Tag Archives: Motherhood

Don’t Look Back

Outside the kids tossed the basketball around. Between the bouncing and giggles, I kept hearing a man’s voice. I stopped my work, trying to figure out whether someone had dropped by. More giggles and squeals. There. That man’s voice again. And then it hit me. That voice, so odd and unfamiliar, was coming from my son.

We’re in transition. Play-doh has dried up in its rainbow bins. Crayons wait longingly to inspire their next rainbow or wicked creature. Pooh Bear is gone. He took the Playmobil and picture books with him. Bubble baths and bedtime snuggles have been replaced with showers and a kiss goodnight.

mom in the muddle pirate

It’s officially packed away…and it did break my heart a little.

Doors are closed now. And locked. Mirrors get used, not to mention skin care products and brushes. My brush and hair and skin care products are community now. I could share shoes with my son if I wanted—I don’t.

We have serious conversations about the agony happening in the world and the safety of home. We—I—have suffered through sex talks. I hear the “But I thought…” and “This is what Suzy said…” comments and will myself not to convulse at the words and ideas being thrown my way.

Bathroom graffiti is pondered. “You’d think they could at least spell it right.” As an editor, I agree that the spelling situation in society has hit quite a low. But maybe slang words for female body parts below the belt aren’t words we should care so much about spelling properly?

I hear dirty jokes that make me want to gouge my eyes out, but under no circumstances will I flinch. I just get punched in the arm then anyway because of some stupid middle school game I don’t know the rules to.

Bob the Builder and Strawberry Shortcake character names escape us when we used to know them all by heart. Now I’m asked character names in the shows I watch, then wonder why my child is sitting next to me and when this happened.

My kids aren’t babies anymore. Despite the eye-opening time we’re having here, I’m OK with that. I like not having to cover my mouth if a bad word slips out. I know my kids won’t repeat it. I like the conversations we have about how unjust the world is. I like trying in the smallest ways to help shape their points of view. And most of all, I’m thrilled beyond belief that my kids come to me with the things they hear, horrifying as they sometimes seem to me, and don’t at all seem intimidated to talk to me about them.

I don’t look back at what we’ve been through and long for those days. Bottles and naps and tantrums seem so long ago. I think I like where we’re headed. Sure, I know we’re in for some rough times—my kids are preparing me for that. But I’m finding the rainbow in what we build each day.

It’s hard. Some days I think I may not survive big kid problems and this evolution. But every day, I love seeing the people my kids are becoming. Through the angst, they surprise me with their sarcasm and wit, their intelligence, their insight, and sometimes the fact that somewhere along the way, they actually listened to what I’ve been teaching them.

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It’s Inevitable: I Will Embarrass My Kids

While dinner bubbled on autopilot and before the kale would scorch, I grabbed my keys and ran outside to back up the van. My son wanted to play basketball and needed more room to shoot. When I came in, my daughter took one look at my slippers and scoffed. “You went out like that? I don’t even know you.”

These days my mere existence is often the source of embarrassment for my fourth- and sixth-grade kids. Everything I do and say, which used to seem normal, now sets off alarms, panic, and looks of despair.

Evidently I tell too much. I give too many private details to friends, teachers. I should just say my daughter is sick. Nothing else. I should not talk to any parents about my kids. I can understand this. (But I am not convinced my kids aren’t talking about me too.) In general, they would just prefer that I nod hello and move on. If I tell a story about when they were babies or that they cried in a store once, I get “the look” and then I hear it the whole way home.

In the school drop-off line, my kids jump out while the car is still rolling. Isn’t getting tangled up in the seatbelt like a fly in a web more embarrassing than having a mom? All of the kids in the drop-off line get out of a car that a parent or caretaker is driving. I bet some of them are even wearing their pajamas. I at least put on jeans.

When I wear sweats on a lazy day, the kids want to give me fashion advice. I find this amusing since I spent the first half of my kids’ lives gently coaxing them—and failing miserably—through the “that army green shirt doesn’t go with red fleece pants in summer” phase. The “shorts to your knees and socks that meet them” doesn’t really count as winter attire phase was a lovely look in fifth grade.

My kids have walked out of the house looking like they couldn’t decide whether to be an athlete, goth, or nerd, and it would be a fun surprise to see what it all looked like in the light of day. I’ve been out with them like that and smiled as other parents told them their outfits were “interesting,” which we all know is code for “what the hell did you put together there?”

