To the Mother Who Sent Only Cards to the Valentine’s Day Party

So, last night, as my child slumbered off an upset tummy, I picked up her backpack and began to unpack the bounty. In case you’ve forgotten, yesterday was Valentine’s Day and my girl had her first preschool Valentine’s Day party. Of course, she picked out and we bought the cute little My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic sticker-cards for her friends and I helped her sign her name to them, because the note from school had said that students would be giving Valentines to each other. However, as I sat and unpacked three large paper bags/envelopes, I felt my little hobbit-mommy heart sink a little.

There were gifts attached to almost every card.

One card came with a toy car and proclaimed “I “wheelie” like you”.

One card came with a twist-off-top Kool-aid bottle, with its card declaring, “Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a “squeeze” for you!”

And on and on it continued. Cute little gift bags, school supplies emblazoned with “You rule!”on them.

By the time I was done, I was wishing every Pinterest-y mother at the bottom of the deepest oceanic trench. All my girl had given were MLP sticker-cards. No gifts. No treats. Nothing cutely punny. Had I dropped the ball or what?

Quietly, I put everything back into the bags and stacked them on the couch so my daughter could open them with Grandma and Grandpa the next day, feeling all of my mere 61 inches tall. Thankfully, I suppose, the aforementioned upset tummy didn’t give me much time to wallow in self-pity. I did end up feeling badly for wishing doom and gloom on these parents who had obviously taken and put much time and thought into would make their children’s little friends smile, for which I am very grateful. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘less’. It lingered all through the rest of the night, aided by weariness and lack of rest thanks to her throwing-up-every-half-hour-to-keep-time.

It’s not just “less”. It’s a feeling of “not enough”. Not creative enough. Not involved enough. Not aware enough. Not available enough.

And it sucks. (Yeah, I’m self-pitying just a bit. It’s part of the journey.)

I know comparison is a spirit-killer and I don’t want that. I also know that my girl had fun, which is splendid. Maybe her body waited until she got home to be sick because, deep down, she knew that Mommy would take care of her. Make everything as better as she could. I don’t know. I don’t know for sure, but I hope that my love, the fact that I would do whatever I can and need to for her is known down in her blood and bone, as true as her heart that beats.

I’m not a Pinterest mom. I’m not an artist or a party designer. I don’t know the perfect gift for the perfect occasion. But I do know that I love my daughter. I do know that I want to teach her the joy of loving on others. And I hope that, maybe, yesterday was a good starting lesson in that. I hope her sticker-cards made some child smile when she handed them one.

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When Mommy’s Big Feelings Break Out

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The picture above is from a year ago. This was the caption I posted with it on IG: “My girl showing her poor addled, short-tempered mommy some sweet grace and comfort.” #empathy #kindness #toddlersweet #grace #graceforthemoment#littlehands

A year to the day, I need this picture because, last night, I was addled and short-tempered again. Last night, I yelled at my daughter when she came out of her bedroom for the 7th or 8th time since I had put her to bed an hour before. She cried; she tearfully proclaimed that I wasn’t nice to her. My heart broke. I apologized. I asked her forgiveness for letting my big feelings break out on her. I tucked her back in with teary kisses and lots of I love you’s. She calmed and sighed and gave me sleepy I love you’s in return. I cried. I cried. I got the house settled for the night. I went to bed, squeezed a favorite stuffy, and cried until I fell asleep.

I know that ‘nice’ isn’t the same as ‘good’. I know that I am not and will never be perfect. I also know that I need this memory and its reminder today, of the grace that my girl has shown me when my emotion is anathema to my gentleness. I am glad that chances aren’t final. I am glad that I can try again today. I love my girl and her forgiving grace, and I want to learn from it. I want to be like my daughter with her sweet, “It’s okay, Mommy. You made a mistake. I love you.”

I have dear ones who have given me marvelous encouragement and loving reminders today, and I am thankful beyond words for them. As I teach and grade and think today, I’m slowly living out that ear-worm of a Daniel Tiger song, “It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Little by little, you’ll feel better again.” And I look forward to seeing my daughter’s smiling face and her exuberant, “Mommy!!” when I pick her up from preschool this afternoon.

