Magic Night Cream, Magic Night Cream, Do Your Job, Do Your Job

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Last night, I put my five-year old Stella to bed.   Well, I snuck in and stole the best part from Rick, who had her in her jammies, teeth brushed and she was in her bed with book in hand, waiting for someone to read to her.  I crawled into her bed by her and read her a story.

I love, love, love doing this with Stella.  I regret not loving it with my older two, Carly and Lydia.  We should have separated them more during the bedtime routine so I could have had more of this one on one time with them.  But mostly we did it all together, which made it so much more exhausting and chaotic and filled with fighting and bickering.  By the end of the day I just didn’t have the energy to deal, much less enjoy bedtime.

But Stella gets the story alone.  And she is so squishy and fresh and funny, and I adore it.  She loves the ritual of the hour, and I do too.  I read to her, and then I say, “Stella….”  as if I am about to begin a great story or tell her a fantastic secret… and she will say, “I know what you are going to say!”  I act surprised.  “How can you possibly know?  You can’t know!”  And she giggles that giggle that makes the cells in my body reorganize themselves so they can be permanently attached to her warm belly and her staccato laugh.

“You are going to say, I ADORE you.”

“Whaaaaaat!?  How did you know?”

I usually smash my face into the side of her soft neck at this point.  I feel so full of the force of my love,I want to breathe her into my body again.

Then, we do magic night cream.

My girls hands, (especially in kindergarten),  become so dry in the winter they turn bright red and crack.  (I now realize  it is a hand-washing and drying issue.)  It’s awful.

I have a bottle of Aquaphor by her bed that I rub into her little hands, and we chant, “Magic night cream, magic night cream, do your job, do your job…” a few times.  Just massaging her squishy hands, still chubby with the vestiges of toddlerhood just greases up the magic of the nighttime ritual.  Last night, I bent to kiss her cheek and she grabs my hair with her lubed up fists and says, “I have one more thing to tell you, mom.”

“What’s that?”  I lean in, her lips right in my ear, bracing for another sweet declaration of her love for me, and she says,

“Boca gum staaaaaaaah… bock, bock, bock bote bote…”

This is what she believes is the first line of the song  “Gangnum Style.”

Which brings on the giggles, and my heart bursts like an over-filled water balloon and I leave feeling like tomorrow, I can do this whole parenting gig all over again, just for the magic night cream, and that laugh.

I am holding tight to this right now, as I am desperately trying to remind myself to be present.  To ignore the phone, burning a hole in the butt pocket of my yoga pants.  To stop checking off the time I am with my kids the same way I check off my chore list.  To quit longing for that glass of wine and a good book, or a moment of peace devoid of Meghan Trainor on repeat and constant bickering.  To just Be in my body.  Be alive.  In the moment.  RIGHT NOW.   There are sensations.  And feelings.  And breathing in and out.  And those things must be noticed, if I am to live a full and meaningful life.  I am trying to wake up and BE.

It’s fucking hard.

So I did some searching, and realized that Stella’s magic night cream is my life line.  My anchor.  My one moment I can count on, where I am fully in my body.

PRESENT.

Right then, I am out of my mind.  I am in my fingertips, smoothing her chapped hands, feeling the dimples still in her knuckles and the meaty part of her thumbs as they connect to her palm, and I don’t need to tell her that I adore her, she knows because my love is a vibrating energy that is coating her, thick and protective.  It’s better than the magic night cream.

It is the invitation to be here, and nowhere else.

Magic night cream, magic night cream, do your job, do your job.

Why I Do Not Teach My Kids To Respect Adults

 

Last week, I got into a huge argument with one of my daughters.  Big news, I know. It’s the end of the school year, and we are all limping to the finish line, barely in tact.  Actually, it looks more like this:

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This particular dear child had been demanding and sassy all week, and with every interaction,  I was barely restraining myself from losing my grip.  My patience for her pre-teen attitude had withered away, and so it happened… the inevitable freak out.

 

I yelled at her, climbing high on to the untouchable podium of parenthood, and told her that she was being rude, sassy and disrespectful.  I threw in the appropriate amount of veiled threats, couched with “YOUNG LADY” and “LITTLE GIRL”  and finger wagging.  I told her in no uncertain terms that her tone with me had better stop, or she would find herself without a lot of fun in the coming weeks.

