Tag: Mamalove

8Sep

Seastruck

The first time I saw the ocean, I was nearly twelve. Our van crested the bridge to Quintana Beach, and there was the Gulf of Mexico stretched out below us, the vast basin where God must have dipped his brush after painting every color of earth and sky. I couldn’t tell you even now what hue the Gulf of Mexico most resembles. It’s slate gray but also moss green, sky blue capped by cloud crests, equal parts mother of pearl and loam. At first sight, I couldn’t believe such a thing existed—this expanse of creation-colored water curved to fit the horizon. I ate my wedge of watermelon that evening in the waves, salt and grit and who knows what else seasoning its pink flesh. My baby brother threw the van keys into the surf (or so we thought; we found them a week later deep inside one of the bench seats), and we were stranded until nightfall, and it was magical.

Now that I’m a mother, I have an inkling of how my own mother must have felt that night—all six of her children sand-plated and smelling of seaweed, dark tongues of water lapping up the shoreline, my father hitchhiking to find a locksmith, and no cell phone to know when he’d be back, not the tiniest bit of technology with which to distance ourselves from the deep. I also know a bit of how she must have felt when we finally made it to the condo and she still had showers to administer and salt-encrusted towels to dry and the next day’s picnic to prepare. Beach vacations are the parental equivalents of overtime.

But it is paid:

Puglia beach trip 2

We drove down south to Puglia for the first time this month and spent the better part of a week with friends at their beach house. And by “at their house,” I mean on the beach. The Ionian Sea is like liquid topaz, so blue and crystalline that simply looking at it it is a form of wealth. I was in the water about three quarters of the time that the girls were; we dredged up seashells and splashed each other silly and tracked the tiny striped fish who were tracking our toes. The other quarter of the time, I sat back in a nest of sand and filled straight up on my kids’ delight.

Puglia beach trip 3

Puglia beach trip 4

Puglia beach trip 5

Puglia beach trip 6

The sea turns children into hunters and gatherers, architects and archeologists. It draws on their genius for play and holds time at arm’s length so they can stop growing up so fast, at least for the day. It makes magic out of ordinary minutes. Admittedly, magical moments are not necessarily effortless ones, at least not for the parental portion of the family. We came home tired with slightly more than our fair share of sand and sunburns, and my post-vacation laundry pile would have been enough to make even Mrs. Walton faint of heart. I still take the whole experience as a gift though—the chance to play with my girls free of the usual time-claustrophobia that haunts me at home, to watch them at ease in their own childhoods, to see the living sparkle of the waves mirrored in their eyes, and to discover my own sense of seastruck enchantment right there in the context where I first found it.

Puglia beach trip 7

2Jul

A New Original

[By Sophie, illustrating the emotional journey of being away from her parents for a week and then reunited with us. Please note Dan’s righteous beard.]

I’ve wanted to be a mom as long as I can remember, but at some point in my teens, the daydream changed. Its parameters shrank and sharpened until what was once an all-encompassing landscape of an identity became a hat in a bold-striped box—a beautiful accessory.

This was a healthy adjustment for me to make. I was coming from a background that told me all females were coded for the same job description, that our purpose on this earth was to gestate and birth and feed and raise our husbands’ children. I didn’t mind this view at all when I was a girl. I loved babies, and for our AWANA Club’s “What Do You Want To Be?” Night, I proudly dressed up as a Mother. (Let me tell you, my apron and spit-up cloths really gave me a fertile edge over my friends in their Supermodel and Actress garb.)

By the time I started college though, the patriarchal mindset was a jarring false note in my head. It didn’t ring true to anything I was learning about myself or the world, and I could no longer accept that God was in on it either. I felt in my bones—though they told me shyly, as voices long repressed—that I was not created on a paint-by-number assembly line. I was an original. I was a unique human being with a unique identity, and that identity could not be encapsulated in the word “Mommy.”

I confided in Dan during our newlywed days how terrified I was that our future babies would swallow me whole. I kept watching it happen to friends, bright and creative women who dropped off the earth the day their children were born and then emerged a year or two later with sleep deprival tattooed under their eyes and a new vocabulary revolving around the word “doodoo.” I felt like I was watching a horrible psychological experiment—total disillusion of identity in nine months or less.