But I know where my kids are coming from, I do, because I was their age once. Only other people your age can give you advice. Parents don’t know anything. They don’t know anything about fashion or the latest trends or a good fit or what could be best for someone’s age or body shape. Pfft.

At that age you learn fashion rules and social behavior by observing, and that can take a long time in some cases. I remember realizing that being seen with my parents in middle school meant I had nothing better to do and no one better to hang out with, no social life. Walking through the mall on a Friday night with my parents and trying to distance myself from them was bad enough. Turning around to see them holding hands was like realizing I wore holey panties in the locker room. Please, don’t let anyone see!

This adolescent terror lasts for a long time. When I went away to college, finding out that my mom told my suitemates to hang around with me because I didn’t know anyone there was beyond mortifying. I had made my own friends my whole life! But I think at some point, you start to realize parents are just embarrassing. They mean well. And you accept it.

I know as a mom, everything I do is subject to scrutiny now. I’m trying to keep in mind that there’s a fine line between sharing too much that’s theirs and sharing what’s mine too. The trick will be teaching them to see the humor and love in it all.

ropes course

OK, sometimes we embarrass ourselves too. Hug that pole a little tighter, eh? A morning ropes course had me in tears.

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Letting Go Is Easier When Reflecting on Own Childhood

Summer camp. One week. Off on an adventure alone. No friends. My son was ready. The question, Was I ready? I never went to a true summer camp. Besides an emotional college good-bye, my first real adventure came when I was 21. And I don’t think my mom was ready either.

Three weeks in Europe. A friend and I were leaving after college graduation to tour major European cities. My parents and I waited at the Norfolk, Virginia, airport for my friend and her parents to arrive. She was late—really late. I called her house from a pay phone. They should be at the airport, her sister said. I quietly waited, thinking. When my plane started boarding, I stood up and told my parents good-bye.

“What? You’re going?” my mom said. I sure as hell was. I didn’t work as a cashier for five months selling cigarettes to an old man with pink fingernails and a dress for nothing. I didn’t max out my credit card and beg and borrow the rest of the money for my trip for nothing. I was going to Europe!

We hadn’t talked about or looked into another flight. Now there was no time. I was there. I was getting on that plane. I said I’d call when I arrived. I didn’t have time to think about what I’d do once I landed. I had only ever flown once before. I felt nauseous and tried desperately to sleep folded over onto the lap tray. When we landed in London, I had no idea where to go. Signs everywhere warned not to pick up unattended bags. What? Why? A crowd of people held signs with names on them. One of them was my driver. I made it to the hotel exhausted but couldn’t check into the room for two hours. I called home and I learned my friend got stuck in traffic and had caught the next flight. Relief.

We spent the next three weeks navigating centuries-old castles, picturesque gardens, bizarre hotel showers, and each other’s moods. Thankfully, she still talks to me. We found our way into an Austrian pharmacy to replenish my motion sickness medicine, using only my idiotic gesturing and Southern English to communicate. We ordered from menus with decent success, though for the life of me I could not remember to request still water and always ended up with fizz.

Though I yearned for home-cooked food and sheets not made from terry cloth, I was having the time of my life. My mom called one of the hotels looking for me, worried. On my end, there wasn’t time for phone calls.

I think as mothers, we dissect our kids’ situations. There is no big picture but little pieces. We find comfort in odd details to help us cope with those parts that really bother us. I knew my son going to camp would be hard, but he’s been away before. Baby steps. My mom found comfort in the fact that I would be with a friend, that she knew where she could reach me. I put a kink in part of that.

I filled out loads of paperwork for my son. He’ll have fun, I thought. I’ll worry. But at the end of the forms and phone numbers and descriptions of my son’s personality, a reminder: no phone calls. Panic. What if he needs me? More likely, what if I need him?

Like my mom then (and sometimes now), I just wanted to be able to hear it, one sentence even: “I’m OK.” But I take comfort in the fact that his camp is less than an hour away. In our same town. And he’ll probably have fun, even if I won’t sleep for a week.

As a mom, my experiences with struggle and independence and finding my own way are what get me through letting my kids go—even if it’s just to the other side of town.

summer camp

Ready for a week of fun…I hope!

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Elementary School: Six Years of Growth

My son finishes elementary school this week. Six years ago, I cried as I sent him through those doors and down the hall into a classroom with a wonderful woman who took him under her wing and taught him everything he needed to know about getting along in the world.