I really let her have it.

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She burst into tears, of course.  And I was mad and prickly, so I was not in the mood to hold her while she cried.  I took some deep breaths, tightening myself for the onslaught of her righteous indignation.

 

But she simply said, “I don’t understand.”  I could see the sincerity in her brimming eyes.

 

This took me by surprise.  I had been explicitly clear.

 

“Why are you allowed to talk to me that way, but I am not allowed to use that tone with you?” she cried.

 

I flailed.  Something in her words went deep, and found a raw nerve.   I was shocked to recognize that I understood and agreed with her.

 

The fact that I agreed, that it made sense… it was too much for me.  I gathered my wits about me, raking in the reasons I should stand my ground.

 

RESPECT.  And ADULTS.  And AUTHORITY.  And RULES.  And RESPECT.

 

And she will be a TEENAGER someday.  Lord, save us.

 

The demand for respect as the adult won out, and I rose up to my feet, hands on hips, to tell her how she must show respect because I am her mother, and she is a child and she must learn to show respect to adults and people who have authority!

I am her mother, and I demand respect!

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She cried some more, and I felt like a barbarian, and we got on with our night.

I tried to move on, get over it.  I gathered evidence that made me feel justified.  I mentally reviewed all the gross memes on Facebook, about the “olden days,” and how kids were so much more respectful of adults… and what is the world coming to?  Like these:

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But there was this nagging knowing inside me, poking at the truth. I had been using a “tone” with my children over the past few days, or weeks even.  A tone that says, “I’m so tired of dealing with this,” or a tone that speaks, “You are annoying me!”  or  “Hurry UP!”  A tone of general exhaustion and irritation, where manners and kindness are lost in my coarse, tired demands.

 

I hear it in my voice, as I tell them to get in the car.  AGAIN.  Or pick up their back packs.  Or close the door.  Or go to bed. Or to stop FIGHTING FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY.

 

AGAIN.

I hear that edge creep into my voice, and it has stayed.  So even when I simply ask for a hug, or tell them goodnight, it is there.

I realized I have been commanding  my children to have more respect and more control than I posses.  I want my daughter to lose the attitude and that disrespectful tone in her voice, but I have been unsuccessful in showing her the same respect during these stressful and strenuous times.  Not only is our relationship out of balance, her disrespect was important for me to notice rather than rage at.  She stepped up and challenged me to investigate what I believe about respect.

 

So I have given it much thought, lately.  Respect is a word thrown around rather carelessly and is often spoken about with a very contemptuous and entitled attitude. There are many generations that believe that today’s youth have lost respect for authority.   And others who believe that respect is not freely given, but earned.

Social media sites are teeming with declarations like this, which serve to perpetuate ineffectual beliefs about respect.

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I was shocked to uncover some of my own privileged ideas about respect.  It isn’t something I would have been able to own, or recognize in myself just a few weeks ago.
I felt ashamed to recognize that I would not speak to my husband or a friend the way I had been speaking to my children.  In that admission lies the notion that my authority and superiority over them justifies my behavior… I felt sickened by the ugliness my inquiry revealed.

In my careful examination, I began to see deeply ingrained ideas about respect that do not serve us well.   So, I set out to redefine my beliefs about respect.

A reset button, of sorts.

#1  Respect is not a hierarchy.  There is no human being that deserves more respect and deference than another.  We are all deserving of basic politeness and compassion by virtue of our inherent worth as human beings.  Therefore, I do not believe children must show respect to their elders.  They must be taught that respect is at the core of basic human decency. Age is irrelevant.  One day old, or one hundred years old.  A homeless man or a wealthy billionaire.  A janitor or the President of the United States.   Their worst enemy or their best friend.  Their annoying little sister, and yes… their mom.

 

#2  Respect for one another does not mean you hold their behavior in high regard.  We can feel disrespectful about abhorrent and hateful actions.  For bigotry and scorn.  But even the perpetrators of actions we disdain should be treated with respect.  Because at the root of pain, anger, and negativity…there is a hurting person.  A person aching to be seen, to be heard, to feel loved.  And showing them disrespect as a human being only advances their hate.

