Friday, April 12, 2013

I Love You

Last week, a mother visited the preschool classroom that I work in to read a story to the children.
Before she began reading, she held up the book for the class to see. She pointed out that the cover was bent and the pages were worn. She told the class that all of her own children had loved this book. She smiled at her son, sitting directly in front of her, and said, "We still read this one almost every night." This boy, not quite four, was the youngest of her brood of six. No wonder this book looked so battered.

The book, titled, I Love You, Stinky Face! told the story of a boy who asks his mother if she would love him if....

He were a terrible monster with great, big fangs
He were a creature who lived in a swamp
He were a skunk who smelled so awful that his name was "Stinky Face"

To each question, the mother lovingly reassures that she will always love her child.
She will love him forever.
No matter what.
She will take care of him
Be there for him under any circumstance.

As this mother read the book to a group of captivated children, I recalled when my own children were that young. When, after a bath, we would snuggle under the covers and read. When Miss J and I would have our playful banter of "I love you more than you love me!" When I smothered them with kisses and pulled their ever growing bodies onto my lap and told them that no matter how big they got, they would always be MY babies.

And now my girl, my baby, is almost eleven.

My girl who is looking for a little bit more space and a little freedom. My girl who has begun to test the boundaries and who rolls her eyes and slams doors. My girl who is less and less a little girl with each day that passes. My girl who is morphing into someone new with her own thoughts and ideas and opinions.

I wonder what the sequel to this book would be if it were written for an adolescent tween....a adult child. As Miss J grows, if she were to come to me and say....

I failed my test
I failed the class
I was suspended
I don't want to go to college
I got drunk
I smoked a joint
I had sex
I'm pregnant
I got a tattoo
I'm giving up religion
I'm gay
I got fired
I'm getting a divorce

Will I have the courage and the sense in the midst of such a scenario to tell her I still love her? Will those words come through loud and clear, straight through my own feelings of anger, disappointment, betrayal? Will I still tell her I love her when her choices are irresponsible and do not align with my hopes for her?

It is easy to love them when they are small and sweet with chubby baby cheeks and soft skin. It is easy when they draw you pictures and give you handwritten Mother's Day cards and dandelion bouquets. It is easy when they wander into your bed with tousled hair and sleepy eyes seeking out the warmth and comfort only you can provide. It is easy when they plant sticky kisses on you and believe that you hung the moon.

It gets harder when they are sullen and moody and when they roll their eyes and let out long dramatic sighs. It is harder when homework gets blown off and the room is a mess and when they pick at the meal you've prepared or when you have to tell them, no, you cannot go out until your chores and homework are done. It is harder when they tell you that you don't understand or look at you as if you know nothing at all. It gets harder when they challenge your rules, your ways, your ideals. It gets harder when they seem to want to be with their friends more than they do with you.

And when it gets even harder, as I expect it will, I hope I never assume that she knows I love her. I hope remember to tell her in the midst of whatever unpleasant or unexpected situation she may be facing:

No matter what you say, not matter what you do...I love you.

I hope I tell her often. I hope she hears it. I hope she knows it. Always.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Walking Through Water

In just a few weeks, my girl will turn eleven.

When she was small and snug, safe within the confines of my protective womb, I imagined the type of parent I would be.

I was going to be the mother who understood all the ins and outs and nuances of her children. I would be firm, but fair. I would establish the line between parent and child, but I would be open with my children. I would hug them often, listen always and ground them when necessary. I would be calm and patient. I wouldn't yell. Or spank. Or make idle threats in moments of frustration.

I would keep a tidy and organized house. I would feed my children nutritious meals (balanced of course by the unexpected surprise of an occasional bowl of ice cream overflowing with whipped cream eaten in bed for no particular reason.) I would assist with homework and Boy Scout projects and would play board games and color for hours while balancing the house and a career.

I would not be the mom who lost the permission slip and had to ask for yet another copy, or who blew off the GirlScout cookie sale or who forgot the parent/teacher conference.

