April 14, 2023

Looking At Our Big Kids, We Still See Our Babies, Too

When I went to my daughter’s senior dance recital a couple years ago, I saw my grown-up dancer. I saw her strong, lovely limbs and her intricate movements. I saw her almost-adult self, moving with confidence and skill across that particular stage for the last time

But I also saw the little girl with bangs and purple glasses in a blue tutu who danced first.

This is how it is, being the parent of older kids: we watch our grown children step into the spotlight and celebrate accomplishments and embrace new seasons, and we take it all in.

But in our mind’s eye, we also see how it all began.

We see them asleep on our couch when they’re home for the weekend or the summer or a holiday…and we also see them asleep in their cribs.

We see them at one of their last check-ups with their pediatrician, legs dangling over the edge of the exam table…and we also see them strapped into their car seat as we carried them in for their first newborn well-check.

We see them wearing clothes close to ours in size…and we also see them wearing tiny onesies and footed sleepers.

We see them dive into the deep end of the pool…and we also see them in beginning swim class, water wings firmly tugged on.

We see them behind the wheel of a car…and we also see them riding their first bike with training wheels.

We see them hit a home run…and we also see them slugging away at t-ball.

We see them laughing with friends at a football game…and we also see them at the park or on the school playground, taking turns on the slide or the climbing wall with other children we hope might become their friends.

We see them play a part or sing a solo…and we also see them in their construction-paper Pilgrim costume, delivering their one line in the class play.

We see them going to prom…and we also see them dancing on our feet in our living room.

We see them standing on a graduation stage in their cap and gown…and we also see them in miniature versions of these, beaming as they grasped their preschool or kindergarten diploma.

We see them walking onto a college campus…and we also see them walking into an elementary school classroom.

We see them stooping down to hug us…and we also see them lifting their arms up to us, wanting to be picked up and carried.

We see them as teachers, artists, mechanics, engineers, fire fighters, nurses, business owners, counselors, cooks…and we also see them playing pretend versions of these, long before "what I want to be when I grow up" became reality.

We see them coming down a wedding aisle…and we also see them dressing up as the bride or groom.

We see them holding their babies in their arms…and we also see them as babes in our arms.

Then, too, we see them in the in-betweens…in the dots that connect the past and present of their lives.

We see them on the nights they couldn’t sleep, when we slept on their bedroom floor in hopes our presence would somehow comfort like an unsung lullaby.

We see them when they took (and failed) their first driving test.

We see them taking a hundred practice swings in the backyard.

We see them taking chances on friendship.

We see them wearing their favorite shirt AGAIN.

We see them at the doctor for emergency stitches after they tipped too far back in their little plastic chair and gashed the back of their head on the fireplace hearth.

We see them smiling proudly the first time they swam all on their own strength (which does not always happen in a pool).

We see them learning their lines and notes.

We see them not being asked to prom.

We see them graduating from sippy cups and booster seats and the children’s menu and the kiddie area at the amusement park.

We see them walking up to someone who looks lonely and easing that loneliness.

We see them lifting us up.

We see them studying and learning how to be…anything.

We see them giving and receiving love.

We see them caring for others.

We see our grown-up babies as they are and as they were, both at the same time. This double vision is one of the profound privileges of parenthood: We know how our children’s stories began, and so we have deeper appreciation for new chapters as they’re written. We turn to fresh pages in their life books — but we still keep a finger in the opening pages, too.

That night, I sat in a darkened auditorium and watched my teenager take a familiar stage for the last time. I saw her as she was in that moment and as she had been a thousand moments that had come before it.

I also saw a glimpse of who she might become. It will be a beautiful sight.

A version of this post first appeared on CollegiateParent.

May 11, 2021

Mom and Dad, I Need You To Love Me Through This

Hey, mom and dad.

I’m sorry I yelled this morning. I’m sorry for what I said. I'm sorry for the way I said it.

I know I’ve been a little hard to live with lately. Or maybe a lot hard.

I know I’m moody.

I know my room is a mess.

I know we disagree a lot.

I know you don’t understand some of the things I do.

I know you don’t always like how I dress.

I know I let you down sometimes.

I know I’m expensive.

I know my schedule runs you ragged.

I know my music doesn’t make sense to you.

I know you’re never sure what version of me you’re going to see on any given morning.

I know it feels like I’m pulling away from you.

I know you don’t know what to expect from me next.

I know I can drive you crazy.

I know you miss the days when I was little and fit on your lap.

I know this is hard for you.

But the thing is, it’s hard for me, too.

Do you remember this kind of hard?

Do you remember not knowing what kind of mood you were going to be in from one hour to the next, let alone one day to the next?

Do you remember feeling like you wanted to cry, laugh, scream, run, sleep, talk, and hide, all at the same time?

Do you remember wondering why you acted the way you did sometimes?

Do you remember feeling like your brain and your body were going two completely different speeds?

Do you remember not being sure if the people who were your friends one day would still be your friends the next?

Do you remember having no idea what you were going to do with the rest of your life even though everybody seemed to expect you to have it all figured out?

Do you remember feeling awkward and ugly and unsure of yourself while everyone else your age acted confident and put-together?

Do you remember wanting to fit in and stand out all at the same time?

Do you remember wanting to be noticed but also wanting to be invisible?

I need you to remember all this. Because I need you to love me through this.

I need you to believe in me even when—especially when—I don’t believe in myself.

I need you to guide me, even when act like I resent that guidance.

I need you to cheer for me.

I need you to trust me.

