I Get It Now

My son just got dumped.  

As these Junior High romances are wont to do, the bloom is off the rose.  Months of liking each other, modest gift exchanges at Christmas, furtive glances, shy smiles, and dragging mothers (me) to the holiday concert to see the girl in question perform, are all over.  As typical of a 7th grade romance, this one faded, for her at least.  She started liking his best friend.  Ooof.  She had her best girlfriend break the news to my son that she doesn’t want to “go out” with him anymore.  Double Ooof.  The hurt look in my unsuspecting son’s eyes. The sad way he schlumps around the house, not wanting to talk about it.  Ooof to nth degree.

Like most parents, my first instinct is to make this pain disappear.  Let him know there are other fish in the sea.  Let him know that he probably wasn’t ever going to marry her anyway.  Maybe give this girl some seriously dirty looks next time I see her.  Doesn’t she know he’s shy and a little socially awkward to begin with!  How could she?

Wait a minute.  What the Hell am I thinking!

It’s too painful to watch your beloved child get his head handed to him by life’s realities.  He got kicked in the teeth.  I ache for him, and there is nothing I can do.  In fact, maybe the best thing I can do is just let him lick his wounds, and tell him that his family loves him.  So hard to see him in pain.  But all parents go through this at some point?

A close second on the pain meter is the dredging up of old memories.  Yep, I remember getting the phone call from a friend of a boy I went out with for a whole month.  With 20/20 hindsight (and a number of decades behind me), I can’t believe I ever wasted a tear on this guy.  However, at the time, I was bereft, even though I also knew it was pretty cowardly to not break up with me in person.  

I remember vividly some (bratty) 3 year old girl who wouldn’t let my other son play in the group she was in.  Oh that little dejected face he had when he walked away!  (This girl’s mom insisted on raising a “strong” girl who didn’t put up with anything. Manners didn’t count, but that’s for another post!)  Anyway……..  it broke my heart.  Maybe a mother’s heart is bound to be broken over and over again.

Oh, and all the rejection I’ve dealt with sucks.  Let me count the ways….

Do you see where I’m going with this?  WE as parents can’t stand the fact that our kids have to withstand pain.  WE get reminded of our past painful memories that we’re not over yet.  WE are the ones who can’t take the double whammy of pain. We just can’t. So because it’s too hard for US, our first instinct is to protect our kids by putting them in a bubble.

Is this why parents rush to insulate their kids?  I believe it is.  

Case in point, my pet peeve – the “sports trophy”.  My kids stopped baseball and soccer in 2nd grade, so maybe it changes as you get older, but I could never understand why everyone got a trophy. Even back then, my kids knew it was bullshit to get a trophy if you didn’t win.  A certificate of participation, perhaps, but a trophy?  For coming in dead last? (Oh wait, do they even keep score, because if you lose, your psyche will be damaged?)

Another example is of a school play I watched a few years ago.  No kidding, in one performance there were THREE, count ’em, THREE different girls playing the lead!!  It was confusing to watch, but worse, I found out later that all three of them wanted to be the lead, so the teacher let them.   Are we that slavish to protecting our kid’s feelings that we’ll jump through hoops to that extent?  Apparently we are.

I am a professionally trained actress.  I pursued a career in the industry in high school and college. Here’s a tip….. it doesn’t work like that.  You think the casting directors will put me in a commercial because “I really want the lead”? hahahahahahahahahaha!  If I didn’t get the part, it was because either my acting stunk or I had the wrong “look”. Them’s the breaks! Guess, what? I got over it.

So, instead of recognizing these trials as a rite of passage, a learning experience and part of growing up, we do everything and anything to make sure our kids don’t feel pain. I really do get this now.  Truly.  I understand the desire to give out trophies to the also-rans.  

It makes us, the parent, feel better to reward mediocrity.  However, in the long run we are harming our kids.  Years go by and they fall to pieces when hit with adversity.  They have no resilience.  Wait until they get out into the real world, where instead of “oh, that’s OK, here’s a consolation prize for not getting your project done on time”.  It’s “You’re fired”.  What will they do then?  Besides moving back in with you and playing World of Warcraft in your basement for the next decade, that is.

Kids don’t want the consolation prize.  They don’t want to lose, but they don’t want the bullshit trophy either.  What does losing teach?  It teaches the world doesn’t end because we lose. It teaches that we are not failures as people, just at that particular activity.   It teaches that perhaps we should practice more so we get the lead/spot on the team/the trophy.  

