Happy Birthday, 20

I see his lips moving, but I don’t hear a word he’s saying. Instead, my attention is drawn to the stubble of a day-old beard that sprinkles his cheeks and chin.

Caught by surprise yet again at this man who still inhabits my heart as a baby.

My son just turned 20. And it’s cliche and ridiculous and so dramatic, but at these moments when I notice… really notice… that he truly is grown up now, I ache for the years that have melted away.

For the years when his chin was a place I wiped dribbles of mac and cheese from, not a place he needed to shave. For the years when I was drawn into his little face by those intense blue eyes and adorable cleft in his chin. I could stare at him for hours back then… while he slept, while he ate, while we just cuddled.

Not so cool to stare at him now.

So we coexist as adults for the most part, chatting about school or work or the latest scientific discovery. He’s full of ideas and theories, and loves to share them or debate them. His jokes make me laugh and I can still share a funny YouTube video now and then that cracks him up. Life moves forward and it’s easy to forget that he was my baby.

Is my baby, still.

There was a turning point somewhere, the tipping point where my parenting of him had reached maximum capacity, where advice and comments and mandates stopped being processed by his young adult brain.

And inside, I know that was the plan all along. To parent, to guide, to counsel and to adore. To build his confidence and his character, to help him survive heartbreak and disappointment and move forward with grace.

And even now, as I watch him talk and laugh I am awed by the simple fact that I am his mom. That I was given these 20 years with him unconditionally, even though I had no experience and there were no guarantees that I would be a good mother.

I just made it up as we went along.

No do-overs now. No second chances to go back and try a different path.

I wouldn’t really change a thing.

Because my boy, this young man who sits in front of me (and is apparently still talking) has given me the incredible gift of just being his mom.

And he will always be the baby in my heart.

baby boy

Brotherly love

In the beginning, it was all about him. First-born, first grandchild, first nephew…his place in our extended family cemented by the simple fact that he was born.

First.

He was a wise old soul in a little-boy body. Adults loved to chat with him, listening to his volumes of memorized dinosaur facts or advice about which types of plastics are recyclable. He spoke clearly and fluently, forming complete sentences before he had a complete set of teeth. He told jokes that made sense and understood sarcasm. My days were so full of questions and observations that at times I felt more like a tour guide than a mom.

Playgroups at the park were a part of our weekly routine, and I craved the time with my mom-girlfriends. I knew that the social interaction with other little ones was very important for my son, but secretly most of us form playgroups for our own adult sanity. It was in these early playgroups that I began to notice what the other little boys did. They were usually quite physical – running, jumping, pushing each other around just a bit to test their wee-manhood. My son preferred to play in the sand, creating an elaborate “recycling center” with the pails and trucks, only to be confused and upset when the other boys didn’t understand his passion. Being an old soul may make you the favorite of preschool teachers and drugstore cashiers, but it creates quite a gap on the playground.

I worked very hard to match him up with potential playmates and buddies, to teach him to be patient on the playground, and to open his eyes to the fact that not every 3-year-old was interested in fossils or the Latin names of birds. He needed another tour guide.

Along came his baby sister.

Being an only child and having a sibling thrust into your limelight isn’t easy. My son was intrigued at first, somewhat perplexed at how she really wasn’t able to do anything. He would correct me when I would say the baby was “talking” and remind me that no, she couldn’t talk yet. He never seemed jealous or spiteful, perhaps just a bit discouraged at her lack of ability to carry on a conversation or play recycling center with him. When her cries interrupted bedtime stories too often, he wondered why she had to cry at all, since she wasn’t hurt.

And then, a slight shift in the relationship. Around the time my daughter was about 18 months, it happened. I left them in the playroom for a bit while I went to load the washing machine or some other daily task. When I returned, I could hear my son talking to his sister about a game he was playing and giving her a role. Peeking quietly around the corner, I saw her huge grin and I knew she sensed it too.

She was in.

