Dear Mom

Life doesn’t come with a manual. It comes with a mother.” – unknown

It seems like when I see a headline on the news relating to something that happened to a mom, it starts with something like, “Mom of two is ____” (fill in the blank with missing, found guilty, bitten by a dog and so on). She also might be a real estate agent, banker, engineer or some other profession but it seems in my non-scientific survey, that they always lead with her parental status.

Which I take to be evidence of the importance of mother figures. This post is a both a celebration of moms and also a chance for me, as a somewhat new-ish mom, to learn what is the essential stuff of motherhood.

If you feel comfortable, please tell me in the comments what was the most important lesson your mom or a mother figure taught you and/or if you are a mom, what is the primary thing you want your kids to get or learn from you. I’ll compile a list and publish it.

Here’s my start for the list:

My mom taught me to speak and write. Her precision with language is extraordinary so just by listening to her and having her guidance, I learned a great deal about speaking English properly. It’s only in later years that I’ve realized that my mom only speaks what she believes to be true, which is another dimension of her gift to not only be precise in how she says something but also in what she says.  

As for being a mom: I observe my kids eat better, communicate more clearly and follow the rules more closely when they are with people other than me. I sometimes, just for an instant, wish they would want to step it up and impress me. Then I remember what an honor it is to hold their fragile conception of love like a baby chick in my hand. When they are grown and have learned to behave and handle themselves well, I hope I’ve created a space in each of them that knows you don’t have to perform to be loved.

(featured photo is of my mom, my son and me)

(quote comes from a post on Philosophy through Photographs blog)

Do One Thing Well

A year from now, what will I wish I had done today?” – unknown

Deep into the section on expectations in Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart, I had a huge a-ha moment. She was talking about a conversation with her husband in which they both confessed to each other that they had an easier time parenting on the weekends they did it solo. Because they set aside their expectations to be able to do anything other than parent for that weekend.

This put a shape to the experience I have had as a single parent. Because I never expect that someone else will take the night shift or be there on the weekend, I have had to set really clear boundaries on the work and hobbies that I do because I know I won’t be able to duck out for a couple of hours.

That means that nights and weekends, I pretty much focus on hanging out with my kids. I do get a few chores around the house done with their “help.” The tradeoff for giving up Saturday morning hiking with my friends has been the gift of not believing I can try to do both things.

I know many of my parenting friends do an incredibly great job of splitting up the parental labor. One person will do the 9am-noon shift on Saturdays so that the other can go swimming and then they switch and the other gets “time off.” I have a pretty good inkling that if I was doing parenting with a partner that I would try for that approach and be a lot more confused about what I could handle.

I don’t know who said “Do one thing at a time and do it well.” My mom? Winnie-the-Pooh? Or maybe it’s not ascribed to a particular person because everyone who has learned the wisdom repeats it. When I wrote the post a couple of weeks ago about being invited to climb a mountain this summer, so many of my dear and wise blogging friends reminded me that parenting goes fast and there will likely be time to return to my hobbies later.

I believe that at some point I will have a partner again and more personal freedom. However, there isn’t anything I would trade for this uncomplicated time where I learned to really spend time with my children and enjoy it. Sometimes not having help forces us to distinctly draw boundaries we wouldn’t know to set otherwise.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Hot Mess

The good road and the road of difficulties, you have made me cross; and where they cross, the place is holy.” – Black Elk, Oglala Lakota Medicine Man

Yesterday morning I was feeling so optimistic about getting the kids out the door. It was a beautiful spring morning, I’d just had lovely quiet time meditating and writing. Then I got the kids up and I had my two-year-old son changed into his Superman costume for the day and breakfast on the table.

And then with 15 minutes to go we had a potty accident. Trying to recover from that, I didn’t give my 6-year-old daughter the 5 minute warning before she had to turn off her math game and get her shoes on. All of a sudden we were late, Mr. D was having a fit. I think it was mostly because he hadn’t eaten yet but probably a little because he had an accident and although I hadn’t said anything, he was attuned to my stress of being late. Miss O was upset because the pressure was on to get out the door. Our neighbor girl who carpools with us looked a little horrified as our hot mess unfolded.

