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…
One of my cousins by marriage and I were standing in my kitchen during Pie’s birthday party. I was sharing with him some of the struggles that I’ve been going through with my oldest kids. Not major struggles, just things that are supposedly typical for the teenage years. Having to take their phones away because they used them in ways that aren’t allowed in our phone contract, talking to them honestly about sex, dealing with the fact that they are one billion times smarter than I am (in their minds), trying to listen to them, love them, parent them, protect them, let them grow up and away while still keeping them safe and close.
All in a days work.
He shook his head with just the tiniest bit of fear in his eyes. Teenagers will do that to you, make you afraid.
You see his oldest child is not even a pre-teen yet. As a parent, he is still in the middle of diapers, and book fairs, and learning to ride bikes.
He looked at me straight in the eye and asked, “What can I do now so that I’m ready for that?”
There was an honest and almost desperate desire in his voice. He wants to be the best parent that he can be. He knows that extremely challenging things face kids today and that as his very innocent, sheltered, and protected young children grow up, they will encounter more and more that he cannot change, control, or remove from their spheres.
I wanted to laugh and tell him to go find a real expert to share the answers to successfully raising teenagers. But there was something in his eyes that made me pause and think.
I’m not the best parent in the world. I’ve messed up many times. My youngest daughter alone ate a glass ornament, geranium seeds, urinary tract pain medicine, and an entire bottle of gummy vitamins within a 2 week time period. The poison control people know me by name. My oldest son ran away from home (to play elsewhere) 4 times before he was 5 years old. I’ve been irate and irrational with my kids. I’ve used the TV as a babysitter. I’ve said things like, “If you don’t clean this room, I’m going to box up everything you own and send it to starving children in Africa”, only to give in and start throwing things in the toy box myself.
I am not super mom.
But I am somewhat successfully raising teenagers. They are still alive. So am I.
So I told him the things that I’ve learned. The things I wish I’d done differently. The things I hope to do better in the future.
1. Love them. I love my children with all my heart. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. I love them dirty and sticky. I love them
clean less dirty and less sticky. I’m not the easiest person to love every day and neither are they, but I do it every day.
2. Listen to them. Nobody wants to feel like their opinion isn’t even worth being heard. It’s tough most days. Most days I do not feel like their opinions are worth being heard. Most days I listen to a variety of treatises on the benefits of not studying before a test, not wearing the waistline of the pants at a normal level, why vegetables are the devil, how I would benefit from hiring a maid, why the latest fashion fad is necessary for child A, B, C, D, or E to fully contribute as a functioning member of society, or how my adherence to an archaic code of conduct is ruining someone’s life. But mixed in with a lot of…bull, is some stuff worth hearing. As I’ve listened I’ve realized that my kids are vulnerable, that they need reassurance. That sometimes they need to say something stupid out loud so that they can hear how dumb it sounds, laugh about it, and move on. That they want me to think that they are learning enough to function on their own someday, because they are scared to death that it is coming too quickly and that they won’t be ready. That they love me. That despite how stupid, old-fashioned, mean, and bent on torturing them I am, they still want to tell me things. So I listen.
3. Live in a way so that you know what to do and say. I’m a firm believer in the Holy Spirit as a parenting guide. If He wrote a book on parenting, it would be a best seller. Actually, the books He has been associated with are already best sellers. To have His presence with you, you have to be seeking it, and living worthy of it. I’ve been impressed by the Spirit many times, to ask certain questions of my children, to check up on them, to not let them participate in things, to nudge them into participation of others. The entire reason we moved recently was related to a prompting about our kids. If my tuner isn’t tuned in a way to pick up the station that the Spirit is broadcasting from, I will miss vital information related to my family. I have to keep that tuner right where it needs to be. I do that by striving to keep the commandments, reading good things, listening to good things, doing good things. I am not perfect. (I wonder how many times I will say that in this post. Probably not enough.) But, I am trying. And it is the trying that lets me hear messages that are of vital importance to my children.
4. Realize that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them and has a plan for them. I’m good at plans. I could plan out the lives of my children and they would be fantastic. But He has a plan for them. That plan will include struggle, sorrow, and trials. I hate that for them. I would take that away if I could. But in taking it away, I would take away their opportunity to grow, learn, and come to rely on the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. He won’t let me take that away from them. Frequently when I pray (especially about my oldest son) I get a very distinct answer. That answer seems to say. “You cannot mess up the plans I have for him.” At first this feeling seemed to be a condemnation. As though I was somehow trying to thwart an eternal plan for a son that I love dearly. Gradually, I realized that the answer was a blessing. I make mistakes. I don’t know what I’m doing as a parent. Yes, I’m trying. But there are many days when that just doesn’t feel like enough. But I can’t mess up the plans that He has for my son. I’m not powerful enough to destroy those plans, even accidentally because of my failings. What a relief. If His eye is on the sparrow, surely it is on His beloved children entrusted to our care.
5. Stand against the oncoming horde. I know that sounds melodramatic. But any parent who has felt impressed to set a standard or a rule for their family has probably felt the pressure of that oncoming horde. Sometimes it feels as though the entire world is trying to get you to lower standards, make exceptions, alter expectations, or just plain give in. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not talking about situations where after prayer and study you feel impressed to make changes. I am talking about knowing what you are supposed to do and feeling like there is not another living soul (or maybe only a select few) who agree with you and will stand with you. Sometimes it even feels like your children, the ones you are determined to protect are on the side of the horde. It’s enough to make you falter, I know. Realize that you never stand alone. He is on your side. Your love and concern will bring them back. They will see the horde for what it is. They will see you for what you are. Stand firm on the side of right, loving them always.
6. Be honest. Admit when you are wrong. Ask forgiveness when forgiveness is needed. Remember how I told you to listen? There will also be times to talk. Don’t be afraid to say the truth. When I had “The Talk” with my kids I started off stammering, blushing, and tripping over my words. With each one I was very honest. I told them “This is hard for me to do. Only because it’s hard for me to realize that you are old enough to talk with about some of these things. But you are, so I’ll just do the best I can. Forgive me if I stumble.” Still, in all of our subsequent talks on the subjects related to the birds and the bees, I have to steel myself to speak honestly with them. I’ve also had to admit to my children when I was just plain wrong. I’ve had to ask for their forgiveness. I’ve also been very honest about what I want them to do, what I think is right, and what I would do in similar situations. A lot of parents worry that if they influence their children’s decisions, that they’ll never learn to figure things out for themselves. I guess there is an element that is true. But on the flip side. I would never allow a toddler in my care to decide to have candy only to eat, or to play in the street, or to go up to unfamiliar animals. We modify the choices our kids are allowed to make based on their age, maturity, and ability to appreciate and accept the consequences that go with those decisions. How will our children know what we believe or what we think if we never tell them? The world is telling them what it thinks, shouldn’t they know what we think as well? Yes, they may choose a different way than what we suggested, but we have to let them know where we stand.
7. Laugh together. This is one of my weakest areas. I remember when our oldest was a baby. I did everything by the book. Most of the books don’t have a section on fun. Fun is where the unity and love come from, I’m still reminding myself about that. I’m blessed to be married to someone who knows how to drop all the “must-dos” and just have fun. He and my kids are hilarious. When I let go and let us just be together, really great things happen. My husband is not afraid to skip through a parking lot with the kids in broad daylight. He and my oldest son once danced “Gangam Style” through a packed parking lot after a home football game. I, on the other hand, tried to melt into the pavement. One day we were having a really rough day. It was a Saturday. Nobody wanted to get the things done that we needed to do. There was fighting, yelling, complaining, whining…and the kids weren’t happy either. I had Pandora on an 80s station, my favorite for cleaning. Cyndi Lauper was singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Instead of dusting, I began dancing and singing at the top of my lungs. The kids laughed and then joined in. It would have been wonderful if after that song was over, they all miraculously finished everything that needed to be done. Honestly, we gave up on a lot of our to-dos and saved it for another day. That moment of dancing was just a moment for joy. And this life is supposed to be about joy. Find it together with your kids and you will seal their hearts to yours.
My cousin didn’t say a lot about anything after I told him all this. He had been listening intently and was mulling it over in his head. At that moment his 9 month old son fell flat on his face busting his lip. He instantly ran to him. I watched as he took the baby to his wife for comfort while he got a piece of ice and checked over his lip. His care and concern were evident. Within a few minutes the baby was smiling and laughing again. I have no doubt my cousin will tackle the teenage crises that are coming with as much diligence and skill as he did his son’s little fall. He loves his children and wants good things for them. He’s willing to do what it takes for those things to be provided. Good things will follow. They are on the way.