Supporting Children For Who They Are (not who we think they should be)

Leaving Target yesterday, another mom said to me, “I like his nails,” referring to Miller’s fingernail polish. “Thanks,” I responded smiling. “He likes having them painted.”

“My son was the same way,” she said gesturing to a boy who looked to be around 9. “He still likes getting pedicures.”

I’ve witnessed only a few people chide Miller for wearing polish, because “it’s for girls”, to which I smile and say, “He loves it, so that’s what we do.”

My goal is not for Miller to conform to all of the labels reserved for boys – it’s to raise him to be confident in who he is, however that winds up looking.

One of the biggest gifts we can give our children is to support them for who they are. Not who we think they should be, not what society tells us is acceptable, but for who they’re showing us they are.

To the little boys who like wearing nail polish and the little girls who play with cars and trains. To the girls who prefer short hair cuts and to the boys who enjoy pedicures. Keep showing your true colors.

To the adults in these little ones’ lives, whether you’re the full-time caregiver or a perfect stranger in a parking lot, when they show up, show them love. Not disapproval or ridicule, but love. Again and again and again.

It’s the simplest thing we can do for them…and it’s everything.

Fingernails

Reality Is Relative

Earlier in the week, I was in public with a good friend. We were comparing mom notes – not notes about being moms; notes about not becoming our mothers.

“I don’t think you’ll have much of a choice,” a woman around our age said authoritatively before changing her tone. “My mom died when I was 23,” she added in a hushed voice typically used in libraries and funeral homes. “She’s been gone fifteen years and I still catch myself saying things just like her.”

Her sympathetic tone didn’t mask the patronizing undertones that suggested, Clearly you don’t understand this kind of loss, otherwise you wouldn’t say such things.

Oh but I do. I do understand a very similar kind of loss, and I disagree with your approach. Wielding your pain against others with a different reality helps no one; it creates more hurt.

My dad died when I was 26. Up to that point, he did a whole lot of things that drove me nuts. Example: If dad walked by me and I was unsuspecting, he’d take his index finger and brush it under my chin once quickly, similarly to how you’d rub a cat’s chin.

“Dad! Quit it!” I’d yell while swatting the air. “Why do you do that?!” I didn’t get this pesky quirk of his.

With a gleam in his eye, he’d answer from a safe distance, “Your skin’s soft.” as if that explained and absolved everything.

Fast forward to today. I can’t guess how many times I’ve done the same thing to my son – one quick swipe of the finger under the chin. I can’t help it. His skin is so soft and he’s so stinking cute and I just love him!

I see the joke. I tell myself, “Do unto others, Jamie. You know how much you disliked that…” and I choose to do it anyway. Every time I grin and shake my head. I get it dad. I get it.

When someone dies, the things they once did that drove you bonkers become a little cute. You know it won’t happen again – it can’t happen again – and that knowledge replaces any hint of annoyance with fondness.

Swap out dad with mom and it’d go a little something like this: Remember how many styrofoam cups of iced tea mom used to leave behind? Or how about when she’d forget her cell phone on the counter and you couldn’t call her to tell her; you just had to wait for her to figure it out? Oh mom.

That’s the sentimental recollection of days gone by. The current reality: I spot mom’s forgotten items and barrel out the front door hollering, trying in vain to flag her down as she pulls unaware out of the drive.

I’m sure the gal who spoke to me and my friend would like the opportunity to experience one more habit of her mother’s that would have once elicited an eye roll. I often wonder what my reaction to Dad would be if he walked in the door and swiped my chin again. I’m guessing I’d automatically start swatting and yelling, just like old times.

That’s why when a friend shares a frustration about their dad, I don’t go to the wounded place and think, You’re so lucky! I don’t put on condescending you have no idea pretenses. I meet the person where they are and think, Yep, I get it. Because I get it. Because when my dad was alive, I had similar experiences.

Will I continue to swipe Miller’s chin on occasion a la my dad? Probably.

Will I ever leave something at a friend’s house accidentally just like mom? It’s already happened twice this week. I left Miller’s toys at one house and my socks at another.

Loot

How do you forget your socks?

Am I becoming my parents? Yes. And I’m simultaneously becoming more of myself.

Will I use my pain as a weapon against someone with a different reality? I hope not.

