Lars Isn’t So Little Anymore

It’s that time of year again. Mommy blogs are flooded with grief over their babies going to school. And it’s true. Some of us mourn as our children go out into the world.

I am one of them.

Five years. Five years – the time I have spent mostly every day with my little sidekick. I never knew my heart could hold so much love.

Facebook hasn’t helped my situation either. Their damn Timehop pictures make me sob. I see my lost blond-haired baby. I see the catalog of daily activities that are the simplest of things – making cookies together, playing at the park, walking to the mailbox. These ordinary moments were the ones that filled our days.

And in the beginning, it was a struggle for me to get used to this “slow” life.  I traded in the expensive clothes, the adoration of students, the fancy lunches for yoga pants, spilled smoothies, sand in my hair – yet I have been fulfilled in new ways by his sincere love.  My baby didn’t care if I had mascara on. He just wanted to hold my hand and play restaurant.

The days are long, but the years are short. This is true, but I hate the pressure sayings like that or “It goes by so fast!” put on me. I would hold his hand while he slept. I would pause our playing to mentally record our sweet times together. Did I lose some of the remarkable in those moments by holding on so tightly to remembrance?

Time is not our friend. This is a rule of life. Our babies grow up to be cowboys. They don’t say goodbye to us as they rush the school playground. They are independent, confident, and curious. We are happy we’ve done our job, but we weep at the loss of our daily companion.

Nietzsche said: “Let the young soul look back upon its life and ask itself: what until now have you truly loved, what has raised up your soul, what ruled it and at the same time made it happy? Line up these objects of reverence before you, and perhaps by what they are and their sequence, they will yield you a law, a fundamental law of your true self.

Well, I love being your Mom, Lars. I loved our baby years together.

As I surrender to the sadness about the forward momentum of time, I also celebrate your maturation. I’ve got a lot of learning to do too – learning how to let you go.

I’ll send you off to school with a smile on my face but cry in the car. I’ll loosen my grip. I’ll embrace gratitude for our early days. I’ll look forward to our new adventures in this season of life.

I’ll laugh at myself through the tears because I remind myself of Bette Midler in the movie Beaches as she watches her terrible interview and cringes:

“Now, tell us the truth. I want you to pull out all the stops. We know the performer. Who is the person? Who is C.C. Bloom?”

“Oh, Marla. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself that very same question. Well, first and foremost, I would have to say that C.C. feels things – deeply. C.C. is a deeply feeling person. And, because of this, is deeply emotional. Do you understand?”

 

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The Religion of My Youth: How Violent Images from the Bible Affected Me as a Child

Each one of us has a personal mythology, central lived images that are the emotional, if not the literal, foundation of our stories, our poems, our artistic voices. They are our own hieroglyphs, carved in the bedrock of our emotional lives. A number of famous writers have said that they have spent their lives telling “the same story” over and over again, in different images, different plots, different tones. 

~Pat Schneider, How the Light Gets In

I don’t remember a time when I was a child I didn’t get terrified of thunderstorms. We lived in the panhandle of northwest Florida, where the afternoons often brought a mixture of humidity and showers that made me tremble.

I loved the rain. It would make a normal day seem different, more alive, more contemplative. But the sounds coming from heaven terrified me. The bumping of the clouds frightened me.

Being raised a Jehovah’s Witness, I knew of the book of Revelation and the prophecy it predicted. The thunder and lightning always reminded me of those Armageddon images adults told me would come at any time. We would have to be on constant alert.

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While some praise a child of eight or so for knowing the Bible so well, I am concerned. These images, the talks at church, the perpetual fear these pictures burned into my head were troubling for me as a child.

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At the Kingdom Hall, we didn’t have a separate Bible school for kids where we could color Jesus’ face and have snacks or run around. Our church was a stern place where two-year-old babies would be smacked for not sitting still. I would be smacked for not sitting still and having my Bible open. We sat dutifully next to our parents. (Some justify this harsh parenting style at a church by believing this is the why their children didn’t get ADHD and learned to read “early” because we were always read to in church.)

No study of child psychology or development did this church encourage – it was a place to glorify Jehovah (God’s name according to JW). Yes, we had other children friends. Yes, we could get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, but the Kingdom Hall was not a child-friendly place.