Back then, he was waist high and when he smiled, his cheeks were still round with baby fat. His chubby hands grasped a pencil the right way to practice letters and write sentences about field trips, his hermit crab, and how much he loved his family. I used to smile at his primitive spelling and stick-figure crayon drawings, filing every writing away to brighten up a later day.

He told me stories of the pill bugs that escaped the classrooms and were found all over the school. Or the boy who put his foot in the toilet in the bathroom.

He moved on down the hall. He made new friends. He struggled. He discovered the joy of a really good book. He learned that he loved math and science and that all someone had to do was talk about it and he absorbed it like a sponge. He learned that sometimes he had to work hard at something and it wasn’t always easy. And even if he threw his pencil across the room and broke it, even if he said a cuss word in the process, his mother loved him anyway.

He learned that sometimes his mother said a cuss word in the process too. Damn homework.homework mominthemuddle.com

He told me stories about the kid who hid under his desk every day and the teacher who chased them on the playground at recess as they laughed and screamed.

As he moved on down the big kid hall, he learned that sometimes kids are mean. He learned that he didn’t want to be the bad guy, but he didn’t want rocks thrown at him either. He can’t always be a pleaser. Sometimes friends aren’t good at their job. Sometimes he found they could make him feel bad about himself, like when he got new glasses. Sometimes friends challenged him though. If they read a book, he wanted to read it too. He discovered a love for J.R.R. Tolkien and Roald Dahl.

He told me stories about the boys’ bathroom and the boy who licked the urinal. He told me all about the first overnight field trip he went on—he had the time of his life while I stayed home unable to breathe.

Now in fifth grade, he jokes with his teachers. He doesn’t need to be coddled. He does his homework in his room and I see it only when he needs help or when it is returned home graded. His writings are about fighters and his friends, no longer sappy and sweet. He takes pleasure in trying to teach me new math lessons he has learned, thinking he’ll stump me. And he has.

He tells me stories about kickball and monkey ball and the things I would not believe the boys do at lunch. He tells me about the science experiments with tea bags and the mock stock exchange they’re doing in math that he loves.

Now in the last week of his elementary school career, he walks down the hall confident, smiling, knowing many friends. He stands at my shoulders, lean and broad, baby fat long gone.

Six years ago when he entered that school, he was a quiet, funny, scared kid. When he walks out those doors for the last time, I’ll still recognize that little boy somewhere inside. But I couldn’t be more proud of the countless ways he’s grown.

mominthemuddle.com note

A note my son gave me in first grade.

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Guest Posting Today: Come Visit!

I’m over at Larry Bernstein’s blog, Me, Myself, and Kids, today talking about the sidelines. I’ve been through many seasons of watching my kids play baseball, soccer, and basketball, and I’ve decided I really don’t like the other parents.

As a kid, I’m pretty sure it was one of the reasons I stopped playing. I knew it even then. In fourth grade, I played softball and I wasn’t very good. When the ball was hit to my patch of centerfield grass, I ran for it and threw it in. I threw it to whoever looked most eager to get it in her glove. Only my aim sucked. My eyes looked at her outstretched hand, but the ball went six feet to the left.

I used to sit in the dugout and pray my turn wouldn’t come up. Standing at the plate, I could hear the parents in the stands. Maybe they meant for me to. “Come on, hit the ball!” They weren’t using encouraging tones. They weren’t being helpful.

As a parent, I’ve sat on the sidelines through enough games and enough sports to know that I’m not cut out for this sort of thing. Even now as an adult, I hate hearing the other parents.

Visit Me, Myself, and Kids to read more and see what else I’ve encountered. Tomorrow, come back here and read about Larry’s experience with Little League, not only as a parent, but also as a coach.

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It Took 40 Years To Be This Person

One recent Sunday morning I set my juice on the table next to a piece of rolled up paper tied with ribbon. “Is this for me?” My family took me by complete surprise. In 40 days I would be 40. They planned to celebrate me in some way every one of those days.

When you’re a kid, every birthday is special, filled with anticipation. Adults mostly try to push them back like the sand that keeps sliding and filling a carefully dug hole.

Over the past year, I’ve thought a lot about turning 40. Not worry, not dread. Reflection. I’m more excited about this birthday than I’ve been since I turned 21.