Just As Is.

Today, I received that call that I have honestly dreaded as the mommy of a three-year-old new to daycare.

“We’d like to try putting her on a behavior chart…”

My strong-willed little warrior-princess has been giving her teachers a bit of difficulty with her particular brand of personal strength. I am a teacher myself so I know that particular struggle and therefore absolutely gave my go-ahead for the behavior chart/incentive. I will admit, though, that my heart sank as I hung up the call, I lost my appetite for the quick after-work bite I had been having, and shed more than a few tears.

My husband was quick to reassure me that I hadn’t done anything wrong or failed in any way. I didn’t say anything in reply. The honest reason for that was because I was not in an emotional space to agree or admit he was right, even if I believed it (which I was trying desperately to) and that he was so (which he was). After all, I was her primary caretaker/educator/etc. for the first three-and-a-half years of her life. What if I had done something wrong? What if I had not taught her proper respect or kindness? What if I had indeed messed up somewhere with our girl? The rest of the trip from the corporation where we teach to the church where our girl attends preschool and daycare was spent in serious contemplation of just how I was going to approach this, approach my daughter. And I decided (and was later solidified and reassured in my decision by this post from Hands Free Mama Rachel Macy Stafford; thank you so much!).

As is. I wanted to take Elizabeth as is.

I would not scowl or shame her before her little friends and her teacher. I would not make her recoil or wilt because of the sternness in my voice or my expression. I would greet her with a smile and a wave and as big a hug as I could muster. Surely she had already been talked to by her teachers so I would not heap any more on her little three-year-old soul that day. Instead, I would heap grace on her head and give that which I so badly need myself day in and day out. I would hug her, tell her I missed her, and hold her hand as I walked her out of school. Together, we would drive home as a family and then I would tumble myself and her out of our house and into the backyard or the city park just beyond our property. I would run and play with my girl and tell her how much I love her laugh. I would color and draw with her, help her with her “homework” (practicing her letters, numbers, shapes, and colors), and watch her splash and “swim” in the tub at bath time.

I would and will celebrate my girl as she is, encourage her to have courage and be kind. I would leave today behind, inhabit the moments this evening, and let tomorrow wait on itself and all that it will bring. I would take my daughter, my little love, my warrior-princess, and celebrate her as she is. I want her to be (and to help her to be) good, kind, helpful, loving–all of this, yes, but I do not want to stomp her spirit out of her. Her sense of justice, her opinions, her thoughts, her imagination, her hopes, or her dreams, and I must trust her teachers to have the wisdom and the care to not do so either.

I love you, my daughter.

I love your laugh. I love how you love to make friends. I love your imagination. I love listening to you sing. I love listening to you play with your toys and make up stories while you color (just like I did). I love your creativity. I love your fire. I love how you clutch my arm to hold me close to you while you fall asleep.

I love you, my girl. Always and forever. Above all things I want you to be kind, encouraging, helpful, and good. But nothing, nothing can or will ever diminish the love I have for you. Just as you are. Just as is.

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Running On Ahead

Today was the day. That day. That first day. Today was my girl’s first day at daycare. And tomorrow will her first day of preschool. Her first day(s) in the care of someone not a parent or grandparent.

Only a week and a half ago, I accepted a very last-minute position and, in a positive gale of13872934_10153805997603133_477313044703904389_n change, have returned to teaching this year. This was not what I had planned for, not what I had settled on, and so it has been quite a tumultuous time. One of the most difficult parts for me, however, has been the realization and reality that I would not be able to be there for her first day of school. I will not be there to hold her little hand and walk her to her class. I will not be there to see her face light up with excitement or grow sober with apprehension. I will not be there to hug her close, stroke my finger down her pert little nose, tell her I love her, and remind her to have courage and be kind.

