Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #6

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the sixth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it. 

This is item #6. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, #4 here, and #5 here.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from 6 o’clock: my daughter has just asked me if I got dog biscuits for our dog, and I took a few pictures to stall my answer, which is no, not yet. I’m going to get some soon, promise.

My Daughter Asks A Hard-Hitting Question

#6. Parent the way I’ll look back on & think, FUCK YEAH. For me this means relaxing more, judging less.

When my daughter was very wee – I may not have even been pregnant with her younger brother – I took her out on the streets of Port Townsend with me. It was beautiful out after a refreshing rain. And even though finances were tight while we lived there, I always worked hard to make sure my kids had quality footwear and raingear (my mom often bought their winter coats each year, for which I am grateful). On this day I’d dressed my child to play in the rain comfortably. She had boots and a raincoat and wee mittens and she was fed and she was dry in her diaper and we were going for a walk. Crossing the street she wanted to splash in a puddle a few feet out of our path. We veered off, her little hand in mine, and she made a satisfying jump and (to her mind) a massive SPLOOSH in the puddle, and she was happy as shit.

An older man passed us in the crosswalk right as my daughter completed her gleeful stomp and splash. I looked up and our eyes met. He smiled and said, “Good mama.”

I want to be the parent who does what my kids need me to do.

I am not going to look back and be glad I yelled at the kids for making a mess, or glad I bitched at them about how we couldn’t afford X because it was so expensive, and enforce all of MY money anxieties aloud or by my tacit behavior. I am not going to be glad I pressured them from the sidelines to be MY kind of athlete or to be the best in gymnastics or swimming; I won’t be glad I exercised my will to get them to impress coaches or to beat other kids’ performances. I am not going to be glad I “managed” their relationship with their grandmother(s) or their father or the neighbor kids, that I made sure they thought and acted the “right” way. I am not going to be glad I cluttered up their schedule with activities and treats to compensate for my bad moods or feelings of personal inadequacy.

I am going to look back and be glad I tickled them late at night when everyone else was asleep and we were dissolving in giggles. I am going to be glad I watched monster B-movies and ghost-adventures with them, I am going to be glad I took long walks to nowhere out in the woods or along the beach, I am going to be glad I made all their favorite foods and made some of my own favorites and shared with them how to do those things, when they’re interested.

I am going to be glad I spent the time helping them clip nails and brush teeth and take baths. I am going to be glad I took a few minutes to recognize that their first visit to the doctor’s or that their vaccinations are a big deal for them, and to be Present for them during this. I am going to be glad I take the time to find out what their interests are and why, and not offer my opinion if I don’t “get” video games or the latest pop star they’re into or their personal clothing style.

I am going to be glad I bought them everything they need to do their art or have their fun, within my absolute best abilities to get them these things. I am going to be glad I sewed them their favorite clothes and their unique and beloved Halloween costumes. I am going to be glad I let them have as many sleepovers, as many trips “froggin'” at the railroad tracks, as many s’mores and outdoor fires, as many bike rides to new parks, as many ice cream cones on as many summer days, as many of their favorite comic books as I can afford.

I’m going to be glad when I take care of my needs – not require them to – and then I give and give and give without thought of return.

what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for

I’m on #gratitude setting. That’s when perceptions come that might not have previously occurred to me, or that I know haven’t previously occurred to me.

I was feeling anxious about my annual gynecological exam today. Most people aren’t particularly excited about this sort of thing; some of us actively feel fear because it’s invasive as hell. But then I realized how grateful I was I had access to healthcare. How grateful I am we can afford basic health services. How grateful I am for my health, and for what will likely be another report of “normal” (I recently had my blood tested re: diabetes and cholesterol, both came back healthy). I have some experience dealing with grave illness; today, I get to enjoy life unencumbered. It is an invasive procedure, but not a destructive one; and far less invasive than what I’ve been through and what could be my reality any other day.