To me, 40 is not old. I’m lucky enough to have a father who never looked at age as something to dread. “I’m just glad I made it this long,” he says every year. I feel like this is my chance to take everything I’ve learned and go forth.

But 40 does feel like a crossroads. This big year of tumbling into a new decade. Do I keep trudging through my days the same way as always? Do I shake things up a bit? When is the right time to get out there and do the things I’ve always wanted to do? If ever there was a time to try something, this is it. Though I feel like I finally have wisdom backing me, I no longer have the luxury of an expanse of time.

I’m what you call a late bloomer. It took me a long time to come out of my shell. I remember a time, decades ago, when boys wore their best flannel shirts and stone-washed jeans to the high school dance. I gathered all the courage I had and blew it on walking in the door, forget dancing. I watched as everyone else without a date gathered in groups and bobbed together like boats on the horizon. Their bodies pulsed to the beat, they laughed, they goofed off. It didn’t matter what I faked. Smile or laugh or whatever, the only thing hearing me was the wall and deep down, I fought the tapping in my toes and the bouncing in my knees. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have as good a time as the kids on the dance floor.

In time, I learned. I learned not to care what I looked like. I learned that confidence and beauty really can go hand-in-hand with making a fool of yourself. People see your smile, hear your laughter. They move and smile and laugh with you. No one is moved to hold the wall up with you all night.

And I want to be an example. I don’t want my kids to be that person. I don’t want them to sit on the sidelines and watch. I want them to participate in life and jump in and not be afraid. I don’t want them to hold their happiness in.

When my kids are mortified to see me dance, when they hear me scream on a ride, when they see my step falter on a high climb, when they hear me speak up, when they see me try something new, I want my kids to know that it has taken me nearly 40 years to be this person. That you don’t ever have to stop growing. Every year I learn something new because I learned to let go of the part of me that was holding me back.

This was tough but quick. Almost at the end!

Something new and terrifying.

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We Learn From the Tough Stuff

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting. “I think you’re old enough now to make some of your own decisions.” I remember looking at my dad and thinking, “Are you kidding? Just tell me what to do.” I didn’t really want to make this decision, but my parents suddenly thought I was capable—at 13—right or wrong, whatever I decided was it.

It wasn’t a life or death decision, but tough on the social life of a teenage girl. I was deciding between going on a field trip that would last until late evening or going to a friend’s dance recital that same evening. I had already told my friend yes when we found out about the field trip. Of course I picked the field trip. Twenty-six years later, I still feel bad for letting my friend down.

I made other bad decisions. I shed some tears over them. I learned my lesson.

I faced many situations I wished I didn’t have to face. How could I deal with the girl who kept picking on me? Why did I admit that I liked Billy Bentley? Why did Tiffany seem to like Beth more, and what could I do about it? How could I face a boy who just broke up with me?

Those struggles helped me to be brave later. They helped me to know that I did have limits and I could stand up for myself. That sometimes a friendly smile is the best revenge after being dumped. That saying good-bye to a toxic friendship is the best cure. That I do have morals. That I actually could start over again and again.

But being the parent, taking a step back and letting my kids make their own decisions, it’s tough. I want to protect them. Sometimes the Mama Bear advice I want to give isn’t appropriate. But my kids know what they need to do just like I figured it out when I was their age.

All these years, it’s been the tough stuff that I’ve learned the most from. The lesson is just getting to a decision.

I’ve seen my kids make some tough choices, whether they knew it or not. A friend who makes fun of you maybe isn’t the best friend. When my son got glasses and his friend made fun of them every day, I noticed he hung around that friend a lot less.

My daughter had a tough choice this week: dissect a fish or don’t. And that left me with a tough choice: encourage her to do it or don’t. She worried the smell would make her sick. She thought it was gross and said she wouldn’t do it. Stress and drama overshadowed what I thought was a great opportunity for a third grader. I told her that maybe she could just leave the option open.

Where do I draw the line at encouragement and telling her to try, and being too pushy and making her decisions? I thought of all those choices I had to make growing up. Sometimes I didn’t want to make them. But I did and I did OK.

She knows in her gut what’s right for her. In the end, I told her to do what she needed to do.

This week, she did dissect a fish. She showed herself what she can do. She showed me what she can do—and I never thought removing an eyeball was on that list. I certainly don’t like watching the struggle, but the growth makes a mom proud.

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