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.

So tell me, tell me did you really love me / Like a friend?

Ed- this post was written for the Unschooling Blog Carnival’s tribute to fathers.

My Father, Sailing To Catalina

My father was intelligent, soft-spoken and thoughtful. He was educated but more importantly, self-educated and confident in himself. He was an atheist, but one of the more spiritual people I’ve known. He had a sharp mind. He could finish any crossword puzzle and remember any fact he’d read. He could conduct himself like a gentleman, and often did.

But he was also irreverent and profane. One minute he’d be telling a simple and profound Buddhist koan and the next he’d be loudly cursing at the dinner table, bitching that the utilities company had sent him a cheeky mailing for being a few days late on the light bill. He’d be all wound up and talking about what jackasses they were. He’s probably sitting there with his shirt off. And his teeth, a half-gold-filled mess from a barfight in the Navy years ago, talking a little too loud with like, scrambled eggs flecking into his beard.

My father was a long-distance runner, a pursuit he started in his forties when we moved to Grays Harbor in 1984. He was avid and solitary in this pursuit, patiently and daily working running into his schedule. I always understood he was taking care of his mind and spirit as well as his body. And his daily work in taking this time for himself was a wonderful example for me. Later, when I got my hardest assignments ever, the boot camp of early parenthood (so many diapers and cleaning and breastfeeding and constant housework), and then the daily work of managing my own Recovery from alcoholism, my father’s own patience, persistence, and daily diligence already lived within me, a wellspring to help me take care of myself.

Burger King, I Think

My father taught me the honor of any work well done. My first memories of him as a working man were in southern California where he suited up and showed up as a janitor (we didn’t say “custodian” back then). Later, my Buddhist practice taught me the same lessons. I could have my elbows in soap suds and spraying diapers day in and day out, and have the ringing commentary of my ex-coworkers in my ears (“It’s a shame you’re home with kids… you had such a good brain”) but I honored myself and my work.

My father enjoyed my children, and he defended my fierce desire to do better by them. My brother and I attended public school, but my father always told me he thought homeschooling was the better choice for any child. This was said so simply and I always understood that whatever reasons my parents had to send us to school, they had done the best they could with what they had. And yet later, when I brought my kids home from school, I knew I had his support in pursuing a different path than how I’d been raised. He said to me simply, only months before he finally succumbed to cancer, he worried I wouldn’t have enough time to myself if we homeschooled. 2008, and he was the one person who asked me how many hours I’d had to myself since the kids were born. It brings tears to my eyes to remember today.

Always Bitchy

Earlier in life:

My father watched me at age seventeen as I sat at the dinner table quietly, broken and hurt from the failed and abusive relationship I’d tortured myself with during my young adulthood, culminating in an abortion that had left me empty and sad and alone. I stood up from the table and went up to my room and sat on my bed and he alone followed me and held me when I cried, because it hurt so much. I don’t think we said a word about it.

My father was a gentle man, and this quality is amongst my most treasured to reflect upon.

Despite his example, I didn’t grow up to be a gentle woman. In fact, I was not a gentle child,  teen, young adult, or mother. I have a violent nature. But throughout my troubles my father was patient, and persistent, and he loved me. He was a lighthouse, because throughout my problems I perceived that Gentleness was possible.

My father was nurturing and loving. He was quiet and his actions spoke for him more than his words did. I miss him so terribly that I can’t write more than a reflective sentence or two without crying. I will always be grateful for not only the gift of life, but the gifts of nurture, serenity, and personal integrity.

My father was there for me when I entered this world, and we were there for one another while we shared the road together. I was there for my father when he died. I had this profound honor. I nursed him and held his hand and tried to gently guide him as he breathed his last. When he died I was left alone with him.

And I put my head on his chest and I cried like I’ve never cried before or since.

My Father

My Father, Straight-Arrow

to never grow old

Tonight while tracing patterns (I’m making my children winter coats for Christmas) I caught sight of my high school yearbook.  I only own one from 1995, my senior year.  It’s a rather underwhelming object and one day I will likely chuck it altogether.  I can’t own the ideas in books – why own the books?  I experienced high school – what does this tome do for me at all?  As it is, the number of books we own is just a handful.  Each month it gets easier to own fewer (hello, awesome library system!) and this makes me feel like I have less baggage, less to grip onto that I can’t really hold.