Perhaps that’s why my pregnancy with Natalie was so hard for me to get used to. I wanted her, very much so, but I also wanted myself, and I wasn’t sure if the two were compatible. I picked out crib sheets and scowled at the weary-looking matron on my cover of What to Expect When Expecting and braced myself against the impending threat of motherhood.

And when it came? When she came?

Snuggling Baby Natalie

I changed. Of course I did. I was a different woman the moment I touched her curlicue of fingers in the delivery room, and I had no desire to go back to before, to a version of the world without my daughter in it and me her caregiver. I had expected motherhood to diminish me, but instead, I felt myself expanding in a dizzy rush.

“How wonderful life is,” I sang to Natalie in only a slight butchering of Elton John’s 1970 love ballad, “while you’re in the world.”

Now before things get too bejeweled-roses-and-glow-filters up in here, I should clarify that I have never, not for a single hour of a single day, found raising children to be easy. Meaningful, yes. Heartwarming, most certainly. Both of my girls have infused life with a richness and a hilarity level that I never could have arranged for myself, and we often have moments in which I feel that being related to them is the most obvious arrangement in the world.

Parenting, however, is not quite as easy a job as, say, choreographing chickens or running the complaints department at FIFA. It requires a constant state of high-alert creativity and intention that reduces Dan and I to warm-blooded sofa cushions many evenings. It is with utmost affection and gratitude for our girls that I tell you I have had to struggle, hard (and sometimes unsuccessfully) throughout these early years of child-raising to hold onto my senses of identity and purpose.

That’s why being able to drop our girls off at their grandparents’ and take off for a week of adult time (take that as you will… *wink wink, nudge nudge*) as we did this last week feels like a luxury worthy of the Forbes Most Ridiculous list. Dan and I went out at night, gallivanted around Venice, ate un-sensible breakfasts, and watched our Arrested Development reruns at a slightly higher volume than usual. It was awesome.

Parents gone wild

But it also felt incomplete. Even though I knew I wasn’t on-call for those seven days, my mother-signal wouldn’t stop scanning, wouldn’t quit pinging the atmosphere in search of my children’s wavelengths. It’s a strange sensation to pluck the strings connecting you to someone who’s not physically there. I felt my girls but not with any sense I knew how to operate. They were phantom limbs, all week long.

When Dan and I returned to his parents’ house and the girls ran into our arms, I can tell you what that moment was not: It was not the putting on of a lovely but inessential hat. Nor was it the dissolving of self into a role. Rather, it was the satisfying thump of puzzle pieces fitting together, of four separate, whole, and marvelous identities that together create a new original. Mine, theirs, ours.

How wonderful life is, while we’re in the world…

Snuggling no-longer-Baby Sophie

18Jun

Open-Source Parenting: Body Safety

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn’t until after the Steubenville High School rape case in 2012 that I realized that consent was a Thing. I mean, I’d always known the word, but I’d never before thought of it as a principle, something to be taught and learned and insisted upon the way we do with freedom and equality. I remember reading Abby Norman’s post The Day I Taught How Not to Rape and feeling stunned by the simple truth of her premise:

“We have to teach clearly and boldly that consent is… an enthusiastic, unequivocal YES!”

Maybe those of you who came from Quiverfull-style backgrounds can relate to my own upbringing in which the guiding principle was submission rather than consent. Children and women were taught that our bodies were not our own and that struggling against a physical aggressor in a position of authority over us was grounds for harsher treatment. Intimacy was something to be claimed by those in power. I can hardly think of a more dangerous mindset for sheltered children to grow up believing.

After several episodes of “submitting” to boyfriends who wanted to take advantage of me, I was finally able to reject that mentality, and I am often reminded of how grateful I am to be here, free, seeing my own voice carry weight. This has taken time to filter down into my parenting through. I’ve taught my girls from the beginning about which parts of their body are off-limits to everyone except Mom and their doctor (“If someone tries to touch you there, you say…?” “NO!!!!”), but we never talked any further about why someone might want to touch them there or what other kinds of predatory behavior they should watch out for. Part of it was that I didn’t want to scare the girls, but the larger reason was that I honestly hadn’t considered the possibility that they would be targeted.

