The worst part of parenting (so far)

I just found out what the absolute worst part of parenting is.

It’s not the lack of sleep, picking up your crying baby every 90 minutes and just praying to God that this child would sleep for more than 2 hours (though that’s terrible, no question).

It’s not the terrible twos, (or more often, the terrible threes), complete with tantrums and potty training.

It’s not being home with two kids in diapers and feeling like all you do is change them, feed them, watch annoying TV shows, and try to get them down for naps so you can have a break or take a shower.

It’s not being at work and worrying about whether your child is doing OK at daycare, and feeling sad about all the milestones and precious moments you may be missing.

It’s not discipling your child over and over for the same thing, wondering what you’re doing wrong.

It’s not sweating over 5th grade math homework or being a chauffeur 24/7 to all your kids’ activities; being the warm body that seems to be there only to fulfill everyone’s desires for food, clean laundry, entertainment, and transportation.

No, it’s none of those things. The absolute worst part of parenting is that first time your kid pushes you away.  The first time you go in for a kiss on the cheek and he turns his head.  Or the time you ask for a hug and, for the first time in his entire life, he says “no”.  And you know the little boy who used to run to you when you came in the door, or cried when you left the house, or kept stalling bedtime for just “one more hug” is gone.  The little one who needed me to “put kisses in his pockets” so he had them if he needed them at school is no more. The sweet kid that always wanted to be within arm’s reach has vanished into his bedroom, the door closed.

Now I’m a nag.  I’m annoying,  My silly jokes and songs are no longer needed or appreciated.  I don’t get to sing him to sleep, give him a bath, or hold his hand (though admittedly, how weird would that be to still be doing that with your thirteen year old?). When was the last time I washed his hair? When did he last sit in my lap? What was the last bedtime story I read to him? 

I know he loves me.  I know it’s just different now.  I know that I’m still needed, even if that doesn’t look the same as it used to.  I know I just need to ride it out, let him come to me, and be a constant source of love and encouragement in the background, even as he pulls away.  He needs to pull away.  He needs to become his own person, figure out this strange new world he’s in, become independent, and be with his friends.  We all did it, I know.  I know.

But today I didn’t get a hug.  And it was the worst.

 

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American Eagle, Steve Jobs, and the denim belt

I went spring shopping with my tween son the other week.  I still call him a tween, but in reality he is just a few months away from stepping over the threshold and becoming a full-fledged teen.  He kindly reminds me of this on the regular, and every single time all I can see is a picture in my mind’s eye of his sweet little baby face staring at his mommy in complete adoration.  It makes me want to weep.  Also I am pretty sure I can actually hear my ovaries drying up on their slow journey toward becoming shriveled little raisins.

One of the great things about babies is that you can dress them however you want.  I used to dress my son so cute when he was small.  Most people seem to think that all of the frilly baby girl clothes are the most fun to buy, but after a while the closet just looks like someone vomited Pepto-Bismol onto a bunch of plastic hangers.   Moms of little boys,  I’m here to tell you that shopping for baby boy’s clothes is where it’s at.

Shopping for big boy clothes is decidedly much more complicated.  First of all, there are all these rules.  Probably every boy has a different set of rules, but there is always some kind of code or formula that turns the whole thing into some sort of scavenger hunt.  In order to pass the test when shopping for my son, all clothing must adhere to the following guidelines:

-must be quick dry fabric.  But not the scratchy quick dry fabric, the smooth kind.

-no itchy tags. Even better–no tags at all.

-funeral colors only.  Black, dark black, light black, grey, or a mixture of these are permitted.  Blue is sometimes acceptable.  Neon yellow was acceptable last year but now is eschewed.  Please keep up.

-if there is some kind of visible athletic logo, only Nike is acceptable.  Under Armor–NO.  Adidas–that would be a hard no.

-pants must not have ankle cuffs of any kind.  It doesn’t matter that those cute jogger pants are everywhere and it is difficult to even find pants without ankle cuffs.  No. Cuffs.

