Monday, January 26, 2009

Four Lessons I've Learned from My Children

I Am What I Am: You'd think I would learn this lesson from the hundreds of episodes of Popeye the Sailor Man I watched as a kid, but the "I Yam What I Yam" song didn't quite sink in until it was one of those days when Dakota and Audrey just couldn't get a long. She would whine, he would growl and then it would all end up in stomping feet, streaming tears and slamming doors. In exasperation and desperation to find meaning to the madness, I grabbed Dakota by the arm and said, "I just don't get it. Why do y'all have to fight non-stop?" He looked at me in a blaze of confusion and replied: "Mom, we're brother and sister. Duh!" Duh, is right. He's the big brother and she's the little sister and big brothers and little sisters fight. A lot. I know this because I am a little sister of a big brother. I have Top Honors in sibling rivalry. They fight. Sometimes for no reason. Sometimes just to pass the time. Sometimes because she got a bigger piece than he did. Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that Dakota is who he is and Audrey is who she is. And, you know what, I am what I am, and I what I am is a mother who wants peace and quite! So, the majority of the time, I no longer get in the middle and play referee or talk about feelings like a therapist; I let them work it out in all their glory by themselves in their own time. So far we've only had a couple of scratches and a bruised arm...that I know about.

It Is What It Is: My mother always taught me that I had a guardian angel or two watching after me. If I was afraid in my room (thanks to my brother), had a nightmare (thanks to my brother) or nervous about being someplace alone (thanks to my brother) my Mom would always tell me that God's angels were watching over me. Now, as an adult, sometimes I smell my great-grandmother's Chantilly Lace perfume or my great-grandfather's Juicy Fruit Gum and I know they are right there at my elbow. The other day, we were having dinner and Audrey said, "Oooo, what's that smell? It smells good." The rest of us couldn't smell anything and we couldn't figure out what it was after sniffing all around like a pack of bloodhounds. "Well, Audie," I said, "maybe it was your Guardian Angel. " I continued and explained to her as my mother did to me. "Can Garden Fairies talk to you?" Garden Fairies?? I explained again that the term is "GUARDIAN ANGEL" pronouncing each syllable while she watched my lips. The evening continued and it was time for her to go up and get ready for bed, which is usually a pretty fearful time for her. She started up the steps and turned around, "Mom, I'm OK tonight. I have my Garden Fairy with me." Garden Fairy it is. As Juliet said of her beloved Romeo: "...that which we call a rose//By any other name would smell as sweet".

If It No Fitta; Qutta In September 2005, Audrey was three and she wanted to try to play soccer like her brother. I signed her up, got her a #3 pink soccer ball and her tiny shoes and shin guards. We went to the first practice and she sat through the first half and then decided to run around during the second half. She laughed a couple of times. The next practice was a bit of the same; pretty tame with eight little kids trying to maneuver several out-of-control soccer balls. Then we had a game: she sat on the bench and cried. Then we had a practice: she hysterically cried and wouldn't get in the car with her coach. Then we had the second game and she sat there with arms folded and tears streaming down her face. Dakota was all decked out for his game so he went over to give her a pep talk, to absolutely no avail. Finally I knelt down to speak to her and in her sobbing, speech delayed way, she said "Momma, socca... no... fitta me." She didn't go back to soccer. Like a too small scratchy wool sweater, it didn't fit her. I didn't see it as teaching her to be a quitter; I saw it as allowing her to make her own independent life decision. She had (and still does) so many things she had to do and had to follow. Soccer didn't HAVE to be one of them. Her brave decision taught me that it is OK to say things "no fitta me". This mantra became very important to me in 2008: My Year of Saying No. It was time for me to lift some unnecessary burden off my broken shoulders and give myself a break. With Audrey's example and my utter exhaustion from doing everything everyone asked of me, I finally decided it was OK for me to say "No." No to hours of volunteering. No to committees and counsels. No to trying to have a perfectly neat home. No to pretending that I felt great every day. No to feeling guilty about occasionally feeding my kids nutritiously lacking dinners of buttered noodles or frozen waffles. So now when my head is inches from going under, I take a breath and think: "No fitta: I quitta."

Show Me the Love It is an amazing turn of events when your own child can actually express love back to you. After endless moments of rocking, singing, snuggling, nuzzling and saying "I love you," to have that reciprocated made up for all the endless poop, pee, crying, throw up and sleepless nights. When Dakota was about 2 1/2 years old, he got his big boy bed. Audrey was on the way and I didn't want him busting his head open hurdling over the side of his crib. At night, when I put him to bed, he would hold out his little arms and say: "Smuggle wit me, Momma." So I would snuggle in, we would listen to classical music and tell each other how much we loved each other. Now, at 9 1/2 (I can't forget the 1/2 or he gets mad at me) our "smuggling" isn't as often but the love is all there. He rarely leaves the room without hugging and kissing me. He tells me he loves me "so much" several times a day. And just the other day, in a random two seconds of love, he hugged me and declared me "the best Mommy in the world." I have to tell you, I was having a really difficult day and that short interaction dissipated all my ill feelings. Now, I know I am not the only mother to receive such accolades, but, believe me, I will take it. I realized that all it takes is 2 seconds to make someone feel good. All it takes is 2 seconds to say "thank you," "I really appreciate you," "have a great day," "I love you," or any other phrase to soothe the daily grind. You know about the "trickle down theory" in economics; well I call this Dakota's "Smuggle Down Theory." Give one person a "smuggle", a word of kindness or love, and you will set in motion an unstoppable force of good will that will multiply and spread way beyond your intention.

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