Who wants to think about that? Let me tell you, there is a special kind of nausea reserved for parents who imagine their children being groomed by a sexual predator. I was so unwilling to go there that I didn’t even think about my unwillingness to think about it… until recently when a friend with a daughter Sophie’s age had to confront some troubling attention her daughter was receiving from a bus monitor. I spent the whole next morning doing research on how to talk to kids about body safety and then made up a worksheet that Dan and I went over with the girls at lunch (and have referred to several times since).

Our conversation was mercifully devoid of the fear and the ick-factor that my inner pessimist had expected. Dan and I talked matter-of-factly, answering the girls’ questions and helping them role-play scenarios so they could practice safe responses. We focused on these main points:

  • I am the boss of my own body! We reiterated what they should do if someone tries to touch their bathing suit areas and then talked at length about how they can refuse any kind of touch that makes them uncomfortable. This can be a delicate subject here in Italy, where even new acquaintances will bend down and ask children for a kiss on the cheek. However, Dan and I agreed that the girls’ personal boundaries are more important than society’s standards of politeness, and we taught them how to say, “I’m sorry, I’d rather not” and stick to it, even (especially!!) if the person gets upset.
  • I don’t keep secrets from Mom & Dad! We clarified the difference between a surprise (something you’ll get to tell soon) and a secret (something you’re never supposed to tell) and impressed on the girls how important it is that they tell us immediately if anyone ever asks them to keep a secret from us. We had to do a wee bit of backpedaling on this one as Natalie’s first question was, “So I have to tell you secrets my friends tell me at school?” Dan and I did the best we could explaining which kinds of secrets are okay for the girls to keep and which ones aren’t, and it’s possible the whole subject is more confusing than ever. We’ll try to keep open dialogue about it though and hope that the main point sticks.
  • If I don’t have permission from Mom & Dad, I don’t do it! This one provided the most role-playing hilarity, but our point was simple. If someone—even someone they know—asks the girls to come into their house, get into their car, or take a walk with them, they need to get permission first. Period. End of story. No exceptions. We did clarify that they can get permission from a babysitter or relative that we have personally put in charge of them, but they should never take someone’s word that it will be fine to go off alone.
  • I stay away from “tricky people”! I got this wording from Pattie Fitzgerald, a child safety expert who makes the point that “strangers” only make up 10% of those who sexually abuse children. Instead, we want our girls to be wary of any “tricky person,” defined as anyone who makes our girls feel unsafe, nervous, or icky, anyone who won’t respect the girls’ boundaries, or anyone significantly older than them who says they specially need the girls’ help. (That last one is apparently a tactic that predators use to lure kids away or groom them toward a more intimate relationship.) If they feel someone is acting “tricky” around them, the girls are to come tell us right away.
  • If I get lost when I’m out, I… The girls already knew the first rule about getting lost in public, which is that they should stop right where they are and wait for us to find them rather than wander around looking for us. We then taught them that if they see a police offer or a mom with kids come by, those are safe people to ask for help. They should then ask those people to call their parents from where they’re standing. (The girls know both of our mobile numbers by heart. Mostly. We’ve been quizzing them every couple of days to be sure.)

I’m grateful that we were able to have a good family discussion about boundaries without making the girls paranoid of every single adult male in their lives or every stranger on the sidewalk. In fact, as we talked, I realized just how empowering the conversation was. We were teaching the girls that they have the right to say no to unwanted touch. What I would have given for that sense of ownership over my own body as a girl!

I’m not sure whether or not we’ve covered everything we should on this topic with the girls. When I read that the director of GRACE, a Christian child abuse investigation firm, has seen too much to allow his daughters to sleep over at their friends’ houses or attend church camps, my throat closed up a little. Is it really as bad as that? Am I endangering my children every time I leave them in someone else’s care? The idea of keeping the girls confined to home doesn’t sit well with me, so I’m trusting that there’s a balance between naivety and paranoia. Surely we can be informed and prepared without thinking the worst of everyone around us. Surely our children can take steps toward independence without opening themselves to abuse. Surely, surely, fear should not be our rubric for parenting any more than denial should.

The idea behind this Open-Source Parenting series is that we can share our collective wisdom for the benefit of all, so here’s where I open it up to you. What are your thoughts on teaching body safety to kids? Are there any strategies or conversations that have worked well in your experience? I’m still very, very new at this line of thought, so I’d appreciate any insights you might have… and judging by the sheer number of new parents among my friends, I suspect I’m not the only one.

