Anyone but you, Mom

Adrian happily swam across the deep end of the pool.

Not after I asked him to, no.  NO.  Definitely not that.  When I asked him to let go of the side and swim 10 feet, all I got was screaming and helpless flailing.

But one glance and an “I-think-you-can-buddy” from unknown lifeguard, and he was off.

Just like my months of encouragement to ride his bike without training wheels failed miserably, even when supplemented by bribery.  But the boys in the neighborhood had him riding in 5 minutes.

I might think it was just an Adrian thing, but the twins have also proved not just incapable of learning from me, but incapable of learning in my presence.

My mom enrolled them in skating lessons as early Christmas gifts.  What fun!  We thought.  Until we stuffed 3 year old feet into boots attached to blades.  On cold hard ice.  They acted like it was complete torture, wailing tragically and crawling desperately across the ice, unable to stand.  When they saw me, they threw magnificent tantrums, their red faces contorted with misery.

Unable to watch their distress, I left the rink feeling guilty.

But after I was gone, they stopped crying and started marching.  The next week, they were gliding.  By the end of the class, they passed all their “Snowplow Sam I” skills and marched across the ice with smiles on their faces.  As long as I wasn’t around, of course.

I’ve similarly failed to teach Stephen piano.  He happily learns from his teacher, but we had lessons that would have made Tiger Mother feel sorry for him.

What’s up?  Why can’t we teach our own kids?

I know it’s not just me.  I’ve interviewed other parents, my own parents….everyone experiences this phenomenon it seems.  I mean, remember all the good times you had learning to drive with your dad?  Yeah.  That’s what I thought.  Still in therapy.

I’ve been trying to figure this out.  Is it because Moms are too nice?  The kids think we’ll give them a break?  Then I realized, it’s the opposite!  I’m harder on my own kids than any one else’s.  Maybe we’re too mean, and our expectations are too high?

I listened to this podcast about mental illness, and they found that schizophrenic men who returned to their mothers or wives after being hospitalized were 2-3 times more likely to relapse than men who went to live in a group home.  They tried to figure out why, and came up with 3 main factors that harmed psychological wellness:

1)criticism

2)hostility

3)emotional over-involvement

So I was right.  We’re too mean becuase we care too much.  Well, what else are moms for?

We’ll use our own spit to clean your face, love you more than anyone else on the planet, make you do your chores, wring your neck if you disrespect your teacher, and feed you lots of good food.

And we’ll just have to hire teachers for the rest.

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Mystery solved!

I was sitting in the lobby at church with Will while my mom took Reid to the bathroom.  A woman walking by stopped suddenly and asked, “Does he have a twin brother?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Oooh!”  She said, laughing and putting a hand to her head.  “I was in the bathroom and a woman came in with a little redheaded boy and helped him wash his hands.  Then a few minutes later, the same woman came back with the same boy and washed his hands again!  I couldn’t figure out what was going on!”

I laughed.  “Identical twins!”

 

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Reid and the snake

As I was in my bathroom getting ready for the day, I heard Will shrieking from the basement: “REEEEEIIIIID!”  He bellowed.  “REID REID REID REID REEEEEEEEIIIID REID REID REID REID….”

Reid appeared, looking smug.

“I think Will wants you,” I said.  He just smiled and rifled through my bathroom drawers.

“REEEEEEEEEEIID, REID REID REID REID REID REEEEEEEEEEEID REEEEEEEEEEEEID!!!!!!”  Echoed plaintively from the basement.

Finally, Will appeared, with beet red cheeks.  He ran up to Reid.  “REID!”  He shrieked in his face.

Reid ignored him.

“REID REID REID!”  He yelled.

Reid crossed his arms and looked at the floor.  Will looked at me tragically.  “He’s not talking to me,” he sobbed.

“Reid, why don’t you talk to Will?” I asked.

Reid crossed his arms, looked at the floor, and hummed, “Hm hm hm hm!” in a singsong voice.

Will began balling.