#3  There is a difference between disagreeing/arguing and disrespect.  As a parent, this detail is crucial.  Because I must not view my child’s disagreement as a form of disrespect.  I want my girls to find their voice… to stand up for themselves… to bravely challenge things…to seek understanding.  I must not contradict this value with a demand for their agreement or silence. Honing these skills must start at home, with their father and I, people who will give them a safe place to practice respectfully disagreeing, taking a stand, advocating for themselves, sometimes forcefully.

#4  Respect is not earned.  It should be given freely, as it stems from the understanding that we are all parts of a greater whole.   It is our way of honoring the human experience, of employing empathy and compassion for every person we interact with.  It is an acknowledgement of the nugget of precious truth at our core… we respect others as we respect ourselves.   The level of respect you show others is a reflection of the love and honor you have for your self.

 

#5  Disrespect is a symptom.  Often, it is a reflection of poor communication or unexpressed, repressed emotion. It is an aching call to be recognized as valuable.  My daughter was being disrespectful to me… it was a reflection of the disrespectful treatment I was showing her… I was overlooking her.

We can never insist on more respect from our children than we are capable of manifesting for ourselves.

 

A week after our fight,  I went on a field trip with my daughter.   On the way home, we cuddled up in our bus seats, I pulled out a surprise stash of her favorite candy, and I fessed up.  I told her I was wrong.  I had not been treating her with respect.

 

This was hard.

 

I felt as though I was conceding some age-old battle between parent and child.  The fear tried to rear up, the fear that told me that if I do not command respect from my child without fail, she will grow into a teenage monster and make our lives a living hell.

 

So naturally, I stuffed myself with peanut M&M’s and shouldered on.

 

I thanked her for being my mirror, always showing me the way to a better self.  I told her how powerful she was, how I felt honored to be with her.   I promised her that I would be more mindful of the level of respect I show her.  I told her that I firmly believe that if you want to be respected, you must embody that respect for yourself, and then let it reflect in your treatment of others.

 

And we finished with a hug, some sour patch kids,  and the most important message of respect I believe can ever be delivered from one human being to another…

 

I see you, my love.

I really, truly, see you.  

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Daring to Lose the Baggage We Carry

 

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Photo Credit: Gardner Edmunds

 

When I was a kid, we had one of those monstrous hard shell luggage cases that could transport obscene amounts of luggage, effectively transforming our minivan into a giant, lumbering turtle. The first summer we owned it, we crammed it completely full of baggage and mom drove us out to Utah from Colorado to visit our family. When we got to Grandma’s, we unpacked the shell, completely emptying the vessel.  And then we just snapped the empty case shut and  left the giant shell trussed up on the van as we shuttled around Utah…my dad had so aggressively tied it to the roof, it wasn’t going anywhere.

 

One night, just before rush hour bloomed on the freeway, as we were zipping north on I-15, the case was thudding and banging on the roof, the hot summer wind was raging through the valley, and my mom white-knuckled the steering wheel to keep us from blowing into the next lane.   Suddenly there was a loud ripping POP! and we watched in horror as our luggage case somersaulted across the median, miraculously through oncoming traffic of the southbound lanes, and down an embankment into a field of weeds.  The case had been aggressively strapped to the luggage rack… my dad had made sure there was no chance of it coming loose.  But without the weight of the luggage inside, the wind tore the luggage rack right off the roof of our van.

 

I find myself thinking so often of that luggage case blowing down the hill.

We are like moving vehicles on a grand adventure, and we each have a giant shell tied up to the roof to carry the baggage.  In our childhoods, that case is packed full of experiences and ideas and grand moments and terrible, crushing loss of innocence.  For the most part, we cannot determine what is packed inside, giving weight and heft to our lives.  It is filled with the baggage we carry with us as we strike out on our own.

 

Most of us, at one point or another, stop to take out the baggage.  And my first real stop was after the birth of my first two daughters.

 

They forced me to pull over and examine what I was carrying.  I had two baby girls, and when began to unpack, I realized I didn’t want the bulk of it.  It was full of fear and molds I had been trying to pour myself into.

