Failed Parenting

I really don’t know how to say the words tonight. I sense within me, utter failure. It feels that I just cannot ever seem to get it right.

But then again…

We are driving home from an appointment. Husband is away for the night, so I have three in tow, with one at home wondering where we are. As we drive, I field criticism from The Children, for various things that have randomly gone wrong but are quite obviously my fault:

The fact that the appointment ran overtime and now we can no longer join Husband in Summerside for supper and shopping. Parenting fail (because I control the dentist’s schedule and I quite obviously planned it this way).

The fact that I am stopping to get ice cream for everyone’s dessert tonight instead of driving everyone straight home. Parenting fail (because I will have now delayed everyone at least ten minutes from partaking of their favorite activity- sitting on the couch scrolling through ipods/playing X-box).

The fact that I will be making a supper complete with meat, starch and veggies as a source of nourishment. Parenting fail (because if I was a good mom, I’d be serving up Chips ‘N Dip, Pepsi and Hot Dogs, with a side of Skittles every night).

The fact that I have suggested no popcorn should be popped twenty minutes before supper, as I hastily pull together said meal. Parenting fail (because junk food should really come with an IV pole for more discreet fueling up. In the perfect world, it would).

I know, I know. Just let it all go, right?
But I still feel it: parenting failure. Where did I go wrong?

So later, when the words come flying out of me in the early evening hours- words connected to something that irritates me, a thing so incredibly minor and inconsequential, but which bears the weight of a thousand bricks as the frustration comes hurtling out of my mouth. I feel the shame. I cannot re-stack those bricks no matter how hard I try. I said them and now I live with them.

I feel the absolute shame of them. And I am sorry.

It really doesn’t matter how many things our children do or say to us, we can react strongly once to them and we feel we have failed them as parents. Where does this guilt come from? Why can we not have our say and get on with it? Why do the feelings have to linger?

I think it is because we know the expectations of us. What is required. Even tonight, I read about a mother elephant who pulls her baby from a well. The caption reads that a mother’s love is the strongest love known on earth. She works for eleven hours to get her beloved free. On days like this, I am looking at that crazy elephant and hiss-whispering to her, “Leave it in there and make like a bandit… run, Forrest- RUN.” And yet, I know that in spite of everything:

In spite of the frustration
The chaos
The screams and hollers and noise
In spite of The Fighting
The Arguing
The Mean-Spiritedness and Picking

In spite of the fact that I am Sometimes Led to Believe that I Am not Doing This Parenting Thing RIGHT (mainly by the significant four experts that have actually never done this job themselves but have lots to say about the subject)

In spite of the fact that my children drive me crazy (and I them):
They are my children. And I love them. I always will. And that is the one thing I am doing right, even in the midst of all the ‘wrong’. This I know: I will wake up again tomorrow and enter into the same minefields and walk the line anyway, all for love.

I do not wish to excuse bad behavior. Mine or any one elses’. I did apologize for my outburst, and that is the only one over which I have any control. As for the others, we are all a work in progress. Especially Mama.
Thank goodness tomorrow’s a new, fresh beginning.

On Making Mistakes

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It is a late lunch day.

With brunch completed mid-morning, I am now in the process of collecting my thoughts so as to get in a frame of mind for lunch preparations. What to make? I quickly remember that I have everything for homemade pizza, and I call for helpers.

Usually, there is a scramble of girls competing for the counter space. But to my surprise, Son announces that it has been a while since he has made anything with me and that he would like to help. I am pleased- he usually passes on cooking. But since it was a storm day today and school is off, he is feeling particularly generous with his time. I am also secretly delighted that we will have some mother-son time together.

We start to gather our supplies and right away I think to myself ‘back off- let him do this’. I step away for a moment and occupy myself with something on the other side of the sink.

“Ohhh…” I hear him say.

I turn my head and discover that in pouring the flour mixture into the bowl, he has spilled it on the counter, a bit on himself, and then more down the side of the cupboard and onto the rug below where it is collecting in a circular pile. I immediately go into my neat-nik self and rush over, start to cluck- hem and haw. I can hear myself becoming too quickly frustrated at this unexpected mess that I now feel responsible to clean up, and I know where this is headed. Not like I scolded in a mean way- but he knew. I was tense.

“I don’t think I want to do this anymore,” he says to me quietly.

I look up, and watch him turn away. I watch as he walks slowly over to the red corner chair and perches on the edge. We are both on edge now- both literally and figuratively.

And at this juncture, I start to talk to myself:

“Is this what you want- your Son to believe that he isn’t capable of making this pizza? That in making a small mess, he is inconveniencing you? That this minor mess is really worth making an issue over? That this is even something to stress over, tense up about? Do you want to lose this opportunity over a bit of split flour? Give your head a shake, girl.”

I make a choice in that moment. And that choice was an apology. Followed by an explanation.

What I said was this:
“I am sorry that I reacted this way. This is not a big deal. I really want you to make the pizza, and I want you to know that my response wasn’t the right one. Furthermore, I want you to know that when we make mistakes, I know that these are the moments we learn the most. Please don’t think that in spilling the flour it should keep you from making the pizza. I am sorry.”

Sons are so gracious to moms with lots to learn.

