To The Domestic Violence Survivors I Work With: About Your Children

I volunteer for the domestic violence organization you are brave enough to seek safety and assistance from.

We are acquaintances at best. Perhaps we’ve exchanged pleasantries in the common area after a session, but I don’t like to chat or linger too long out of respect for your privacy. When I visit the shelter, you often leave before I arrive.

My job is to care for your young sons and daughters so you may have a few uninterrupted hours to do what you need to do to move forward.

Since little ones aren’t armed with the emotional maturity and language to understand, let alone navigate trauma, I brace myself before each appointment. As an unknown adult in a position of authority, I show up expected to be tested with tantrums, outbursts and physical displays of anger.

Like you, I’m a parent. A mom who wonders how my boys conduct themselves and interact with others anytime I release them into the world. With this in mind, here are 5 observations I’ve made about your children.

Each one is remarkably capable. A preschool aged boy insists on opening his own snack wrapper. Another wants to search for parts to build a Lego tower without guidance from a grown up. A third takes the initiative to find and put on his own jacket, zip and bundle up. The phrase, “I can do it by myself” is prevalent.

They take care of one another, especially the siblings. A toddler with few words makes sure his older sister has a hat before going out to play. A big brother unties a knot in his younger brother’s necklace string. Their instinct is to help and protect.

The children are kind. A brother encourages his sister to ride the tunnel slide for the first time and waits so they can go together. A school-aged girl teaches a cranky toddler how to fold a paper airplane to distract him from his tired mood. A little brother lets his older sibling try out his new rubber snake. They lean toward what is positive and good.

They are loving. A young girl reaches out to hold my hand as we walk to the lunch table and asks me to rest beside her on a bench to watch the clouds. They talk about you with adoration and beam the moment they know you’re close enough to accept a knee high squeeze.

And filled with joy with every pump “to the moon” on the swings, every giggle as they cook up an invisible order of hamburger and fries, bounce and roll of a deflated basketball and stomp in a dwindling mound of crunchy snow. Amid the pain, your children’s default emotion is happiness.

Motherhood is challenging enough under less strenuous and terrifying circumstances. I respect your strength, determination and resilience. You are a survivor. Your children are survivors.

As you all continue to regain power and heal, please know I am here. Consider me part the village.

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Picture Perfect Moments

The mother trailed behind her two girls down the lighthouse pier to the end where the bay empties into the Atlantic. Along the way, she watched her young daughters snap picture after picture on their smart phones. It didn’t take long for her to catch up. “You don’t have to take a picture of everything,” she declared. “Try and enjoy the moment.”

Mac, who was helping our boys and me collect rocks from the jetty below, heard the parent’s battle cry. He popped up from his hard labor, flashed a knowing grin and cheered, “Yes! Listen to your mother!”

The mom gave a half turn and returned the smirk. I couldn’t tell if she felt validated or violated. But as they moseyed away, I did hear her repeat the words – a little louder the second time.

I told Mac to mind his business, but couldn’t resist a response. “And here I thought I was the only one.”

Put down the phone flashes through my consciousness anytime I see it being used to record our every waking event. I think it to strangers and say it to our children and myself.

The televised parade of athletes during the Olympics’ opening ceremony, a tradition I’ve enjoyed since I was a girl seemed stained this year when several nations, in an effort to memorialize their experience, marched into the stadium accompanied by a blur of glowing screens held as high as the country’s flag.

This summer, family members designated Bubbe, “Spielberg”. He borrowed a defunct phone with a working camera to document a trip he took out west with his grandparents. It was the first time he had his hands on a device dubbed as his own and boy, did he go to town. Although it was great to see my son tap into the creative spirit, the child had a hard time letting go so much so that my in-laws sent me videos of him shooting videos.

I become engrossed with moment capturing too. Smart phones make the process sexy, easy and instant. Thanks to modern technology, I have a bulging photo folder of every cheeky smile, wave jump and sand marble run of our annual beach vacation since Bubbe and Skootch were small.

But there’s something satisfying about taking it all in. When swiping through the most flattering filter becomes a nuisance, I shut down the phone and keep my fingers crossed I’ll be able to recall the drippy ice cream faces, bike rides and hole-in-ones after the boys are grown.

I consider such restraint a generational skill. Unlike my children and the girls on the pier, their mom and I grew up in a low tech world; cameras had film, movie equipment was bulky, quality was a risk and we had to wait weeks to see the results. Even well into adulthood, camera viewfinders were small. We had no choice but to absorb the sights, sounds and smells; breathe, wonder and have the experience. And decades later, it’s those undocumented memories I return to when it’s quiet.

Had I stored those memories on the cloud, would I still consider them cherished moments?