Over the years their games changed and evolved, but they would play for hours together, lost in their pretend world. My role as tour guide had been taken over by a pint-sized, energetic little girl who was eager for the challenge. Having someone who loves you no-matter-what and who will tolerate your thoughts and opinions is an incredible gift. My daughter had provided my son with a different way to view the world, something I had not been able to do on my own.

It was magic.

Both are now teenagers. My son, in his third year of college, and my daughter a sophomore in high school. Role-playing games have been replaced by wise cracks, sarcasm and text messages, or maybe a ride to soccer practice or the mall. I love listening to them talking and teasing each other, analyzing the ins and outs of high school life, pop culture and anything else that seems funny or might embarrass mom. She has finally become the equal he wanted her to be.

And he is her tour guide now.

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This piece originally ran on Moonfrye

Someone Might Color Again

crayons on tableI can’t remember the very first box, although in hindsight I think simply the purchase of it must have made me giddy.

Crayons. He’s old enough for crayons.

In all of my enthusiasm for this super-exciting “next step” my son had graduated to, I am certain I purchased the 64-count box.

And we would have talked about the names of each of the colors, compared the light blue with the navy, lined them up in color groupings and counted them one-by-one. Maybe we chose our favorite colors, or talked about how the sun is usually colored yellow but looks white.

I’m pretty sure we could kill an hour or more with a simple 64-count box of crayons.

Because we had time to do that kind of thing back then. Back when time stood still it seemed — or at least on those long no-nap afternoons when Daddy traveled and Mommy was left to dinnertime chatter with someone who only talked about the garbage man. Back when the time it took to simply get out the door to preschool or the grocery store seemed to fill a morning.

The crayons, they multiplied.

Go out to your favorite chain restaurant for dinner? Come home with a tiny box of crayons, named with colors like “mac and cheese.” Crayons make great stocking stuffers, car-trip sanity savers, Easter basket fillers and birthday party favors.

One 64-count box of perfectly shaped crayons soon gives way to several plastic bins full of a jumble of odd colors and sizes that don’t quite go together. Favorites are worn down to nubs, while some never quite feel right and never even touch tip to paper.

This fall I started (again) to organize and rearrange what used to be our playroom and now is more of a game room.

It sounds cooler to teens if you call it that.

One plastic bin full of crayons remains.

Some are worn down, others broken in half and discarded… never to be used. There are multiple brands intermixed, some never used at all.

Like a jumble of things my kids tried. Things that either didn’t fit, felt wrong or left them wanting something more.

I wish that parenting them now was as simple as that brand-new 64-count box of crayons was. That I could once again offer them something that was full of possibilities and open to whatever their heart — and little fingers — could create.

Now? There’s no going back to that original box. I wouldn’t even be able to create a haphazard collection of the original colors from the remnants of childhood remaining in this plastic bin. In some odd way, this box of messed-up crayons has come to symbolize the trials and errors of my parenting. Some things worked beautifully, while others didn’t take.

I just can’t bring myself to throw them out.

You never know when someone might want to color again.

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This piece originally appeared on Moonfrye

 

 

 

The Hardest Gift

I’ve seen her each morning this past week of summer. Little wisp of a girl on her brand-new big girl bicycle, shiny pink helmet guarding her head and a smile that won’t stop.

Freedom. She tastes it — possibly for the very first time. She rides up and down our street each morning, past my kitchen window, too many times to count. Pink and white tassels fly from her handlebars and flap in the wind, making her ride seem just a wee bit faster.

As parents, we want this freedom for our kids. No, really — we DO. We dole it out to them in tiny measures at first. I still remember the first time I walked down the hall, away from my young toddler’s room while he was busy and engaged with his books and toys. I was giving him a little gift — some time alone without my constant chatter or my overwhelming need to note the color of something or the sound of the train whistle in the distance. A bit of space that says I trust you, have fun, make good choices.

I’ll be right here.

What little pushes and cautious bits of freedom we give our little ones — at times, reluctantly — multiply and grow into a cloak they wear as teens. Freedom becomes expected, something they have earned bit by bit that we must never question or try to take back.

