Spreading Her Wings

cheering woman student open arms at campusThere is a shift taking place in my life right now. As regular life continues to happen around me, I feel trapped in a time warp, a black hole of sorts.

A vortex of emotions.

The stack of boxes, bedding and trinkets has been growing for several weeks. Staged in the back room, away from the path my regular routine takes me through the house each day. The room that used to hold all things Little Tikes, LEGO and My Little Pony. Where imaginations turned boxes, blankets and couch cushions into castles. The game room, formerly known as the playroom.

Teens don’t like to hang out in a playroom, you know. Hence, the name change.

This summer has been deemed “The Longest Summer Ever” for my daughter, who graduated high school on June 17 and doesn’t start college classes until September 22.

College.

I can feel her absence already, as boxes are taped shut and “lasts” are marked off an imaginary list.

And in a twist that seems particularly cruel to a mother, I can clearly remember a time when I would have given my right foot to have a little break from parenting. Maybe an overnight with the grandparents or a few hours away while Dad mans the ship. When your kids are small and needy and so very BUSY, the mere thought that one day they will be out on their own and adulting might be the only thing that keeps you going.

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, the holy grail of parenting — the young adult child.

Because toddlers can be tough.

I honestly enjoyed parenting, even when I had to dole out a punishment or deliver a lecture. There were times when I cried, when they cried, times we all cried together. Through the foot stomping determination of a 3-year old to the eye rolls of a tween, I pushed ahead with new determination each and every day. Even after the toughest of days I would find myself standing at her bedside after she fell asleep, watching her chest rise and fall as the rhythm of her breathing brought me back to the starting line.

Ready to tackle another day.

Most days, I’m almost giddy that she’s going to college and choosing her own path. Some would say I have made it to the finish line, that I’m done parenting and can hang up my cape. Empty nest! More time for yourself! Freedom! These are the cheers I hear from my parenting crowd, many of whom still have tiny hands leaving fingerprints on the sliding glass door and pounds of Goldfish crackers ground into the carpeting in their minivan. They look wistful, envious maybe. I feel like I’m betraying my people if I don’t have fabulous plans to cruise to Alaska, take up yoga, get a tattoo or start my own organic food co-op.

But some days the tears pool right on the brink of my lashes.

Because I’m still parenting.

What did I forget to tell her? Is there one must-have piece of advice I was supposed to frame for her dorm room wall? I can’t swaddle her in a hug when something goes wrong, can’t ask her to tag along on my Target run on a whim. I won’t see that adorable bed-head when she wakes up or even know what she’s wearing. My grocery store cart won’t hold any of her favorite snacks or that disgusting green juice she insists on drinking every morning.

I should probably still get the ice cream.

It’s like watching a movie unfold as you fall in love with the characters, the story line, the flaws and challenges they all overcome. But you don’t know how it ends just yet.

Is this the end of a chapter, or of the whole novel? My brainer-than-me writer/parent friends often debate this topic as a way of postponing the inevitable letting go. Which is really all it is. But am I launching or casting out? One implies setting free, while the other leaves room to reel them back in when needed.

Letting go.

That’s what I am doing this weekend. I’m not getting a tattoo, not hanging up  my parenting cape just yet.

But I am glad I bought the ice cream.

Eighteen Candles

mom holding baby girlParenting.

One of the few jobs that doesn’t necessarily get easier the more years you have under your belt. Because while your skills might sharpen as you balance the tightrope between “yes” and “no” every day, your child is changing the playing field.

Constantly.

You might have one child or five — all boys or a mixture of kiddos — but each and every day you suit up to play a game that isn’t the same game you played yesterday.

I’ve done this parenting thing once already. With 22 years under my belt and a son recently launched into young adulthood, I thought I had it all under control.

My baby girl changed the game.

And now she’s ready to fly.

My last child, my only girl… I’m not sure what it is.

But while I am incredibly excited for her next chapter in life — college move-in only one month away — my heart is already missing that little girl who has been my sidekick for so many years. The toddler who grasped my legs while I cooked dinner and now shares my love for iced coffee and Target runs.

She’s 18 today.

I still can’t wrap my head around it.

From the day she was born, she’s been such a presence in my life. This tiny 6-pound baby girl who couldn’t wait for her due date to make her appearance; who threatened to be born while her father was off in search of a soda machine in the depths of the hospital hallways.

She altered the course of our lives, bringing a new perspective on parenting to two people who thought they knew it all. Her 4-year-old brother had no idea what a game-changer she would be… or that she would be his trusted ally and playmate for years to come. To watch them interact now as young adults is incredible. These two little souls who grew up in a heartbeat — right under my nose — as I fed them, bathed them, read to them, taught them, laughed with them and cried over them.

