Hey, God – Let’s Make a Deal!

No parent is prepared to see his or her child like this:

Ambulance Fun!

Our daughter, Ava, is fine.

And I’m still terrified.

We recently went on a family bike ride at the Morton Arboretum in suburban Chicago.

Lovely grounds, perfect weather – we enjoyed the sumptuous views, laughing and complaining about pedaling up the many hills (unlike our usual route of flat, paved city streets).

Ava is a solid bike rider, but has no experience navigating hills. Specifically downhill.

As she picked up speed down a steep hill, I heard her yell, “This is sooo much fun!”  Next thing we knew she was sprawled on the ground, covered in blood, screaming in pain and shock. She had skidded and spun on the pavement and took the brunt of the fall on her knees, chin and elbows, in that order.

My heart pounded as I ran to her yelling “no, no, no” silently to myself. Screaming rang in my ears, hers aloud, mine inside my head.

Terrified and shaken, Ava was inconsolable.

Thankfully, a passing car offered to drive us to the park entrance. From there, the Arboretum’s security guards took excellent care of Ava while we waited for an ambulance.

After some time in a local Emergency Room, Ava walked away with several deep scrapes and vicious bruises, all of which are healing beautifully.

I walked away with a wake-up call. Being a parent is terrifying. (You guessed it, I will make our child’s accident all about me. It’s one of my most adorable traits. You’ll have to trust me on this.)

Standing by and watching my child get hurt, knowing there’s nothing I can do to prevent her pain, is excruciating. When did I sign up for this?

And why didn’t anyone warn me?

Amid all the baby gifts, prenatal classes and casseroles, I didn’t take time to think about my fitness for this side of parenting.

My kids are going to get hurt. I am not in control. I can bubble wrap them (anyone know a good supplier?) and still not protect them from the world’s whims, accidents and injuries.

I want to be in control. And I’m not. Gulp.

We’ve been fortunate to avoid any major injuries or accidents (knock on wood) during our nine years of child rearing.  Now one accident in and I’m ready to pack it up!

Before I became a parent, I anticipated the difficulty of watching my child in emotional pain, believing emotional pain (disappointment, frustration, hurt feelings, etc.) would be the hardest to handle. Yet while I hate when my children are disappointed or sad, seeing my oldest in physical pain hit me to my core.

I don’t love easily or necessarily well. Like many, I protected my heart from hurt, rejection and pain and hid behind a wall of ambivalence for much of my life. Now that my heart is open and full and walking around outside of my body in the form of our two daughters, I feel much too vulnerable. I want to be the only one to extract pain from them! Only me. The rest of life needs to stay away! Is that wrong?

Fine. I’ll focus on the positive for a moment, damn it. Ava is safe. She’s healthy, happy, confident, blah, blah. All is well.

I’m the one who needs valium support and faith to let go and trust the universe with my children.

So, here’s my prayer.

God/universe,

I get it! I get the lesson. I’m not in charge. You are. Amen.

So … now that I’ve taken that to heart, there’s no need for me to learn this lesson again. Right? There’s no reason my girls can’t be safe. Are we on the same page here, God? Good.

I’m too old for this kind of excitement.

I get it – kids fall. Falls teach them resilience and confidence. Accidents teach them faith and discernment. Injuries teach them about limits and life.

Got it! Thanks. We’re done here. You can move on to others who needs to learn this lesson. God speed to them.

As for us, if Ava can muster the strength and confidence to get back on her bike …

Back on the horse!

I can muster the faith to let her go.

Not on my watch!

Tomorrow. Or maybe next week.

Anger Looks Good On Me

I feel angry. Glorious, full-bodied rage.

Every inch of me pulsates with passion and electricity. I feel brazen, voluptuous and alive in my body.

I am real. Free. Powerful.

And then reality hits. I am terrified. Terrified of the raw power born of my anger; terrified of the intimacy of sharing all of me, my anger in particular.

For most of my life, I’ve told myself that my anger is too frightening to unleash in my relationships; that “all of me” is too much. I’ve feared I would bulldoze through life, ripping large trees from the ground as I raped and pillaged the earth; scared I’d take more than my fair share, more than my carefully- portioned slice of life.

Instead I trained others to see me as a nice girl, a kind refuge. I expressed few needs, no demands, only accommodations. While no one emotion defines me, the more I shoved anger down into various nether-regions of my being, the more I became a prisoner to it.

I was convinced I could not be compassionate, kind and loving as well as angry, powerful and strong.  One or the other. Choose, damnit.

