Tag Archives: letting go and letting grow

Hawk and Daughter

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Look, Mama, she said,
I think I see a hawk.
And just like that, the ducks,
who had been so happily nibbling
under our bird feeders,
disappeared to parts unknown.
The yard became quiet,
almost ominous,
as squirrels took to their dens.
Sparrows fled and even
bossy jays could not be found.

Her limbs have lengthened,
and I’m surprised when I look at her
and see her creamy flesh
stretched out over her frame, and hear
her voice sing my name, and I wish
this moment were a marble I could
pick up with irritation from the carpet,
and slip into my pocket.

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Holding Hands

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Jack was off from school for his April vacation.

We took the train into the city and went to the aquarium.  It was a really nice day.

He loved the penguins.

I loved that he held my hand on and off throughout the day without any provocation.

It’s been maybe a year and a half since Jack stopped holding my hand willingly.  Maybe two years.  I kind of lost track.  I’ve never stopped sticking my hand out for him when we are walking in a mall, or crossing a street, but it has been ages since he has accepted it.

Kids grow really fast.  There is not much you can do to slow it down or stop it.

I don’t know if it was being in the city, or the bustle of the train, or if he just wanted to feel close and connected to me.  But we held hands and it melted my mama heart.  There were times I actually wanted to turn to a stranger and say, LOOK–  this is Jack.  He is my son and he is almost nine and he is holding my hand as we walk around.

Of course I didn’t do that.  I just smiled as we walked.  And I smile with the memory.

The Big Girl Bed is Coming! The Big Girl Bed is Coming!

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In my head, there is a galloping horseman calling out a new milestone with a breathless desperation:

The big girl bed is coming!  The big girl bed is coming!  

Emily is about to turn four.  And she is finally transitioning from a toddler bed to a real, twin-sized bed.  It’s official.  The bed has been ordered by doting grandparents.  There is a date for it to be delivered in a couple weeks.

Over eight years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, Jack, my husband and I went on a mission to buy a crib.  I had dutifully researched what brands of baby furniture were the best, and we alighted upon a pricey, oak model that was meant to transition from crib to toddler bed, and then from toddler bed to full sized real-bed.  We used it for about four years with Jack before transitioning him into a big-boy bed when we were expecting Emily.

Turns out it is too complicated to actually fashion the thing into a full-sized bed.  So, my hopes and dreams of spending so much money on a product that could be used from birth to age 18 did not come to fruition.

Which is okay.

Really, it is okay.

Because we got over eight years out of this piece of baby furniture, and both the kids got/are getting lovely big-kid beds with storage space, drawers, and book shelves attached.

It does, however, give me pause, as many things in motherhood do.

I remember how my husband set up the crib in preparation for the babies, during both of my pregnancies.  I stretched clean sheets over the little mattress, inhaling the waft of Dreft and patting my belly with a content sigh.  I remember how tiny both of my babies looked in that crib as newborns, barely taking up a couple square feet in it.

Both children thought they were particularly clever (as did their parents) when they figured out how to pull themselves up and stand against the slats of the crib.  I remember listening delightedly to Jack, singing in his crib when he woke in the mornings.  I remember tossing Jack into the crib for time outs when he was a toddler, and how he always wanted a big pile of books in with him at night, so when he woke in the morning, he could read.

While Jack never even attempted to climb out of the crib, Emily figured it out early at about 18 months old.  She would surprise us by climbing out and toddling out with a huge grin on her face.  Because she was such a tenacious monkey, we had to convert the crib to toddler-bed-mode earlier with her, so she wouldn’t hurt herself climbing out of it.

Remembering all these moments is bittersweet.  It is fun to watch my kids grow and learn, but it is also kind of sad.  When Jack got his big-kid bed, the crib didn’t go anywhere because we were setting it back up for Emily.  But now, with Emily getting her new bed, the crib/toddler bed will get dismantled and put away in the basement.

Emily knows she is getting a new bed.  She seems happy and okay about it.  I’m taking my cue from her, and not allowing the poignancy of motherhood to infect her joy and confidence.