I remember always standing next to my dad as he would bring microphones around for the question and answer part of the meeting. I would help him roll up the mic cords and put everything back in its place, wondering why an able-bodied female couldn’t help.

I remember being worried about being critiqued my dress wouldn’t be the right length or my bra straps would show.

I remember wondering why women couldn’t stand up in front of the crowd to give a sermon. I had interesting things to say. Mrs. Gayle had interesting things to say. She always raised her hand before most men during those audience participation parts, giving the most eloquent and cogent answers a young girl heard.

At 13, I remember thinking where are the women “thinkers” in the Bible? Where are my examples of women in power? What is the feminine form of Jesus? In church, I was surrounded by both man and woman, husband and wife, but there was no such arrangement in the authorities I was shown to worship. The woman on a throne was nowhere to be found. I felt unseen in the church. (I know – Ruth, the Good Samaritan, Mary, Esther, etc – but none of them had the same level of contemplation Jesus had.)

Once I found the words of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, I finally understood what I was feeling:

First I noted that the lack of a divine feminine images supported an imbalance in our consciousness that diminished our wholeness as persons. The feminine goes underground in our psyches just as it does in our God. When this happens we exclude, overlook, and undervalue the feminine within ourselves and in the world around us. (138)

I remember counting the number of times the word “wrath” was used in Revelations during a boring sermon.

I remember how contradictory it was to me as a child I was forced to go knock on stranger’s doors to tell them about the end of the world coming, but any other time, it would be dangerous to talk to strangers.

There were times I would laugh when I would get a spanking. I would laugh when they would tell me it was because they cared for me, that Jehovah is good, and this is what he asks of parents.

But as a child, perhaps being of a simpler mind, it was if a highlighter singled out all the acts of violence I heard, read, and told were just. The words floated off the page like little SOS messages, sending me signs to question what they really meant. Words like “wicked,” “slaughter, “kill,” “destroy,” “plague,” “suffer- even children” scrambled around my head as a child. We were not allowed to join the military, but we could certainly enjoy a war in the scriptures.

I remember during a specific loud thunderstorm, running into my closet, begging God to take my whole family at once. How could I ensure no one would be left behind? How could I, a ten-year-old girl, guarantee my parents wouldn’t get murdered by God during Armageddon?

The only assurance offered were rules which described how to be a Godly servant. But I couldn’t remember all the dictates, let alone understand what some of the lessons meant. I couldn’t decode the metaphors. Would I be saved even though I couldn’t make sense of all of this?

Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined offers a theory regarding the cognitive dissonance Christians may experience when dealing with the violence in the Bible:

If you think that by reviewing the literal content of the Hebrew Bible I am trying to impugn the billions of people who revere it today, then you are missing the point. The overwhelming majority of observant Jews and Christians are, needless to say, thoroughly decent people who do not sanction genocide, rape, slavery, or stoning people for frivolous infractions. Their reverence for the Bible is purely talismanic. In recent millennia and centuries the Bible has been spin-doctored, allegorized, superseded by less violent texts (the Talmud among Jews and the New Testament among Christians), or discreetly ignored. And that is the point. Sensibilities toward violence have changed so much that religious people today compartmentalize their attitude to the Bible. They pay it lip service as a symbol of morality, while getting their actual morality from more modern principles. (11, Kindle Ed.)

Once again, the point of this discussion is not to accuse Christians of endorsing torture and persecution. Of course most devout Christians today are thoroughly tolerant and humane people. Even those who thunder from televised pulpits do not call for burning heretics alive or hoisting Jews on the strappado. The question is why they don’t, given that their beliefs imply that it would serve the greater good. The answer is that people in the West today compartmentalize their religious ideology. When they affirm their faith in houses of worship, they profess beliefs that have barely changed in two thousand years. But when it comes to their actions, they respect modern norms of nonviolence and toleration, a benevolent hypocrisy for which we should all be grateful. (17, Kindle Ed.)

I can’t divide the Bible into wrathful God and peaceful God. For one, I wouldn’t know where to place the line. I can’t deny what I’ve read in the Bible, as a child and now as an adult. If Bible stories were made into movies, I would not let Larsen watch any of them. I wouldn’t fast forward through the violent scenes just to get to the good parts. I wouldn’t push play at all.

