The Most Undervalued, Never Talked About Quality

I have had over 16 years of education, together my boys have had 31 years of schooling and not once was kindness on the curriculum. I don’t blame the teachers, that wouldn’t be nice, and the job of teaching kids kindness does not fall on teachers alone, but can you imagine if they did talk about it at school? What if instead of bullying we were encouraged to be proactively nice?What if at the end of the year awards we could give a nice award to the child who exemplified the best kind of kindness? Wouldn’t that be something? 

We have to be so careful in this world of disengaging technology, that kindness does not go the way of learning script or Saturday mail. Being kind may be as old as the antiquities but it should not be foreign to our 21st Century Life.

There are more ways to be kind than there are petals on the entire world’s daisy population. There’s smiling, holding open doors, thanking people for their efforts and then the big stuff like philanthropy and service. 

But maybe that’s the problem. Are we leaving being nice to someone else? 

I just finished a wonderful book called Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It is a book targeted for middle school but it should be required reading for everyone. It is about a boy with horrifying facial deformities who goes to school for the first time. It is a really good book, which means it is balanced and plenty so plenty of realistically bad things happen.

But just like in life, there are moments, teachers, surprising friends that reach above the startling look of this boy’s face and they can see the boy beneath the disfigurement.

This book made me feel so good I wanted to share it with you, it seemed like a nice thing to do. And those of you with younger but appropriately aged kids could read it out loud and discuss the very realistic way kids treat each other.

But even if you don’t read the book, let’s all pretend that being nice is important to us. Let’s model it for our children and hold it as high as our standards for honor roll and Varsity letters.

After all, the world needs lots of things, but without kindness, nothing would really matter. And what’s even sillier, is that despite our very different talents, the ability to be nice is universal. Ah, now that’s a nice thought.

Good Resolutions Don’t Happen In January

After years of fighting with my hair, my thighs, and lets face it, my self esteem…I have stumbled not quite accidentally on a better plan for my January resolutions.

Warning…these items won’t be good for the economy (no new gym memberships…hair product and clothes…definitely not shoes

They won’t be on any one’s top ten list, ways to get thinner, smarter, and loose a Jersey accent…

They’re things I wished I would have resolved years ago…resolutions that I could have kept….resolutions that grew my heart instead of shrinking my thighs….

So without further ado…turkey leftovers still pumping enough serotonin to by brain to make me wildly hopeful

Here they are….some of my resolutions

I am going to try to stay in the present. To listen more than I speak, to be more grateful for things than coveting things, to remember that the physical word is full of enough beauty here in the Northwest to remind me of the world’s ultimate goodness, variety and  splendor

When I exercise I am going to enjoy it. No more Richard Simmons, No more Jane Fonda, I’m the slow one in the lane, the beginner in Tai Chi the ambler on the walk…but I am loving every minute of it.

I am going to be thankful for my food, for the ability to cook for my family, scrape those nasty plates, scour those awful pans because somewhere someone is hungry and a Brillo splinter is the least of their problems

I am going to shut up, and to a point, let my teenagers roll their eyes, fight back, make their point, express their naive, no joy opinons and I am going to listen. I know they don’t need to be right. I know they don’t need to be me. I know they just need to practice being themselves.

I am going to try to be a good friend not only to my friends but for opportunities of kindness. A door, a supermarket line, a gas pump,

I am going to go to sleep each night, asking if I can be just one little bit better…because these are resolutions that I know will matter

What My Children Have Taught Me…

I am not done parenting, but I am moving further along on the parenting food chain. Past diapers, past play groups, and past picture books. I now have three boys in high school. These are the some of the things my children have taught me.

1. Parenthood is not ownership.

Sure, we feed them,clothe them and provide them with a safe and hopefully nurturing place to sleep, but we don’t own them. This isn’t as self evident as it sounds. At first they were so dependent on us, how could that not mean that their life’s goal would be to continue making us happy? It isn’t. Even from the beginning, when they woke us from sound sleep, when their diaper exploded over our best outfit, when a public tantrum made you think you would die, even then they were asserting their little spirits and warning us that parenthood is not about pleasure as much it is about the privilege of demonstrating what it is to be a family, what it is to love.

2. Because of number two, they won’t always agree with us.

And sometimes that hurts. But their role was never to please us as much as it was to define who they are. If we are lucky and they are thinking at all, we should celebrate their independence, they will need it to make it in this difficult and confusing world. Our feelings aren’t always that important if you gage it against the nurturing of a totally unique and independent person. Sometimes support and interest is what they need instead of a dogmatic, diatribe on what our thoughts are on a subject. They probably know anyway. Thus all the eye rolling.

3. We can’t fix everything.

That’s just true. This is tricky too. In the beginning we could fix it all. A fussy kid equaled a nap. Crying? How about some food? Not sharing? I’m all over that. But eventually they start to move out of our jurisdiction. They move into the big world that exists outside of your house. They try out for things, they run for school office, they get hurt or sick or disappointed. And there is nothing we can do but support them. Support, not fix. Listen to them, wipe up their tears, give a hug, let them know that we know they will survive. That lesson is golden. I wish I had known that earlier in my mothering career. All of us would have been a lot more relaxed about things.

4. They are spectacular.

They are. If we can stand back and allow them the space to become themselves we will be in awe. They are sweet, and kind, and surprising unique individuals.

5. Love.

I’m not sure there is anything that rivals of the love you feel for a child. Unconditional, unfailing, unrelenting love. It is independent of their actions, independent of their achievements, independent of everything except that they are yours. And that is why on even a bad day, I am happy. Because my heart has been opened in ways that I never could have imagined.

