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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Parenting is like Olympic Diving...

We had to make an early-morning drive to drop Daddy off at work because the van was being fixed. My newly-minted, just-turned-7, pj-clad daughter sat in the backseat of Daddy’s car in her pink booster seat, munching on Munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts while she pondered life.  She piped up, “No one likes me. Everyone hates me.”

*sigh* I hadn’t had any caffeine yet, and I had to break out my best Social Worker self to deal with this mini crisis. Without caffeine. Why can’t kids have crises when I’m fully caffeinated and running on full brain function?

Whenever my kids say things like this, I feel like someone has punched me in the gut. My number one skill, after all these years of parenting, is triage. I do triage in so many forms, in so many situations, for so many kids, all day long, every day. Assess, plan, and go. I assess every situation and -as fast as I can- try to figure out what needs to be done to help. When a kiddo falls outside, I scan knees, hands, elbows to check for bleeding, bumps and bruises, or a broken bone. When a kiddo screams, I run to see if there are swear words being thrown, or punches, or body parts being strewn across the room. When a kid says he wants to stay after school for an activity, (that day, and he needs to know RIGHT NOW, and he can’t remember to plan ahead and tell me about these things in advance) I quickly think about our schedule to see if there’s any way we can swing another pickup into the afternoon. It’s all about multi-tasking and triage. Quickly assess any situation and figure out the next step to get to the goal.

So when my sweet little baby says out loud that she feels like no one likes her, I race to remember the past 24 hours. Has anything happened with friends or brothers to make her feel unloved, unappreciated, unwanted? Is this statement a hint of a bigger, overall self-esteem problem, or is just a whimsical statement by a bored little girl in the backseat? Does she want my conversation and attention, and help, or does she just feel like venting?

I ask my angel why she feels no one likes her. She goes on to explain things that have happened that have hurt her feelings. She says she doesn’t have friends who like her. She says people don’t want to play with her sometimes. She feels sad. I reassure her that she is a good, kind person, with a true, honest heart. Yes, sometimes everyone makes mistakes or hurts a friend’s feelings, but overall, I am so proud of who my daughter is. She is compassionate and kind. Perfect? Who is? But her spirit is so good.

I asked my girl last week who she sat by at lunch at school that day. She said she sat by the mean boy. I said if he’s mean to you, what can you do? Maybe sit by someone else, or tell him in a respectful way not to talk to you with mean words…

My little girl said, “Well, I could have moved. But I was already sitting when the boy sat by me, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He wasn’t mean to me at lunch, so it was ok.”

When I open my front door every day and let my kids out into the world to spread their little wings, it’s with a silent prayer on my lips that my children will do their part to make the world a little softer, a little kinder, a little more loving and lovely. I don’t know each happening in their days, each word exchanged with other kids, whether they roll their eyes at teachers or say mean things to others. But I hope that we have filled them so full of love at home that it just comes tumbling out when they’re in the world, and that there is very little room for hurtful mean things to find their way through that overpowering love.

In the car, talking with my little girl who was having “a moment,” I told her how so many mama’s and daddies tell me that they love it when my girl plays with their kids, because she is kind. She plays nicely and is patient and sweet. Of course we all have our moments--angry moments, crabby, irritated. But overall, the mama’s and daddies and teachers and coaches and therapists say that my girl is someone they want their kids to be around. Which makes me so proud of my girl.

I pause during my Reinforcement of Self Esteem Speech to make sure my girl has time to talk more if she needs to. So that she has the space to let her feelings out and feel heard. So that she knows she is important to me.

There is silence in the back seat. Then I hear, “I wonder what color my spit is, because I’m eating lots of colors of sprinkles so my spit is probably lots of colors too.”

Really? This is the response I get to a well-crafted argument about why my daughter rocks the Universe? This is the thanks I get for having given her my best Psych major, Master’s of Social Work advice and reassurance, all while un-caffeinated? Really? “Spit” is what we’re thinking about now??