 

And guilt.

 

It was filled with desperation and apathetic surrender.   It was filled with hard and glittering notions about womanhood.  It was brimming with hundreds of years of handed down expectation and servitude.   And untold instruments to measure my worth and acceptability and faith.  It was filled with boxes and boxes of unanswered questions that I had been told to put away and not worry about. Injustices and inconsistencies and confusion that was my own damn fault for ever acknowledging in the first place.

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Photo Credit: Robert Faulkner  

 

I unpacked all that I could.  I knew I could not carry it any longer, and I would not be handing it to my daughters.  It was an abandonment of my genealogical legacy, family history, the ideals and mantras and precious cargo of my tribe.

 

I drove away, my case more hollow than full, more light than heavy with burden.

 

We all do this, I am realizing.  In various degrees, this is how we humans roll.  Maybe not everyone.  Some, I am sure, roll right along and do not dare open the case to investigate the cargo, to find out if it is weight we would still like to carry.  But the way we create our own experience, forge our own path, and improve upon the journey for people we love is to look it over, and face what has been packed inside.

 

I changed my life, drastically.  And it was agonizing to leave it behind.  It always is, when we take a close and honest look at the things we choose to carry.

 

I had hoped that I was done.  My act was radical and came from a dire place inside that would be crushed by the weight of unwanted ideology.  And I naively believed I had accomplished what I had set out to do.  I had improved my life, and brightened the future for my girls in untold ways.

It was The One, enormous, painful, transforming reach for more freedom, less guilt.  More discovery, less propriety.  More authenticity, less fear.

But it is not done.  It wasn’t enough, I have known now for a while.  In a slow, anxious, build it is becoming more painfully present.  Just as the welcoming of my first two girls had forced me to pull over and examine the contents of my shell, this last child has done the same.

 

Last night, I put on a white dress, curled my hair, wore bright pink lipstick and heeled sandals that made me well over 6 ft tall.  It didn’t feel like me.  We are staying at a lovely resort in Orlando, and while Rick is working the day away, going to meetings and listening to lectures and schmoozing VIP’s on the golf course, I am at the pool.  And in the evenings, we go to work functions to wander the outdoor gathering, shaking hands with strangers.  I have done this many times before, at annual actuarial conferences ripe with mathematicians and insurance executives.  I have enjoyed the lovely hotels and the chance to tour around various cities and the opportunity to sleep in late, wake when I wish, and leave the daily mothering grind to the grandparents.

 

But last night, with my heels and my lipstick, that haunting presence of the weight I carry made my bones ache with weariness.

 

I no longer want to be just a woman on his arm, his satellite.

 

I have known this for several years now.  The feeling of growing out of your own skin is a slow, building pressure, and discomfort that grows into urgency.  The imminence scares me, it is regrettably familiar.

 

The highlight of the evening was speaking briefly with his boss, whom I had not had the pleasure of meeting before.  In a quick, private moment, she gave me a lovely gift, sharing with me that she had never known a man more openly proud of his wife.  How he speaks about me with admiration and respect and greatly values my thoughts and ideas.

 

Such words, such affirmation of his love was a forceful moment of reckoning for me.

His love for me, his support, his patient and gentle reassurances that he believes in my ability to change my self, to honor who I am and wish to be without fear or apology, that has kept me moving forward.

 

And he knows, as I stand next to him in my heels and lipstick, that I want more.
I do not wish to be a woman, standing forever at the ready to support her man.  I have done this for 12 years, as I was trained to do.

I am so afraid.  It means pulling over once again.  It means going through the baggage, and pulling out pieces of me that terrify.  It seems so silly that the idea of digging out my ideas of what makes me a woman and what I have to offer the world have put me into such a state of terrified paralysis.  Women everywhere have been vigorously doing this work.  Throwing out the limiting patriarchal bullshit and becoming more.

 

These women were not admired and revered in my culture.

 

I am looking at hundreds of years of training and expectation and gender roles and patriarchy. Thousands of hours of prayers and talks and books and lessons on how motherhood and marriage are the pinnacle of a woman’s existence, the shining glory, the only aspiration that matters.

