Unicorns and Sharks

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Play typically comes naturally to me. I have always loved climbing trees, goofing off, and making up games. Spinning in circles. Rolling down hills. Riding my bike. As a kid, I played nonstop until I HAD to eat dinner or until it got dark. Then, I ran home as fast as I could past the scary enormous weeping willow into our backyard. I still play until it gets dark as an adult, as a mother. I’m still pretty horrible about dinner. I walk, run, chase, and hide with my children and oftentimes, other children, on the playground. Last spring, a sweet inquisitive classmate of my son’s asked me, “Why are you a grown up and you’re playing?” My response, “Because I like to and my kids asked me to be the dog monster.”

Children fascinate me, mesmerize me and inspire me with their perspectives, curiosity, their creativity, their resilience and determination to keep playing. Two weeks ago, my youngest son fractured his fibula and had to get a cast. My grown-up self proceeded to over think his future weeks and the difficulties he may face with starting school. He, on the other hand, walked right out of the office and has not complained once except when he had an itch underneath his cast. “Can I use a stick to itch my leg?” He has altered and adapted his play, yet he has not stopped. He has not asked for a pinata for his pity party and he has not begged for trouble and uncertainty from the future.

He lives perfectly and rather magically in the present moment. That’s one of the most beautiful things about kids. But yet, we, adults, often push, elbow and encourage them to change. Hurry up. Grow up. Too fast. We take away play opportunities because we think they need to be more serious, more adult-like. Meh. They have so long to be grown ups and such a very short time to be children.

Every day, children and grown-ups need to play. Life can be so serious and sad and downright bumpy, twisty and scary to navigate through sometimes. We desperately need our imaginations to help us find our way through this life. We need laughter, silliness, fun and learning through challenging ourselves. Come on, walk up the slide sometime. Remember when you would swing so high your belly would “get scared” as my son says?

After I took a few pictures of my boys, I put on the snorkel mask this afternoon. I pretended I was a shark. When I jumped into the water, a million bubbles raced to the top of the water. The water was clear and the sun’s rays burst through and danced on the bright blue bottom of the pool. I watched my boys’ long legs kick below the surface. I usually swim with my eyes closed. And I miss so much. Not today. I wore the equivalent of a bike helmet under water: goggles with a nose piece. I loved playing and watching my boys work together to save a water unicorn from me, a mom shark. They devised a plan while I went under water. They outsmart me. No surprise there. We played. We laughed. And we happily escaped to the glorious land of imagination.

Lately, my guts have been grumbling and achy. I’ve tried eating this or not eating that. Ugh. I’ve been annoyed, frustrated and uncertain. But today, I told my husband that I will not let my Crohn’s tell me how I should feel mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. I will treat myself kindly but I will still play. Because I need to. I will smile or make goofy faces at myself for 30 seconds in the mirror. I will tell myself that I’m doing really great today. And it won’t be a lie. I will play. In my house. Outside. In church. And everywhere else that I go because that’s what I do. I will blow bubbles in my van with my air conditioner on high. I will use angel hair pasta for light saber fights. And I will watch in awe as the hummingbirds whiz by.

I will try my best to live in the present moment. And strive to act more like a child. My children.

 

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Truth or Dare

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Truth or dare: a classic childhood sleepover game in which I always preferred the dares. Not surprisingly, I would have much rather done some ridiculous thing than share a previously unknown fact or “secret” about myself. It seems safer and easier to predict another’s response to a “dare” than to predict her response when she finds out a truth.

As a fun and light-hearted joke of sorts, I played the old game with a couple of sisters and friends last night. My boys saw me creating the game and asked if they could play too. So we played a fun kid version of this game today. My boys were also drawn to a certain side of the game. They laughed and thoroughly loved smearing whipped cream in their faces, kissing a tree and dancing with the dog and a broom. They each asked me if they could play the game again, only with “more dares.”

Life has always been a bit of both, specifically in parenting. No matter how many books you read, none will prepare you for the emotions, the feelings and the raw truths that parenting will reveal in you. Your pride, your hopes, your fears, your insecurities, all hidden in the midst of the gut-wrenching and utterly beautiful moments of raising a child.

From those first overwhelming minutes of meeting this new life before you, the piercingly beautiful sound of your baby crying upon breathing his first breaths, to the seemingly millionth cry in the night. Your baby that desperately needs to be fed, burped, or changed. Your baby that must need something again. You. There’s your toddler that needs constant help but doesn’t want to accept it. Or your preschooler that can communicate what he wants to eat but can’t begin to understand the emotion he feels when you say ice cream isn’t a choice for breakfast. And the parenting journey continues on.

Your child has this mysterious power to take a heart that you’ve possessed your entire life and place it delicately under a magnifying glass. For good and bad. All of the sudden, you’re whisked back to moments. To the classroom where somebody made fun of you. You’re feeling emotions all over again, in a different way. You’re seeing things in a more sensitive way, a more honest way, and a more difficult way. All through the magnified lens of your past experiences and through this new and innocent life constantly pulling, tapping, tugging and elbowing for more space in your heart. You’re feeling those difficult-to-describe emotions through the eyes, ears, and skin of a little human being dependent solely on you in countless explainable and unexplainable ways.

The parenting journey continues and I’ve learned it doesn’t always get easier. In some ways, yes. In others, no. Your child unknowingly dares you to do hard things on his behalf: make sacrifices, humble yourself, apologize, ask for forgiveness, confront your past, ask for help, and step outside of your comfort zone on a routine basis. Your child dares you to ruffle waters. Dares you to belly up to confrontation. You find yourself in a principal’s office fighting back tears to advocate for your child. You find yourself having difficult conversations on behalf of your child. You oftentimes feel lonely, isolated, different because you don’t want to fit in if fitting in means compromising on certain parenting issues. You routinely end up in hard conversations where you and your child bump, bump, bump into a door. Maybe it’s just temporarily stuck or maybe it’s locked.

The truth is you don’t have all of the answers. You never will. The dare is that still you readily leap into the familiar and unknown parenting waters. Time and time again. Not always gracefully, but willingly. You’re alternating strokes on a daily basis. Sometimes hourly. Often doggy paddling, back stroking and plunging yourself deep down, holding your breath for what seems like forever. You come up gasping for air. And the crazy unexplainable thing is that you will do it all again. And again. For your child.