Kids. Hilarious. I’ve realized lately how different Big Kid Parenthood is from what you might envision when you have tiny babies snuggling on your shoulder. There are so many times when I have to figure out how I’m going to handle a situation, and depending on my response I can either make it a truly awesome, teachable moment, or let the instance pass unnoticed and unremarkable, possibly losing forever that one tiny chance to teach my kiddo something invaluable. In these situations, I do triage. I figure out if I am brave enough to get out of my own comfort zone and teach my kid, help my kid, confront life with my kid.

Sometimes I REALLY have to get out of my own comfort zone. Like when we’re driving—ok wait a second, side bar. All our family’s Important Life Talks happen in the car! No joke! It’s the perfect place to talk with your kids because they don’t have to look at you when you’re saying things that are embarrassing and uncomfortable. You don’t have to look at them when THEY’RE saying things you can’t believe they’re old enough to be thinking about. They can pretend to listen if they’re not, and they can pretend not to listen even when they are-- which is what happens most of the time. I think cars were invented just so parents and kids would have a safe place to talk about awkward stuff in a neutral setting. Love it. Thank you to whoever invented cars for giving my family a place to hash out the tough stuff.

Here’s the important thing about all things parent-y. If you don’t teach your kids your beliefs, your views, your opinions, someone else will. And then you only have yourself to blame when the world has led your kiddo down a path you would not have chosen for them but were too uninvolved or disengaged or fearful to teach them about. So when the opportunity arises to share with my kids my views and opinions and outlook, I always take it. Always. Even if I don’t feel like it or I’m too tired or under-caffeinated or I feel silly talking about it. I always lunge at that opportunity and grab it with both hands.

Our family is open about everything. If a kid has a question or wants to talk about something, we talk about it. Nothing is off limits and nothing is ridiculed. Like when my teenaged boy and I were driving (see? thank you again, oh inventor or vehicles) recently and we got on the topic of sex. I have explained to my boys what our beliefs are. I’ve talked with them about responsibility and respect and doing the right thing. I’ve told them as they are running out the door to a dance—“No sex, no drugs, no alcohol, no no no…” because if I don’t tell them, they won’t know what I think and when they’re presented with a tough situation, my Mama Voice won’t be in their head somewhere and they won’t know how to navigate. Granted, my nagging Mama Voice can’t keep all the bad things and bad choices from hurting my kids, but at least I’ve done all I can to help them steer toward the good in life. That day in the car, my boy talked about abortion. I told him how I feel about that issue. I told him why.

Now he has my Mama Voice in his heart, with the information I’ve passed to him. He can make that a piece of who he is or he can choose a different opinion, but now he knows what Mama thinks. Just like he knows that I think people should be able to get married, no matter who they are marrying. And that the issue about who should use which bathroom is ridiculous- we’ve all used port-a-potties for how long and those are unisex bathrooms! And my feelings about spirituality. And how I feel about pumpkin spice lattes. And my best friend. And Reiki. And baked goods. And helping people in any way you can any time you can.

This is just part of the conversation of our family. We share these things with our kids so they can be well-rounded, kind, beautiful humans as they move through the world. So that they can hopefully leave the world better than they found it. Is it always the perfect time to have these tough talks with my kids? Am I always in the perfect mood for it? Do I always have the perfect words? Nope, nope, and nope. But just like all the other Mama’s (and Daddies) out there, I do the best I can. I take a deep breath and I take a leap of faith and I do the best I can to teach my kids the best I know. With the goal always being to be kind, be good, be loving, even in hard situations. Sometimes the talks are long and intense, sometimes the talks are interrupted by thoughts of multi-colored spit. (One of the many unusual joys of loving kids who have attention issues.) Regardless, I’m jumping in to those opportunities like a diver jumping off an Olympic diving board: with my lungs filled with a deep breath, my eyes wide with anticipation of the free-fall feeling, and a mixture of terror and excitement in my heart. Will I flop at this important parenting moment? Quite possibly. Will it be perfect? Maybe. Will it be the best I can do at that moment, in that situation, with what I have? Absolutely. All I can do is show up, grab the opportunity, and take a leap into life with my kids.