 

I remember the sound of the pop, the tearing of metal as that luggage case wrenched itself free and went somersaulting into the weeds.  The sight of an empty vessel, no longer needed, being ripped away.  It sounds violent and scary and ruinous.  It horrifies us all.  But perhaps, this is the sight we all need to witness.  The carrier of our baggage, being torn away, is the very moment we want to achieve.  When we finally unpack all the baggage that weighs us down… we examine it, we see it for what it was in our lives. We acknowledge how it got there, and our power to release it.

 

And when that case gets light enough, it will tear free and blow away.   We will finally be free to drive away, without the weight… just the vehicle we came in.

 

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Photo Credit:  Gardner Edmunds

Disney is Ruining My Kid.

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Disney has been ruining my kid…. a job I can do quite well on my own, thank you.

 I know, it sounds drastic.  Don’t worry, I am not going to launch into a ridiculous diatribe about how Frozen has a hidden gay agenda (huge eye roll) or is turning my girls in to glittery, sparkly princesses who need a prince to save them, (we are over that stage, thank god) or that Miley Cyrus grew up and dared to climb out of her Hannah Montana box.

In the interest of being a pretty laid back mom,  who fights against my extremely conservative upbringing, I have tried to adopt a more moderate view of the world and it’s evils.  With my girls, I am trying a more balanced approach, believing that they should not be sheltered constantly from American culture, taught to fear and judge and overreact to everything they see.  My general philosophy has been to allow them to take part in age-appropriate music, movies and t.v.

That said, I may have gone too far…

Its been a brutal winter and  I confess, my kids watched too much T.V.  School was cancelled. ALL THE TIME.  There was only so much hot chocolate and board games I could muster before I would hand them the remote and rock quietly in a dark corner of my kitchen with a bottle of wine.

Now, I did check in with them, shouting “whatcha watching?”  and they would yell, “A.N.T. Farm!” or “Kickin’ It!” or “Good Luck Charlie!”  I investigated, and these shows are all listed as appropriate for 8+.  Fine.  Every once in a while, they would call me in to watch some joke they thought was  “Soooo hilarious, mom!” and I would try not to think about how they should be watching something on the History channel instead.  Kids deserve some mindless, silly comedy with no educational purpose, just like I deserve to watch Sister Wives and Grey’s Anatomy.  No big.

Until.

A few months ago, my husband and I started noticing some differences in one of our daughter’s behavior.  She wasn’t acting like herself, she seemed to be putting on a show.   She would fling her hair about and act like a sassy teenager and use lingo  that sounded inauthentic and contrived coming from her.  In these moods she was extra silly, always looking for a laugh.

When this would happen, I tried to talk to her about it.  I pointed out that it did not feel like her “real” personality, and that people can sense when someone is not being authentic.  We talked about crossing the line between silly and obnoxious.   I stepped up my emphasis on important qualities like kindness, generosity, creativity.   I asked her if she was acting like people on tv, and after much pressure, she would admit that she was getting a her sayings and jokes from the Disney channel.

At this point, no real alarm bells were going off.  She was experimenting, and we were talking about it.  It opened lines of communication for me.  A little hair tossing and Disney “lingo” was not going to ruin her.

But then, this dear daughter got into some trouble with friends at school.  I met with her teachers and spoke to the parents of the other girls involved, and was shocked to hear of some of the social things going on with my child at school.   She is a sensitive, loving, girl who is usually fiercely  loyal and empathetic… the reports of her behavior did not match what I knew of my girl. She was saying hurtful and judgemental things about other girls’, throwing around conceited declarations,  among other shocking things.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am all for personal responsibility and I am in no way interested in making lame excuses for my child.  We dealt with the situation and helped her learn painful but necessary lessons about jealousy, friendship, self-control, and hurtful words.

While she was at school during this week, I spent a good amount of time in quiet reflection.  The week’s events had been extremely trying as a parent, I found myself in new territory.  Acting on instinct, I spent a day watching some of her favorite  Disney shows, from start to finish…looking for answers.

I COULD NOT BE MORE HORRIFIED.

Parents.  Are you watching this garbage?