My father saw me lose a Halloween costume contest when I was six- on a costume I designed myself.  I went as a box – an old washing machine box that I cut arm and head holes out, and added bows all over it.  To this day (he’s 75), he’s painfully reminded of the “injustice” of losing to a kid who’s mom sewed the costume.  Did he demand the rules be changed to only allow, or at least separate, the child-made from the mom-made from the store-bought?  No!  Did he have to find a way to deal with his feelings of his daughter’s dejection?  Yes!  Was I sad? Yes!  Did I get over it?  Yes!  Did I make a better costume the following year?  Yes!

It’s time we put on our big girl panties, empathize with our kids when they fail or get their feelings hurt, but for crying out loud, it’s time to let them out of the bubble!!!

Even if it kills us.  It’s our job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day I went from “Mommy” to “Mom”

There are certain “firsts” that all parents remember vividly.  The first time the baby smiles at you, the first time they roll over, and my personal favorite, the first time my kids decided to use the potty instead of diapers.  As you may know, most preschools only accept 3 year olds who are  potty trained.  I’m still a little sore that my eldest, Hugh, waited until the DAY BEFORE preschool started to decide he was done with diapers.  Damn kid!  He’s never going to live that one down! haha!

 

I always got excited about the firsts that happened beyond babyhood.  Yes, it is a thrill the first time your baby takes his own little steps, but let me tell you, it’s just as exciting the first time his bat makes contact with a T-Ball.  I went berserk the first time each of children rode a bike with no training wheels.   I was bursting with pride when my kids passed the “deep end” test at the pool.  These are the unsung moments of parenthood that never seem to get mentioned in baby books.

 

Other “firsts” are more bittersweet.  The first time a baby refuses the breast.  The first eye roll.  The first time your kid doesn’t want affection in public.  Maybe I should call them “lasts”.  I remember the circumstances of the last time I nursed each of my kids, even though I knew it was winding down.  For Hugh, it was immediately after coming back from my friend Marlo’s wedding in the Bahamas.  I woke him up, nursed him, and the next day he wanted no more.  Jack was at a neighborhood playdate at Stephanie’s across the street.  I nursed him, put him to sleep under an end table in the corner, and that was that.

 

Jack was my cuddle monster.  Both of my kids were, but being the youngest, he was so into Mommy and I guess I remember it better.  Praying at the kneeler at Mass, a little head would try to wiggle its way between the pew and the crook of my elbow.  Then a slightly larger head would do the same on the other side.  Here was a vivid reminder of the very things I prayed for, and about!   Sitting on the couch with a blanket an a novel, along would come Jack wanting in, and wanting me to hold just him.  I got kisses constantly, looks of loving adoration, hugs and more hugs.  Did I mention the cuddles???

 

Then he turned eight.

 

Literally, the day Jack turned eight, the hugs and kisses and longing looks stopped.  No longer did he need or want to be cuddled.  No longer did he want to spend quiet time with me, demanding all my attention.  He stopped trying to shove his way into my praying hands at church.  Like an English schoolboy who stops wearing shorts and graduates to “big boy pants”, Jack embraced all that the transition from little boy  had to offer.  He could venture beyond my line of sight because he had the confidence to find his way back.  He could do more things, climb higher trees, ride larger bikes, jump off higher rocks into the lake because he no longer needed “Mommy”, he only wanted “Mom.”  Yes, of course I still get the occasional kiss and hug, but it’s not the same.

 

I know this is completely normal behavior, and I do embrace it.  God rest her soul, but I had a mother who always wanted puppies to remain puppies and babies to remain babies. I find it much easier than my mom did to let my kids go through their normal developmental milestones – even the annoying ones.  A 13 year old putting maturity on and off like a too big sweater is especially fun.  Note the sarcasm.  But still, I expect it, I know what’s happening, and I know it has to happen.  I do not want my kids to feel like they are disappointing me somehow by growing up.  Nor do I want them straining from the shackles of  eternal babyhood and feel the need to rebel or grow up too fast.  Like I did.  I want them to go through what they need to go through to become the men God wants them to be.  It’s all part of the beautiful process.

 

Still, to be “Mommy” one more time.  I think that’s a longing most women have, despite ourselves.

 

Thoughts?