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We ended up making that pizza together, and it was an absolute work of art. Son took the better part of an hour to carefully put each topping, each slice of meat on where it suited best. I cannot honestly say I have ever seen a better looking pizza. But more than that, this time of meal preparation was a learning experience for me personally. Because I am starting to realize how very much I benefit from learning about my own mistakes and how I need to find ways to come out a better person for having taken a wrong turn.

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I wish I hadn’t reacted so quickly to the split flour.

But because of my own mistake, I discovered that these are experiences that can help us grow as individuals into more capable, understanding people. We learn from mistakes when we choose to do so, carry forward stronger, more knowledgeable than we were before. And even moms have their moments when the lessons learned are very humbling.

At least they are for me.

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Who We Are

It is hard to understand the whys and hows of human relationships. Sometimes these interactions astound and touch my deepest parts for their tremendous propensity to kindness. And yet sometimes they disappoint beyond what mere words can express.

Why are our connections with one another so prone to such wild swings of the pendulum?

For here we are, all just walking around inside our little outward shell, thin veneer- pretending to be brave when we don’t always feel brave. Pretending to be strong when we don’t always feel strong. Putting on our game face even when the game is over. Showing up even when we don’t have the strength to take another step. We are all, I believe, giving this ‘here and now’ our best shot- this moment, this day, this life. We are who we are- cover-ups, disguises, masks and all. Doing what we have to so as to keep our head above water, to stay afloat. And it’s a hard-knock life sometimes. Hard enough trying to get by without having another soul, another Body: push you over. Knock you down. Hard enough trying to be a person living through the day without having another soul, another Body step all over you. Rain on your parade.

Isn’t it high time we gave each other a chance?

Is it so hard to see ourselves, our weakness- as through viewing our brother’s face? So hard to see our own proclivity to sorrow by looking in our sister’s eye?

She orders a coffee and a chicken sandwich for her husband. And all the while, she is given the five-star treatment by the waitress on duty. No request denied, no favor spared. She is Chosen. Somehow, special. But when it comes to him- he who is different, suddenly the mood alters. The temperature drops or so it seems. He who is seen as ‘other’ is disdained, disparaged, despised. She wonders, as she waits for the remainder of her order: why? Why him? Why her? Why such vast discrepancy? Why is she singled out to receive the good and he left to suffer the mockery, the subtle abuse? Why such different treatment when the same blood that courses through her veins, pumps slow and steady through his also?

Are we that blind that we can no longer see each other for who we truly are?

And who are we anyway? Who were we made to be?

We were made to be His Beloved. Loved, cherished, held, treasured. Longed for by the Father and precious in His sight. And when He sees us, He sees the beauty in the workmanship, the exquisite detail in the masterpiece. He sees us for the value and worth and tremendous significance we were designed for.

Each one of us.

And He doesn’t judge us for the fading shell without, that holds us.  Piece by fragile piece.  That damaged armor we wear to protect, we put on so to endure.  Doesn’t judge us for our persona.  Our outward presentation- He just loves us.  Loves us for the lasting treasure we are within.

And because He loves us, we too can love. Wildly, unabashedly, freely- with abandon.

We are free to love each other.

We are Loved.

Walking humbly

I knew I had to do it- even last night as twilight gave way to darkness. But the frustration was still close to the surface. The feelings. And I found a myriad of reasons to explain my behavior, to ease the sting of my wrong done. Somehow, peace just would not come and so it was, I found myself wrapping my arms around her this morning, hugging her tight. I apologized then- for the way I handled my frustration last night. For what I did unkindly, in the heat of a moment. I asked her for forgiveness. And she offered it, freely. The ones we love the most are the ones we hurt the most frequently. And sometimes we forget that in offering those two little words ‘I’m sorry’ backed by heartfelt meaning we find the perfect way- the only peace-filled way in which to live, love and practice the art of forgiveness (that ancient art of letting go and loving wholly).

Forgiveness is a well-worn path leading to love.

Recently, I was ‘somewhere’ with our family. I am going to try to keep this vague so as to protect anonymity. Namely mine. I happened to be walking away from the washroom when I came across a person from my past whom I have not been able to speak to nor face up to for years due to a history of hurt between that person and my immediate family. There is a history here that goes back far with turbulent waters that run deep. There have been wrongs done, words spoken, vengeance taken. On both sides of the fence, perhaps- depending on whom you talk to. And over the years, I have believed that I had released the burden of offense that this person (and the persons who stand with them) had brought me. But yet, I still lived in fear of facing this person. What would I say? What would that person do? How would I react? What if I started to crack up under the pressure?

The binding of this offense from years ago still has a choke-hold on me.

It is not that this person makes me feel angry. It is fear mostly that I feel. Fear of the unknown, fear of what could happen, fear of humiliation. Fear of facing this person. I am reminded of that verse which states that perfect love casts out fear. To be exact, the words of this verse say this: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man (or woman) who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4: 18, NIV) I wonder- what if I practiced loving this person instead of channeling my energy into fearing them. What might transpire were that to happen?

I can tout myself as being a loving person but if I cannot love my enemies, the love I offer is shallow. Who wouldn’t find it easy to love those who treat us well, those who build us up, edify our character? It is easy to love when love feels good. So much harder to love when the price is our pride, our image. We shouldn’t love solely when it is easy- we must love when it is hard. For in loving, we are free. But this is hard work- it require discipline.

