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Parenting: This Sh*t Is Hard

September 19, 2017

 

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Parenthood: the most rewarding, important, maddening, joyful, frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating, tedious, frenetic, terrifying job in the world.  And despite troves of parenting books and an abundance of (often unsolicited) advice, the truth is that when you’re in the thick of it, most of that goes out the window.  Parenting in person is a whole lot trickier than parenting on paper.

I should know.  After all, I am an “expert.”  I have a degree in child development, a career spent providing support and education for parents and running child care centers and preschools, and enough continuing education to justify a second degree.

And yet…sometimes I flat out suck at this parenting gig.  Not “forgot to pack a vegetable in my kid’s lunch” suck.  No, we’re talking “completely lost my mind and screamed at my teenager in the midst of a fight” suck.  Serious suckage.

Y’all, there ain’t no guilt like sucky parenting guilt.  It makes all other guilt feel wildly inferior.  That other guilt wants to be parenting guilt when it grows up.  It’s epic.  

So how could someone with my education, my experience, my expertise have moments when she completely fails as a mom?  I don’t have an excuse, but I do have an explanation: this shit is (in my professional opinion) hard.  It’s hard to have a job with no quitting time, no vacation days, no sick days, no lunch breaks, no training manual.  It’s hard to parent when you’re tired, or sick, or stressed, or sad, or distracted.  It’s hard to keep your cool when your child is testing limits, pushing buttons, acting out.  It’s hard to say and do the right thing ALL. THE DAMN. TIME.

The fact is, no one is going to parent perfectly.  We are imperfect people raising imperfect children in an imperfect world.  So how do we deal with those moments when we feel like we’re screwing everything up?  How do we live with the guilt of knowing we parented wrong? 

We own it.

Our children need us to.  They need to know that we make mistakes.  That we learn from them.  That we apologize for them.  They need to hear us say, “I screwed up and I’m sorry.”  They need us to listen when they tell us how it made them feel.  They need to know that we love them so fiercely and so completely that nothing could ever change that.  And hugs help.  A lot.

A few nights ago my teenage son and I got into an argument.  Honestly, this doesn’t happen very often and I know I’m lucky to have a teenager who makes parenting him pretty darn easy most of the time.  But this was a doozy.  It got heated, we both said things we shouldn’t have, our voices raised, our words barbed.  I lost control of my adult-ing and allowed myself to react like I was a teenager, too.  And (duh) that escalated the situation.

But in the middle of that unhealthy exchange, I suddenly saw through the veil of my son’s anger and realized what was in his eyes:  pain.  Pain that took my breath away and made me quiet my voice and soften my heart.  I paused and saw what he was feeling and realized that I was, in large part, the cause of it.  My heart broke, but in the breaking light found its way in and illuminated the core of my motherhood.

I took him in my arms and we both sobbed.  We sat down on his bed together and talked. We apologized.  We shared.  We sought to understand each other.  We worked it out…together.

It was horrible and wonderful and heartbreaking and healing.  It was parenthood in all its messy glory.  It was a low and a high all wrapped up in one opportunity to become a better parent.

Isn’t that the goal, after all?  To become better at this?  Parenting is complicated.  It’s challenging.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But isn’t that true of anything worth having?

I still feel guilt.  I still remember every instance over the past sixteen years when I could have handled a situation differently, when I could have shown more patience, been kinder.  I’m a work in progress as a human and as a mama.  But like I told my son the other night, there’s no one in this world who could love these kids harder.  Parenting them is a privilege and an honor, and the lessons they teach me are the toughest and most important ones I will ever learn.  It may require a lifetime of on-the-job continuing education, but I’ll keep taking notes in my heart and giving it my best shot.

