I did not see that coming

So, middle school started. Now my son has a girlfriend.

It’s been two days, people. TWO DAYS. Here’s a few snippets of the conversation that started it all.

“I have a girlfriend,” he blurts out.

“Oh, yeah?! Tell me about her. What’s her name?” I ask.

Continue reading “I did not see that coming”

Advertisements

In advance, I’m sorry.

“Do you care if I / don’t know what to say? / Will you sleep tonight? / Will you think of me? / Will I shake this off… / pretend it’s all OK / that there’s someone out there / who feels just like me? There is.”
Boxcar Racer

Someone I know and love is about to begin a very rough process, one which will indelibly mar his future for the next several years and perhaps even his life. It is a time of massive shifts, friends and enemies, and really, truly terrible haircuts.

Yes, that’s right. My son is about to start middle school and I’m losing my cookies.

Continue reading “In advance, I’m sorry.”

The Thursday Cry

Blog post 9Ethan comes up onto my bed to lay down for a moment. He puts his head on my shoulder.

“You’re getting so big. What am I going to do when you get bigger… too big for me?” I ask.

He thinks about it. “You’ll just be a mom with a bigger son,” he decides.

“But what if you don’t like me?” I posit. Evidently I’m feeling desperate and needy tonight, I think.

“I won’t. I won’t ever do that.” He gets optimistic when he’s in a good mood. Logos, however, is always in my mind. I can just see it now: I take his car keys away, and he says I definitely DO like you right now!!!

“I don’t know about that,” I reason.

He gives me a tight squeeze and says “I’ll always love you, mom.”

And suddenly I’m crying hot tears onto his shower-wet head, and I’m praying I don’t sniffle and he notices. How can I keep this moment? How can I possibly have this be the baseline for my days, weeks, and months when he’s gone…both now and when he’s grown?

He lays with me for a minute or two before I shoo him away to read his book (and dry his hair off) while I sneakily wipe tears from my cheeks.

And now I’m wondering where ten years went. Why do parents only get eighteen years to do this job right? It’s pretty damn important. Why less than two decades when I get to spend three or four perfecting my career? I only have seven and a half years left!!

More tears.

I am guessing this time table is why people have more than one child… because I could see myself definitely having a better handle on this after child #3 or 4. (Which is to, of course, promote an assumption that children are somehow manageable and not innately their own individual selves upon birth. Ha! How silly of me!)

I, however, am hoping to get it right with just this one… I’m going to invest in his optimism throughout the next seven and a half years. I wager that the return on investment is likely pretty grand.

Stomachs and Sins

January 15, 2016

Blog Post 5

One of the sweet joys I have as the mother of a ten-year-old boy is that my son still likes me to tuck him in. We barely fit in his twin sized bed, but he talks to me about his day and we ask each other questions by the light of his Minecraft torch light.

A couple of nights ago, he told me about his plan to lose some weight. I dismissed the topic and told him he simply needs to eat less junk food, which is 100% true. (The boy can inhale a can of Pringles in seconds.)

But he continued. He said he wanted his stomach to be smaller; he said he wasn’t skinny enough.

OK. Hold the phone. It’s time for me to get up, out of bed, and shift this schematic pattern. But first, a mental marathon in the time it takes to do a half sit-up and get off the mattress: How is my son, over whom I exercise full iPad control so as to eliminate much of the societal pressures and inane hyper-high goals we impress through ads, asking me about the skinniness of his anything? Have I checked too many nutritional labels recently? Do I absentmindedly speak about my own body negative view of myself in front of him? Have I accidentally broken a small part of his life again?! WHY DO I KEEP RUINING HIS LIFE?!

“Look at you,” he says as I stand up. “You have a skinny stomach.”

Incredulous, I lift up my t-shirt over my navel and pull my too-high yoga pants down a bit so he can see all of my stomach. This region is my least favorite part of myself, and it has been for the majority of my life.

“This,” I say—pointing at my belly—“is not a super skinny stomach. Do you see these marks all over? These are from before you were born.”

“From when I was in your tummy?” he asks.

“Yes. I didn’t have quite enough room, so my stomach stretched when you were in there. Do you see how it isn’t flat and it looks a little like a deflated balloon? Maybe an old raisin?”

He nods, smiling a bit.

“Well, it’s not super skinny, but you know what? I got you out of this, and you’re all the best parts of me. I don’t have a flat stomach, and I don’t care. Being skinny has never won me any awards or helped me get any jobs.” Somehow it’s easy to lie to myself about my body image when I’m lying to my child. Wow, a new low.

He’s looking slightly intrigued but still not won over.

“What matters is what you have in here”—I point to his head—“and in here”—I point to his heart. “These are the parts that take you places.”

Alright! My Pinterest aphorisms are flowing freely now—you’ve got this, mama!

