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My mother used to tell me, “I hope when you have children, you have one JUST. LIKE. YOU!” and she didn’t seem to mean it as a compliment.
How unfair! I couldn’t help it that I was a stubborn, self-willed, independent child—it’s just how I was born, or maybe it was my parents’ fault for not raising me better. Right?
Fast forward to my second born.
She was the first little princess born to me, and subsequently she got her way a lot. She was opinionated from birth, whimsical, and when she was old enough, she loved to bend the rules in order to torment her legalistic older brother.
People who know my lovely eldest daughter can’t quite believe some of the stories about her early years, which include many temper tantrums. She was strong-willed, independent and…well…a lot like me.
I won’t say she’s just like me—her strengths, such as mathematics and music—were always my weaknesses. She bakes and cooks and sews. And every friend is a sister to her. She also has the most tender heart I’ve ever seen, and she wears it right on her sleeve.
And yet, she has a toughness about her that allows her to do things like dissect cow organs and pick up dead moles in the garden without cringing. Of all the kids in the world who want to grow up to be veterinarians, I see in her the type of person who can actually accomplish it.
Yet despite our differences, we are incredibly similar, which means my own behavior reverberates in her life. While there are things that crop up which make me wonder, “Where did THAT come from?” there are also things I can pinpoint the origin exactly—and it’s a little too close for comfort.
The difficult part of having a child who has your temperament is that you are quicker to lose patience. It seems like it should be the opposite: that because you have felt similar things, you should be MORE patient.
But what actually happens is that because you have a good gauge of what’s going on inside that child’s head, you want to ‘encourage’ her to get over it more quickly. It’s almost as if you expect that child to have come preprogrammed with the trials you went through by fire.
Now, I find myself looking eye-to-eye with my daughter, who also borrows my shoes. She is a young lady—beautiful inside and out, which is kind of a scary thing (especially when I catch guys looking at her–which makes me want to check for loopholes in that whole “thou shalt not kill” commandment). And I constantly have to be on guard to keep our relationship safe. It is a valuable thing.
Katie and I recently went to a Christmas market together by ourselves. It was drizzling with the kind of rain that leaves you with a chill you can’t shake. Yet, we were both cheerful—happy just to be together doing something fun.
And sometimes the drizzly cold days make the memories warmer.
It was Katie’s year to pick out the Christmas tree. So we went through the aisles, discussing the varieties available. In the end, Katie chose a ‘surprise’ tree: meaning one that was already wrapped up (as most of them are here), so we didn’t know exactly what it would look like.
It was by far the heaviest tree I’ve ever crammed into the Honda, and I was afraid it wouldn’t quite fit. But we wedged it between the seats (bending the top branch like an uppercase ‘C’) and eventually managed to get it set up at home without breaking the tree stand. It turns out, Katie had picked the biggest, fattest tree I’ve ever seen in Franconia. It is gorgeous.
I love making these kinds of memories. When it’s just Kate and I, I can more easily catch glimpses of the woman she will become.
Once, she was my little princess, but someday, I know I will count her as one of my very best friends.
I can already envision her texting me between appointments with her furry patients, writing: “Meet me at Starbucks!” God willing, I’ll be there, chatting with her over coffee.
The woman who marries my son Noah will have a life filled with the type of love that can (literally) knock you off your feet.
But for now, I am the lucky woman who has his heart; and I love that when we go out, he still reaches for my hand.
Noah is sweet, gregarious, smart, renowned for his giggle-fits and bad jokes (the two often go together); he is musically talented in a scary sort of way, he loves the theater and singing opera in the shower; and he is my only child who not only enjoys running with Mom but whose goal it is to run a marathon with Mom someday.
Noah and I went out together alone on Saturday. We arrived at the Christmas Market before the booths were open, so naturally, we found a coffee shop to pass the time. Noah was thrilled to have a Coke at 9:30 a.m. and vastly amused by our table, which had coffee beans under its glass top.
I wanted to capture the moment by snapping a self-portrait, and with typical Noah-flair, he wrapped his arms around my neck and planted a big, wet smooch on my cheek as the shutter clicked.
Noah does nothing halfway.
His life is either glorious or devastating. His room is either an IKEA showroom or a garbage dump. His siblings are either his best friends or his worst enemies.
There is a distinct lack of middle ground with this kid, which calls for a bit of ingenuity as a parent and diplomatic skills that could qualify me for work in an embassy somewhere.
In a sense, I am an ambassador to my children, bridging the cultural gaps between the State of Adulthood and that Independent Territory of Children.
