This month represents a lot of firsts and lasts for our family. Our first-born, Jare is a senior in high school this year. How did that happen? Being a senior innately means experiencing a lot of lasts. I had to laugh when he posted a photo of his “last first day of summer band.” I know he will be marking the “lasts” all year long. I remember doing the same.
His younger brother and our third-born son, Bal, is a freshman this year and also part of the marching band. As Jare marks his lasts, Bal is marking his firsts. It has been interesting and heartwarming to watch Jare make sure that so many of Bal’s firsts are special and good experiences. Bal doesn’t fully understand, yet, what a blessing it is to have others go before you and plow some of the way before you even take your first step. Bal will have some plowing of his own to do, but Jare has certainly done his part to smooth the way of the “firsts” a little.
To add on even more “firsts” and “lasts” for our family, our youngest son turns 1 in two weeks. He’s the baby of the family and the last one we will have. So every first for him is a last for us. We are relishing the little toddler he is turning into, but missing some of the sweet baby things he is leaving behind.
The rest of the kids are all in the midst of their own lasts and first. The first time in a long time that Nod won’t have a sibling at the same school, his last year of middle school, his first year riding the bus alone. The Baby girl is in her last two years of elementary, the first year to be tested on writing and the first year to have a school issued computer. Boose isn’t a freshman this year, but there are still lots of firsts for her. Her first full AP class and the first year without any of the dreaded PE requirement.
Life is full of lasts and firsts. Some of them we aren’t even aware of until they have passed. I knew Jare was my first baby of course, but I had no idea that we would be blessed with 6 amazing beautiful complicated children to enhance our experiences here on this earth. I had kind of settled that the Baby girl would be our last little blessing and then Buta Baby (a weird nickname I’ll explain sometime) showed up amazingly to lead us down some vaguely familiar territory one more time.
Ever have those moments where despite the fact that nothing supremely amazing is happening, you just feel like life is amazing? I’m having one of those now as I write this. How grateful I am for all of these moments in my life and the amazing people who make them. I’ll need to reread this in December when I’m running to the 24 hour CVS to buy note cards for the kid who forgot to study for a final, poster board for the kids who forgot the major project due tomorrow, and enough antibiotics to choke a horse for whichever family member will be in need at that moment.
I may need a reminder of just how very blessed I really am.
Firsts and lasts included.
I’ve known this moment was coming since before you were born. And more than any other birthday, I’ve dreaded it. 17 years old. This is the last one I get where you are still a child, still my little boy, still under my thumb in the eyes of the law. I know that seems irrational to you. If we are being honest, most of what I do seems irrational to you lately. But indulge me for a second. Please.
17 years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I was determined to be a good mom. I could see into the future and knew that this independent, obstinate, headstrong baby would need special lessons to help him navigate his future. I had a time-line to follow. 17 years was plenty of time to instill in him all the lessons he would need to get through life. It seemed like plenty then.
There have been checkpoints for me along the way to gauge my success. When you were seven, I knew I only had a decade left. I squeezed you a little tighter on that birthday, before you wiggled free to race your monster trucks and create ramps out of my books. But there was still so much time.
When you were 12, I started to panic a little as I watched you blow out the candles on a “cool” cake. Only 5 years left and so much left to do and give. But still 5 years is enough if you work really hard.
Last year I was really beginning to be anxious as I watched you play volleyball in the backyard with your friends. You were already taller than me. 1 year left to give him everything he needs. I determined to try my best. But now here it is and despite 17 years of lessons, lectures, lovies, and late-night chats, there seems to be so much more to do. So much that I didn’t do.
I don’t think I taught you enough meals to make so that you won’t starve. You don’t know how to make my meatloaf, and I know you love it. I think you could figure out how to sew a button back on a shirt, but hemming your own pants is probably beyond you. Okay, it’s beyond me, too. But maybe I should have sub-contracted that one out to your dad.
I know I’ve told you all about most of the pitfalls of Satan that lay in wait out there in the world, but did I let you know how cleverly they are disguised? Will you be able to recognize them? And more importantly, when you inevitably get snared, will you know how to come back? Will you know that you are wanted back desperately by me and more importantly by your Father in Heaven? Do you know that everyone messes up and that everyone is still valuable, loved and important? Did I teach you that?