But my daughter.

How can I sum up 18 years of memories in just a few sentences, or a few memories pulled from the pre-digital years? Shuffling through the old photo boxes this afternoon I wished Steve Jobs had been a little bit quicker with his iPhone… or that I had not worried about the cost of a roll of prints from the neighborhood photo shop.

The cost of the missing memories is steep right now.

She is tenacious and caring, both a deep thinker and a free spirit. She makes me laugh and makes me think, makes me want to be smarter and do better. She loves a debate, yet loves a silly conversation just as much. She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends.

For the past 18 years she has graced our home with so much energy, laughter and love… and when she leaves for college next month her absence will echo down the hall, towards her empty bedroom.

But give me some Facetime, a text filled with emojis, a funny meme shared with an LOL or a call out of the blue — I’m good with that.

She’ll always be my sidekick.

Happy 18th birthday, sweet girl.

It’s time for you to fly.

kak grad walk

 

Watching Her Walk Away

She tosses her school bag on the table and heads into the kitchen to grab her lunch. Just like any other ordinary school day that starts with a quiet breakfast for two and ends when she exits the car and tells me to have a good day.
And she usually adds a thank you.

Those melt my heart a little bit. Because at 16, you don’t always consider the fact that the other members of your family are also heading into their “day,” whether it be work or errands or chores.

She retrieves her sandwich from the refrigerator — which she made for herself this morning — and adds it to her school bag. She senses that I’m staring at her and glances up.

“Are you excited?” I ask, in an eager attempt to sound cool and unaffected. To make this seem like just an ordinary school morning. Which in my heart feels NOT at all ordinary.

Her smile is my answer. She IS excited, and whispers “yes” as she leans in to hug me. I don’t usually get a morning hug, since proper teen protocol means no touching or otherwise acknowledging your familial relationship in the high school parking lot drop-off zone.

Like a taxi driver with no payment other than the quiet, “Have a nice day.”

We break our hug and she looks me in the eye, while cracking a smile. “How are YOU?” she asks, and I realize that to put on an act won’t work this morning. She’s on to me.

I’m screwed.

My baby is driving herself to school this morning.  For the very first time.

ALL ALONE IN THE CAR. (Mothers of toddlers, let that sink in for a moment.)

And I am trying to be OK with it, really I am.

Milestones are awesome, each and every one of them. She is a good driver and we spent countless hours driving all over our area over the past six months. A few miles to school should be a piece of cake.

For her, anyway.

My son started preschool a week after she was born, and our carpool days were just beginning. But now it’s been years since we were a carpool group of three. When she was in fourth grade her brother started high school, and he walked to and from school every day.

So for the past seven years, it’s been just the two of us on the morning slog to school. Sometimes we talk a little, nothing too heavy that time of day. Some mornings are quieter than others, and I just try to let that happen. Since she started high school, I often drop her off on a side street on days when the weather is nice— close enough to consider it a “ride” yet far enough away that nobody would see her with her mother.

And I watch her walk away.

And in that mom part of my brain, I see a little girl wearing a tiny backpack not large enough for any high school textbooks. A tiny little girl wearing adorable round glasses, a pair of pink leggings and cute bangs that framed her sweet, smiling face.

And I imagine that I am dropping her off at kindergarten.

It’s only for a few hours.

And I know she is growing up, and I LOVE watching her spread her wings and begin to mold her future. But I can’t always reconcile in my heart that the tiny girl in pink and the long-haired, leggy 16-year-old girl carrying a trendy handbag for her books and wearing Chuck Taylors are the same person.

She’s heading for the door now.

In her hands, she grasps a brand new lanyard that holds the keys to her independence.

And she is radiant.

“Have a nice day!” I say in a forced but chipper voice. She turns at the door and tells me to have a good day, too.

The door shuts behind her.

And I watch her walk away.

50 Shades of Play

They’re sprinkled all over the internet, in stock photos and pop-up ads.

Those moms.

The moms who actually play with their kids and smile and seem so incredibly good at mothering.

Because playing is fun, right?

When I pictured  myself as a mom, one of the things I was sure I would do all day long was play with my kids. Like really play and laugh and enjoy myself.

Um, yeah. I soon found out that there are more layers to playtime than I had ever imagined. And it changes as your child grows. While playing with your 6-week-old baby might involve nothing more than peek-a-boo and rattles, playing with a 3-year-old gets complicated. There are characters and voices and nuances that even the most attentive mom might not “get” all the time.

Let’s just say it’s not as easy as Stock Photo Mom makes it look. And while I loved, LOVED the time when my kids were young and full of wonder and energy, I also enjoyed the changes as they came… and that’s why I was so excited when I was asked by Rachel Cedar to participate in the 28 Days of Play 2015 at You Plus 2 Parenting!

youplustwoparenting
I would love it if you would head over to read my post about play, Escape From the Land of Pretend.