This is not to say I have to give in to their demands, after all, I wouldn’t want to feed them Swedish Fish for lunch and Mac-n-Cheese for dinner every night. But I can value their young lives and show respect for their opinions (even when I think they’re wrong). And although I am still a work in progress, I can show them what I think adulthood should look like and admit it when I fail.
The love of my children is one of the most precious things in my life. And when you have an all-or-nothing child, the stakes become critically high.
I can’t imagine this house without his infectious laughter or facing the day without his bear hugs. I am the love of his tender nine year-old life.
In my thirty-eight years, it is the best gift I could possibly have received.
His love is worth giving my all.
Having four kids isn’t really that hard.
Sure, the first six years are a blur of keeping little people clean, fed and safe, but by the time the oldest is eight and the youngest is out of diapers, things start becoming much easier. And that’s why I’m always caught off guard when well-meaning people give me sympathy about my motherhood status–as if by having four children, my life is somehow four times more difficult than the average woman. Yes, having four little ones IS difficult, but now that my oldest can legally babysit and everyone cleans the house, my job feels downright easy.
The challenges I face now, as a mother, are much different and more subtle. While I do have time to shower and get dressed every day (a luxury in those early years), I have to carve out time with each of my kids, to make sure we’re not growing apart. As they become more independent, it’s more important than ever that our hearts remain close.
A while ago, a friend of mine posted a question on her blog regarding the number of children a Christian family should have (biblically speaking, that is). There were many different answers to that question, and I remember feeling somewhat defensive–that a matter so personal was between the husband & wife & God only. And maybe it is, to a certain extent. I mean, certainly, we weren’t all meant to have 20 kids. Were we?
God did not design each family in exactly the same way, though as Christians, we use the same Operations Manual.
Some women are much better mothers because they work outside the home. And when I spend 30 hours or more a week marathon training, those hours out of the home help me to be more patient, kind and level-headed.
When I was a young mom, I thought my life was so full, I couldn’t add more to it without something breaking (like my sanity). But now that I will soon be the mom of two teenagers, life seems too easy. I look at my children and wish there were more of them, tearing through the house, making silly jokes, painting masterpieces.
Why did we stop with only four?
People used to tell me that the years when my children were little were the best years of my life. And I used to wonder at that, feeling acutely the exhaustion from never having a good night’s sleep, and the demoralization of rarely eating a hot meal.
A child’s first steps and first words are incredible, but I can’t honestly say those early years are the best. Each stage of life has rich rewards. Yes, the chubby little hands around your neck and sticky kisses are priceless moments, but what about the late-night laughter with your teen? Or discussing dreams and wishes as you make dinner together? And what about that magical moment when you realize you count your child as one of your best friends?
Each year is the best year of your life. Recognize it. Live it. And share it with your kids.
It’s not that hard to do.
Does she get up at 5:30 to run every day, keep her house tidy, drive various kids to their various activities, and always have a home-cooked dinner waiting for Superdad when he gets home from thwarting evil-doers? Does she keep the house running like clockwork with chore charts and schedules and happy-face stickers?
Does Supermom ever have a runny nose or groan at the current state of the household toilets? Can a Supermom have big feet or gray hair? Does she ever lose her patience?
I thought about Supermom a lot as I was lying on the couch this weekend.
Normally, I’d rather pluck out my eyelashes than passively watch the kids play video games. But in this instance, I was sick—so sick I couldn’t even follow the weak plot. Who was Mario trying to save? And why did he keep turning into Bowser, when they were mortal enemies?
I drifted in and out of my catatonic state, feeling very much like I’d been run over by a truck.
Where was Supermom? Last week, she was here, running with the stars and cooking pot roasts. And now, she was lethargic, on the couch, and letting the kids zombify their brains via Nintendo.
I did no laundry, accomplished no chores, laughed at the thought of washing windows, failed to tick a single box on my ‘to-do’ list. All I managed to do was sleep and self-medicate.
I drifted off as Mario was trying not to get impaled on a spiked floor. When I woke up, two stuffed animals were cuddling next to me.
Out of their tender, loving hearts, two different children had each left something for my comfort.
It occurred to me that maybe being a Supermom has nothing to do with my valiant actions, but everything to do with my day-to-day, humdrum interactions.
I hate being sick. But because of it, I witnessed such an outpouring of affection from my kids, it was almost worth it. Katie made me pudding; Noah drew a picture; William gave me concerned, sympathetic hugs; and Libby scampered about with her doctor kit, periodically taking my temperature (after I sterilized the thermometer, recalling it had been in multiple armpits).
So, where was Supermom this weekend?