And that hurt. It hurt a lot. For an entire week, I cried every time I thought about it, every time someone mentioned it. I still get a little burn in my chest where my heart aches at the missing. I have always been with her; these are the first “firsts” that I will miss. It’s too soon. It’s happening too fast. I know that she’s excited, that she loved her first day at daycare, and had a great one according to her teachers, and that makes me happy for my girl. But, at the same time, it’s like she’s slipping away through my fingers. She’s pulling away and running ahead and I am so far from ready.

I miss our routine. I miss mornings with her cuddled in my arms in the big bed when it’s rainy and dark and we are both still sleepy. I miss walking in the sunshine with her or helping my fearless, spiky girl place her feet properly as she climbs up the playground ladders. I miss watching her jog through the mall, waving at strangers with a smile and a “Hi!” I miss our quiet times at home, her with her Kindle and me with my book or my writing.

13876688_10153805997673133_8663280121382326193_nIt’s all happening so fast. Too fast. I knew that this was coming. Eventually. But I hadn’t looked for it to be now, to be immediate. I had thought I’d be there to  help her transition to part-time preschool. Instead, I tiptoe from the house before she’s awake and won’t see her now until I pick her up at the end of the day. I can only hope and pray to be greeted by a big smile and lovingly enthusiastic “Mommy!” every evening. That’s why I am doing this. For her. For our family. Not for me. For them.

Tonight, as she splashed and played in her bath, all my heart could do was cry out, “Slow down!” And the song below came to mind, as tears likewise sprang to my eyes and trickled down my cheeks.

I want you to grow, my love. I do. Just…don’t do it too terribly quickly. Please? Don’t pull away just yet. Could you slow down, just a bit?

Bedtime Evensong

I just sang my daughter to sleep (and she actually FELL ASLEEP) for the first time in I don’t know when. It took less than ten minutes for her to drop off, maybe even less than five. I’ve missed that. Usually, if I stay in her room, she will fight sleep to interact so I have to leave her room in order for her to settle down and fall asleep. I don’t know why tonight was different but I am glad that I kept my heart soft and was mindful and went to her when she cried instead of just assuming that it was because she didn’t want to go to bed.

As I sat on the side of her bed, she settled, curled up on her side with her little blankies and snuggled under her “giant blankie”. As I hummed her lullaby, she hummed the first verse along with me, fidgeted around with her blankies for a few minutes, and then eventually quieted, her breathing calming and evening out. When I finally stopped humming and raised my hand from where I had rested it on her waist while I sang, she didn’t stir. I kissed her head, whispered that I love her, and lingered by her bedside for a moment, just watching her.

My girl is growing so very quickly. She’s strong and smart and imaginative and fierce and spiky and strong-willed. She loves to pretend and play dress-up. Her current favorite movie is “Inside Out”, which she calls “Calm Down” and she dreams of being Joy “with the beautiful blue princess hair”. I tell her that one day we will dress up together – her as Joy and me as Disgust. (I mean cosplay, of course.) She is starting to express a desire of wanting to go to school so I am trying to use that as motivation to take that last step towards potty-training. She knows the process and all that stuff; it’s just convincing her to be in regular underwear all of the time and doing the work of going to the bathroom regularly.

But, for tonight, she was just my baby girl who fell asleep to the sound of my voice.

 

((Art: Lonely Lullaby – http://www.deviantart.com/art/Lonely-Lullaby-216206458 ))

Meeting at the Bottom

Recently, my three-year-old daughter has discovered, purportedly, what it means to be scared at night, scared of the dark. We have also discovered monsters, particularly monsters under the bed. She’s always been a good sleeper since she aged out of infancy and the last few nights, she’s slept through (which has been a marvelous blessing to me after a rough weekend). However, there are some nights where we have to deal with the “I’m scared’s”.