Pinker continues:

The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery. People enslave, rape, and murder members of their immediate families. Warlords slaughter civilians indiscriminately, including the children. Women are bought, sold, and plundered like sex toys. And Yahweh tortures and massacres people by the hundreds of thousands for trivial disobedience or for no reason at all. These atrocities are neither isolated nor obscure. They implicate all the major characters of the Old Testament, the ones that Sunday-school children draw with crayons. And they fall into a continuous plotline that stretches for millennia, from Adam and Eve through Noah, the patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and beyond. According to the biblical scholar Raymund Schwager, the Hebrew Bible “contains over six hundred passages that explicitly talk about nations, kings, or individuals attacking, destroying, and killing others. . . . Aside from the approximately one thousand verses in which Yahweh himself appears as the direct executioner of violent punishments, and the many texts in which the Lord delivers the criminal to the punisher’s sword, in over one hundred other passages Yahweh expressly gives the command to kill people.” Matthew White, a self-described atrocitologist who keeps a database with the estimated death tolls of history’s major wars, massacres, and genocides, counts about 1.2 million deaths from mass killing that are specifically enumerated in the Bible. (He excludes the half million casualties in the war between Judah and Israel described in 2 Chronicles 13 because he considers the body count historically implausible.) The victims of the Noachian flood would add another 20 million or so to the total. (10, Kindle Ed.)

The genocide, rape, slaughter, torture – the extreme violence and inequities I see in many religions still scares me. I cannot unsee it or unhighlight it.

I try to assuage myself with more research, heartfelt supplication, dialogue with others, and constant reassessing, but it remains a crisis of my conscience. It motivates me to offer something different to my children.

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For further reading: The Holy Bible, Appropriated: An Illustrated Scripture by Broomberg and Chanarin – “Violence, calamity and the absurdity of war are recorded extensively within The Archive of Modern Conflict, the largest photographic collection of its kind in the world. For their most recent work, Holy Bible, artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin mined this archive with philosopher Adi Ophir’s central tenet in mind: that God reveals himself predominantly through catastrophe and that power structures within the Bible correlate with those within modern systems of governance.”  (http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/68-holy-bible.html)

The stress of striving for perfection plus the fear about family members not surviving caused me much harm. I didn’t get much time to be a kid.

I still mourn that little girl who had to dwell in such things. 

The knots surrounding my issues with God are tightly wound and will take time to unravel. I will not take responsibility for the issues that were handed to me unfairly as a child.

Remembering, searching through it, writing it – this is my personal experience with religion. I won’t have it reduced to a tagline from the Bible. I won’t be spiritually gaslit by others “helping me to understand” or “solving the problem” of my lived experience by offering words such as:

  • This isn’t really what happened.
  • You were just a child – you can’t possibly remember this correctly.
  • You were such a sensitive child.
  • You were just exposed to the wrong religion.
  • God is just ruler.
  • You are only writing about half of God’s personality – what about his lamb-like qualities? his compassion?
  • You are only reading the Old Testament.
  • This struggle is to give you humility so you can get closer to God.
  • Your quest for a feminine face of God is pure hubris.
  • You are selfish to want for more than God has given you.
  • You are just interpreting the Scriptures wrong.
  • Satan is in you.
  • Your heart is deceitful and not to be trusted.
  • Do you even read the Bible?
  • You were in a cult devised by Satan to deter you from God.
  • You didn’t pray sincerely enough.
  • You don’t have faith.
  • Your education has brainwashed you away from God.
  • Satan will promise you good things in order to lure you away from God.
  • Why does this matter? Just be a mother like God wants you to.
  • God has a plan. This happened to you for a reason.

My experience is not a question offered to be answered by proselytizing.

Religion can sometimes hurt us, silence us, shrink us instead of heal us.

I am a seeker. I am a mother. I will go ahead to clear the way. I will not have my children’s curiosity about the mysteries in life be overshadowed by inappropriate fear nor will their pursuit of an examined life be diminished by manipulation, mislabeling their searching as a lack of faith.

But I do know I will continually rewrite my religion “story” with “different images, different plots, and different tones” as my spiritual self deepens.

So it is in opening ourselves to mystery. If we stay knotted into our smallest measure of capacity, of course we cannot “go to the lengths of God.” But if we dare to open ourselves, we unfold like the winged creature emerging from a chrysalis…we unfold into love.