Much as we try to slow that galloping harbinger of developmental milestones, he flies on and on.  Most of the time, parenthood is a much faster ride than we are comfortable with, and while we might lose our breath (or have it taken away) momentarily, we have no other choice than to keep up.

What milestones were particularly bittersweet for you?  

Garbage Bag of Maternity Clothes

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A tattered, black garbage bag of maternity clothes sat by the stairs.

It had been in the back of my closet, then moved to the basement of our old apartment, where it sat for years.

It must have been moved into the basement of our new house last fall.

It suddenly appeared in the corner of my bedroom, a few weeks ago.

I’m assuming my husband found it in the basement and moved it up to the bedroom so I could sort through it, which I did, after about a week of scorning its slovenly presence in my room.

As I sifted through the XL contents of that bag, which I had to open with a cesarean slit because the knot at the top was too tight, memories came.

There were clothes from my pregnancies with both Jack and Emily.

I found the dress I wore to Valentine dinner with my husband, when I was only a few months along with Jack, and not even showing yet, but yearning to get into the spirit of the endeavor and wear the clothes with almost marsupial space for what would grow beneath.

I found the corduroy pants I wore to the hospital to give birth to Emily.  I found the couple of shirts that I wore almost constantly at the end of my pregnancy with Em because she was ginormous, and I had almost nothing that fit me.

I found memories of stroking my stomach as I waddled along with my precious, golden eggs nested under my ribs.

I put the Valentine dress into a pile with the dress I wore to my baby shower, and the tie back shirts that really screamed, Look at my belly!  I’m carrying a baby under here!  

In another pile I put a stack of pants and tee shirts that really held no meaning for me.

The first pile went into an enormous zip lock bag, and back into the back of my closet.

The second pile was crammed back into the torn garbage bag and plopped back by the stairs.

It sat there for a week.  Or two.

The went into the trunk of my car.

It traveled down the street to the Salvation Army, where I pulled it out and pushed it into the yawning mouth of the bin.

Sometimes My Kids Make Me Brave

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 It’s no secret.  Motherhood changes a gal.

“What are we waiting for?” Emily squealed.  “Let’s go in!”

There was an expanse of seaweed between us and the ocean.  First it was crisp and stinky, buzzing with flies, up on the hot, dry part of the beach.  As we got closer to the water, it grew damp, then sodden and squelchy.

Emily didn’t seem to mind it as she dragged me down sand towards sea.

If there is one thing I have always hated it is seaweed.  It is so nasty and slimy and there could be a million things hiding in it that want to slither around or snap at my toes.

But I didn’t have long to muse on my loathing of slimy stuff, because my eye caught something clear and glistening in the sun.  “Oh my gosh!  Look, Emily, it’s a jelly fish!  Eeewww!”

If there is one thing I hate more than seaweed, it is jelly fish.  Disgusting!

“Can I touch it?” Emily immediately asked.

“No, Baby.  It might sting you.”

Truthfully, it was one of those “mostly” harmless jellies that wash up on the beach here, but I’ve heard they can cause some skin irritation, and my daughter does have very sensitive skin, so I preferred she not commune with the jelly.

We walked up the beach.

Well, I walked.  Cautiously.

Emily skipped with the exuberant glee of a puppy, straining on the leash of my arm.

I’ve always been a bit of a neurotic mess.  I’m scared of practically everything, and phobic about some things like snakes, clowns, and crowds, and crowds of snakes and clowns.

But like I said, motherhood changes you.  I’ve found myself shoving aside some of my -er- issues for the sake of my children.

Until I had my first child, Jack, I had a paralyzing fear of the dark.  I was so scared of the dark, that if I woke in the middle of the night with a full bladder, I would lie awake and in discomfort until day break because I was positive Hannibal Lector was lurking behind my shower curtain, just waiting for me to get up and pee so he could “have a friend” for a midnight snack.

See, I told you.  Neurotic as a Siamese cat.

It is like being pregnant and birthing a baby altered the molecular structure of my brain, because after bringing Jack home, there was no fear of the dark.  Not that walking around in the dark is my favorite thing, and not that I don’t still get jumpy, but when you have a little baby crying for you in the middle of the night, you can’t exactly stay frozen in bed for fear of fictional serial killers.