Weekends would be for outings as a family and dinners with grandparents and for listening to sermons on Sunday mornings in church. My children's friends would become a fixture in our home and we would host cookouts with friends. I would have perfect scrapbooks that would remind my children of the family vacations, Christmas, Easter, and birthday celebrations we so lovingly created for them.

I would never 'not have time' to shower and I vowed I would never leave the house in a half-hearted attempt at a pony tail or bun. I would never wear mom jeans and I would remain current on pop culture and music. I would wear sexy underwear under my clothes and would be the wife my husband adored. I would always have a flush of gloss on my lips and he would always be able to detect the soft scent of perfume in my hair.

My children would be polite and have impeccable manners. They would be witty and funny. They would be well liked by their teachers and popular among their peers. They'd respect their elders and their parents and would never dare to talk back or slam a door. (And if such occasions did arise they would be handled in a Bill Cosby-esque way and parent and child would come to a mutual understanding about respect and house rules and such offenses would never be repeated.)

Of course, they would be strong in academics and good in sports and would love practicing piano scales. Homework would never be forgotten and reports would have big capitol 'A' circled in red Sharpie across the top.

They would have clean rooms and clean teeth. They would be adventurous eaters who would never turn up their noses at vegetables. They would value hard work and would always do their best.

They'd never watch too much tv, eat too much candy, spend too much time playing video games.

As a parent, I would walk on water and my children would be amazing.

Or so I thought. Only the later half of that statement is true.

I do not walk on water.
I trudge through it. Slow and cumbersome and awkward.

I am eleven years into parenting and I am impossibly far from the view I had of my future self.

We have built a home of love and hugs and kisses, but within these walls are snarky children, parents who do yell, slammed doors and hurt feelings. Our home is neat and tidy, but laundry piles up and clutter is often hidden away in closets before company arrives. Meals are nutritious but roasts have been burned, exotic new recipes have failed to please the small ones and there is always a blue box of mac and cheese tucked away in the cabinet for they days when I cannot get it together to cook. My children have eaten ice cream or cereal for dinner...not as a special treat but due to my own parental laziness.

For one child, academics does come easy. She knows it and seems to enjoy sitting back and taking it easy. My other child is persistent and hard working, but his cognitive disability means that many of the concepts that come so easily to his peers continue to elude him.

I have lost the permission slips and have not volunteered to chaperone the class field trip and I have no idea when the PTA meetings are. I never iron and my minivan (they one I swore I'd never own) has graham crackers ground into the upholstery and white lollipop sticks stuck on the ceiling. (Not kidding.)

My son will never be a Boy Scout and he will never give the Valedictorian speech at his high school graduation. He cannot name US presidents but he can name every character on Sponge Bob (again, a show I swore my children would never watch.)

My girl is on the cusp of puberty and hormones are raging. There are days when she yells so loud I fear the neighbors will call the cops. She's told me she hates me, hates her life, hates this family and wants to run away. We've already had fights over what music she can listen to, if she should have her own cell phone and whether or not she can stay home alone. Her extreme IQ and even more extreme ADHD often make it easy for her to be misunderstood by her peers and her teachers.

And I kept the vow to myself that I would shower every day, but my hair not gets cut in sensible styles that are easy to maintain. I do not own a pair of 'mom jeans' but my the fashion choices in my closet are few and far between. My children can identify a 'really special' event approaching because that is the only time I get my nails done. When I need perfume I steal my daughter's and I think I have some lipstick in the bottom on my purse or rolling around under the seat of my car.

I am full of mistakes and frequently left wishing for a 'do-over'. I had sat awake in the wee hours after a fight with my daughter or a meeting with my son's teacher and have wondered what I could have done different. Better.

I do not walk on water. I trudge through it daily. But at least I am moving forward. And though I am far, far for the perfect vision of a mother I imagined I would be, I am there. Every single day.