Monday, February 13, 2012

Course Maps

Sometimes, this stuff is hard.  Just straight-up hard.  And that's the honest truth.

I stopped reading parenting magazines, because I felt like they were just sort of giving me this unattainable expectation of what I should be doing. I should be making elaborate crafts.  Consistently pushing phonics and using homemade flash cards for letter recognition.  Feeding them locally grown and harvested produce and meat from the chickens and grass-fed cows in my backyard.  And that is what you have to do to be a good mother, Amen.

(Because that's not me.)

I try. I do the best that I can.  I love my two children more than my own life, and that is the honest to God truth.  I would lay down in traffic for them.  And that motivates every single action that I do every single day in my life.  Quite simply, there was me before I had Bug and now there's me after Bug.  The same person, but definitely not the same brain.  I have been rewired, so to speak.

But I often feel, as I think maybe other moms do, that I'm not doing this right.  That what I do isn't good enough.  Unless I'm doing all of these things in said magazines I am clearly a failure.  And in no case do these irrational feelings of inadequacy pop up faster for a mother than when her kid is THAT KID.

You know, that kid.

The one screaming.  Kicking.  Hysterical.

Like, say, at swimming lessons the past three weeks.  Oh, yeah, that plan of mine?  The one to swim while Bug's at lessons?  Look at me, all cute with my plans.  Kids have a funny way of doing that.

Kids are not plans.  Kids are variables.

To be clear:  Bug loves the water.  LOVES. IT.  He would live there if we let him.  I have often posted pictures from our time at the beach and the pool.  There is no fear at all of the water.

There is, however, a power struggle.

And I, my friends, am on the opposing end.

Bug doesn't want to take lessons just because.  He's made that clear. And I've made it clear that he absolutely must learn how to swim.  He doesn't need to compete.  But he needs to learn. We spend so much time in the water that it's a safety issue.  The past two years, lessons have been fun!  No problem!

But he's decided that it's SO ON with these lessons NOW.  Nevermind the past.

Normally, this has meant dragging his feet to the pool and then not participating in all of the lesson.  We made it pretty clear that he needed to be safe and he needed to listen to his instructors.  And take part in his lesson.  The WHOLE lesson.

What ended up happening was a complete and utter public meltdown, screaming, kicking, crying, and absolute hysterics that literally radiated off every crevice in the extremely loud and not acoustically-sound indoor pool complex.  When all else failed, I walked away (which was also at the urging of the lesson director, too), because I am fully aware this is an act for me and me only.  There is no fear here.  There is a very determined little boy who is trying to find his place in the world, which I love.  But I have to change the behavior--not the spirit, though.  I am down with that determination.  That is completely okay with me.  But the behavior had to stop.

So as I stood in the doorway trying not to cry, I of course doubted everything I've ever done.  Am I doing this right?  Am I pushing too hard?  Not enough?  Why can't I just do more of what the magazines and the "experts" say?  And please, PLEASE can my kid stop making a scene?  (Which, of course, he kind of did when I walked away, after, of course, all parents and lifeguards in attendance had seen my feeble attempts to stop the meltdown)

Suddenly a mom opened the door and came up to me.

"Are you the mom of the little boy who's so upset?"

Oh no. Here it goes.  I'm going to get lambasted. Everything I do is wrong. I don't deserve to be here, I don't deserve anything.  I'm a complete failure.

(Yes, that was exactly what went through my head at that moment.  I honestly thought that she was there to berate me.  That's how sad this attitude toward parenting has become--that everyone out there is just judging, judging, judging, and--)

"I just want to say you're doing a great job.  You're doing the right thing.  All of us are in there saying you're doing the right thing; that we really admire what you're doing--"

At this point, the tears flowed. 

"Thank you," I whispered and smiled meekly.  "I'm trying...I just...I just want him to be safe, that's all."

"I know you feel like crying," she said as she hugged me, "but you're doing the right thing."

Take that, magazines.  We are all on the same team here.

I'm finding out daily what I already suspected to be true long before my little Bug arrived--that parenting is hard, that it's different for all of us, and that very often to do it well you have to sometimes have the meltdowns.  You have to say, "NO.  I know what's best for you now."  And that is not exactly an easy thing to say, especially as they get older.  I completely and honestly believe I am a better high school teacher now because I have two children.  Obviously, you don't have to have children to be a good teacher--I don't want to give that impression at all.  But for me, it really opened up a different level of understanding and compassion, especially when dealing with my at-risk students and their parents.

Ultimately, we just want them to be safe and happy.  And we're really trying.  That's all.

When I first signed up for Ironman, it was exciting.  It was scary.  It was, indeed, something I had no clue how to prepare for.