And I did choose. For years I chose to stay safe and small and in control. I chose to rage at myself instead of owning my power in the world. Chose to believe my anger made me unlovable. Disposable. Unwanted.

Worse yet, I chose to believe my anger would hurt others; elicit derision and hatred while frightening animals and young children.

I am slowly, imperfectly learning to make different choices.

I have learned to express my anger with and at my husband. He has been a loving witness, and this intimacy often brings us closer. I express my anger with and at my daughters. While I’m not clear of the outcome, our relationships for now are strong and real. They are experiencing an authentic mom:  human, flawed and ever-changing.

While I’ve been willing to risk expressing anger with my husband and children, until recently I rarely brought my anger to any other relationships. Again, I’m slowly making different choices. Now that I’ve tasted this untapped power, my soul wants more.

I want to live, to soar, to feel worthy of my spot in this world without apologies. I want my daughters to learn from me how to walk through life unafraid of setting boundaries, being authentic, owning their power. And I’m terrified.

Terrified and willing; willing to try out new behaviors and gradually show the people in my life a more complete picture of me – drop by drop. Slowly the colors of me are coming into view.

I am living through the backlash of loved ones feeling hurt or angry with me. My relationships at times feel out of control, messy, unsettled.

My new choices don’t feel better yet. I trust they will. For you see, I am learning that there is no such thing as too much me.

I am linking up with Yeah Write for their Summer Writer’s Series

Fifty Shades of TSA?

I’m in NYC for a long-anticipated girls’ weekend with my dear friend, Outlaw Mama. This is the first time I’ve gone away for a fun weekend without my kids or husband since well, ever. (But my memory is truly horrible lately, so who knows, perhaps I jet off regularly and just don’t remember.)

This vacation is a big step for me in letting go of being “martyr mom.” My husband, a rabid Notre Dame football fan and avid golfer, takes weekend trips with his friends several times a year. I’m usually initially supportive – I want to want him to be happy and to enjoy the activities that bring him pleasure. I want  to be that wife. But mostly, I want to keep score. And make him pay. Ugh.

English: TSA insignia

English: TSA insignia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead of taking time to figure out what I want to do and plan my own getaways, it’s been easier (and apparently more fulfilling) to resent him and his ability to let go and play.

I’ve used all sorts of excuses to resist planning weekend excursions for myself:  we don’t have the money, my girls need me, I don’t know where to go, planning a trip is stressful, etc. All bullshit, but debilitating nonetheless.

My girls do need me, but Mike is exceedingly capable of lovingly meeting the demands, needs and wants of our two precocious children. And he can always refer to the detailed parenting manual I created for him!
I’m being facetious, yet it wasn’t that long ago that I wouldn’t leave Mike with the girls for a day without first barraging him with a complicated list of do’s & don’ts (e.g. do let them watch TV, don’t let them watch the commercials; do floss the girls’ teeth, don’t let them drink the Listerine; do take the girls to the park, don’t forget the sunscreen). I’m occasionally a bit of a pain in the ass bossy.
I’m grateful I’ve been more willing lately to let go of control and see/treat Mike as the capable, dependable, responsible (and really cute) dad he is. It’s better for him and certainly better for me (I’m in the Big Apple, baby!).
And today couldn’t have been better:  long, loving goodbye hugs from my two little girls (visions of movie nights and lots of pizza undoubtably dampening their distress over my leaving), an unexpected ride to the airport by my generous husband (perhaps he wanted to ensure I really got the hell out of town), a better-than-caffeine jolt from an encounter with a handsome TSA agent (more on that in a moment!) and a magical day of eating and wandering the streets of NYC with my charming, lovable girlfriend.
I hope to store away lots of happy memories this weekend to hold me until my next excursion and spur me to do this more often.  To that end …
… A special thank you to the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration for doing its part to ensure I have happy memories from this trip … since when did they start hiring hot, flirty TSA agents? I don’t have much experience (recent or otherwise) flirting with strangers and I don’t get out much, but I’m pretty sure the hunky TSA agent hit on me. You tell me:
When I handed him my ID and boarding pass, the TSA agent caught and held my eye and looked me up and down (pretty standard security check procedures, right?).  In addition to asking if I was headed to NYC for business or pleasure and whether I am Greek (I’m not, but I will consider converting), he escorted me through the security line, chatting all the way (did I have the whole terrorist look going on?). He lifted my bag on/off the conveyor belt, commented on my driver’s license photo, handed me my shoes with a smile and hung out with me while I put my shoes back on.
Was I hit on? Or is the airline industry taking advantage of Fifty Shades of Grey fever? Either way, keep up the great work TSA! Airport security has never been this exciting. Let’s hope that isn’t the highlight of my trip (though I have had a lovely lilt in my step ever since! Is that wrong?).
Here’s to a memorable weekend adventure for all of us!

