Oh, My Girl

Girl Heart

Oh, my sweet, sweet girl.  I’m lying in bed at 5:28 pretending to still be asleep, though I was awakened by the beeping of her alarm clock at 5AM sharp.

It’s been a rough tween-attitude-filled few weeks at our house. Yesterday we had a heart to heart about humans, our limits, and how to help.  More specifically, Mama’s limits (both physically and emotionally) and how she could help more. How as a family, we don’t expect one person to manage everything alone. We help. We share the responsibilities. We love.

During our chat, Mama broke down a little. I used to think this was unforgivable, to show my child my limits. But some time ago I realized that by (carefully and safely) showing her and talking to her about the fact that I am not super-human, that I have bad days too, that I also need help, I am teaching her something valuable. I am letting her know that SHE doesn’t have to be perfect either. That it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to break every once in a while. Carrying the world and keeping it all inside is a damaging habit to fall into.

And I think, for at least a small moment, she heard me. Because sometime last night, completely un-prompted,  she set her own alarm for 5AM. This amazing girl who plays hard all day and sleeps like the dead, who I have to pry out of bed every morning and cajole and badger to get out of the house (usually late). I can hear her in the other rooms getting dressed, brushing hair and teeth, getting her lunch packed, starting breakfast (mine, I believe). Some time yesterday, she made the choice to help. To be present. To give of herself and her own precious time.

At 11-yrs-old, this is not a small thing. For a kiddo with behavior challenges, it’s kind of a game-changer. It’s huge. Almost as huge as her beautiful heart.  Oh, my lovely amazing girl.

The Flow of Joy

water1

It’s been a bit of a rough road, all this moving business.  New town, new house, new school, new friends.  All the “newness” has taken a toll on my daughter lately; it can be a drag being the odd-man-out when you’re nine, you know?

To combat the strain of the unfamiliar – and maybe even to foster a bit of nostalgia – we’ve been trying to find places in our new town that are similar to our old haunts. Tonight we stumbled onto a really cool fountain that, on a 90 degree evening, just begged to be run through. We had a great fountain in our old town, and my girl was so excited to find a new one here to check out.

She wasted no time getting the lay of the wet-land.  I had settled on an outskirt bench with the bag/towel/flip-flops.  The sun was at that pinnacle where it shimmers extra brightly, knowing it only has about an hour or so before it will lazily sink down for the night.  The water bounced off the beams of light in the magical way that rivulets do when they move in time with the glimmer and glow.  And as I looked over at my girl, running and jumping through the liquid, I was moved in the most interesting way…

I quickly felt pulled inward toward the action.  I simply had to move closer.  Not because I couldn’t view her from my original perch (as I could, easily), but because I needed to be close enough to see her joy, up close.  To watch her weave in between the water spouts and see the gape of her mouth as she laughed.  To hear her squeal as she soaked herself in the lazy creek bed.  To be near enough for her to attack me with a drive-by sopping hug and spray me with her long winding wet hair.  To witness her exuberance at catching the last little waterfall before the water shut off for the night.

How much I would have missed by staying at the edge of the action, with my nose in a book.  How grateful I am to have lifted my head up, instead, and moved close enough to be in the moment with her.  To not only see her joy, but to feel it.  And just watch it flow.

The Wall

I. Am. Exhausted. Truly, I should have put a lid on this day hours ago and just gone to bed.  But instead I sit here staring at the glowing screen, writing, hoping to claw whatever I can out of my brain so the thoughts – no, feelings – will subside.  Then, perhaps, I can sleep.  Because after today, I need to get some of this OUT.  Today, of all days, I need to let. it. go.

Today, I hit the wall.  The proverbial parental W-A-L-L.  We all know it; the one you hit when you’ve given your last warning; taken your last deep breath.  The one you hit when you’ve counted your last “ten”, and lost your last nerve.  The one you played chicken with all week long because it’s been that kind of week and you’ve been doing everything in your power to be the “good Mom” who doesn’t lose her cool by pulling every coping trick you have out of your little magic bag.  Yeah, THAT wall.  I hit it. Hard.  Not only did I hit it, I sailed clean over it.  I pole vaulted the damn thing.

