Letters To My Children on Mother’s Day 2015

To My Oldest Child:

You sometimes refer to yourself as my “crash test kid” and that’s as accurate a description of the situation as I could have come up with. You were the one who bore the brunt of my mistakes. You probably got the least consistent parenting, as I had to test things out to find out what worked for us and what didn’t. You grew up the fastest. From the time you became a big brother, you’ve had the responsibility of being a role model, protector, and teacher, in addition to just being yourself. Compared to your brother and sister, you were always the most mature for your age. On the other hand, you’ve always been the first – the first to get more freedom, the first to get more privileges, the first to learn something new and exciting. I was an oldest child too, so I know the benefits and drawbacks well.

You’ve responded beautifully to all of the challenges that go with being the oldest. At 15, I’m beginning to see a fairly clear picture of the type of man you’re going to be. As your mother, that picture is bittersweet for me to look at. On the one hand, I miss my bright-eyed baby boy that couldn’t go to sleep unless I sang “You are my Sunshine” first, and I’m sad that those moments of mommying you are getting further and further behind us. But on the other hand, the future I see in front of you makes me feel an incredible amount of pride. You’re on your way to some fantastic places, and you’re going to do some amazing things. And I can only be grateful to have had the opportunity to be the one who’s watched and helped you take the first steps on that path.

Never lose your unique way of looking at the world. You can see things that others don’t, because you’re willing to look at angles that others would never even know existed. That’s going to take you far in life. Keep thinking and learning and reading and questioning. One of our mutual favorite comedians and deep thinkers said, “Don’t just teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.” (George Carlin) If I’ve succeeded in doing anything as your mother, I seem to have succeeded in doing that. Keep questioning. There are always more answers out there. I can’t wait to watch you go out into the world to find them.

It’s an honor to be your mother, and I couldn’t have asked for a better crash test kid.

With love and respect,

Mom

 

To My Middle Child:

No invisible middle child syndrome for you! You’re the only daughter in the family, and you’re a force to be reckoned with. Who knew that so much fearlessness, personality, and joie de vivre could be packed into a petite 8 year old’s body? Certainly not me. But there you are. Your current favorite song is Katy Perry’s “Firework”, and it’s easy to see why. If ever there was a human firework, it’s you. And I don’t mean a little sparkler. You light up the sky, you sparkle with enthusiasm, you have so much energy that I can feel it coming off of you in waves from across the room. You’re like the giant finale firework at the end of the Fourth of July show. It’s a little exhausting at times, but I wouldn’t have you any other way.

You may not fully understand this now, but soon enough, you’re going to have a more adult body and mind, and all kinds of people – myself included – are going to want to tell you what it means to be a woman. Before that happens, though, I want to tell you what you’ve taught me. Because you have taught me, more than you’ll ever probably know. You’ve taught me that there’s nothing inherent in being a girl that makes you shy or delicate or inhibited. I may have known that in my head, but you showed it to me, by being the incredibly willful and independent spirit that you are. By being the child who never backed down, who was never afraid to stand up for herself or for someone else, who never needed to rely on doting big brothers or parents when there was a way to do it yourself. You also showed me that a sense of bodily autonomy comes early, and is something to be celebrated and encouraged. When you cut your hair by yourself and then looked me right in the eye and said, “I want it short, and it’s my hair and my choice”, I was mad at you for using the scissors, because I didn’t want you to get hurt. But on the other hand, I was so proud of you for knowing already that if it’s part of your body, you should have the final say, and being so willing to fight for that right. I hope that got through when I took the scissors away and told you that you could have your hair as short as you liked, but you had to let mom or dad do the cutting until you got a little older.

Never let anyone tell you that you have to stop being you to fit some sort of feminine ideal. You can be as strong and powerful as you want to be, and doing so will only make you a more awesome woman, never a lesser one. Never let anyone convince you that you need to hide behind somebody else rather than standing up for yourself the way that you do now. You’re strong – use that strength as much as you need to. Hiding it will only make you unhappy. Never let anyone tell you that your body isn’t yours to do with as you please. It absolutely is, and you don’t owe any part of it to anyone other than yourself.

I’m glad that we’re still years away from sending you out into the world on your own – I love every minute I get to spend with you, and I’m nowhere near ready to let go. But part of me is anxious to see what you’ll do when you’re old enough not to be held back. You have the power to change the world inside of you, and I’m excited to see how you’ll use it.

With Awe and Wonder,

Mommy

 

To My Youngest Child:

You’re the baby of the family, and you’re going to stay that way – that’s not a bad spot to be in. Everyone, from me and your dad to your brother and sister, wants to dote on you and keep you little as long as possible, because we love having a baby of the family to cuddle and love. However, you’re growing up despite all of that. I see it in a thousand different ways. You’re beginning to read to me, instead of me reading to you. You’re becoming more independent – I’m getting fewer and fewer middle of the night visits, and you cuddle less, because you’re starting to have so many other places to go and people to see. And as much as I don’t want to rush you, I don’t want to slow you down either, so I’m happy to see you growing, even though I may miss the days when you were smaller.