I didn’t manage to quell your zest for adventure at all. You are still the little boy who at 4 years old begged to go and meet some strangers. I didn’t manage to change your pigheadedness. You’re still the two year old who knew that he could safely climb to the top of the refrigerator if mom would just get out of the way. I didn’t manage to moderate your impulsive generosity. You are still the kid who gave away his coat, his yearbook, his toys, and even the entire bucket of Halloween candy he had just collected to someone you felt needed it more. I could never change your smile, with that mischievous glint in the corner that always makes me smile even when I’m so mad I am shaking.
For the last 17 years I’ve stood in a corner watching you and shaking my head at many some of your decisions. You are So. Not. Like. Me. I rarely understand what goes on in your head. And yet, more times than not, the results are something that makes me incredibly proud of you. Really. I know you don’t always think so, but I’m so incredibly proud of you. You do things I have only dreamed of, and you do them well.
There is a lot I felt I was supposed to do before now. And, I can’t shake the feeling that there is an ending here on this birthday.
But, I was hoping, if you don’t mind, that I could sign on for another 17 years?
I’ve got the experience you are probably looking for in a mom. I’ve learned a little on this last go round about who you are and how you work. I’ve figured out some things about what you need and what you’ve truly got covered. I was hoping I could tag along a little while longer? I’ve decided I’m not ready for this mom thing to end with you quite yet.
If you could see a place for me, I’d appreciate it.
I’ll pack light.
You bring the rolled eyes and exasperated sighs.
I’ll bring the irrationality and the meatloaf.
And I know you love my meatloaf.
Around Christmas time I started feeling really tired. Super tired. Ridiculously tired. And then I started feeling icky. My mom came for Christmas and we were so busy that the thought barely entered my mind. The minute she drove away, I began to wonder. What if? I counted back the days and was shocked to realize how late my little monthly visitor was. I went to buy the test fully expecting it to be negative.
It was positive.
I sat there for awhile not knowing quite what to do. I called my husband (who was downstairs) and asked him to join me in the upstairs bathroom. He came upstairs and we laughed and cried together. Because we miscarried just a year before, and had a miscarriage before our youngest was born we decided to keep it a secret from almost everyone. For the next couple of months, I blamed my lack of energy and sickness on gluten, the flu, fatigue from going back to work full-time, etc. During that time we had some scares that this pregnancy wasn’t going to work out, making us glad that we hadn’t told our other kids. But by February, everything was looking great. It was time to start telling people.
On Valentines Day we woke the kids up a little earlier with some small Valentines gifts and called a family meeting. They were all a little grumpy. My husband and I had to run out the door to work, but we asked them how they would like to have a baby brother or sister as a Valentine’s Day gift? They couldn’t believe it. They all began to cheer and hug us. Except the youngest. Our nearly 8-year-old baby began to cry. And not happy tears. “I’m getting replaced” tears. It took about 15 minutes for her to calm down and start to be a little excited. By that afternoon, she had created a behavior chart for the new baby, and some flash cards to teach her new sibling how to read.
Now, here we are with about 10 weeks to go until this baby arrives. We are all excited and waiting eagerly. Big news, indeed.
Sheesh. Best of intentions. So sorry. I’ve been busy. Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah.
A few posts in the last couple of years? How to even catch up.
Maybe its best to begin where I am?
Pick myself up. Dust myself off. Try again.
When I was a little girl, I was in love with my state. How could I not be? We have beautiful plains. Our state song is famous. And we have the best state holidays. Ask any kid who ever got to build a covered wagon out of a red Radio Flyer and race it across a starting line to stake a section of the playground during Land Run Day.
Uh, huh. Be jealous. That’s how we roll in Oklahoma.
We’re not the most important state in the union as far as population and square miles of land, but we are pretty important to each other. When somebody needs help, others step in. It’s not a full-proof system, but generally in our state you do what’s right by your neighbor. I know there are other places in the country where you can still borrow a cup of sugar from someone next door, but I’m from a state where you could borrow a cup of sugar from any one of 4 million people. I witnessed this first hand as a high school junior during the aftermath of April 19th, 1995 and again as a college senior at OSU on May 9, 1999.
