Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How I'm failing at raising a little superhero

Yesterday, I sent a text to Steve in Chicago: "I'm having a hard time liking the kids right now."

Yes, I did.

It wasn't really having him out of town. It wasn't my new job starting today, and all the preparation for it.  Those things probably didn't help, but really, it was just plain ol' poorly managed crabbiness on my part. I started the bedtime routine about 2 hours early yesterday, out of desperation to put the day behind us.

I was so grateful for the school drop-off this morning, even if it was just 3 hours until I went back to get Simone and Andrew.  More than needing a break from them, even, I knew my kids needed a break from me.

Steve and I spent hours (and hours) of conversation this summer about whether to send Andrew to school yet.  He's a complex character, with contradictory needs.  His mind needs so much stimulation, more than he can get at home, but I couldn't imagine him sitting in a classroom. We've worked so hard to fill his life with things that suit his spirit -- swimming, running, superheroes -- but sometimes, some days, it feels like an endless sea of need.

Their new school seemed like a perfect fit for him in some ways -- they have cooking classes like he wanted, and lots of free-play.  It's about creativity and individual attention and all that cool progressive education stuff that hippie-moms like me appreciate.  And, there are only 10 kids -- so there was a good chance he'd get enough attention that his teachers would see his unique Andrewness.  That they could see past the constant jumping, running, punching-the-air kid and see his tender sweetness beneath.  

Today, I went to pick up Andrew and Simone. They're in the same class, and before the school year started, I wasn't sure how that would go. As I was helping them straighten up, their teacher started talking about Andrew and Simone.  How well they get along together.  And then she started talking about Andrew.  How much Andrew cares about his sister...helps her...is so proud of her.  He'll say things like, "Hey, look what Simone made!" to the other kids.  

And then she started tearing up.  "I don't know why I'm crying about this," she said.  "But it's really beautiful. He's such a great big brother."

Oh my.  I was so grateful...more than words can say...that someone "saw" my Andrew.  

The craziest part about my reservations on Andrew are that I have these qualms about sending him into the world and being misunderstood -- to have people feel frustration or irritation about his busyness, and not see the inner awesomeness in him.  And here I am, his own mother, wanting him to just.sit.still for a few minutes.  I'm feeling irritation about his busyness and not seeing his inner awesomeness. 

I don't really wish the activity-level away.  I really don't.  Not on a global, macro-level of him.  I want his colorful, passionate, frenzied approach to life. I love how he throws himself into everything he does...like charging full-speed down the driveway just to get the mail.  

My appreciation for him as a person, though, runs counter to my needs as a mother.  Wanting things to not be strewn throughout the house.  Broken.  Lost.  His passionate, full-throttle self doesn't leave much space for attention to the details.  He gets it from his mother. ;)

I really want him to have a mother who can calmly handle it when he breaks a DVD player, the brand-new shoes he just lost, the dirty clothes that never quite make it to the hamper.  I want him to have a mother who takes the Big Picture on days that seem so filled with chaotic passion that my brain just fries.  

A mother who knows, in those small moments of parenting, that his huge heart is so much more important than having a clean house.

I just don't always know how to be that mother.

He tries so damn hard.  He really does.  He gives such sweet apologies when he leaves his cereal bowl on the floor (the floor?) and then accidentally runs over it.  I see his tiny little body wiping up the mess -- his little hand and the big rag -- and I have no idea how someone could ever be frustrated with him. 

How can I care about those things, when this little boy greets me in bed at 5AM with a huge smile and a bowl of oatmeal he made me all by himself?  Who still...at age 5...hugs like a baby monkey, with all his limbs wrapped so tightly around me?

God, I love this little man so much.  Just the way he is.  

In my heart, I know I don't need to change him. He'll grow into being adept at these life tasks like clothes-in-the-hamper or other nonsense moms think are important.  He's still learning and trying to figure it all out.  I do understand that.

I'm just tired.

Tomorrow, I'm going to give him a better mom.  I'm going to have a day...one day... where I don't tuck him in with a whispered apology and a promise to do better the next day. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Happy 4th Birthday, Simone

Dear Simone:

If you are old enough to read this, by now you've probably heard the story of how I was scared to have a daughter. 

I don't get scared of much.  Getting stuck in revolving doors.  Not liking swimming in lakes if I can't see or touch the bottom.  That's about it.  But I was scared to have a daughter.  

I didn't really know what to do about all the sequin and ruffly stuff.  I didn't know what to do with the complicated, catty emotions.  I was raised with two brothers.  Oodles of male cousins. Not really many girls in my life. My mom and I struggled through my teenage years, which left me completely unromantic about the mother-daughter bond.  

When I went to college and moved into the sorority house, I was stunned by what a bad female I was.  I didn't know how to dress, do my hair, wear make-up. Somehow I'd landed into a sorority filled with beautiful girls who knew all these things. I felt like someone ripped out chapters from the manual I was supposed to have on Being Female.

