I tend to get a little sentimental and/or sad on my children’s first and last days. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the birth of my third son. But tonight, I’m secretly grieving the last day of having a five year old. He came running into the kitchen with his older brother’s costume on. Ahhhh. Peter Pan. Well, it was supposed to be Robin Hood but he changed it to Peter Pan. It was a bit too much on my aching mama heart. He proudly placed the blue heron feather in his hat that we found at the creek. I took a picture of him standing in the kitchen. His shadow even hopped into the shot. All I could think of was Peter Pan and why, oh why does this sweet one-dimpled smiling boy standing in front of me need to grow up?
Because “All children, except one grow up.” Thanks, J.M. Barrie.
Every birthday, starting school year, or developmental milestone, we, as parents, are reminded that our child will not be the exception. Growing up is extraordinarily beautiful. It’s a joyful ever-changing gift. A privilege. Yet, I still console myself. Because it’s also tricky. Unknown. Ever changing. New. Challenging. A bit heart grasping, tugging, pulling, and twisting. How many ways will my beautiful boy change and grow over the next year? Will he stop saying, “You blunked!” when he wins a staring contest. Will my right hip finally get a break because he won’t need me to carry him when his “legs are too tired to walk.” Will his smile forever change with the loss of his baby teeth? Will he lose a bit more of his innocence as he encounters unkind children or adults at school? Most likely yes. And yes. I know this.
As he proudly holds up another finger on his second hand to tell his age, six, we will keep on loving him and encouraging him and praying for him. We will continue to do our best to protect him and teach him and learn from him. We will hope and pray that we provide an environment where he will grow to his potential. In the midst of the long, short, chaotic or melancholy days, we will never cease to be fascinated, humbled and completely overwhelmed by him and by his growth.
Happy two handed birthday to the most persistent little(big) mama’s right hip hitchhiker, the always eager to sit-on-the-kitchen counter helper, the first to volunteer for any-boring-old errand runner, the greatest question asker and late night conversationalist, the sweetest middle-of-the-night snuggler, the most perfectly timed one-dimple smile-turned-giggler, and the most accommodating little brother. And even though he sometimes claims he doesn’t like to “always be third,” he’s a better third than we could have ever imagined.
We all love you so dang much, Colbs. Thanks for giving me the best job in the world, being your mama.
Patty Griffin helps me work through my kids birthdays. All the feels.
I stood on the outskirts of two different playgrounds today watching my children. I sat and listened to their voices bounce around as they chased each other and created imaginative games, peeking their freckled noses out from the highest places.
We spend a ton of hours at the playground. We always have because parks are free, there are limited rules and they provide a near-perfect environment for energy release and all sorts of growth. I’ve sat on grass, benches, pavement or turf. I’ve often played “tag” or chased my boys. Or I’ve stood on the edges, shivering, perhaps chatting with other moms, nannies and grandparents. Recently, when a fellow mother of boys’ mom friend of mine and I ran into each other at a new park, she said, “we used to go bar hopping, now we go park hopping.” Yes. We save a lot of money and our livers nowadays.
Some of our kids used to need help, a boost or a mama’s hand going down the slide or crossing the monkey bars. Not anymore. Now, they need the open space to run, yell, climb, jump, tag and play. They still need to show off their mad climbing or monkey bar skills, “MAAAAAHM! Watch me!” Occasionally, if other kids are not around, my boys will ask me to play “dog monster” where I run around bark-growling and attempt to catch them. It has gotten harder and harder for me to win the game.
There are so many different seasons of motherhood. I have always tried my hardest to cherish each and every fleeting one. This has been one of the greatest teachers of having a chronic illness: be present, be grateful, enjoy this time. Today. Right now. This doesn’t mean I don’t have moments or hours or days I wish away. I’ve truly wanted to embrace and experience all of the chaotic, innnocent, simple, and breath-robbing moments. I don’t want to have big motherhood regrets.
I had so many meaningful playground conversations today. I talked with other mothers who stood or sat with me. I listened as mothers spoke of both the loneliness and the beauty of motherhood, the many ways kids grow up, and how they need moms in different ways. I had the opportunity to share my own stories of trying to take a relaxing bath or needing a bit of space in my closet or crying in the parking lot, shower, or kitchen.
As our children exhausted themselves, we, the mothers, filled each other back up. We needed to hear each other’s honest stories. We needed to hear each other’s laughs. And feel the collective mother sighs. The moments not glorified on social media. The moments of real unfiltered life. We needed to look compassionately and sympathetically into the eyes of another woman doing her best as a mom. We needed to see our reflection. We can be so hard on ourselves until we hear our own honest stories being told by another mother.
Our kids need us.
And we need each other.
Because it’s true. It takes a constantly growing village.
I’m grateful for the diverse community of mothers surrounding me, whether it be a stranger that talks with me for twenty minutes about her thirty year old son as she shares her motherhood journey or the familiar face of a friend that regularly sits on the outskirts of the playground, just like me.
Women need other women. Like us. And different from us too.
And sometimes, on playgrounds or in kitchens or in grocery stores or online, moms need to be mothered from time to time. By other moms who just get it. All of it.
As I pulled the wagon up the hill, holding my four year old, and carrying the portable soccer goals, one of my sons lagged behind, barely walking as he held his soccer ball in his hands. Everybody had low blood sugar. It was nearing dinnertime. I looked back and I noticed that my son was visibly upset, with his head looking downward, while his shoulders stooped. I stopped the wagon and saw his tears. I asked him why he was crying.
“He’s gooder than me.” The words sputtered out. “He’s gooder than me at soccer.”