And so goes the delicate balance we live when the teens are home — especially those who have lived on their own for a bit. Their freedom is everything to them, and offers of assistance or advice are often pushed aside.

I’m fine.

Yes, mom.

I’ve got this.

I don’t need your help, but thanks.

Freedom.

When the little girl went by this morning, I asked my almost-15-year-old daughter if she remembered learning to ride her bicycle on this very same street. If she remembered the mom-imposed boundaries she was allowed to ride within without supervision. My version of without supervision at the time involved casually walking out to the sidewalk and cautiously squinting down the block to make sure she was still alive, that she hadn’t fallen prey to the dozen or so scenarios I had crafted in my mommy brain and wrapped in a blanket of worry.

She did remember, and we both smiled at the memory of a feisty little 3-year-old whose boundaries were the tree five houses down and the crack in the sidewalk just almost around the corner. The boundaries and edges of our comfort zone stretch and reshape themselves, until we are left with a young adult whose choices and decisions we no longer have much control over.

Exactly what we are intended to do.

But it’s hard. Harder than you can imagine, that first time you give that little pink bicycle a gentle push and she goes sailing away, ponytail flying and wearing a smile bigger than her face.

You will smile too… and in time, these pushes will all pay off.

I watched the little girl ride by again.

And I smiled, and silently cheered for her… and for her mother down the street.

Because she’s earning her freedom…

but her mom had to give it away.

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This piece was originally published on Moonfrye

 

 

Help End Medicine Abuse

The Medicine Abuse Project

Addiction.

An ugly word that conjures images of a messy drunk passed out in the alley behind the bar, or possibly a young person so completely caught in the grasp of methamphetamine abuse that she can’t remember a life before.

But there is another side to the horrible face of addiction, and it’s no farther away than your bathroom medicine cabinet.

Medicine abuse is often overlooked, tucked away and ignored… because after all, someone NEEDED these medicines in the first place, right? What you don’t always realize is that the abuse of prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines is dangerous and deadly.

When we talk to our children and teens about drugs and alcohol, we need to talk to them about medicine abuse as well. But are we really doing enough?

This is where The Partnership at Drugfree.org comes in. I am honored to have been chosen for a special live-streaming event to kick off a blog tour featuring 12 writers each reading a personal essay about substance use/abuse and what we want our children to know.

I hope you will join me on Tuesday night September 10 to help #EndMedicineAbuse with The Partnership at Drugfree.org and LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER.

You can watch the live-streaming event September 10 starting at 9 pm EST at the link below:

http://www.youtube.com/user/LTYMShow/live

Then, on September 12 these writers will share their essays on their own blogs.

We hope you will join us in the fight to #EndMedicineAbuse.

 

Kindergarten Rules

crayonsIt seems these past few weeks that everywhere on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the kids are heading back to school. Small people, medium-sized middle-schoolers and even a few college kids.

Which means about half of the mommy population is giddy and crowding the local Starbucks; the other half left weeping in the school parking lot.

New backpacks are loaded with supplies, pants that are just a bit too long are rolled up and everyone has freshly trimmed hair.

It’s go time.

And that first day of kindergarten?

Huge.

When you are a new-to-elementary-school parent, you aren’t quite sure what to expect. There is this strange pull somewhere inside you to make sure the teacher knows what an unusually smart and adorable child you are entrusting her with.

Even if you didn’t think you were that kind of parent.

Because deep inside?

We all are.

Trust me.

On my son’s first day of kindergarten all of the proud camera-toting parents were allowed to crowd into the back of the classroom and turn paparazzi as the shiny new kindergartners sat on the ABC rug and introduced themselves one-by-one.

I haven’t seen a prouder group of adults gathered anywhere since.

Cameras flashing, mothers waving, proud dads ignoring the cell phones for just a bit.

Each one of us convinced that our child would be the best-in-show.

After each child had gone to the front of the class, met the teacher, and introduced themselves to everyone they all sat back down on the ABC rug.