And saving up for therapy, just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Prepare For Your New Puppy: A Helpful Checklist

September 7, 2017

 

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  1. Set your alarm to go off every few hours around the clock.  Each time it goes off, head outside and stand in your yard whispering, “PLEASE go potty” every ten seconds for approximately ten minutes.  Head back inside and wait five minutes, then pour lemonade on the carpet and clean it up.  Repeat.
  2. Pile up all your favorite shoes, then randomly grab at least ten individual shoes and throw them in the trash.  Set fire to the rest.
  3. Take a metal chain to the legs of all your nice furniture.  Convince yourself you like the weathered look.
  4. Obtain a recording of high pitched yipping and whimpering.  Play at bedtime, set on repeat throughout the night.  Sleep well!
  5. Have a serious conversation with your children about shared family responsibilities, solemnly accepting their promises of how they will help out with the new puppy.  Now laugh and laugh, realizing this conversation is a joke and you will be doing EVERYTHING.
  6. Save up thousands of dollars.  Seal the money in an envelope and drop it off in your nearest veterinary office’s mailbox.  Repeat at least annually for the next fifteen or so years.

(Okay.  You’re almost ready.  But this next part is crucial, so pay attention!)

7.  Imagine the feeling you get from warm sunshine on your face, the softest cashmere blanket wrapped around you, hugs from your favorite person.  Prepare yourself for unconditional love and complete devotion.  Visualize coming home from a hard day and being welcomed with utter joy and relentless affection.  Think about silky fur, wet noses, puppy breath, sweet snuggles.  Realize that life is so much better when you share it with a furry friend, no matter how many rugs she ruins.

There.

NOW you’re ready.

Beyond the Birds and the Bees

August 30, 2017

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Let’s talk about sex.  Got your attention?  Good.  Because I guarantee it has your teenager’s attention.

I’m sure by now we’ve all had some semblance of The Talk with our pre-teen and teenage kids.  And many of us have also had the benefit of additional sex education for our children through schools, churches, or other institutions of learning to fall back on.  We probably feel fairly confident that they understand the basics of what their bodies go through and the mechanics of how those parts fit together in the appropriate context.

I remember asking our son who he wanted to have The Talk with, me or his dad.  His response?  “You, Mom.  Dad uses all these weird metaphors.”  And so I did.  In detail.  I explained everything he would likely be experiencing and feeling and eventually doing.  I wanted him to understand that all of it was perfectly natural and normal and that if he had questions we would be here to answer them.  We giggled a few times, but we got through it.

But that isn’t enough.  Because our kids are also learning from other sources, ones that may not view things the same way we would like our children to: friends, media, the internet.  Information and images our generations whispered about at sleepovers and sneaked peeks at from the pages of a stolen Playboy have evolved into a steady stream of graphic feedback available at the click of a search engine.

While researchers have been largely unable to identify a causal relationship because viewing online pornography and risky sexual behavior in teens, it stands to reason that children and teens who view online pornography during a time when their sexual identities are being formed may develop unhealthy, unrealistic expectations of sex as well as bogus ideas about gender roles and body image.  So how can we, as parents, counteract this?

The obvious answer is to restrict internet usage: limiting computer and phone usage to shared family areas in the home, installing parental controls, setting rules for how and when children can access the internet.  But relying solely on this approach fails to take into account the fact that homes our children visit may not have these same boundaries in place.  It doesn’t address the reality that children and teenagers will share information with one another and discuss things they’ve seen and heard.

Given these factors, experts recommend starting conversations early with children as young as four and five-years old about equality and respect.  Teaching children to honor personal space, to treat others with respect, and to respect their own bodies lays the foundation for a lifetime of positive interactions and healthy sexual attitudes.

When we begin to talk about sex and relationships with older children, we can expand beyond the physical actualities and discuss intimacy and the importance of mutual respect and consent.  By doing so we can help our children and teens filter information through a lens of understanding that allows them to differentiate between fiction and reality, to place what they see and hear in the context of what we’ve taught them about relationships.

We also need to have conversations about the “What Ifs.” The more we arm our kids with knowledge and give them opportunities to plan in advance for situations they may encounter, the more likely they are to make wise choices.  About how to avoid being in positions where they could end up harmed or falsely accused.  About how to handle it if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  About how to respond if they witness someone doing something unsafe or unkind to someone else.  About what is appropriate to text or Snapchat or photograph in general.

