Stranger Danger?

By Allyson Wuerth

I can see it from my bay window, the black water of the pond. Leafless trees. The hawks funneling a dreary sky. I can see them too, my daughter and her friend. They’re just ten years old  and ensconced within this late December grey, two colorful blurs almost floating within the fog. 

Truth be told, I’m proud of myself for letting them go. I’m fiercely over-protective of my children, especially my daughter. And, of course, I blame my mother for all this. She was over-protective too, but in a 1980s sort of way—always warning me about “perverts.” She seemed to define that term broadly—perverts were strangers and strangers were men. They lied about who they were, why they’d come, where they were going. They could even disguise themselves to look like people in your family. Everything they wore had pockets. Why? Because they needed some place to hide all the things they would kill you with. She subjected me to constant lectures about how to handle myself in public places. They can be summed up by the following: 

  1. Don’t talk to strangers. (I became so paranoid, I hardly spoke to anyone.)
  2. Even if they tell you your parents are in the hospital, they’re lying. Don’t talk to them. (Wait. They could trick me like this?)
  3. There is never candy or kittens in the back of a grown man’s van. So don’t be dumb enough to look. (No candy. No kittens. No look. Got it.)
  4. You don’t want to end up like that Adam Walsh, do you? (I didn’t.)

But, like I said, it was the 80s, so for all this talk of strangers, perverts, and murderers, the incongruity of my freedom was just as true. Could she really have been that worried I’d be kidnapped? I can remember traipsing through the neighborhood alone from the time I was 4 or 5 years old, following the brook’s long trail to the reservoir off Great Hill, flipping off an el Camino full of teenagers, heading into a dark woods to find where the Mountain-laurel bloomed. 

Once, at the Milford Post Mall, I ran away from my mother in a store called Child World because she wouldn’t buy me a toy. I ran and ran, and when I finally stopped I saw nothing but unfamiliarities. A group of teen boys heckled me, and I burst into tears thinking for sure they’d murder me, put my body in a duffle bag, and roll my severed head into the Housatonic River. When my mother finally found me, she hugged me tight and said through gritted teeth, “I thought you were kidnapped. Don’t you ever do that to me again. Ever.” Then she slapped me hard across my face. If I really think about it, I can still feel the sting, like she had a palm made of bees. 

And, of course, I could never escape myself. At night, I agonized over the possibilities, believing that men carried around secret faces that looked like the faces of people I knew and trusted. That faces could be swapped like stickers or secrets.  I envisioned myself in the back of a van, peeking out that small bubble window, seeing everything I loved grow smaller, and smaller, and smaller. My blue house. My little brother. The cluster of oak trees I always climbed. My street. My bus stop. And all I could say was, don’t take me away from all this

For all her good intentions, my mother’s fears terrorized the bulk my childhood. Maybe she thought arming me with stories of murdered children was enough to keep me from harm? But you know what? All those stories of strangled and bagged children, they seeped through my already-thin-skin.  Instead of making me tougher, they huddled deep inside me like such dark clouds. Like all children, I was coated with the fierce belief in my own invincibility. I was able to semi-manage my kidnapper anxiety by believing this. But as I grew, my coating of invincibility faded, while the overwhelming fear basted within me. A decade later, my psychologist called it “panic disorder.” 

So, yeah, when my 10yr old asks to walk to the pond down the street from our house, my instinct is to say, “NO!  Absolutely NO!” 

    “No. What if there is a murderer hiding in the woods?” 

      “No. Do you even know how many episodes of My Favorite Murder mommy  has      listened to today?” (Four. The answer’s four.)

But I don’t say any of this. In fact, I let my girl and her friend walk to the pond without the baggage of this 80’s kid. Truthfully, I’ve only in passing mentioned the danger of strangers to my daughter. It just doesn’t seem worth. . .the risk. Anxiety is already in her blood. Does she really need one more thing to worry about? 

So, for now, she walks without the stories of vanished paperboys, girls last seen in a field of butterflies; she walks without squinting to find the hidden seams of a person’s face. I don’t think it’s fair to heap that burden, that whole terrible world, upon the consciousness of a child who, statistically speaking, will most likely never need to worry over it. Despite the panic I feel when my daughter walks 20 feet from our home, my head reminds me that stranger abductions are pretty damn rare. So maybe that’s a talk I can skip? I think, as parents, we try so hard to shield our own children from the mistakes and injustices we were exposed to—at least I do. And then I second guess myself, and wonder if I’m doing more harm than good. I suppose I’ll find out when my daughter writes her own blog post one day. 😉

Still, I could never allow my children the freedom I had in the 1980s. They don’t take long walks with their friends on summer nights (I tell myself it’s because we don’t have streetlights); they don’t walk to school-even if you can see it from my house (no sidewalks). So my eyes hover over these two little girls who have no idea how closely they are being observed. From my bay window, I watch them circle the pond over and over again. I wonder what it is that 10yr old girls talk about in the fog? One bends to pick up a twig and flings it into the water. The other plucks berries from a holly bush and holds out her palms. “Look here!” I imagine her saying as the other one pushes hair out of her eyes to see the pile of shiny husks. “Look what I found!” 