I have found in recent years a yearning in my soul to exemplify love in my life. This love is not my own- it is God’s love channelled through me. It is supernatural love of a divine nature. And because I feel the power and presence of love in my life, I am free to love others in the very same ways I too experience love. Unconditionally, liberally, wholly.

In thinking about the offence I have felt over the years, one of which I make mention of above, I am humbly reminded of the offences at times that I have caused. At times, unknowingly and at other times, purposefully. If I am in any way offended by those who have hurt me, how much more then are those whom I have hurt injured by my offence to them? In being human, we are prone to hurt one another by our very nature- one does not have to look far in the news to find evidence of this. We are a hurting people. We live in pain. The freedom from which comes through forgiveness.

I wonder how much of our pain would be eased if we could only take the initiative to bear the weight of any offence committed against us through arms of love. What a humbling exercise- accepting responsibility to start the reconciliation process even when we haven’t been the one who wronged. This is not to say we must accept responsibility for wrongs done which we have not committed- it is just to say that in love and through grace, we can make the first move. This is biblical principle. For we see through scriptures over and over again that love is the antidote to the pain which breeds fear. Not that love can eradicate pain- but it can help us cope with our response to pain. True, there will always be those in our lives that inflict on us the brutality of injustice- but it is the reaction to such that determines the load we end up carrying. My response to the offender is what determines the pain I carry in my shoulders, in my body. In my heart. The release is found in forgiveness.

We must let go and in love move forward.

Recently, a very special woman shared with me her decision to go to someone who had deeply hurt her and how she found grace to offer a hand in love to this person. Just today, I read of a woman whose former husband murdered her three baby boys before turning the gun on himself. And yet, this hurting woman found strength in time to forgive this man, thus releasing her own burden of despair. I think of a man in our own community who offered forgiveness to another during his own family’s darkest hour. And in my own life, I have found the greatest peace has come through laying down my own agenda and rights so as to walk in peace with another human being. So as to walk in peace with my God. I am daily reminded through these and other stories- that it is in releasing our fear, our pain and choosing love in spite of the tremendous odds that we find supernatural strength to forgive.

It is there in the peaceful still that we find quiet, humble grace.

Why I care

We talk a lot about white privilege, but it is a little more discomforting to broach a discussion on white poverty. Somehow it hits closer to home.

I grew up in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, a small rural farming community known for its potatoes and apple orchards. My community was aptly named Melvern Square, as it was a squared off corridor firmly anchored by three pillars: family, community and faith. My father was one of two pastors called to minister in this area, ensuring that I lived my life firmly fixed within the public’s eye- on first name basis with most everyone I’d meet.

It was an idyllic life in ways. We were poor but we got by. I remember trips to the country store- a one room building with wide wooden clapboards filling in the floor space, glass candy jars containing five cent goodies lining the back wall. When the front door was cracked even so much as an inch, an old-fashioned bell signalled both your appearance and your exit, ensuring you would never peruse the ice cream freezer or chip rack anonymously. Our house was sandwiched between the community center on the right and my father’s little brown country church on the left. Behind our property was the community pond for skating on in the winter and avoiding in the summer- as we all speculated that alligators or other forms of creepy-crawlies might live in there. Across the street was the consolidated school housing grades 1-6- a school which I never had the privilege of attending.

The school I attended was a private institution located in a neighboring community. When I entered the educational milieu, I quickly realized that my life was not what it had seemed to be. I became the “other”- teased for my different religious affiliation, tortured for my family connection, belittled for my appearance. Separated for my difference. I was disconnected in many ways. And I soon came to understand the term “white trash” and its unflattering connotations, as that is what I began to feel I was while in this school. Trash. Unloved and undesirable.

My schooling experience was thus one in which oppression was very visible. This same private school I attended later came to be exposed regarding “issues” of a very serious, abusive nature. These privately held secrets of the upper echelon came to be outed in a very visible way via news media when I was in high school. When I now see images of residential schools, it brings to mind sordid mental pictures of what that time of life was like for both me and my classmates. That experience has forever changed the way I look at education.

So then. As long as I have been a student, I have been interested in ethics of care in classrooms. As I did not have the privilege of being exposed to ethics of care in most of my formative years of schooling, I now spend my life advocating for these pedagogies of love and care along with the foundational rights that I believe all people- young and old- are worthy of receiving and deserve to experience as a basic human right. By virtue of their humanity.

One of the specific memories I have as a student took place when I was in Grade 7, attending this same school mentioned above. A young man in Grade 10, who had been having a particularly difficult time in his life, went around one day after school saying good-bye to everyone he could see in the hallway. It struck me as strange that he would seek me out, as I was quite a bit younger than him and outside his social circle. That night, as I would come to discover, he drove his car into a wooded area and shot himself in the head. This was my first exposure to suicide.