But tonight I remembered a young woman I went to school with, because if I had my facts correct she was brutally murdered a few years after graduation.  Yeah, not just murdered, but tortured and beaten and half-drowned and worse.  And I somehow knew this although – if I remember correctly – it barely made news up here and I don’t remember anyone I know talking about it.  So tonight I found her name in the yearbook then I went online and found one pathetic article about her murder.  One little article that talked about her death, and gave Hoquiam as her hometown, and mostly made a point about how soulless and terrible her killers were.  And I couldn’t find anything else about this girl or who she was or who her family was / is.  To all the rest of the world online at least – she never existed.

She was murdered the year I was first dating Ralph; a year I experienced as the start of so much in my life in so many ways.  And what really haunts me about this girl is that I knew her, or knew of her, and she was kind of one of those people you don’t pay attention to very much because she was in a pretty low social class.  Someone with little advantages and even though you (I) would never be as cruel as to look down on her for this, in some way I did let her get labeled as sort of less-than, and I didn’t give her much thought, not more than anyone else.  And I think about how when she died she was truly all alone – okay, so we all will be, really – but I never took the opportunity to know her, or (in my memory at least) to look at her once and she could know, I see you, and we could see eachother, before we never had the chance again.

Usually we’re allowed to pass through life and our lack of kindness or notice – well, we never really know how it affects others, or conversely how its offering would have improved their lot.  And I wonder how many other times I’ve failed to give anyone kindness or even my presence. What a gift it would be – maybe the only gift I really have – if I did so, more often.

it must be a mixed bag to have me for a mom

It never really ends, trying to be a good Mama, or the perfect Mama, or whatever it is we try to be.  So although this morning I put today’s obligatory novel-writing in first thing, then went for my run, then did my chores and paid some attention to the kids and secured a swim date and supplied a dinner list and arranged a lunch meeting and drove errands with the family…

Still, at 11:15 my daughter has put herself to bed and I realize I didn’t give her legs a massage, like I said I would (she is prone to growing pains).  Instead I sat with housemate Jasmine and spent thirty minutes talking (and smoking half a clove cigarette, a vice I hadn’t engaged in for over a month) because Jasmine was excited about a Christmas present she’d acquired – and I missed my opportunity.  And I came inside and found Sophie out on the couch, wrapped in blankets and sweetly sleeping, and I whispered to her and rubbed her warm thighs and I know I’ll apologize to her first thing tomorrow morning and she’ll forgive me.

But still, I feel rotten.  Not that I didn’t do what she wanted but that I didn’t do what she asked me and I said I’d do.  Because sometimes it seems that being a parent means finding out just how imperfect one really is.  Daily.  Repeatedly.

I swear before I had a family I could self-obfuscate some of that shit.

I think the best minutes in my gee-I-accomplished-a-lot day today were the few moments I did have alone with my daughter, before she went in for an early bedtime.  She’d received a copy of Stuart Little on her roadtrip and we were talking about the book; I hadn’t read it in at least twenty years but there were some parts very memorable. (* Some Stuart Little spoilers ensue *)  And I said, “But Stuart didn’t find his friend, the little bird he was looking for.” I’m lost in throught, remembering the book and how it had made me feel slightly isolated and scared, thinking of venturing off away from family on a lonesome quest.

“Yes he did,” she responded.  “Or he was going to.  The last line says, ‘he felt he was headed in the right direction’.”

And I thought, is my daughter’s optimistic interpretation of the book’s ending due to the fact she is younger and hadn’t experienced the full pain of parting so many of us older had?  Or was that just part of her character – that she’d read the ending of the book as hopeful and open?  Knowing my girl I lean to the latter.

I thought for a moment, then said, “Well, it’s too bad that later she got hit by a truck, and died.”

There was a beat of silence, then Sophie and I both laughed at my sick little joke, she scrunching up her perfectly freckled nose and her eyes crinkling and every tooth coming out of her grin as she put her hands to her mouth.

You know, at least in my world, nothing is really sacred.  Because I’m an ass.