fight back; I did not scream at her; I kept her safe, I kept myself safe, I told her I loved her, but I also told her what was and was not acceptable.

She finally stomped off to her room.  She did it while screaming that she hated me, but she had finally made one of the two choices.  As soon as I knew she was clear, I let down my guard.  I didn’t realize how much adrenaline had kicked in until then; I had to breathe through it for about 20 minutes for it just to clear.  The tears continued for another 10.  I felt like I had just been hit by a truck, both physically and emotionally.  But I took a minute to remind myself that I was successful in my decision to hold a safe space for her as long as she needed it.  I was spent, but I was proud.

About a half hour later she came and found me; or rather, a flying note did as she hid around the corner.  It said she was frustrated that I said those things in front of her friends and made her feel bad.  But it also said she was sorry for fighting, and that she loved me very much.  She peeked around the corner as I read it, then came to snuggle on my lap.  We ended up having a really good talk about what happened, her actions, and what would be a better way to handle big feelings the next time she has them.  She’s learning; maybe not right in the moment, but she’s getting there.  My girl may have really big emotions, but she has an even bigger capacity for love, as I was so clearly reminded tonight.

You should know this kind of scene is not a hugely common occurrence; these ones only come out with the really big emotions for her.  But when they do come out, the water boils over and spills onto anyone nearby.  It’s a familiar pattern in my family, and I have long since wondered how much is genetic, and how much is learned.  I will probably never quite know the answer.  But I do know that I have the ability to change the pattern, both for me and for my daughter.  They say a watched pot never boils.  I’m not so sure about the “never” part; but I’m fully convinced that if the big kettle gives the little kettle a better example to observe, all that roiling and bubbling can be replaced by much calmer waters.