They are cupped in her palms, this handful of scarlet berries, the bright of them ephemeral as ladybugs or mysteries.



Finding My Piece

My family enjoys playing games.  We play board games, sporting games, card games, video games, and even some homemade games like Let’s See Who Can Hide in the Bathroom and Eat Chocolate Alone So the Kids Don’t Ask for Some.  Not to brag, but I actually think I’m getting pretty damn good at that one.

But it’s the truth, we love our games.  At least once a week, you’ll find my family sitting around the dining room table playing some kind of board game. My children are 6 and 8, prime board game ages, and whenever we play, we follow the rules. I’m not the kind of parent to let my kids win or to bend the rules to ease the blow of defeat. Sorry, kids. 

Above all though, my husband and I always take great pains to teach them that as long as you try your best, it’s okay to lose, but it’s never okay to cheat.  Sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you won’t. That’s life…

Usually I’m able to support their losses and wins, and do my best to model good sportsmanship whatever the results.  When we play Clue, I’ll throw out a “You paid careful attention to the evidence! Well done!”  When we play Jenga, I’ll hit them with the classic “That was a bold risk moving the corner block!”  When we play Skipbo, I’ll offer a “Smart use of your discard pile, kiddo!” When we play the Hide and Eat Chocolate game, I usually won’t say anything… save for an occasional cough to cover the sound of the wrapper.   

But there is one game that I sometimes just can’t seem to find the positivity for–the dreaded Game of Life.

A teacher making $100,000 right out of college?! Um, no. Collecting $20,000 from other players because it’s your pet’s birthday?! Who are we, the Hiltons? Inevitably, whenever we play Life, I morph from the mother able to find encouragement even in mistakes to the mother lecturing her children about how unrealistic each move we make is. 

Sure it would be great to retire with millions in the bank, as even the losers of Life seem to do, but as I’ve experienced it, life is a totally different kind of game. 

I want to see a card that says You put 2 children through daycare from infancy to preschool. Pay $150,000! Or You’re still paying off your own college loans, but it’s time to start saving for your children’s education. Move back 10 spaces! 

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love my life–and I’m willing to work hard for what our family has. I’m not waiting for the inheritance card to make some of my hardships disappear, and I don’t want my children to think that life works like that either. Yes, good fortune makes a difference, but more so than money, the true quality of one’s life comes from sources far less material. 

Therein lies my biggest problem with The Game of Life. It equates success purely with wealth, and that message–that money is king–is one we see far too often in our society.

While my children say that the objective of The Game of Life is silly because there are so many things that matter more than money in life, they still love to play it. Right now, at this stage of the parenting game, I’m satisfied knowing that my kids are able to see beyond the temptation of wealth, a temptation that I still wrestle with myself sometimes. 

It’s my hope that as my kids grow, they are able to remember some of the lessons we’ve learned through making our moves, accepting our losses, and celebrating our wins. And if they can get through the Game of Life with a smile on their face, I think that is a win in of itself.

A different kind of kid

I am someone who feels a lot of feelings. I am quick to cry, quick to laugh, quick to be honest about how I’m struggling or why I’m sad. My emotions are never guarded; I wouldn’t even know how to fake it if I tried.

So it came as quite a surprise nearly ten years ago when I gave birth to a human whom I lovingly say has a heart of stone, my fierce and fearless daughter Ella. While I am balling my eyes out watching Wonder at the town library, she is dying of embarrassment. While other kids are stressed about friends and school, she seems mostly oblivious to the anxieties of others. 

My younger daughter will tell me she loves me ten times a day and call out to me in the middle of the night just because she desperately needs a hug, but with Ella, we would probably go days without touching at all if I didn’t initiate it. When her little sister tries to hug her, she looks like a cat just waiting for the chance to scratch her captor and make a run for it. 

It has been a challenge to relate to a child so different from me, and I know that sometimes I push her too hard, forgetting that just because she doesn’t express her emotions as freely as I do doesn’t mean she doesn’t have them, and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me, or her dad, or her little sister. 