Perhaps most importantly, we can show them what healthy, loving relationships look like.  After all, we can talk until we’re blue in the face but what we do will always have more impact than what we say.  By demonstrating respect towards our partners and fostering a climate of open communication with our children, we are setting the tone for their future relationships.  The way we talk about and treat the opposite sex sets an example for how our children may do the same.  The manner in which we treat matters of consent and show respect towards our own bodies also guides them in how they interact with others and how they view themselves.

We have a responsibility as parents to foster healthy habits and attitudes in our children.   The world we now live in can make that incredibly challenging.  Raising children in a digital age of social media and easy access to information is often a daunting task.  But if we encourage our children from an early age to communicate with us without fear of judgement or recrimination, and if we model appropriate behavior and initiate dialogue that frames sex in the context of loving, mature relationships, we can help them navigate these choppy waters.

We just may need a bigger boat than previous generations.

 

For Better or For Worse

August 29, 2017

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In the car today I heard Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”, because sometimes I’m fancy and listen to classical music.  Inevitably when I hear this song I’m transported back to our wedding day, and my walk down the aisle towards Brian.  Memories of that day nearly twenty years ago come rushing back.  .

Did I realize then what I was walking towards?  Sure, I knew I was walking towards my future, my soon-to-be husband.  But I didn’t truly understand what else I was walking towards.

I was walking towards the reality of “for better or for worse.”  Towards childish early fights that ended with Brian kicking a hole in a colander, me denting a wall with a remote control.  Towards nights of tears and heartbreak, of falling apart and gluing ourselves back together as a couple using nothing but the sticky residue of commitment.

I was walking towards the messy blending of families, the sometimes ugly compromising of holidays, the experimental creating of new traditions.  Towards a tiny duplex where we practiced this new act called “marriage”, where we cooked and cleaned and mowed and laundered together, feeling our way towards our new roles with nothing but our limited experience to guide us.  Towards strained times when we both wondered if we’d made a mistake, if we’d sown enough wild oats, if we’d be strong enough to survive temptations and pressures and each other.  

I was walking towards moments of frightening apathy, days of unrelenting resentment, seasons of missed connections and miscommunications.  Towards the weight of shared financial burdens, the shocking upheaval of parenthood, the union of differing opinions and passions.

But I was also walking towards joy.  I was walking towards the tender coming together of two souls in one crazy world.  Towards endless possibilities and rich discoveries.  Towards so.  Much.  Love.  

I was walking towards the reward of deep commitment, the highs that followed the lows, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that came from overcoming challenges together, as partners in life.  Towards gentle mornings that followed tumultuous nights, towards true appreciation of the gift we’d been given in each other.

I was walking towards family.  Towards the miracle of creating life together, the discovery of these tiny humans we were gifted with. Towards a life that would reward us with immeasurable blessings.

I was walking towards US.  So looking back, if I’d known then what I know now, would I have chosen to take that same walk down the aisle toward marriage, with all its flaws and failings?  No, honestly, I wouldn’t.

I would have kicked off my heels and ran toward it.  

 

For B: Peas and carrots, baby.  It’s been one hell of a ride.

Some Body To Love

June 20, 2017

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In the world of online fitness inspiration, there are endless memes and quotes designed to light your fitness fire and encourage you to crush your goals.  Do a quick search on Pinterest and you’ll be flooded with images of fitness models and words of encouragement like, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”  (BULLSHIT. Cake pops do.)

I tend to find most of these forgettable or even downright offensive, but one does stand out to me: “It’s hard to feel bad about a body you’re taking care of.”  This, to me, is the message we should all hear when we find ourselves comparing our abs to the ones on magazine covers.  It’s the message we should be modeling for (not just saying to) our daughters.

If we are truly caring for our bodies, treating them in ways that they deserve to be treated, how can we possibly feel bad about them?  If we are loving them enough to be good to them, we should love them enough to appreciate them.