I certainly had not been.  Beyond the quick minute or two, I had never sat and watched an episode of A.N.T Farm with the girls.  Because it is Disney.  How the hell do you go from Doc McStuffins, a show that SAVED ME countless tears at the pediatrician’s office, to this absolute trash?    I so very wrongly figured that a company like Disney would not be promoting cruelty, bullying and sexism in their shows for young, impressionable children.  I was completely mortified as I watched.

These shows are laced with terrible social behavior.   Like the scene in one, where a “nerdy” boy walks up to a pretty “popular” girl and asks her out… she threw her bowling ball and ran away screaming.  *Cue audience laughter*

There were so many examples of rude, mean responses to difficult social situations for kids, followed by the character shrugging it off, recorded laughter, and the characters moving on without showing any realistic emotions.  No anger, no hurt feelings.  Comedy.

I was disgusted.  How in the world will we teach our children to be kind and put a stop to cruel behavior in schools when THE DISNEY CHANNEL is showing these bullying behaviors followed by laughter and no emotional response???    It was clear where my daughter had gotten the impression that these kinds of conceited one liners and arrogant vanity was playful and a harmless way to get a laugh.

Just when I thought I had seen the worst, there was a scene that made blood shoot from my eyeballs.  A pretentious girl, conspiring to create a room-sized walk in closet for all her makeup! and clothes! and shoes!  was asked by two boys to help them with a math problem.   She does.

 To which they exclaim, “Thank you, you are a genius!”

The girl is offended.

 The boys hurriedly fix their ghastly mistake with,   “Oh! I mean you are SO beautiful!”

 ….and she prances away, satisfied.

Excuse me while I heave.

Shame on me for exposing my daughter to this kind of garbage.

SHAME ON DISNEY.

What  talented person working over there in the Disney CO.  believes this is an appropriate message for 8 + girls in 2014?

REALLY???

 They are out to make conceit and rejection funny. They are sending intentional messages to girls about how they should value their looks and their walk-in closets over their brains! Now, I realize that not all children are going to be as susceptible as my daughter was to copying the abhorrent behavior on these shows.  But I have more than one daughter.  And who knows how they have been internalizing this bullshit.  It’s outrageous.

After picking up the kids from school, my girls and I sat and re-watched these shows.  I wanted to gouge my eyes out.  As we watched, I paused it every single time someone said something cruel, every time the fake audience laughed inappropriately at what in real life would be someone’s serious emotional pain.  We talked about what would actually happen if you acted like that with your friends, and how you can’t repair things by declaring “Just KIDDING!”  I showed them the “genius” scene and we had a long talk about the awful and unacceptable message it sends to girls about dumbing down, caring only about appearance, objectification… my daughters got more than they bargained for that afternoon.

As a parent, when the kids are watching t.v., it’s mostly because I need a moment.  To make dinner.  To help someone else with homework.  To gather my sanity.  These few examples permanently damaged my trust in the Disney Channel and the trash they are producing for our kids.

It’s hard enough to raise kids who will have the moral fortitude to stand up for themselves and for each other.  It’s hard enough to teach my little girls to be proud and brave and own their bodies and their brains without apology.  To recognize and condemn cruelty and sexism. It’s hard enough to get a moment to catch my breath and feel like my kids are safe and entertained for 30 minutes under the DISNEY umbrella without unwittingly downloading vain, cruel, and damaging sexist garbage into their impressionable brains.

Shame on my naiveté and trust in the Disney name.

Believe me… lesson learned.

9 Things I Want My Daughters To Know About Motherhood

The Prophet

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, and yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward, not tarries with yesterday.        

                                                                                              -Kahlil Gibran

 I was raised to believe that my sole purpose, my divine reason for being,  was to be a mother.  I was to marry, and have babies.  Stay home, and raise them right.  Advance the kingdom of heaven.  Motherhood was my reason for existing.  It was how I must serve the Lord.  And I wanted children, so much. It was my mission, to grow up, and have babies of my own.