She just speaks a different love language. She won’t hug anyone in our house of her own volition, but she is quick to engage in a wrestling match with my husband. She rarely says I love you first but is quick to tell me I’m good at drawing or to compliment my hair. She, until recently, was afraid to take out her own earrings but trusted my hands to do it. She doesn’t want to snuggle, but every night she crawls into my bed and asks if we can listen to an audio book on my phone. 

And in some ways, I envy her emotional make up. While I wish she were more empathetic, like me, I see the benefit of what she lacks. While fear and insecurity imprisoned me for most of my childhood, Ella’s lack of either of those traits has enriched her life. At nine years old, she can snowboard down a black diamond one day and flip across the gymnastics mat the next. She wears fake glasses to school every day and makes her own clothes and couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks. She is completely herself all the time, and by the time I was in fourth grade, I’d already learned how to change myself in order to be liked. I am often critical of her lack of empathy, but I’m starting to realize that I have much to learn from her about not letting my emotions rule my life. There must be a balance between the two of us, a place where we can care for others but not spend our whole lives burdened by what others think. 

So much of parenting is an act of letting go of expectations, of accepting your children for who they are, not as reflections of you, but as their own unique expressions of humanity. Every day I am in awe of this athletic, creative, intelligent, strong girl that I made but who is not simply my creation, and I am learning to accept her for who she is, not who I imagined her to be. And as I do that, we grow closer together. 

And sometimes, when we’re lying in bed, listening to a wildly inappropriate YA dystopian novel that I know my tough girl isn’t too sensitive to handle, I reach my hand out to her in the dark, and she takes it. 

Free-Range Victorian Robot

As I write this, Brexit (and Megxit) are official, the US Senate is about to acquit a president charged with impeachment, and a strange new virus named after a beer is starting to swirl around the globe. My four year is oblivious to all of this, as my husband and I have a no-news policy for right now. But as I keep up with these times, I wonder how do we prepare her for the world she will one day too soon know about?

Over the past few years I have been directed to books on parenting than I care to count. I remember the first time I heard there were books to learn about something called attachment style parenting. My mouth dropped. Books? I don’t do attachment parenting; I am attachment parenting. If anything, I probably need books to help me be a little less attached:)

But over time, and conversations with her father, my then-therapist, and her pediatrician, different styles and expectations began to contradict, then clash, and finally, frustrate. Until one day I spoke back facetiously, “What would you like her to be, a Free-Range Victorian Robot???”

Let me break this down.

Free-Range. I have this image of her running through a field in the middle of Pennsylvania in a calico dress attending a one-room school house with no adults in sight. Something out of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Something in my dreams. We live in the suburbs of Connecticut, where believe it or not, strange things happen. Do I want her to be independent? Yes. Creative? You bet. Safe in the parameters in the backyard? That too. Somewhere the line of independent and creative got mixed up with free for all. She will need a sense of the free-range in her life; she will also need to know what a boundary is and how to negotiate one when she encounters it in the real world.

Victorian. One day it occurred to me that my husband, who had a green mohawk when we met in college, was actually a Victorian gentleman in disguise. When she was two, he decided that saying please and thank you were the greatest goals he could master as a parent. Yes, manners matter. But honey, relax. We got a few years. His biggest fear? Halloween. Would she say please and thank you at every door? I’m happy to say that the yearly ritual went off as well as can be expected and I did a rebellious dance of joy when she did not say it perfectly Every time, just some of the time. I also had no idea that he harbored a deep-seated fear of….glitter. The day it entered the house, he looked panicked stricken. “You are letting her have THAT?” Um, yes, With glue. And safety scissors. Apparently he is not the only parent with this abhorrence as demonstrated in the ubiquitous toddler show, Peppa Pig. In one episode, the playground teacher, Madame Gazelle, reveals that the one vial of glitter in the school house is safely locked behind a multi-layered vault, never to be touched. It’s glitter. That’s what brooms and vacuums are for. I understand the need for manners and cleanliness. What I don’t understand is depriving a child of a couple of years of imperfection, spills and fun.

Robot. From the beginning I have revolted against one word that consistently shows up everywhere in ParentLand – Routine. It is quite possibly because I hate routines myself, though I have also come to learn the value of having certain ones. But one blog I read actually said that a routine allows something like bedtime to function on, and I quote, “autopilot”. Haha, who are you and would you like to come to my house? And I suspect, many other houses as well? Autopilot??? I cannot think of a more soul-crushing word for a 3 or 4 year old. I understand the need to “get out the door” or to get to sleep before the alarm, but c’mon. Aren’t toddlers supposed to put the wrong shoes on their feet, put the sweater on inside out, or flat out refuse clothes? And teeth. I am happy to say that at 4 she now brushes and flosses. I am in shock that this happens. When she was 2-3, that was not quite the case. Someone well meaning suggested I give her a timeout in the morning – no playing until teeth were brushed. Um, do you not know me? So no, while she and I have established (some) routines that do help things along, there is little to no sense of going on autopilot here in this house. I am not Captain Von Trapp prior to meeting Maria.