Then go play with your kids… before they stop asking.

What’s Cool About Teens, Anyway?

What’s cool about teens? Plenty!

Teens totally get a bad rap these days! I feel strongly enough about this cause to be a part of the #ToMyTeen campaign with StopMedicineAbuse.org and some of my favorite bloggers. Our goal is to inspire a positive conversation about what’s great about teens today. I love the positive message, especially since most of the information we hear on the news about teens is negative. Not all teens are out causing trouble or making bad choices.

My-Teen-Isnt_Sherri

Actually, I feel that raising teens can be one of the most gratifying parts of parenthood! These little people you have shaped and loved for years are suddenly becoming mini-adults. They are caring and inquisitive, have strong opinions about the world around them and are actually great conversationalists. They volunteer, study, work, play, help around the house and take on new responsibilities. In short, raising teens can be pretty cool.

My-Teen-Is_Sherri

Research shows that kids who feel validated by their parents are not only more confident, but they are less likely to bow to peer pressure. Since we all share the common goal of raising happy, confident kids let’s focus on the positive this month! Visit ToMyTeen.org and check out the launch pad for this positive spin on tweens and teens. The site has a fun series of GIFs from some of our favorite bloggers and parents of tweens or teens. Click around, enjoy the animated pictures (did you find me?) and upload your own to add to the collection. Each person who participates during October by uploading their own photo is entered in the pool to win a $50 Visa gift card.

Keeping kids safe is tough

If you’re a mom, you know — there is nothing more important to a mother than keeping her little ones safe and sound. What seems to be such a monumental task when you first bring your newborn home from the hospital quickly becomes second nature. The great thing about raising kids is that you get to master each stage just as he moves on to the next.

Exhausting, right?

From newborns to toddlers to elementary school-aged kids — they sure keep you on your toes. But what happens when the child you want to keep safe and away from harm leaves your home each morning and heads off to middle school? High school? Suddenly cutting grapes and hot dogs in half (to prevent choking) and using a booster seat in the car aren’t going to cut it. Tweens and teens are confronted with all sorts of issues once they walk out your door, and it’s your job to stay ahead of the curve.

Be aware because you care

I am honored to partner with StopMedicineAbuse.org this month on their #ToMyTeen campaign. October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to learn the facts, figures and dangers of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine abuse. Teens are using it to get high and while they think it seems like such a harmless trip (I mean, who hasn’t used cough medicine?), it is actually very dangerous. There are over 100 medications that contain the ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM), the ingredient that produces the high. What starts as a safe and effective ingredient becomes extremely dangerous in the quantities teens are using to get high and can cause serious complications or even death.

ToMyTeen Skittling_Infographic

What do parents need to know?
  • Skittling, dexing and robotripping are just a few of the slang terms used by teens when they refer to cough medicine abuse.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 teens reports abusing excessive amounts of DXM to get high. One in 3 knows someone who has abused cough medicine to get high
  • When abused, DXM can cause side effects including vomiting, stomach pain, mild distortions of color and sound, hallucinations and loss of motor control.
  • Having a conversation with your child about the dangers of abusing DXM is critically important. Data shows that what parents say does matter. In fact, teens who learn about the risk of drugs from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs.
Signs of potential DXM abuse

So how would you know if your teen or any of her friends were abusing OTC medications containing DXM? StopMedicineAbuse.org shares these signs that a tween or teen may be abusing cough medicine.

  • Empty cough medicine bottles/boxes in the trash of your child’s room, backpack, or school locker
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or favorite activities
  • Changes in friends, physical appearance, sleeping, or eating patterns
  • Declining grades

Talk to your teens about cough medicine abuse — it’s important.

stopmedicineabuse

Will you join me? Share what’s cool about your tweens or teens at ToMyTeen.org and spread the love. Happy, validated teens make better choices.

She’s Sweet Sixteen

She’s finally up — before noon, I might add. When you’re a teenager, summer birthday mornings are for sleeping in as late as possible.

Even later than your older brother, apparently.

Sixteen. She says it, the calendar says it too… but my mind can’t wrap around the idea that my 6-pound baby girl has lived most of her time with us already. That while I have felt the past 16 years slide through my fingers she has used them to their full advantage.

She’s kind. She’s funny. She is smart and determined. She cares about her friends and her pets and her family.

She’s a little bit him and a little bit me, but she has always been very much her own person.

And there is a certain spark about her that stuns me, something I can’t quite put my finger on. It feels like she radiates joy and energy and peace, and at times I can’t get enough of just having her near me.