I moved away in 2000, not too far away, but still across the border line. But, I never really left.
My parents helped me stamp my four year old feet prints into the concrete of our newly poured sidewalk in 1982. They are still there in front of our house in Shawnee. When we visit, I show my children the faded footprints so they know the places that I’ve stood and where I still stand.
I know you are strong, Oklahoma. I know you will heal and rebuild. I know the losses can never fully be restored, but I know you’ll make an effort so valiant that others will look at you, shake their heads in disbelief and wonder what we put in the water in Oklahoma to grow people like that. You’ve done it before and there is no doubt that you will do it again.
It’s hard to be away from you right now while you are going through this. On Tuesday morning, after a long night of sleeplessness and prayer, I got my children ready for school, pulling out all of their black and orange Oklahoma State gear for them to wear in a sign of solidarity. I would have even sent them in crimson and cream to show support and thoughts for a state I love.
I fielded lots of phone calls from friends and in-laws who know I’m an Okie and that my whole family is back in my home state. I texted to donate to the relief effort. I took calls from my sister, a Moore resident whose home was spared, to look up different things on the internet she needed including donation sites where she could take items to help. And I prayed.
It didn’t feel like enough because there is so much to do, but it was something.
On Tuesday night when it looked like my home was under a threat for severe weather, my aunt texted me, very worried. I assured her that our safe closet was ready with our NOAA radio, granola bars, mattresses, and Kindles to keep the kids occupied. She texted again, “Words are stupid, but I love you.”
I texted back the truth to her. “Words aren’t stupid. They heal, uplift, and inspire. I love you, too. And if you imagine me saying it to you face to face, you can feel all the extra meaning that comes with those simple words.”
So I’m asking you, Oklahoma, to feel it face to face when we, the rest of the world, are saying it to you. Feel the pride in your selflessness, determination, and strength. Feel the gratitude for your endless tireless work to help others. And most importantly, feel the love from a world that while far away, knows exactly where we stand. We stand with you, Oklahoma. We love you.
Many of my friends on Facebook recently linked to a well-written post about why the writer does not make her young son share. There are some really valid points in her arguments about raising a generation of kids who feel entitled to have something because they want it.
And yet, the article bothered me. There was something missing for me. I felt the need to write a response, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why. So I mulled it over for nearly a week. I read through comments and thoughts by my much wiser fellow women and moms. But still, something was missing for me personally.
This is my attempt to articulate my own personal reasons for teaching my children to share. I present it only to add another dimension to the thoughts already shared. I am very grateful that I don’t have to raise other children besides my own. Random strangers remind me all the time that I have my hands full with the 5 entrusted to my care. Seriously…all the time.
When Jare was 6 years old he started Kindergarten at our local elementary school. My husband was in his last semester of college, so money was very tight. It was a struggle to keep up with all the field trips, book orders, sock drives, etc. that come when you have a child in school. Nearing the end of the year, it was time to order a yearbook for Jare. I really wanted him to have one, so I forked over the $15 to buy it and felt grateful that we were able to squeeze that much out of our budget for him to have a record of his first year in school.
Then I got an email from his teacher. She told me that she saw another boy with Jare’s yearbook. She said that the boy told her that Jare gave it to him, and that Jare told her that he wanted the other boy to have it. She asked me if I wanted her to make the little boy give it back to Jare.
I sat there for a minute processing the situation. My gut reaction was, “Heck yeah, I want it back.” After all, I could not afford to buy another one. But then I thought about it and decided to talk to Jare first.
When he came home, we chatted. He explained that the little boy couldn’t afford a yearbook and that he really wanted one and that Jare really wanted to give him his. I explained to Jare that I couldn’t afford to replace the yearbook, that if he gave it away, he was truly giving it away. Jare told me that the little boy never got to order from a book order, not even the cheap books. The little boy never had an extra dollar to buy popcorn or a fancy pencil or anything. He said he understood that by doing this he wouldn’t have a yearbook and that he really wanted the boy to have it. And so that’s what happened.