4Jun

Village Appreciation Day

Elementary schools are set up a little differently here in Italy than they are in the U.S. For one thing, kids here typically go to school six days a week but only in the mornings. This allows families to eat the main meal of the day together, and then children spend the afternoon doing homework, going to extracurricular activities, and living it up at the neighborhood playgrounds. There are some schools with a five-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day setup to accommodate working parents, but most families still choose mornings-only and enlist grandparents to babysit in the afternoons if need be. (We don’t have the grandparent option, but since Dan and I both started working from home, family life has become about 2,089,573,101 times less complicated. And all God’s entrepreneurs said amen.)

Another significant difference here is that teachers are assigned to a class in first grade and then stay with that group of kids all the way through fifth grade. This can be wonderful and reassuring if you get good teachers.

…And if you don’t?

I devoted significant energy to worrying over this four years ago when Natalie was about to start first grade and again last year when it was Sophie’s turn. What if the girls ended up with someone calloused and grim, someone to whom children’s presence tasted like unripe lemons? Someone drunk on power or palest green with inexperience or prejudiced against foreigners like us? What if their teachers were the kind to tread on sensitive, creative little hearts? What if my girls had to spend five long years’ worth of school days in a classroom taut with tension and defeat?

I was reminded of these fears last Saturday morning at the girls’ school recital, but not for the reason you might think. Sophie’s first-grade class started off with a little skit about how they had once been afraid they’d get witches for teachers, and I laughed along with the other parents while reflecting that my own fears for my daughter hadn’t been so very different. I had gone into my girls’ school experience geared up to fear and resent their teachers, imagining the worst of them before we’d even met.

This was a sobering realization as I looked around the room on Saturday and saw the faces of the women who have guided and encouraged and invested in my girls over the school year(s), women who were every bit as proud of my children’s academic progress as I was. I kept sneaking peeks at the teachers during the girls’ performances, and the affection radiating from their faces was enough to untie a knot somewhere in my throat. Fear was a distant (and regretful) memory. All I had left was gratitude, so full-bodied and sweet it blurred my vision.

Gratitude for those who have made education their lives’ work.
Gratitude for the creativity and fun they bring to the classroom despite budget cuts and bureaucratic hurdle-fests.
Gratitude for the unique imprints they have left on my daughters through their insights, personalities, and talents.
Gratitude for their presence in my girls’ lives, every teacher a support column to their childhoods.

I once believed that “It takes a village” was liberal propaganda designed to undermine the family structure, and I’m sure that residual fallout from that belief helps explain why I was so afraid of the girls’ teachers sight-unseen. As I’ve experienced in so many aspects of my journey away from fundamentalism, though, fears lose their claustrophobic grip once I’m out in the spacious, grace-full open. I’m not saying that bad teachers don’t exist or that we haven’t been fortunate so far, but my mindset is coming from a different direction now—one of preemptive appreciation rather than preemptive dread. And as Saturday morning solidified for me, I am above and beyond grateful for this little village in which my girls get to grow.

22May

The Rainbow and the Snugglebug

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you might have noticed that I don’t share much personal info about my girls anymore. I never made a conscious decision to “retire” them from the blog, but as they’ve grown out of toddlerhood into bona fide kids, I’ve tried to respect their privacy as I would anyone else’s. This is a learning process for me, as it is for many bloggers I think: how to write about our real lives without violating the real people in them. It’s been a challenge trying to find my place on the continuum between Anne Lamott’s permission to write about anything that’s ever happened to us and Darren Prince’s conviction that we shouldn’t publish encounters with other people without their consent, and I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I regret having used someone else—even anonymously—as an example. Other times, I regret that I didn’t share a story out of fear that it might offend someone. And what about the times when I’m aching to dedicate a blog post to my girls but don’t want to trespass on their privacy?

Well, that’s not actually a hard one, in the end…

Natalie and Sophie have read this post and given me permission to proceed, though Sophie contends that it’s too short. I guess this just means we’ll have to do it again soon! </disclaimer>

I used to write monthly letters to the girls but stopped being able to keep up with them when I got a job a few years back. Once I found time to restart the habit, so many months had passed that the whole thing overwhelmed me, like an overflowing bin of photos waiting to be scrapbooked. I tried a couple of times to write backdated letters—how cool would it be if the girls could go into adulthood with a keepsake letter for every month of their childhood?—but the project had gotten too big, and I was too busy, and it is with no small amount of disappointment now that I admit that ship has sailed.