~ Pat Schneider, How the Light Gets In

 

 

 

Let Them Rage: Feel Instead of Fix

My dog is dead, I’ve moved, and my baby just started preschool. I’m simply not sane right now, and I don’t mind admitting it.

In all of this, I’ve somehow managed to quit coffee. I don’t know how. Something about it – that murky brown substance, that burning my throat on the way down feeling – was too much for me, like a reflection of the chaos around me. Willfully ingesting it just felt wrong.

I’ve grieved over my Slayer. I’ve packed all my belongings only to have them sit in storage till almost October. I’ve kissed my toddler (or is it big boy now?) goodbye on his first day of school. And none of these things brought the emotions I expected.

And the most annoying thing of it all is other people trying to FIX me.

I loved the messages, cards, and time people offered me through all this. And some people got it so right- they just said they are here for me if I just needed a space to cry or vent or rage.

These are huge – HUGE- transitions in one’s life. I can’t just be happy/settled/focusing on the all the good stuff to stop me from feeling the bad in a quick instant.

It’s funny how until you actually experience it yourself, you don’t get how frustrating it can be to have someone tell you how you should feel or how you should do this or that in order to ease your suffering (or theirs because they have to be around you while you suffer), even if the words are offered with the best of heart.

How many times do we do this with our children?

Lars hasn’t been himself throughout these changes. But I don’t expect him to. This shit is hard. This shit is real. We’ve had more physical tantrums than I’ve ever witnessed, and you know what – I’m grateful. It has grounded me.

Why the hell did I think just because I’m the adult, I could handle all this stuff gracefully?

I’ve tried to fix him through a lot of this.

“Oh, you don’t want to start school? Ok, well I will have a big surprise waiting for you in the car when I pick you up.”

“All your toys are in boxes. I know. I’m sorry. But there are bigger toy stores in Colorado!”

I’ve given him lollipops, new toys, lots and lots of new adventures to zoos and parks.  But it hasn’t “fixed” him.

It’s a distraction from the real work. A parent is not only a person who feels grief intimately but also someone who must watch their child experience it too, which means feel it all over again.

Kids, parents – people in general – need open arms. Space. A Witness. Someone to hold us through experiencing pain. Someone to echo back to us what we said we are feeling. Someone to give words to our emotions and let them float around the room, watching in awe with us.

When we numb the painful emotions,

we also numb the positive emotions.

~Brene Brown

So instead of numbing myself with wine, with shopping, with trying to escape the pain of all these transitions, I kept repeating to myself “It’s ok. It’s ok to feel grief. It won’t swallow you whole. Just feel it. Don’t fight it.” I’ve screamed into my pillow, I’ve fought with Mike over nothing, anything to get the feelings out.  I had to emotionally coach myself first so I could then work with Lars.

I’ve had to hold him in those rowdy moments or just sit next to him. I’ve had to tell him I am here to understand what he is feeling, that it is safe to let it all out. That no matter where we live or who we’ve lost or what new challenge lies ahead, we are here, all of us together – Mommy and Daddy and the Larzy.

I let him rage. I labeled his feelings all the time – words like confused, sad, angry, disappointed, frustrated, scared, grieving. I let him FEEL instead of FIX. So satisfying, let me tell you.

I still have lots and lots to get out and to sort out. And Lars does too. (Who knew I would feel grief as I walked my child to his first classroom? I was so excited for him as he walked into the playground and met his teacher, but in that moment, just a shimmer of my smiling, chubby-legged, blondie of a baby boy was there. He didn’t see my tears luckily. At that moment, my little heart was bombarded with sadness that I didn’t quite understand at that time… I wonder what he was feeling then.)

Our emotions are never so black-and-white. We never just feel one at a time. They are always confounded and muddled. How we make our way through them just may determine our fate.

One of the most ironically counterintuitive twists of parenting is this:

the more we welcome our children’s displeasure,

the happier everyone in our household will be.

