Memory Keepers

My kids, like most, have memories like a steel trap.

Remember that time you promised us ice cream and then we didn’t get any?
You mean the time your brother was running 104 temperature and we were trying to get him to the hospital, that time???
I dunno, maybe. But you still owe us an ice cream!

But the memories they keep, the ones that get caught in their young traps? They tend to be highly selective.

For instance, they don’t remember the seven hundred and sixty-two times I asked them to get their socks on, They only remember when I screamed at them to get their f**king socks on right this goddamn minute.

See? Selective memories.

Your kids have them too. They won’t remember all the mushy- gushy kisses, they’ll remember–and tell everyone who will listen– about the time you accidentally elbowed them on your way to the toilet to barf.

They won’t remember all the times you told them you loved them, but you can be damn sure they’ll remember the one time you threatened to sell them on eBay.

They won’t remember the mom magic that helps you keep track of who likes hard-boiled eggs and who likes scrambled, who likes their pasta with pesto and who prefers it with butter, who likes their carrots peeled and who doesn’t. What will they remember? The one time you put cucumber in the lunch box of the kid who doesn’t like cucumber as if you were trying.to.poison.him.

They won’t remember all the times you stayed up all night, not to get lucky, but to obsessively check their foreheads. They’ll remember the one time you were out to dinner and they threw up on the babysitter.

Remember that time, Mom? The time when you were out and I got sick all over the babysitter? Remember??

They won’t remember the 683, 909 calm and rational explanations, but they’ll remember the one time you lost your shit and threw a cup across the room.

They won’t remember the times you got up early to make scrambled eggs for breakfast on a school day. They’ll only remember the time you bought the bread with the seeds. You know. The one they hate.

No remembrance of time past, the hours spent pushing swings, spotting their little bodies climbing up the slide, zooming cars around on the floor. Nope. They will remember all the times they were so bored, Mom! 

They won’t remember the 10,000 meals you cooked, the ones they gobbled up. What will they remember? The ones they hated.

Out of 5,493 loads of laundry, the only one they’ll remember is the one when you shrank their hoodie in the dryer.

They won’t remember the times you pretended to be interested in play by play Pokemon or Minecraft stories. They’ll remember the time you shushed them because they were about to announce who was eliminated on Master Chef.

They won’t remember the scenery on the way to the National Park, or the $3,498 you spent on admissions. They’ll remember the way the ketchup at Burger King squirted on the table.

They won’t remember the 7,930 toys you bought them over the course of a lifetime, the 15,000 bits of Lego, the Barbie shoes you glued back together. They’ll fixate on the Barbie Dream House they never got.

Oh wait, that was me…

They won’t remember the blood, the sweat, or the tears. But the yelling, the screaming, the swears? It’s the stuff of legend. The stuff of therapy, of memoir, of blogs.

It’s all good. I may not remember why I opened the fridge, or what I came into the room to get, but all this stuff? Stored for life..or at least until I have grandkids on my side.

 

Blowing Bubbles

00002a9c_mediumThere was a time when I was moon, sun, and stars to my boys. Their days began and ended with me: a morning hug around the neck, a goodnight kiss in the dark.

It was exhausting, but it was also gloriously uncomplicated.

These days their need for me grows more nuanced by the hour. I no longer have to follow their toddling legs around to make sure they aren’t sticking forks in the outlets or finding coins to swallow. Nowadays it’s conversation and shared experience, text and email.

I miss my babies and my sturdy, chunky toddlers, my excited pre-schoolers, but I realized the other day what I miss even more is blowing bubbles.

Remember when a bottle of soap bubbles was enough? When those filmy baubles floating into the air coaxed a smile or a gaze of wonder? It’s been a while since I’ve had that kind of magic at my fingertips.

I know there’s magic deep down. There are layers of love and listening and trust that are building up over time, foundations and steps that will be high enough for them to stand on one day, by themselves. I know those things are vital and necessary and important.

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But sometimes it would be nice to grab a bottle of bubbles and see the world light up in those brown eyes again.

Increasingly it is difficult to find things for us all to do. They would rather play on an X-box and I have boxes of my own to tick. The pendulum swings from wildly busy to mind-numbingly not–from hummingbird to sloth depending on sports schedules and homework, travel and school. My (oft lame) suggestions of family outings or trips to the museum are met with half-hearted shrugs or outright dismissal.

I miss the times when just being with me was enough to do. Swinging in the playground,  running in endless circles or digging in a sandbox. The glee is contained now. It still bursts through sometimes, but it has to pierce a thicker skin. Or it could be they are away from me for such long chunks of time I don’t see it as often.