It was rare for me to have female friendships years ago.  High school, I did.  But in college, my circle was mostly males. I would leave the sorority house in the morning, hang out with my circle of male friends...or later, Steve's fraternity...and being around men felt like putting on my sweats after pulling off pantyhose at the end of a long day.  I was a pro at having completely platonic, close friendships with males (2 of my 5 bridesmaids were male)-- but trying to create conversations with a female, I wasn't quite sure what to say. 

It took motherhood to create those female bonds, in fact.  Finally, I knew what to talk about.  I had moved into a life-sector that could only be shared with another female.  Childbirth, nursing babies, all of it.  I could finally connect with women in a way I never could before, and I created friendships post-motherhood that I know I will have for life.

But the female-sector still seemed confusing to me in many ways. And I still wasn't quite sure how to raise a daughter.  Even with learning how to interact with females, I didn't quite understand how the younger years of a girl looked. So when most of my pregnant friends were saying, "I just want it to be healthy," I was secretly harboring feelings of wishing for boys. 

And then I met you. 

How could I ever have thought I'd need to figure anything out about how to raise you?  You ejected into the world already knowing.  You have such a  keen awareness of who you are and what you need...and it doesn't matter how many books I had read about raising a daughter, none of them would have applied to you anyway.You are your own character.

I look into you, and I see parts of you that I have loved about myself.  Myself as a female, especially. You are so fiercely independent.  You are strong and powerful on the inside.  Dad often says that he already has no concerns about sending you into the world; he knows you'll be able to handle anything and everything that comes your way.  

You are the daughter that I needed to have, but even more...you are more than I ever dreamed you could be in my life.  The very part of you that concerned me...how I could adequately mother a female...has become this incredible gift in my life.  I love your girl-power.  I love how you put on ballerina dresses to go out and sword-fight your brothers in the backyard.  I love how you put Spider Man action figures to sleep in your dollhouse. How you build incredible LEGO creations, but want them to be pink.  You decide who you are supposed to be, and you make it happen on your own terms.

In so many ways, it seems like you've figured out -- before the age of 4 -- things that it took me years to learn.  That you can be strong and independent, but still be 100% girlie too.  That it's not a contradiction.  Since you were born, I have developed that side of myself so much more.  Wearing dresses and discovering that I might actually love shoes. Finally figuring out, after 30-plus years, how to do my hair. You've taught me that being feminine on the outside has nothing to do with how powerful you are on the inside.

You are going to do great things in your life, Simone.  I've never been so happy to be wrong, as I was in being concerned about having a daughter.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy 8th Birthday, Jack

My Jack.  Somewhere along the way, you have become a man.  I know, I know.  You are only 8.  But it’s there.  Not even tucked away or hidden anymore.  You stand in front of me with this completely formed personhood.  There is no baby left in you. There is very little you can’t do for yourself anymore. You get up, you make yourself breakfast, you dress yourself, and you wander around our house completely independently.   I look out the window and see you riding your bike down the street, and it still stuns me.  How did this happen?  When did this all happen?

There are times when I do the math and panic.  8 years.  Halfway to driving.  Then only 2 more until you go off to college.  And yet: Sometimes I also wish away the days and months, because I’m so excited to see the adult-You.  Like wanting to skip to the last pages to see what happens.  I want to see the side of you that picks a major, finds a job…I want to meet your mate…see your children.  I want all of it at once. 

I watch you sit at the kitchen table, doing your sketches.  Dragons or dinosaurs or making intricate superhero books for Andrew.  I watch you choose where you make the lines on the page, and I am in wonder that this tiny little mind – these tiny fingers – are creating something so beautiful.  How your hand forms these outlines that take my breath away.  Your face will scrunch as you think about the image in your mind, and then you add more lines. More shading. You are an incredible artist, like your dad.  You see details that others miss, and you have the coordination to bring them to paper.  

I am so charmed by who you are.  What you bring to our family.  

The other day, I said to you: “You know, Jack, it’s okay to say no to your siblings when they ask you to play with them.  You’re not always responsible for helping them play dolls or sword-fight.”  And you know what you said?  “I like helping other people more than I like to help myself.” 

I know you see me try to sand the edges of it sometimes – encouraging you to take time by yourself, go do something you’d love in your room, create boundaries.  But I appreciate it about you. Your willing spirit, your absolute unquestioning love and care for others.   And I know you’re right when you tell me that you’ll say “no” when you don’t want to do something.  I need to let that go, trust you to create your lines the way you see fit.

I have no idea who you’ll become down the road.  But this moment, this part of your life, is such an honor to watch.  I love your passions – the Russian, your art, archeology, creating these inventions out of old paper towel rolls and string, watching documentaries on Netflix.

