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

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

 

 

 

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

50 Stages of Motherhood

There is a progression of motherhood…a timeline we all follow. Some of us go through kicking and screaming, while others cheer louder with each smidge of progress towards the finish line.

Our children inch closer to adulthood, while we apparently inch closer to the floor.

I have lost 3/4 of an inch in height since my son left for college.

And with each new stage, each startling new trick or terrifying new skill we adjust our mothering to suit it.

  • He climbs trees? We add the Urgent Care Center to our speed dial.
  • Projectile vomiting? Nothing a Swiffer, rubber gloves and a few paper towels can’t handle.
  • He wants to dress himself? We buy all red, white and blue clothing so that he will always look patriotic even when he isn’t quite matching.
  • He wants to get his Driver’s License? We increase our blood pressure meds and buy a set of rosary beads.
  • He wants to live off-campus? We write rent checks and hope he has a decent meal now and then.

I have been through so many stages of motherhood with my college kid, I have lost count. There are days when I can barely remember those first few stages, the why-isn’t-he-sleeping-through-the-night stage or the just-stop-teething-already stage.

Some were particularly ugly.

But woven together, stacked one on top of the other year after year these stages make up the mother I am today. It’s too late to change any of the things we went through. No do-overs, no returns, no refunds and no time machine travel.

Would I have done anything differently? I’m not sure I even know that answer.

I am faced with the dilemma that I am not done mothering, not quite yet.

But there are days when I want to be done.

See, the problem with mothering is that you are never really finished. It’s not that I didn’t know this… I just didn’t understand.

Grown-up kids need parents too.

And in time, years from now, in those last stages of motherhood, I will need my kids more than they will need me.

They will finally be living their own lives as adults, possibly raising families of their own. And I will be able to relax and know that I did the very best job I could have done. I passed the final exam, graduated. Finished the last stage.

But I am pretty sure I will still find a way to keep on worrying.

 

This post originally ran on Moonfrye

Tell Me a Story

His voice surprises me every Sunday evening.

Sundays are for phone calls home. Time to talk about midterms and dorm food; to tease his sister a bit and catch us up on his life away from home.

It’s the only time each week I hear his voice now. It’s strong and deep.

The voice of a young man.

That very same voice that I remember hearing incessantly, ever since he found the usefulness of language and started to babble.

He told vivid stories, long and detailed…about dinosaurs or Bionicle characters or knights in shining armor. And in that long part of the afternoon, when dinner is looming too far away and naps are finished, he would tell his tales.

On car rides to grandparent’s houses, or just a trip to the neighborhood store. The stories, they flowed.

Once his sister was born, he had a new audience. She listened and watched and smiled.

And he went on and on.

I know I tuned out quite a bit; continued to shake my head and nod, throwing in a few “uh-huhs” for good mom points.

He was creating worlds that made him happy, that made even the worst day at school seem easy to handle.

I just couldn’t imagine a time when the stories would end.

Or turn into grown up stories.

Of paying bills and managing laundry; scheduling classes and planning for his degree.

These once-a-week stories from a young man’s voice have nothing to do with pirates or knights; and yet they are magical.

He’s building his own world, one independent step at a time. Chasing a dream, following a passion, developing a future for himself. Something to call his own.

And crafting his tale one Sunday night phone call at a time.

And just maybe, those stories he told for hours on end helped him get where he is today.

I’m glad I listened.

At least half the time.