tenderness & evolution @ big table while one teen is studying

I mentioned to David last night that we somehow leveled up in the parenting world. Language has settled in, values have taken root… These things have produced consistent messages to the kids that are starting to see anchors like time around the table and nods of agreement.

There was a while where one of us would process a kid and the other would get defensive. I bet that is common in blending families. If I zoom’d in on one of his biologicals, it would naturally feel like it was in comparison to one of my biologicals. At this point, if I am correct, we have both bitched enough about all five kids and praised enough about each of the five kids to have balanced out and earned each other’s trust that it is not like we were determining who are our “project children”.

Truly – they are all projects.

In my retirement, my bandwidth can get quickly sucked up in the parenting world and what all we need to address. It results, as mentioned before, in a lot of conversation with David about ideas and what we should try and what I envision for us in a year. It also results in a lot of hands on deep diving with each kid. And it is really not efficient to live like that.

Not only do I believe in the fact that at some point you have to stop talking about it and just do the things you think are so important. But it really isn’t practical to coach each kid one on one. Teachers, sports coaches, music teachers and therapists are – for example – great ways to outsource this, even if you don’t have a bajillion kids like we do. Said another way….

I remember thinking I broke Ellen at some point when she was 7 or 8. That somehow my parenting or her dad’s was so screwed up that we had turned this wonderful sweet adventurous girl into a headstrong pain in the ass.

In my regular bemoaning that I ruined my child and now had this selfish, pre-occupied, non-empathetic little girl, I conveniently recognized all of those same traits in myself. :-/

OH. How helpful, I realized in my yoga, we are able to recognize things in others because they are in us.

OH. How helpful, I can’t open Ellen’s brain and re-wire and jump into her memories and change however or wherever she learned this behavior.

I can. I can. I can model and reinforce. Model. Model. Model.

I am going through notebooks (which is literally and figuratively the story of my life) and it has been pretty wild to read entries from 2019: gearing up toward engagement, gearing up toward 2020, so blind to the reality the world can change dramatically. Amongst all the plans and lists and travel notes was this entry of 6 bullet points I had written as advice for myself:

  • Stand openly
  • Hide nothing
  • Refuse to defend oneself
  • Feel their pain
  • Understand needs
  • Vulnerability brings healing

In this season of motherhood, I find this list perfect.

One of the prayers I have for the kids is that they all let down their defenses. Not necessarily with each other as there is not any fighting in the house or anything like that. But there is a general guard up that quickly interprets “direction” into “discipline” or interprets guidance as limitation. It’s kind of interesting. They feel in trouble or stuck and excuse themselves, make shit up and or quickly interject what they want before hearing what they want was already on the way. Like. They are “jumpy”.

I think, for me, I have to remember the change they all went through and the ways they are growing and being stretched academically and socially during the pandemic. That’s hard stuff.

I think, for me, remembering to get on eye level and inquire lovingly to their real need is essential to continually grow the trust we all have in each other. I don’t need to explain they didn’t need to explain it. I just listen, reassure and follow through. Take it on the chin. Let them think it was their idea in a way.

Living with nothing to hide – being an honest, friendly expression – makes us safe as parents. Not explaining things or offering reasons, just “Yes, and I love you” and “No, and I love you” will suffice.

And even “standing openly” is applicable now as I see my motherhood as an act of generosity. Giving and being compassionate and patient and helpful. Letting the “work” of it all be a side note and letting the “service” of it all be a lifestyle and a calling.

And with all of this, like I was saying to a friend today regarding marriage, being subtle and letting body language and tone of voice be warm and safe is clutch. Building people up and encouraging them, knowing what it feels like to not be having a great day and so therefore not being a contributing factor to theirs.

Using a calming touch and stepping aside for time for yourself are as powerful as being the non critical recipient of another’s vulnerability.

“Blessed be the know it all” is not in scripture anywhere. Man, how I hope we all stop having reasons for everything.

I am not going to spend a lot of time proofing or editing this post. I just wanted to offer an entry real quick as I read through this notebook and find this 2019 advice super relevant to my current day.

Every day I remember I am the Queen and that I make the rules for my life, I grow more something (nicer? compassionate? gentler?) towards the grind of the day, towards the expectant demands of children.

It’s not that it is easy and it is not that I have been nailing it. (Hence why I welcomed these 6 bullets into my flow….) But I do recognize a difference in mothering over time and it has something to do with these things. For sure.

I came on about an hour or so ago to write a little something but was distracted by a teacher email giving notice that a long awaited batch of grades had been posted.

If you are parenting a child during this global pandemic, you know this moment of truth quite well. This is when you find out if your kid was appeasing your “you got your work done, babe” inquires and had not really turned in the work, if your kid turned in the work in such a mindless hurry they might as well have not done it all or if your kid may actually make it through college because they can midnight hustle in the grades with the best of them.

If you are wondering “well what about finding out your kid is doing really well and on top of it because they did not have missing work to begin with”, I can’t write about that because I truly do not understand that experience.

Overall, we are doing pretty good. But I am fascinated with these virtual school landslides where a completely abashed student admits defeat and slowly and steadily resurrects themselves to once again average and sometimes above average performance.

It feels wildly successful and oddly validating as a parent, when you break through and the facts support the hunch you had the whole time they were watching Harry Potter or playing video games after lunch and you see their genuine shame and humiliation.