I’m not sharing this story with you to make you think that Jare is an amazing kid. Jare is a normal kid who makes his fair share of mistakes. I’ve got most of them in writing. I’m sharing this story because if you are a human you probably felt joy that there was a kid in the world willing to make a sacrifice for someone else. Maybe it even made you feel all warm and fuzzy that he wanted to give someone an experience that they otherwise would not have had. We see these stories occasionally in the news. I don’t know about you, but they make me feel excited about those kids who will soon enough be grown-ups.
If we are being honest our world has become increasingly “me-centered”, a point that the original article brings up in a valid way. Many kids now believe that because they want something they should have it, at the expense of others. But that feeling cuts both ways. Other kids believe that because they have something they should get to keep it all to themselves at the expense of others.
So we pull toys out of our kid’s hands when other kids want them and then expect their parents to pull them right back out of their kid’s hands and give them back because our kids want them?
We teach sharing by sharing ourselves. We express gratitude and appreciation when our children share. We ask our children to share when they are monopolizing public items or areas that others want access to as well. We share stories of people who have shared with us and how it made us feel. We teach about taking turns and why it is mutually beneficial. When someone doesn’t share with our children, we don’t shame the child or comment on the parenting techniques of their mom or dad. But we might talk privately with our child about how it made them feel that they weren’t shared with and caution them against causing those same feelings in others. We can teach them about only making sacrifices that they can accept and handle the consequences for. We can show them how we set boundaries with our sharing and encourage them as they do the same thing.
This isn’t a passive parenting technique, but neither are most. It takes effort to raise a kid who knows how to share and when and what not to share. (Why do they always want to share their sippy cups but not their toys?)
Whether you like it or not, we share this world. Our kids are going to grow up sharing the roads, the workplace, the air, the neighborhood parks, the grocery stores, and many other places. That’s the way it is when there isn’t just one person with access to the whole shebang.
I learned to share from watching the examples of my parents. I saw my mom let people go in front of her at the grocery store when they had only a few items and her basket was full. I saw my dad do it when he donated money to a family my class had adopted for Christmas and went without new boots to do it. And more than that, I saw them do it every single day for us as their children. I still remember being six years old and having my mom give me a Snickers candy bar. I went to divide it in half with my sister. The pieces broke unevenly. I remember staring at both halves for a minute before giving her the bigger half. My mom hugged me. I didn’t know, but she had been watching. I remember feeling happy as she told me that she was proud of me. I lost nothing by giving a larger section to my sister. I was telling her, “I want you to have this more than I want to have it.” I think our world could use a little more of that, but it won’t happen without some teaching, modeling, and communicating that sharing is a virtue worth having.
So remember Jare and the yearbook? When other people heard about what he had done, we had 5 different people offer to purchase a replacement yearbook for him. One was a teacher at the school who heard about what had happened from Jare’s teacher. Another was a friend of the family. 2 more were family members. The last was a little girl (and her parents) in Jare’s class. Ultimately the grandparents went to the school and bought him one. They get to do that because they are grandparents. At first I worried that it sent the wrong message to Jare. Give and someone else will be right there to give back to you. But then I thought that the lesson might be perfect. By giving away his one yearbook, he got back so much more.
And don’t worry. I’m not going to go around trying to force your kids to share. I also won’t go around telling my children (or even thinking) that yours are selfish because they sit on the best swing at the park for 2 straight hours while every other child waits for a chance. I’m not going to give you evil looks because your child took all five of the last bottles of bubbles on the shelf. But I will encourage my kids to take turns at the park when your child wants a chance to slide. I will praise my daughter for putting the tub of crayons in the middle of the table so that your child can reach them, too. I’ll squeeze my son’s shoulder in appreciation when he holds the door open for your family despite the fact that he’s standing in the rain. I’ll teach my kids that sharing isn’t always rewarded with gratitude, appreciation, or like-minded treatment from others, but with a deep feeling inside that you’ve helped or added to the space around you, that you’ve made the world a little brighter for someone else, and that you’ve magnified a desire to show love to others. Because ultimately, it’s not really about sharing a toy…