Archive for the ‘parenting’ Tag
This afternoon one of my Halloween decorations mysteriously lost its two front legs: a cute little kitty, now permanently crippled because the ceramic paws are completely shattered. My first thought when I found it, sitting in its usual place, with all its bits and pieces lined up beside it, was ‘Why do I bother with decorations when I have four kids running around the house?’ My second thought was, ‘Who did this?’
So I began questioning my children. Surprisingly, not a single one of them admitted to breaking the Halloween cat. One of them tried to blame the dog, but our little Westie couldn’t have reached the shelf where it had been on display. Another one of them tried to blame Dad (never a wise move). So I let the case rest.
Until tonight when we sat down to dinner. A surprise development occurred when I asked my eleven year old to bless our food. ”Dear Heavenly Father,” he prayed, “Please bless the food. And please bless us that we can talk about the things that are upsetting or troubling us.”
“Thank you, Hunter,” I said when he had finished his blessing. I was little worried about that last part, though, so I turned to the rest of the family and asked. ”Does anyone have anything that is troubling or upsetting you that you want to talk about?”
“Yes,” said Pierce, my five-year-old, waving his hand up in the air.
“What is it?”
“I don’t like this dinner.”
“Okay,” I said. ”Anyone else?”
Hunter looked at me, his face all trouble and concern. ”I broke the cat, Mom,” he said. ”I didn’t mean to.”
He probably expected me to be mad. It was a cute little kitty. But I couldn’t be angry. Because I was looking at his face, and seeing all that trouble and concern, and it made me much sadder than a broken Halloween decoration. I put my arms around him and kissed the top of his head. I was so grateful that I could make all that guilt and sadness go away, just by forgiving him. And so grateful that he would tell me what had happened so that I could forgive him. ”Next time tell me right when it happens, okay?” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
And I hope he will.
Spring is here. Ribbons of yellow daffodils are growing on the side of the road. Robbins are hopping around, their red breasts puffed out in front of them. And soccer season has begun. My weekly schedule is suddenly an ink smear of places I need to be. I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all. In fact, I’m NOT keeping up with it all. Last Friday I completely forgot about a music evaluation my son, Hunter, had for piano. It was an exam of sorts, including sight reading, performance, theory, and technique. He’d been working toward it for months. And I forgot. So did he. We both felt terrible. Tears-on-our-cheeks TERRIBLE.
First thing Saturday morning I called his teacher, Rebecca, to apologize. “I don’t even have a good excuse,” I confessed. “We just forgot.”
Hunter’s piano teacher is one of the kindest, most gracious people I know. But even so, I expected her to be frustrated. Disappointed at the least. I would have been. Instead, she responded by saying, “I am so happy to know that everything is okay. I was worried that Hunter was sick.”
Before I had a chance to plunge into an even deeper state of guilt, our sweet teacher went on to say, “Now, Janessa, I’ve had this sort of thing happen to me many times. I wish I had been gentler with myself. Please. Be gentle with yourself.”
There wasn’t much I could say to that, especially not with the tears welling up in my eyes. I shared her words with my son, Hunter, and saw a wide-eyed look of gratitude and adoration appear on his face.
Be gentle with yourself. What a valuable lesson. I hope Rebecca knows she is teaching Hunter so much more than how to play the piano. And I am learning, too.
Lucky. That is how I felt today when I dropped my four year old off for preschool. He stopped on his way to the door, turned around, shouted, “I love you, Mom,” and blew me a kiss.
The little things do it every time – make me realize how wonderful life really is. That little kiss, sent to me across the chilly February air, blew away a thousand thoughts and concerns that have been pressing on me lately, most of them concerning the word MORE.
That word, ‘more’, has been such a burden lately. I need to lose more weight. I need more fashionable clothes. I need to finish more of my book. I need my house to look more put together. I’ve been so focused on what I don’t have, and that little kiss brought it back to me: the remembrance of all the things I do have. All the little, tiny, precious, priceless things.
As I drove away, feeling lighter than I have in a while, I thought about the word more, and what I really need more of: more gratitude, more patience, more love, more doing good for others, more fun with my family, more laughing, more smiling, more hugs, and more, more, more feathery kisses blowing my way on light and lucky breezes.