I could find nothing to help my toddler calm down –  he didn’t want to sing or rock, he was resisting sitting in his car seat, screaming about going to school, there was no way to get him to eat and the pressure was on because we were going to make my daughter and her friend late to school if we didn’t leave NOW. All of a sudden, I went from my usual “it-will-all-work-out” state to being emotionally flooded.

I’ve seen different descriptions of the being flooded – but generally it seems to describe a feeling of strong emotions, release of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. For me it shows up as an inability to be creative and problem solve in the moment because the surge of emotion. I got the kids into the car – my daughter was fine after the initial grump that I was hurrying her – but I just couldn’t wait to drop my son at daycare because I was flummoxed.

After we dropped the girls at the elementary school, I still had no success in calming my son who was really upset. He didn’t want to listen to music or for me to talk. And while I still just wanted to drop him at daycare and make it someone else’s problem, this state was so unusual for my easy-going toddler I just couldn’t. In fact, I knew that not only he needed to calm down and heal from this moment – so did I.

I found myself driving to Home Depot which thankfully had small excavators and backhoes for rent sitting in their parking lot. I parked where he directed me to, scrambled into the back seat to be next to him and his curiosity for the construction equipment took over. Once he started doing something else, I could get him to eat and everything settled from there. We ended up having a lovely time at Home Depot. The great thing about kids is how quickly they heal and move on.

It reminded me how in the moment where we are flooded, doing something else until we can restore our balance is the only thing that works. I’ve heard Drs Julie and John Gottman suggest doing a crossword or going for a walk – anything but continuing a conversation that can’t go anywhere.

I’d say 90+% of the time, my little family operates according to plan and we all do great. But it’s in messy 10% that we find our resilience and healing, figuring it out one Home Depot parking lot at a time.

Facing Our Fears Together

Be a lamp, a lifeboat or a ladder.” – Rumi

At bedtime last night my 6-year-old confessed to me that she runs ahead on the way to bed so that she can check under the bed for thieves. Not burglars, not robbers but thieves. But it was such an intimate moment that I didn’t ask about the word selection.

It struck me as I was listening what a privilege it is to hear someone else’s fears. Because what seems so real to us can feel childish to someone else. I remember confessing shortly after my daughter was born to a friend who doesn’t have kids that this was the hardest thing I’d ever done. My friend laughed, not unkindly but dismissively and I felt so exposed that I couldn’t say more.

Conversely I have friends to whom I can tell my biggest fears and know they won’t talk me out of them but instead will help me walk through them. In this way each monster we’ve faced together has been a bridge to closeness. It’s created the bond of facing things together.

When I’ve been the one entrusted with a friend’s hardship, I feel the honor of providing reassurance. Life has taught me we all fear different things but trust is built when we honor that they are real to the person who faces them.

So I told my daughter that it’s unlikely a thief would be patient enough to wait under the bed but I’d help her check. And I told her that when I was her age that I feared snakes under my bed. She thought that was weird until I told her that I had a prized set of four National Geographic books – puppies, kittens, frogs and snakes. I loved the puppies and kittens but I was fascinated by the snakes. So I could totally picture the hooded King Cobra ready to strike unless I cleared the bed by a good margin.

We talked about the probability that when her little brother is 6-years-old, he’ll probably have his own thing that he fears and she prepared her answer for how she’ll reassure him. Hand-in-hand we talked about facing our fears, looked under the bed and then had a great night’s sleep.

(featured photo by Pexels)

Fantasy Climbs

One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art in conducting oneself in lower regions by memory of what one has seen higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” – Rene Daumal

I felt my phone ping with a message while I was trying to get dinner on the table the other night. At that moment, one little person wanted raw carrots instead of the perfectly grilled carrots and needed more hummus. The other little person was tired and having a moment of personal crisis and didn’t want to eat at all. As I was shuttling between kitchen and table, I snuck a glance at the message. It was my friend inviting me on a mountain climb of Mt. Adams with him and his son this summer.

Oh, it was so easy to envision myself away from that disastrous dinner and instead picture eating instant noodles from a tin cup on the side of a mountain at our base camp at 9,750 feet. I felt like it would be a complete luxury to say “yes” to climbing and trade in the work of parenting for a couple of days of slogging up a mountain with only the sound of our breathing and our footsteps crunching in the snow.

