As I wrote about in Life Patterns, our four year old has a new fascination with patterns. Her face routinely breaks into a smile as she spots a series of colors or shapes and gleefully shouts, “I see a pattern, Mom! A pattern!”
Yesterday during one of our afternoon dance breaks, both of us swaying to the “Grease” soundtrack, she said, “Mom, do you know our step, step, slide dance is a pattern? Step, step, slide.” (Better she focus on our dance pattern than the words to “Beauty School Dropout,” one of her favorite songs.)
As I danced with my daughter in my arms, awed by her wonder and joy, I mused on the patterns I pray she develops, ones that will sustain and enrich her life, like the patterns of believing she is beloved and of accepting herself flaws and all.
Step, step, slide.
I found myself wishing I could warn her future self to look out for patterns that will hurt her, like pleasing others instead of herself and attaching to people who don’t treat her with adoration and respect.
I considered making her a video of patterns good and bad. Or perhaps a vision board detailing my hopes for her. No pressure.
Step, step, slide.
I felt a momentary rush of fear, aware that lecturing her on life will be easier than witnessing and supporting her as she grows, develops her own patterns and finds her way.
As I breathed in her just-out-of-the-shower scent, I prayed for guidance on our journeys and acceptance of ourselves along the way.
The best I can do today is show her through my actions how to embrace all the patterns life offers, ask for help around the ones that don’t serve me and trust the process of life, love and joy. I can model reaching out my arms for love, and letting the world unfold its beauty in front of me and inside me. Gifts await. For all of us.
Step, step, slide.
What patterns do you hope your children embrace and avoid?
The bacon was the best part. Everyone agreed – even George, the shelter resident whose weary black eyes belied his quick smile and spritely demeanor. Initially partial to the homemade, vanilla-infused waffles, George quickly changed his vote once I revealed I had played bacon chef all morning.
For two hours last Sunday, our family prepared breakfast at a local homeless shelter with five other volunteer families. While I hoped we would glean some teachable moments from the experience (and some fodder for a blog post), my goal was to complete the community service requirement for our daughters’ school. I didn’t give much thought to the human connections we might make.
With only one hour to prepare a buffet spread worthy of a Michelin rating, we chopped and stirred, sautéed and diced while chatting with our fellow volunteers.
Our nine year old, Ava, played sous chef; her proficiency cracking eggs matched only by her ability to simultaneously make a new friend.
While my husband, Mike, quartered muffins and arranged them artfully on a platter, I cooked bacon for the masses and supervised our four year old’s placemat decorating efforts. Rhys lovingly drew rainbows on exactly two placemats. After encouraging her to quicken her pace, she replied, “I am an artist, mom. Don’t rush me.”
Once we’d prepared enough food to feed the Duggar family for a month, the volunteers sat down with shelter residents for a meal to rival any four-star restaurant.
“This is better food than I have at home!” Ava yelled, raising a slice of caramelized porcine goodness. The residents giggled and applauded her enthusiasm.
“Do I smell like bacon?” I asked, sitting down next to George.
“Best smell in the world, darlin’,” George said, grabbing another slice. “We’re lucky to have so many good cooks here today.”
Mike and George hit it off quickly, talking about Chicago winters and sports teams. After a few bites of cheesy eggs, even Rhys warmed to George, teasing him about eating all the bacon.
George was surprised by how many people volunteered daily at the shelter. “When I get out of here, I’m volunteering too. Pay it forward, you know.”
As we left the shelter, George, who had been out for a post-breakfast walk, approached us wearing a sky blue windbreaker, five layers too light for the frigid March morning. After thanking us for the meal, he walked away, tears streaming down his weathered face.
“Why is he crying, Dad?” Rhys asked.
“I’m not sure. Maybe he’s sad he doesn’t have a home of his own. Or maybe he’s lonely,” Mike replied. “I wish I’d given him a hug.”
At bedtime as I tucked Rhys under her stack of warm blankets, she asked, “Mom, why was George crying today?”
“I don’t know, honey. Maybe his heart took in more love today than he’s used to. I bet he was happy he got to meet you.”
She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me close enough to whisper, “I think he really wanted more bacon!”