I guess that’s how all moms feel.

When I am distracted by her piercing blue eyes I find myself wondering what’s going on in her head. But mothers of teen girls know we dance on a thin line between comforting and being nosy. And that when they really need us, they will let us know. That asking “What’s wrong?” actually pushes them further away sometimes.

I am trying, sweet girl. I really am.

We traveled together this past spring, just the two of us. And I had glimpses of the relationship we would have one day soon, when she won’t need my permission to go see friends or my questions about homework or chores. When she will shed the blanket of my mothering and start living life on her own.

When she’s an adult who chooses whether or not to spend time with her mom.

We laughed, walked, swam, watched the sunsets, ordered room service pizza and just let ourselves be comfortable together. I didn’t dole out advice or correct her manners in the restaurant. I listened to her, really listened, as if I had just met her for the very first time.

And my heart was so full. Just like that day 16 years ago when the nurse handed her to me and announced that we had a girl. Back then I already knew that our time would be short — but from my vantage point now it seems a cruel joke that parents really only have 18 years to get it right.

I can deal with that. If you promise to ignore me when I stare at you, still trying to see that tiny baby girl inside. To let it slide when I kiss the top of your head or call you a pet name in public. To understand that when you are away from home a small piece of my heart is always with you.

To understand that a mother never really stops mothering.

We just upgrade to the new version.

Happy Birthday, sweet girl.

Have a wonderful year.

 

Kelli and Mom

In an Instant

The moment it happened is frozen in my mind.

The loud school bell ringing out the morning call to class — big kids running across the blacktop, trying to get to class before the teacher closes the door.

Moms chatting and laughing, making coffee dates and lamenting the pile of laundry waiting for them at home.

My little girl by my side, watching her big brother head off to school — a place she still wouldn’t attend for two more years. She in her 3-year-old exuberance was smiling and laughing.

And then, the crash.

Big, third-grade boy — late to class — didn’t see my tiny wisp of a girl and plowed into her as he ran. She didn’t see it coming, couldn’t even put her hands out to catch her fall.

I will never forget the sound I heard as her tiny head hit the blacktop. An eerie calm took over me, and everything seemed to happen in slow-motion. I sat down and took her tiny body in my arms, and for just a brief bit of time she was out cold. My baby, my girl — who had just moments before been smiling and laughing — was just not there.

And then, the tears. She was back, with quiet sobbing tears, in a voice that I didn’t quite recognize.  Low, moaning sounds punctuated with tears.

It scared me.

And yet, I still felt that eerie feeling of calm. I needed to get her home, needed to call the doctor. Why I didn’t think she needed an ambulance, I will never know. I just felt like I could do this, I could take care of my girl and she would be fine.

When I got her home and called the advice nurse, her message was clear.

Call 911. Now.

My husband held her, listening to the low, moaning sobs and trying to keep her awake.

When the paramedics came, her tiny body seemed so much more fragile than it had just an hour earlier. As they loaded her on the gurney into the ambulance, I remembered — she needed Bunny. The bunny she had slept with since her first birthday… the bunny that was supposed to protect her from these very dangers.

I bolted into the house to retrieve Bunny, then climbed into the ambulance with my girl. As we sped to Children’s Hospital, her eyes were closing. I kept telling her to stay awake.

What the paramedic said to me was haunting. “It’s not a problem if she goes to sleep. The problem will be if we can’t wake her up.” With those words, the seriousness of the situation hit me in the gut.

Walking the halls of Children’s Hospital, waiting for the CT scan to be completed, I saw them around every corner. Worried mothers with little children, playing with the doctor’s office stash of toys like everything was normal.

But these children I saw were very sick — some bandaged, some hooked up to tubes and dragging IV carts behind them. These mothers worried each and every day that their child would not be OK tomorrow.

It was an eye-opening experience, to see these women and fathers and grandparents, waiting in small rooms with obviously sick children, yet exuding calm and hope and continuing to parent, even when their child’s future was unclear.

My daughter was fine a — mild concussion and some badly-damaged glasses were her only remaining wounds as we left the hospital. Life would return to normal, or at least our version of it.

But those other mothers, those whose every waking second is spent cherishing the mundane, the usual, the ordinary — they showed me the other side of the mothering door. Where spilled milk at breakfast isn’t a bother. Where laughing and being silly is cherished because it’s rare. A mothering world where a mother just sees every day as a miracle, worries herself to sleep each night, then gets back up to do it again the very next day.

If we needed to, any one of us would fight for our child’s life and be strong in the face of tragedy.

It’s what we do.

But once you’ve seen the other side, no matter how briefly — you never want to go there.

 

 This piece originally ran on Moonfrye