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.

My Biggest Parenting Secret

Wouldn’t motherhood be so much easier on everyone if we all shared our secrets? Those little pearls of wisdom that make us feel at least we have done one.thing.right today? Good news — I’ve decided to share one of my best go-to parenting tips. You can thank me later.

One of the biggest challenges moms face is getting their kids to eat vegetables. Because, seriously, what kid really gets uber psyched over broccoli? Um, yeah. Not mine.

Neither does my husband. Unless you count corn chips as a vegetable.

So from the time the pediatrician said I could start introducing solid foods to my first kid, I have tried to create the perfect vegetable. That one vitamin-loaded side dish that would ensure my kids would not only ace the SAT and be an incredibly gifted athlete but also solidify my position in the Mom Hall of Fame.

How hard could it be?

Side note: why they call puréed baby food “solid” is beyond me.

So I started buying veggies. I cooked them, puréed them and froze them into cute little cubes in ice cube trays.

Cute, right? And so handy. My mom friends were totally impressed, I’m sure.

It made my husband gag. “Are you really going to feed him THAT?” he asked, already taking sides in the vegetable war I would fight for the next 18 years.

Traitor.

But one by one, those little cubes were thawed, heated and maybe even mixed with other “solid” foods like rice cereal or something else (ricotta and peas, anyone?). I took pride in creating these one-of-a-kind combos, especially when they didn’t immediately come slithering back down my baby’s chin and onto his lap.

And then, finger foods.

Smoothly pureed vegies like carrots, butternut squash and green beans are not finger foods, regardless of what your toddler might like you to believe. So I had to change up my menu and start thinking of vegies that my wee one would actually eat with his fingers, rather than simply using his fingers to throw them over the side of the high chair.

Side note: cats do not like green beans.

We tried lightly steamed green beans, small cubes of roasted butternut squash, peas (that didn’t end well), tiny little broccoli “trees” and small pieces of avocado until we found a winner.

Carrots.

The little dude liked carrots.

And so began an 18-year obsession (mine) with the baby carrot.

You could steam them and cut them small for little ones, or set out a bowl of them at snack time for older eaters. Stumped on what to serve for lunch? A bowl of baby carrots can easily elevate dinosaur chicken nuggets or mac and cheese to healthy lunch status. Playgroup at the park? Grab a plastic container and fill it up with baby carrots. They’re the perfect snack in the car, because unless your kid uses it for a magic marker or spits them out, they aren’t messy. Sure, I still included the always-handy pretzel sticks, goldfish crackers or pieces of string cheese. But the carrots were always there. Like a vitamin A packed BFF.

When my kids went off to elementary school, the carrots trudged along… safely wrapped up in a wet paper towel and a plastic container or sandwich bag (don’t judge). After a few years my son asked if I could leave the carrots out of his lunchbox, claiming he “didn’t have enough time” to eat all of the items I included.

Looking back now, I can clearly see. It was the beginning of the end.

My kids continued to grow, in part because of (or in spite of) the baby carrots in the bowl on the table.

I mean, what’s not to love? They are crunchy, colorful, small and easy to eat. Full of vitamins. Like a little mommy insurance policy that I’m doing this gig right.

Until about three months ago, when it all came crashing down.

I had still been putting the baby carrots on the table, even though my kids are old enough to choose their own snacks and lunches.

But I noticed that nobody was eating them.

They would dry up and turn a chalky white before the bag was even half empty. I was worried that my one tried-and-true mom trick had lost steam.

Then? The intervention.

I decided to put it all out on the table. Bare my soul.

“Um, hey… so I’ve been thinking that maybe we’re a bit tired of baby carrots?” I choked out at the dinner table. My mind was racing with ideas for our next veggie star. Rutabaga? Baby bok choy? Beets?

And my husband and daughter let me down easy, gently. They admitted that yes, they were tired of the old stand-by vegetable and that they would be perfectly fine if I stopped buying them. My chest tightened a bit. How would I keep them all healthy?

And life went on, amazingly much the same as before. I stopped buying the baby carrots and resisted the urge to quickly substitute a new crunchy vegetable in a bowl at mealtime. Chinese snap peas? Jicama?

Until fate introduced me to the spiralizer.

This incredibly cool kitchen gadget has opened up a whole new world of vegetables to me. I can turn vegetables into noodles! Substitute them for pasta! I can spiralize parsnips, beets, zucchini, butternut squash, jicama and broccoli stems.

And carrots.

And suddenly, I’m back on my game.

————————————————————————————————-

This essay originally ran on the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop site. I may have been giddy about it.

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

 

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.

__________________________________________________

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.

_______________________________________________________________

This piece was originally published on Moonfrye

 

 

Little Boy Lost

She just let him be a kid.

That’s what the good mothers do, especially those with little boys who need to run and get dirty and build things.

He needed to ride his bike or his skateboard, needed to build with his dad in their garage, and just needed to be a boy.

So she let him.

We buckle them into seat belts and strap on helmets, wrap sharp coffee table corners in bubble wrap, and use safety gates to prevent little guys from being hurt on too-steep staircases. We puree homemade baby food, vigilantly prevent choking hazards, and sneak into the silent darkness of the nursery at night to watch them simply breathe. We hold little hands as we carefully cross the street, practice calling 911, and use safety scissors.