So thank you to all the books and styles and methods, and advice. She is not, I am happy to say, a free-range Victorian robot. She knows how to critique a cartoon that is silly and she knows how to invent her own stories. She knows how to say please, thank you and you’re welcome, but we often move our food plate to another corner or chair in the house. She is happily covered in paint, glue, glitter more times a week than I care to count. And she knows how to keep it fun and real – from tiaras and wands to trucks and dinosaurs, she is already learning how to say yes, how to say no, how to ask if someone is feeling ok or is feeling better, and to solve problems on her own and to learn to ask for help. I believe these qualities will help her to better navigate the world she is going to inherit more so than any chart, schedule, or rigid rule ever will. Besides, don’t all dinosaurs love wearing tiaras while covered in glitter an hour past their bedtime?

Romance After Kids

Feeling nostalgic, I binge-watched some 80s and 90s movies the last few nights before my Hulu subscription expired. Okay, they weren’t just any 80s and 90s movies; they happened to be the movies I watched over and over and over again in my teenage years. I thought they depicted perfect love stories and I fantasized about having romances just like them. 

So as I watched the movies, one after another, I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with me back then. I thought I was a pretty level-headed teeanger. I was (and still am) a huge proponent of female empowerment. How on earth could I have ever believed these movies were romantic, let alone ideal depictions of love? They were vomit-worthy at best. They all had, while albeit handsome, romantic leading men that were self-absorbed and arrogant. For some reason these guys each felt the need to “prove” their love by punching out some other dude to come to the “rescue” of their leading lady. That’s not love. That’s chest puffing, appendage swinging male bravado sprinkled with anger management issues. You know, red flag/run for the hills kind of behavior? All of these guys displayed it. I can’t believe there was ever a time I bought into that crap. As for the female leading ladies? They had this facade of strength, but mostly they acted like brats with bad attitudes waiting for their men to save them and the day. Gag. Heave. Puke. Repeat.    

It got me thinking about the things I find romantic after a dozen years of marriage with kids. Here’s what I came up with (in no particular order):

My hubby doing household chores. It’s simple. He tries to lighten the workload and I don’t feel like the family servant. Making a home-cooked meal for our family on his day off? Nice. When I leave the house in the morning with a dishwasher full of clean dishes and return in the afternoon to find he emptied it? Hot. When he takes the garbage out (instead of piling more junk on top of the overflowing trash bin and pushing it down so it’s impossible to get the damn bag out without ripping it to shreds)? Steaming hot.

No reason flowers (or ice cream). Truth be told, my husband is very good about buying me flowers. Valentine’s Day, birthday, Mother’s Day…he’s got it covered and I appreciate that. It’s when he comes home with flowers for absolutely no reason–well, that’s just sweet. Sometimes, I open the freezer and find my favorite chocolate peanut butter (dairy-free!) ice cream waiting for me. So lovely!

Being told I’m beautiful when I’m pretty sure I look like crap. Picture the Sunday morning still in my old, tattered PJs, threw my hair in a lopsided ponytail without brushing it, make-up free, sipping a cup of tea look. Inevitably, that’s when my husband walks over, caresses my cheek, and tells me I’m beautiful. It’s awfully kind of him.

Holding hands. My husband still reaches for my hand and it still warms my heart.

Sticking with it when it’s hard. Marriage is beautifully exhilarating, exciting, and exasperating all at the same time. There is no way two people can always think and want the same things. Sometimes compromise is easy and sometimes it’s hard. My hubby lives with my flaws and I live with his. There are definitely moments when we’ve both said the wrong things. We keep trying though and we don’t give up. We are in this together. Warts and all.

That endurance part is what’s missing from most Hollywood love stories–and not just the 80s and 90s ones. Movies capture the pheromone/hormone-filled narrative of attraction, but they miss the real story of love…the one that also involves dirty dishes, paying bills, long work hours, poopy diapers, teenage angst, clogged toilets, and utter exhaustion. If romance persists despite all that, it must be true, right? My cruddy trip down 80s and 90s romcom memory lane reminded me of what true romance is really all about and you can sign me up for it any day.