Of all of you, I think that you’re the child most like me in temperament. You think deeply, speak slowly, and don’t like to rush into anything. I worry sometimes that a world that tends to rush everything will overwhelm you (as it sometimes does me!) but I can see that you’ve already found ways to adapt to quick transitions when you have to, and that you’re not afraid of asking for more time if you need it. That makes me smile, because I know that the ability to bend when you can and the willingness to ask for what you need when you can’t bend is a combination that will serve you well – you won’t be inflexible, but you won’t be walked on either.

When your sister or your brother is in trouble, you step right into the conversation to defend them, even if it has nothing to do with you. I hope you keep standing up for your siblings, and let them do the same for you. That bond is important, and I’m glad that you seem to already know that.

You’re the child that always stops to think before you speak – keep doing that. It’s a skill that many adults never manage to develop, and having it will put you ahead of the game. You’re the child that feels things deeply – don’t lose that. For every painful feeling, there’s a wonderful one coming around the corner that you’ll get to experience at full strength. You’re the child that makes connections further down the line than most children your age would think to look. Keep it up – being able to see the shapes that the pieces on the board are going to take several moves ahead will keep you out of trouble, and make you a great chess player, too.

For now, you’re still my little guy, but before either of us know it, you’ll probably be towering over me like your big brother. In the meantime, enjoy every minute of being “the baby” and I’ll do the same.

With Hugs and Kisses,

Mama

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

So this cool thing happened the other day, and I have no really good place to talk about it. Since this blog is a big mish-mashed mess, I’m going to just put it here.

The first thing that you have to know is that my 8 year old daughter generally doesn’t like to read. She isn’t technically bad at reading; she recognizes the words just fine, and she can sound out what she doesn’t know. But there’s a big difference between being able to read a string of words on a page and being able to read a story  on a page. The former, she could do. The latter… hasn’t been happening. One of the myriad of reasons that my children are now learning at home instead of in school is the fact that my daughter has been behind in things like this for years, despite entering the public school system around the age of two thanks to early intervention programs. I figured that I couldn’t possibly be doing worse than they’ve been doing.

I’ve been trying a few different things to get her to be more engaged while reading. Most recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that her reading selections are all too boring. When she had to read at school, it was the pointless school-like stuff they post on ditto sheets. When I let her choose her own reading material, she opted for the easy route, picking books that were way under reading level. They may have been easier, but they were boring. I figured that if I could find a story she could sink her teeth into, maybe we would start getting somewhere. So I told her we were going to start reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Not an abridged or Disneyfied version; I went to Project Gutenberg so that we could read the original. I picked it because my daughter liked the 2010 movie with Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, and because Alice reminds me a little bit of my daughter (if you met her, you’d know exactly what I mean.)

I didn’t ask for much at first. She looked at the chapter list and all of the text with no pictures and objected profusely — which I expected — so I asked her for five minutes. That was it. And we took turns reading — she will read a sentence and then I’ll read a sentence. She thinks I’m giving her a break by doing that, but what I’m really trying to do is model what reading aloud sounds like when you’re understanding what you’re reading while you’re reading it. I think that’s hard for kids to get, sometimes. In class, teachers start reading to them when they can read the words themselves, not when they can read the story inside the words themselves. It’s a different thing. It’s why when you listen to early readers, they stop at the end of the line as if it had a period when it doesn’t, or they don’t pause at commas — it sounds weird, but it’s because they can read the words, but they aren’t seeing or hearing the story in their heads. And if all they are hearing is themselves and other kids who are doing the same thing… anyway, I wanted her to read, but I also wanted her to hear the story. So we started switching off sentences and reading Alice in 5-minute increments.

And then, the 5-minute increments started to get a little longer. We started reading for 6 minutes, then 7 minutes. Then a few days ago, we doubled the goal time that we’d set together before we started reading, because my daughter couldn’t bear to leave Alice in the predicament that she was in at the time when we’d planned to stop. Then, to top it off, the other day — a day that we were scheduled off from school work — she demanded to read some more Alice. She wanted to know what happened next. Despite not being required to do any reading that day, we finished the chapter we were on.

And that was when it hit me that she really was finally seeing the story, not just the words on the screen. It’s pretty amazing to watch. My older son was basically born reading, and my younger son is 6 and learning, but he’s picking it up much more organically and easily than his younger sister. So this is my first real view of one of my children slowly but surely becoming a reader. And it’s an amazing thing.