I intentionally remind myself of this every time I take my daughter to the swimming pool.  Sure, I could look around at some of the (seemingly) flawless moms with their flat stomachs and cellulite-free skin and want to hide under my towel.  I could compare my body to what it was before kids, before forty, before I’d really lived.  

Or I can consciously choose to feel good about the fact that I’m doing the best I can to keep my body strong and healthy.  I can think about how hard I work at the gym, how I fuel my body with healthy foods, how I try to get good sleep and plenty of fresh air, how I always wear sunscreen and seatbelts, and how I continue to move my body in new and different ways to see what it’s capable of.

I can recognize that while I may not be 100% happy with the way my body looks, I can still be comfortable in my own skin and know that I’m on the right track to being the best me I can be.  I can focus on what it can do, not just on how it fits into a swimsuit.  This body of mine has done some pretty amazing things in its time.  It has grown two healthy children, given birth without pain meds, climbed mountains, danced with wild abandon, jumped in ocean waves, trekked through forests, bounced back from injuries, provided comfort to grieving loved ones in its arms…this body is a badass.

I want my daughter to remember me playing in the pool with her, not hiding in a cover-up on a chair.  I want my son to see that women can be confident in themselves, that the human body is nothing to be ashamed of.  I want my husband to feel that I’m doing my part to make sure we get to live a long, healthy life together.  Hell, I want those moms at the pool with the flat tummies to look at me and feel even better about themselves.  And I want the teenage girls at the pool, the ones who may feel self conscious next to their friends, to see this mama splashing around in a bikini that shows all her flaws and think, “If she can do it, so can I.”

So yeah, I could look back at photos of myself in my twenties, I could compare myself to the other moms at the pool, I could believe my eyes when I see the airbrushed beauties on magazine covers.  But I’d rather celebrate WITH those other moms, be triumphant in our shared accomplishments.  Sure, I could squint really hard in the mirror and pretend my stomach is harder, my skin is smoother, my thighs are thinner.  But instead I think I’ll just smile and fist bump that reflection (not too hard, though, because OUCH).

See the thing is, that body in the mirror?  The one with wrinkles and dimples and gravity working against her?  It’s mine.  It’s the only one I get.

Hate on it?  Hell no, I’m gonna worship it.

Dear Mom Friends

April 25, 2017

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Dear Mom Friends,

I miss you.  I miss huddling around the kitchen island while our kids play in the back yard.  I miss connecting at the park with our littles and catching up on life.  I miss meeting up for a drink or coffee by ourselves.  I miss double date nights with our hubbies.  I miss US. 

What happened??  Busy happened.  Those little ones whose schedules we managed now manage ours.  Babies who happily played on blankets and preschoolers who had nothing on their agendas but snack time became pre-teens and high schoolers with sports and dance and theater and homework and places to be.  

Now we’re lucky if we have friends whose kiddos are on the same team so we can actually see each other.  We spend every evening and weekend dropping kids off, picking them up, sitting on bleachers, cheering them on…this phase of parenthood is all consuming in a whole new way.  

For the past twelve years or so I’ve belonged to a book club.  I was the eighth and final member and we met religiously every month to discuss books (which most of us actually read) and more importantly, to discuss life.  Naturally with eight members, we weren’t always able to get everyone in one place at the same time, but we committed to trying.  And we did a pretty darn good job.  Through the years we laughed with each other, cried with each other, supported each other and counseled each other.  And it felt real and important to come together.

Nowadays we’re lucky if one of us even remembers what week we’re supposed to meet, much less what book we’re supposed to read.  If three of us manage to get together and one of us has at least opened the book, we call it a good month.  Between baseball games, volleyball tournaments, dance competitions, and gymnastics meets, our circle has been, at least temporarily, broken.  

I have dear, close friends who live in the same city, friends who I would take a bullet for…and who I haven’t seen in nearly a year.  Time seems to fold in on itself and suddenly it’s been six months and all we have to show for it are texts and Facebook messages.  And it makes me sad.