Hairy Pronouns

I live in a house of long hairs.  Me, my partner and my son.  That is one female human and 2 male humans – all with medium to long hair.  This is particularly noteworthy as I have mild trichophobia (a persistent fear of hair, particularly seeing or touching loose hairs on the body, clothing, or elsewhere. –  I am constantly pulling hairs off of ME, the furniture, other people, even strangers: oh so sorry person in line in front of me at CVS, I just had to pull that stray hair off your sweater.  Of course my preferred attire is black clothing too.  I own stock in lint rollers.  Don’t get me started on the shower drain. The 2 male humans in the house with the long hair have different reasons for their long locks (and really, this is an appearance issue so who cares, right?)  My son of course sees his dad and his flowing tresses (think Fabio in disbelief over the not-butter … hee hee, I kid, I kid) and has some amazing male cousins who he adores who also have awesomely long hair.  He also had a bad haircut experience years ago (a very dramatic stylist who wanted some kind of cooperation not familiar to a 5 y/o) so the long hair has been an easier option.  The “boy bun” donned for soccer is always a challenge as I was never good with hair – mine included.  I wore a French braid once in my life, and my sister did it for me.  Truth be told, my son has great hair and from the sweatbands in many colors he had when growing it out, to the long swingy hair of today – I can’t imagine it any other way.

Now let’s talk about gender. My son is also a tall string bean of a child with fabulous eyelashes. My 10 y/o child identifies as male and whatever gender spectrum he chooses for his future is up to him.  What OTHER people identify him as is another story.  At the playground, at restaurants, when meeting new people – he is mis-gendered all.the.time. Sometimes I let it go (again, who cares, right?) … and sometimes I don’t. 

He is an avid soccer player and during a recent game with a new team, a parent commented – wow, look at that girl go and when I said my usual oh, that’s actually my son she said oh so sorry … I mean he’s pretty good (as if for a girl he was a star player, but for a boy just average … as a former soccer player, I say ugh.) 

I tell myself that by correcting the pronoun I am doing gender expectations a solid – boys can have long hair and girls can have short hair and doesn’t that make the planet more interesting? I literally said that to someone in a restaurant once – in a fun, playful, jocular way as preaching is not my jam.  Or is it?  Because as this happens more and more, I find myself using Loud Weird Words (LWWs) to fix the error.  Server: does she want ketchup with her fries?  Me: hey there DUDE (yuck), do you want ketchup with your fries?  Playground parent: Wow your daughter really likes to climb.  Me:  HE does, HE really does.  I cringe as I write this.  What in the world I am worried about?  What am I communicating to my child?

Recently, during another round of Pronoun Corrections with a member of the public, my son said you know you always do that, you say “he” or “him” in conversation to correct people. Ouch.  I have a feeling this is much more about me than him.  Why do I care?  I think about this (my caring) a lot. I have long been irked by all kinds of gender stereotypes and related expectations.  I tell myself I am simply trying to make sure the world knows gender comes in a broad and fluid spectrum – and appearance (like hair) is simply an appearance choice.  Then I think of all those kids who struggle with their true self and gender identity and for them, hair or lack of hair or color of hair may be a really significant and important choice with how they show up in the world and what story they are a part of.  Maybe I want us to stop assuming or projecting expectations on kids (and non kid-people) based on appearance. Maybe kids should get to tell their own stories.

Recently we were ordering pizza, and my son was mis-gendered again.  I was getting ready to assume the role of Pronoun Police when my son interrupted.  My son: Mom, you know this really only matters if I am getting into a long-term relationship.  Me: yep buddy, I mean kiddo, you are indeed right (and smarter than me.)

Here’s to understanding the power of words, and to being an ally while letting kids decide how they want to show up, and letting kids speak for themselves, and be who they want to be, and to change their minds about all of it as many times as they want.  I’ll be over here trying to find new ways to fight gender boundaries that are less embarrassing to my son.

I’m still keeping my lint roller.  There are loose hairs all over this house.

Parental Controls

Parental Controls

When we think about “Parental Controls” our minds jump to the kind of controls we might set for our kids regarding inappropriate content and exposure on the internet, gaming, phones, TV, etc.  I’m thinking more about another set of “Parental Controls” that may have a larger impact on our children long term that is harder to establish.  I’m talking about the influencers that creep into our decision making on just “how” to parent.  Things that we choose to exhibit while raising our children; what pieces of ourselves and our experiences we decide to share and use to guide our style and demeanor.