I realized I am grateful for my illnesses in the past – specifically, mental, spiritual, and emotional illness. The memories of these experiences remind me what a wonderful life I have access to today. There was a time in my life it was not possible for me to be relaxed, or have courage. There was a time in my life other people’s actions disturbed me a great deal. It is only the memory of those difficulties that keeps me humble, thankful, and grateful to the Spirit that sustains me.

I’ve also been nicer to my children. I realized the other day I can get so tense at times when things go wrong (well you know – “not my way”), when they’d fight or treat someone rudely in public. When I reflected on this tension of mine and wrote it out, I realized it was that old chestnut: resentment. Resentful at the job I get to do, as a parent, a job I agreed to and a life I’m so happy to have. If my child is crying because he fell down or a child is hitting her brother because she’s not been eating all day and she’s overwhelmed, it’s my job to help them. I have access to this at any point in my day. I need to remind myself of this access, believe it or not. Just because parenting has been hard work and consistent work for a decade, doesn’t mean I sometimes forget, and sometimes try to pretend I didn’t say Yes to the deal, and demand Everyone Else behave so I don’t have to deal. It’s pretty funny when you think about it.

I realize I am so grateful to have Ralph and the children in my life. This won’t always be my reality. Should I live long enough, the day will come when I am separated, either for a time or permanently, and I will miss them and look back and want to know I lived this time to it’s fullest.

So with that, I’m off. To enjoy the family I have, the body I have, the life I have.

Goodnight!

bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid

Back in high school my closest girlfriends and I developed a system of “Badass Points”, an informally-tracked schema whereby each of us could earn group acknowledgement by doing something daring or asinine – and usually both (like skipping class and smoking with “the stoners” – this meant working-class or poor classmates who wore jean jackets adorned with Sharpie’d skulls and who listened to metal – or telling a teacher he had a sexy bum. Unconscionable but rather tame on that last one, I know, but in my defense we were seventeen and imprisoned in our family lives and school). I don’t remember our game running very long but it was much-beloved to me all the same. I liked the idea of being a Badass when most my life I’d invested in Good Girl, when indeed I was very afraid of many things. To venture out – only a bit – and be myself instead of the Convenience I was relied upon to be – felt grand.

In that vein, I don’t think I’d earn many points these days. I’ve become someone quite risk-averse because I’ve found my position oppressively policed by forces both tangible and many perhaps insubstantial to others’ eyes; I’ve found my Fearless ameliorated by events personally devastating that linger on. These days my “badass” mostly runs to deeply-committed-to concepts of fairness that are so inextricably wound up in spiritual practice and belief they are less individual instances of Awesome and more rewarding ways of life that I nevertheless continue to grapple with – for instance, trusting my kids in their wholeness and personhood

OR –

my “badass” consists of speaking up against oppressive social mores that are trite and common, yet devastating and ubiquitous: more wearying than acutely scary. Examples from just lately: this weekend in a group when a person wondered aloud how a missing girl’s family could have let the child out of their sight in the first place – and after a pause in the conversation I indicated my non-support for such victim-blaming and insensitive speech; another example, speaking out when my daughter’s hairstylist called skinny gym neophytes “gross”.

I know at least a handful of readers might think I’m badass enough given the above examples – and a handful of other readers will eyeroll at just how limited and cowardly I really am. Other people’s verdicts don’t matter so much – because what matters is I haven’t felt a Badass in some time and what’s more I feel it’s something I need.

Being a Badass isn’t about, for me, being a jerk to other people, or proving a point to someone else – it’s about doing something I want to do because I want to do it, and I’m a grown lady who’s allowed to make mistakes – right? – without looking around to make sure there won’t be a big scary reprisal, or wondering what my reputation (such as it is, because Who? Gives A Shit) will suffer. Why do I still fear things when I’ve survived through so much so far?

If I was Badass I’d stop running to spend my every last dime on my kids’ immediate needs and I’d “selfishly” buy myself some things I want – I’d let the kiddos have holey socks and stained clothes and I’d fix myself up with some slutty and awesome bra and panty sets and maybe a top that wasn’t an old band t-shirt. But on the flip side if I was a Badass I’d stop giving a damn for the folk who talk like it’s Empowering to collect Nice Things; I’d start saying “Fuck Off” (mentally) now and forever to those who speak prescriptively about those “must haves” that carry price points that don’t reflect my foursome’s economic reality and I’d say “No Thanks, but Good Luck With That” to those with worldviews that don’t concern themselves with the earth, with fellow man here and abroad, and with conspicuous consumption and the cultural heritage of being an American who just tramples and eats everything they see.

If I was a Badass I’d stop feeling crap about my bad habits. Fuck it. Seriously, I have them. They’ll lift someday, or they won’t.

If I was Badass I’d call up that friend who’s not been a friend and tell her, “You know what? You aren’t much of a friend, and it really hurts, and I know you’re busy, but you should know I have feelings.”

If I was a Badass I’d tell my friends, to their faces, I love you.

If I was a Badass I’d let the house be messy (OK, messier) and know that I would get around to fixing it at some point so let’s move on. Instead of what I do now, which is make sure to take care of that shit first, THEN decide what I want to do with the rest of my supposedly-“free” time.

If I was Badass I’d stop worrying about my husband’s health and trust him to manage his own self. God knows I do pretty right by him.

If I was Badass I’d seek more joy and maybe be a more loving and spontaneous and relaxed lady for this man. I’d quit working myself so hard.

If I was a Badass I’d sing loud in front of other people, because I love to sing, and the only people who ever, EVAR hear it are my kids.

If I was a Badass I’d stop feeling this weird shame we’re working class and have working class lives. I’d stop feeling it was my “fault” somehow, especially considering when I reflect on other people’s lives I truly grant them the same humanity and nobility inherent regardless of status and privilege or any lack thereof (or at least I really, really think I do).

If I was Badass, I’d stop feeling people have a right to give a damn or have a say about what food I feed my children, like I’m required to make sure they grow into some awesome consumers with prim and holistic eating habits I can put down to my awesome parenting. Truth is some days I love to cook more than anything, other days (like today!) I save my mental health and take a walk to the diner and get a veggie burger with my son, and it’s pretty funny how hot and cold I am on the whole good-housewife bit. I come nowhere near the mark on being good at this, the whole well-rounded awesome Mama routine, so it’s laughable I still put this pressure on myself. And yeah, I know people shouldn’t have that right to weigh in, but weigh in they do, and dammit, I let it get to me.

That’s part of my problem, maybe most of it. Deep down I keep believing people have the right to weigh in. On my worthDeep down I still really fear not being a Nice Girl. So many things I want to say but don’t. Or sometimes I do say them then later feel a very humorless shame because my words weren’t “Nice”, or they might have been uncouth or low class or “inappropriate” according to the voice (who?) of someone who, well the one thing I can tell you, is this person is not very fun anyway. The twisted thing is, I am a good (enough) person, and I’m a friend to many and do okay by those I take responsibility for. What am I really afraid of? And another really twisted thing is I know lots of “not-nice” folk and they are some of my favorite people and they’re not scary or horrid!

I’ve made it on my own steam, and that’s to my credit as well as the family and friends who support me so well and the privilege I was born with. But inside… inside I’m often cowering, afraid to lose things I probably don’t really need in the first place, cowering even knowing I won’t lose Me no matter what I do.

But you know. One last thing? I think just writing it all out, and letting it go publicly just what a coward I am?- like, PRETTY much, all the things I’m afraid of? All of a sudden, just now, feels pretty Badass. Hit “publish” – too late now.

It’s almost 2 AM and I hear my daughter giggling at something she’s watching (with headphones) on the laptop. You know what’s really awesome? That. I have her, today, and a sense of unabiding joy when I’m with her.

So I’m going to join her.

***

“Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson