I’ve been more aware than not lately about how fast my kids are growing up. You were all right; mothers before me, and Grandmothers at the grocery store, and you well-meaning strangers who preached “how fast it goes” as you watched me struggle to enjoy the chore of raising little people. It wasn’t always a struggle, mostly it was the best happy I’ve ever known. But it was exhausting. And could someone please just tie everyone’s shoes for me and get the socks and diapers and sippy cups and cheerios and changes of clothes and the list doesn’t ever actually end. Parenting small people is a run-on sentence with no correct grammar and absolutely no access to spell check or a period.
I think the pause to consider this task comes as they enter middle school. When the phone calls from school are no longer about what your kid did in class that day but now it’s one of them calling to ask me to bring them their violin, shoes, coat, lunch, or homework that they forgot.
They went from being little floating pods in a happy, cartoon society to being aware of the contents of their life and keeping track of themselves and their work. They’ve turned into non-functioning adults. Practicing ones. With a lot of hormones and room for error. And a mountain to climb in front of them called Learning.
The pace of raising them has changed, and the conversations, too. They’re part of them, which is so weird and so cool. We’re not making administrative decisions any more, not on most things, now it’s collaborative. Do you want to play this sport? And if you do, are you really invested, so should we also try this camp? I see you really enjoying this particular outlet, how can we support you to succeed? You’re both social butterflies, how can we accommodate your friends and our sanity at the same time? Where do you fit, now? Where are you going? How can we help you get there?
I love them so much. And as I remember their pudgy little hands and the way they’d pronounce words or the sound of their morning voices from home videos; as I look at old photos and remember the memories we’ve made, and have been making for what seems like forever now … it really is too short. I’m struck with how it’s already almost over.
I’m not ahead of myself here, just finally catching up, I think. We’re past teaching kids how to pee in a toilet, tie shoes, their ABC’s, we’re past car seats entirely, and there are no training-anything’s on their gear and equipment. Both of my kids have bigger feet than I do and when I’m doing laundry, it’s almost guaranteed I’ll give Jessica my clothes and take hers to my closet.
These are people! They are their own persons. And it boggles me that we get to live with them. They’re so nice, these kids. I say that publicly a lot, but they are. I like them. They’re so nice. Pleasant, fun, kind people. Who have faults, yes. But mostly, they’re my favorite humans to be with.
This shift started happening when Jessica lost her first tooth. I was very much in the mindset that they were a part of me before they lost their teeth. They grew in me, I gave birth to them, I sustained their life for the first 9 months of their life with my breasts. I didn’t know where I ended and they began. I was worried about their temperature at all times – too cold? Too hot? Coats? Shoes? Their hunger was always on my mind. When did they last eat? When are they going to want to eat again? And when I wasn’t feeding and comforting them, I was bathing them and reading to them and keeping them on a schedule so they would stay healthy and grow strong.
But then she lost her first tooth. Jessica lost a part of her own body. It was hers. It was not mine. And I realized her hair was her own, and her body was her own, and if she felt cold or hot or hungry or angry or excited or confused – those were all of her own feelings. Her own experiences. They were not mine.
The pressure was off. I didn’t have to own them, and strangely I didn’t want to. They’re both different than me. So different from each other. They want different things and think completely different thoughts. They come to conclusions in different ways and they celebrate in their own unique language. They love differently and need love differently. They’re magnificent.
At Jessica’s third grade parent teacher conference her teacher shared with us a story she had written. I cried because she wrote and Aaron cried because her story was about him. I didn’t want her to grow up in my shadow, always being asked or tasked with being part of me. Writing is unique to who I am, it’s an essential part of my life … it’s also the gift I get to give to the world. But whatever Jessica’s was: we hadn’t really discovered yet. And I didn’t want to push her towards my own, because I could make it easy for her and it would be exciting for me. I wanted to know what her gift was, what passion she had inside that hadn’t come to the surface yet. But hearing her teacher tell us how well she wrote, how thoughtful her prose were. That she was a storyteller by nature … I thought, yes. We are a little bit the same. She is still mine, I’ll always be hers.
This past week Jessica got in front of her peers and school, in front of parents and grandparents, and she performed a couple of poems for the audience. She made it through the first round of performances (just for her teachers and 6th grade classmates) and was selected to perform to a larger audience. She picked her poems on her own, they were not your average rhyming poems. They’re serious and thoughtful, deep and meaningful. Just like her.
(Video of her performance above, click to view)
Everything comes full circle. I can be hard on myself but when I see the same depth of emotion in my kids, I finally accept my own.
I haven’t known where I fit in this story, it’s been a good one but something of a first go for me. I can’t use my family of origin as a map of where to steer this ship and the masts who should be anchoring me along this journey are no longer part of my fleet. I feel lost so much of the time.
Without a bearing on who I am or where I came from, I don’t have pillars to hold onto anymore. But as time passes I’m finding the way to the deep and sinking down in the fertile ground of new beginnings.
And I realize that while I’ve spent the last 12 years teaching them how to walk; they’ve been teaching me how to love.