Me:  What do you have against jogger pants with cuffs?

Son:  I don’t like them.

Me:  Well, obviously.  But what is it about them that you don’t you like?

Son:  They make me feel trapped.

Me:  They make you feel trapped?

Son:  Yes.

Me:  Trapped….in your pants?

Son:  Yes.

Me:

Son:

With that all sorted out, we set off on our quest to find quick-dry athletic clothing with no tags and no cuffs in drab colors, that would also somehow fit a man-sized boy who is all arms and legs and sharp angles with a waist size that would make a Victorian woman in a double corset jealous.

Shopping this year turned out to be even more challenging than usual, because the boy is in this awkward in-between phase where he’s too tall for the boys section, but hasn’t filled out enough for the men’s section.  Glorious.  I sat in the fitting room waiting area as my son paraded out before me about four different styles of black and grey hoodies, despite the fact that our original intent was to find clothes for spring and summer.  I suppose the black and grey hoodie that he has been wearing every single day since the beginning of the school year needed a refresh.  (Side note to say that if you are one of my son’s teachers or one of his friend’s moms, I promise you I wash the sweatshirt in question regularly, and he has a few different pairs of the same/similar black pants.  So I know it looks like he never changes his clothes, but it’s not so much of a poor hygiene situation as it is a Steve Jobs situation).

Anyhow, during the American Eagle parade of hoodies, one of the other dressing room doors opened and out walked an adorable teenage girl with long, colt-like arms and legs.  She turned to her (very youthful looking) grandma and said, “Do you think this looks too big?”

If I were a cartoon character, my eyeballs would have fallen out of their sockets at that point and I would be groping around uselessly trying to retrieve them so I could pop them back in.  I am telling you:  if the denim miniskirt this girl was trying on were any smaller, it would be a belt.  You could tell this wasn’t grandma’s first go-round with a teenage girl because, instead of answering the question, she very cautiously said, “You’re going to wear shorts underneath that, right?”  Like she knew that the inevitability of an automatic sale would shoot up if she were to respond by saying, “That is ridiculously short.  There is no way you’re wearing that!” The girl didn’t answer grandma’s question about the shorts either, crafty as she was,  but instead surveyed her reflection wearing the tiny little skirt from all angles before disappearing again into the dressing room.

This is where grandma and I locked eyes and, without a word spoken, had a moment of sisterhood.  I could see how she had blazed the path that lay before me, come out the other side, and had now brought the wisdom of our foremothers to this moment.  As my boy came out in another black hoodie, she gave an almost imperceptible nod that seemed to say, “I know.  He wears the same thing all the time.  Boys are like that. Don’t worry.”  I, in turn, lifted up a quick prayer asking for strength for the girl’s mother, who I am certain would rue the day she allowed grandma to take her daughter shopping for spring clothes, only to find that she came home with a denim belt.

 

Middle school: The purgatory of parenting

January is really the most un-wonderful time of the year.  The weather stinks, I’m still tired from the holidays, AND it’s that very awkward and terrible time when all of the Reese’s peanut butter trees are no longer in the store, but it’s too early for the Reese’s peanut butter eggs to come out.  I sat in the parking lot outside of a Five Below last week and wondered–where do all the trees go?  Because all of my local chocolate peanut butter tree selling retailers seemed like they had an abundant supply of them the week before Christmas.  Now there are none.  I can’t figure out the math on that.  Why no leftovers, Five Below?  You didn’t put them back in the stock room for next Christmas, did you?  ‘Cause that’s not fair.  I’m not sure how I will live until the retail stores decide it’s almost Easter.

Speaking of things I may not live through, it occurred to me just this week that in approximately 8 months, I will have two middle schoolers in my home.  TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLERS.  Can’t. Breathe. Must. Eat. Reese’s. Peanut. Butter. Chocolate. Trees.