There was something so painfully innocent, yet heartbreaking hearing the words escape through the gap of his missing front tooth. A beautiful seven year old boy with disheveled, sweaty blonde hair and one pant leg pulled up. I had just finished watching and playing soccer with my three boys. Throughout the games, I stopped and talked about the rules of soccer after several (overly) competitive bouts had landed one or two boys tangled up on the grass. It looked more like rugby or football. “You can’t elbow or tackle each other. You can use your shoulders. Soccer is a contact sport, which means you’re going to bump into each other, fall down and most likely get some bruises.” Their boney knees were covered in grass stains. I shuffled the teams around. My youngest boy happily played goalie, unaware or perhaps painfully aware, of the battle going on in front of him between his older two brothers.
Our walks home from the park tend to be the perfect time for talking about important issues like nature, bullying, death, or today, sibling rivalry. I talked to my boys about growing up with sisters. I talked about my older sister, specifically, and how great she was at basketball. Much better than me. She could score on any defender from any where on the court. I spent countless hours after practice in high school rebounding her free throws and three pointers. I talked to my boys about why I think I became such a good defender besides the fact that I was skinny as all get-out and I had to out-hustle all of the bigger girls. It was also because I grew up guarding my older sister. I think I should credit the majority of my skills to the fact that I usually had to guard “Miss Basketball(she literally was)” in driveway pick-up games and practices. And I had my own fair share of frustrating, tear-filled moments of my sister being “gooder than me.”
We talked about how different we all are from one another. We talked about how our weaknesses can help us get stronger if we don’t give up. That it’s okay to get upset, maybe sad or disappointed, but then we have to keep working hard to figure out how to be better. Or maybe different. I talked to my boys about how young they are, how they have so many things that they haven’t even tried yet. It’s these kind of moments, when I’m talking to my twin boys, that help me realize how important it is to not define ourselves by comparing our strengths, weaknesses, or capabilities to somebody else. Not even to our very own twin brother.
I know as a mother to three boys that I will be dealing with this battle for years to come. My husband and I work really hard not to label or predetermine the places or heights that our children will soar. But it’s a tricky business navigating the places we’ve never been or experienced through the eyes of a parent and vicariously through the lives of our children. We do the best we can with the knowledge and experiences we have, both good and bad, which sometimes feel inadequate. At the end of the day, the most important and truthful thing we usually have said all day is how very much we love them. That will be something that they will never ever have to doubt. No matter what. No matter how good they are at soccer, no matter how good they are at playing the drums, drawing, reading, riding a bike, or any other thing they try. They will always know they are loved beyond measure.
Will you please tie my boys’ shoes? I’m sorry. I hoped to take a chunk of time this summer to practice with them. I eventually resolved to double and triple, sometimes quadruple knot their shoelaces. Their constantly running, jumping, and kicking bodies manage to loosen up all the knots. Always. All days. We just got so busy. And even though summer started out with all of the June rain, July raced by too quickly. It always does. Long sun-filled summer days won’t be had again until my boys are older, bigger and smarter. Mostly because of your patience, your expertise, and your passion for teaching them.
A lot of the time, I have a hard time managing my three children. I don’t quite know how you can captivate an entire classroom of six to seven year olds for an entire day. All week long. You must have an endless supply closet filled with patience. And you’ve got to be exhausted at the end of the day. I heard you say that you have three children of your own. You help kids learn all day long. And then you go home and help your own. I wholeheartedly believe that you have one of the most important jobs. You truly help shape the lives of the most precious boys and girls that fill your brightly decorated, first grade classroom. Even if they all may not act so precious at times.
I am certain you must have moments when you need to escape to a secret hiding place to take deep breaths. I am sure you have moments where you need a coffee or a coke or maybe some chocolate. Maybe a margarita. You don’t have that luxury because you constantly have all of these big, beautiful eyes staring at you, watching your every move, especially when you wish they weren’t. You possess the power to forever imprint the hearts of my children. All of our children. You have the privilege of spending more waking hours with my boys than me Monday through Friday. That hurts a little. Actually, a lot. It makes me worried. And nervous. And also hopeful. And beyond grateful for you, even though I just met you.
I know you will do your best to teach them all of the confusing sounds that letters make together. Just today we were talking about “pharmacy.” Tricky old pharmacy. Why does the “ph” make the sound of an “f?” my boys asked me. You will be able to answer these questions much better than I can. That’s hard for me to say. It’s hard when somebody else, specifically another woman, can do something better for my kids than I can. It’s humbling. It makes me want to show you how great of a monster I can be on the playground or show you how much my boys love to snuggle right up next to me, even on top of me, when we’re watching a movie. I don’t think I need to show you these things for you to know how much I love them.
I’m confident that you will teach my boys math tricks and reading skills. You probably have the coolest, most fun and exciting ways to do it. But I can’t stop thinking about something else that matters more: I’m trusting you to guide them gently and show them love. I don’t ask for help often. I can be puffed up and proud like that. But I want you to know that I’m depending on you to recognize when somebody hurts my boys’ feelings or when they hurt some little boy or girl’s feelings. Will you please teach kindness and forgiveness and compassion too? And hopefully, you will notice when they’re having a bad day. It pains me to think that I can’t be there in these moments to help make things better. I know they will be proud to show you all of their work. They may even like you so much that they call you, “Mom.” That’s the greatest compliment you could ever receive, in my opinion.
They are two of the most beautiful, unique, inquisitive, loving, kind-hearted and energetic boys I’ve ever met. I know I’m a little biased, but I have worked with a lot of kids. I hope you will look at them and appreciate their passion, their joy for life, their imperfections and also their fragility. I hope you will remember that they’re still learning a lot about life. From August until May, you will have an enormous impact on their little hearts and minds. Thank you for teaching my boys.
And thank you for taking the time to kindly bend down and tie their shoelaces. I recommend the triple knot.