I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. It’s a habit my mom started me on. Sunday afternoons she would hand us each our hard back, blank-paged book, our name engraved on the front, and instruct us to write something about our week. Most of my early entries were catalogs of which VHS movie we rented from Albertson’s for our weekly movie night (we rented the VCR, too) and what candy I picked to go with it. I must have really loved those movie nights.
As I got older I turned to my journal more often than Sunday afternoons, and began writing in order to make sense of my life and my feelings, like this entry from 1988: “I’m in the 6th grade right now and everything is really confusing. I don’t want to grow up sometimes.” (Don’t you just want to give that poor girl a hug and tell her everything will be okay?)
Now I am a journal enthusiast. I have journals for every trip I’ve taken, journals for each of my kids, a journal about mothering, a journal to record my spiritual journey through life, and a journal I just started where I try to write one super-positive, self-affirming statement every morning. I feel a little silly about that last one, but I’m telling you, it really makes a difference.
I also have a journal that I share with my daughter, Hattie. We hand it back and forth to each other, taking turns writing messages to each other on its secret pages. Most of Hattie’s entries start and end with, “I love you.” One even says, “I love you so much. Even better than the stars.” But last week she broke the mold with this little missive:
STOP YELLING AT ME!
Wow. Point taken. I had been yelling too much. Not just at her – at everybody. Now I had a whole new reason to be grateful for our little journal. It gave her the chance to share her feelings with me, even when they were negative. At different points throughout the journal I had offered small suggestions or corrections to her behavior, and now she was offering one to mine. I was definitely humbled. Especially when a few minutes later she stole the journal away and amended the page to read:
I’m sorry. I’ll forgive you. But can you forgive me?
I have so much to learn from her. Of all the journals I have kept over the years, I already know this one will be my most priceless. The others I have stacked away in bins and boxes, but this one will always be close by. I hope it will continue to grow and change, just like my little girl. Her birthday is this week. I can’t believe how big she is getting. She is so excited to be in the spotlight. Her last entry in the journal reads,
One more day til my birthday. Well, I guess one and a half, to be more pacific.
This afternoon I headed up to Sandy for my fourth consecutive summer as an attendee of the Writing and Illustrating for Young Reader’s Conference. It is an excellent conference, with so many interesting, inspiring, and engaging writers who share their knowledge and experience with ‘pre-published’ writers like myself. (‘Pre-published’ is a term I picked up this afternoon – as opposed to ‘unpublished’. Doesn’t it sound nicer?) However, in spite of all the writing love that goes around, a smallish-largish part of me was dreading attending the conference yet again as one of the ‘pre-published’. What is my problem that I am STILL working on my revisions? Why is it taking me so long?
Of course I know the answer to that. I have four kids, and when it comes down to it my time will always go to them first. At the beginning of this last school year, my youngest headed off to preschool two mornings a week. I was so excited to finally have some time alone to write. But I ended up volunteering at the elementary school both those mornings. When school ended, and my book was still unfinished, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Maybe I should have kept those mornings to myself.
What saved me from the burden of regret was a packet of bright blue cards that my son, Hunter, brought home from his fourth grade class on the last day of school. Thank you notes from his classmates for all the time I put into teaching them creative writing this year.
Here are some of my favorites (with original writing and punctuation):
You are my Wrighting Hero! Thank you very much!
I get to be a hero! Writing to the rescue!
Your the best in the world. You helped us a lot with our story’s. Thank you so much.
I’m a huge fan of hyperbole when it applies to me.
You are so greate. I love riteing and this really helped me. Thank you!
I’m not sure if I should be concerned about the various spellings for the word ‘writing’, but I was thrilled to know that this little girl loves to write, and that my time spent with the class helped her with the process.
You have been great and I think you made my book turn out good!
I loved this note because the boy who wrote it really did an excellent job with revisions. I was really proud of the effort he put into his book, and was glad that he saw the difference it made.
You are very pretty and thank you for the advice.
Pure gratification. I’m pretty and smart? Yay!
Thank you for taking the time to teach us to write!
I appreciated that this boy acknowledged the time that went into working with the class. There were so many nights when I stayed up late reading their stories. But when I read this last note, it was clear to me that all the time I gave them was worth it.
Thank you for giving me great ideas for my story. I hope that you liked coming to our class to incourage us to become a life long writer.
These notes were just what I needed to soothe my frustration at not finishing my novel. They reassured me that my time away from my own writing was time well spent. Maybe I’ll carry them with me to the conference tomorrow, to remind me that it is okay to still be sitting among the ‘pre-published’.
Everyone has been home for the past three days, and the skies outside are damp and gray. The perfect equation for a very messy house. Today in the midst of my spraying, scrubbing and sweeping I remembered what my friend Lisa said, which I quoted in my last post: “Dishes are no big deal.” I think hearing her say that resonated with me so much because I often allow housework to take up an unnecessary amount of my emotional energy. Not long after picking up my sponge, I find myself feeling a lot like poor, miserable Atlas, holding up the weight of the world.
Why do I allow housework to do this to me? I remember with perfect clarity the first time I suffered from housework-induced ennui. I was a newlywed wiping off the edges of a dirty toilet bowl. I felt so dissastisfied and depressed that I sat down immediately afterwards and wrote a pathetic little essay about it in which I cursed my sorry fate.
I’ve managed to come to terms with housework quite a bit since those early days. I’ve decided that cleaning my house is just something that needs to be done. Not my calling in life, my destiny, my raison de vivre. No. It’s no big deal. Like shaving my legs or going to the dentist. I don’t enjoy it, but I get it done.
And I do understand the value of work, whether tedious or not. Which is why I can’t make myself hire a cleaning service. I need work, and I know my kids need it, too. They don’t fight when they are doing their jobs. They are focused on working, and our home hums with industry and satisfaction. For five minutes. Maybe. But I’ll take what I can get, and keep reminding myself that the repetitive, mundane tasks don’t accumulate to equal the size and mass of the densest planet in our solar system. Poor Atlas, indeed.
The lilacs are blooming, the creek that runs past our house is swelling with a fast-moving swirl of cold mountain run off, and the sounds from the schoolyard are growing more and more exuberant. Summer is coming.
Slowly. The air is still a little too cool. The list of to-do’s a little too long. But we are all taking a deep breath and holding it. Waiting for school to end and for lazy summer mornings to settle in; afternoons out of doors with popsicles melting in our hands; evenings surrounded by scrub oak, riding through the foothills on our bikes.
But before we say goodbye to the school year, I have to stop and reflect on how much my kids have grown since last August. The new shoes I bought them don’t fit anymore, the pants have long since worn through at the knee. My ten year old, especially, has grown to a whole new person – tall, smart, and confident. He has had a great year. I’ve saved a letter he wrote to me back in January, for his parent-teacher conference. I thought it said so much about his year as a fourth grader, and his thoughtfulness. It gives a sweet savor to the year’s end.
School is going great! I feel like I am improving in math and other subjects. Even though I am learning so much there are some things I need to improve, like staying on task and working more quickly.
At recess I mostly play tag but on Tuesday it was great to see you at the Book Fair!
Lunch is great too, thanks for making home lunch for me. It is funny what conversations we have at the lunch table.
I love the times when you come to teach writing!
I couldn’t call this “Monday’s Portrait” because Monday is over. I have four more minutes before Tuesday is gone, too. So I’ll be brief. It has been very busy here. One of my projects has been helping my son’s fourth grade class finish up their creative writing projects. I gave them each an “Editorial Letter,” this week, poor things. I tried not to be negative at all. I just gave them each an idea for changing their stories. They hate changing their stories. But I have been trying to emphasize that revising means making changes.
One of the problems I found in many of their stories is that once they got their main characters into a tough situation they didn’t know what to do next. So they would just hurry and end the story. For the girls that meant the bad guys suddenly turned good and had a picnic with the protagonists. For the boys it often involved dead bodies. Including the protagonists. This was my all time favorite:
“They all got sucked in a portal and they were never seen again. The end.”
I think this is awesome. I wish I could end all of my books this way. I even wish I could find this portal and climb into it myself. I don’t want to be never seen again, even though I think the portal people are living happily ever after, with milk and warm cookies to eat. I just want to disappear for the rest of the month and reemerge when soccer and baseball and dance and piano recitals and school carnivals and field trips and book fair and all the end-of-the-school-year-hoopla is over.