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Our four year old is learning about patterns in preschool and beginning to notice the many patterns of life all around her. Seemingly overnight, our budding student (who has yet to embrace the useful pattern of play, play, clean up) is attuned to the various patterns she witnesses in nature, in her artwork, in books and in our daily routines and interactions.
“Mom, did you know that the sun has a pattern?” she asked recently, her mouth full of Goldfish crackers. “It rises in the East and sets in the West. And when we get up, get dressed, and brush our teeth in the morning, that’s a pattern too!”
At first I was impressed by her keen observation skills, now I’m panicked that she’ll pick up on some of my less-than-flattering patterns; ones I’d rather keep under wraps, or least out of her classroom. I can picture it now:
Rhys: “Teacher, I have some patterns to share with the class!
Teacher: “Great! Go ahead, Rhys.”
Rhys: “Small, small, big. That’s the pattern of bumps on my mom’s
Rhys: “She also yells at us every morning for running late. And throws away our artwork and stuff without asking. Those are patterns, right?”
Teacher: “They sure are, Rhys. Thanks for sharing!”
Before Rhys has the following conversation with certain people, “Did you know that every time you call, my mom lets the answering machine pick up? It’s a pattern,” I’ve decided to feed her some patterns I made up am okay with her sharing:
Yesterday as we were cuddling on the couch, I reminded Rhys of two of my favorite parenting patterns:
“Rhys, did you know that my reading to you every afternoon is a pattern? Our daily dance breaks are a pattern, too.”
“I guess so,” she said, staring at me. “Mom, I see a pattern on your face. You have crinkles next to your eyes. Short, short, long. Short, short, long.”
“Those, my love, are called smile lines. And they’re my best feature.”
Maybe I’d be smart to steer her toward some of my husband’s patterns instead …
What patterns of yours do you hope your children don’t notice?
I made the appointment with Dr. W on a whim. After more than a year of fertility treatments and three devastating miscarriages, I was desperate for fresh hope. Convinced by a pregnant colleague that Dr. W was a fertility miracle worker, I persuaded my friend Trish to drive me to his Chinatown office for a traditional Chinese medicine consultation.
When I pushed open the glass door to the waiting room, the musty, oily smell of burning leaves mixed with lemon Pledge overwhelmed my senses. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves held glass canisters brimming with herbs and tinctures.
“Do I need to believe in this witch doctor stuff for it to work?” I whispered to Trish.
“I doubt it,” she said, squeezing my hand.
A receptionist handed me pages of questions covering every facet of my menstrual and fertility history. “He is certainly thorough,” I thought, taking relief at the thought.
Two seats over, a young woman relaxed with a cup of earthy smelling brew. “It’s my first time. Yours too?” I asked, hoping for a friendly distraction.
“No. I’ve been coming three times a week for five weeks,” she replied. Dr. W gives me acupuncture and prescribed this tea and a bunch of herbs. I think it’s helping!”
I smiled in response and returned to my paperwork. “That’s some strong-smelling shit she’s drinking, but she seems normal enough,” I thought.
As a nurse led us into Dr. W’s bright, tidy office, I felt myself relax.
Dr. W reviewed my paperwork and circled several answers in red ink. “Show me your hands,” he said, breaking the silence. I rubbed my sweaty palms on my jeans before offering him my hands.
He scrutinized my palms, fingernails and cuticles. “I know I shouldn’t bite my cuticles,” I stammered. “Bad habit.”
Dr. W nodded and asked me to stick out my tongue. “Hmmm, not good,” he said. “Not pink enough.”
“What does that mean?” I asked as he shined a light in my eyes and directed me to look up, down and sideways.
“No babies. You’re too sick,” Dr. W said. “You’ll get acupuncture and herbs and maybe you’ll get healthy enough for a baby. Now, no.”
Too shocked to respond, I looked over at Trish. I watched her mouth form words my brain couldn’t comprehend as she asked Dr. W what sounded like questions.
After scheduling an acupuncture appointment and buying a baggie of ash-hued tea leaves, both of which I knew I’d never use, we left Dr. W’s office. Once outside, I let loose a year’s worth of rage, tears and frustration.
“Screw him!” I wailed. “I refuse to give up, and I am never coming back.”