53fa9a98c673904e53b3406b003f659aLife is immeasurably easier. There is quiet, there is peace. There is reasoning. I am exhausted as I watch mothers of young toddlers following them as their little wills go faster than their legs can carry them, mothers ready to soothe a scraped palm when they pitch forward to the ground, who swoop them up and plant a hundred kisses on them.

I miss the magic kisses too.

But mostly I miss the bubbles, the way we would chase them through the sky, their little legs following as fast as their hearts would let them.

I miss a time when most of the magic was me, when the day rose and set with a hug around the neck.

 

Throwing Punches: Why Kids Sometimes Need to Fight Back

gty_levis_kids_fight_kb_ss_130520_sshYears ago my husband told me a story about the one fist-fight he got into on the schoolyard asphalt. There were insults and threats and while not quite pistols at dawn, an assignation by the lockers at 3–or something to that effect. My husband is a big man, in stature as well as heart, but despite his size he comes down squarely on the lover side of the lover/fighter equation.

“I hit him before he could hit me,” my husband told me. Sometimes in life, he insisted, you have to throw a punch. “And sometimes,” he said, “you have to throw the first one.”

I used to cringe every time I heard that story. Especially when I became the mother to not one, but two boys. I used to think that surely preaching–never mind teaching–violence was never going to be the answer. Surely we want our kids to grow up to be intelligent, rational, non-violent folk.

Right?

You can preach intelligent, rational, non-violent; you can teach do the right thing until the cows are blue in the face on their way home. But my husband is right. Sometimes you have to throw a punch. And sometimes you have to throw the first one.

I’ve had a number of conversations recently listening to parents tell me about their son or daughter being goaded, picked on, harassed, punched, made fun of, called names. It happens at school, on the playground, on the football pitch, in the hallways. Most of it doesn’t go too much deeper than the normal rough seas of childhood we all had to sail; some of it probably toes the line of what I would consider bullying, not a word I bandy about without thought.

They, like most of us, give their kids the same advice.

Walk away.

Ignore it.

Don’t let it get to you.

Tell an adult.

Be the bigger person.

Do the right thing.

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It’s the first line of defense: find a teacher, find a grown-up, walk away. Sometimes it’s enough. But sometimes, it’s not. Because in real life, the perp, also known as ‘the little shit’, often gets away with his or her actions without any real consequence.

There’s a good chance what I’m about to write will be taken the wrong way. I stand by it nonetheless.

I hereby call bullshit on our approach of teaching kids to always turn the other cheek. Sometimes turning the other cheek isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to throw a punch. Hopefully it’s a metaphorical punch, but, well, sometimes it may be a real one.

Why would we encourage a young girl to shoulder the burden of being made fun of by telling her to ignore it or pretend it’s not happening or find a way to convince herself that it doesn’t matter? Why do we perpetuate that kind of bullshit with our kids? Because of course it matters–it matters a tremendous amount, especially to a young girl.

It took me most of my life to build up a skin thick enough to let that sort of thing roll off my back. Part of that thickening process was learning how to say “fuck off.” A verbal punch. A young girl probably won’t be able to let insults about the way she looks just roll of her back, especially not when society throws images of what a girl should look like at her all the time and then backtracks and contradicts telling her ‘no, no, everyone is beautiful in their own way”.

Bull.Shit.

Every time we tell that little girl to ignore it or walk away, she’s internalizing that insult. Every time we tell her to find an adult to tell, we are trusting that the adult will handle it in the correct way. We’re assuming the perp will be dealt with. But most damaging, we’re failing to give her all the tools she needs for dealing with it herself.

Why should a boy who is getting punched on a semi-regular basis have to bear the physical pain of being pummeled? Why should he have to bear the burden of responsibility for someone else acting like an asshole? Not only must he bear the brunt of being hit, but the playground consequences of running and finding a teacher and the backlash that ensues. And that’s assuming the adult, who probably didn’t see how everything happened, is even going to mete out a consequence.

I wish life worked the way we want it to. I wish that being the bigger person and walking away was always, always the right thing to do. And it is sometimes. But not always. That’s not how life works. That’s not how childhood works or the playground or the hallways of middle or high school. Hell, it’s not even how the workplace works.

I’m not suggesting we teach our kids to push and shove and punch their peers, to use violence as a means of negotiation. Not at all. I am suggesting we find a way to teach our kids how to deliver a metaphorical punch when needed. As Helen Mirren so eloquently put it, if she had any advice to give to her younger self, it would be to use the words “fuck off” much more frequently.

Helen Mirren

We all strive to give our kids the tools to get through life, but sometimes we leave a few important bits out. Kids need a slightly watered-down version of “fuck off” in their arsenal.