I miss you, my friends.  And I feel torn…on the one hand, I know this phase won’t last forever.  But I don’t want it to pass, either, because that will mean our babies have grown.  So I embrace the chaos.  I put on my mom pants (yoga, natch) and fill up my gas tank.  I’ve got lessons to drive to, recitals to attend, meets to cheerlead at.  I’ve got kids to support, just like you do.  

But it doesn’t mean I don’t wish for just an hour of conversation on the deck, wine in hand and words spilling out.  I promise, I’m saving you a spot.  

XOXO,

Ash

Days Like These

March 28, 2017

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Today has been one of those days.  Maybe it was the culmination of too many recent reminders about mortality, combined with a few feverish days spent in bed, mixed with an abundance of clouds…and possibly some lingering basketball issues (don’t judge).  Whatever the reason, today I felt myself surrendering to the gray.

I woke up with the same tension headache I went to bed with.  I hadn’t slept well with my husband out of town, and all I wanted was one more hour of shut eye.  My mood edged precariously toward grumpy, but I was able to manhandle it temporarily and get both kiddos out the door with hugs and smiles (yay me).

Then on the way to drop off my daughter, it suddenly hit me that the school year was winding down.  I found myself tearing up at a stoplight thinking about how quickly the next two school years will pass.  You see, two school years is all that I have left before The Next Chapter.  Before my firstborn graduates high school and heads off to college.  Before my baby finishes grade school and moves up to middle school.  Two.  Years.  Given that the past two years have felt approximately 17 days long, I naturally have some concerns.

I managed to stuff that train of thought into one of the super handy boxes I keep in my brain for just that purpose.  (I’m exceedingly good at packing things away in those, sometimes even when I shouldn’t.  Scarlett O’Hara and I have way too much in common.)  The gym was calling but I couldn’t answer over the incredibly naughty words my neck and head were screaming at me, so I returned home and downed an ill advised number of ibuprofen chased by an unfortunate amount of coffee.

Next on my agenda was a visit to my dear friend, E.  E is a hospice patient I spend time with through a volunteer program, and she lives quite a ways out in the country.  During my drive, I found myself scanning through music until I hit on a song that fit my mindset.  Rather than fight it, I decided to dance with it.  But I was going to pick the tunes.

This wasn’t a full-blown black mood, the kind that knocks you down like a rogue wave.  This was rather one of those feelings made up equally of pain and pleasure, like teenage heartbreak.  It called for a healthy bit of wallowing, of embracing the gray.  This is always a delicate balance for me, as I can easily slip and find myself letting the darkness call the shots, but today I was in charge.  If I wanted to hear Bono wail about all he wanted, or sing along with The White Buffalo about ravens and kings, damnit, I would.

When I arrived at E’s, she welcomed me with a long hug and a warm smile.  Our conversation meandered through time as it always does, jumping back to her childhood and forward to the recent past and folding in on itself many times.  Our visits are always bittersweet given the nature of her age and diagnosis, but today felt especially so.  My thoughts turned yet again to the swift passage of time, and to the evolution of family.  The sweet is that there are people in our lives who make us wish we had more time; the bitter is that we never have enough.  When we said our goodbyes I held on a bit longer than usual.

When I think about it, maybe that’s what days like this are all about.  Perhaps we need the gray to make us grateful when the sunshine comes.  Perhaps we need to reflect on loss in order to appreciate what can be taken away.  Maybe knowing we’ll eventually have to let go makes us hold on a bit tighter while we can.  The human experience means loving people and losing them in a million different ways.  It means feeling lost and heartbroken and angry and confused, but it also means feeling joyful and understood and so very much alive.

So I’ll embrace this day, and any more the universe has to offer.  It may be gray but it’s mine to live, in all its exquisite melancholy and awesome grace.  And with a pretty kickass soundtrack if I have anything to say about it.

Yours In Grace,

Ashley