I'll confess. I was in the let's-never-let-the-baby-be-unhappy camp during my children's early years. You know the kind of mother of which I speak. The one who doesn't pass around her newborn. The one with the crib doubling as a hamper because no human creature has ever managed to remain in there for more than three minutes. The one nursing her toddler in the grocery store--while she's pushing the cart.
This strategy, I must say, honestly worked well for me. I was stretched and tired and worn out at times, but leaning into what my kids needed made me personally as a mom really happy. I was glad for the extreme measures and felt a kind of satisfaction to be going the extra mile. Call it sick, I know, but it was the right decision for me.
And for many years, it was absolutely the right decision for my kids. Except, of course, when it wasn't. My kids spent their baby and toddler years eating when they were hungry, sleeping when they were tired and playing to their hearts content. This was all fine and good until it was time for Madeleine to go to school. And then. Oh dear. Our follow-your-bliss do-what-you-want-when-you-want-to plan wasn't going to work at all.
Because school has a start time. And a lunch time. And a lesson time, complete with learning stations that changed every twenty minutes. Which turned out to be way too short for my (then) tv-free kids who had figured out how to do the one thing they loved for at least one hour at a time, preferably two. It took me one whole year of kindergarten to get bedtime down and then a whole other horrific year in first grade to realize she needed to go a different school altogether.
School has been the one glitch in my follow-your-bliss parenting strategy. I've adjusted by working on bedtime routines, figuring out how to get out the door in the morning and how to get homework done at night. So far, so good, for the most part. It's only taken five years.
Now we have much more serious decisions on the table as the kids get older and we need to decide which schools are best for them as they outgrow our cozy neighborhood schools. What would make them happy right now might limit their opportunities a few years down the road--because inside the Beltway where we live, the invitation to this or that track of education starts early. Following their bliss may naturally exclude a host of experiences that might open new avenues of interest that will delight them--even more than they can imagine right now as they change and grow.
This puts me in a delicate spot as a parent. Do I demand that they go to schools they might not truly want to go--in the spirit of hope in new experiences? Do I relent and continue to allow them to follow their natural inclinations--a deeper lesson in following their hearts--and risk another kind of missing out?
I think for me it comes down to trust. Do I trust my instincts about this child enough to follow my own intuition? Do I trust my tween to know her own mind well enough to make a reasonable choice? Especially after eleven years in the follow-your-bliss incubator?
These parenting decisions reflect our basic outlook on life, work, joy, fulfillment and responsibility, so snap decisions or quick edicts won't do. It's only when we have insight into why we're doing what we're doing that we can feel solid and brave in our choices as parents, even if we're not entirely sure. That's where I am this morning, and this is what I'm trying to do.
I was selling my wares at a local fair when my husband and children stepped into my little 10 foot by 10 foot booth. I looked down to find my children covered from head to toe with stickers bearing the name of a local politician running for reelection. They each clutched balloons with the candidate's name upon them in bold lettering.
I looked at my husband in disbelief.
K: WHY are your children wearing THESE stickers and holding these balloons?
Let me start by saying my moral superiority was openly misplaced. It wasn't my district. It wasn't my politician. But I knew of this politician and he did not represent the values I espouse. Or my husband's values, for that matter. This is the time of year for campaigning and everywhere we go this summer, politicians will be out shaking hands and kissing babies. Apparently some will have balloons.
D: He had balloons. The other guy didn't have balloons. The kids wanted balloons.
People are very passionate about politics these days. Having sat around doing next to nothing for much of our lives, our generation finds itself with lots of opinions, causes and avenues to express them. That's cool. Express yourself. If you want to cover the entire back of your car with this or that, I am all for it unless you also clog the left lane doing 10 miles below the speed limit. Then I associate your causes with negative things rather than that neutral stance I feel when I see a bumper-sticker laden car.
But handing out balloons to kids? Is a balloon just a balloon or is it a little odd for a child to be making a political statement? I was already creeped out by Politician A walking down the street asking if kids wanted candy from the bucket he was carrying. The guy must not have kids or he would know that many a mother would vote against him just because he gave her child candy from a bucket in the middle of the morning.
Why can't politicians do it the old fashioned way? Candidates driving down the street during a parade, riding in a convertible borrowed from the local car dealership, and hurling fistfuls of candy in the direction of the kid-infested curbs? Now there are balloons? Don't get me wrong. I have always wanted balloons with my name on them. How awesome would that be?
Last election we were a divided household with our five year old voting for one candidate and his parents voting for another. It did not matter since he cannot vote anyway but I imagine he would like to have had his views represented by his parents (more candy, later bedtimes for everyone!). I'd like to think that politics is about the beliefs and values of your politician, but maybe it really is about the stickers and balloons. What do you think?