Sarcasm is funny; true.  But today, it was nothing near.  It was ugly.  Flat out scary.  All filters gone, full-blown anger.  All the lessons I’ve learned and re-learned in the last ten years of self-improvement, making myself a better mother, all gone completely out the window.  WALL; face-first.  The only redeeming moment was the one when I recognized that I’d actually done it, and I stopped.  I happened to be near a mirror at the time, and I stood there staring.  The eyes looking back at me were haunted and so pained.  I had become the worst possible version of myself in that moment; and at the same time, I felt, the worst possible mother.

So I took some long ago advice from a trusted mentor; I reached out.  I called someone I loved and trusted, and shared what happened.  It was awful; I was embarrassed and so very ashamed, but I forced myself to speak the words.  I . Had. Failed.  I screwed up.  I was wrong.  And what I was met with was not judgment; but love.  Acknowledgment that we all break under pressure sometimes.  It doesn’t make it okay, but it does make us human.  I heard a reminder that I’m not actually a horrible mother, but a strong one who sometimes carries too much.  One who needs to learn to lay some of the weight down sooner, so it doesn’t break her next time.  I received kindness, and understanding.

My ability to speak the truth out loud to her and be loved allowed me the courage to do it a second time to the person it really mattered to; my child.  I apologized.  I owned up.  I explained that just because I was mad, didn’t make it okay.  I stated that I was wrong, and I would try to do better.  It was hard. Really hard.  But it was important.  Because it’s what I try to teach her; we admit our wrong-doings.  We say them out loud.  So that’s what I did for her.

Afterwards, however, I did something else I’ve been advised in the past.  I took some time, and some space.  I left the house for the rest of the day to be on my own.  I was spun out enough to know I was not much good at mothering, and just needed to be elsewhere.  So I got lost in the crowd of a mall (easy to do).  I stood in a bookstore staring blankly at the titles while wanting to carve my heart clean out of my chest.  I drove along a quiet stretch of road and just looked at the sky.  I sat alone in a dark movie theater and silently wept for a while.  It took a lot of thinking and working through the events of today to come to terms with it; but I faced it.  Head on.  And then, I decided to forgive myself for today, and try to do better tomorrow.

Because I am not perfect.  I am, in fact, markedly flawed.  I am the mother of an amazing child who happens to have some behavioral challenges, and I often do not have all the answers.  Some days (or weeks, or months) are much harder than others.  And I am learning the best path for her as I go along.  So I have to forgive myself; because if I wallow in self-hatred, then I won’t have the strength to keep pushing forward.  For her, or for me.

For all the other parents out there who have hit their Wall today…you’re not alone.  You are not perfect, either.  You are human.  You are learning as you go.  Take a break; take a breath.  Take a minute to forgive yourselves, and learn from this, too.  And try to do better tomorrow.

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.

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.

A Mother Of A Day

It started out as a lovely day.  Actually, it started before the day actually began, when my daughter brought home her carefully crafted card from school on Friday, and decided she couldn’t wait two extra days to give it to me.  “Happy Mother’s Day!” it shouted from the cover, complete with hand-drawn flowers and carefully crafted letters.  Inside were additional words sharing how much she loved me, with added hearts and stars for effect.   It was, as personally made cards go, pretty much perfect.  She beamed with pride as I hugged and thanked her, and told her it was the perfect start to a lovely Mother’s Day.

The next day, the celebration of “all things Mom” seemed destined to continue.  My husband took over swimming lesson duty while I opted for the rare opportunity to go shopping alone.  As I strolled down the lane of our local outdoor mall, I frequently checked my watch, only to remember that I actually had nowhere to be, and no time to be there.  It was an odd feeling, and I finally embraced it (about 45 minutes in…).  Though I didn’t purchase much in particular, I did partake in a leisurely solo lunch, and very much enjoyed browsing the bookstore without anyone constantly tugging at my arm asking when we could go to the kids’ section.  That evening we had a lovely dinner at a new pizza restaurant (the cooks entertain the kids by throwing the dough and drawing pictures in the flour – the kids love it!).  The food was great, the ambience was light and relaxed, and the evening just made for the cap to a wonderful day.

When I awoke this morning, I was convinced that since the weekend had gone so well, the rest would follow along.  As far as breakfast was concerned, I was completely on the mark.  Instead of trying to face any of the Mother’s Day crowds, my daughter and I instead had a personal pancake-making lesson.  It was lots of fun watching her be so careful with all the steps, and be unbelievably proud of herself when she accomplished her goal.  After breakfast wrapped up, she and I devised a plan that today would just be a girl’s day.  Next on the agenda: movie and shopping; oh, what fun!