I need you to make me earn that trust.

I need you to have thick skin.

I need you to have a soft heart that can still give out tough love.

I need you to help my not-fully-cooked brain think further down the road than it would on its own.

I need you to set boundaries.

I need you to let me deal with the consequences of my actions.

I need you to help me pick up the pieces of the consequences of my actions.

I need you to be proud of me, even when I’m ashamed of myself.

I need you to love me even if sometimes you don’t like me.

I need you to remember that I care what you think of me more than I care what anyone else thinks of me, even if I tell you at the top of my lungs I don’t care at all.

I need you to remember that you matter to me—maybe more than anyone else in the world—even if I act like I don’t want anything to do with you.

I need you to remember that I need you.

I need you to remember that I love you.

I know this is asking a lot. I know I’m asking you to give more than you’re getting. I know I’m going to frustrate and fail and disappoint you sometimes along the way.

But when we get to the other side, I also think we’ll know and remember this: we got there together.

A version of this post originally appeared on Her View From Home.

April 12, 2021

My Teenager Taught Me New Ways To Love

I don’t love my children the same way.

At least, I don't if “love” is more often an action than it is a feeling. (And I truly believe that's the case.)

I love—the feeling—both my children fiercely and deeply in equal measure, if a mother’s love is something that can actually be measured.

But I do not love—the action—my children in the same way, because love has to look and sound like something to the person being loved, and my two children see and hear love in different ways.

Not long ago, my teenager taught me some new ways to love.

Loving my first baby through the teenage years did not really prepare me for walking through those years with her younger sister. My older daughter is my pleaser, my child who has me listed as “mommy” on her phone and jokes we won’t have to worry about her coming home for Christmas when she’s an adult because she’s never going to have left in the first place.

My second and last baby is my strong-spirited child who often prefers quick side hugs and who’s called me “mom” for a long time. She’s fascinating and intricate and determined and so insightful. 
She’s a complex puzzle worth putting together and a dance worth every tricky step.

But parenting her has been an intense experience. 

With her, I needed to find ways to love a child I wasn't always sure even liked me. I needed to learn how to give out love that was not always obviously given back.

This was love the choice, the decision, the action, and I had to learn how to do it as I went along.

I learned to still say the words “I love you.” I learned to say them even when I didn't feel like saying them. I learned to say them when they were only returned with a mumbled “love you” as my daughter bolted out of the car in the school drop-off line. I learned to say them when they were not returned or acknowledged at all. I learned to still say them, because no matter what, they were (and are) still true.

I learned to speak love in other languages. I learned to speak it in the dialects of small gifts and acts of service. I spoke it by stocking up on the protein bars my high-schooler took for lunch every day and by washing her dance clothes, babying them along on the gentle cycle and pulling them out of the load before it got thrown into the dryer. And sometimes, I spoke love by forcing myself not to say anything at all.

I learned to show love by showing up. My daughter was stoic and stone-faced and made no eye contact when she filed past me sitting in the stands at her marching band competitions. She did not get out of line to come give me a hug or even say hello when I handed out third-quarter snacks to her bandmates after they played their halftime show.

At her awards ceremonies, there was no option of a photo-op with her smiling proudly, standing between her dad and me and displaying the certificate we added to the collection we'd started in kindergarten. But I kept showing up for those things anyway, because love shows up. I kept showing up because whether or not it mattered to her that I was there, it mattered to me that she knew I was there. And I kept showing up because there is power in presence.

I learned to love by taking what I could get with gratitude. One early morning, when my daughter got in the car for the ride to school, she surprised me by enthusiastically asking, “Did you smell the air? Did you smell the Froot Loops?” (We live near Battle Creek, Mich., the Cereal Capital of the World, where the air some mornings does, in fact, smell like Froot Loops.)

Her question caught me off guard that day because morning conversations were usually limited to me asking when she needed to be picked up and her responding with the fewest number of words necessary for communicating information that would keep her life on track. That day, I could have answered her tersely, as she often did when I ask her about something. I could have reigned in my response in anticipation of being rebuffed. But instead, I made myself take the moment for what it was.

By grace, I matched her enthusiasm and told her, “Yes! I did! Isn’t it great that we live in a place where this is what we get to smell in the mornings?” I learned to receive gifts of interaction and connection as they were offered, not because I was groveling but because I was trying to be grateful.

I learned to love by reinforcing the good. At the last home football game of her last marching band season, my drum line girl was in a familiar funk. Also familiar: I had no idea what the problem was. I asked if she was okay even though the answer was obvious, and she muttered something about a cramp and wandered off. We picked her up at the end of the night, and her ear buds immediately went in as usual, but when we got home and were walking into the house, she said, “Oh, Mom, I wanted to let you know that I did have that weird cramp and I thought the rest of the night was going to be miserable, but I ended up laughing with my friends and having a really good time.”

“I’m so glad to know that,” I told her. “Thank you for telling me.” In that particular season, there was much I wanted from my daughter that I didn't get. So when she gave me something I wanted more of, I learned to put an exclamation point on it.

Loving my incredibly wonderful but sometimes prickly teen was tough sledding at times. Even now, I'm still never quite sure how things are going to play out. But here again—as in all of parenting and, well, in all of life—I have to remind myself that my job is not the outcome; my job is the input.

So I'll remember these lessons from the past and carry them into the present and future. I'll keep trying to learn how to love in new ways. I’ll keep inputting love while I hold fiercely to hope that the outcome will be love received and love given back.

A version of this piece first appeared on Grown and Flown