Whatever kind of hurt you’ve experienced – loss of a loved one, infertility, medical diagnosis, divorce, etc… – your reality does not trump, discredit, or nullify someone else’s reality. Your truth might not be their truth.

It doesn’t have to be.

Being Positive Isn’t A Cure-All

The positivity movement has become out of hand and distorted. It’s become a default and a cure-all when it is neither.

My first memory of the word “positive” was in 1990. I was a first grader, watching Home Alone at the movies with my family. As the McCallisters rush out the door to try to make their France-bound flight, Frank grumbles that they’ll never make it. Peter suggests being positive to which Frank replies, “You be positive. I’ll be realistic.”

Peter was right, they did catch their flight thanks to curbside drop-off, pre 9-11 security, and sprinting through the terminal (and thanks to Hollywood).

So does thinking positive actually work? That’s what many a mainstream conversation is today.

Having a bad day? Just be positive! Going through a tough time? Be positive! Don’t you feel better already?! You don’t? Well then there’s something wrong with you, because this works!

Except for when it doesn’t.

You know what happens when you try being positive even though it’s the exact opposite of what you’re feeling? You get contracted, clenched, and closed off – the exact opposite of what you were striving for. It backfires, because you aren’t honoring yourself.

Therein lies the problem with attempting to be positive constantly: it dismisses all the other emotions we, as humans, have the ability – and I dare say obligation – to feel. You’re setting yourself up for failure by believing that you can – or worse, should – be positive all of the time.

Frown:Smile

The frown-smile, taken in 2007. It’s neither happy nor sad. It just is.

Tell me, how positive were you when you discovered your pet peed all over the floor? You weren’t. You were likely annoyed, irritated, and angry.

How positive were you when your spouse’s job moved you across the country even though you loved the community where you lived? You weren’t. You were probably sad when faced with saying goodbye to the people and places you love.

How positive were you when you had to leave your crying baby in the care of someone else? Not. You were much too heartsick to be positive in that moment.

How positive were you when you didn’t get the acceptance letter, the job offer, or make the team? Chances are positivity wasn’t on your radar at all because you were too busy being devastated and feeling inadequate at best.

Good. Feel those things. If you aren’t, you’re missing out on a huge part of the human experience. Be willing to be angry if that’s flowing through you or sad or calm or off the charts excited. All of it. Because everything is temporary, the happy and the sad. All of it.

Here’s where and how being positive comes into play. Once you’ve received the terrible/undesirable/no good news, whatever that may be. Once you’ve lived with it for a bit and felt the feels, stop for a moment and say thank you.

Gratitude is the first step to being positive. Not ignoring other emotions, not smiling, not putting on a happy face, but saying “thank you”.

For rubber gloves and cleaning supplies – thank you.

For old memories, new experiences, and lifelong friends – thank you.

For getting back to your child and holding him/her in your arms – thank you.

As for that rejection letter or call? As Maya Angelou once said, “If things don’t work out, say ‘thank you’ because something better is coming along.”

That. Is being positive. That is how you experience all of the emotions and still come out positive on the other side.

In the Home Alone scene both men were right: be realistic and be positive. First, be realistic about what you’re feeling, about your circumstances. Say thank you as much as possible along the way. And then comes the positive.

Don’t attempt to make positive your default. Instead, make being real your default. By allowing yourself to be real, you’ll be surprised at how often the permission to be as is makes you feel? Positive.

The Limitless Love of a Child

I watched Miller and Mark playing outside today in a huge puddle. Despite the cold temps and blowing winds, they were happy as can be. Well, Miller was anyway. I was too, as I watched from the warmth of the living room.

Not too long ago, I would’ve forced myself to join in. Out of guilt, I would’ve gotten up, put on some layers, and stood in the cold to watch Miller splash around. I would’ve done it because “they grow up so fast”. I would’ve done it out of worry that Mark might become the favorite parent.

Miller is our one and only. He is equal parts sun, moon, and stars for both his father and me. Then there’s the fact that I spend the majority of time with him as a stay at home mom and can become territorial with routines and daily norms. Add to that Mark’s desire to make his son happy at all times, and, well, let’s just say Miller is well cared for, tended to, and loved.