~ Janet Lansbury

Mothers Are Like Astronauts

 

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We just finished The Martian with Matt Damon. I didn’t want to see it (the last sci-fi to excite me was Dune), but it was Mike’s movie choice tonight. I feel like I should have watched the Sandra Bullock space movie Gravity before this one to support my girls. But back to Matt, I loved the film. It reaffirmed my hope in humanity, and incidentally, Matt Damon’s character says prophetic words…words that immediately caught my attention as a mother:

“You just keep solving one problem and then the next and then the next. Eventually, if you get to solve enough problems, you can come home.”

THIS.IS.SO.TRUE.

As mothers, our mind is the first to go. We have so many thoughts, so many competing voices in our head how to parent. Add our culture, our own parents, the wider media – and our minds are mush. So many voices. So many problems.

First, it’s food- Am I making enough milk? Is it ok if I feed him formula? When should I start him on real food?

Then, maybe it’s sleep – Should I put him in his crib or in bed next to me? Why isn’t the kid sleeping? Did he eat enough to fall asleep?

Maybe then it’s social skills- Am I doing enough to stimulate his growth? Does he need to be around other kids more so he learns to share? Why does he love the word “MINE” right now?

Or maybe it’s tv- How much is too much? What will enrich my child? What is too violent for my child at his age? Did he just figure out my Ipad code?

We parents might recognize this inner chatter. It’s incessant.

There are a million tiny little decisions that have to be made to guide our overall beliefs about parenting, and then here’s the rub- we have to follow through with our decisions.

Parenting is hard freaking work.

The overwhelm alone can do us in. It can zap our energy and cause us to waiver when we need to be strong.

Matt nails it in the film – Pick one thing to focus on, work at it, and move on to the next.

Mothers – YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL.

I don’t say this pessimistically or to break your stride. I say this as a realist.

You will drown in all that external chatter. You will flood your system with all the possible negative outcomes in all your mental run throughs from your parenting decisions.

So on this Mother’s day – it’s time we see how very hard we work, how very hard we devote our time, how very hard we love, and how very hard it is to be a mother.

Yes, I am comparing mothers (and parenting in general) to being astronauts.

I encourage you to – like Matt does in the film – to “science the shit out of this” first. Research what other people have already experienced in this motherhood thing. Read books on the neuroscience of our children’s developing brains, their developing skills. Talk to your friends, parents, people of your community.

And then stop there. Quiet those voices and seek your own intuition. Pretend you are alone in space with nothing but silence around you, and then concentrate on what’s important to you.

When Matt’s left with limited options to find a way to propel himself to the passing Hermes ship, when he’s so close – or when you’ve finally found a way to get the kid to eat some veggies (even if they are coated in a greasy batter) – you listen to your own voice. You know your son loves smoothies, so you add some spinach and kale to those. Your child gets both. You forget about the naysayers. You silence those telling you good mothers only allow organic food perfectly prepared in cute recycled separated trays. (I know- I’ve bought them all, thinking it would help Lars eat!)

Matt decides to fly like “Iron Man” by puncturing his astronaut suit so he would jet faster to make his final approach toward the Hermes. He did what he needed to do based on his own understanding of his circumstance, his abilities, and science, even though people thought it was a dumb idea. But it worked.

So this Mother’s Day I wish you the best.

But most of all, I wish you to simplify.

Don’t try to fix all the “problems” of parenting all at once.

I know it feels like you are pulling 9gs out there. You feel dizzy, overwhelmed. You feel pressure beyond what you have ever known since having that baby. You feel alone.

But take it one day at a time. Investigate, experiment, listen. Soon, you’ll be home.

 

 

Be Specific

I cringe every time I overhear the words “Be careful!” at the park or grocery store. It seems we parents love this phrase. It makes us feel like we are doing our job – helping and protecting our kids.

But there’s another phrase I used to say all the time in my English class that applies to parenting much better – “Be specific.”  And it’s not advice for the kids- it’s for us, the parents.

I would comment on papers like: “Give me three reasons why you feel that way about that character,” or “List two reasons from the book that makes you think that.”  You probably remember a writing teacher doing the same to you. Details matter.

When Lars is climbing what we call the caterpillar bars, I avoid, “Be careful.” It distracts him. Instead, I say, “Look at your feet.” It reminds him to focus where his focus should be – where he is going to step next.

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When I want Lars to be good in stores, I say, “Please keep your hands in your pockets,” not “Be good in here.” What does “good” in this context mean to you as the parent? What behaviors do you expect from your child as you cruise the aisles?