She wasn’t scrubbing floors or organizing closets or even playing in the sunshine with the kids.
She was lying on the couch, being loved.
And sometimes, that’s exactly where a Supermom can truly find herself.
Once a week, a little piece of my heart walks out the door and bikes over to the animal rescue farm, where she encounters giant beasts, rabid dogs, feral felines, and hungry crocodiles.
Okay, so maybe that last bit is purely in my imagination, but just the same, it’s been harder than I’d expected to give my girl such independence.
It’s not so much that she works around animals that could send her to the hospital with one strategically placed kick; but it’s the fact that my daughter has risen to the challenge with a horrifying amount of grace and maturity.
Scary stuff, when your first princess grows up.
Parenting is all about a slow letting go: the giving of child-sized chunks of independence, which over time equip the child to become a responsible young adult.
It is what parents work towards; it is our goal; and sometimes it is almost too overwhelmingly beautiful to watch.
Some of you may have caught glimpses of these future adults the day they stepped onto the big yellow bus for the first time, without even looking back over their primary-colored rucksacks.
Others, while applying makeup to your daughter’s cute little face for a dance recital, have experienced the sort of flash-forward worthy of a “Lost” episode, when you catch a fleeting glimpse of the woman your girl will become.
Some of you may wonder how on earth it is possible that your son has suddenly, almost overnight, aged out of Gap Junior.
Others have experienced that alien feeling when a child first asks for deodorant or cologne—or when you get the first pungent reminder of the necessity for such things.
When did this happen?
To see a child suddenly and joyfully find her own niche in life is satisfying but weird at times.
At 12 years old my daughter knows more about animals than I do. I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake—I like to look at animals and occasionally pet them, but I don’t get bubbly over using a machete to chop up beets for the pigs; I do not know the clinical terminology for a cat who has lost urinary control; and I certainly do not want to examine an old cow udder before tossing it to the Akita.
My daughter has always wanted to become a veterinarian—that’s her thing. Every vet we’ve met has cautioned her, “It’s a lot of work, and a lot of schooling.”
But seeing my daughter revel in the manual labor required on a farm; to see the romance of horses replaced with respect and dedication; to watch my daughter behave wisely in a place where so much danger is apparent to me; I know she is fully capable of the hard work required to make her dreams come true.
I am so incredibly proud.
But with every step she takes away from me, another little piece of my heart goes with her.
I am in awe of this beautiful journey she is undertaking.
But it can be hard to watch.
The phrase “balancing work and home life” always makes me think of the symbol of justice: a woman with a scale dangling from her outstretched hand—it is no accident she is blindfolded.
Life can’t possibly fit onto a scale without something dripping off the side.
Rather, the components of life are chopped up and tossed into a big bowl; and the ingredients are never in perfect proportion.
A few years ago (when I was losing weight for the 4th time), I made a bet with myself: any time it occurred to me to exercise, I HAD to do it—no excuses.
Recently my oldest daughter had her 12th birthday, and I became acutely aware of all the chances I had missed with her, and the chances I have been missing with my younger kids.
So, I made another deal with myself: instead of telling the children to go play with their siblings (like I usually do), I decided to play with them (or do a particular activity with them) any reasonable time they asked—no excuses.
Because I am a work-at-home, homeschooling mom, it is easy to shrug off the kids when they want to play. I can rationalize that the hours of being together, studying and doing chores somehow compensate for what they really want, which is to simply have some fun with mom.
At the core, I am selfish.
I get focused on a task (writing, blogging, running, cleaning, whatever), and it is easy to push the kids aside—because I am with them all day, every day.
Shouldn’t that be enough?
Just because I am a mom who is with my children 24/7, does not mean I have achieved some sort of mommy nirvana.
I have to work hard to stay focused on priorities, just as any full-time working mom. I can become so sidetracked with other things, even with homeschooling (which is FOR the kids) that I miss winning their hearts.
Thus, the playtime challenge.
I honestly don’t know why the kids want to play with me because it seems like it could be a punishment.
I brush hair, search for matching shoes, and make sure all the dolls are wearing pants. Even when every game ends up with a talent/fashion/college-scholarship-winner show, the kids, amazingly, love it.
Not only does our youngest light up with razzle-dazzle sparkles in her eyes, but the other kids join the game, incorporating machines that try to sabotage the contest, or aliens who are squashed like bugs under Barbie’s ridiculously high heel.
Playtime is for fun and silliness; and while it often seems like the empty calories of the day (a lot of fun but not much substance), for the children, it appears to be nourishing for their souls.
I may not realize for a long while how playtime is affecting the family, but I can only think it is good for us: