There are three sure-fire ways to get my attention.
- Offer me something nice.
~ A sincere compliment, quality time together, a token of affection.
- Alert me to impending danger.
~ Natural disaster, salmonella outbreak, gunfire.
- Direct negative energy/attention at my children. [No subtext needed.]
You might think #2 would create the biggest stir, but you would be wrong. Nothing makes my adrenaline surge faster or my claws extend further than #3. Combine 2&3 and we’re talking the big bang of responses.
Most parents I know would gladly take the brunt of their offspring’s fear, doubt, and pain. If only we could protect them from the outside forces that wear away at their spirit and hamper their joy. If only there could be a moratorium on the weapons of judgment and criticism. It’s bad enough dealing with the cracks in your own armor. Not being able to shield your own children is exponentially more difficult.
Welcome to The Greatest Show on Earth! Ringling Brothers has nothing on raising a family, though a circus is a good analogy to parenting. You are alternately trainer, performer, and janitor. There is constant preparation and numerous blunders, often under a tight schedule. You will be stunned silent in appreciative amazement. You will throw your hands up in disbelief. You will experience jaw-dropping, hair-raising panic. There are narrow escapes, aerial acrobatics, juggling acts, clowning around, and colossal messes. Add the animals (your pets), and you’ve got the full Big Top. All that work, and often just for peanuts.
Why does anyone do it?? Simple. There is nothing as gratifying as seeing your child smile, or watching their wide-eyed wonder as they take in the amazing newness of their expanding world. No sound sweeter than the joyous lilt of their laughter, or their innocent coos of affection. No feeling better than the gentle squeeze of their tiny bear cub hug, or the velvety softness of their little hand tucked inside yours. No emotions greater than parental pride and fear. Your heart will swell and your eyes will tear―when they soar, and when they fall.
When asked as a youngster what I wanted to be when I grew up, my given answer never varied―becoming a mother. It was an overwhelming, unwavering desire for me. I’d like to think there are many components that inspire and fulfill me, but I believe maternalism is what truly defines me. [Note: In no way am I indicating that every woman needs a child to be complete, only stating that’s how I’m hard-wired.] Lots of teenage girls try-on marriage by scribbling Mrs ____― insert Hollywood hotties like “Reynolds” (Burt, if you go waaay back; Ryan, presently), or “Stamos” (the one and only John; he’s multi-generational), or the local high school hunk. I’m not sure how many write out lists of baby names, as I did. And Mom, that oddly-shaped towel you occasionally found under the bed? Uh, that was my baby bump. Kinda embarrassing, but sometimes I liked to pretend I had a bun in the oven (when in the privacy of my own room, of course). That should illustrate just how popular motherhood was with me. Oh, and probably why I wasn’t more popular. Haha, JK. My family and friend loved me unconditionally. :)
You would think someone who breathed all-things-baby would have volumes of Super Mom highlight reels. Oddly enough, a lot of my clearest, isolated memories are the smallest percentage of parenting moments―the difficulties and disappointments (in myself, not my children). I know without a doubt nurturing my babies was exceedingly pleasurable to me. All of the combined, overall memories are nothing but warm fuzzies. Yet it’s the minuscule moments where I gave myself low marks on the parenting scale that grace the covers of my mental photo albums. The logic of this alludes me. If 95% of the time I felt comfortable and confident in my maternal abilities, why isn’t it those happy, heady moments that remain in full clarity? Maybe because struggles are more powerful than standards. Or maybe because the burden of self-proclaimed failures wore so heavily on my heart. I literally loved my kids more than I loved myself (still do; always will). During a turbulent marriage, they were the hope on my horizon, my paradise present, the light & warmth on my dark side of the moon.
Sidebar: I’ve recounted details of my failed marriage numerous times over the years. And I’ve come to realize, I am much happier when I don’t resort to slinging mud. It was a trying time punctuated with unpleasantries, but the three best things in my life came out of it―the proverbial phoenix from the ashes―so I can never regret it. I will not bash their father; partly because he has made positive strides since we split, and partly because I am not without fault. I truly believe we were two good people who weren’t good together; much too young and way too dissimilar. I want my kids to love, and more importantly, like, both supporting branches of their family tree. Afterall, they are a composite of mother and father, and there’s a lot of wonderful genetic material there.
If you have raised children (your own or someone else’s), you’ve stood on the precipice of blissful insanity. It’s ushered in with nine months of nausea, swollen limbs, and stretch marks. Relief comes in the form of a marathon session of stabbing pain, whilst shitting a watermelon. This culminates in years of sleep deprivation, and non-stop nursing & maid services. And that’s the easy part. Watching them suffer life’s injustices, holding them close and then letting them go… that’s hard. Having them become independent, contributing members of society is a normal and desired outcome. It’s still tough to watch, knowing how cruel and unforgiving the world can be. Even if you’ve prepared them well, you know there are things beyond your control and outside their comfort level.
This has been a struggle for me, learning to let go. But as I’ve touched on before, change is inevitable; no amount of strength or struggling will stop it. So I’m learning to parent differently. I’m on the sidelines now, instead of center field, ready to intercede should there be an injury or stoppage of play. It’s my job to patch them up and send them back into the huddle; pat them reassuringly on the back with a “go get ’em, tiger”. The truth is, they wouldn’t have team spirit or a fondness for the game if I hadn’t instilled it in them. I really don’t want them secluded out of bounds with me, missing the action. I don’t want to be a no-show because I’m unwilling to take a secondary role. I want to support them. I want them to have a winning attitude, not a perfect record. No matter what, I’ll still be their biggest fan and cheerleader. And advocate. Hecklers, be warned… you mess with Mama Hen, you WILL get the beak!!
Children are living legacies. Walking, talking evidence of the goodness you worked to instill in them, as well as the pitfalls you attempted to steer them around. I’ve made my share of mistakes in my life, but I’ve also done a fair amount right. I have not one, not two, but three amazing progeny with enviable qualities and oodles of potential. They are loved, supported, and appreciated, for who they are, and for who they’ve made me.
It’s common to crave fewer responsibilities and a respite from the day-to-day craziness of parenting while you’re in the thick of it. It can get bumpy and it does get loud. Make some ‘me time’, whenever you can. And remind yourself: If you think the noise your children make now is difficult to bear, consider the deafening silence after they go. Peace isn’t quiet and calm. It is being surrounded by guppies & puppies, toddlers & teens, laundry & lunchboxes, and flourishing in the chaos.
Pinkitude: (The selection was too rich to choose just one)
“When you have brought up kids, there are memories you store directly in your tear ducts.” ~ Robert Brault
“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” ~
Hodding Carter, Jr.