Last summer I also put my fear of slimy stuff aside to pet a shark and sting ray at a local aquarium.  Jack wanted to, but he was a little skittish.  Logically, I know there is nothing unsafe or threatening about these things, and it was in a supervised setting.  I didn’t want Jack to be afraid, or to be deprived of the experience.  So, I stuck a finger into the tank and pet the shark.

Oh my gosh, you guys, it felt awful!!  It was so cold and gross and I hated every second of it!  But I loved that my gesture gave Jack the courage to do the same.  He also found it icky, but at least he made his own informed decision.

Truth be told, Jack is cautious and a bit on the anxious side.  He is tentative about heights, new situations, and squelchy stuff.  Like me.

Emily is much more of a dare devil.  She has always been very physical and energetic, has loved climbing and jumping off of stuff, and has boldly gone forward in situations when Jack would have been slow to warm.  In short, she is rapidly turning all my hair grey and taking minutes a day off my life with her antics.

So, it was really no surprise this girl wanted to prance through the seaweed so she could wade into the water.

We walked down the beach until we found the least seaweedy spot.  Then we did it.  We waded in up to our knees.

I never would have done it if Emily hadn’t been there.

Something about her courage to boldly go, inspired me.

I didn’t love the experience of sticky seaweed swarming around my ankles, but I loved Emily’s delighted laugh, and how her entire body seemed to smile as the gentle surf splashed us.

We waded for a bit and then I went up and sat on our blanket for a few minutes as she ran between me and the water’s edge, throwing balls of muddy sand into the water’s edge.

To My Daughter, About Dance and Her Beautiful Body

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IMG_7377We went to your first dance class.  What a joy it was!

Even at three years old, you are infatuated with movement.

You have been sitting in our laps to hear books about pigs and hedgehogs who dance, have been twirling in our hallways, and jumping with the abandon of a wild rabbit.

You have insisted on wearing tutus since you were two.  You were given a pile of old, dress-up tutus and tossed them on over your dresses, leggings, and even pajamas.  There have been nights when you slept in two or three tutus, layered one on top of another.  The lavender one is quite tattered now, but it is your favorite still.  When you wore it to the doctor’s office, she asked if it was a princess dress.  But we told her, no, it’s just your “everyday” tutu.

You have been looking forward to dance class for quite a while.

So, I signed you up for an expressive movement class at a local creativity center.  We are calling it ballet, but it is much less formal, of that I made sure.

You know I was a dancer.  I pulled out my ballet slippers and showed them to you.  Tentatively, I put them on and showed you how to do first position.

You were enchanted.

Truth be told, I was enchanted too.  But I was also nervous.  A sense of over-protection swept over me like the strains of Romeo and Juliet’s pas de duex.

Dance and I had a love/not-love relationship for decades before I finally hung up my leg warmers and pointe shoes, threw away the leotards who’s stink of sweat never fully seemed to get washed out, and gained some weight.

I have no recollection of my first dance class, or if it was my choice to go.  I do remember the years of body shame, perfectionism, food restriction, and self loathing.  I remember being measured, being told at 15 my breasts were too big to ever be a “real” dancer, and I was way too tall to ever be partnered or lifted.  I remember being encouraged to do harmful things to stretch deeper, be thinner.  Part of this is an inevitable path of an athlete, but for me it was totally unhealthy and perpetuated years of emotional trouble and poor health.

My wish for you is a love/love/love relationship, not just with dance, but also with your body.

If you only had any idea how beautiful the soft curve of your baby belly is over the waist band of your leotard and tutu.  Your knobby knees and the rolls of oversized, pink tights around your ankles take my breath away.  They are sights of innocence, of a girl child who has very little concept over how her body looks, other than that it is decked out in her ballerina-fairy-princess finest, and she are rocking the look.  Big time.

Your body is strong, healthy, and capable of wonderful things.  Your body is yours.  Your body is perfect.  IMG_7379

We feed it lots of healthy choices, and enjoy cupcakes with pink frosting too.  This is okay.

We keep it nice and clean with warm bubble baths that make you smell sweet, but sometimes we skip a couple days and your hair gets frowsy and just a bit sour smelling.  This is okay too.

Your body will grow and grow.  If genetics mean anything, you will likely be tall like the rest of your family.  We are by no means naturally waif-like, but we will help you to learn to eat healthily and get plenty of exercise.

I will try to set a good example for you of taking care of my body, speaking respectfully about myself, and practicing moderation in diet and exercise.

I also recognize that you are not me.  I will try to be mindful not to project my own insecurities and fears onto you.

What you do with your body is your choice.  Always.

Right now you love dance.  I’m happy you like dance, and that there is this common ground on which we can connect.  It is also remarkably healing for me to watch you enjoy dancing in such innocence and freedom.

Dance is an amazing art form full of complex figures and interesting histories.  I have, over the years, developed a respect for dance as I respect the beauty, mystery, and dangers of the ocean.  Dance is an athletic endeavor worth pursuing.

Maybe next year you will want to do karate like your big brother, or soccer, or gymnastics.  As much as we are financially and logistically able, we will try to support you in discovering all of the physical adventures you can enjoy.

I want you to feel proud of your body.  I wish you would always twirl with such crazy, off-center confidence as you do right now.  At age three.

You move your body, and it is pure bliss.

It may seem early for me to be worried about your self-esteem and body image at the tender age of three.  But we live in this wacky society where people’s notions of beauty are skewed, and unrealistic at times, and where they seep into our own consciousness in subconscious ways.

You don’t have to look like the half-dressed lady on the tanning billboard.  You don’t have to look like your pal at school with the long, long hair.  You don’t have to look like mommy.  You don’t have to look like Cinderella or anyone or anything other than just you.

Watching you in your first dance class, I was beside myself with joy.  You went with the teacher without a second thought and you did everything asked of you with grace and enthusiasm.  You got a stamp on your hand for doing a great job, and you were thrilled.   I watched on the other side of a little window.  I took tons of pictures and videos, ever the proud mama.

I have no recollection of my first dance class, but I will never forget yours.

Hearts

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IMG_7220The morning my son returned to school after February vacation, I opened up his backpack to clean it out.  Among the stale crumbs, random legos, and broken pencils, I found a handmade card.

It was a Valentine.  On the front there was a big heart, colored in a pastel rainbow.  It read “To Jayla”.

Puzzled, I opened up the card to find out how my seven-year-old son had mistakenly gotten this card.

Inside, in neat, red pen, it read:

Dear Jayla.  Will you be my Valentine?  I love you, but I now know you think I am a jerk.  I think you are butifull and prity.  You are the best girl in the world.  I love you.  Love, Jack.   

On the opposite side from the writing, there was a drawing of a blonde, little girl in a heart.  My own heart skipped a beat, as I realized Jack made this card.

For a girl!

Who he loves!

And who thinks he is a jerk?!?

WHAAAATTTT???!!!

Did I mention my kid is seven?

A mix of emotions flooded me.

The obvious work and care Jack had taken with this card initially impressed and touched me.  I was also a little annoyed and slightly jealous that his unsent card to Jayla was nicer than the card he made his own mother.

IMG_7137I felt a little sad for my little boy who had been rejected by this Jayla, whoever she was.

And why does this chick think my son is a jerk?  Can we talk about that?  I mean, he can be aggressive and obnoxious at home, but to my knowledge, he has never been anything other than well-behaved and “normal” outside our home.  Jack is almost always the youngest kid in his class at school, and as such, sometimes he struggles with knowing when enough is enough and we have gotten comments from his teachers that sometimes he is overly “social.”

But no one has ever accused my kid of being a jerk, except possibly his father and me, when Jack is well into his fourth hour of irascible behavior on the weekend.

So, again, why does this girl think Jack is a jerk?  Is he being crappy to people?  Do I need to have a talk with my seven-year-old about consent and how he treats women?  OK, I guess it is never too early for that, so I’ll put it on my list of things to do, right after sorting through the markers, cleaning out the crud on the bottom of the kitchen sink, and changing the sheets.

