Travel logged

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I have to give a shout out to all the amazing fathers out there, my husband included, who empower their wives to travel frequently. There is a reason life is set up to have two parents. It’s a tag team operation.  If you’re doing it right, parenting is hard work, which is why I have to go on vacation by myself every few years to get a break. Because the only way a Mom really gets a break is if she leaves the city. And God bless my husband, he supports my need to do this on a regular basis.

I remember the first time I left him with the kids for a few days by himself. We only had two then, and they were just babies. I will never forget the look of stoic desperation in his eyes. Being the control freak that I was, I had written out pages and pages of instructions, schedules, emergency contacts, etc. As I went over the lists with him, I could tell that he had serious doubts about his abilities to fulfill his mission. I had serious doubts myself. But my need to get a break was greater than my fear, so I handed him the baby and didn’t look back. I have to say now that it was probably the best parenting move I ever made.

When I came back, the house was still standing and everyone was still alive, if not a little rough around the edges. But the first thing I noticed was that my dear husband had a quiet confidence about him. And the baby was clinging to Daddy like he was the lifeboat, something I had not witnessed before. In my absence, they had all grown closer. They had been the team that had to survive the weekend, come hell or high water. And not only had they survived, they had had fun! There were certain forbidden things you could do when Mom wasn’t around to spoil the fun! Like eat whatever you want and stay up past bedtime to watch the football game. And brushing teeth? Well, that’s just optional. My boys had bonded with Dad in a way that never would have been possible with me around.

From that time forward, my husband and I were in it together 100%. He had been a hands-on Dad from the very beginning, but there was something about knowing that he could totally do it by himself when he had to that gave our whole family a new outlook. I stopped micro-managing every little detail and let him take the lead with the kids more. The boys started going to Dad when they had problems to be solved. Our family was stronger together because we now had the perspective of what it was like to be apart.

Through the years, I have been away from my family quite a bit. There have also been many times when I have been on my own while my husband traveled. It is a good thing to get away for a while to gain insight on your life. It is good to look at your life from afar and realize that as good as it feels to not be responsible for a million things, you are still homesick for the ones you love. And that no matter how far you travel, your heart stayed at home.

Hidden Treasure

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I have always been an optimist but I have one child who is decidedly not. His mindset is, by far, one of my biggest challenges as a parent. And also, one of my greatest learning opportunities.

This dear child came into the world expecting the worst to happen in most every situation. If I cheerfully said, “You’re going to love pre-school. They have great toys and you’ll make new friends.” he’d grumpily say, “Teachers yell at you and the kid’s will take my toys.” Every conversation was point and counterpoint, but I was determined I would show him a brighter way. The opportunities were many for us to disagree. And in the beginning, that is exactly what I did. Until he was about the age of five, I fought with him about everything. Lord, the energy I wasted. I can see that now. But as is true for everything, you don’t get it until you get it.

The exact moment eludes me of when the light bulb finally turned on. Probably in the car while I was driving kids somewhere for the millionth time. But there was a point when I decided that I didn’t want to fight him anymore. All of my insistence that the world is rosy was only causing friction and negative energy between us. It was only showing him that I could never see things from his perspective, that I could only judge him and deem him wrong. This was not the basis for a good mother/son relationship.

So I let go of my need to be right. I started to put myself in his shoes and a crazy thing happened. I realized that a lot of the things he was saying were actually true. The teachers do yell. The kids do take his toys. Now we had the basis for a real conversation. “What do you think about when the teachers yell?”, I asked. And in the asking, instead of the telling, is a treasure trove of information. Turns out this kid sees a lot of things that other people miss or gloss over like I did. Things that, while not so pleasant, are important to know. Go figure.

Now, I will not claim that I love it when he’s refusing to play in the yard because a bee might sting him every day of the summer break, but I do love that he has taught me to dig deeper. I currently know way more about flying insects than I ever thought I would. And I am a better person because he has taught me to have more compassion for other people’s viewpoints, to see that there is more under the surface of each of us, even if those views are considered not so positive. This has brought me patience when random people throughout my day do things that I don’t agree with. I ask myself questions, instead of getting annoyed. “Do you think they are afraid of driving?” I ask, about the person going 40 mph in front of me on the highway. “Do you think she had a fight with her husband?” I ask, about the checkout person who just snapped at me. There is always a hidden treasure if we choose to look for it. Thank you, my little pessimist, for showing me that.

What are you afraid of?

