I was my mom’s best birthday present ever. She told me this every October 30th before I turned 13.
Even when we argued, which we were wont to do after I turned 13, she made it clear I was still a great birthday present–one of the very best, in fact. Her eyes gleamed whenever she said this, as if she was barely repressing a wink.
I loved sharing a birthday with her straight through 2009. That year, I faced the likelihood that we would never again celebrate another birthday together.
That likelihood became truth when my mom died on March 4, 2010.
I spent my first birthday without Mom in the company of my dear friend Dana, who hugged me when I cried at the improbable, totally unexpected joy of seeing one of my mom’s favorite singers live.
I tried to find the silver lining on our birthday both of the following years, but it was an effort. There were so many I gifts I wanted to go back in time and give her:
More tender embraces
Less judgment from acquaintances and passersby, who were often openly hostile to her in front of her children
More words of support
More resources to deal with incessant strife
Less “Why did you take so long to leave?”
More “How strong you were to leave against the odds!”
Less illness, mental and physical
“What are you thankful for?” I asked my son a few weeks back, personally thankful no grammar Nazis were around to correct my intentionally incorrect grammar.
“It’s when something makes you happy, so much so that you want to say ‘thank you’ for it. I’m thankful for you and Daddy and snuggles.”
“Oh!” Li’l D replied, smiling. “I’m thankful for headsets.”
Picturing the listening station in his new classroom, I said, “Headsets are pretty awesome. Is there anything else?”
“Nope! Just headsets.”
Each night for the next week, his answer was the same. Finally, he added, “I’m thankful for my family.”
“Family” has turned up every night since.
In the few weeks since we started saying our evening thank yous together, his answers have been the same every evening.
Then, shortly after I took this picture Wednesday evening, he mixed things up. “I’m thankful for you!” he shouted with a cuddle attack. “And headsets.”
For one night, at least, I ranked above headsets. Every mama’s dream! Really, though, I can dig it. Headsets are rad.
So, too, is gratitude, and my son’s delight at small wonders.
It’s below the lines.
It’s above the lines.
It’s taking up half the page!
It’s tilted the wrong way.
You started in the wrong place.
I didn’t realize it a month and a half ago, but there are a lot of ways to write a number not exactly right on lined paper. It took me a month to realize I’d probably found them all, and shared each of them—multiple times—with my newly four-year-old son.
I didn’t realize I was doing it wrong until I noticed the way he’d mark a letter down, then await my response with trepidation. He was waiting for me to tell him he’d done it wrong.
It hit me: I’d been viewing his homework with way too small an angle.
When I first learned he’d have homework, I contemplated telling the school exactly what I thought about the concept of homework for four-year-olds.
For Pete’s sake, they have the rest of their lives to be taskmastered! Let them have fun now!
I decided I’d play along because I wanted my son to be OK with work from an early age. I wanted him to start small and feel comfortable growing into the bigger, scarier stuff down the road.
Somehow, over the course of a few weeks, I lost that wide angle view. Wanting my son to get a feel for work quickly morphed into my expecting perfection from each letter he wrote.
I’m so thankful to have seen the what-did-I-do-wrong-this-time? look on his face when I did. Seeing that launched me back toward the right path, or the one where I want him to be comfortable with the feeling of working, and potentially even help him have fun doing so.
My best work has never been done with someone breathing down my neck, breaking down every single thing I could be doing better. My best work has always come from times where I was given space to determine for myself what was and wasn’t working, with limited, patient guidance.
That trepidatious look on my son’s face told me he’s going to be a lot like his mama. I need to give him safe space to learn, and understand that the long term results will be much sweeter for it.
The last couple of weeks, my criteria has been a lot laxer than it was in the month of September.
Does it more or less look like the letter or number we’re working on? Yeah? Great!
The actual results this way are about what they were before, but we have a lot more fun, and I can see his confidence growing without every single pencil stroke being subject to criticism.
It was terrible to realize my son dreaded any of our time together. In fact, I beat myself up over it for several days.
But then I saw, same as I did with my son’s homework, that there’s more to my parenting than any single aspect of it.
If I remember to take a little wider view, I see there is a whole lot of joy I’m making along with my mistakes.
And it’s all right.
I am “Mommy.”
I love being called “Mommy” . . . by my four-year-old son.
But let’s be clear here: If you are able to read these words in October 2013, you are (a) not my son, and (b) have no business calling me “Mommy.” This is true if you walk up to me at the grocery store, pass me on the sidewalk, catch me playing at the park or stumble across my blog and see I’ve written a post about parenting.
I’ve written posts about many topics, from abuse and safety, to bullying and mental illness, cancer and death. When I write about these things, no one’s called me a “depression blogger” or “abuse blogger” or “scary subject blogger,” though sometimes I think of myself in the latter light and decide—usually without follow-through!—to write more posts about boobs, bunnies and/or belching. I’d wager it doesn’t feel right to take complex subjects and boil their addressers down into diminute two-word descriptions.
Mommyhood, on the other hand, is apparently simple and cutesy, full of sweet things, afternoons on swingsets, and utter lack of exposure to life’s real trials and tribulations. Someone on this earth calls you “Mommy,” and you write about that someone, ergo you are MOMMY BLOGGER! Unlike weighty matters such as bullying or fear, there’s nothing complex about it.
What a bunch of bull.
I grew up in a single-mother household of five. I grew up seeing that motherhood was terrifying business. It was fending for four little ones against a callous world full of people who said things like, “You didn’t want to have to fend for four kids? Maybe you shouldn’t have had four kids.” It was rocking those kids when they were sick, even soaked in their vomit, standing up to teachers and bullies and even bullying pastors because the biggest thing in the world was not what other people thought of you, but that your kids made it out of childhood safe and strong. It was fretting how to make ends meet if child support didn’t come in, and fretting about decent child care if a job came in that would begin to pay for such child care. It was badly bruised legs from dropped cans from night shifts at the cannery, battered body from spousal visits, demolished ego. It was bearing tons of criticism compared to each ounce of guidance and support. It was a world of pain and responsibility for a scant amount of glory.
Is it any wonder I didn’t want to be a mom? When you are a mother, the weight of entire lives comes to rest upon your shoulders.
That’s mothering, not mommying. “Mothering” is simultaneously fierce and beautiful, gentle and brave.
“Mommying” sounds like something women do because they maybe don’t have anything better to do with their lives and their skill sets only allow them to chase after three-year-olds while other adults hold down real jobs. Read more…
I shuddered at the thought of marriage. My honey embraced it.
When I agreed to marry him, I shuddered at the thought of a proper wedding. Nevertheless, since he’d dreamed of his wedding for years, it seemed unfair to accord my newly developed desire to elope the same weight as his desire for a more traditional wedding.
Setting out to look for dresses, I shuddered at the prospect of anything too girly. Naturally enough in light of the progression of things, I ended up with frill. And a veil.