“Will, just ignore him,” I advised.  Will yelled in Reid’s face until Reid ran away, and Will chased him all over the house screaming “REID REID REID!!!!”  while Reid ignored him.

Reid reappeared in the bathroom, Will close on his heels.  “Will is being a whiny boy!”  He pronounced.

“Dear, he’s frustrated because you won’t talk to him.”

“I don’t want to play food,” Reid responded.

“Then tell him that!”  I said.

Reid crossed his arms, “Hm-hm-hm-hm”-ed again and ran off, Will shrieking after him.

I shook my head.  Here they go again!

When it was time to put on shoes for church, Reid transformed into a snake.

“Hisssss!  Hsssssssss….” he snarled, velcro-ing his shoes.

Will looked despairing.  “Mommy, he’s still not talking!”

“He’s a snake now, what do you want me to do?  Ignore him back!”

“Hsssss, hssssss, ssssss, ssssss,” commented Reid.

Will suddenly slapped him across the face.

The hissing paused momentarily.

“Will, don’t hit!”  I scolded.

Will’s face was sour.  “But he’s not talking to me!”

“You still don’t hit someone in the face!”

“Hissss, sssssss, ssssss, sssss, sssssss,” said the snake.

Reid resumed human form and acknowledged Will’s existence once we arrived at church, and all was right in twin-land again.

 

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Wagon Riding

If you would like to see something misused, abused, and broken as quickly as possible, give it to young boys.  They will take care of it.

My mom got the boys a wagon, a cute little green one with plastic wheels.  I pull the twins around the neighborhood in it, they collect rocks in it, they love it.

One evening, the wagon was parked at the front of the house, in front of my older boys and two of their friends.  They wanted to play with it.  Sure, I said, envisioning idyllic, peaceful wagon rides around the cul-de-sac.

I pulled a chair out of the garage, sat down, and then looked up to see the wagon hurtling through the air and over the curbs, its wheels spinning wildly.  Two boys were airborne in the wagon, two others behind it running at top speed.

“Boys!  BOYS!”  I yelled, my voice echoing off the houses, barely heard over raucous laughter.

“Don’t do that!  Use the wagon nicely.  Pull it from the front, and don’t be shoving it from behind off the curbs!”

“Ok….” they sighed, their shoulders slumping.

Next thing I knew, Adrian was in the wagon at the top of the driveway, serious-faced and looking like an astronaut ready for launch (yes, he was actually wearing his helmet).  He clutched the handle tightly and yelled, “Go!”

Stephen and a friend stood behind him, preparing to run Adrian down the driveway and into the street.

“STOP!”  I said.  “Remember what I JUST SAID?  You are going to hurt someone!”

Stephen looked at me with a sour face.  “I don’t see what’s dangerous about this, Mom,” he said.

“Those wheels could break or turn suddenly, and then the person inside would fly out,” I said.

He looked skeptical.

I returned to my book while Stephen and his friends rolled the wagon down the street.

Soon, I saw them coming down the sidewalk, Stephen lying in the wagon, his friend pulling him gently along.  They both wore somber expressions.  When they reached our driveway, Stephen sat up and lifted his arms tragically.  Blood dripped from scrapes on both elbows.

“What happened?”  I asked.

“We were pulling the handle and flipping each other out of the wagon.  I fell out and scraped my elbows.  I think it is a little dangerous,” he commented as we fetched band-aids.

Maybe some people have to learn at the school of hard knocks!

 

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The Little Years

I am in the little years.

The days drag but the years fly.

Overwhelmed by the demands of life, and overjoyed by the delights of toddlers.  I am too often too exhausted to enjoy the fun, and I long for bedtime so I can rest.

I want to work, but I feel guilty when I’m away.  I want to be home, but I feel drained by the demands of little boys.  I want to stay home; I want to work.  I want to play; I want to be alone.

Facebook reminds me that the years zoom by.