Rather than taking time to counsel us in our grief and confusion, the teachers at this school used this opportunity to tell us how this boy, and thus his classmates, had been and were heading down the wrong path and needed to get things straightened out. It was one of the most poignant memories of my schooling. I can still hear the judgemental voice of the female teacher who told me and my classmates that Donnie* had obviously been in the wrong, and I will never forget that mental picture of him the day before he died, his face resolute: epitomized by soft spoken words and a calm demeanor. Although there are many layers to this story that I could pursue at length, my experiences as a student living through a deficit of care in my schooling, along with the many, many others of my classmates who echo this sentiment, has convinced me that care is the absolute number one priority of educators in the classroom. We are educating students for academic learning, yes. But I trust we are first and foremost developing caring, compassionate human beings in the form of both students and teachers who will live empathically in an interconnected, interdependent world. As an educator, this is fundamental to my practice.

I believe that when people learn to care, their learning is enhanced and their growth is furthered. Students and teachers are all the better for the care that they have cultivated, and I am not alone in holding this belief. Miller (2010) cites Nel Noddings’ work as being premiere in the encouragement of educators in fostering this care ethic. She suggests that educators pursue caring as one of their main goals in schooling and education, teaching students to learn to care for themselves, others and the environment as well as to care for ideas and learning (Miller, 2010, p. 63). Noddings has laid out a very systematic, comprehensive approach to caring that entails teachers be clear and unapologetic in their goal: “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people” (Noddings in Miller, 2010, p.64). I can attest to the fact that many, many others hold this belief as I have heard from people writing in response to my blog on what students remember most about teachers. They almost unanimously stated the same: students remember that their teachers care.

We are a culmination of our past and present experiences- and the breadth and depth of these same experiences will hopefully lead to a brighter, more positive future as we learn and grow.  When we know better, we do better.  I trust that this statement will always be true of my life and that my legacy will be one of care and love.

Let me be one who cares

It’s Friday. I am so weary. SO tired. Actually, my brain is fried. I feel like the cerebral part of my Members has turned to mush. But then again—it’s Friday. So there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you, Jesus, for that. Gotta love the creation of the five-day work week.

I am in class all morning with my cohort- a mix of teachers from all over the country. We break for lunch on the last day of class ready for a diversion. I decide mine is going to be a short trip taken to a local restaurant with a couple of friends whom I have not had as much time for (as I would really have liked) over the past couple of months due to the crazy busy schedule I keep. Crazy schedules we all keep, for that matter. Time I have not had for the Others in my life due in part to the lack of number of hours in the day to ‘get it all done’. Something I am constantly dealing with in my desire to find work/life balance. At any rate, I am delighted to have the time to eat lunch with these lovely ladies and am so looking forward to catching up on missed time. To having actual real-life CONVERSATION.

Oh, the luxury.

We cram into an over-heated car and wait for the air-conditioning to kick in. And then we pull into the Wendy’s parking lot and make our way towards the lunch counter. We order lunch. I order a Summer-Fresh Strawberry Salad, a grilled chicken wrap and a strawberry milkshake. They have no milkshakes, so they replace the latter with a very miniscule chocolate milk. Not that it really matters. Later on- in the course of my eating, I discover something hard in my salad, of all things- like the bits of teeth that I have become accustomed to finding inside my mouth when breaking such while eating. This is a side note, but important to show that I am always under some stress while eating. And that fast food does not always mean good food. Funny about that.

But I digress.

We hoe into our lunches and start to converse right away about this, that and the other when the conversation takes on a more reflective nature. The question is posed: “How do people perceive me?” by one of my lunchmates. And so, thinking this might be a good thing to know about myself, I ask the same. “How do I come across to the people I interact with?” “What do people really think of me?”

I am really curious after all. How DO people perceive me? An honest question, to which I thought I was ready to hear an honest answer.

I have been writing this blog for a while now with the understanding that I am pursing a path that will lead to a more empathic, caring, loving Self- as a teacher, a mother and as a friend among the other hats I wear.   I am also pursuing this path as the direct result of my choosing to do so. In other words, in choosing this path of ethics of care and pedagogies of love- in choosing love as the focus of my life and writing- I then would hope that I exemplify it more and more in my day-to day life.

Interesting theory which I am working out in practical ways.

So I have to say, I was expecting a response something like the following: “Oh Lori, you are so caring and kind and sweet and empathic…” All the things I write about, in other words. I was waiting for my ego to be fed a little bit.

What was actually said surprised me. I don’t know why it did, but possibly because I was so prepared for the former to be spoken that I hadn’t quite readied myself for what was actually to be divulged.

So, with this in mind, I sat posed to hear some really sweet things spoken.

Never have expectations when asking deeply personal reflective responses to questions you have posed. WORD TO THE WISE. At any rate, what was told to me- about how I was perceived and how I come across was this: I often make people feel uncomfortable due to my verbosity or ‘wordiness’- but even more so than that, I am intimidating at times to people, possibly due to my own reflective nature and the questions I pose to myself and others.

But here’s the sting.

It came out in conversation that I am not always caring in my interactions toward others.

Ouch. That did really hurt and I could feel tears immediately welling up in my eyes. Because despite my lack, at times, of being aware of my nature, I am very sensitive and tender. I can cry when the bee stings, the dog bites. And believe me- I can cry for much less than that.

But let me explain.

This week, I have had almost a tunnel vision at times in my focus on the academics and work at hand. So much so that there were times someone would pose a question to me- to which I completely tuned out that question or ignored such in my focus and intent on getting things done. In other words, I was not aware of how I was making people feel all the time. And I was making people feel like I didn’t care merely by my intent on barrelling through and getting the work done.