The movie went pretty well; she enjoyed it, anyway (the Three Stooges – let’s just say I was glad to have my internet-connected phone with me to make it through all 90 minutes).  My wonderful weekend was continuing swimmingly; or so I thought.  On the way to the clothing store was when it started to turn, as my daughter began informing me she would really rather not go.  I coaxed from the front seat, trying to make it sound like a fun adventure.  No dice; her protestations got louder.  In an effort to revert back to the Mother’s Day bliss I was previously in, I turned on the radio to temporarily drown her out (come on, we’ve all done it).  We arrived, parked, and walked in; the way she dragged her feet and bee-lined for every puddle she could find (despite my asking her not to) really should have tipped me off to what was to come.  But I was still in Mother’s Day denial, so I pressed on.

Once in the store, we didn’t really find much for her.  But I did find a few things for me that I actually needed, though I had to try them on before buying.  This is always a challenge; my daughter is not a fan of sitting and waiting while I try things on for myself.  So I pulled out the other well-know parental prod: bribery (and yes, you know you’ve done that, too).  As soon as she started complaining about being bored in the dressing room, I happened to mention that I might need to go to the jewelry section afterwards, and if she behaved, we could maybe get something for her, too.  I thought it had worked when her eyes brightened and she said, “Oooh, jewelry!”.  And I was right; it did work – for about five minutes.  After which point the boredom really started to set in, and she decided she wanted me (and every other customer in about a 10 foot radius) to know about.  She quickly got louder, and more frustrated.  I then did what I normally do when she acts out, I warned her of consequences.  If she didn’t behave, she would lose the jewelry option.  Thing is, you can’t expect to threaten something like that without following through on it; and I forget that trying to teach a lesson in a public place is not always the brightest idea.  So when she decided that dropping the shirts I was saving to buy onto the floor (“to see if they would float!”) was a good idea and I did, in fact, take away the jewelry as a consequence, that’s when my Mother’s Day turned into – well, you can guess.

Squalling.  Tears.  Pleading.  Stomping.  The works.  It was a display worthy of a Tony award.  All in the confined space of a dressing room that does not connect to the ceiling, which has the effect of amplifying the sound through the whole cache of rooms connected to it.  You can imagine the looks I got as I left with her (which I had to do by pulling her by the arm, because at this point she refused to walk normally).  It was a six-year-old’s version of the wailing banshee.

Of course, by the time I got home I was furious, and exhausted.  I felt like my whole Mother’s Day had been ruined by this singular, raucous, embarrassing event.  Not only that, my daughter was now angry with me, and I was frustrated at her.  Fantastic way to end the day, right?  Granted, I tried to rise above and calm us both down for the evening, because I don’t like going to bed angry or with hurt feelings, especially for her.  But I still had my own adult emotions to deal with after she went to sleep, and I couldn’t help feeling that my Mother’s Day had been hijacked somehow.

But as I reflected on it further, I realized that I had probably THE most perfect Mother’s Day of them all, if you really think about it.  Because what is being a mother, if not a challenge?  Being a mother is certainly not perfection.  You do not sign up for this job because you expect never ending days of tranquility, unaccompanied shopping trips, agreeable children, and peaceful days and nights, do you?  Clearly not.  You sign up for loudness, confusion, scraped knees, high fevers, sleepless nights, backtalk, grumpiness, frustration, and tears.  You sign up for worry, desperation, bribery, cajoling, arguments, errands, homework, and laundry.  But you also sign up for laughter, bedtime stories, stargazing, and first-tooth-losing.  You sign up for butterfly-chasing, late-night campfire singing, costume wearing, baby rocking, and hair smoothing.  You sign up for hand holding, secret sharing, Eskimo kissing, milestone watching, “I love you more than all the clamshells in the sea, Momma” hearing.  That’s what you sign up for.

None of it is perfection; and all of it is.  It’s one big giant messy world of nothing you ever expected and everything you never dreamed all wrapped into the most beautiful package of a person; the one that calls you Mother.  So I’ll take my Mother of a Day, today, bruises and all.  Given the right vantage point, it ended up just as lovely as it started.