Then there is this bonding moment where you meet them in this moment of true human experience with a snack and a smile and say “I have been there, now let’s get to it”. And they do and it is wonderful and celebratory.

But I have learned you really can’t feel that great about those moments. It was only two weeks ago when we had one of those Easter situations and today our sweet miracle student was straight up sleeping during zoom math. Like *they were cozy* sleeping during math class.

Pack up the trumpet and church bells, but keep the prayers coming.

The thing about virtual school is the opportunity for the parents to take way more responsibility than we really should for our young teens and their respective comings of age. I mean, how realistic is it for a person to have another human checking in on them each day, looking at what they should have done, looking it over for quality and preparing them for the next day’s work?

What is appropriate for parents to do and not do during a global pandemic to support their teenagers’ ability to thrive is really seriously gray.

And just when I think we are at least nailing Maslow’s lowest hierarchy of physiological needs, I realize maybe the mechanics are a little off there, too because that basic need of food and shelter? Yeah – that need comes with daily requests for potstickers and faster wifi.

It is always hard to write about parenting because it can come off as a basic gripe. But this is a genuine curiosity for me in this post. This post that was originally going to start off sharing highlights of my first two days of retirement. In just a matter of moments, my whole riveting post about how I deep cleaned our glass shower doors, prepped for Thanksgiving and accidentally FaceTimed my old boss… twice… turned into an inquisitive post about how to motivate our teenagers and encourage the dots to connect between now and the future.

How do we encourage their independence and hold them accountable all with the right savior moments?

I am reflecting on things like if I am giving them too much credit for being able to name what they need from me while at the same time struggling with what the right “menu of options” should even be.

Do you let your kid fail a class? Do you check their assignments every day? When they tell you “yes” when you ask if they got the work done, do you ask them to prove it?

Consequences for lying or failing are different; I am talking about actually knowing what the life preservers are and when to throw them in the proverbial pool of Google classroom.

Low and behold: my new season of life. Getting four teenage girls engaged and on track. If there is one thing I know from raising little girls through divorce it is that everybody messes up their kid a little bit and your kid is never “done”. Each day is an iteration and you can reflect and come in strong and wiser the next. You read, you consult, you pray, you try it out, you observe, you communicate, etc.

I am looking forward to seeing who else online is talking about this crux. I am so curious what you all think is normal and right for how the right boundaries for parents when we have access to so much about what our kids should be doing each day of the week. I found a couple of articles I am going to read on the subject. Hopefully they are more helpful than the one I read yesterday on “How to Clean Your Glass Shower Doors” that told me to use baking soda, white vinegar and dish soap. Cue volcano.

Ok, goodnight. :)

“from the help” @ study, saint louis, foggy day

Parents traditionally delight in their children taking their first steps, demolishing their baby size birthday cakes, dressed up in a costume… a bow… a little baby tux.

As a mother, I know the feeling of delight when I am delighting in my children. I have actively stayed still in present moments to strictly observe whatever they are doing – watching the game they came into on their own, watching their slow waking moments, watching them watching something all on their own.

Matter of fact, this ties into an early intention I set for things like outings to the zoo: let them sit as long as they wish. It doesn’t matter to me how much ground we cover, we can sit in front of the hippos, we can camp out in the birdhouse. Dwell. Delight.

This made for many childhood younger year memories but also, last year, when my 13 year old stepdaughter came to live in St. Louis for 6 weeks in the fall. Prior to the official move, the marriage; David and I let her give it a shot. I took her to the zoo and was mesmerized by how long she could sit, watching… observing. So I, too, sat… watched… observed.

I remember one time I delighted in Ellen; a time so uniquely unconventional for typical delighting that it was formative to my way of parenting. I was sitting on the couch, she was playing on the floor – maybe 2 1/2 or 3 years old. She got up from where she was playing, walked to the end table, grabbed a tissue and wiped her nose.

I cocked my head, squinted and smiled. Did she just get up from playing, aware of a tickle in her nose, know to get a tissue, get one and care for herself? Did she help herself become more comfortable? Surely, she was aware of herself.

Fast forward five years later, she is 7 or 8 and her parents are divorced. I moved out into a small apartment and – though I was experiencing a tremendous amount of relief and freedom in my life – I was naturally processing grief, specifically in relationship to the loss my children took in the break up and the definitions that were shifting for them.

There was one night I went into the bathroom to get ready for bed. It was a peachy-pink tiled bathroom with a big deep tub, stained glass window and warm lighting over a big huge vanity mirror. On the counter was my toothbrush, resting on a fold of toilet paper with toothpaste on it. Next to it was a note, “From the help of Ellen”.

From the help of Ellen.

My heart, to this day, flutters when I think about this – this concept of each of us having a reservoir of help. Bounty of help, reserves of help, to offer ourselves and to offer others in this world; specifically those we are doing life with.

I think about her early demonstration of helping herself with her runny nose. I imagine a tank of help, swirling with awareness, from which she took a small withdrawal and then the experience of being cared for depositing more back in. Likewise, that night, kissing her sleeping soft cheeks – I deposited back into her tank.

I wonder about this concept a lot. That we have help (noun) instead of we help (verb). When we live in a way where giving is the action and the helping, the hoping stop and instead we have help to give, we have hope to give – does this shift the way we feel? Does it impact the way we consider ourselves able?

It’s a foggy grey day today and I have a few things to button up before starting up some work at 1p. I am curious if this thinking feels different to anybody out there. That’s all for now :) namaste…. erin