Hearing this feedback, I won’t lie- hurt me. I felt, as I have already suggested- stung. It is not easy hearing that you’ve been uncaring in your dealings with others- that you’ve been so focused on your own work that you’ve failed to take into account other’s work and questions. Other’s feelings and concerns. But hearing this feedback was also extremely beneficial. I needed to hear this. Because I am now more aware of myself as a friend and a colleague than I otherwise would have been had the question not been posed and answered.

I know more because I asked. Even if it hurt a bit in the hearing.

In doing a thesis on caring and love, I think the most revealing findings I will uncover are that we are not always what we perceive ourselves to be. The challenge is to improve and then rise above our failings and overcome. I would never assume that I have an interest in love and caring because I am an expert in such- I would want people to know that I have an interest in love and caring and all that encompasses because I want to BECOME this. And that act of becoming is a process. One can become something because they have a natural inclination toward being thus or one can become something because they have deliberately, intentionally chosen to be that. I am daily- moment by moment- choosing intentionally to BE what it is I write: a more caring, more understanding, more empathic, more loving person than I was yesterday. Each and every day I live my life as a human being.

It is the act of choosing to be caring that I would hope defines me.

After the conversation, I reflected on what had been said quite a bit and in doing so, I realized a few things about myself:

I am not doomed to be the focused, intense person I was born being- I can evolve into what I want to be by my awareness and consciousness to CHOOSE to be otherwise. I am also not left to feel inadequate by my obvious deficiencies in this aspect of my life because I see my life as a journey. I am moving forward. I would hope that I am more aware today than I was yesterday. And further, I see that my caring has come out even in my questioning: because I truly cared enough to ask the question: How DO people perceive me?

I hope they still might perceive me as one who wants to care. Who cares to care.

As one who cares.

On Being Gentle…

Truth be told, we are all often with people who express deeply felt emotions- strong feelings, irritation. About stuff that bothers them.

Actually, I am that person at times- the person that feels strongly about the way things are going. About what is happening around me. Of course, this is life. We live, we love, we get annoyed. That’s just the way it goes. Take for instance, when I am driving into a parking lot full of occupied spaces. And I am just about to pull into the ONE EMPTY SPOT left in the entire block… when someone sees it at the same time and zooms in ahead of me, taking a spot clearly earmarked for Your’sTruly. That’s just…annoying. Worthy of blowing off a little steam.

Am I right?

Or, how about this. You are attending your child’s concert. You arrive predictable late. You are sitting at the back of the auditorium because the only other spot to sit in is the lobby. In front of you, mothers and fathers hold up cameras a mile high to capture their youngster’s five minutes of fame, thus blocking your view of your own child’s five minutes. Isn’t that just enough to make your nervous system want to blow a blood vessel?

What about this scenario? Little Junior is sitting with his family there in front of you/beside you/directly behind you, and all you can hear in said performance is Junior screeching for COOKIES/CRACKERS/TOYS/WHAAAAAAAATEVER. It’s all so frustrating. Maddening. Irritating. You just want to take Junior and…well, you just want to pull your eardrums out and sit on them.

And then some.

Even as I type out these words, my two youngest are fighting about whose seat should be the closest to the screen. Youngest was there first, so she feels it is her chosen birthright. And she is not going to go down gently (no matter how many times she’s thrown up today with her little stomach virus). Next in Line is reminding her repeatedly that she is being unfair. And she is bellowing about it. Loudly.

It’s all enough to make a mother flush her brain down the toilet and call it a night.

Life is aggravating sometimes. And since life includes PEOPLE, well then: people are exasperating some times.

They try our patience, test our nerves, ruffle our feathers. They step on our toes, infringe our rights, rain on our parade.

People can take your Very Last Nerve and make a number of it. Wringing the life out of that poor little fellow. (The nerve, that is.) Believe me I know. I lost that last nerve a year ago. Bless His Little Heart.

But now that I am forty, I have decided: getting in a dither about everything that happens to me or against me (or even about me) is just not worth it. It is not worth wasting my time on, nor is it even necessary. It’s just not that big of a deal.

Here’s the thing.

Now that I am forty, I have decided there must be a few tricks of the trade to be learned. And I have come to realize that there is always another way around everything that irritates, annoys and bothers me. There is always another way to re-direct our attention so that what we feel is less influenced by our emotions and irritants and more swayed by our heart.

So what I’ve decided to do at forty is this: gradually begin to give myself permission to be gentle. Gentle to myself and those around me. Gentle in my responses. And less inclined to make a mountain out of every molehill. Because life is just too short to fight everything as if it were a raging battle. Life is just too short.

So. The next time I am at a yard sale, and I am JUST ABOUT TO PICK UP THE FIND OF MY LIFE: but someone else reaches out and yanks it away first. I am just going to smile sweetly, breathe slowly and count to ten (envisioning cotton candy and pink roses); and then I will think to myself, “That person needed that ____ more than I did.” End of story. Or, if I am at my daughter’ Grade 6 graduation in a month’s time, and someone holds up their camera/ I-pad/cell phone in front of my view, effectively blocking me from seeing my daughter as she beams with pride, I think I just might try getting up and walking to a better vantage point. Or craning my neck/adjusting my position, whichever works better. Just to be a peacemaker. Just to be creative. Just to save my stomach from developing an ulcer. Just to save my sanity.