My longing to remember and preserve the infinite editions of these two rapidly growing girls has not abated, but I’m trying to allow myself the grace to be just their mom, not their biographer. “Pics or it didn’t happen” does not apply to mamalove, no matter how many moments we forget to Instagram. Still though, I don’t want this stage of life to slip by without a memorial, without my taking the time to acknowledge and marvel and really see this nine-year-old and this six-year-old that somehow, inexplicably, are mine.

So without further disclaimers or ado, here are my favorite things about these ages:

What I love about 9-years-old

What I love about 9

  • 9 always has something to say. ALWAYS. Even while she is brushing her teeth, her mind is so full of exciting bits of information that she can’t help it if a few burst out. She’s always ready to offer helpful advice or fill in knowledge gaps in a conversation (Seriously, how does the girl know so much?? I would be afraid to go up against her in Jeopardy), and when she talks about her plans for the future—currently, to be an artist/scientist—you’re liable to find yourself lifted right off your feet by her enthusiasm.
  • 9 is an emotional rainbow, covering a wide and dazzling range of moods in any given day. This can be… exhausting. But it can also be beautiful and mesmerizing, like watching a newly hatched butterfly unfold in increments. Plus, I find new admiration for my daughter every time she identifies her own emotions and tries to work with them (as opposed to my lifelong strategy of bingeing on sugar and waiting for it all to go away).
  • 9 is an infinite loop of curiosity and creativity. She devours books and films, absorbing details that I never would have noticed, and then sprinkles elements of them into her own fantastic stories and drawings. (If you ever come to visit, I’ll show you her “Car Wars” poster above my writing desk. It’s every bit as awesome as you’d imagine.)
  • 9 is officially a Big Kid, something my mama-brain struggles to keep up with. I’m still getting used to the aura of capability around her, the responsibility she takes both for herself and for any younger kids she might be with. I watched from the balcony today as she walked her little sister home from school, hand in hand, and it made my heart feel tender to the touch… both because she’s growing up so quickly and because she’s doing it so well.

What I love about 6-years-old

What I love about 6

  • 6 is hilarious—uninhibited, mischievous, and endlessly entertaining. This child makes us laugh more than any comedian, ever. She’s a genius at inappropriate humor, a master of comic timing, and the author and perfecter of the gratuitous shimmy. I cannot imagine life without her gap-toothed giggle, so I guess this means she’ll need to stay six forever. That would be just fine with me.
  • 6 approaches every single area of life with earnest. The way this kid runs—pell-mell forward, full-speed-ahead—reflects the way she goes about learning and loving too. She puts her whole weight into creative pursuits and her whole heart into relationships. She feels everything full-strength… and this is a strength for her, because a sensitive and open soul has the capacity to love the whole world. And she does.
  • 6 has the energy of about 37 healthy adults. Where it comes from, I can’t imagine, unless she took most of mine in-utero and is now cloning it in some secret lab accessible only by hula-hoop. She never walks when she could be running or stands still when she could be dancing. Even her eyes are boisterous (see photo above). Simply writing this paragraph makes me want a nap, but I have to admit, it can be fun to have people around who keep you on your toes. Especially ones you can put to bed at 8:30.
  • 6 is a snugglebug. She’s as affectionate as a puppy, and cuddling with her before bed helps me forget my sadness that we’re done with the baby stage. There is something deeply healing about having a child melt against you, comforted by your closeness; is it any wonder that 6-years-old leaves me melting in response?
7Apr

Open-Source Parenting: Adventure

The weekend before last, spring burst overhead like a cosmic dandelion puff. Sunbeams settled on our noses, songbird gossip tickled our ears, and last year’s snapdragons made a grand re-entry if only to outdo the wild daisies carpeting our town.

It was terrifying.

The first good weather of the year, see, held me accountable to a promise I’d made to Dan: that I would let the girls out to play. As in, by themselves. Without any form of parent nearby. At the little park which is only partially within sight and earshot of my window and which has a second street exit within neither.

