We are a society of scores and numbers. And, I understand the relevance of labeling our kids in some fashion, they are a mystery. They never seem to operate like the others. Not even past a diaper change and 8 ounces of whatever is in their bottle. Here the job of mother quickly shifts from ecstasy to comparison.
“LuAnn’s baby is already walking.”
“Daphne’s kid can already read.”
You know the drill.
It is not fair. We are handed these perfect bundles of bliss and the nurse reports, “He’s a big guy! And his APGAR score is…” When my cousin had her 11 pound baby my grandpa said, “If she’d been fishing she’d have won a trophy!”
It isn’t any wonder that children in our society are chased by mothers who just want them to be just right, because the world is on standby ready to tell them, “This is what is wrong.”
Fighting comparison is nearly impossible in our current state.
Someone looks better, is smarter, richer, and more or less of something we wish we were and know our kid isn’t. And, there are impeccable still shots in our news feed to prove it. Filters and sci-fi apps only confuse issues. Please add this to the list of a mother’s to-do. “Milk, bread, PTA, leave check for landscaper, and maintain some semblance of self-esteem and worth in my children in spite of Kylie Jenner.”
Furthermore, there is always some genius that fully believes they have the parenting hack that is a nod to my lack and will “fix” my kid. My favorite brilliant advice, “Take his phone.” I remember my insides would scream and my weary uterus would lurch, “If I take his phone… how will I find my baby?”
So I concur, sometimes a mom does the opposite of well meaning (or spitefully arrogant) advice, simply because she is trying to save a life more precious than her own. While I cannot say I have cornered the market on perfect mothering, I have been around the block enough to know a thing or two. In the mother hood, I have street creds.
Mainly, what my kid thought of themselves was exactly how they behaved.
Last week at the park, my husband and I sat on a bench several yards from our two young sons, Sam (8) and Charlie (6). Sam was nine days old the first time we met him. He was joyfully welcomed into a home with four new-to-him siblings, aged 9 to 15 who doted and delighted in his every action. Two years later we welcomed Charlie, our first foster placement. Charlie was three months old when we met him. His story was hard to comprehend and the journey to his adoption was long and messy.
Still, that kid was and is entirely adored.
But it was on the bench I again noted the significant difference in the two would be strangers, now sons and brothers. Charlie was helping a toddler onto the slide. He was entirely unconcerned with our watchful presence. Sam on the other hand, was in the sandbox, lining up mini monster trucks, looking up every few seconds to check our location and commitment.
As if on auto pilot, Sam would look our way nearly incessantly, smile, and wave, and then return to his play. I felt a twinge of sadness. Certainly I don’t want him to worry. We aren’t going anywhere without him? To walk away from him and his care would be more impossible than sacrificing a limb. When my husband stood up, Sam quickly started to gather his Hot Wheels. Justin waved, “Not yet Sam, I was just stretching.”
The child development part of my brain cringed, “insecure.” But the seasoned heart of his mommy, thought, “Nope. He is just fine.”
And this is my battle cry for mommas. Profess the opposite of the negative, what the world proclaims as their lack.
After 25 years plus of mothering this is the best I can offer any parent. I came into the methodology by accident. But, I have proof. One of my test subjects will announce her first book deal this week, just shy of her 26th birthday. Another will finish his tour as a Marine and move his wife and cats back to Texas in February to begin his civilian life. The other is swimming with sea turtles in Hawaii and teaching yoga on a beach. Notwithstanding the fact I never took his phone and the world waited, certain he was destined for… I won’t even speak it. And the fourth is preparing for her second semester studying film, remotely for now, at MaryMount Manhattan, in New York.
While there was much folly and many mistakes on their journey to adulthood, I lied to them exponentially about their lack. This is most ironic, as I journeyed into the world of publishing on the back of a blog post titled, An Open Letter to My Children: You’re Not that Great.
Yes, I did want them to consider others before self. But I did not ever want their struggles to be their definition.
I fully believed, as a kid thinketh, so that kid is.
And so, I told them the opposite of what they would hear from everyone else.
“You can do anything you want. A bachelor of Arts is a perfect choice.”
“I don’t care what the score was. You are a genius.”
“No, you are not a delinquent. You are a teacher and leader.”
Perhaps I did this because of the definitions that were handed to me, “Learning disabled, trouble maker, half-wit, and failure.” Those titles first rang in my confused school aged ears, and baffled me. My parents only sang my praises. And I do not consider my parents liars, I don’t suppose I am either. But if that is what humanity wants to call it, whatever.
I call it great mothering.
As a kid thinketh, so that kid is.
This is where our greatest work as parents is manifested. While one or the other of my brood was easier to help with math when we understood, he read upside down and backwards. That worldly malfunction was never the entirety of our declaration. It was simply how he rolled for a few hours during the week while failing at the resolution of -X.
The rest of the time he was brave, funny, compassionate, and brilliant.
And for a season, there was one who was a test of my faith and the near destruction of my nerves. I chose to believe in the human I knew to be wise, empathetic, and a champion of conservation. Those were the things we professed to him.
I understand, in classrooms and single filed lines, a child’s inabilities help us help them navigate the path to independence. Still I cringe when I hear the profession of spectrums and prescriptions. Those are simply tools to make comparison easier for the masses and sensical to the cravings for “normal.”
Those never wholly defined my kid.
And I cannot explain Sam’s insecurities at the park, feet away from the family who is obsessed with him. But I will not nurture that in him. I will not call him a worrier, and I won’t entertain the notions of the world. Onlookers might profess, “adoption.” Counselors might attempt to predict a mythical season of searching for his identity.
They may or may not be right.
In parenting, there will be plenty of mishaps and some desperate attempts to save. But I stand by the science of believing in better. Speaking the truth, about the children we adore, even if it is a lie, is the greatest of parenting hacks.
You know them. They know you know them. Tell them everyday the great things you know to be true of them. Sure, they might forget for a moment, but deep in their thoughts your voice will echo and drench them in tenacity and inspire them to keep going.
As a mom speaketh, so a kid thinketh… so that kid will be.
May your floors be sticky and your calling ordained. Love, J
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