Sunday, April 24, 2016

Parenting VS Friendship

It was a mild January afternoon. We hadn’t had school that day but I was on the basketball team and so we had had an early practice and my mom had picked me up. The car ride home was nothing special, any  other typical Monday with me riding shotgun in my mom’s small car. We pulled in the drive and I hopped out, jogging up the back steps, constantly in motion.
“Don’t go upstairs yet,” my mom told me, just as I was about to leave the kitchen and hibernate in my room for the rest of the day. I stopped, waiting. It was just the two of us in the kitchen and she said, “I know what you did last weekend.”
This is where I tried to play cool, blank face, even breathing. There was no way she knew what I did last weekend. No one knew, except the people there and though not all of them were that bright, they all understood self-preservation and we would all go down for our debauchery. I shrugged, tried to play dumb, but her certainty had me doubting this fishing expedition I was sure she was on. Then I remembered…my diary. The one my mother had bought me to record all my thoughts, feelings and secrets. The one I had recorded all of those things in and then stashed away in my room. I ran upstairs and found the incriminating booklet only slightly askew from where I’d originally left it. I bounded back down the stairs and into the kitchen, launching it at her and yelling, “Go ahead, read the rest.” We stood on opposite sides of the kitchen, the diary lying like a grenade on the battleground between us. We were enemies now, that invisible line of neutrality we had toed for years had been breached and there was no going back.
I wasn’t scared though, because I thought I understood my adversary. She was quiet and meek. She was the mother whom we ordered around and who cleaned up our messes and cooked our dinner. She wasn’t the one who wielded the power: that was my dad, the one I was most  like, she was no match for me. Then she said the four words I feared most: “I’m telling your daddy.” I stared back at her in stunned silence. Mothers did not tell their daughters’ secrets to their fathers, mothers and daughters shared secrets with each other. But that had never been me and my mother and so I knew she would tell and my bravado suddenly faded and I begged her not to tell. She stood firm and I waited all day and all night with bated breath until they went to bed. I breathed easily, thinking I had escaped, because I did not yet understand that sometimes the hardest conversations between a husband and a wife happen on a 76 by 80 inch mattress in the dark. Eventually my reprieve ended and my father came lumbering down the stairs and all hell essentially broke loose. My mother remained calm throughout, which I found odd since she had essentially set the whole thing in motion and she was never calm in a crisis. Through it all though I just kept thinking: She chose him, she had chosen my father, her husband over me her daughter.
For years that stayed with me and I looked at my friends and their moms and then I would look at me and my mom and I would see that my friends and their moms weren’t’ just mother and daughter but friends and confidantes, something I was sure my own mother and I would never be. I swore if I ever had a daughter I would never tell her father her secrets, she would be able to trust me. We would be friends.
Seven years ago I gave birth to my first two children: twins: one boy and one girl. I gave birth, essentially, to a tiny replica of myself, from her blue eyes to her dimpled cheek to the way she swings her hips and the sassy way she talks. And I realized - I am not her friend. I may never be her friend. It’s frankly not my job to be her friend. My job is to raise her to someday be an adult who’s not a druggie or a prostitute or maybe even a politician. And as easy as that may sound, it’s damn difficult. No one knows how to be a mother, even following the example set by my own mother doesn’t work, because the world just gets more and more difficult to predict.

My mother was killed two and half years ago. One minute I was washing dishes, thinking of calling her to complain because yet someone else had complimented my husband on having all three kids in the grocery store, when no one ever compliments a woman for doing the same thing, and the next minute I was identifying her wedding bands. We never talked about the day she read my diary or the betrayal I felt, not because she read it but because she told my dad. I wish I’d have told her I get it. I do. I get that she didn’t NOT choose me. I get that it didn’t matter if I liked her or was happy with her.

My daughter and I aren’t supposed to be friends, not right now. I hope that one day, we are as close as my mother and I became once I was older and she could trust that she had done her best, but until then my daughter may not like me and we will not be friends. But one day I will see her be someone she can be proud of, and so I am telling you Irie Elizabeth (and Andrew and Crawford too): I will read your diary. I will look through your backpack and your cell phone and whatever else Apple comes up with to drive me crazy. And I will tell your father and anyone else whose help I may need to save you from yourself. I don’t care if you  get angry or  think you hate me, because I love you and I love you the way only a mother can: fiercely, unconditionally and enough for both of us. That’s a mother’s true strength, not yelling and dominating, not putting the fear of God in you. Our strength is that while we’re cooking your dinner, or washing your clothes of cleaning up your mess, we’re also carrying the enormous weight of our love for you  and that is a burden we never put down.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Paychecks and Happiness

Dear Irie,
A student asked me today if I wish teachers made more money. I didn’t want to lie, but I also didn’t want to complain. I simply said that unless you’re Donald Trump or Oprah Winfrey or some other crazy-rich person, you’re probably always going to wish you made a little more money. I mean yes - I do think teachers deserve to make a great living for what they do. If I could afford it, I’d send your and your brothers’ teachers on cruises to the Bahamas in appreciation for loving you and taking care of you when I can’t, unfortunately I can most definitely not afford that (sorry teachers and babysitter). But to be honest, I also knew what a teacher’s salary was before I chose the profession and yet I still chose it. Even after I had to take two years off, I still chose to come back to teaching instead of trying something else, because there are far more positives than negatives when compared to other jobs. The main positive being it’s a much more family friendly job than most- my work hours are about as close to possible to your school hours, I get to spend breaks with you (when our districts line up) and I’ve never had to spend the night away (although my district has sent me on some really cool trips by choice).
I also told my student this- I’m happy with my life and my circumstances. I have a home I love, a car I like and I get to take trips with my family. For me that is happiness. Sure, sometimes I would like to splurge on a really nice purse or go on a shopping spree and it would be nice to just go buy a new car when mine starts acting cranky, but these are not things that make or break a life. I can be happy with my 8 year old car and my 5 year old Coach purse, but I could never be happy without you.
So, know that happiness is not found in your wallet. I won’t lie, I was pretty spoiled through middle school and high school. I hope I didn’t act obnoxious, but I know there was very little I asked for that I didn’t get. The thing is though, as happy as I was then, I have never be as happy as I am now. My life is not perfect, but no amount of money could bring back the one thing I miss the most. And yet the smiles and cuddles I get from you and your brothers are worth more than any paycheck.
I know as you go through school and life you will begin to realize there are people with more than you. I hope it’s not something that bothers you, but I am sure sometimes it will. And I’m not even going to lie and tell you not to worry because they have money but you have parents who love you, because truth be told, they probably have parents who really love them too. Just know that having less never makes you less. And if you decide that you really want a bigger house or a nicer car or more vacations, there is nothing wrong with that, just don’t look for your happiness within those things and lose sight of the people and experiences that truly make life worth living.


Sometimes our most precious gifts are memories that cost us nothing. 

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Really Terrific?

Dear Irie,
Your brother got Terrific Kid today. You know, where one (or sometimes two) kids a month are chosen as the kids who did something particularly special that month and the teacher thinks (for whatever reason) they should be recognized for their terrificness. Well, this month that kid was your brother. Last year when he got it, you also got it, so I was a little curious as to how you would react when you heard he got it and you hadn’t. I wasn’t particularly worried, I’m not sure why, oh right, because it’s a stupid thing to worry about it.

I was surprised though when not long after he came into the cafeteria for the little award presentation you also came in. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “I came to see Andrew get his award.” You shrugged as if it should have been completely obvious, and I guess if I had known you were allowed to do that, it would have been. I noticed other siblings were also in the cafeteria supporting each other, but then I also noticed other siblings pouting in the cafeteria because their sibling had received something they hadn't. I watched you through the entire program (okay I alternately watched you and your brother through the entire program) and I noticed you smiling at the other children, clapping when their names were announced and their accolades read and referring to your brother over and over as my terrific kid. I believe you were genuinely happy for the other kids. I don’t think that you not getting the award even crossed your mind.
Our society has become overrun with a sense of entitlement. We think we are to be rewarded for doing what was already expected of us in the first place. I see this in my classroom, when my students can’t understand why they didn’t get a 100 for turning in their work and doing the bare minimum. I always remind them that C is average, A is extraordinary. If you want an A, you need to impress me. The same thing should go for awards.
We live in a world where people need constant pats on the back to feel good about themselves. Maybe it comes from everyone getting a trophy for (maybe) showing up to the games. Maybe it comes from parents being afraid to tell their kids no. Maybe it’s just low self esteem caused by some chemical imbalance, I don’t know (I majored in English not … well, basically not anything that would answer that question). What I do know though is that as I watched you with a smile on your face, congratulating the other kids and joking with your brother and his friend, accepting hugs and high fives from another boy, I was every bit as proud of you as I was of your brother. As you sat at the breakfast bar tonight we talked about how maturely you acted. I told you then and I’m saying again, a piece of paper will never make you terrific or special or smart or athletic or whatever else you want to be recognized for. You either are terrific or you’re not, you either are smart or you’re not, you either are athletic or you’re not, a certificate will never change that. What made you terrific today was your attitude: it was your smile and your applause, it was your laughter and your maturity.
We can all behave how we’re expected to to get the recognition we want, but it’s how we behave when we don’t expect an award or recognition that really counts. It’s how we act when we’re down (or maybe should be) that shows our true character. It is what makes us truly terrific, and you my baby girl have got that down to an art.



