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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

This past week was my son’s tenth birthday, so for week 45 of #songaweek2016, I wrote him a song and made a video to go with it. Now I have no more single-digit children!

Who could ever explain how a bald-headed bundle of joy
just by eating and sleeping and laughing and learning
grows into a long-haired long-legged ten-year-old boy?

I held you first
and right through the worst of those midnight crying hours
and I’ll be the last
to ever let go of the love you birthed in me

What a difference a decade of everyday days can make
first you’re reaching, then rolling, then crawling, then walking
jumping, kicking, running, swimming, climbing, never hitting the brakes

I held you first . . .

Be brave, be kind, be-you-tiful boy

I shouldn’t be shocked that you’ve been melting me from day one
cause chocolate bars and momma’s hearts
behave the same way in the light of the sun[son]

I held you first . . .

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These are my kids, seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time last summer.

These children are good red-blooded Americans. Which means their genetic code is a patchwork produced by immigrants. They are here because a religiously persecuted sect called the Schwenkfelders fled Germany in the 1700s and settled in Pennsylvania. And they are here because another group seeking religious freedom left Sweden and settled in Minnesota. Their immigrant ancestors also include English and Irish, French, Spanish and Scot; and one Austrian grandmother on my side who by family accounts remained an undocumented immigrant her entire life. My children also have at least one non-immigrant ancestor, from the Native American Choctaw tribe.

I don’t know what my kids are up to in this photo – I took it but I didn’t pose it and I don’t recall if I knew what they were doing (maybe trying to catch bird poop?!), but just now, I like to imagine that the immigrants who made them are rising up and reaching out through them, towards that hope of freedom, a new start, a land of opportunity. I like seeing the sun shining on their young hands, and I hold out hope that love and compassion and courage will flow through those hands as they grow up in this deeply divided nation and inevitably encounter suffering, unkindness, and injustice in many forms.

And I pray for their mother to let them inspire her, to speak up and stand up for the vulnerable, to help them make their way peacefully and bravely in this world, to not be afraid.

And for today’s immigrants, in so many ways so like my own ancestors and my husband’s, and those of my neighbors, of my friends, of so very many of my fellow Americans – I pray peace, safety, freedom, and opportunity. And I stand with them, on the legs I inherited from immigrants, their hopes and dreams still alive in me – and in these children.

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A little dreamy ode to the simple life, here’s my song for week 33 of #songaweek2016. With Nathan Bloom on harmonica. Would’ve loved to add more instruments and fill it out a bit, but it was an extra busy week with a real live gig and kids going back to school. (That toddly baby in the picture is now a tall, soccer-playing fourth grader!)

There would be raspberries in our little yard
the sun would shine all the time
except when the rain came to help our garden grow
then we’d be snug inside

could every day be like a holiday?
could this be happily? (ever after)

We’d keep some chickens in a little coop
we’d thank them for the eggs
maybe a baby, maybe two
toddling on wobbly legs

some nights there might be tears on our pillows
some dreams just won’t come true
but all these broken parts of our hearts
make spaces for the light and air and rivers to flow through

out on our front porch we’d pass the evening hours
watching the branches sway
We’d smile at neighbors and strangers passing by
until we call it a day

 

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I wasn’t planning on having children. Actually, I was planning on not having children. Until my now-firstborn, now-twelve-year-old, first made herself known. That extra pink line on the plastic strip might as well have been an angel, and I would have benefited from the routine angelic greeting, “do not be afraid.” I admit I cried myself to sleep that night, but it seems I always take a night to freak out before changing my plans in any major way. Sometimes even the sweetest surprises are first met with salty tears.

And now, we are two-thirds of the way to that tiny baby’s high school graduation.

Week 15 of #songaweek2016 included an extra challenge, to write a song in the form of a recipe. I already felt like writing a song about my daughter, so I found a way to squeeze it into recipe form too.

Take a smidgen of him and a dash of me
Bake for nine months at ninety-eight point six degrees
Then when my body feels like it’s about to break
It’s time to open up and meet my babycake

Pretty baby pretty baby with her daddy’s eyes
Pretty baby pretty baby mama’s sweetest surprise

Give liberal breastfuls of milk to my sugar and spice
Try not to scream the first time she bites
Blend up some squash and put it on a teaspoon
Pretend it’s on a mission and she’s the moon

Pretty baby pretty baby with her daddy’s eyes
Pretty baby pretty baby mama’s sweetest surprise

In a medium class combine her with twenty kids
Sift through all her papers and art projects
Roll out chores and charts so she gets her work done
But ditch the cookie cutters, let her make her own fun

Pretty baby pretty baby with her daddy’s eyes
Pretty baby pretty baby mama’s sweetest surprise

Sometimes my little sweet gets a little saucy
Sometimes she flames up like bananas foster
Then I let her settle

Let her sweetness age, let her take her time
Gotta wait patiently for the finest wine
Then however she decides to pour herself out
She’ll outsparkle all I’ve dreamed about

Pretty baby pretty baby with her daddy’s eyes
Pretty baby pretty baby mama’s sweetest surprise

 

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I cried on Mother’s Day this year, and you are allowed to laugh at me. Because I did, afterwards.