Piles of dishes and laundry call.  One boy poops his pants, and another scrapes his knee. One screams when his brother takes his toy.  Milk drips off the table, pooling on the floor.  An endless cycle of little kid crises.

In the midst of the crying and wiping, I wonder if I’m good enough for my children.  I want them to have everything while being grateful for everything they have.  I want to love them perfectly; I know I fuss too much.  I want to create a safe, clean home for them.  I want them to experience a happy childhood; I feel inadequate.  I am torn between work and home and play and chores.

In the ultrasound room, the expectant mother and I look intently for a flicker on the screen.  We stare, desperate to see the flutter of hope, future, joy.  It is not there.  No movement, no life.  We cry for a baby not meant to be.  My arms ache for my own babies, and I long to feel their breath on my skin, their hearts beating against my chest.

Mommy, say yes to go fish and hide-and-seek and play-dough and pretend, because the little years are flowing by, like a river rushing; I try to catch these moments as they slip between my fingers.

Now I have family pictures of me with boys in my lap and clinging to my legs, but too soon I will be the smallest one in the picture, surrounded by grown men.  I don’t want to wish away the little years, tired of the demands.

I have so many drawings and “I love you” notes I ran out of room on the refrigerator.  I hear toddlers singing “Jesus Loves Me” and I don’t want their voices to change.  At 6 am, the door creaks open and a toddler snuggles up to me in bed, and I kiss him and love him so much I can’t breathe.

But I struggle to live in the moment, love the little years, forget crises and messes that make up our day.

I want to be with them; I want to be away.

This is a time of love, and a time of labor.

These are the little years.

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Half Brave

I am half brave.

This is why I spent the afternoon vomiting off the side of a diving boat into the Atlantic Ocean as schools of fish swarmed below.

My father, who is 100% brave, organized a diving party for our Bahama Vacation.  My mother, who is 5% brave, said “No way, I will read on the beach while you dive.”

My twin sister, who inherited my father’s bravery gene, said, “I’m in.”

I, who got a little bravery from both parents said, “I don’t know…that sounds really scary…but I want to….but maybe it’s too scary….but it would be cool…but freaky…and an amazing opportunity…so I’ll try it?”

Yes, they said, try it in the pool they said, breathe they said, you’ll be fine, they said.

My dad and I planned our tactics, that I would use my yoga breathing, prana, to remain calm in the pool.  He would help me remember the number one rule of diving: keep breathing.  I practiced yoga before we left, to center my breath.  I was ready.

We watched our diving video, geared up, and jumped in the pool.

I submerged my head, regulator in my mouth.

Prana, breath of fire, breath of life, I am brave, prana, fire breath….ok ok ok

We moved to the middle of the pool to practice our critical diving skills.

I kept myself under control…Prana, breath of fire, breath of life, I am brave, prana, fire breath…until the skill where we slowly let water into our masks to defog them and then blow it out under water.

As I watched water slowly fill the dive instructor’s mask, I could only think of a person trapped in a glass box as it fills with water.  FYI not good imagery for someone trying not to panic underwater.

I maintained my cool long enough to complete the skill then leaped out of the water, hyperventilating.

“Why did you come up?  What’s wrong?”  The dive instructor asked, emerging from the water.

“It’s too scary!”  I shrieked.  “It’s so scary!”

“But you completed your skills perfectly!”  He responded.  “You’re doing fine!”

“I know!  But it’s like a freaking horror movie in there, man!  AAARGH!”  I yelled, struggling to calm my breathing.  “A HORROR MOVIE!”

“Hm,” he said, looking doubtfully into the clear four foot water where Beth and her boyfriend swam below.  “You calm down, we’ll talk more later.”

He submerged to help the others.  I took a deep breath, replaced my regulator, and dove back under.  I completed the training, and decided to try the dive.  I would be brave.

As if a fear of being underwater isn’t enough to make me a poor diver, there is also the matter of my seasickness.  As in I look at a boat and get sick.  I was so busy conquering my fear of water that I had pushed that little fact to the back of my mind.  It became a fact at the forefront of my mind as soon as the boat took off.  I focused on the horizon, trying to be cool while the experienced divers around me prepared their equipment like navy seals about to enter battle.

