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

In Honor of Mother’s Day…

Let’s talk about the Mommy Wars! Why not? It never seems to go out of style.

Mommy Wars

I was thinking about it the other day, because I came across a meme in a Facebook group I belong to that sparked a lively conversation. I can’t find it now, but the gist of it was that stay at home moms work harder because there is no quitting time for moms, but are better because they’re not paying someone else to raise their kids. And while it’s easy enough to come back with another meme about how working moms also have no real quitting time, but get stuck doing all the mom stuff around their 40 hour work week, or make some disparaging comment about helicopter parents, I don’t really want to go there.

I always feel like I’m in no-man’s land on that particular Mommy War front. I’ve done it all: I’ve stayed at home and not worked. I’ve been a single mom working 2+ jobs and barely getting to see my kid. I’ve worked full time outside the home while my husband was a stay at home dad (you want my opinion, stay at home dads have it the worst in the martyr contest – they do all the work of a stay at home mom, but they’re excluded from mommy-and-me and playground meetup groups and outsiders call them lazy bums who won’t work. Poor daddies.) Now I work from home.

I have three children. One of them went into a daycare from an early age, and was also frequently babysat by family members and certain non-family members. He’s the kid that I barely saw while I was working my butt off to feed and house us. He’s been in public school for the past 10 years. My daughter is sort of in the middle. She never did go to daycare, though she entered preschool early through an early intervention program for a speech delay, then went from public preschool to public school, where she stayed for three and a half years. She rarely had babysitters, other than when grandma requested her for an overnight a few times. For a little more than half of her life, I worked full time outside the home, either trading shifts with my husband, or while he was a fulltime stay at home dad. She’s now being homeschooled. My youngest never went to daycare or preschool. He probably wouldn’t remember that I used to leave the house to work. I think he may have been babysat by my sister once (along with the older two) when my husband and I went out for our anniversary one year, but otherwise I don’t think he’s ever had a babysitter other than his big brother for short periods. He did start kindergarten this year, but was pulled out, along with my daughter, in January when we decided that homeschooling was a better fit for our family. He’s also the child that breastfed the longest, co-slept the longest, and was worn in a sling. (In fairness, I would have worn the other two in slings had I known about them – great invention, that. Only baby carrier that never hurt my back.) At any rate, he’s probably the most attached of the three.

So I’ve had a range of parenting experience, especially in relation to work and schooling choices, and my children have all had very different childhood experiences. Someone should study us.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: there’s no right way to do any of this.

Now, that doesn’t mean there’s no right way for a particular, individual family to do things. As of today, I think that the way we do things now is the most comfortable fit for us. I’m unhappy and anxious when I’m not bringing in a paycheck – straight up stay at home mom-ing isn’t for me. It isn’t healthy for me, and it never felt right. Between the two, I preferred working outside the home to being a stay at home mom – but that had serious drawbacks, too. I cried in the car on the way to work every damn day for weeks and weeks after my third maternity leave was over. It was wrenching – perhaps more so than with the others because I knew that was my last baby. And baby number two? She wouldn’t drink from a bottle, at all, ever. My husband and I had to coordinate to the minute so that I could go home, or he could bring her to me on my breaks so I could feed her, then get back without taking any unapproved time off. This went on for months, until we finally found a cup she was willing to take. And my oldest? I had no choice, or I never would have chosen to be gone as much as I was. And since daycare isn’t cheap and I was broke, he wasn’t always in what I would consider top-notch care. I worried when I was away from him and I knew the alternative was even deeper poverty. It sucked.

But working at home – that suits me well. It doesn’t hurt that I’m doing something that I love, but I think it would be preferable – for me – even if I was doing something I didn’t much care for, if I could do it at home. I don’t have the anxiety that comes with not earning my own money, and I also don’t have the anxiety that comes with leaving my kids.