Or if my kids start fighting in the van, at the table, in the family room, outside, inside, upside-down. You get the picture. So, when they DO fight…I am going to try to model for them through the events I am involved with in my own little life: to try not to sweat the small stuff.

I know what you are thinking. Haha. But I mean it. I am going to really try this (…just after the movie night is over in my family room where my children are defiantly eating chips on the couch…, I promise…). This is going to take practice, but I plan on starting small. Small steps eventually add up to much ground covered.

So, now that I am forty, I am more interested in attempting:
*Creative solutions than I am in pursuing my own personal rights
*Using my imagination than I am in making a case of everything
*Calming my nervous system rather than jacking it up
*Influencing my children to be peaceful rather than swaying them to be confrontational
*Thinking outside the box rather than staying inside that small box and festering.
*Being aware of my reactions. Which is certainly an all- important first step in the right direction. Even for a forty-year old.

And I want to always keep at the forefront, so that I never fail to remember this fundamental,crucial fact: others find me quite annoying too, by times. So what would I want from them?

Gracious, gentle understanding. The balm that soothes a thousand irritations.

Why I Don’t Have To Be An Expert

On Friday afternoon, I held a Mother’s Day tea in my classroom for all mothers of my current students. And it was a lovely tea for all those who were able to attend. Most of the moms came, along with one grandmother.

When we got to the part of the program where I told them I would be reading some answers to questions that students gave me about their mothers, I heard an audible groan go up from the moms. Of course, there was concern about what their child might have said about them, things said which could inevitably bring embarrassment to the given mother (no matter how cute or adorable it might sound when I wrote it down- word-for-word with the intentions of reading it aloud).
I assured them, in not so many words, that there was nothing to be said that would make anyone want the floor to open up and swallow them alive. Although some of the answers were pretty cute, along with their amateur use of grammar at this age.

Isn’t it interesting how concerning it can be when we know our children have expressed their thoughts about us to someone else.

Today, I was standing next to another young mother and she and I laughed about the fact that we are always wondering how our kids can come up with such flattering, complimentary professions of love for us in their cards and notes when what we really wonder is if we’ve scarred them for life with our constant bellowing and nagging. Not to mention our cranky monologues.

Yesterday, the day before Mother’s Day no less, I had an absolute meltdown regarding Some Children Of Mine who for three consecutive days in a row have left me “surprises” in the toilet and forgot to send them to the undergods at the septic level. I never intended to blow a blood vessel…it just gradually progressed to that point without any real warning to either me or them. In about five minutes flat, I went from concerned, compassionate caregiver to crazed psychopath.

There we are few of us crying and a few of us screaming. And those not doing either of those two things were considering ways in which to prematurely disable their hearing by first blowing a hole in their eardrums.

It was not my finest moment as a mother.

And I have thought a bit over the last twenty-four hours about my meltdown, along with the fact of the matter that I am still an amateur at this gig, even after fourteen years of practice. I still could use a handy manual or helpful little nanny to step in and intervene on those days where I have just “HAD ENOUGH”. Which leads me to my next level of thinking: that we are not mothers because of what we do, necessarily. But rather- mothers because of who we are. Added to that fact is this little bit of encouragement: we are not expected to be perfect at this mothering gig in order to make an impact. In order to be effective. In order for our children to love us.

Because it’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to still be a work in progress. To be a wrecking ball at times.

And I often fall into the trap of thinking that in order to take something on- something as monumental and life-changing and all-important as mothering, I ought to at least be a bit of an expert before I begin. Don’t we all do this at times? And we later fall prone to believe, as time goes on, that the more we do this work of mothering, the better we ought to get at it. So that when we do fail and make mistakes, as we are so prone to do, we are left baffled. Wondering how anyone could ever think of us as competent, let alone wondering how our children could ever come up with so many descriptive words to use in the acrostic poetry entitled M-O-T-H-E-R. Words like…

Mesmerizing, memorable and meek.
Optimistic, out-going and organized.
Tolerant, trustworthy and terrific.
Happy, honorable and helpful.
Energetic, effervescent and enthusiastic.
Role-model, realistic and responsive.

If it were up to me to write my own Mother’s Day card, here is what I might come up with on any given day:

Meanie
Over-worked
Truthful
Honest
Exhausted
Real

I think there is a bit of truth in both lists, tbh.

Because to be honest, moms don’t have to be perfect so as to be the perfect-fit for their kids. They don’t have to be mesmerizing to the exclusion of once in a while being viewed as a meanie. Nor do they have to be either always organized to the point that they don’t consider themselves a wee bit overworked.

We are mothers after all. Not saints.

We can be tolerant while brutally truthful.
Happy while still being honest and true to what we see as the obvious.
We can be the enthusiastic cheerleaders our children need us to be, while inside feeling absolutely exhausted and unable to put two coherent thoughts together.
Responsive and real.
At one and the same time.

The truth is, we don’t have to have our act together- have our ducks always lined up in a row. Mama, we have permission to mess up. We are not perfect.
But we are perfectly right for the children we’ve been blessed to love.
And that is why they love us anyway. And why we joyfully can carry on in spite of it all.
Happy Mother’s Day, all!