This other set of parental controls is a sticky wicket in my marriage in terms of what parenting styles we both choose to employ at times.  You see, my husband and I come from very different backgrounds in terms of our childhoods and parenting, or lack thereof.  We all grow up with different circumstances attached to us; financial, environmental, social, educational and so on.  How does one choose what to filter out or is it really even a choice?  I don’t write this out of any place of judgement because quite frankly, there are many ways of parenting, none of which I am here to say are right or wrong, just different and necessary depending on what tools you have in your toolbox.  So much of our decision making and how we conduct ourselves, albeit not surprising, comes from our own life experience and continuously evolves.  Let’s face it, you can seek enlightenment until the sun goes down, but our “instinct” is engrained and influenced greatly by our own experiences growing up.   This childhood vault spotlights what “tools” you have in your toolbox to assist with parenting.  This is turn, challenges us on the way in which we agree or disagree in raising our children.

In reality some, or maybe most of our tools are passed down to us throughout our own childhood, much like that coveted set of silver and family jewel or perhaps the not so coveted potpourri of end tables and ugly lamps.  Ultimately we come to parenting with this toolbox filled with a myriad of items; some tried and true, some crude, some that have seen better days, or perhaps, your toolbox is on the emptier side.  Sometimes you might wish you had a different tool but there was no one to help you find it.  Either way, when we decide to start a family, we often add some shiny new tools that we’ve read about or that our friends recommend.  So when co-parenting, one might think joining forces is awesome because now we have a plethora of tools, right?  Yes, but agreeing on which to use and how to use is where the angst comes to life. My favorite frequent flyer saying in our house is “I agree with your message but your delivery sucks”.  Message lost, end of story.

Let me shed some light on my life.  I live the glorious and messy family life of a blended, generational household which is awesome and hard and messy and beautiful and challenging as hell to ever know if you are doing any of it “right”.  I grew up in middle class suburbia in a typical, as they used to say, “nuclear family”.  Our family unit was made up of me along with my two brothers and my folks.  They were educated, hands on, hardworking and tried their best to model what they wanted us to learn and on occasion, things they probably DIDN’T want us to learn.  We weren’t wealthy but we didn’t want for much. We were loved, clean, full-bellied and generously clothed with both new and hand me down favorites.  We were afforded social and cultural opportunities.  Music lessons and recreational sports. We traveled places to visit family, participate in educational experiences and fall in love with nature in one of the most heavenly places on earth, the Adirondacks.  We were pushed to dream of our futures where college was the assumptive next step.  And then we were given a supportive boot when it was time to spread our wings.  We were taught to work hard, learn the value of a dollar.  We had love, validation and a strong sense of right and wrong.  We had arguments, blowouts and family meetings.  We were sent to our rooms and tough conversations weren’t hidden.  It was all there to sort through and use as a way to learn. All of it was bolstered with unconditional love.  It was hard but safe, supportive, shielded and privileged.  Family was and is everything.

My husband’s background was very different.  Couldn’t be farther from the picture I just painted.  He grew up rough and tumble in a city where the street corners were for dealing and exchanging favors.  His family was in the system. His mother uneducated and his father chose to walk away after his birth. He grew up in shitty, smoke filled apartments only to wonder about dinner and always looking over his shoulder trying to avoid beatings from the current father of the hour. He ended up in the system. Black trash bags dragged from place to place.  Some bad, some sort of ok but never ones with parents who opened their arms and treated him with love or respect.  He lived in perpetual survival mode.  He never had parental role models until he was almost out of high school and taken in by a family who gave him a glimpse of that and pushed him to want more for himself.  He started college and then chose the military- another form of living in survival mode.  All. The. Time.  So in short, because there is more than I cannot bear to write about, he was not raised with any kind of privilege. He was raised in clothes that didn’t fit, shoes with holes in them, sparse meals, showers snuck in at the school gym, no love, no trust nor safety.  No role models of what parents should look like, no unconditional love.  The military saved him.  It provided for him, gave him boundaries and rules, 3 squares and a semi consistent and safe place to lay his head at night.  Not without a price of course, but it was better than any other price he’d already paid.

So as we think about all of that, you can imagine both of our toolboxes look dramatically different from one another. Our parenting style discord comes in agreeing on what that looks like when you have such disparate upbringings.  Listening to each other and understanding each other is key, but this is where our own “parental controls” come into play.  Often we discuss what parts we agreed with in our own upbringings.  What helped us to become successful, whole-ish humans?  What parts were painful?  What did we want to carry forward and what do we want to cast away.  How much of the hard messy parts do we want to share when trying to make a point and when do we make peace with the past.  Perhaps we present something new or different so the message of the lesson is not lost in a lack-luster choice in delivery.