Even though I could rationalize how safe a climb Mt. Adams is with no crevasses or avalanche danger and rest in the reassurance of climbing with a friend that I’ve summitted that mountain twice with, I knew I’d have to say “no.”

Because even a safe mountain climb means being on the side of a 12,281 foot mountain for a couple of days, exposed to weather and human frailty. And in the very slight case that anything happened and I got hurt or dead, I’d be so angry at myself for leaving behind two young kids. Even if I was dead – I’d be dead and angry!

It highlighted for me the wide chasm between who I am now and who I used to be before kids. First of all, I’m entirely flattered that my friend thinks I could make it up Mt. Adams.

Secondly, it was a moment of realization of how completely my priorities have changed thinking about how I use my time, not only for the climb but also the commitment it would take me to get in shape to climb again.

But most of all, it made me feel yet again the wonderful work of our friends as they hold space for us when we are otherwise occupied, off on our quests to find meaning or just not feeling ourselves. Those friends that we can journey through all the phases of life and still find something to talk about with are a sacred gift.

So I told my friend, with a huge heaping of gratitude, that I’d have to take a rain check until I get my kids in shape and we can all climb together. In lieu of me going, his son is going to borrow my backpack and ice axe so a little bit of me is going by proxy instead. Maybe I’ll get to send my tin cup also so it can have dinner on the mountain too!

(photo is mine – of sunset from base camp on Mt. Adams)

Why

He who has a why can endure any how.” – Nietzsche

The other day I was driving with Mr. D in the car and he saw a church steeple and asked what it was.

Me: That’s a church steeple.

D: Why?

Me: It’s that’s a traditional part of a that kind of church architecture.

D: Why?

Me: We have churches so that people can celebrate God.

D: Why?

Clearly, Mr. D is squarely in his why phase. To me it feels as if he’s figured out a way to carry on a conversation without having an extensive amount of words. But it’s fitting because I’ve been working on finding my “why.” My why – as in the core motivation and pervasive central theme of what I do.

As author Simon Sinek says in Find Your Why, “Each of us has only one WHY. It’s not a statement of who we aspire to be; it expresses who we are when we are at our natural best.”

There are different schools of thought of how to find your why. Social scientist and Harvard professor, Arthur Brooks (From Strength to Strength) suggests that we finding it by cultivating moments of stillness and meditating on it. Author Simon Sinek (Find Your Why) recommends a structured approach where we tell the formative stories of our youth (because he says our why is formed by our late teens) in order to form a statement that looks like:

To _<insert the contribution you make the lives of others>_ so that _<impact of your contribution>_.

Combining the two approaches, I have reflected on what stands out from my early years. I had a happy and stable childhood so I thought I didn’t have many stories but opening up the discovery uncovered this moment when I was about to start high school. My dad, a Presbyterian pastor, ask me to go for a walk when we were on vacation at a lake cabin. As we walked, he offered to change his job if it would make it easier for my teenage years.

While I responded honestly that his job didn’t bother me at all, I also noted that he was saying this because my older sister had pummeled him with rebellion and hurt during her journey through high school. I vowed to do it differently so he and my mom would know they were good parents. Which wasn’t hard because they were and I was a very different kid than my sister.

Distilling this and other memories down to what drives me now and why, I came up with this “Why” statement:

To encourage and cheer for others so that they feel supported and emboldened in the pursuit of life in the fullest on their individual paths.

Thinking back, I remember my mom warning that I shouldn’t be a caretaker. That certainly could be a pitfall to my “why.” I prefer to think that in telling my story in how I’ve done it differently – whether it be finding a different expression of faith than my parents or choosing to become a single parent, I can help others to know they can find their own paths too.

As Mr. D will tell you, knowing why is a great way to dig deeper into the meaning of things.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Foul

Forget injuries. Never forget kindnesses.” – Confucius

This week I got the opportunity to fill in as a lunchtime playground monitor at my daughter’s school. When the kindergartners were out, one of them ran up and said there was a boy that was hurt where they were playing soccer. He was surrounded by a group of interested and supportive onlookers and as I knelt to examine his sore side, I heard:

Boy #1: I don’t think that was a red card. [I assumed they were talking about the foul system in soccer.]

Boy #2: Might not have even been a yellow card.

Boy #3: I was just trying to kick the ball.