I'll never forget that first moment when I really doubted myself.  On the Hill That Broke Me.  I remember trying to ride up that hill and not being able to do it, and literally breaking down.  But what if I can't do this?  What if I'm not good enough?  What if I'm doing it all wrong?  Everyone else here knows more than me, they can get up this hill...surely they are all laughing at me.

I cried.  I cried at the top of the hill, because I wasn't thinking about the fact that I made it.  I was thinking how stupid I must look and how all these triathletes around me must think I'm the biggest weakling; that I have no business whatsoever signing up for an Ironman.

Of course, that's not at all how it is.

Triathletes are some of the most welcoming people in the universe.  This is a sport where we're all on the same course.  We all rack our bikes together in T1.  And when we see someone struggling, we help them out.  We tell them it's okay, that they're doing a great job, that if they just hang in there it's going to get better.  Just keep moving forward.

I was reminded of how similar these two journeys are standing in that pool doorway, tears running down my cheeks.  And when the lesson was over, and Bug saw me and immediately put on the act and stomped his feet and screamed "I DID NOT SWIM IN THE DEEP MOMMY!  I SHOWED YOU! I DID NOT SWIM IN THE DEEP!" and I said, "yes, you're right, and that means you have chosen to go home now instead of play" and picked up all 46 pounds of him kicking, I was glad I'm strong.  Glad I've had both that Hill that Makes Me Cry and this love that is so strong it makes me cry.  Knowing that no meltdown is permanent, that no hill goes forever.  And at the top there will always be a team willing to cheer me up or hand me a kleenax and give me a hug, depending upon the situation.

Someday, soon, I'll have a set that makes me doubt everything.  A race that will end in flop.  I'll be sitting on the side of the road, head in my hands, bike laying on the ground, wondering if I'm good enough.

And I can assure you, there will be more toddler meltdowns in the future, too.

But this girl is strong.  This one trusts herself even if I have moments of weakness time to time.  This one knows how far she's come and she's not about to stop in this race.
These courses may be different, but the finish lines are just as sweet.


Katie Duffy said...

Oh, you just made me cry and cry. The post-kid brain is indeed different... just like the post-triathlon brain (OK, so maybe in a different way. But still.) But we're all on the same team here! Hang in there!

Carolina John said...

I took both of my girls swimming last night. I'm trying to teach the eldest how to swim and get more comfortable in the water, so I feel your pain. Trying to get her to complete movements for her own safety takes a lot of practice. Stick with it. they will understand one day. And when you know you're doing the right thing, don't let their own self-doubts cloud your judgement. You have to make them into the teenagers that you want and create the adults you want them to be. It's our only focus as parents.

Crazy J said...

Fabulous post- well said. I have 2 boys 7 and 2 and you've summed it all up quite nicely. Thanks for the reminder. It's phrases like:" I was glad I'm strong. Glad I've had both that Hill that Makes Me Cry and this love that is so strong it makes me cry. Knowing that no meltdown is permanent, that no hill goes forever. And at the top there will always be a team willing to cheer me up or hand me a kleenax and give me a hug, depending upon the situation." That will encourage me through thetimes I cannot control. Thanks Sara!

Alili said...

Such a great and honest post - we are all on the same team. :)

Katie said...

I don't have any kids, but reading the beginning of this, I wanted to hug you and say, you are doing the right thing. I'm glad someone else did. It's so hard.

BeckyS said...

Great story..We ARE all on the same team!! My youngest son did the same thing at lessons but loves the water? If they came with a manual, parenting would be boring??? So good luck on all your endeavors and I applaud the woman who gave you your much needed hug. -Becky S

Anonymous said...

I took my young, shy, daughter to gymnastics, soccer, swim lessons, day camp, etc. She wanted NOTHING of them No part of it. After exposing her to several activities, I just stood back and told her to pick one thing she think she might like to do, and that was the end of it. I didn't push anymore. She chose dance/ballet (I was a horrible "ballet mom" and made fun of those who were living vicariously through their kids) and is still loving and now teaching little ones how to enjoy movement and dance. I still have nightmares of dropping her off early at day care and picking her up late because I had a conference out of town to attend...feel so guilty! She assures me she doesn't remember and that she loves me now...and that's all that matters.
You ARE doing a great job!

Rural Girl said...

...and now I'M CRYING. Life is weird, isn't it? We're always trying to push ourselves, second-guess ourselves (especially as women and mothers). When really, in the end, we're all doing JUST FINE. Amen! You just keep being the great mom/woman you are.

Clare said...

you have a great perspective. this, for me, ranks up there with your "letter to my pregnant self" post. that rocks that that other mom said everyone was talking and saying you were doing the right thing.