I promise you that I have worked hard to curb my paranoid instincts about mothering. My imagination has always been a worst-case scenario handbook with an apocalyptic bent, and each of the girls has toddled at least once within a hairs breadth of tragedy; by all logic, I should be a vigilante-helicopter mutt of a mom. I try not to let the crazy limit my daughters’ development though, which is why I agreed that this would be the spring of going out to play. But oh, friends… the disasters that played out in my mind as soon as the girls left my sight. They were kidnapped at least three times a minute during that first hour.

Playground privileges
(That tiny speck of pink in the park is my heart walking around outside my body, NBD.)

The girls went out to the park every afternoon of the week, and while those accumulating hours of non-tragedy helped bolster my resolve, they still weren’t easy for me. Villains and bullies and natural disasters lurked in my peripheral vision every time I peeked out the window. I kept running a cost-benefit analysis on the girls’ independence; did their healthy development really outweigh the risk of whatever [unlikely] [but unspeakable] evil could befall them out there? Could I live with myself if something happened?

I don’t have any easy answers yet—and probably never will—but a little trip we took yesterday helped put things into perspective for me. The four of us were sitting around the Sunday lunch table feeling worn down and antsy from our week when we decided the only thing for it was to hit the road. Half an hour later, we were merging onto the highway, and half an hour after that, we were winding up to a little town we’d never visited before. No maps, no guidebooks, no agenda whatsoever (aside from gelato, which is my goal in everything).

Trevi

We only stayed an hour, but it was a gorgeous, living-out-loud kind of hour. Downtown Trevi is laid out like some kind of medieval maze, and we took turns choosing which direction to explore. The girls didn’t want to speak Italian—“We’re tourists today!”—so we snapped pictures and skipped and called to each other like the boisterous Americans we still are. I couldn’t stop grinning. Exploring like this might just be my favorite way to experience the world.

The girls exploring Trevi

It always has been, too. The way Natalie and Sophie were running down stone tunnels and peeking into courtyards of olive trees yesterday is exactly how I used to run down creek beds and peek into dogwood thickets as a kid. The neighborhoods I lived in growing up were so much bigger to me than they were to adults, who always let themselves be limited by things like road signs or propriety. I wandered and scouted and burrowed and built and destroyed and imagined and braved. My knees were perpetually scraped. I couldn’t wait to go outside. Knowing that there was a dangerous element to my explorations had only sharpened the experience for me, a sprinkle of chili on my chocolate.

I watched the girls bound up a twisty side path and thought of an article from The Atlantic that my friend Dunny sent me a couple of weeks ago. It’s long but well worth the read if you’re fascinated by this latest generation of overprotective parents (myself included) and how our preoccupation with safety might not be the best thing for our kids. The article features a playground in North Wales that is set up more like a junkyard than anything; old tires, mattresses, and tin drums are at the kids’ disposal, and a playground supervisor only intervenes in the case of actual danger—say, if a kid’s fire gets out of control. Do you know how much I would have loved playing there? Exploration and imagination were always far more thrilling to me than regulation-height swing sets; I suspect they are to most children.

I wrote in a recent post how I owe every joy of my adult life to the high level of independence granted me. This is not an exaggeration. Being able to chart the terrain of my own life from a young age is why I live in Italy today with an entrepreneur husband and two little girls who think anything is possible. Our life is full of unknown turns; we rarely know where the next month will take us, and sometimes our choices feel as helter-skelter as our wanderings through Trevi yesterday.

There is so much joy in a life of adventure though. The reality of risk heightens our senses, keeps our prayers earnest, and reminds us to appreciate. The low times provide contrast for the highs, and we learn as we go. We cultivate grace as a survival skill. We do our best to trust and to keep on trusting that we’re not doing this life alone, that divine love is holding us as surely as the ground beneath our feet. We look forward to new experiences, new places, new reserves of courage on tap.

I don’t want to be painting our lives too glibly here. If I were writing this on a day when our bank account was drip-drying, for instance, or when bureaucracy had us in a stranglehold, I would tell you how I sometimes petition the universe for boredom—just a little predictability, just enough of a nice stable rut for me to catch my breath. I know the truth though: living greatly means risking greatly. And the question I’m left with on this side of our weekend is… Could I live with myself if I didn’t let my girls experience this for themselves?