Being specific helps our children so much more than the generic “Be careful” phrase. They get precise instructions that help to concentrate their behavior.

Sometimes that “Be careful” phrase also inhibits natural curiosity, so we put on kids on edge, needlessly confusing them instead of following their interests. It’s distracting and unclear.

I’ve been working on clarifying my expectations and words more when talking with Larsen. It’s amazing what a little tweak can do as we keep climbing.

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The Superhero Power of Presence

Today Lars and I rode bikes, we played superheroes at the park, we ate Chick-fil-A and emptied out his backpack on the carpet by the front door. He jumped on the mini-trampoline and counted to nine: “1,2,3,4,5,8,7,9.” We played “Jet Larsen.” I checked his wings for damage and fed him “jet fuel.”

In the moments between, I was able to make a phone call, a birthday wish list, make breakfast and dinner. I was able to Face-time my mother, talk about a wedding with Jules at the park. I was able to wash dishes, take a shower, check email. I even got in a 35 minute run on the treadmill today.

Life is good at age 3 – both for Larsen and me. We’ve reached a good balance.

I think stay-at-home-parents struggle to find the right measure between presence and pleasure (or just plain work sometimes!) because of our physical proximity. I often wonder if it appears to Lars I am here just to fulfill his needs because he can find me easily.

Those nubby little fingers sneaking under the bathroom door seem to illustrate this. “No breaks on my time, Mom!” I imagine him thinking.

While I like to play superheroes with my son, it doesn’t mean I am one. I am human. I can’t sustain this magical quality of presence all the time. Today was a good day.

The older Lars gets, the less I am needed, so it seems age has also played a part here too.

I love being his mom. I love being the one he asks to play with. I love the snuggles, the smiles, the gift of connection with him. One day he’ll go off to college and these glorious days will be forever gone.

If I truly give him my presence – even when I’m so over playing jets – it fills him up, and I get more free time. He gets what he needs from me and is then ready to play independently.  It works for us.

And there are times where I tell him things like, “First I will finish my phone conversation, then I will play outside with you,” or “First I will finish my writing, then I will play soccer with you. My writing time is important to me.”

This is a huge adjustment for him. Developmentally, he can understand mom is a person who needs free time just like he does, but his impulse control is still maturing. The language I use is important too, for it acts as the bridge to understand these major concepts of time and relationships. This “First and Then” terminology keeps me on track and is something he can mentally follow.

Finding balance is a huge determinator of one’s happiness as a parent. I’m sure of that.

So, no I don’t always get to read my book or put on make-up before every outing. But I get to hold this little boy’s hand when we play at the park. I get to have someone turn to me and say,  “Mom, this is so cool that we get to ride bikes together!” I get someone who misses me when I’m gone for half an hour.

Rather than giving something up to find more equilibrium – like telling myself  “I’ll get to read tonight when he’s asleep” or “Dad will be home soon, and I can write then” –  just simple and focused giving has brought me balance. When I really play jets with Lars and my mind isn’t on my to-do list or the new blog I want to write, when I truly give my attention, our day seems to flow better.

We actually are superheroes. That’s how they see us. It’s these uncomplicated, real, and consistent times that illustrate it to our kids and remind us of our power.

(But don’t think this supermom isn’t excited for preschool to start this fall!)

Praising Lars

I have taught my son a new lesson. It was perfect – it only took me three years. I’ve taught him to undermine his own feelings and seek perfection. I’ve taught him to miss the good and go straight to evaluation mode.

One day I asked him if he would like to explain what happened at the park earlier with the ducks to his dad. He told the detailed story about how the ducks actually opened up his chicken nugget box and gobbled them down. Then he turned to me and said, “Right, mom?” as if I needed to agree to prove the story real.

My heart broke. He is three. It was a wonderful, laughable, sweet moment at the park with his mom and some ducks. Instead of reliving the joy and humor of the experience, I saw him worried about getting the story perfect.

And that’s when it hit me – whatever language I was using as feedback for him, he was sending right back to me.

I didn’t realize how many times I praise with the words “Perfect” or “Yes, that’s right!”

I believe part of being a parent is to grow alongside my child. And this proves it yet again.