Something has changed in me. I’ve stopped trying to prove myself to myself. I’ve stopped trying to be there for every single experience with Miller out of fear that I might miss something. I’ve let go of worrying about whether he likes me or his dad the most.

I’ve started backing off while the boys have father/son time. If I’m within observing distance, I can now watch Miller love his dad without interfering or being insecure.

I used to see their joint happiness and feel threatened by it. But what if he likes his dad more than me? Well, sure, he will at some point, and at some point, he’ll like me more. There’ll also be times when he dislikes both of us equally. Like a few nights ago when neither of us let him chew four sticks of gum at once. How dare we.

Now, when I see their bond, I soak it up.

Sometimes parents vie for a child’s love as though there’s a limited quantity. There’s not. Love is infinite. It’s vast. It surpasses space and time. So if you see your child having a really wonderful moment with the other parent and you’re “shoulding” yourself into joining or telling yourself that you’ll be liked less because you aren’t the one doing fun things with them, stop. Stop.

It’s okay for them to have fun with the other parent. It’s okay for them to shine that huge smile or belly laugh with them. It’s actually more than okay that there’s another person on the planet with whom your child can experience love.

It is an experience, you know, to love. An experience to connect with another person, to share happiness, to create a memory that only exists between two people.

I’ve reconciled with knowing that I won’t be a part of all of my son’s memories, happy or otherwise – that I’m not the only person he loves, and I won’t always be the person whom he loves most.

Previously, that menacing combination of guilt and insecurity would’ve gotten me out of the warmth and into the cold to be a part of today’s puddle play. Today, this newfound self-assurance carried me to the window where I watched a dedicated dad stand in the rain as a smiling boy pushed a toy through the puddle again and again.

Drain Puddle

Miller caught me peeking at them through the windows. His smile grew even bigger. “Hi Mommy! Mommy, watch this!”

How silly of me to act as though Miller’s love is limited, to try to hog it for myself. His love is not mine to contain or maintain. It’s really not even mine. It’s his, to do with as he chooses, even at this young of an age.

Running Toward Your Happy

My freshman year of college an education professor asked, “If this were your last day on the planet, how would you want to spend it?” She then went around the room calling on us one by one to answer aloud. I remember no one else’s response, but I remember mine; it came to me immediately. When it was my turn, I announced, “I’d go down to the farm to spend the day with my Grandma Alice.” She was my happiest place on earth.

I was 19 years old at the time. Many times since then, when I’ve wanted to run away from life for a bit, that is where I’d like to go. To the farm. To Grandma.

I’m now 33, and still, when I feel like life has me in a vice grip, I want to go to my Grandma Alice’s. (And, I still have my Grandma Alice’s to go to – one, because she’s still alive thank you God, and two, because she still lives in the same house that my mother was raised in how cool is that?!) It’s rare, of course, that I actually drop what I’m doing to honor that feeling, but today is different.

I feel like I’ve been in a vice grip since the beginning of March. Looking ahead, I still see commitment after commitment, deadline after deadline of stuff I feel like I have to get through before I can be myself again.

No. No I will not put my inside feelings on hold anymore waiting for the outside stuff to finish. How about I honor myself now as life carries on? Yes. Yes, that sounds good.

So yesterday afternoon, I took a stand against my so-called problems (for lack of better word to explain the vice grip feeling). I went to the farm. To Grandma Alice’s.

I used to think that escaping to Grandma’s was me running away from my problems. While driving down today, I realized that I wasn’t running away. I was actually running (technically driving) toward my happy. There’s a big difference there.

Grandma and I did some Sunday driving on a lovely Friday evening. I stopped to let a pair of pheasants cross the dirt road. We passed by one of my cousins in the country and rolled down our windows to chat for a few minutes. We ate dinner at Dairy Queen, and we watched the sunset back at the farm.

Farm

I’d been running so much lately that I found myself hovering above “E”. After last night? I’m filled again. Ready to get back to my commitments and face my deadlines.

If you feel like you’ve been running a lot lately, remember that running away from your problems is immensely different than running toward what you love. Whether it be a bakery, a concert hall, a library, a fishing hole, or a family farm in rural Illinois. Run. Run hard, run fast, and get there. Otherwise your problems might run away with you.

Always,
Jamie