Unknown archway

Your turn! How do you cultivate a sense of adventure in your children? How much independence do you think is appropriate? Do you have any tips for parents like me who can’t help imagining sinkholes and trolls under the playground slide? The idea behind this Open-Source Parenting series is to share our collective wisdom for the good of all. I’ve learned more from other parents’ stories than I have from expert advice, and I’d wager you have too, so let’s continue the conversation in the comments below or over on Facebook. I’m looking forward to hearing your take!

21Mar

What Our Parents Did Right

We talk a lot about parenting here on ye olde blog. I love exchanging strategies to help us rock (or possibly just survive?) these early years, and I’ve frequently drawn on my own childhood for examples of philosophies to avoid. A friend’s recent comment, though, reminded me that there is a whole aspect of the parenting discussion that I haven’t yet touched on here:

“I’d love it if our adult children, and those of your readers, could share what they think their parents did right.”

What they did right. In a blink, his comment brought back a little document that I typed up one morning three years ago, a list of ways that my parents demonstrated love and made my childhood special. I didn’t have an agenda for writing it; in fact, it’s been gathering dust in the recesses of my hard drive ever since. All I remember about that morning is that I felt compelled to seek out and celebrate the positive in my life.

It’s the perfect time to resurrect that practice, don’t you think, here in the first bright exhalation of spring? I’d like to share highlights from my What they did right list today and then open up the comments for you to share some of your parents’ wins as well. We could all use the encouragement that no matter how we imperfectly we navigate this parenting gig, our efforts to love and champion our kids will not be forgotten. Ready?

My parents cultivated my love of reading. My mom is the one who taught me how to read, and both parents enthusiastically nurtured my resulting love affair with words—filling our home wall to wall with books, taking me to the library to borrow crates full, and letting me while away summer afternoons in the nook of a tree with Nancy Drew or Homer (the bard, not the Simpson) for company. We bonded over books as a family as well. Our weeknight ritual for years was to gather in the living room where we kids would work on crafty projects while our parents took turns reading aloud—a tradition that Dan and I carry on with our girls today. The tapestry of stories woven through my childhood still hangs on the walls of my imagination, lending its rich backdrop to everything I create, an heirloom of identity.

Bethany the bookworm

My parents let my brothers and I run… and skateboard and climb trees and play street hockey and roam the neighborhood on bikes and explore the woods and build our own stunt equipment and ride wagons toboggan-style down hills and generally have a fantastic time trying to kill ourselves in the great outdoors. This is an aspect of life that I realize our girls are missing out on living in an urban landscape and an era in which parents don’t let kids out of their sight until they’re twenty-five or so (and even then, not without a helmet). I loved having the freedom to explore both our geographical surroundings and the risk-taking possibilities of my small body. It infused life with the tang of adventure and, well, was just plain fun. I’m sedentary by nature, a total couch potato at soul, and these outdoor escapades are a large reason that I’ve spent my adulthood trotting the globe rather than moldering into the furniture.

Bethany in a tree

My parents invested themselves personally into my education. Beyond teaching me to read, my mom also provided my first introduction to math, history, science, music. She taught my fingers how to fly across piano keys and my arms how to sink elbow-deep into bread dough. She and my dad together taught me how to keep up a home, everything from applying wallpaper to cleaning the ceiling fans, and they made sure I had opportunities to pursue many different extracurricular interests—dance, sewing, creative writing, even politics for a while. They shuttled me to my first Shakespeare class when I was still in elementary school and, despite our unconventional schooling approach, made sure I had the solid academic base I’d need for college. Their involvement was as big a factor in my education as the coursework itself was.

Bethany at the piano

My parents let me do things on my own when I felt ready. I can’t imagine putting Natalie on a plane by herself one short year from now, but I took the first flight of my life all by myself for my tenth birthday. Layover and everything. By eleven, I was going out in the evening for babysitting jobs. At fourteen, I traveled to a foreign country with a group of people I didn’t know—an experience so life-expanding that I kept it as a summer tradition until the year my first daughter was born. I landed a real office job at fifteen and left home for school at sixteen, and though many parents would have balked at giving me so much independence so young, mine stood with me. They let me write my own definition of age-appropriate milestones rather than making me wait for others’, and to that I owe every joy of my adult life.

Bethany on top of the world

Your turn! Here in the comments (or over on Facebook), tell me something your parents especially rocked at, and we can all start our weekends basking in each other’s good memories. No helmets required.

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