HOWEVER

As should be obvious, things have shifted for me in a lot of different ways – I have no illusions that this will last forever. The day may come when I need to work outside the home again, or when I have no job and my husband supports us again. Or something else (I don’t know what else there is, but life has taught me to expect the unexpected.) And while that may not be ideal for me, the real question is, what’s ideal for the kids? That’s what’s at the crux of the whole Mommy Wars thing, after all – everyone is scared of getting it wrong and screwing up their kids for life, and that’s what I believe leads to the urge to attack other people’s choices and circumstances – because if there’s any chance they’re doing it right, that might mean that you’re doing it wrong. And that’s unacceptable. Better to cement it in your mind that they’re wrong, and you’re right.

But I don’t think it’s anything like that clear cut. That first child? The one who had his first babysitter at six weeks and has never really had the luxury of tons of uninterrupted time at home with mom and or dad? He’s 15 now, and he’s amazing. And yeah, I’m his mom, and I would say that of course. But I also get compliments from strangers about my bright, polite, helpful teen, so it’s not just me. He’s super smart – he wants to be an astrophysicist, and he’s already venturing in to math that I only dimly understand. He is also a fantastic writer (and does some freelancing of his own.) I keep waiting for that sullen/secretive/rebellious/disrespectful teenager phase that everyone says to expect to start, but it doesn’t seem to be coming. He comes home from school and plops down next to me to tell me what happened in school, what’s going on with his friends, what’s going on with him. He helps out tremendously around the house. He plays with his 8 year old sister and 6 year old brother, and by all appearances, he enjoys this, rather than just tolerating it. He and I share a love of Stephen King books and an interest in politics. He got me interested in Neil Degrasse Tyson. By all measures I can think of, he’s on his way to becoming an amazing man, despite my failure to practice attachment parenting with him.

My daughter is 8, and she’s the friendliest and most outgoing girl you’d ever want to meet. She is interested in learning foreign languages, because she’s met children who don’t speak English and wants to be able to talk to them in their language. She will talk to anyone. She will go out of her way to hug someone who looks sad, or bring them a favorite toy or stuffed animal to make them feel better. She’s a fantastic problem-solver – an ability that I believe originated due to her inability to communicate effectively when she was younger. Since she couldn’t find the words to ask for things, she got really good at figuring out how to get them herself. She’s a chatterbox now, but she retained that ability to go after what she wants. She’s fiercely independent, and she can stand her ground in a way that I can only admire – and somewhat envy. She got a working mom, a little bit of a stay at home mom, and a work at home mom, and despite that inconsistency, she’s a delightful, funny child with personality to spare.

And my youngest son? The one who got coddled (some would say) and has rarely spent any time away from his parents? Well, he’s six, and while I think it’s a bit early to make any definitive pronouncements about his development, I see signs that he’s coming along nicely. He’s quieter and more contemplative than his older siblings, most of the time – he’s the one who has to stop and think before he speaks. (This is not to say that he’s always quiet and calm. He can roar and wrestle with the best of them.) He’s less outgoing, but once he warms up, he’ll happily share his encyclopedic knowledge of Lego Star Wars with you. He’s shaping up to be something of a deep thinker, I believe – he worries more than the others seemed to at that age, and he makes connections that surprise me. He definitely prefers to spend his time in the company of myself, my husband, and his siblings, but he’s more than capable of handling a playdate or activity without one of us looking over his shoulder (in fact, we’re increasingly likely to hear something along the lines of, “you don’t need to walk me in mom, cousin A wants to play with me, not you.”) All of the “helicoptering” this child received doesn’t seem to be inhibiting him.

So, in my admittedly unscientific and biased analysis of a sample of three, I’ve come to this conclusion: the kids are all right. This parenting gig isn’t easy, no matter how you choose to structure it (or how circumstances force you to structure it) but if you are doing your best and loving your kids, they’ll come out OK. There’s no need to “win” at the Mommy Wars by attacking another parent, or playing yourself up to be the best mom with the hardest job. You’re winning by taking care of your kids, plain and simple, however that happens to look in your house. I don’t know if there are really more than one ways to skin a cat (because ew, gross, who wants to skin cats?) but there is definitely more than one right way to raise a child.

Have a happy Mother’s Day, and this year, reach out and encourage another mommy. Tell someone who’s doing it differently from the way you’re doing it that their way is great too, and that they’re doing a good job. Let’s all be winners this year.

Peace, Love, Mommys