I know some of you have younger kids, and aren’t there yet.  You are still in the thick of diapers and preschool and early morning wake up calls, and can’t imagine a day when you will sleep past 6 am on a weekend.  Or some of you more experienced parents are far enough away from it that you forget what it’s like, and the pain has dulled with time.  Some things are difficult to fully convey in words, but let me see if I can paint you a picture of these special, special years.

Having a middle schooler is like picking up your mail, casually opening it just like every other day, and then realizing that one of the envelopes had white powder with anthrax in it and now you have a huge crisis on your hands and also probably you are going to die.  And then 10 minutes later everything’s “fine” and the person who laced the envelope with anthrax is sitting on your couch with a headset on, happily playing a video game, while you continue working on your newest hobby which happens to be deep breathing and growing new grey hairs.

Having a middle schooler means that there are lots of tall-ish people with long limbs, big shoes, and questionable hygiene in your house, and you have to feed them pancakes a lot.  And they eat your pancakes but they don’t make eye contact with you.  And they wear a hood for extra protection indoors in case of leaking ceilings or splattering pancake syrup, I am assuming.

Having a middle schooler means that you are no longer funny.  You used to be very funny, maybe let’s say, just last year or the year before.   In fact, you used to be able to make certain people laugh hysterically just by playing peek-a-boo!  But now you’re not funny.  And every time you try to use any humor of any kind, someone in a hoodie yells, “STOP!”.

Having a middle schooler means that you question the very foundations of your education, as you stare mutely at your 7th-grader’s homework on algebraic expressions or some such, hoping to forestall the meltdown that will inevitably ensue should you be unable to not only figure out how to do it, but also figure out how to show your work using a simple 13 step process that, in your day, was a two step process.

Having a middle schooler means that you will sometimes have your sweet baby, who now weighs 100+ lbs instead of 10 lbs, come over to snuggle with you like a fully grown St. Bernard who thinks he is a lap dog.  And you love every second of it, even if his knee is in your spleen.  You don’t even care about your spleen right now, because you know that once the magic passes, your sweet, oversized baby will disappear underneath his hoodie for an indeterminate amount of time.

Having a middle schooler means that you have lots of toys, but no one plays with them.  But they also won’t let you get rid of them yet.  And they are unfortunately old enough that they notice when you try to sneak the toys out of the house to take to Goodwill.  Ah, how you miss the days when they didn’t have object permanence, or even those good times when you could trick them into thinking that if they couldn’t find a certain toy it was because they probably lost it, so maybe they should take better care of their stuff next time.

Having a middle schooler means that instead of dealing with diapers, field trips, potty training, preschool, and playdates, you now must face “crushes”, sex talks, friend drama, eye rolling, snarky comments, and poorly developed sarcasm skills.  You may really want to help them with this sarcasm piece since you know that you are so much better at it, but this is not advisable.

Having a middle schooler means that all important problems, questions, and/or feelings will absolutely need to be discussed at 9:30 PM, when you really thought you were crossing the finish line for the day.

Having a middle schooler means that your child will come home and tell you the things that happened at school, and you realize you have to relive all of the horrible things that happened to you in middle school.  Except now it’s worse, because it is happening to your tall-ish, constantly hungry, hoodie-clad baby.

Having a middle schooler means that you kind of want to call your mom and dad to complain, but you don’t because you’re pretty sure that they will laugh maniacally at you.

Having a middle schooler means that all of the above can happen to you in the span of one day, and just when you feel completely beaten down, you still get to be the soft place to land.

Having a middle schooler means that as bad as it seems for you, you know it’s worse for them.

Having a middle schooler means that you will need lots of Reese’s chocolate peanut butter trees.