I’ve stopped short of telling my kids to call someone a four-letter word. We’ve taught them that no one has the right to hurt them or to touch them in ways that make them feel uncomfortable. We’ve taught them if they feel threatened or need to defend themselves, they should do what they need to do and we will always get their backs. But we’ve also told them that sometimes you need to push back, hard enough to let the other person know you’re not going to be pushed around.

If I happen to hear they’ve called someone who was regularly giving them a hard time an asshole? If I find out someone threw a punch at them and they punched back?

I’ll be the one turning the other cheek.

 

Dear Middle Schoolers

dancingDear Middle Schoolers,

I admit it. I’m a sappy grown-up. I weep every time I watch E.T. and get choked up during graduation ceremonies. That scene in Toy Story when the Mom is getting ready to send her son off to college? Just. Don’t. Hell, a decent marching band can open the floodgates sometimes. So it’s no surprise I get a bit misty at your school assemblies. Blame it on a combination of nostalgia, music, and harsh fluorescent lighting. Blame it on the rain or blame it on the bossa nova. For the most part it’s simply watching a gym full of you all so gloriously oblivious to the world around you.

Your mid-pubescent bodies do me in every time. They are so FULL OF LIFE, ripe with it, fairly bursting with it, that it’s almost painful to see. From afar I watch you unfold those newly lengthened limbs. I watch you laugh with friends, watch you lost in your middle school dreams and nightmares. And always I am struck with the width and breadth of possibility in front of you.

You can be…anything. How breathtaking is that? The whole world is in front of you. You’re still lumps of clay; unformed, unpainted and unadorned, just waiting for life to come along and shape you into what you’re meant to be.

It’s intoxicating. And it makes me well up with the sheer joy of it all.

My son is one of you now. The other day I got to see how you spend your down time at an end of term holiday party. There was a room for karaoke and another for bustin’ a move. There was a room set up for games and another with snacks and hot chocolate. Yet with all that choice for letting your hair down and whipping your nae nae, there were still a few of you who sat, eyes rolling into the backs of your heads, too cool for school.

I wanted to take shake you by the shoulders. I wanted to say, Oh, honey child, if life’s got you this jaded at twelve, what the hell are you going to do when you figure out that being an adult is  all about filing out things in triplicate and saving for retirement? About arguing with the insurance company and trying to scrub skid marks off the toilet bowl?

Instead I’ll say this to you: sing the karaoke song. Get up there and belt it out, whether you can carry a tune or you drop it like it’s hot. No one’s going to remember you because you were too cool to join in. You want to be remembered? Be the one who gets up there and doesn’t give a shit whether or not you sound like Adele.

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Dance like no one’s watching. Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care. Because life doesn’t have enough dancing opportunities as a grown-up. All of a sudden you find yourself longing for a chance to shake your booty, which is hanging down near your groove thing. I think you kids call it bass now. But whatever, dance when you have the chance. They don’t come around as often when you start squeezing in work, food shopping, and the laundry list of other boring stuff that makes up 98% of grown-up-ness.

You can be anything. Don’t be bored. God, there is so much boring shit about being an adult. When you have the chance to spend an afternoon playing games with your friends and being goofy? Do it. Play a game of Connect Four. Let yourself get excited when the little discs slide into perfect formation. Be happy when you sink someone else’s battleship.

I know, I know. You’re waiting for life to really get going. It’ll get really interesting right around the next corner, at the next intersection, toward the next bend. You’re counting down the days until you’re grown up so you can go out and drink and smoke and drive and fall in love and have real fun. Truth is, what’s really lurking around the corner is going out to work every day and coming home to decide what shape pasta you can boil for dinner. Exciting stuff, I know. You’re waiting until the right man or woman comes along to sweep you off your feet and whisk you off to happily ever after land. I wish I could make you understand that happily ever after land looks nothing like what you think it does right now. There aren’t any unicorns for starters. And there is way more shouting.

swing kidsOh, sweet child o’ mine. Go forth and dance. Get out there and sing. Don’t bend yourself into a shape that you think is the right one. Don’t settle on a mold because you think it’s cool. You still have plenty of time to find your shape. You have time to break the mold. All the time in the world. Don’t be afraid of smiling, of having fun, of acting goofy, of screwing up the lyrics to the song. Don’t peak too soon. Don’t peak now. There is so much ahead of you, plenty of days to check your phone and roll your eyes.

Dear middle schoolers, trust me. When someone gives you carte blanche to sing and dance and drink hot chocolate in the middle of a Friday?

Do it.

Signed,
BTDT x