Sunday, April 3, 2016

Body Image

Dear Irie, 
We went shopping today and you went with me into the dressing room like you normally do. You’ve seen me undress a thousand times and yet today for some reason you zeroed in on my stomach every time I took off my shirt. My stomach has never been my favorite body part, even when it was flat as a board it didn’t have defined abs like Britney Spears (you see how long ago this was, right?) and there was always a little extra to pinch. So now, after a twin and singleton pregnancy, you’re damn right I’m not flaunting that thing.  And here’s the really messed up thing. I can do sit ups and crunches and leg lifts and you name it, all day. Underneath the stretch marks and wrinkly skin are some pretty tight, punch me in the stomach (but not that hard) abs. But I had babies and as I explained to you in the dressing room today, my stomach blew up like a balloon and then deflated then blew up again and deflated and there’s no going back to that tight shiny balloon I started with.

Proof there was always a little extra in the stomach and thighs department :) 

Truth be told though, I was telling you this so matter-of-factly when in reality I agonize over it almost daily. I stand in the mirror at night sucking in my stomach, or pulling it this way and that to try and smooth it out. Ironically the more weight I lose, the looser it gets and the more I loathe it. But I never want you to stand in front of the mirror and hate your body and so I pretended that it didn't bother me that you noticed how my tummy looks likes it’s frowning, reminding me of Droopy Dog and his big droopy eyes and jowls. I told you instead that if I had known exactly how my stomach would look after I had you and your brothers, I wouldn't change a thing and that’s absolutely the truth.

But it’s not the whole truth. Honestly, I’m most often really proud of my body, not because it looks like what our culture says is beautiful. I’m taller than average, I have always had thick thighs (though they didn’t used to shake nearly as much) and my butt could never have been called small. I’m fairly certain I was born with boobs (just kidding) and they grew with each new milestone my body took on. I spent my whole life wishing I looked a little more like this person or that one, only to look back now and simply wish I looked like me again. But here’s the thing: that me, the one on a beach in a tiny bikini a week after graduation or training for a lifeguard tournament with the boy I would have never guessed would one day be my husband, that girl had never created human life. Her body had never sheltered and nourished two babies at once, somehow reworking its own systems to provide everything those little bodies needed to sustain life. Those legs had never carried three heads, three hearts and six arms around all day everyday for 34 weeks while standing in front of 100 plus teenagers and trying to make them understand the world. Those breasts that fit so perfectly into a tiny triangle top and could go without a support bra and a roll of duct tape, had never provided the only food and nourishment to tiny growing people. And a thousand basketball and volleyball games never made me feel as strong, as fucking invincible, as pushing three healthy, beautiful babies into this world and feeling every damn second of it.

Andrew and Irie bump at 4 1/2 months

Andrew and Irie bump at 5 1/2 months

Crawford bump 10 hours before he was born.

So you know what? I don’t think I really want that body anymore. So what if my tummy droops? It once was stretched tight as a drum brimming with life and activity. It is where you first met your brother and where we first saw the two of you playing together. It is where I first felt your younger brother stir as your older brother cried against me. I don’t believe a woman’s body was ever meant to be a temple. It is a garden with its scarred earth and rolling hills, soft mounds and hard packed soil. It is not meant for worship, but to grow, nourish and give life.
Love, Mommy