The first night it was really an issue was when I heard her get out of bed and run into the living room, her heavy, honest footsteps thumping across the floor. Getting up and heading out into the darkness of the house, I found her curled up on the loveseat in the living room. When I asked her what was wrong, she replied, “I’m scared.” I assured her that there was nothing in her room to be scared of, bundled her up in her blanket, and took her back to her bed. We repeated this process twice. The final time, however, I–somewhere in my wearied, foggy brain–decided to try a different tactic. I pulled on my heavy, warm robe, trekked out into the living room, picked up a few spare pillows from the ottoman, and made us a little bed on the loveseat, snuggling up close to my little girl. Instead of bringing her up to my height, where I understood that there was nothing in the dark of her bedroom to be afraid of, I made a conscious choice to meet her at the bottom. Instead of insisting that she be brave, I told her, “I’m here. You’re safe. Cuddle close.” And we did. We cuddled there on the couch. It took her a little while to get comfortable but, eventually, her breathing evened out and she was asleep again. Swaddling her in her blanket, I carried her back to bed, tucked her in, and then made my way back to my own neglected bed for the remaining few hours before daybreak.

I met the next day tired but having learned an important lesson afresh. We talk about meeting people where they are, wherever that may be. We can then help each other grow from where we are to where we will be, even if we might be a little further along the path or a big higher up the mountain than they are. We need to meet them where they are. We remind ourselves that God meets us where we are, accepts us as we are, but loves us enough that He will continue to help us grow and mature and refine. I had to (and still have to, up to last night even) meet my little girl where she is and be with her there in that space, at that height, even if it’s at the bottom of the mountain. Because that is the only way I can help her climb. Not pull her up. Help her climb. Help her learn where to put her hands, where to find her footholds, and how to put herself up throughout life. But, first, I have to meet her where she is.

 

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Property of Jennifer Harnett-Henderson — Ode to a Sketchbook – Excerpts

 

 

 

Those Pathetic Days

One afternoon, as my daughter nested on her bedroom floor with her stuffies and her tablet, I laid myself down next to her and requested, “Can I lie down next to you?”

I must have sounded like the most pathetic creature to ever live and, truthfully, I felt it to be so. I felt weary-worn in body and soul and literally pathetic in every synonymous sense of the word. There are days when mothering is unspeakably tough, and this week has been a collection those days. From temper tantrums to busy days (which my girl dearly didn’t want to participate in) to ballet class and early morning stomach bugs, this has been quite a week. I’m tired, worn, and, honestly, wilting a bit. I have rarely felt less equal to the task of raising my daughter than I have this week. My eyes are weak from lack of sleep and too many tears. The things that give me joy (reading, writing, working out, etc.) I have often been too tired to fully enjoy, but I am still doing my best to keep up with them because they are my soul food.

This weekend is Valentine’s Day. I’m not looking for flowers or chocolate or a fancy dinner out. All I want is some time with my husband and some time to myself to center down and ground myself before the week starts all over again.

Birthday Thoughts

Today, my daughter turns three, I am running on 5 hours of mostly-full-though-still-broken sleep, and her gifts were JUST wrapped a few minutes ago by her Mamaw while I kept her distracted in the living room.

It’s been a nice build up to Bizzy’s birthday. This week, as we have been out and about, she has been spreading sunshine around to others: waving, smiling, saying “Hi, everyone!”, and wishing people “Merry Christmas!” It’s done my heart good as I have tried to concentrate on the moments that make this season wonderful and not let myself be trapped by the expectation, comparisons, and stuff that made me regret it all at the end of last year. Fewer presents and more meaning. Less doing and more being. Fewer obligations and more space for magical moments and divine appointments.

Today, there will be no huge birthday party, no me running around to pick up party platters, birthday cake, and decorate a party space, no leaving my mom to mind and dress and prepare Elizabeth for said party while I go hither, thither, and yon. No running around desperately trying to be a good hostess as well as an attentive Mommy. No cleaning up afterward, trying to figure out where all the leftovers and cake are going to fit in the fridge, especially with Christmas Day foodings in 6 days. Nope!

All of that that is #offthebeam this year (thank you, Jen Hatmaker). As fun as it might have been for Bizzy last year, it was so much stress for me that I was a wreck by the end of the day and I didn’t get to enjoy my daughter’s birthday really at all. This year, we are going back to basic and easy: a relaxed day (that hopefully involves a nap or two for me), a family dinner out at a Chinese buffet that she really likes, presents, and a small cupcake (with a Christmas tree in frosting) for my girl to indulge in.

My little girl is three years old. I am running on five hours’ sleep, and I am so very pleased and proud to be the mother of this wonderful, fabulous, maddening, fierce, spiky, friendly, smart, lovely little person.

Ghosts of Fridays Past

Last night, after a trip to the gym, I did the unthinkable: I braved the mall on a Friday night, two weeks before Christmas. In my defense, it wasn’t my fault. I had things that I wanted/needed to return so that I could purchase their replacements as soon as possible. As I speed-walked through the mall, determined to be done as soon as possible, I couldn’t help but be accosted by the realization of just how long it had been since I had traversed the mall on a Friday evening. I was also suddenly inundated by memories. Memories of Friday nights past. Before the Big Change, i.e. before baby.

In Friday nights past, Ben and I would often get out of work and head straight to an early dinner. We liked to hit dinner early so that we could enjoy our meal before the start-of-weekend dinner rush. After dinner, we could make our way over to the mall or to Best Buy (depending on our movie location) to kill time before making our way to the movie theater to catch whatever flick suited our fancy that weekend.  We would peruse the DVDs at Best Buy or the bookstore or Hot Topic at the mall, enjoying our geekery in its myriad forms.

I miss those Fridays, if I am being completely honest. I miss strolling around the mall or the store on my husband’s arm, just meandering with no rush, timetable, or out-of-sight worries to keep me out of the moment. I think that is one of the things that I miss the most right now: being able to consistently stay in the moment, whether it’s a date on the couch with Ben, a conversation on the phone or online, reading a book, or journaling. I love my daughter, make no mistake, but she commands the lion’s portion of my time, attention, and strength.

A friend of mine (and fellow mommy) sent me an article by Wendy Wisner today entitled “The Hardest Thing About Being a New Mom” and something that it said struck to the core and heart of a great many of my feelings.

“Oh, the things they don’t tell you about motherhood. […] I’m talking about your identity. I’m talking about the fact that in one quick instant, you go from being woman, girlfriend, wife, professional, artist, lover, free-thinking-doing-being-person to MOTHER. Just like that. And mother, at least at first, is bigger than all those other things, whether you want it to be or not.

But I wish someone had told me it was normal to feel like the person I’d been before kids had been smashed into sharp little pieces of glass.”

I must be honest: I feel this way sometimes. A lot of sometimes. Like all that I was, who I was, has just been smashed to smithereens and I don’t know just how to see myself as anyone other than “Mommy” anymore. And that, truthfully, is very difficult sometimes, especially since it took me the better part of twenty-some years to find an identity that was just and wholly me, apart from anyone else in my life.

Please, do not mistake me. I love my daughter. Love her to the moon and back. But I do want to be more than just Mommy. I want to be Melissa and all that means along with being a mother. I am not entirely sure just what all that is right now, however. I do not know whether “teacher” is still part of that or not, how long “pastor’s wife” will be part of it, what part writer/blogger has in it.

I wish someone had told me that I would eventually find all those pieces of myself — that I would sweep up the glass, put it together again. And that the new me would sparkle, bend light, make rainbows.

I wish someone had told me I would come out of it all intact, kick-ass, more resilient than ever — a mother.”

I do not feel like I am to this place just yet. I am still searching through those pieces, figuring out what they are, and how they fit together into the ‘me’ I am now. The mosaic that is me, composed by all these differing piece, is coming together, maybe slowly, but it is. I have a few of the pieces, I dare say a few of the very important ones, and I will continue to grow and hope to fit some more of the pieces together in the coming year.  I dearly hope that I can say, as Ms. Wisner does, that I will sparkle, bend light, make rainbows, and, yes, be more kick-ass and resilient than ever.

Those Friday nights past are bright spots in my memory, as are my Friday nights present. Evenings of pizza and tag and kitty-cat finger puppets and singing before bedtime, of cuddles on the den couch leaned against Ben with my book while he plays “Fallout 4”. And I am hoping that my Friday evenings future will be even brighter as we all grow together.