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As a mom of four boys that play lacrosse, I have a surprising confession. I have a really hard time watching their games. Not because I’m afraid they will lose, but because I’m afraid they’ll get injured. So afraid, in fact, that my family members don’t like to sit by me during the games. And usually, I’m not sitting anyway because I’m too busy pacing like a nervous tiger on the sidelines, if I’m even there at all. I spend the entire Spring season trying to manage my fear.

This is an interesting paradox for me since I am so proud of the fact that my boys overcame their own fears while becoming the amazing lacrosse players that they are. I watched each of them grapple with the fear of really putting themselves out there in harm’s way, usually in their freshman year of high school. They each made a conscious decision that they weren’t going to let their fears hold them back on the lacrosse field. It takes a lot of courage to run toward the goal while an entire team’s defense is hitting you with a metal pole, trying to stop you. I am constantly in awe of their ability to do this (and every one of their teammate’s abilities, as well).

This got me thinking, ‘How is it that they have that courage?’. I believe courage is a muscle that we develop just like anything else. Each day, we are presented with opportunities to grow this part of ourselves. As children, we start with the little things. We learn that we are capable enough to tie our own shoes, make our own toast, handle a conflict that comes up with our friends, do our own homework and take the grade, stand up for ourselves on the playground, and a million other ways. Childhood is ripe with these opportunities. As parents, though, our tendency is to take over when our kids are in any kind of distress. We are easily capable of solving these issues for them and many times we step in and do just that. But each time we do, we steal an opportunity for our child to grow that muscle. Our sincere desire to lessen our child’s pain, in fact, lessens their ability to handle pain in the long run. This has become so prevalent in our society, that it has it’s own name, “Helicopter Parenting”. We all fall victim to it, some more than others.

I was eating in a restaurant by myself last week, so I was able to overhear the conversation next to me between a mother and her son, who looked to be about 9 years old. His juice box straw had fallen into the box while his mom had gotten up to get some more napkins. When he showed this to her upon her return, she said to him “That’s why you wait for me to help you with it.” She then proceeded to cut up all his spaghetti for him. The child looked miserable and I’m pretty sure he would have been easily able to manage a juice box and a plate of spaghetti by 9 years old if she hadn’t shown him with her words and actions all his life that he wasn’t capable of this. How is this child ever going to have the courage to do anything for himself?

While this is an extreme example of helicopter parenting and I can rest assured in the knowledge that I am never that overprotective with my kids, I think it is important to remember that we all need to manage our fears so that we don’t pass them on to our children. When we are in fear, we shut out the possibility that our children may have talents we never dreamed of. We cut short their chance to amaze us with their brilliance and problem solving skills. We are so afraid of what might happen, that we lose out on all the wonderful things that could happen. And when bad things do happen, because they will, we see that our kids are not as fragile as we think they are. They can persevere, if we let them.

As parents, we need to grow our own courage muscles to allow our children this chance. Therefore, I will consciously work on keeping my mouth shut for the rest of the season and I will focus, instead, on the beauty that are my children pursuing an activity they love and have perfected to a degree I never imagined possible.

Family Table

photo tableMy dear husband just posted a rash of old photos on facebook and as I look at them, one thing jumps out at me: the bedrock of our family has always been the dining room table. Made of solid barn wood and heavy iron, it’s mass symbolizes the importance of the moments that have taken place there. It has scratches from hundreds of meals on it and each one is precious. It is the place that we can come to at least once a day to be nourished, stomach and heart.

If you haven’t noticed, I am wild about the family meal. From my children’s early years, it was very important to me to have a healthy, home cooked meal on the table at least 5 or 6 nights a week. Food, for me, has a language all it’s own. If cooked properly, it contains the love it is prepared with. It is a warm hug from the inside and a way to make sure I get the minimum vital nutrients into my loved ones, which is always foremost on my mind.

But something else has become apparent to me that is even better. There is a power in the ritual of the day in and day out of coming together. There is a foundation of care, a practice of showing up. The intuitive knowing by each family member that they are valued through the simple act of being provided a meal is a powerful thing. They can count on that sustenance and the communion that takes place during the process of eating it. This is how bonds are made, trust is developed, love is shared. And since each conversation at that table is not always a peaceful one, I would argue that learning compromise, negotiation and respect are also lessons to be had at the family table.

It is easy to grow weary after years, months, hours spent meal planning, shopping, food prepping and stirring the pot over a hot stove. Or after the many nights when a picky someone says they are not eating this meal in that passive-aggressive way of stalling and pushing their food around. But I revive myself when I look at those many photographs and understand that these are the moments when lives were formed. And no matter what city we live in, if we can gather around this table, we will be home.

*Dedicated to Chandler who gave me the idea for this post. XO