 

 

Fa la la la laa–la la la LIES

A few months ago, I had the misfortune of both witnessing and contributing to the end of my kids’ childhood.  Nate has been at me for a good year now with the questions, sometimes subtle, sometimes completely direct.  I have been deflecting, for the most part.  “Well, what do you think?”,  I would say in response to his probing.  This usually got me off the hook temporarily.  It’s not that I wanted to lie to him.  It’s just that I have invested a lot of time and energy into this particular cover-up.  I always thought that I could be honest with him, when the time was right.  But it turned out to be harder than I thought.  The question would come out of his mouth, and I would panic, scramble for words, my mouth suddenly dry.  Today?  Today can’t be the day he finds out.  I’m not ready.  He’s not ready.  We’re not ready.  It will ruin everything.

But then one day he asked, and I could see it in his eyes, that he already knew.  He just needed that nod of the head from me to confirm his suspicions.  “Mom, are you and dad Santa?”  I just looked at him, nodded my head ever so slightly, with a half-smile that was not so much a smile as an expression of sad surrender.  “I KNEW IT!!!”  They both started hollering, thinking themselves so clever for figuring it out, while I sat, equal parts shell-shocked and relieved.  It would seem the magic of childhood was over, just like that.  What now?

I started to think of all the precautions I had failed to take that, had they been consistently applied, may have allowed the magic to last longer.  I didn’t disguise my handwriting on the gift tags.  I didn’t always use different wrapping paper for “Santa” gifts, especially if I was pressed for time.  Worst of all, I sent them to elementary school, which is where they all talk about such things around the water cooler, apparently.  Vicky told Frank who told Joey that Santa wasn’t real, because her parents told her, that’s why.  And although Vicky is a 4th grade gossip she seemed, to my children at least, a trustworthy enough source.  Still, neither of my kids would fully believe Vicky or Frank or even Joey, until they heard it from their mom.  I wonder how long that will last–that I, mom, am the substantiator of all truth and falsehood.

Then they started to put some of the other pieces together.  “WHERE ARE MY TEETH?  WHERE DO YOU KEEP MY TEETH??”  Since they started losing their teeth in 1st grade, they have both been obsessed by where the Tooth Fairy takes their teeth.  They knew something was up with that Easter Bunny.  This year, she didn’t even bother to hide the eggs, she just plopped the pre-filled baskets in the middle of the kitchen table.  The Easter Bunny was tired and, frankly, mostly just proud of herself for actually remembering to go shopping for the Easter baskets and all of their accoutrements before the 11th hour.

So, maybe I was ready for this.  Maybe instead of the end, it is a marvelous beginning, in which I get to go to bed in the month of December without sitting bolt upright in the middle of my non-REM cycle because I forgot to move the blasted Elf on the Shelf.  Maybe instead of the holidays being less magical, it will be one less thing to stress about, thereby making it magical in a different way.  Maybe I can use some of the energy I have been expending on weaving this tangled web of deception for something else.  Like avoiding “the sex talk”.

A letter to my children about friendship, being popular and “fitting in”

Listen kids, mom needs to talk to you about something really important.  I am by no means an expert on this topic.  But I have had more experience than you, so maybe I can teach you a little something.  Remember the other night when we were talking at the dinner table about friends and fitting in and being popular?  That was a hard conversation for me to have with you, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say at the time.  But I have been pondering it for a few days now, and I have some things I want you to know.

I know that right now, it feels really important to be popular.  Some days, it might feel like the most important thing.  I know that there are a lot of things that go on during the day at school that have nothing to do with math or science or social studies.  I know that a lot of the time you are surrounded by people all day, everywhere you turn, but somehow you still end up feeling lonely and left out.  I know that even though dad and I tell you to “just be yourself”, it feels like in order to fit in you have to act like someone you’re not.  You have to act like the kids that are cooler or more popular than you, or like someone that you saw on TV.

Imagine with me for a moment your most comfortable pants.  You know how mom loves to wear comfy clothes, and what a relief it is at the end of the day to change out of “work clothes” and into my comfy stuff.  You love that too, don’t you?  There is nothing better after a long day than to come home and put on your fuzzy fleece pants with a nice soft shirt, perfectly worn in, with no tags to rub on your skin.  Are you picturing it?  Sometimes we wear our most comfy clothes out in the world, but most of the time, we save those comfy, well-worn clothes for when we are sitting around at home.  No one at home cares what you look like, and everyone else is wearing their comfy things too.