Never Jump Out Of A Moving Car…

Maybe this advice sounds obvious. Maybe it’s self evident like not smoking, or not eating that fourth doughnut, but sometimes life turns even the obvious on it’s head.

We were sitting at a red light on my children’s first day of school in the Pacific Northwest when the decision to throw my body under the next moving car suddenly seemed preferable to hearing my precious boys say one more horrible thing about our giant move from New Orleans post Katrina.

Really I couldn’t take it. I had spent our summer impersonating an insane Public TV children’s show host. I kept those boys so busy that they hadn’t even realized that they had moved until that first day of school, when suddenly the truth and finality of the move hit them with force a Thomas The Tank Engine full of coal. No friends. New teachers. No friends. New classrooms. No friends.

You get it.

They weren’t plastic little action figures that I could bend into happy little boys. They were sad. My oldest was in sixth grade, the middle guy was entering fifth and the youngest was just beginning second grade. Starbucks and a visit to the Space Needle wasn’t going to change anything. Their comments hurt. Their words scoured my soul.

Yes we had moved because my husband and I had essentially lost our jobs. Yes we had moved because my East coast husband didn’t think he could survive one more evacuation. Yes, as parents, we were trying to do our absolute best for our family.

On that day it didn’t matter. No friends trumps idealistic parental gibberish every time. The boys cued up as if they were standing in the world’s saddest complaint line. The oldest went first. He hated it. He hated the school, the bathrooms, the social hall, the gym equipment, the particles of air and the water. I thought he had covered it all, but then my sweet, sensible middle child chimed in. That’s when I heard my heart break as if it was nothing more than a discarded egg. His sadness was quieter which made it even more poignant.

That’s when I fantasized about throwing myself under the next car. I peeked into the back mirror. Sad face, sad face, sad face in a car seat. Oh Lord I just couldn’t take anymore. I had subjected them to this. Every doubt I ever had bubbled loudly in my ears. “We shouldn’t have moved. Moving was bad for the boys. I’m a terrible parent.”

The light changed. I felt my car go forward. My little one started to speak. I felt my fingers clutch the steering wheel. I braced myself for the worst.

“Mom,” he said a lisp that was still part Hawaiin where he was born and partially southern, “Is my name Thomas?”

To this day I will never know whether it was laughter or relief that restored me to sanity, but it didn’t matter. It turned out that the worst crime I had committed was not informing my darling second grader that his name was indeed Thomas. I could live with that. I kind of loved it. This child was so splendid he was destined to go by a million names. So what if I had left one out?

The air in the car became easier to breathe. We got home safely where cookies and milk soothed little boy souls and fortified strong, young hearts. We could all face another day, we just had to find the right name for it. I decided on hopeful. And that’s what saved me from throwing myself out of a moving car.

Attachment Parenting? Are You Kidding Me? Are Toddlers The New Nipple Accessory?

Really?

I was away the week that the Time magazine came to my house with a picture of a child, who looked like he was close to shaving, attached to the nipple of his stylish, gorgeous mother. I had spent four bucolic, hedonistic days away from the wonderful mixed up gumbo of motherhood. I was with my girlfriends. And it was Mother’s Day weekend.

When I entered the portal of my home, back to the unwashed, pimply faces of my teenagers, back to the monument of laundry that grew every day like mitosis cycle cells, I got a kiss from my husband and he showed me the cover of Time Magazine.
“Welcome back,” he said. “Look at this.”

I almost got back in my car and returned to the less threatening, simpler life I had just returned from.

I couldn’t read the article. And not because I didn’t think it would be interesting, valid, or well written.

I couldn’t read the article because I am frankly sick of being told what comprises adequate, acceptable, or perfect motherhood.

When did this get so complicated people? Did the cavemen paint pictures of mothers breast feeding toddlers? Did they obsess about helicoptering or were they preoccupied with the concept that another clan might be mothering better than them? The French cavemen perhaps?

Ooh, la, la.

If you are reading this, you probably are a mother. Or maybe you have a mother. And maybe you understand that she wasn’t perfect, you aren’t perfect and you don’t expect your sons and daughters to be perfect. Maybe you understand that breast feeding is not magic, bottle feeding is not vile, and that there is no hidden formula that you must learn to be a successful mother, person, son or daughter.

Or maybe not. Maybe you are part of our 21st Century where the internet has made things so easy that easy things like loving our children must appear complicated, beyond us, and impossible. We live in a society where publishers are making oodles of money by terrorizing us with articles that infer that we don’t have a clue about how to parent. The Tiger Mom, The Helicopter Mom, The French Mom? Are you any of these? Should you be afraid?

Please. The person we need to listen to about mothering is ourselves. Do you really think you need a book, article, or method to tell you when, or how often to hug your child? Do you think that breast feeding them will do something that loving them in the best way you can won’t?

The problem isn’t following someone else’s rules. The problem is shutting off the computer, closing the articles, and books and just going outside and letting our children teach us how to love them. Children inherently know how to love. They know how to play. They know how to connect. Adults are the ones whose scars, intellect, neurosis complicate things.

If your intention is to love, believe me, you are a perfect parent. Not perfect, but perfectly capable. Yes you will screw up, not listen, be preoccupied, do stupid things, but if you keep resetting that intention to love, I promise you that you will be just fine.

Have a great day. You deserve it. After all, you may be someone’s mother, or son, or daughter and that’s good enough for me.