I hate perfectionism because I fight with it all day long. But clearly something in my psyche isn’t lining up with my reality if I keep using the term, if I keep writing it in bold letters 100% with golden stars across each page of Larsen’s answers.

And there it is again – this idea of how language creates reality. The reality I am giving to Lars is to seek perfection and there’s only one right answer. But intellectually I know that’s just not true about the world.

I am now realizing how much I cheerlead and coax – “You got this. You can do it. Just try.”

We want to encourage our children, we want to help them succeed. But what if there was another way?

What if we just let go and simply report what we see – “You are trying very hard at riding your new bike. It’s really difficult at first.” What if we just offer this with a genuine smile?

I was surprised when I started to do this. It felt better with my parenting soul. I wasn’t pushing.  I wasn’t overzealous in praise.

I was just there to support him in his own way of processing and obtaining results that felt real and right with him. It was a beautiful moment.

When Lars paints a picture, I observe and comment about something real in the picture like, “You used a lot of blue today!” I’ve stopped always saying things like, “You put the eyes in the perfect spot on that face.”

This morning, he put his shirt on all by himself! It was backward and inside out. But he was determined to do it. I was so excited for him, I almost went back to cheerleader mode.

I took a pause and said, “You put your shirt on all by yourself!” That was it. He felt my encouragement without feeling I had an agenda that he had to do it a certain way to please me or get it right. I was beaming and so was he.

Eventually, he will start looking in the mirror to see something is different about the shirt – that the picture isn’t on the front or the tag is by his neck. He will notice, process it, and make the progress he needs to feel comfortable in his shirt. Perhaps, if I catch him before his tries to put it on, I could comment that the tag goes on the back or lay out the shirt with the picture on face down so he can slide it on. I can help by designing the environment toward the end goal a little better.

But for now, I want him to feel happy with his progress. I want to celebrate and feel joyful in the now with him in his cute little toddler shirt backward. He did it himself! I want to hold that memory close to my heart.

I struggle with this encouragement versus praise parenting skill. I don’t want him to turn into a praise junkie or a perfectionist like me.  I’ve noticed a shift in myself when I use this new skill. It is helping me reduce my perfectionism. It has opened space for possibilities to feel joy instead of worrying about things out of place or not done good enough, and I’m grateful for my little buddha boy once again.

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You can head over to Picklebums to download this free poster like I did.

It’s on the fridge so I can keep learning new things to say instead of “Good job!”

encouragement

 

The Parent of Two

The doctor was a short, round Asian man, who never spoke directly to me, only to my mother. He would incessantly clear his throat. His eyes looked everywhere but my face. He began with taking my temperature, then asking me to breathe in and out while he listened to my heart.

I was ten. My mother was so excited we finally had some “good health insurance,” so she took me to a new doctor for a checkup.

While I knew it was normal check-up procedure to press on all areas of a child’s abdomen during the exam, as a child, I had no clue this doctor, this older man, was going to touch me like that. I was extremely uncomfortable. He seemed extremely uncomfortable.

As I looked to my mother to for answers, the exposure I felt at that moment was amplified when he looked at her and told her, “She needs to stay away from the sweets.”

He had no idea my parents were going through a divorce, that my parents were fighting each other for full custody, that we moved several times that year, that food had become my distraction and my security, that I couldn’t make sense of the world at age ten.

I saw my mother politely smile and nod when the doctor told her.

She didn’t reprimand him. She didn’t disagree with him. She didn’t offer prescriptive options to help me lose weight as small talk to alleviate the pressure in the room.

Only a smile and nod.

I was humiliated and disappointed – both by my mother’s lack of words and by the doctor’s inability to see me as a person.

The mom I loved, the one who would pay attention to us, cuddle us, take us on the back of her bike to the library, let us house any loner cat in the neighborhood, made us extra-special egg sandwiches with drippy mayo – that mom went missing for awhile. That mom didn’t show up in the doctor’s office.

Her marriage of seventeen years was falling apart. She had two teenagers and almost a tween to be concerned with. Her identity had been completely shattered. How could she even worry about parenting when she didn’t know what she would do next, how all the broken pieces would finally fall?

But I admire her answer to the wake-up call from the universe. She became determined never to let her children receive less than adequate care, like what she experienced in her childhood. This was her parenting lens I remember from those days.