The pungent smells wafting from the take-out restaurant next door preceded the wave of nausea that overwhelmed me as we walked to the car. Once the nausea passed, I was left with an unusually strong craving for a greasy, pickle-smothered cheeseburger.
Four weeks and three positive EPT tests later, I mailed Dr. W a thank you note.
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Where did I get the idea that as a mother I have to be an unmitigated expert at everything?
I blame Google.
I’m honored to be guest posting over at The Mommy Mess today talking about our family’s latest trip to the emergency room, our third in the last six months. A veritable trifecta! (Surely we now qualify for the hospital’s frequent visitor program. I’m expecting discounts on medical services, complimentary valet parking and a commemorative plaque in the lobby.)
Here’s the link again: And That’s Why God Created Doctors.
Cuddling and reading Harry Potter in bed with our daughter is one of the highlights of my evenings. Our nine year old is often talkative and revealing at bedtime, especially as we’re giggling about Ron and Hermione’s constant bickering. Little did I know these beloved characters’ mutual crush would provide fertile ground for an eye-opening, painful conversation.
After a juicy discussion of Ron and Hermione’s flirtatious antics, I playfully broached the subject of crushes, asking if my daughter had a crush on any kids in her class.
“I don’t have a crush on anyone,” she answered, avoiding my gaze.
Certain she was on the verge of opening up to me, I pressed on. “When I picked you up from school this afternoon, I thought I saw you staring at Joe, but not talking with him. Are your feelings for him similar to Hermione’s feelings for Ron?”
“No, mom, not at all,” she said. “I am nervous around him. But I’m nervous around all boys. I’m scared to talk to them, and I don’t know why.”
As tears flooded her lashes, Ava explained that she didn’t understand why she was so uncomfortable when all the other girls seemed to interact well with boys.
So much for my maternal instincts. Where I perceived an innocent first crush, my daughter was experiencing real discomfort. As I held her and brushed the hair out of her eyes, I realized I had little experience-based wisdom to impart on this topic. My own lack of male friends throughout my school years and beyond was not a formula I’d want my daughters to emulate.
The best I could offer in the moment was tell her she wasn’t alone, that I remembered being scared to talk with boys too, and was open to talking more about her fears whenever she wanted.
Sated by my response, she fell asleep in my arms, leaving me to review my own history of interacting with boys.
As one of three sisters with protective parents, I never spent much time around boys. I never made friends with them or really got to know them. For me, boys felt magical from afar; terrifying up close.
My past is littered with experiences of ignoring boys who were nice to me and wanted to be my friend in favor of longing for those who ignored me, wishing they would choose me for relationships. Although I had little actual experience interacting with boys, my obsession with them taught me lessons I don’t want to pass on to my children.
In kindergarten, my rogue classmate Devon grabbed me by the arms after school and attempted to plant a rough kiss on my cheek. I, in turn, hit him with my blue Barbie lunchbox, winning his devotion for the rest of the school year. Lesson: play hard to get, the boys will love you.
In second grade, I eagerly tried to win over Edward, a scrawny, tow-headed boy who repeatedly ignored me and my offerings of the dry Stella D’oro anise cookies my mom packed in my lunch. Lesson: Keep chasing, sooner or later you’ll win his affection. Or bring better cookies.
In fourth grade, I graduated to Donald, the tough neighborhood kid who rode his bicycle to my house and threw rotted green apples at my legs to win my affection. After several days of this mating ritual, my younger sister sprayed Donald with our garden hose, ending his infatuation. Lesson: keep your smarter, braver sister away so you can enjoy the attention.
In sixth grade, my undying devotion to Michael, the nearsighted boy who never acknowledged my existence, led me to commit the first of many fashion don’ts – octagon shaped, wire-framed glasses to match his. Lesson: do whatever it takes to make a boy notice you.
My high school and college years, with their mix of hormones and unrequited love, offered similar lessons; the more uninterested the male, the better. My motto: completely ignore me, I’ll follow you forever. Be nice to me, want to be my friend, I’ll look through you to the unavailable guy in the corner.
While my relationships with men have blossomed with time, maturity and therapy, I don’t pursue male friendships. If I’m going to model healthy interactions with the opposite sex for my kids, I need to get some male friends. Stat.
I wonder what Devon, Edward, Donald and Michael are doing these days?
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