Our injured kindergartner was sore but nothing serious and the boys provided a very nice escort to the door so that he could go to the office for some ice. I think they all earned an award for good sportsmanship.

That’s what struck me overall about the kerfuffles I stepped in to help on. Noel thought Clara ignored her. Greyson thought Connor attacked him. David thought Julian yelled in his ear. Maybe it’s because I was thinking about apologies this week, but in all the cases when I got the parties together to talk, the kids weren’t defensive and it made it so easy to talk through. There are so many things kids do well – although maybe kicking the ball and only the ball isn’t one of them!

(featured photo from Pexels)

Not Love Actually

Don’t be afraid of the solitude that comes from raising your standards.” – Ebonee Davis

Driving in the car the other day with Miss O, I checked in with her on her playground crush. This was the young man, Will, that I wrote about in the COVID crush post, who lines up on an adjacent heart, 6-feet-apart on the playground to go into a different 1st grade classroom.

When he initially told her that he had a crush on her back in October, Miss O said she had one on him too. But when I checked back in the other day, she told me,  “the interest had gone away.”

I asked what happened. She explained he started hanging around another kid, a kid she thinks is a bully because he yells “SORRY” when he apologizes. And she changed her attitude because the playground supervisor, Mr. C, is handing out awards for being good in line and Will is always messing around.

She stopped finding him attractive because she doesn’t like his friends and he wasn’t a good influence?? My job as a parent is done…. 😊

(featured photo from Pexels)

Do We Have to Be Nice to Alexa?

Hem your blessings with thankfulness so that they don’t unravel.” – unknown

I was in the kitchen making dinner last night when I overheard my mom talking to the Amazon Echo device we have in the other room. It’s the device we have plugged in that is connected to the Internet so that the kids can request music for their endless dance parties (I know it does a lot more than that but that’s what we primarily use it for). Because the Echo doesn’t quite understand my son’s two-year-old voice yet, my mom was requesting a song for him, “Alexa, play Baby Shark, please.”

It made me think of manners and respect. I suspect that my 82-year-old mom’s manners are so engrained she doesn’t have to think whether or not she’ll say “please” any more, even when talking to a device. And I tend to say “please” as well when talking to Alexa because I appreciate anyone (or anything) that responds to my requests.

But is it an empty gesture when talking to an Artificial Intelligence device?

It reminds me of training a dog. To give commands, you have to be in control of yourself enough to be clear. In addition, the whole process teaches as much to the trainer as the trainee as you figure out what works and what doesn’t. And finally, there’s a loyalty built when you work together.

Besides, I think modeling respect for everything in our world for my kids builds a good foundation of choosing respect more often than not. Respect for the people that designed it, respect for the shared intelligence it delivers and respect for all the songs we can access through it. Given all that, I think Alexa deserves a please and a thank you!

(featured photo from Pexels)

Meet Tenderness with Tenderness

My hands never feel empty because you hold them with care and love.” – unknown

Yesterday, my two-and-a-half year old son and I were sitting in the car goofing around while parked outside Starbucks before I dropped him at school. It was an early Monday morning after a really fun weekend as a family together and he said a couple of times that he didn’t want to go to school. Then he said, “I miss you, Mama.” And I started to protest that I was right there and talk him out of it. But before I could put the words together he followed up, “I miss you Mama atta school.”

My heart was gulping like a fish out of water and tears sprang to my eyes. Before I left the moment to justify that I can’t be do everything or to troubleshoot how we could spend more time together, my thoughts snagged on an idea from poet and author Mark Nepo that tenderness is best met with tenderness.

Frequently, this reflex to solve, rescue and fix removes us from the tenderness at hand. For often, intimacy arises not from any attempt to take the pain away, but from a living through together; not from a work out, but from a being with. Trust and closeness deepen from holding and being held, both emotionally and physically.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

So I gave him a big hug and said, “I miss you too, Buddy.” Then we went on our way.

I found out from his teacher that when the kids at school miss their families, she gets out a picture of their people for them so they can look at it. It’s the daycare version of the pictures I keep on my desk that give me a little zing whenever they catch my eye.

I felt my son’s statement all through the day as I went about my business. When it sparked a feeling of guilt or responsibility I kept practicing the return to the beauty of having a relationship worth missing.