Many women have experienced miscarriage, infertility, death of a child, and other such tragic and justified reasons for crying on Mother’s Day, but this wasn’t my reason.

There are other women (like me at one time) who are childless by choice, and happy with their choice, and yet may feel pressure or disapproval or just plain awkwardness from friends and family when Mother’s Day rolls around. Also not my reason yesterday.

And other people who have unfavorable memories of their own mothers – or none at all – and don’t necessarily welcome a special day for therapeutic purposes. My memories of my own mother are an embarrassment of riches, so I can’t claim this reason either.

No, mine was much less significant, but I’d wager it’s not so uncommon. My reason was expectations, and by now, I can see this problem coming a month away from any big day. Besides Mother’s Day, I have cried on my birthday (and not because I felt old at the time), my wedding anniversary, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. And these are only the particular holidays on which I can actually remember a specific cry-fest.

This year, the first blow to the dam of my tears was my son Silas getting the first plate of pancakes, and no one noticed! On Mother’s Day! But I nobly said nothing and continued drinking my coffee.

I won’t recite the litany of offenses. It included a grumpy big sister and an annoying little brother constantly picking at one another, and ended with father and daughter in a parent-preteen standoff about her attitude, which is terribly tiresome to conduct as a parent and infinitely more tiresome to hear as a bystander. On Mother’s Day! How could they?!

My coffee was unfinished and still hot, but I couldn’t take it any more. “I’m going for a walk,” I tearfully choked out. Laced my shoes, slammed the screen door. Pulled up my jacket hood, loped around the neighborhood and cried quietly.

The nerve of my family, to ruin my special day! Other families, my Facebook feed had cheerfully informed me, were giving their mothers breakfast in bed. Other children were probably hugging one another as they danced around their beloved mother, other husbands probably regaling her with chocolate and roses and loving words about her tireless devotion etc.

After I had my little cry, I began to notice people. An old woman walking a tiny dog, alone. A middle-aged woman whose face tightened with a manufactured grin as she greeted me with an obligatory good morning. I began to think about people who don’t have families, or aren’t on good terms with their families; and my inconsiderate, arguing mess of a family at home began to look like a little slice of heaven.

There they all were, together, a day off of work and school, and I could be with them too! And Nathan had cooked pancakes for all of us! And my children had made and written special things for me – and the day was only beginning!

At home, I found father and daughter tenderly talking things through. Hugs and apologies followed all around.

But one of the apologies I refuted. Luthien said, “I’m sorry I ruined Mother’s Day for you, Mom.”

I told her nothing was ruined, and then I suggested we just forget about Mother’s Day and enjoy our Sunday together. Which is what we did.

Which – as could be expected – included more moments of aggressive sibling relations and parental impatience. But also – as could be expected (if only a person remembers to look) – scintillated with beauty, love, delight, and joy.

treasured gifts from my children

treasured gifts from my children

 

 

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[I wrote this after a school-morning parenting moment with my preteen daughter earlier this year. Sometimes I am just as amused at my words in moments like these as I am at my daughter’s!]

You absolutely adore your teacher, and he fiercely cares for his students. One day when I am volunteering in the lunch room you walk in and sit down, and you are crying. Your teacher confides in me that he doesn’t get it why you cry sometimes and can’t say why.

I get it. You know why, but it’s not a talking kind of thing. You and I sat on the couch this morning and tried using words to unravel the problem, but it only wound tighter, tightening along with your shoulders, along with my tone of voice.

Using words, we outlined the problem something like this:

You need to make your lunch so you’re ready for school.

I can’t. My life is so hard. I’m lonely. I hate it here. I want ramen noodles. Please buy me ramen noodles. We don’t have anything I can make for lunch.

I just went shopping yesterday. We have plenty of food.

No we don’t.

Yes we do.

No we don’t.

How have I failed so miserably as a parent? We need to leave this country. You need to see how most people live. You have clean water and more than enough food and a safe place to live every day. You get to go to school every day, and have few other responsibilities in life. How can I show this to you?

You hate me. I make you feel like you’re a bad parent. I need to leave. I’ll move somewhere else. You don’t want me.

Words, which I love, often fail me in my parenting efforts. So I close my arms around you, my dear miserable child, and close my mouth. Your shoulders relax, my throat loosens, and eventually, you are in the kitchen making your lunch and singing.

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Lots of things can inspire people to push to a new level.