“Your belly can fill you up, and your core muscles can help you do lots of things, but you’re just a boy. You’re growing. And I don’t want to hear any more of this ‘I want to look like whatever’ business. Because you, my son, are fantastic.” Time for tickles because I’m out of cliches and meme phrases.

He full smiles. Finally. No halfsies.

We talk a bit longer before I decide he needs to get some sleep, and, frankly, I’m ready to get out of the possibility of ruining what I feel is a Crowning Achievement Parent Moment.

Now that I’ve got that covered, it’s time to work on the How To Take Your Own Damn Advice part.

Full disclosure: Exactly 48 hours after this conversation, my son threw a tantrum to rival a four-year-old when he didn’t get to go to a frozen yogurt shop after he just downed an adult sized order of chicken strips and fries. Turns out we’re all still a work in progress.

Remember: We’re All in This Together

January 13, 2016

Blog Photo 3When my son, Ethan, was three, I was still an undergrad commuting to university during the week for classes and working weekends at a local grocery store to pay for gas/books/daycare/lifeblood. Let’s just say that “stressed” was my motto. At the time, Ethan was in the throes of potty training, which was something akin to Dante’s first several rings of Hell. Successful pooping was tantamount to, I kid you not, a significant lottery win.

So, one day in a particular state of utter despair and frustration, Ethan had somehow managed to get poop EVERYWHERE. This is no embellishment: I mean, I went in the bathroom and had no idea what to do; it was just poop…. poop on all the things. Mostly on him.

What did I do?, you might ask.

I lost my mind. I lost my damn mind. I told a then three-year-old child that he needed to clean himself up; if he got poop everywhere, he could sure as heck clean it up. (Rational, I was not; crazed, I was yes.)

All I’m going to say is: Yes, I did end up cleaning this up—the poop, the child, and myself. Yes, Ethan did end up with pink eye. Yes, I also contracted pink eye. Yes, I do still remember how awful this event was because the inconvenience and actual pain of that pink eye was long lasting and shame ridden.

Fast forward 6 years: I take that same child to the University of Iowa hospitals to figure out why he still has issues with going to the bathroom. Turns out, he’s likely had issues his whole life with his colon; it’s hereditary but on his father’s side, so I had no idea. Turns out, poop issues aren’t something with which most men come forward. Turns out, this poor once-three-year-old couldn’t truly help that he’d gotten poop everywhere. Turns out, I could have kept both of us from getting pink eye and shaming ourselves; I could have kept both of us from yelling, getting angry, and getting poop where it didn’t belong, namely in our eyeballs.

(I’ve also made my son get out of the car and walk a block when he gets so angry and/or I get so angry that we cannot stay in the same car together. Usually this is preceded by me saying the cuss words that “I’ll never say to my child.” Yes, the F word has been dropped.)

My point is: We’re all barely making it. We’re all weak at some point and we do things that make ourselves feel inferior as guiding lights in our children’s lives. We also can’t know what we don’t know, and this is a learn-as-you-go job. But we need to remember that we’re all in this together, and literally no one knows what they’re doing–not really.

Co-parents amaze me, especially two committed and loving parents who are married. I have no idea how two young, awesome people get married, decide to have children and then raise them (which, evidently, is something us humans have been doing for quite some time—shocker). I am being totally serious though—I have no idea how they do what they do. So much of my parenting has been a matter of survival; it wasn’t planned, so a lot of it is and has been absolute, desperate survival. Ethan and I are each other’s world because we’ve had to be. There are others within our sphere, yes, but we are two halves.

Those who are married and “in it together” have an amazing opportunity to share their desperate sufferings with their other halves, their best friend and spouse. I hope, too, that they struggle so hard together that in the years to come they split their sides from laughing at what was once thought of as “the end of their parenting worlds.” I hope they remember the hard times, laugh, and smile a bit bigger before downing that glass of wine.

Because the awful reality is that we don’t get time with our children back. We don’t get to suffer—or sing—for very long, which is simultaneously bleak and beautiful. I might mess up and continue to mess up as I bumble along, but I know that I’m here. I’m in it. I’m fully present for all the glorious and God-awful moments. It’s mine, it’s dirty, and it’s oh, so real.

So here’s to the times that I’m not a perfect parent–when we are not perfect parents. To the times we make peanut butter on bread and canned veggie dinners. To the times when we let our girls take a bath and sit and peruse social media at the same time. For taking the kids to the park on a sunny day, letting them play, and then doing our own thing (writing, reading, what have you), while they learn to be themselves or just simply be. Here’s to acknowledging others’ Facebook lives as “good for them” but “not for us.” Here’s to not having the kids for the night and drinking a little too much and maybe, just maybe, dancing on a chair to the absolute worst rap song centered on female objectification (perhaps ever).

Here’s to all you, mamas and daddies, because you’re all doin’ just fine.