You are going to school for the first time this year.  Until now, we’d pieced your education together through co-ops and classes.  So many of your interests were things you couldn’t get in a regular classroom, and we weren’t in a hurry to stop that process of you.  And it worked for a long time.  We loved it and you did too.  But then we learned the French school was opening, and it seemed like it was time.  

I have strange feelings about it.  Not worry or concern.  Not even a moment of that.  You will love school…you will love this school…and you need things that you can’t get from me.  French, for one. Your Russian teacher being at the school, too. I want to honor your love for languages, and that’s something I can’t bring you.  The field trips, the older kids, everything.  You are going to be so happy there. 

But it marks a turning point for us, definitely.  The best parts of motherhood…watching you become your own independent self…also have elements of loss to them.  I want you at this school, I wanted you to go to Russian camp for 2 weeks, I want you to create an incredibly expansive life ahead of you – and to both of us, that means exploring the world.  You want to live in Russia, and I want that for you if that keeps being your dream.  But in wanting giant lives for our children, it means we let go of them too.  

You are probably going to become fluent in French at this school, if you keep going there.  And if you keep with Russian, maybe that one too.  Two languages where I struggle through the basics, and yet these might be defining elements of your life.  That sends a strange feeling down my core. As a mother, I love the idea of the three of you chatting in French in the backseat, as I drive you home from school.  What a cool thing to have in your life.  But it also sends you down a path where I can’t join you.  There will be massive chunks of your personhood that aren’t accessible to me.  Is that what I want?  Absolutely. But I will miss you a bit, too. 

Your mind is just like Grandpa Mike's.  Dad and I say that all the time.  You have his demeanor...his brilliance...his scientific and mechanical mind…his calm affect that can’t be fazed by anything. So many things.  But you’ve taken all that wiring and poured them into interests that are completely your own.  

God, I love that about you.

I hope you keep that about yourself.  That decision to be your own person…your own interests…and follow passions. Your authentic self is pretty incredible, Jack. I love who you are and who you’re becoming.  And on your 8th birthday, I want you to know that the most important thing I have ever watched was you and your siblings growing up.  I am honored to be part of this journey of you, becoming who you’re supposed to be.

When I grow up, I want to be a...tech writer?

Last Wednesday, I got a call that a tech writing position was open. Through word-of-mouth, they heard I was an option.  Could I send them my resume?  I sent it to them, and 10 minutes later, I had an interview for Thursday at 11AM.  I had the job by the end of the day.  It's a special contract through November, 40 hours a week, working from home, and I'm writing procedures for a big bank for strangely good pay.

This is not something I thought I wanted, and yet I'm sitting in awe that it landed into my life.  When it ends in November, the agency has more contracts -- so I can keep wandering down this tech writing path. 

It is curiously timed with the atrophy of my online teaching -- both in contracts (they've cut back considerably on max courses we can teach), and also in motivation (I was starting to feel like a data-entry person instead of a teacher).  

I'd wanted to move away from online teaching and back into the classroom, and that happened when I got the job on Wednesday and Thursday nights at the local college.  But if I left online work, I couldn't rationalize how I'd replace it.  Yes, my children will be in school more than ever before...Jack full-time, for the first time this year...but I desperately need flexibility in my work.  I want my work, but I don't want to miss out on my family at all.  How was I going to find a job that used my experiences but let me have incredible flexibility too?

And then this happened. 

I want to tell my children to embrace the nonsensical, illogical compounds of self -- even if there's no clear-cut path in sight.  At all. Just be who you are in any given moment, and let life find ways to make those elements of self fit together -- in ways you can't even imagine.

I remember sitting in our apartment in Colorado Springs, 10 years ago, when I looked up from my book and told Steve I wanted to go to graduate school for economics.  I'd been an English undergraduate, and hadn't even taken Econ 101 in college.  But I started reading about it and fell in love with the concepts, and finally decided I should be getting credits for all the reading I was doing. 

Steve probably should have looked at me like I was nuts.  He probably should have told me we couldn't afford graduate school -- we were 22 and 23, and just starting out.  He probably should have asked what I was going to do with the degree.  But instead he smiled and agreed almost immediately.  He trusted who I was, let me take out student loans that terrified our young/broke selves, and brought me food while I was scrambling to write papers late into the night.  

So many times along our last decade, my strangely contradictory choices -- based on instinct, passion, and impulse -- have paid off in the strangest ways.  And here it is again.  My MBA and my 12 years of teaching college English (an odd pairing to explain on a resume), and now this door has opened into tech writing. 

Is my life dream tech writing?  Um, no. I didn't even know I wanted to do it.  But my life dream IS to be a professional person along with being widely-available for my children, and anything that supports that means a lot to me. 

And maybe contradictory choices are going to trickle down to the next generation.  Simone can't decide between being an astronaut or a doctor, so she's decided to be a "space doctor."  Based on how things have played out in my life, I can't argue with her. :)