For when I am needing a boost…(my own little internal cheerleader)

I am sitting in a rather dry business meeting, biding the time until that wonderful point of the day when the proverbial whistle blows for three o’clock- when a few words of insight, spoken in passing, grab my waning attention. Let’s just say this, to preface this little nugget of wisdom: it is the only complete sound bite I have stored in memory from that particular meeting, so it was quite influential in its impact and delivery.

“No one knows better than you what you do; so take the time to appreciate all you’ve achieved. You are your own greatest cheerleader.”

Interesting, and….yes. There just might be some truth to that statement. At least from a human standpoint.

So, to take this whole little anecdote to the practical, let’s just say that it’s been that kind of a week. I find as the week has been winding down, my positive spirits and vibes have been following suit. Gearing down. And getting jammed up in the process. So much so that by the time Friday afternoon rolled around, I was feeling like my chin was on the floor. I don’t understand how this happens- there have been many, many positives about the week in which to find joy. So very much to celebrate. But sometimes in the midst of great excitement and fervor, there is a depression of spirit. It’s odd how that happens. Really.

So by late Friday afternoon, I kind of felt like I needed a cheerleader in my corner. And I guessed that cheerleader was going to have to be ME, upon hearing those two short little statements.  And why not? Particularly after kind of having a relevatory moment there while sitting in my chair.

Those words were for me.

And as I took those words in and reflected on them there, while sitting only a few rows back and off to the side of where the speaker stood, I realized: how timely they were spoken and how intentionally were they offered. In fact, they were meant to be said. Even if they were spoken for no one else, but for me. Because like others in my same situation (particularly those of us who are semi-martyers for our families and the causes we support), I (we) need to know that I (we) can count on ourselves to cheer us up. In other words, I need to know that I can count on ME to tell me that it’s okay. To tell myself good things. Encouraging things- about my Self. Things said, so as to positively self-talk and thus bolster confidence and esteem for supporting the person I am becoming. For supporting ME.  So, with that being said, here are a few things I am allowing my confident inner self to say to my fragile public self, this week. Things I am planning to say so as to sustain and strengthen and support myself. And I do hope that these statements might also be used by others in need of a little self-pep talk!

1. You are doing a great job at parenting, teaching, working, volunteering, ‘whatever-ing’(feel free to fill in your own blank here): so keep on keeping on! You’re awesome at what you do! Even a little bit of awesome sauce is enough to spice up whatever you’re eating. A little bit of awesome can go a looooooooong way, baby! Dig it!

2. You are a hard worker- you put in 100 % of yourself into what you do. And I know this- because whatever we give is what we have to give that day. It’s our real deal. It’s what we are. We bring our best to the table, each and every day. So if your best today was just barely scraping your chin off the floor- so it is.  And that’s okay. Whatever you are doing is valuable and important. Own it!

3. You are a good mother, good ‘whatever-er’( again, feel free with this one as well). Don’t doubt yourself. The rest of us don’t- why should you?

4. You are a good teacher, worker, employee, et cetera. Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparisons just take valuable time away from you doing your good, important work. Stay focused and don’t let distractions get you down!  Don’t get involved in drama.

5. You are a beautiful person- don’t worry so much. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Beauty is messy, complicated and unique. Your beauty is exactly the right kind of beauty to suit the person you are becoming. Accept it! Embrace it! Enjoy it.

6. You are not the mistakes you make- you are the victories you win. Stop defining yourself by your failures. Besides, mistakes are just opportunities to grow. Lean into them! Let mistakes become moments of opportunity rather than holes that swallow you up.

7. While you are flawed and human, you are also beloved and wholly set apart for a purpose. Look for the sacred in life. Trust the One who holds you close.

8. You are a Child of God. A precious creation. What more can you be but this? What more do you need to be but this? What a position of privilege! What a place of prominence!

9. You do not need affirmation to confirm what you already know: there will never be another you. You are one of a kind! Undeniably, irrevocably special and unique. You are so loved.

10. And because you are loved, love back. Love yourself. And never stop.  And let love spill out so that others are able to be touched ny that love.  Love covers for a multitude of errors.  Love is everything.

And when we know and understand that we are loved in such ways, we have little need for these kinds of pep talks.

Because love has more than made up for whatever we thought might be missing.

Love and joy tonight, my friends!

And when we are unkind…it hurts.

I was shopping a few weeks ago with the girls and happened upon a trendy pair of distressed American Eagle jeans and a white Dri-Fit Nike shirt I thought my son would like. I bought them then kept the purchases tucked away until I thought they might be of use.

Last night, Son announced that his jeans were too small and wondered when the wash would be done (because apparently the only ones that FIT, happened to be in there right then. And I am Chief Washer, for some reason). I thought to myself, “Perfect timing. I’ll go get the new ones I bought and save myself a job.”  And in the process, I thought I would surprise him with a little gift.  And so that’s just what I did. I got the items and laid them down on the floor in front of him in our living room, as he packed up his trombone and back-pack for an overnight band trip the following day.