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had a black felted baller hat with a bow, just like Debbie Gibson. I wore it to a concert and felt, so, so cool. Almost as cool as my older sisters who were driving around town listening to Bon Jovi in their Naf-Naf outfits that they bought with their first paychecks working retail at the mall.
Even at my coolest, it was all still so awkward. My body lanky, long, waiting to grow into my forever legs and arms. I was at least six inches taller than most of the boys in my class, which helped as I was still too petrified to even think about a boy liking me. There was so much to navigate, so much to try on to discover who I was. I don't think I realized how important all of it was, especially that hat.
So here I am with my own boy, feeling right back at the start of all things tween. It started with his hair. He told me over a year ago that he was growing out his hair. We did this when he was four so I didn't think too much about it. I forgot I trimmed it then, easing it all into this beautiful shoulder length little boy beauty. This go around there would be no trimming.
No trimming and a LOT more shag. To say this drove me crazy would be an understatement, at one point I even resorted to bribery which still didn't work.
"Josiah, I will give you $20 if you let me take you to the salon to get it trimmed." I begged.
It's pretty horrifying on my part, I know. Everywhere we went he looked a little messier, with that thick mane in his face. Around the same time, it was as if we hit the sweaty, smelly boy stage too. Welcome to the tween years.
"Mom, you gotta let the hair thing go." he said.
"I think he's right. That hair is awesome." Jorge later said in private.
I sighed and knew they were both right. This boy was growing just like the hair, just as thick and crazy, just as awesome. This one small way of trying something different on, even if someone close to you doesn't exactly approve was the perfect way to flex some independence muscles. As he makes his way I learn how to accept, to even embrace knowing there are much more complicated decisions than hair ahead.
While shopping the other day we passed the men's hat section and Josiah wandered over. It was if every hat on the shelf was calling to his head. Not just one but pretty much all 20 looked completely rad with his crazy hair. We were both out of our minds over how cool he looked and I was so proud of all his tween goodness. All I could think of was that Debbie Gibson hat, and the beginning of so much more.
Do you have that one little independence step or decision your kid has made that makes you a little crazy? How have you navigated these new steps and stages? Tell us and all the uptight tween parents everywhere.
Just twenty-four hours into the long weekend, the kids were starting to come unglued looking for something to do. This is not a good sign for us, since summer is long and camp is pretty expensive. After a painful hour of going back and forth trying to find something--anything!--both kids liked to do, we decided to go back to one of the old neighborhoods where we first lived when we moved to the metro DC area.
We made this momentous cross-country move from Florida to Maryland when Madeleine was three and Carter was still a baby, and this first neighborhood in a little wooded glen was our stomping ground for almost four years. Four years is a good little chunk of your children's lives. Carter learned to walk in that house. Madeleine learned to read. They were the years of the most intense parenting--the years of sleepless nights, too much crying and the most mess. Let me just say so much of it is burned into my memory forever.
My kids, however, can barely pull it into focus. As we walked down the old path to the park with the little creek where they played daily, I reminisced about this old memory (remember how much you loved that queen's cape?) or that one (remember that game we used to play on the swings?) Both kids looked back blank. These rituals of love I had lovingly carried out over their toddler and preschool years (in the midst of the crying and the mess) weren't registering one bit.
It wasn't that they didn't remember living in the house--they did! They just remembered other things. Like the time the mat on the front porch was infested with ants (really?) or the time I let one kid pee behind a tree in the park because said child didn't think it was possible to make it back in time. And about a hundred other inconsequential (to me) or horrifying things like that.
No one had any recall of the elaborate unbirthdays or the adorable twig broom we made with a thousand twigs we collected by hand after reading The Boxcar Children out loud. No one remembered the Andy Goldsworthy inspired sculptures we made in the creek or the hundreds of buttercup bouquets.
The old me would have been devastated, but one full year of wandering around the world later, I think I get it. All those little things I did as the mother of little children really mattered and profoundly shaped my kids, whether they remember them or not. My error (if you can even call it that) was not in pouring my heart out for them, but in not telling them the story of how much they delighted me one princess drama or stick sword fight at a time--long after the capes and sticks were gone.
Standing in the riverbed as we took turns heaving giant rocks into the deep parts hoping to make the loudest "kerplunk", I regaled them with stories--true, real life stories about their growing up years and how hilarious they were and how smart and how loving. They listened like it was brand new news and were as delighted to hear the story of living in that house as I was delighted to tell them.
So here's my challenge, supersisters (and brothers!) What memories from your kids earliest years stand out the most in your mind? Which impressions are most important and dear to you? What do you want them to remember? Check in with your mini-historians and cross-check. And if your story is missing from the archive, start telling it over and over again.
I'm thinking our stories, perhaps more than even their memories, will shape our kids for years and years to come. Do you agree?