OK, now let’s pretend that those comfy clothes that you love represent your most genuine, most honest, most true self.  Your “real self”.  I hope that you feel like you can be your “real self” at home.   Home should be a place where we get to be exactly who we are, knowing that we will be loved no matter what.  Home is where everyone knows the real you, and loves you anyway.

When we go out into the world, we try to dress our “outside selves” up a bit.  We have been taught that even though we are most comfortable in sweat pants and an oversized T-shirt, we need to put on jewelry and make-up and cool shoes before we go out.  So we put on tight jeans and maybe a shirt with lots of buttons that requires ironing, and we look in the mirror and think we look pretty good. And that is OK.  There is nothing wrong with dressing yourself up to look nice.  We all have to do it sometimes.

We dress up our “real selves” too, before we go out into the world.  Some of these things are necessary, like making small talk so you can get to know someone, or being polite and using your best manners.  But sometimes we do things like laugh at jokes that we don’t think are funny, or take part in things that we don’t really enjoy because we feel pressured.  We do things to get attention or be noticed.  Sometimes we even do things we know are wrong, just because we want people to like us or pay attention to us.  I did these things for a really long time when I was your age.  Sometimes I still catch myself doing something that is just not true to my “real self”.  But here’s the problem:  if you keep those things up long enough, you’re going to get really uncomfortable, really fast.  Because when you dress up your “real self” to make other people like you, it is kind of like trying to squeeze yourself into a stiff pair of jeans that are one size too small.  You can make it work for a little while, and you might even look good to the people around you.  But sooner or later, you’re going to start to notice that you can’t move quite as freely as you would like, and maybe your circulation is getting cut off.  It’s hard to sit down, and the jeans are rubbing on your skin and starting to leave indentations around your waist.  You start to have trouble enjoying what is going on around you because you’re just not comfortable.  You may even start thinking, with great longing, about your comfy, fuzzy pants at home.

You need to listen to that discomfort.  It is so important for you to honor and respect your “real self”.  Your real self doesn’t like to be squeezed and buttoned and contained.  (S)he won’t tolerate being made into something other that what she is.  Not because she doesn’t like change or new experiences.  On the contrary, your real self is very interested in growth and transformation, just not at the expense of her integrity.

One of the bravest things we can do is to let other people see our “real selves”.  It feels a little scary, taking your real self out in public– almost like going to the store in your pajamas.  Are people going to stare at me?  Will they laugh and make fun of me?  Maybe I don’t want people to see what I look like unless I’m all dressed up.  But here’s the thing.  When you are brave enough to show other people your real self, the great reward is that it can make other people feel brave enough to show you their real selves!  And let me tell you, as fun as it may sound to be wildly popular and the envy of all the cool kids at school, there is nothing–nothing–that compares to having friends who show you their real selves, and who fully love and accept you– as your most real, genuine self.  And once you have had a friend like that, well, you’ll never be able to settle for the alternative again.  You will choose the comfy fuzzy pants over the uncomfortable skinny jeans at every opportunity.

What some of those cool kids don’t know is that all those people who are following them around don’t necessarily know them.  They only know the version of them that they dress up and present to the world, not their real self.  And you can’t be truly loved, unless you are truly known.

So, when I was your age, I really thought I wanted to be popular too.  Now I know better.  Now I know that I want to be known, and I want to be loved.  I want to be real, and I want people who are brave enough to be real with me.  And I want to wear my sweatpants all the time.  Both literally and metaphorically.

So, let’s be brave together.  Let’s try to show up as our real selves as often as possible, and let’s keep on the lookout for others who also want to be truly loved and truly known, just as they are, in their comfy pants.