These choices and decisions ultimately impact and influence our children and what they choose to bring forth as they evolve into adults.  Most of the time we agree on the message and lesson, but the delivery… the delivery is an epic reflection of that toolbox and your own “parental controls” coming to life.  There is a balance to be found between the loud school of hard knocks and survival mode vs modeling desired behavior and conversational validation.  Parenting is personal and afflicted and influenced by our childhood environment and experience, our own parental exposure, or lack thereof, and mixed with our adult life experience.  We have to employ our own set of “parental controls” and hope with all our might that we get some of it right.

From Uber Driver to the Passenger Seat

My family is hitting a new milestone next month. My firstborn will be getting his driver’s license. He can’t wait for the day to get here, but I’m not feeling quite as happy about it. I remember what it felt like to be his age. It wasn’t that long ago (okay maybe it was), but I was so excited about being able to drive by myself for the first time. It was my first taste of real independence, and I couldn’t wait to hit the road in my 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit.

These days I spend my time in my Honda Pilot (translation: mom car) between the hours of 3 pm and 8:30 pm on weekdays, shuffling my three kids to and from one practice to another. In the fall, I had a drop-off or pick-up every half hour to forty-five minutes, all night, every night.

And, did I mention my husband was coaching football three nights a week, so the Uber-ing was all on me?

To say we are a busy family is an understatement, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now that my kids are getting older, though, the end of my Uber career is in sight, and I realized I’m not as happy about it as one might think. I’m struggling to let go as my son becomes more independent. I know he’s not going to need me as much anymore.

For 16 years, he’s been dependent on me to drive him everywhere he needs to go. I’m going to wake up one day next month, and that’s all going to be over. I’m going to be in the passenger seat (or back home) because my driving shifts for him are over.

The other night he came into my room to talk, and I started crying. Obviously confused, he sat down with me to find out what was wrong. It hit me all at once that lately, our most important conversations—the ones where I really hear and learn about his world—happen when we are alone in the car driving to and from practice. What happens when that ends next month? I panicked that we might lose that connection.

Let’s be honest, he’s not going to tell me everything that’s going on in his life forever. In fact, I’m sure he leaves out quite a few details now, and that’s probably for the best! These daily conversations, when it’s just the two of us, allow me to check in and see how he’s really doing. I am afraid of how things will change when he doesn’t need me to drive him around anymore.

After mocking me a little for worrying too much, my son assured me that he’d still make time to talk to me, but I know that it will be different. I will need to plan more one-on-one time with him. Luckily for me, he inherited my inability to fall asleep at a reasonable hour, so I know he’s always available to chat when the rest of our house is asleep.

My son getting his license is my first significant milestone of “letting go,” and I’m dreadfully unprepared. I know the first time he pulls out of the driveway by himself, he will be filled with excitement, and I will be holding back tears. (Okay, anyone who knows me, knows I won’t be able to hold back the tears.) But, ready or not, that moment is coming. This is what we work so hard to prepare our kids for—to be independent. So I should be celebrating…

But, for now, I’m going to enjoy being that Uber driver just a little while longer.

Finding a Voice

I have never exactly been the quiet type.

College, first job, grad school, teaching. Even if I wasn’t the loudest or most talkative, I always did my work passionately, never afraid to live out my deepest convictions even if it went against the grain of my environment.

Then I became a mother.

And my voice……disappeared…..

Why? I’m not sure. I think it had something to do with the realization of the overwhelming responsibility with which I was suddenly faced. While I was aware of my thoughts and ideas, the only thing that really mattered was keeping this little creature alive.

But as the time began to pass, I began to feel something else. I felt silenced even within the community of motherhood. When I was pregnant, another mother welcomed me to the “sisterhood of motherhood” and said, “it’s toxic but necessary.”

Um, excuse me, what???

I ran from that conversation and in a way, I’ve run ever since. And discovered something. We as mothers share a huge common denominator. Not only are we keeping our little ones alive, we strive to help them grow into happy and moral human beings. Not an easy task and not one for the faint of heart. But after that….the differences begin to emerge far too quickly: “Working” vs. “stay at home”, “cry it out” vs “rocking to sleep”, “breast-feeding” vs “formula”, “pre-k” vs “homeschooling”, “typical” vs “special”, and even “mother” vs “not mother”, the list goes on and on.

These differences are often satirized on the internet as we all realize that the “Mommy Wars” need to end. But in real life, library, playgroups, playgrounds, I found myself growing quiet as I stopped talking about my mothering experiences. There really wasn’t a place to have a voice without offending someone who did things differently or being judged negatively by others. Raised eyebrows, derisive laughs, rolled eyes, I got tired of them, quickly. Ultimately, it seemed that if mothers admitted they were struggling or unhappy, they were judged, but…if mothers admitted they were actually happy, they were not only judged but considered thoughtless to those who were struggling (even as they were judged). This confusing and vicious cycle was something I wanted to opt out of, and fast.