I have been actively trying to untangle these ideas about womanhood and motherhood and expand the definition of what my life can be.   I am discovering the shadow side of making motherhood my whole sense of identity, and tying all of my self worth to this role.   I have three beautiful girls.  Girls that I hope will grow up knowing they are loved and respected and safe in being exactly who they are.  They do not need to earn their worthiness.  To earn their femaleness.  They are worthy inherently.  Worthy of love, of happiness, of joy, of belonging.  I want them to grow up and not seek a man or motherhood to make them whole.

They are whole.

So just as I am talking to them as they grow about healthy romantic relationships, I also want to talk to them about motherhood. In our society there is a lack of honest, open discussion about what parenting is really like.  How it changes you.  People love to talk about it being hard… but not about the real reasons why.  I want to open that door with my girls.  Talk to them about motherhood and parenting with more detail and depth.   I am in the thick of it right now, and I am sure this list will grow and change as I evolve as a mother.  But here is what I know, one decade in.

Nine things I want to teach my daughters about motherhood:

1.     Every single person in the world used to be a screaming baby.  A mother  carried them in their womb.  A mother labored and gave birth to that person.  Every person. But  do not let the ordinariness of motherhood  fool you.  There will be many, many moments as a mother when you will marvel at  the idea that so many women have accomplished this seemingly impossible task, of bearing and raising children.  While motherhood historically is commonplace and unremarkable, it will feel anything but ordinary inside of your life.  It will be the greatest challenge,  the most consequential undertaking of your life.  Do not underestimate it’s enormity.

2.  Once that baby comes into the world, and into your arms, you will lose complete control of the most precious pieces of your soul.   Parenting is coming to terms with that loss of control.  Living in it.  Swimming in uncertainty.  And  wading in the knowledge that all the pieces you truly love, truly need, truly value, are packaged in independent people who don’t belong to you.  We declare ourselves as parents.  We claim our children.  We take responsibility.  But they are not OURS.  They come through us, and become.

3. You will love so deeply, it will scare you.  You will feel so vulnerable in that love, it can make you crazy.  You will feel wild with the need to make things safe.  Control what happens.   There is no place to hide from this love.  So be in it.  Embrace the vulnerability, and in that embrace will come the recognition of just how much I love you.  Let the recognition that you are loved as completely as you love your own child carry you on the days you feel too vulnerable to move through the day.

4.   With the first breath that baby takes, you are not suddenly filled with knowledge and light and glorious understanding on how to be a mother.  Or an adult.  When you walk out of the hospital with that baby, it will shock you.  The hospital staff will just let you leave!  And people you used to rely on for the answers will suddenly be asking the questions and expect you to know what the next step should be.

There is no gentle transition into this enormous responsibility.

 One moment, you will be working to bring the baby into your arms.  And the next, you will be a mommy.  Forever.  There will be millions and millions of questions to be answered, decisions to be made about the best thing to do.  It can be paralyzing, the amount of choices that will bombard you.  There will be moments and days and weeks and maybe years of time in which you feel like you have no idea what you are doing.  How to proceed.  Which way is best.  Just when you get the hang of things, and you feel like you have hit your stride, your child will enter a different stage of development, and you will  have to begin again.

Remember this:  no one knows what they are doing.  You are not alone in these feelings. Even the most confident looking mothers out there:  the ones that have a designer bag over their shoulder, a smile on their face, a perfectly styled baby on their hip… they are harboring the same fears, crying the same tears.  Holding the  same insecurities.  When people say parenting is the hardest thing you will ever do… this is what they are talking about.  The secret insecurities and the fears of falling short.  No one wants to name it for you, so they list the dirty diapers, the sleepless nights, the public tantrums.  Because it’s too scary to talk about vulnerability and self-doubt.  There is no magic to make this less uncomfortable.   So learn to carry your insecurities lightly, and every time you have an opportunity, set them down.
5.  If you want to know how real karma works, make a list of all the things you will vow to never do or say as a parent.   Tape it to your fridge next to your ultrasound pics.  You know, things like “my kid will never watch hours of t.v. at a time,” or “I will not let my kids become picky eaters” or “I would never send my kid to school with banana in their hair” or “I will never lock my kids in their room just to get another 20 minutes of sleep,”  or “I would never let my kid wear the same dress to school for three months in a row!”

And then see what happens.