“Are you excited?”  Asked my dad.

“Well…um…if you call the feeling you have before getting a root canal excited,” I responded.

“Are you feeling sick?”

I nodded, struggling to keep it together.

“Mind over matter!  Breathe deep!  You can do it!”  My dad coached, patting me on the back encouragingly.  Motion sickness and fear are foreign to him.  He jumps out of airplanes, off mountains, and into shark infested water without a second thought.  I nodded and gave him a thumbs-up, thinking that people like him belong on this boat, not people like me.

We reached the dive site and were instructed to put on our gear.  I started buckling up, but immediately got sick over the side of the boat.  But with my dad’s help, I got my gear on and walked into the ocean as instructed.  I clung to the rope off the back of the ship as the others jumped in behind me.

I put on my regulator and sank underwater.  I am brave, prana, breathe in, breathe out, breath of fire, I am brave….

Suddenly fear overtook me again, and I bolted to the surface.

“I can’t do this!” I shrieked.  To the dive instructor’s concerned queries I could only yell, “It’s too scary!  It’s so scary!”

“This happened to you in the pool, remember?  You were ok, yes?”  He asked.

I nodded, yes.

“Ok, calm your breathing, you are ok, we can do this.”

I nodded and focused, yes, I can conquer this.  I have always wanted to see the underwater world.  I will do this.

“You put your hand on my vest, hang on to me and I’ll descend.  Just worry about your breathing,” He said.

I nodded and grabbed his vest with a vice like grip.  We descended again, the ocean water closing over our heads.  In, out, in, out, prana, breath of fire, I am brave… when panic threatened, I looked the instructor in the eye, he motioned that we were ok, and we continued to descend…I am brave, breath of fire, I am ok…He took my hand off his vest and placed it on the rope.  He turned away, and I lost eye contact and looked around at the endless, limitless ocean, the surface far above me.  I thought about going further down and staying there, and suddenly I couldn’t anymore.  Terror reigned.  I swam back to the surface, to quit for good.

“What happened?  Why did you come back up?”  Asked the instructor as he emerged behind me.

“I just can’t!”  I sobbed.  “It’s too scary.  I can’t do this.”

“Are you sure?”  He asked.

“YES!”  I said, vomiting again into the ocean.

The boat driver pulled me aboard, and I rocked miserably on the side of the boat for the rest of the dive, wishing I were smart enough to stay on shore with my mom, or brave enough to be on the bottom of the ocean with my dad.  Half brave isn’t any good at all.

My dad, family and friends say they are proud of me.  Proud that I tried, proud that I faced my fears, even if I didn’t conquer them.

When I was a little girl, my dad tried to get me to ride the Big Bad Wolf roller coaster at Busch Gardens.  He said he’d buy an “I rode the big bad wolf” T-shirt for anyone who went with him.  Beth got the T-shirt.  I did not.

After our dive, I sat in the Jacuzzi at the resort, pondering my half-bravery, wondering if I should feel proud or ashamed of myself.  I glanced up and saw my dad, a big dish of ice cream in hand.  He grinned down at me.

“Here, this is for you,” he said.

I smiled.  I was too wimpy to earn a “Big Bad Wolf” t-shirt, but I did get raisin-rum ice cream in the Bahamas.  Because I am half-brave.

 

 

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Boo Boo Baby

“Mom!”  Stephen said, coming inside, “Adrian’s friend is making fun of me and saying ‘na-na-na-na boo boo baby’ to me!”

“Just ignore her,” I advise.

“I keep throwing dirt on her to make her stop,”  He said, exasperated.  “But she keeps saying it anyway.”  He shook his head in bewilderment.

Yes, strange.  Who could have predicted the failure of dirt-throwing as a method to get a Kindergartner to stop teasing?   Maybe we need to work on our problem solving techniques.

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