If Mac had his choice, our family would implement a no picture taking policy. I prefer a balanced approach. We’ll continue to ban Bubbe and Skootch from tablets and phones while on vacation. If Spielberg gets inspired, he can borrow my camera. And I’ll still quick draw the iPhone when I get inspired by a pretty setting, Mac’s Dangerfield-esque antics and our growing sons.

At the same time, I’ll encourage the boys to join the parade, follow the drifting clouds as they take shape in the summer’s breeze and teach them that the picture perfect moments are not the ones they swipe click, caption and share; but the ones only they can see.

DENIS IAN SAID WHAT?…Mind Time

Denis Ian is a father, grandfather and education activist. He does not appear have his own blog, but I’ve read his piece on 4 different ones so far. And it’s a keeper.

Here are Denis’s thoughts about hurrying up, slowing down, the value of time and the expectations we have for children and ourselves with each passing year.

I’m already anxious about what to expect from Bubbe, Skootch and myself as we start to gear up for September. So thank you, Dennis for this beautiful math lesson.

Kindness Blog

I’m an old father now. Suddenly it seems.

My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt.

I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.

When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.

So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs…

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STACEY WILK SAID WHAT?…I Told You So

Courtesy: Flicr Creative Commons

Courtesy: Flicr Creative Commons

Bigger kids. Bigger problems. Can’t wait.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll dye my hair blue; with Stacey’s permission, of course.

Stacey Wilk - Author

finger pointingCourtesy of Flicr Creative Commons

I told you so!” 

Don’t you just want to say nah, nah, na, booby when someone says that to you? Of course you do. I do. So, you must too. It’s that awful moment when you know you’ve made a mistake and some other person thinks they’re smarter or better than you and is about to point out that ugly truth. Go ahead and say nah, nah, na, booby to me. Go ahead. ‘Cause I’m about to say, “I TOLD YOU SO” to you.

Well, not all of you. Just a few (what few? Tons) of you who told me to let Noodge 2 die her hair blue. Do you remember that conversation? If not, or if you missed our discussion, you can check it out here and get up to speed.

About a week or two ago I was in the car with…

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RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…On The Birthday of My Oldest Child

Jan’s insightful and beautiful philosophy about motherhood leaves me torn.

My head tells me to raise independent children who grow up to “love other people more than me,” but my selfish heart tugs in the other direction. I struggle with the “letting go” part of parenthood. I cry at milestones and do too much for Bubbe and Skootch every day in between.

Come to think of it, such ambivalence probably explains why I still make my 10 year-old’s bed and wipe my 6 year-old’s backside.

Aah, the conundrum that is a mother’s love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Red's Wrap

IMG_4065I was never one of those moms who grieved their kids growing up. I thought it was great.

I didn’t want them to be babies forever. Or to be toddling around the house indefinitely. I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines of wet soccer fields with a cold cup of coffee watching confused kids kick the ball to each other on Saturday mornings that seemed to last for months. I liked being the mother of little kids but only because of its impermanence.

I love that my kids are grown up. And I say that without the least bit of angst.

Oh, I look back and I remember them as little kids. How I carried them everywhere, how I stroked their cheeks to calm them, laid on the couch with their little selves asleep on my chest, sang to them songs I made up and that no one else…

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Let Him Be Late

Walking to school

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Late is something I am not.

Not to meetings or meet ups.  Count on me to help the host kick off her party or the coach unlock the gym door.  In the words of my grandmother, “Five minutes early is on time.”

Then I gave birth to Bubbe who arrived one week late and after two hours of pushing.  A little guy who stopped to collect pebbles from the sidewalk, admire makeshift rivers on a rainy day, and construct block towers when he was supposed to be eating breakfast, Bubbe’s dawdling challenged my timely tendencies.

The slow approach appeared to stem from his developmental delays.  As a toddler and preschooler, Bubbe worked regularly with speech, occupational and physical therapists.  He and I did much schlepping to services during the early years.

To ensure my son got what he needed when he needed it, I planned our schedule around his clock.  I laid out clothes, organized the diaper bag, and packed snacks hours in advance.  I set timers, offered reminders, and built in daily dawdle time.  There were days when Bubbe played along, but those were rare.  “Hurry up” became a staple in my vocabulary and carrying his boneless body out the door and onto the next appointment became my primary source of exercise.

After a decade of exposure to my anxious nudging and keen management skills coupled with his hard work and a little maturity, I expected Bubbe to come to value my vision of time.  No such luck.

This tortoise syndrome became a wider concern at the end of third grade when it led to academic road blocks.  His teachers investigated.  Turns out, Bubbe’s brain doesn’t send signals as fast as mine and most peers.  To process, organize and focus thoughts and movements takes hard work and energy.  Dawdling is part of his DNA.

Armed with the information, I intended to shift my parenting approach.  But the thought of giving my child space to figure out his day at the risk of him being tardy rattled me to the core.

It doesn’t matter how Bubbe’s brain is wired.  I thought.  He has to learn how to move faster; use time wisely.

I held the reins.

Bubbe’s fourth grade year commenced with him hearing my voice on auto replay each morning.  “Get dressed.  Eat breakfast.  Find your backpack.  Don’t keep your friends waiting.  C’mon let’s go.”

Too big to fling him over my shoulder; prods graduated to threats, coaxing converted to yelling.  I was met with eye rolls, I don’t cares and whatevers.  Our home transformed into a battleground, leaving Bubbe and I frazzled and fried before the day began.

Then I went back to work.

My responsibilities multiplied overnight.  I no longer had space in my brain to try and change his.  I was forced to accept Bubbe was older and in charge of his actions.  I was also forced to accept that he no longer needed me in the same way.  I resolved to “do” my tween differently.

Step one: let him be late for school.

One morning soon after, I awoke Bubbe as per the usual routine and announced, “We are leaving at 7:45.  You have until then to get up and do your thing.”

At 7:40 he was still in bed.  “Your brother and I are leaving in five minutes.  Just lock up on your way out.  The school bell rings at 8:15am.  See you there.”

The neighbors knocked on the door.  Skootch and I left Bubbe behind.

As we walked the three blocks, I looked back but there was no sign of him.  I dropped off his brother and headed across the school grounds toward the front gate.

Still no Bubbe.

I turned the corner toward home.  There he was, strolling up the sidewalk; dressed appropriately, jacket on and with backpack in tow.  For the first morning in weeks, Bubbe was smiling.

I smiled back.

As we passed each other, my son leaned in and nuzzled his brow into my chest.  “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, sweetheart.  Enjoy the day.”  We went our respective ways.

And no one was late.

An Open Letter to the Real Deal

Friendship quote_C.S. Lewis

MID-LOGO-small-copy

Dear E,

I didn’t think dropping Bubbe off at your son’s 10th birthday sleepover would leave me verklempt.

After the gaggle of celebratory tweens scurried off to play Nerf Gun combat, you encouraged me to stay for our customary cocktail and chit chat.  Happy to oblige and assist in the effort, I carried the wasabi peas and pita chips to the back patio table to find a chilled prosecco flanked by the birthday root beer waiting patiently for our arrival.

It was then I spied the set of chaise lounges nestled in the corner.

I took one look at those chairs and flashbacked to my Bubbe, your son, and their rolls of baby deliciousness that used to sit there side by side munching Goldfish.  I thought about our boys being born 10 days apart.  I thought about how this past summer marked their 10th year of friendship.  Too embarrassed to share the sentiment, I fanned my tears with a chip and blamed the reaction on the peas.

I regained composure and got on with the festivities.  We poured the bubbly and toasted to our sons’ double digit birthdays.  But in my stir of emotion, I forgot to toast something equally as important; our 10 years of friendship.

We had our first date at The Newcomers Club Mommy and Me.  I showed up as a nonmember.  You came late.  The other attendees likely took note.

A frumpy, post partum version of myself watched from the sofa as you and your bouncing boy, each decked in blue worked the room; two blonde rays of sunshine to whom the mommies were instantly drawn.

When the crowd weaned, you parked on the rug near my feet and a sleeping Bubbe.

Any hormonal blah and sleep deprivation you may have been feeling was eclipsed by a genuine excitement to be out of the house and in the presence of empathetic adults.  Your warm introduction disintegrated my walls and quelled new mommy insecurities.

I thought, E is positive, easy, and kind and I hoped we would be friends.

The Newcomers eventually dispersed but fortunately we did not.  Your friendship has remained constant even when separation seemed probable.

When our boys reached the point we had to shelve play dates because they butted heads, we made sure not to suspend our own.

When I had my second child, you came to the hospital with sea salt brownies for me and open arms for Skootch even though our mom of an only child dynamic had changed.

When we moved in the dead of winter, you trekked to visit our new place before I unpacked a box despite the added drive.

When, six years ago, you started a business while simultaneously chasing your dream job, you took the time to encourage and help me pursue my passion even after you landed it and went back to work full time.

It only takes a glance at my Wonder Woman Lego key chain, Believe Giving Key necklace, or 40th birthday golden clutch you knew I always wanted to remind me of your thoughtfulness, generosity, integrity, determination, creativity, and faithfulness.  The qualities you possess that I so admire; the ones you have instilled in your son.

An unexpected and welcomed by product of becoming Bubbe’s mom was finding you.  And so, on our aluminum anniversary I raise my glass.

Thank you for being the real deal.

Love,
Red