6.   Motherhood is staring into a mirror, inspecting the truest reflection of yourself.  One true difficulty in parenting is the requirement to face your darkest demons.  The inadequacies and flaws and dangerous parts of you can be hidden from friends and family.  You can hide them from your spouse.  And even from yourself.  But becoming a mother will crack you open.   Your children will see you. They will look into your eyes, before they can form words, and their spirit will know you.   They force you to look at the parts of yourself you don’t want to deal with, you never wanted to admit to. The intensity of your emotions and the enormity of control you will need is going to shock you.  No one in the world but your own child will have you swing from the deepest rage to the brightest joy in one afternoon.

You will have to sit in profound disquiet, sometimes for long periods of time, as you struggle to control your shadows.

During this intense personal unveiling, there is no place to hide.  Motherhood does not pause, it will not give you a rest while you find a way to heal.  You must do this personal healing and searching and while remaining constantly available for your children.    Because of the extreme intensity this situation creates, it is very, very important that you prepare.  Before you bring another life into this world, know yourself.  Know where your strengths lie, and your weaknesses too.  Own the light and the dark parts of yourself, and understand them…do not be afraid to look at these flaws.  They will boil to the surface in surprising moments.  Be prepared to look into your child’s eyes, and see yourself.

They are the mirror.

 7.  Guilt.  The guilt will destroy you if you let it.  Because motherhood will highlight your dark demons and deep insecurities, there will be guilt.  When you feel guilty, it is easy to leave it unexamined, to fester.   Sometimes, the guilt is thick and syrupy and leaves a sticky film over every experience.  Sometimes the guilt is heavy, and holding it requires every muscle, tendon, and bone.  And sometimes, the guilt takes on a life of it’s own, and will  chase you right out the door.    You must address these guilty feelings.   Guilt is simply a course-correction tool.  The GPS system.  When you feel guilt, sometimes it is for valid reasons.  You lost your temper.  You gave an inappropriate consequence.  You reacted without listening.  Recognize the problem, resolve to try again, and then…

Let it go.

This purposeful act of self-forgiveness will be crucial in moving forward, unburdened.  Many times, you may find that the guilt is not helping you stay the course… you are marinating in it.  Assigning guilt and feelings of failure to every move you make as a mother. It is important to recognize this too.  Because unaddressed guilt turns to shame… a dark and debilitating poison that can eat away your joy.  It is an easy trap to fall into, the ritual of self-criticism that turns to guilt and then to shame.  Work to release this pattern at every opportunity.  Recognize the difference between a learning moment and a toxic burden.  You will be actively teaching your child to learn from their mistakes, forgive others and forgive themselves.  You must be actively practicing this in your mothering.

 If you want to hold the joy, you must put down the shame.

8.  Refuse to believe and affirm

“My children are my life.”

“I am nothing without my kids.”

“I live for my kids.”

 Unfortunately, these declarations are often revered as the most powerful kind of love, owned by the real mothers that love more. My sweet girls, your life as a woman is meaningful.  It matters.   Your choices and passions and pursuits are important and worthwhile.   You can be a complete, whole human being.  Filled with love and joy and warmth and ambition and creativity and spirit and service.

Sacrifice is inherent in motherhood.  We sacrifice our bodies, our freedoms, our finances, our time… we give over our hearts to our children. But it is so easy to pour out too much, and lose our Selves.   Empty our vessels, and leave nothing but a shell behind.  My dear daughters, you should not sacrifice your self.  Children do not want that sacrifice.  You get to still exist, outside your role as mommy.  You get to pursue other things that matter to you.  You must be a top priority in your own life.   And this is the healthy way to parent.  Because your child is not YOU.

They want to carry your love in their hearts.

They want to know that they will always belong in your inner circle.

They want to know you truly see them for who they are.

They want to breathe in your strength, and see you stand tall in your own body.

They are individual people, and do not wish to carry your life upon their shoulders.  That kind of love  is a burden, not a gift.

9.   Cling to one single truth:  Love.

The one thing you can do absolutely right, is love.  Love that child with a wholeness that requires you to stay open to that vulnerable place.  Love them so they know that nothing is required of them to earn that love.  They will feel that love from you the most  when you practice loving yourself.