“Here’s a new pair of jeans for you- and a new shirt too,” I said, trying to sound as non-chalant and uneager as is humanly possible for an uncertain mother of a thirteen year-old boy. Not that I am one of those- but IF I WAS, that’s how I’d appear. I waited edgily for the response, knowing that there might not be a welcome reply.  I had a funny feeling about what was coming next.

“I don’t need them” he tells me. “I already have too many clothes.”

“Okay,” I countered. “I’ll give them to one of your cousins then, for their birthday.” I looked down at the jeans- willing him to just accept them. I waited for another moment, still hoping that this threat of giving them away would make him change his mind. They were an especially nice outfit together, if I did say so myself. And really- I had no immediate plans to give those jeans away. I just was looking for him to accept them. But son wouldn’t budge on his decision: he didn’t want the outfit even when Husband came out to see what the rigamarole (i.e. whole conversation we two were having) was all about.

After a moment or two, Husband decided to enter the fray.

“What’s going on? What’s with the jeans?” he asks us both.

“We’re giving them to someone for their birthday,” says my son. Pointedly rejecting my gift to him on not-so-subtle terms. “I already have too many clothes.”

I try to make him change his mind, recounting to myself that my threat to give the clothes away was obviously a fail. When that didn’t work, I tried another method- matching his reasons for why he doesn’t need this new outfit with my own equally compelling reasons for why he does need them. I even capitalized on the too-small-jeans in the wash thing.  Thinking that might work.

Didn’t matter. He wasn’t moving on this one. And he wasn’t taking the jeans.

I later find the clothes on the floor in the same spot I left them, a signifier that my paltry offering would go unaccepted this night.

And I have to say- it hurt a little.

Sometimes we hurt the ones we love the most. That’s why any discussion on kindness and why it matters must be accompanied by discussions on why sometimes we are not kind. Why sometimes we choose to be abrasive. Hurtful. Rude, even.

Sometimes in our best efforts to be kind to most people we encounter, we forget that the one or two we let off the hook are the very ones that it matters most to. For they are the very ones who need it more. And then, when one is unkind- we on the receiving end must also consider: Why? Why has this one or that one been so unfeeling? So uncaring? Trodden so heavily on our emotions and goodwill?

Why must we be mean to one another? What good does it accomplish?

As a teacher, I am fully aware that even as I preach kindness and love and caring, there are moments that I am none of the above. And those moments when I lose sight of the three- kindness, love and caring- those moments are the very ones that the person on the receiving end of my impatience will use to define me. And they will ask the same questions I have asked above.

Why are you so cruel at times?

And the answer is simply: we are human. We all have our moments of weakness. Moments when we slip into the person we’ve tried to grow out of. The person we see as our less-mature self. All it takes is a moment, and we are back where we’ve begun. Unfortunately, a moment of our day can sometimes break us in two. Taking an otherwise pleasant, enjoyable day and turning it upside down. Both for us and for another.

I had one of those moments today. In fact, I often have those moments. But today, I was cranky at someone for a mistake they made. It was a mistake that ‘put me out’, made more work for me because of it. And I was cranky. Annoyed. And I felt my anger and aggravation rise too quickly to the surface. I felt emotions come to my defense too hastily. And in doing so, I wondered later- what was that like for the One on the receiving end of my quick- temper? And how did they view me- ME? Someone who prides herself on being loving and caring- someone who writes about love every chance she gets. How could I let it all unravel in a moment? What did the person think whom I hurt with my quick temper and sharp words?

One can only hope that the person of whom I speak had some genuine compassion for me. I hope and believe that they would. And I also hope and believe that I would do the same as well- for them. Would do the same for them in the moments that I am slighted.   In the moments when I am offended or put off in both small and large ways by the ones I care about. One would only hope that I too could bring myself to quickly forgive and move on. So that the One who has hurt my rather fragile emotions would not have to suffer at the expense of my ego. At the expense of my pride. My sense of my own self and its importance.

We are all in this together.

And there are moments like I described at the beginning of this post in which I am the one who suffers hurt at the hand of Another’s uncaring moment. But there will be many more moments in this life when it will be I inflicting hurt on another. May it always be said of me that I was quick to forgive- as that is what I certainly desire from others.

But I still ask this one question: why do we hurt one another? Why are we unkind? Why must we say and do things that are unloving? Why must we be so often, uncaring?

My son loves me. This I know. And I love him too. This I believe he understands as well. I tell him so every day. But I also know this: I am his comfort zone. And there are times when that line of intimacy allows for less formality, less expectation. As we all know, our guards are often down with those in our immediate family. We don’t try as hard.  And we often don’t worry about the people closest to us quite so much- their emotions and feelings are not as closely considered as much as might be those of someone outside our comfort zone. Our immediate circle of influence often have to take the brunt of our emotions.

It’s something to think about.  And something to work on.  For sure.

And I feel it is also important to be aware of such each and every day. Important that we be aware of why kindness is important- every moment of every day for everyone. And important to be aware of who kindness affects.  Prudent to keep in mind the effects of missing kindness on our psyche. Our self-esteem and well-being.

For kindness matters. It does.

And when kindness is gone, we all know it. We all feel it. And when it is there, while we sometimes take it for granted, we really do appreciate it. The key is to truly appreciate and value it.  Hold it up as a standard to live by. And then to impress on each other why it matters so much.

Because it does.  It really does.