Permission to Write Crap

This is a much-needed hug!

I just made an agreement with Ava (age 8):  we each will write four sentences on our individual projects tonight. Hers on her third grade homework assignment. Mine on this blog post.  Then we will call it a night.

You’ve just read my four sentences. Ava is still writing. I think I got the better end of this deal.

This agreement represents huge progress for me. Until recently (earlier this week), my go-to parenting tool has been to nag and pressure my daughter every night to get her homework done. In doing so I’ve created a monster – me. I’ve been told that my interactions with my daughter around “her” homework amount to my being “up her ass.” Apparently, being “up her ass” is not a formula for a good relationship with my daughter nor is it having the desired effect, creating a young person who takes responsibility for getting her homework done and enjoys the process.  Who knew?

For the record, I am not a procrastinator. I pride myself on being focused, diligent and somewhat militant in my ability to push myself to get things done. It’s the trait I hold onto with a death grip on those (far too often) days when I need to feel superior to my procrastination-prone husband. Arguably, pressuring myself works to get the bills paid on time and our household running somewhat smoothly. The problem is when it comes to doing the things that bring me joy (writing) and help me reach one of my goals (writing this parenting blog), I routinely find a slew of more necessary tasks to accomplish. Tonight for example. 

I had such high hopes for this evening. My plan was to sit down and pound out a kick-ass post for this blog. Unfortunately, I’d rather comb through my daughter Rhys’ weeks worth of hair tangles than write tonight. I feel wiggly. Wiggly translates to sitting down at my computer, writing the date, fixing the margins, searching for appetizer recipes on Pinterest, eating a cheese stick, clipping Rhys’ fingernails, writing and deleting one sentence before fixing the margins again.

I want to say f*** it for tonight. Instead, I start noticing Ava’s procrastination process. “Shit!” I think to myself, “She’s inherited the procrastination gene from my husband!” Did I mention I’m not a procrastinator?

As I was about to tell Ava to get to work, stop messing around and just get something/anything done (yes, I’ve worked hard over the years to hone this particularly encouraging coaching style), I realized she was following my lead, mirroring my discomfort and self-pressure. It was easier to see it in her tonight than in myself. Not to mention it’s much more satisfying to watch her spin her wheels and grow crabbier and crabbier than it is to focus on my own wheel spinning. I hate to fail. I know how to pressure myself and others. You could say I’m an expert at it.

Instead of pushing her tonight, I offered her a hug. We cuddled on the couch and talked about feeling wiggly and unfocused. I told Ava that I noticed she was struggling and it helped me notice I was struggling too. We decided some nights you just have to let go. But first we made our deal. Her only request:  I sit next to her while we wrote. We agreed whatever we wrote would be good enough for tonight; crappy writing encouraged.

Sentimental Journey

It’s clean-up day at our house. Because I said so.

We are blessed to have incredibly generous friends and relatives and with two young girls, our house is filled with an abundance of books, clothes, toys, games and the like. It’s also been designated a hazardous waste site, overrun with same toys, clothes, books, etc.

Clutter makes me crazy, and Mama needs some breathing space (and control) today. So … we’re movin’ stuff out. I’m anticipating power struggles with my girls of mammoth proportions!

Ava hates to get rid of anything (and her “anything” ranges from miniscule broken pieces of old crayons – “Moommm, we can melt them down and make new crayons” – to the scraps of paper she makes cutting out her myriad paper doll clothes). She’s a born recycler!

This morning when my husband emptied out the wastebasket in the girls’ playroom, Ava cried, “Stop it! Stop doing things without asking me first. I may have things in there that I want to keep!” Mike replied laughing, “Ava, why do you put things in your garbage can that you don’t want thrown away?” “I don’t,” she yelled, “Mom does! Mom cleans up and throws away stuff I want.”

Apparently, I have to get smarter about my stealth clean-up (e.g. use a different garbage can and get rid of the evidence). Or find a way to pass the blame to Mike or our babysitter.

Ava also seems to hold onto the emotional attachment to things for our family and is emotionally connected to every item she’s ever received. And every item my husband or I have ever received. (Yes, I fear she’s a hoarder in training. I’ll keep you posted.)

While I’m all about cleaning out and getting rid of excess “stuff,” Ava reacts strongly (read tears and wails) every time I fill a bag with clothing that Rhys has outgrown to give away to a charity or another family. “We can’t give away those old leggings,” she’ll wail, “I want my daughters to wear them!”

While I’m grateful she wants to make me a grandmother (a blessing I’ll be happy to welcome once we get the playroom cleaned up), we don’t have the space or the disposition to keep every item we’ve ever interacted with for her future brood.

To mitigate Ava’s separation pain and suffering, we’ve negotiated a compromise:  Ava gets to pick out one or two items for her future daughters’ layette and I photograph the rest of the clothing en masse before giving it away. Not exactly an efficient system, but a solid compromise.

Yes, I’ll admit to feeling my own twinges of sadness giving away the cute outfits both my daughters have danced, played and loved in. I may even have my own stash of favorites for my future grandchildren … Thank you, Ava, for helping me remember.

Prunes & Popsicles

Yes, that’s a photo of my daughter Rhys’ hand after spending an hour in the tub this afternoon. She was home sick from preschool for the second day in a row, and I needed a break. Some kids get to watch unlimited TV when home sick. Mine get unlimited tub time. 

Rhys goes to preschool three days a week and her missing 2/3 of school this week severely cut into my schedule.  As a certified control-freak, I don’t let go easily when my plans get mucked with two days in a row, not even when the reason is my precious daughter who is extra cuddly and adorable when sick, runny nose and all. (Note:  The adorableness of her pretending to give me a hug and instead wiping her nose on my shirt wore thin quickly.)

Yesterday, I rose to the occasion, willing to cancel my plans and happy to cuddle and read stories to my feverish little pumpkin as she threw her used tissues on the floor from her perch on the sofa. Today, not so much. 

After a long wait in her pediatrician’s congested waiting room and a negative strep throat swab, Rhys was feeling better and wanted to play. I, on the other hand, wanted to get something accomplished. Anything. I needed a fix. A “check something off my list” fix, accomplishment being my addiction of choice most days. Thus the tub. Oh, and the popsicles. All you can eat. Each one bought me a few precious minutes … I’m not tellin’ how many!

Hidden Agendas

My daughter, Ava (age 8), and I had a chance the other day to spend some uninterrupted time together. We dropped off Rhys (age 3) at a friend’s house and then went to the historic 57th Street Books near the University of Chicago. I was anticipating a delightful morning of book shopping, reading together and introducing Ava to some of my favorite childhood books. Ava’s love of reading mirrors my own, and I can lose myself in bookstores for hours.

What could be better than a date with my daughter to this venerable book store complete with a wonderful, sizeable children’s book section? As it turned out, just about anything would have been better. Especially when hidden agendas are involved …

I was determined to match up Ava with a book that would challenge her; something new for her to fall in love with (no pressure there!). We’d been on a Harry Potter kick together lately and she’d just finished reading Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone for the 13th time. No, I am not exaggerating. I was determined to get a different book in front of this kid.

Also, as long as I’m getting honest, we’d just visited the home of a kindergartener who was reading some of the same books that Ava (a third grader) loves to read. I decided then and there that Ava needed more challenging books. And I was just the person to get them for her – by force if necessary.

So there we were at the bookstore, Ava getting surly and agitated as I “lovingly” shoved books into her hands and begged her to just read a few pages. She wasn’t having any of it. She was happily reading The Lightning Thief, a wonderful book she’d already read at least three times. And … And. I still wasn’t ready to let go. Why wouldn’t she cooperate with my plan? If she’d just do what I want, I’d be so much happier!! Apparently, my control-freak tendencies do not engender loving mother-daughter interactions. Who knew?

When we left the bookstore, I was feeling angry and hurt. After I announced that I was feeling really angry and needed to take a walk, Ava wondered why. I told her I didn’t like her attitude (yes, I do feel shame repeating those words) to which Ava yelled, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” That’s when it hit me. “Of course you didn’t, Ava,” I said. “I feel angry because I had expectations of what our date would be like and that’s my problem not yours. I’m sorry for pushing all those books on you and not listening to you.”

It’s amazing what owning my own anger without justifying or blaming (even as a “re-do”) can do for the soul. And for my relationship with my daughter. After we hugged, we shared a snack at a nearby cafe and enjoyed each other’s company for the first time all morning.