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

Black

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Black is my color. Not because it is my favorite color to look at but because it’s the color I look smallest in. I know I am not alone in this. Millions of women across the world feel the same way. And this is never more true than after the birth of a baby, or after a very long winter cooped up in the house power snacking or during perimenopause which I am now intimately acquainted with. The fact is that I have been trying to divorce those last 15 pounds for about 10 years now, which, by the way, just happens to be the age of my youngest child.

Normally, this doesn’t bother me too much. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about self-image and how our society pins labels on us. This is mostly because my 12 year-old daughter is in the middle of trying to figure this puzzle out and has been asking a lot of questions lately. I am alarmed to find that some of the questions are about classmates who have started bingeing and purging and other bad habits related to low self-esteem. Somewhere along the way, our girls are picking up the idea that they are not good enough just the way they are.

As moms, we learn the true meaning of unconditional love from the actual act of ‘momming’. We would jump in front of the proverbial train to save our kid’s life. It doesn’t get much more unconditional than that. And yet, in our society, we put all kinds of qualifiers on love. We see this every day in the conversations we have, the movies we watch, songs we listen to, etc. The message always seems to be ‘You are lovable when you look pretty, wear the right clothes, become athletic and perform like a pro, get the grades, keep your room clean, and on and on….

I’m wondering how much of this ‘not good enough attitude’ comes out of my mouth at home? How often am I too critical when I’m correcting her or looking at myself? How many times have I deflected a compliment because I didn’t really think I deserved it? How many unconscious ways have I shown her that I don’t think she or myself is good enough?

I know she is watching because the other day she said to me, “Mom, why do you wear so much black? Are you trying to be a Goth?” Luckily, I didn’t say “Because I’m too fat.” But who knows what has slipped out when I wasn’t really thinking? The bottom line is that our daughters won’t love themselves unconditionally until we, as moms, learn to love ourselves that way. Once we give ourselves the love we so willingly give our children, we won’t feel the need to correct all those external things about ourselves or them. Maybe then our girls can find some peace.

And instead of trying to make ourselves smaller to fit into the world’s idea of ‘right’, let’s emulate for our daughters what it means to show up BIG, as our own authentic, lovable selves just the way we are. And if that happens to be with an extra (__fill in the blank__) pounds, so be it.

Perfect

 

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My oldest is graduating from college this May.  I have a hard time believing this is where we’re at.  The old cliché ‘time goes so fast’ is slapping me right in the face.  I remember the first few days after I brought him home from the hospital.  I had a mini freak-out over the fact that now I had a living clock lying in my arms.  From that day forward I would be counting the days, weeks, months and years according to how old my baby boy was.  I would never again be oblivious to the passing of time.  It made me feel like I’d been caught red-handed by Father Time.  “Oh no”, he said, “Even you can’t escape me”.

So on that day, I decided to make the most of each moment I had with my son.  I put so much emphasis on each little change he went through.  I poured my whole heart into teaching him everything I could.  He was a smart little boy, soaking up each bit of information, hitting all the milestones early.  I was so proud.  I was doing a good job.  But soon, my savoring turned into this disease called perfectionism.  I was going to get this mommy thing right if it killed me.

This worked for a few years, until fast forward to three little boys under the age of five.  I was starting to feel the cracks in my armor.   Boy, was it exhausting throwing perfect Martha Stewart birthday parties, being room parent and taking the kids on a new outing every day!  Not to mention, monitoring their diet carefully, following a strict schedule and disciplining them consistently.  This mommy stuff was hard!!

Perfectionism didn’t loosen it’s grip on me until my fifth child was born seven years later.  It was then that I had no choice but to cry “Uncle”!  I finally realized that parenting was never going to match up to the vision I had in my head.  So the funny thing is, I still do all the things I did before.  Only now, when an outing I’ve planned goes to hell in a hand basket or a kid comes home with a D on a test, I don’t consider myself a failure.  I’ve come to see that none of us has control over life, especially the lives we’ve created that are our children.  We get caught up in the idea that our parenting skills are being graded on some invisible score board, and in that belief is the greatest curse of Father Time.  Because all the energy we are using to make each moment perfect is a moment in time that we aren’t truly present with our kid.

So, as I reflect on the fact that my son is an adult now, soon to embark on his own life out in this great big world, I find myself wishing for a do-over.  I wish I could go back and really be there with him and his siblings in each of the stages of his boyhood and savor the sweetness like I did in those first weeks after he was born, before I forgot that I didn’t have to be perfect.