Or is My baby boy the victim of a bad relationship? Because let’s face it, girls can be pretty mean.

I stood holding the card, then placed it on the counter and finished cleaning out Jack’s backpack.

Jack was in the living room, putting on shoes for school, watching Yoda Chronicles, or some other Star Wars cartoon.  He needed his hair brushed.  He was wearing “cozy” sweatpants and one of his red shirts with a whimsical Christmas picture on it.  He just seemed so young, innocent, guileless.

Where the hell did the impetus for this poignant card come from?

Does my small boy have a private life about which I am totally clueless?

This query led to a sense of guilt for being a working mom, and for spending so much time away from my children.  As well as I think I know them, maybe I don’t know them at all.

“Jack,” I called.  “Who is Jayla?”

“I have no idea!” he screamed and covered his face with a pillow.  I fought between wanting to give my kid some dignified privacy, and the urge to know what the hell was going on in his life.  Aren’t responsible parents supposed to be involved?

I pushed forward.

“Well, it looks like you made a Valentine for her?”

He rushed at me, head butted me, and grabbed the card.  “Why would someone think you are a jerk, Jack?”  I asked, feeling every ounce the nosey, awkward mother, while also recognizing the irony in my question in light of his head butt.

“Because I am a jerk,” Jack said.  He disappeared the card into his room, then came back out.  Did he look sheepish?

“Jackie, you’re not a jerk.” I said.

“Yes I am.”

“Well do you want a hug?”

“Not really,” he said, but sidled up to me and leaned into me as I put my arms around him anyway.  We left it at that, and I took him to school.

When I was pregnant with Jack, someone told me that, as a mom, you grow another heart.

It is true, and pretty incredible, if you think of it.  You literally grow another person from scratch, with not only their heart, but all their other internal organs, and every hair on their head.  And while you are doing that, you grow this new heart of your own, inside of yourself.

As a mom, your new heart is enlarged, constantly working overtime, especially prone to attack and breakage.

As I drove off from Jack’s school, I began to worry about Jack’s sense of himself.  Does he really feel he is a jerk?  At seven years old?

What is the world coming to?  And how do I fix this?

Maybe in the end, this bothered me most.  My husband and I strive to raise our children to be independent, confident, and proud of good choices.  For the most part, I feel we have been successful, as evidenced by our children’s strong wills and creativity.

We also have structure and consequences for poor choices.  Jack gets “in trouble” at home almost daily for his surly temperament and typical sibling nastiness towards his little sister.  But I never thought of this as anything other than typical, or that our responses to his behavior could be affecting our son’s self esteem.

Jack is a highly sensitive child, there is no doubt in my mind about that.  He has always been sensitive to any change in his routine, textures, and the emotions of others.  But his words on the card to Jayla (whoever she may be) revealed a totally new, introspective, tender side of my kid.  At SEVEN!  As thankful as I am for that, it also makes me freak out a bit.  It scares me that he could be hurt, that at the young age of seven he already takes things so seriously.  It also worries me that as a working mom, as hard as I try to be involved in my children’s lives, it might not be enough.  And as innocent as I try to keep my kids, it may be futile in this world where they seem to be growing up way too quickly.

It also makes me realize how difficult it can be as a parent to communicate with my children about things I feel are really important–  self esteem, respect, kindness, and boundaries–  in a rational, relatable ways that aren’t going to freak them out or push them away.

I have to take a second and recognize I might be waaayyy overthinking an innocent and sweet gesture on Jack’s part.  This may be something about which I laugh hysterically at a later date (kind of like how I freaked out when Jack was three, and watched 101 Dalmatians for the first time, and I feared he had been scarred for life because I exposed him to a maniacal chain-smoker who constantly called people “idiots” and wanted to butcher puppies).

I realize I am also resorting to some primitive ego defenses of rationalization and intellectualization, or at least Freud would say so. But motherhood is nothing if not primal.  Maybe the most primitive thing we do on this earth.

You grow another heart.  

Then that heart leaps out of your body and learns how to draw and color hearts of his own.

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