And that’s when it happened.

“Turn around and wave good-bye to your parents!” the perky young teacher said to her 20 new captives.

What?

We leave now?

Awkward glances shot around the room as we started to file out. Still waving, of course, but now with pinched lips and a forced smile.

Then the worry set in.

Did I pack the right snack? Will he be able to undo the snap on his jeans when he has to use the big boy potty? Will he find a friend/remember to raise his hand/have fun at recess? Can he open the small milk carton? Reach the soap dispenser? Pump on the swing? Remember that W and X are two different letters, not strung together like they are in the ABC song?

That first day? Tough.

For me, anyway.

My son was just fine.

And as the kindergarten year progressed I started to realize that these things I thought were so very important before starting kindergarten, truly didn’t seem to matter as much as the basics.

Being kind, waiting your turn, sitting still for a bit and listening to the teacher…these were the things that were truly important.

They were just a group of 20 random little kids, all sizes and abilities, thrown together in one room with one common goal.

To get to First Grade.

And they all did it in their own way, whether they wrote their name perfectly on that very first day or struggled with the pencil until late May. Milk cartons were opened with help if they needed it. Teachers helped with stubborn snaps and zippers. Colors and shapes and alphabet letters all learned by the end. Tears were shed, smiles were shared and 20 little people managed their way through it all to the end.

This initial group of 20 kindergartners have all graduated from high school now, and are finding their way in a world we all spent 18 years preparing them for. Some made it with extra help along the way; others needed extra challenges. But they are all reading, writing and can recite their colors if asked.

And most of them can snap their pants and tie their shoes.

Proud parents with cameras will once again crowd around taking pictures in dorm rooms and forcing a smile when it’s time to leave.

And the kids? They’ll be doing a happy dance, because they’ve made it all this way.

Lessons learned on the playground and in the classroom all the way back to kindergarten helping them along the way.

Be kind. Wait your turn. Sit still for a bit. Listen to the teacher.

They’ll all do fine.

But we’re the ones that have to adjust sometimes.

 

This piece originally ran on Things I Can’t Say, where the talented and super-sweet Shell shares her stories.

Being 15

Kelli cake

Fifteen.

Fifteen years ago today, I held you in my belly for just a while longer…

You yearned to get out. You made that clear with your powerful kicks and incessant hiccups.

But I still had time.

I wasn’t really ready yet. I had been too busy to make up the crib with fresh sheets, or to set out your sweet little unisex onesies. You weren’t really due for almost two more weeks, and your four-year-old brother kept me on my toes every day, asking a billion questions that I, as the mother, was expected to know.

We were busy… busy in that sense of the word when Monday just blurs to Wednesday and then Sunday… and we are left wondering where the time went.

Kind of how life is now.

I wasn’t ready. I worried that I hadn’t taken the time to savor this second pregnancy, to just sit and feel you move and just be pregnant. Those fleeting months when I carried you seem like a blip in time.

I just wasn’t ready.

Second kid, you know.

But you had your own ideas.

And when labor started, I realized that I was ready… ready to meet you. Ready to try my hand at parenting yet another little one.

And when you surprised us — a girl! — I was both giddy and cautious. I was a boy mom, after all… fluent in dinosaurs and Legos and all things boy.

But a girl?

And then you taught me about raising girls… that girls can run and climb and break bones and laugh until they snort. Taught me that life was meant for running full-force ahead, for laughing with friends and for late nights reading in bed. That there is no day that can’t be improved with a bowl of ice cream, a piece of chocolate cake or a hug from a friend… that sometimes it’s better to let little things go than to worry. That when things don’t go your way you can always try a little harder.

Fifteen years. Where has the time gone, really?

Some days I think you have taught me more about life than I could ever teach you.

I am in awe of your confidence, your loyalty, your kind spirit and your fierce determination when obstacles stand in your path.

You make me smile, make me laugh, challenge me and call my bluff.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy 15th Birthday, sweet girl…

Enjoy being 15.

Kelli no braces