Her father hated doctors. He hated dentists. Thought they were all crooks. When my mother developed scoliosis as a child, Grandpa didn’t take her to specialists or spend any more money than required to give her the basic care for her condition.

Maybe that’s why she was blissfully happy that day she took me to the doctor’s office while her world was crumbling down around her. She was nurturing her inner child, but this may have blinded her to the uneasiness I was experiencing on that exam table.

This doctor visit from my childhood has stayed with me. I find it a remarkable coincidence that those little blurs of memory provide such insight today.

But it isn’t the whole story.

I sometimes wonder if lately, as my mother was during the divorce, I am too distracted with rebuilding my identity beyond “just a mother” (where does that pressure come from?), and I haven’t given my son what he needs.

I know part of taking good care of a child is respecting them – be it with our actions or our words.

Sometimes when I’m not paying attention and the people-pleaser guilt is thick because we’ve had such a fun time with family or close friends, they tell Lars to give them a hug as they leave. I don’t stop them as they scoop him up even though he screams “NO!” They hold him down, slathering him with kisses, their arms wrapped around him like a straight jacket.

He looks up to me confused and upset: “Mama, I thought my ‘No’ means ‘No?’ ”

I have been inconsistent. I used to make it a priority to remind him and our family and friends about respecting his body and his words, but I’ve been lazy.

I cringe when I realize now how I’ve disrespected his boundaries during these times. And that doctor office experience from my childhood chastises me too. I know what it feels like to have no voice.

My son needs me to explain what is going to happen in unfamiliar situations – like the doctor’s office. I need to respect his boundaries, especially when that involves affection he doesn’t want to give. I want to be his advocate even if I am oblivious to his needs because my wounded child is being healed at that moment.

It’s a significant quest to observe and learn from the past. It is even more momentous when you realize there’s never just one story.

Parents are just people who do the best they can with the knowledge they own at that moment. The story changes from day-to-day as my perspective changes. Complications I couldn’t see as a someone’s daughter alter the view I now have as a mother. My son will see things singularly until his perspective changes.

These threads of my childhood, my mother’s childhood, and now my son’s childhood, weave together a unique patchwork of conjecture, memory, and awareness that I offer myself today. That’s what my mother’s determination taught me – to learn from the past and work hard to provide what we yearned for as children.

Underneath it all, I’ve come to understand I am sometimes still that voiceless child in the doctor’s office, looking for ways to be respected and noticed, just as my mother was the helpless child who needed more care from her father that day she took me to the doctor.

It seems I parent two children even if I’ve only birthed one – my baby who walks around outside of me and the hurt child I carry inside.

The hard part is discerning between and balancing the two, being the parent my child needs while reconciling the lingering wounds of my childhood self.

“Are You Okay?” Vs “You’re Okay!”

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As we climb the stairs, Lars trips on the top one. My heart stops still. My mouth starts to open, but then I pause and take a deep breath.

I’m standing behind him, and even after a couple of years, it is still work for me not to say, “Oh no! Ouch!” in these moments.

But since I’ve been consciously trying to change my reaction, he bounces up and says, “I’m fine, Mom!” all on his own.

As soon as he started tumbling and walking, I’ve used the question “Are you okay?” when he gets hurt. This is much different than telling him, “You’re okay. You’re okay.”

Both of these phrases try to accomplish the same thing: resiliency.

But in asking him what his body is feeling, the emphasis is on assessing and responding appropriately to his own feelings instead of being informed of his feelings or looking to me and my reaction to figure out if he should be hurt.

And yes, there was a time where he was “working” with this idea. Sometimes I thought he could be exaggerating his response to my “Are you okay?” – but I knew that is his way of checking if I was consistent in my reaction.

Asking him if he’s okay has paid off.  He immediately gets up and judges for himself if he’s hurt. And most of the time he keeps going! This is the definition of resiliency for me.

Using “Are you okay” has also instilled empathy. If I get hurt, Larsen’s first reaction is to ask if I am okay.  It’s sweet to hear.

This has been an example of what I call counterintuitive parenting.  Contrary to my first thought of telling him “You’re tough” or “You’re okay, You’re okay” after a fall so he would hear it and adopt it as his inner response, I made the small shift to asking instead of informing, and it has made a huge difference.