That’s what the good mothers do, after all. We do everything in our power to keep them safe.

She just let him be a kid.

As I sat in my family room that night the news began to spread through our small town the way modern-day news travels…over Facebook. A comment about a horrible accident, a young boy injured, speculation about who the young boy was, exchanges between young and old trying to figure it all out, and finally the sad news that he did not survive the accident.

And then I saw the message that made my heart sink.

I knew who this boy was, knew his mother. We work together at the school and she is wonderful.

She always talked about her boys.

Now one was gone.

She just did what others mothers do every day: she just let him be a kid.

How do we do this every day, when there is no guarantee? No promise of a future, or of grandchildren on our laps, no cure for cancer, no special bubble wrap that can protect our children? We let them go each day, like small pieces of our hearts with goals and ambitions and a will all their own.

We pray and we wish and we cross our fingers that they will be OK. Throw a bit of faith or fairy dust into the wind as we shout, “Have a nice day!”

How do we do this?

I have wondered this many times over since that night in May…and since the warm evening in June when we all stood and cheered as his mother walked down the aisle amongst the 8th graders to accept her son’s diploma…and since the late afternoon in August on what would have been his 14th birthday, as I hugged his mom in the memorial garden the volunteers have created for her.

How do we do this?

I have become a bit more tolerant of the eye rolls, a bit more relaxed about the have-to-do things. A few more minutes to stay up, an extra hour to browse at the mall, another cookie, maybe a pat on the head as I walk by.

Because life reminded me that we truly don’t have unlimited time with our kids.

So I just continue to do what the good mothers do.

I just let them be kids.

 

 This post originally ran on Moonfrye

The Power of a Mom

Whether you are a mom or just have a mom, you know that all mothers have flaws. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t be perfect.

Sure, there’s that one mom from the PTA meetings who seems perfect. But rumor has it that she blew a gasket last week in Target when her toddler decided to remove his diaper and run full-speed past the checkout lines. On a crowded Saturday.

So while most days begin on a good note, things can take a turn at any moment.

Take a few minutes too long in the bathroom when you have a crawling infant and you may find your potted plant has been un-potted.

On the carpet.

Babies teethe, blow-out diapers, and don’t sleep when you need them to. Toddlers rip pages from favorite books, overturn coffee mugs (wasting precious caffeine), throw epic tantrums, and terrorize pets. Older children bicker with siblings, whine, miss their carpool pick up, whine some more, make extreme messes, flunk tests, leave laundry on the floor, and argue with you about it all.

Most of these things on their own aren’t so major. But combine a few, and even the best of us might blow our tops once in a while. We may yell a little bit, say something we don’t mean, send someone to their room, or simply grunt and clench our fists in frustration.

Then the mommy guilt sets in. Melissa at Confessions of a Dr. Mom wrote a great post about this just last week. We all set such high standards for ourselves that when the inevitable scolding/yelling/sending the kids out of the room/morphing into The Hulk happens we immediately go to that place inside that labels us as a bad mom.

These are the episodes of parenting that have led to many a spirited playgroup discussion. We lay our mommy indiscretions at the feet of our friends, looking for redemption and hoping they’ve done the same thing.

But today I am going to let you in on a little secret. A secret that may change the way you look at those little rugrats, those unruly but adorable toddlers, and those sulky teens.

Our biggest cheerleaders may not be our other mommy friends.

They are our own children.

The very children who say we are the meanest mommy ever, who roll their eyes when we ask them to clean their rooms, and who want nothing to do with us when we shop together at the mall. Children who most certainly think they are being reared by none other than Attila the Hun and his wife Bertha the Horrid.

They are the ones who want us to succeed the most.

That’s The Power of a Mom. These little pieces of our heart walking around in dirty socks with messy hair and runny noses really, really love us. And they want us to do a good job.

I work with young children who are at-risk for difficulties with school adjustment. Each year, I have at least a handful of students who have experienced first-hand some of the worst mistakes a mom can make: drug or alcohol abuse, incarceration, neglect, verbal or physical abuse.

And without fail, time and time again, these little children still put their mothers on a pedestal.

Because they want them to succeed at being a mom. Their very being depends on it.

They draw pictures of their beautiful, smart mommies. They create visions of what their life will be like when mommy comes home or brings them back to live with her. They gloss over details they don’t know I am aware of, creating excuses for their moms who have taken a path not consistent with motherhood.

The Power of a Mom.

We are, most of the time, someone our children can count on. Whether it’s a peanut-butter sandwich in a lunchbox, a hug after a fight with a friend, or someone to check your spelling homework: mom is there.

So even when she’s not consistent, not physically or mentally able, or not even particularly interested in being a mom, her children are still her biggest cheerleaders. They want their mommy to succeed.

So the next time you yell at your little one because she spilled milk for the tenth time or send your teenager to his room for being surly and the guilt sets in, remember this.

Without fail, these little ones are your biggest fans.

They expect you to make mistakes, they accept your apologies, and love you in spite of it all.

Even if their facial expressions and eye rolls don’t show it.