You can see someone else do something amazing, and start to wonder what you may be capable of. For example, watching the Olympics. Or this guy. Or the last moments of last night’s Super Bowl!

You might have a drill sergeant or a coach or teacher or boss who yells and punishes and demeans you to draw those hidden reserves of strength from you. It works for some people, some of the time.

Or, as I poignantly discovered yesterday, love might do it. Love and joy and a bit of parental pride too.

silasrunThis kid, if he were your kid, might inspire you to do something you didn’t think you could. Maybe you have one like him. Or maybe you love someone else as fiercely as I love this kid, and then you might also know what I’m talking about.

In this photo, my son is a few years younger, but he’s doing the same thing he’s been doing every day, almost since he first balanced on those two legs. He’s running. Back and forth, lap after lap after lap. Muttering and shouting to himself, jumping, waving arms now and then, the star of the story in his head, pounding out the joyful rhythm of life coursing through his veins.

On Saturday, Silas toured the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and the athletes and stories he encountered inspired him to start his own training. On Sunday, he announced that he would run around the block 20 times. Nathan went with him, and used his phone’s Strava app to track it.

Ten laps around the block, and Nathan was done. They had gone 2.5 miles at an average pace of 9:38 per mile. But Silas wanted more! He had said 20 and he meant to do it. So I said I’d go.

Six and a half years ago, I decided it was time to get back in shape, and so I started running. My first accomplishment was running one mile without stopping. Over the years, I pushed until I was regularly going on ten-mile runs, and my average pace peaked at (or dove to?) around 9:30 per mile (which is nothing special, but for recreational running, respectable enough).

Then we moved to Colorado, where the air is thinner, which makes running harder – and since we’ve moved here, I’ve never run further than six miles at a time, or at a pace much less than 10 minutes per mile. Lately, I’ve been averaging closer to 11-minute miles, and hardly running more than two miles at a time.

Which, of course, is fine. Even great, relatively speaking. And I’ve been content with that.

But then, yesterday, Silas wanted someone to run ten more laps around the block with him, and as he had already worn out his dad (who, to be clear, is in great shape but just not much of a runner), it appeared to be my turn.

Knowing that just two days before I had eked out two 11-minute miles, and that Silas had just rocked two-plus miles at a pace of more than a minute per mile less than that, I wondered how this might go. But, he had just run two miles, and I was coming in fresh, so maybe these next ten laps would go a bit slower.

I brought my phone so we could track our pace on my Strava app. Since Silas didn’t have a good way to carry it securely while he ran, he emphasized that I needed to keep up with him so he could get an accurate reading of his pace.

I said I would.

And we were off.

The kid showed no signs of slowing down.

“Pace yourself, now, Silas! Remember you’ve got to keep running for ten laps! And you’ve already done ten so you may be tired.”

“I know, Mom. I’m fine!”

“Great!” But I wasn’t so sure about myself. Legs felt fine. It was the lungs that protested. I concentrated on breathing, and keeping up with Silas.

We counted the laps as we passed our house. “One!” I panted.

“Nine more to go!” Silas joyfully shouted.

Help! my mind screamed.

We made it to four.

“Only six more now!” piped the happy little athlete.

Six more! But we hadn’t even run six yet. We had run four, and we were going fast, and I was breathing hard. When we had actually gotten to six, we would still have four more – as much as we had just run – still to run! How was I going to manage?

“Are you getting tired, Mom?” Silas asked as we turned a corner and I began to breathe especially hard.

“Not really, just having a little trouble breathing! How are you doing?”

“Great!” chirruped the cherub.

“Awesome!” cheered the panting mother.

We ran, and counted, and ran, and talked a bit.

And then, somehow, we were at nine. One left! I could do anything now!

And we did. We sprinted for the finish, and I stopped the app and insisted we walk just a bit to cool down, and when those ten laps were complete, my phone told me we had just run 2.5 miles at an average pace of 8:54 per minute.

Even in the flatlands, even on short runs, I rarely saw the number 8 for a minute-marker in my average pace.

My boy had just run five miles in a little over 45 minutes, on a whim, in the mile-high Colorado atmosphere.

And, probably more remarkably, he pushed his mother to shave two minutes off her average pace – not with inspiring platitudes, not with barks or insults – but with something much more powerful.

He did it by tapping into the love I have for him, and sharing his absolute joy of running with me.

This morning, still basking in the glow of yesterday’s achievement, I went out on my own and ran an 8-minute mile, and another 10-minute one to finish out a daily run.

I didn’t know I could do that, not before yesterday, not before I ran with Silas.

Who knows how serious Silas will be about continuing his “training”? I hope we can keep it up together for a while at least.

But whatever the case, and far beyond the realm of running, I learned something deeply important yesterday – that if you want to break through to a new level in anything, or help someone else do so, love and joy might just be the ultimate motivators.

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