Let Them Grow: What It Really Feels Like To Miss Your Kid’s Firsts

Photo taken after her SECOND domestic field trip with the school. She was so happy to see me. That didn’t last long.

There are so many firsts in life: the first taste, first step, first grade, and the list goes on until it exhales from memory altogether.

 

We experience life at our own pace, but everything changes when you have kids. You start doing things according to their schedule, not yours. You feed them when they want to be fed, not when it is supper time. You lay them down after they fall asleep, not always before. And when they want to become more independent, you step back and give them the space they need to survive.

 

My daughter woke me one night with tears in her eyes. She was upset over a four-day field trip to another state that she and her classmates had been planning all year long. It was a big deal to both of us because, aside from spending an occasional weekend at her grandparents, she had never been away from home before, and it was all happening the next day.

 

As we sat on the edge of the bed, discussing apprehensions, she shared her biggest concern.

 

“It’s weird how all of my firsts are happening at school,” she said. “I always thought you would be with me the first time I did anything and this will be my first time riding a bus, flying on an airplane or going to a baseball game. I’m just sad that you are not going with me.”

 

We held each other tightly as the weight of her words washed over us. For once, I was going to miss her first, and the thought of it was consuming us both.

 

After squeezing out a few more tears, I shared something else. “You know; you don’t HAVE to go if you don’t want to.”

 

Up until that moment, she was under the impression that any school-related decisions were not hers to make. It was a deliberate plan that I had been drafting for months, but something inside of me was not sitting right and I wanted her to be the one to make the call.

 

“What do you mean, I don’t have to go?” she asked, “Do you mean I can stay home with you?”

 

And then it hit me: I had just taken a year’s worth of fraudulent joy and obliterated it over a moment of weakness.

 

She sat quietly with her eyes in full swing while contemplating my offer. Then, without so much as a blink, she took my hand and shook me back to consciousness.

 

“I’m going to miss you so much,” she whispered, “but I don’t want to regret not going.”

 

And just like that, my daughter made a choice. She was getting on that airplane whether I liked it or not, and I had to let her go.

 

I woke in the middle of the night to find her standing next to me. The enormity of circumstance had, once again, trumped her confidence, and she was sobbing in much the same way. She crawled into bed with me, and I handed her a box of tissues. Wide awake, we cuddled, giggled and wept for the next two hours until we fell asleep with smiles on our faces… just in time for the alarm to go off. Tomorrow was today, and my baby was leaving.

 

It is difficult to articulate the torment that accompanies parenting; it just is. We worry about everything and whatever lies in between: a curse that comes from loving someone more than yourself.

 

As I hugged her goodbye one last time, my second thoughts were palpable. Every what-if imaginable was now floating through my mind, waving bright red flags of uncertainty.

 

“Don’t do it,” they shouted, “don’t let your little girl get on that plane!”

 

I thought about her a lot that day, as she soared high in the air with a panoramic view of freedom that—at her age—I never knew existed. Like a pilot, I had taken both hands off the wheel and given up complete control because that is what we do: we parent until the memory lands safely back in our minds, and then we thank the powers that be for putting them there.

The Parenting Moment: A Lesson In Discipline

Isla and Mom

I have the most beautiful nine-year-old girl in the world: a delightful compilation of everything simple and pure. For the most part, my daughter is a brilliant, charming, funny and thoughtful human being, but last night she wasn’t herself. Last night, she chose to raise hell (and my blood pressure) by transforming herself into a little smartass and forcing me to choose my weapon of discipline.

 

Truth be told, the incident didn’t happen at night; it occurred during the wee hours of early morning. I was nearly unconscious from a recent Lunesta party when I heard the first scream… “MOMMY, get in here!” My first thought was, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Why can’t she just handle shit without waking me up?”

 

I stared at the clock in a fog of confusion and noted the time. It was 1:27 am exactly. That’s when the footsteps commenced and thumped their way into the Jack and Jill bathroom we grudgingly share.

 

“I can’t sleep!” She cried from the porcelain throne.

 

“Well, what do you want ME to do about it?”

 

With a hint of perplexity and just enough attitude to warrant a bare-ass spanking, she pointed toward a glowing light on her bed and advised me of her intentions. “I can’t sleep, so I am watching Bewitched.”

 

“Yeah, I don’t think so.” I scoffed, snatching the DVD player from the mattress and stomping out of the room. “Go back to bed.”

 

This, of course, was the beginning of World War III between a tired mother and her strong-willed child. There were outcries, wall kicks, death threats and door-slamming fits of rage that lasted well over an hour—until she finally crossed a line and crushed my soul.

 

“I hate you!”

 

And there it was: the three words that every parent knows they will hear at some point but never expects. I sat on my bed for a moment to collect thoughts and suck the tears back in. By now, my body was full of so much rage and sadness that I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I put the pillow back over my head or split that DVD player in half?

 

When the door opened again that one last time and our eyes met, it was evident that she felt remorse. “I’m sorry, mom. I didn’t mean that.” But as a mother, I felt it was time to step up my game and teach her a lesson that she would never forget.

 

“Mom… NOOOO! I can’t believe you just broke my DVD player!”

 

“I can’t believe you just broke my heart.”

 

End of story.

The Boogeyman And Other Failed Mysteries

boogeyman

Children are often afraid of the dark, but where does it stem from? Every night for the past two weeks, my daughter wakes up screaming. She hears things: a creak, a footstep, a partial sneeze and it is all coming from her closet. I am a newly single mother and, frankly, a bit leery about opening a door where someone may or may not be wielding a knife on the other side, but I do it—for her—while secretly cursing those obnoxious cries for help. Still, I could not understand why, at age nine, she was suddenly afraid of the boogeyman.

My mother suggested she might be suffering emotional trauma: a symptom of divorce, but I didn’t want to hear this because that would make it MY fault and, well… fuck that. I have enough on my plate already without the added pressure of feeling guilty. Even so, I could not stop thinking about what she said. What if it WAS my fault and, instead of doing something to help, I was looking for an excuse to be right? Downplaying my daughter’s anxiety was not okay with me, and I knew I had to do something. I decided to speak with her one afternoon while driving home from school.

Me: Honey, I want to talk about what’s been going on lately.

Her: *Stares blankly into space* Can I have a snack?

Me: *Tosses a bag of grapes into the backseat* I know you’ve been having trouble sleeping, and I think maybe something is bothering you. I have a feeling I know what it is.

Her: *Rolls eyes* Grapes? Got anything better?

Me: No, just eat the grapes.

Her: *Eats grapes* What do YOU think is bothering me?

Me: Wait—so something IS bothering you then?

Her: What do YOU think?

Me: Come on. Be serious.

Her: Nothing, mom. Nothing is bothering me.

Me: You can tell me.

Her: Why do YOU think it is?

Me: Well, you mentioned your friends were talking about getting robbed at school the other day. And now, all of the sudden, you are concerned about burglars.

Her: I’ve always been worried about that.

Me: True, but lately, it seems to have gotten a lot worse. Can you tell me what’s REALLY on your mind?

Her: *Gazes out window* What do YOU think?

Me: *Takes a deep breath* *Imagines mom’s face when I tell her she’s right* I know it’s been hard since your father and I s—

Her: Goosebumps.

Me: What?

Her: Goosebumps.

Me: Goosebumps? You mean the show you’ve been watching on Netflix?

Her: Yeah, it’s pretty scary. The one about the zombies freaked me out.

Me: Wait, I’m confused. You mean to tell me that the last two weeks, where I’ve had to get up in the middle of the night and check behind beds, doorways and shower curtains was because of a TV show?

Her: Yep, Goosebumps; spooky stuff.

And there you have it: for once I was right, and my mother was wrong. Imagine my short-lived joy when she picked up that phone and pretended not to care.

When Living In The Past Keeps You From Building A Future

Castle In The Air

All I ever wanted was a castle in the air: a place to stretch my legs as far as they would go, and beyond, but my parents could not see that vision through their murky breakup. Living in the past can ruin your life if you let it, especially when you are too young to comprehend its magnitude. I was eight-years-old the first time my parents split up. They separated for what seemed like an eternity but in all actuality, it was only a couple of months. I remember sliding across the kitchen floor one day; examining the faded pattern that splashed against the linoleum while pretending not to listen to my mother. It was obvious—as she spun the yellow phone cord around her fingertip and let it bounce and twirl to the ground—that she was speaking with my father. Her tone, though knotted and strained, oozed a quiet calm that piqued my big-eyed curiosity, but the nervous energy of her body exuded a language I did not understand. Still, I knew this was an important conversation and did not want to miss a word. As I inched my way closer, she announced that she had found a new place for him to live. This was it, I thought; he was never coming back. My heart turned to stone as I scooted in closer to hear and just then, she looked down to me, smiled and finished her sentence, “…with us.” It was the happiest three seconds of my life.

 

The next time dad left would be his last. He moved out a few years later and never returned. It was, according to him, easier to walk away and start over than to keep coming back to face us. Whenever we did see one another, I was reminded that he was only a phone call away, but as I learned much later in life, actions speak louder than words. My only regret is that I allowed his leaving to affect my desire to stay. By the time senior year rolled around, my grades were at an all-time low and any hopes of graduating had been replaced by an overwhelming fear of repeating the twelfth grade. Thankfully, the school administrators gave me a reason to start over by handing me a diploma and sending me on my way.

 

For the next twenty years, I focused on becoming a workhorse; hurdling obstacles and climbing corporate ladders for minimal pay, but never quite reaching the top. It would have been easy for me to stop there and never dig deep enough to discover my purpose in life, but everything changed on the morning of September 11, 2001. As I sat on the couch watching people jump to their deaths from twin tower windows, I realized how quickly life could end. “What have I got to lose?” I wondered. “Tomorrow may never come.” The next day, I threw together a poorly executed business plan and started a company, but despite how fast it grew, I still felt like a teenage dropout. In 2007, the year my daughter was born—just as everything seemed to be falling into place—the company my husband worked for filed for bankruptcy and we lost everything. Once again, everything I had worked so hard to create had been taken away and we were forced to start over.

 

I am firm believer that every decision you make leads you to where you need to be, even when it doesn’t feel right. When I told friends and family of my decision to become a writer, there was quite a bit of pushback. They could not understand why anyone facing financial hardship would choose a career as uncertain as freelance writing, and their questions traveled like weighted bullets. “How are you going to pay the bills? Why can’t you get a real job? Do you even know what you’re doing?” The answer was no. No, I did not. But somehow, I knew I would survive.

“We blame past circumstances for our failures and keep our fingers crossed that society will throw us a lucky bone.”

To this day, when people ask where I went to college, I typically respond with my go-to method for handling uncomfortable situations: diversion and sarcasm. I tell them that there was never any time for school because I was too busy having fun, but that is far from the truth. What I should say is that I did not attend college because I stopped believing in myself, that I turned abandonment into something personal and forfeited my academic achievements for a lengthy walk down a spiritual path. What I have learned over the past few years is that the only voices worth listening to are those that believe in your ability to conquer fear because life is hard and will knock you down—repeatedly. It takes every ounce of spirit and restraint to look adversity in the eye and keep walking, but we must if we wish to survive. There are a lot of people, myself included, who have made a career out of feeling sorry for themselves. We blame past circumstances for our failures and keep our fingers crossed that society will throw us a lucky bone. The truth is that there is no bone; there are only cards and we are each dealt a different hand, but is up to each individual how he or she will choose to play. The only way to truly fail in life is to throw down your hand and give up, which is something I will never do. Perhaps I should stop playing solitaire.

 

Anyone up for some crazy eights?

20 Reasons To Celebrate Back To School Season

Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta. #IJWTBP

I was chatting with a friend last year about the first day of school. She said that the moms at her daughter’s school were crying at drop-off. Did you hear me? They were CRYING. “What?” I screamed while half-laughing, half-swallowing my tongue, “Should I assume they were tears of joy?”

 

“Not exactly,” she laughed, “they were sad that summer was over.”

 

“What’s there to be SAD about? Were the kids starting Kindergarten?”

 

“Nope,” she answered coolly, “those were the moms in every class, including ours.”

 

We laughed for a long time at their expense; swapping anecdotes while calculating our free time, and then I started to think about it. I mean, I get it… kids are great and all, but after being cooped up with them all summer, why the hell would anyone want to spend one more day arguing over snacks and screen time when facing a maternal sabbatical. It made no sense. Therefore, I have decided to put a list together of all the reasons why we should celebrate this monumental occasion, embrace our inner solitude and afford ourselves the opportunity to get shit done. So, whether you are a mother lamenting over drop-offs and leisurely naps or one serving high-fives with shots of tequila, there is one thing we both have in common: The school year is about to begin, and below are 20 reasons why you should be applauding it instead of crying into a pillow that you’re just going to have to wash later.

 

  1. You can hear yourself think.
  2. No one is going to stick their head in the shower the second you step in.
  3. If you want to, you can curl your hair.
  4. Fewer dishes to wash.
  5. If you make a sandwich, you get to fucking eat it.
  6. The only arguments are the ones that happen before and after school.
  7. No SpongeBob.
  8. You can pee with the door open.
  9. Doing laundry will no longer require taking breaks to prepare snacks.
  10. The toys will remain in one room until the bell rings.
  11. You are guaranteed not to hear the word “Mommy” repeated 38 times in a row.
  12. If you buy a bag of M&M’s, no one has to know.
  13. The only whine you’ll hear is the sound of cork popping.
  14. You can nap whenever you want.
  15. If you walk around naked, no one points and laughs.
  16. Going to Target won’t cost you an extra toy.
  17. The house stays clean for at least five hours.
  18. If there is a toy that pisses you off, you can destroy it without getting caught.
  19. There are only a few hours of real parenting before bedtime.
  20. The only ass you’ll wipe is your own.