But one cannot mother in a vacuum. And yes, I have very strong opinions of this thing called Motherhood and don’t even get me started on Modern Parenting in our Modern Society. Most of all, I feel that the mother-child bond is the most sacred thing on this earth, yet it is the one most overlooked, dismissed, and destroyed in how society constructs its’ values. So it’s time. To start finding a voice that is inclusive and healing while still raising questions about how and why we have allowed motherhood and childhood to look and feel the way it does in our culture.

Being invited to this blog and accepting this invitation is a huge step in my own journey as a mother. To begin speaking aloud thoughts that I have harbored for over 4 years. To find moments of humor, realness and compassion with other mothers and with women who are not mothers, for whatever reasons. I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to finally begin to put words the deepest visceral experience I have ever encountered. They may come slowly, awkwardly and somewhat incompletely, but just like the little person I am raising, every day brings a new chance to learn something new. To say something new. And to begin to interrupt the quiet.

20/20 Vision

Remember the Y2K scare? How could that have been twenty years ago? While I didn’t think it at the time, I look back and realize how naive I was back then. I trusted too easily and believed people meant the words they said. I suppose I didn’t want to see people as the complex beings that they were. I preferred people (and life) to be in more black and white terms..good or bad…right or wrong. Perhaps I didn’t want them to disappoint me. Maybe I was just trying to figure out life as a grown up and it was easier to understand that way. I don’t know. I wanted, no I yearned for, a simple life with all my ducks were in a row. Somehow, I thought that meant happiness. 

Seriously, I didn’t have a clue. Life just doesn’t work that way. There are days when I can’t get half of my ducks in a row, let alone all of them. What was I thinking? How could I believe that superficial order meant happiness? Life is gray and mucky and complicated and exquisite and wonderful all at the same time. I had only been married for a few years back then. I felt like I was on a predetermined path. I’ve divorced and remarried since. So much for a predetermined path. I’ve experienced unbelievably heart-wrenching and indescribably beautiful moments…sometimes within short time spans of each other. Unexpected, untimely deaths of loved ones, divorce, newfound love, motherhood twice over, unconditional friendships, professional challenges, and professional fulfillment overlapped and sometimes collided with each other. In some ways, the past twenty years have felt like a roller coaster ride. A beautiful, heart-stopping roller coaster ride. 

So what has the two decade roller coaster ride taught me? Here are my biggest takeaways:  

1. Life should be lived slowly, because time slips away too damn fast. The idea that time flies is so trite, but is undeniably true. Nothing has proven that to me more than watching how quickly my children have grown. The babies and toddlers they once were have disappeared forever. As life progressed at breakneck speed, the years somehow vanished. I’m learning to slow down and find more joy in the ordinary because I am downright terrified of the pace time can dissipate. 

2. I don’t ever want to stop learning and growing. Maya Angelou once said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I’m proud that I’ve endured challenges, made mistakes, learned from them, and done better. The toughest times taught me how strong I really am. I don’t feel the pressure to be perfect anymore. I’ve given myself permission to make mistakes because I trust I will learn and grow from them.

3. You are given the children that need you the most. My oldest son had a bazillion food, medication, and environmental allergies–so much so, that his pediatrician said he was the most allergic patient she ever had. My youngest son has an uncommon medical condition that involves motor and sensory dysregulation. Both of my boys needed a mom who was willing to learn everything she could about their conditions, adapt environments to meet their needs, locate the best specialists to provide expert care, and advocate fiercely for them. They got a mama bear who doesn’t have quitting in her DNA.     

4. Children are only ours on loan. That one hit me like a ton of bricks when I dropped my oldest son off at college this past fall. As I sobbed uncontrollably when I said goodbye to him (and for the entire three hour car ride rode home), I couldn’t help but wonder where the hell the time went. I’ve learned to cherish the moments I have with my children–even the challenging ones–because I now fully understand that those moments aren’t limitless.

5.  In the end, it all comes down to love….love of a partner, children, family, friends, and yes, love of self. Love gives life meaning and makes the excruciating times bearable. At the end of my days, I know it is the legacy of love I leave behind and take with me that will matter the most.

I’m not sure what the next decade will bring, but the year 2020 feels like a play on the idea of clearer vision. It seems almost prophetic. I hope to move through the next decade with greater clarity as I carry these hard-earned lessons with me. I can’t wait to see what else comes into more distinct focus. Bring on 2020! 

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