In last week’s post I promised more discussion about my failed attempt to finish my novel by January 24th. Like I said, I’m happy with the way the revisions are going, but in February I wasn’t feeling quite so optimistic about it. I have been working on this novel for YEARS. It has grown and developed so much, but it has also spanned all the years of my motherhood. In fact, when I started with my first critique group I missed our inaugural meeting because my oldest child had just been born. At the time, I was workshopping the same manuscript I am working on today, and in February, that newborn baby turned ten years old.
When his birthday arrived, I was already feeling like a failure for not finishing my novel. Now I began to mourn the fact that my baby had become such a big boy. Time felt like a weight on my shoulders. I didn’t seem to have any control over it. I wanted to stop the rush of years, get my book done, and hold on tight to my little ones before they all grew up.
About that time, my parents came into town and invited me to a Utah Jazz basketball game. I brought my oldest son with me, and we had fun eating nachos and cheering with the crowd. Then something entirely unexpected happened. At half-time a group of dancers came to the floor. They wore long tops and pants, and most of them had white, permed hair. They were announced as Jean’s Golden Girls, ranging between 50-93 years old. Between them they had 500 children, 1200 grandchildren, and 250 great-grandchildren. The music started, and those women started to shake and shimmy like you’ve never seen.
It took my breath away. I watched them give everything to the dance, smiles on their faces. I whooped and screamed, delighted at their performance, their joie de vivre, and suddenly I was crying. Tears streaming down my face in the middle of a loud, hot, crowded basketball stadium. I seriously wondered if I was losing my mind. I tried wiping my eyes before my mom could see and wonder about my mental health, but I just couldn’t watch those ladies without a profound emotion welling up from deep inside.
By the time their six minutes on the court had ended, something inside me had changed. I didn’t think of time in the same way – as something finite that was rushing past me, ever elusive. I saw it now as a gift to be enjoyed. Celebrated. Used for living, writing, mothering, dancing. The fear that time would pass me by no longer pressed down on me, and when the show ended with a ninety-three year old woman doing the splits in center court, I cheered louder than anyone else in the stadium.
That was over a month ago, and the weight is still diminished. I continue to ask myself, ‘Will I ever get my novel finished?’ but I know I will. Maybe not in the time frame I would like, but I am committed to it, and I will finish it. It is also true that my children will grow up much faster than I would like. And it will break my heart and make me happier than I can imagine all at the same time. But I’m going to try not to worry too much about deadlines or driver’s ed. I’m going to try and enjoy the dance.
I’m back. Sadly I haven’t finished my re-writes, so no, I didn’t enter the contest at Amazon, but I have been happy with the way my revisions are re-shaping my novel and will continue working on it. More on that later. For now, a quick post from a conversation I just had with my daughter.
Hattie comes home from school every day, anxious to recount every drama large or small from the life of an eight year old girl. The recess slights, the classroom mistakes – she worries over it all. She worries because she is trying so hard to be be good – to always say the right thing and to be friends with everyone. But sometimes that is hard. People, after all, can be very irritating, and Hattie, like the rest of us, isn’t perfect. Today she followed me into the laundry room and confessed, “If people knew what I was thinking, everyone would hate me.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I don’t know what it was. Her frankness, maybe. Or that sweet look on her face indicating that she thought she was the only one who could ever be so positively wicked. I gave her a big hug and told her she wasn’t alone. And then, in one of those coincidences that don’t ever seem to be purely happenstance, I remembered something I read this morning in an article entitled, “Looking for the Good,” by Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
I told Hattie that we all have good and bad inside of us. If we look for the good things in people, we’ll find it. If we look for the bad, the bad is what we’ll find. What we need to do is try and look for the good, and hopefully, others will do the same for us. I know I’d be in big trouble if people tried to find my bad qualities, because there are more than I would care to admit! (And my daughter probably knows that better than anyone.)
Hattie seemed reassured by our conversation. The concern left her face, making room for all her freckles and a conspiratorial smile. I was glad that at least this time, I had the right thing to say.