Pete and Repeat…

The thing about my parenting…I am the main common factor when it comes to my boys.  They have quite a gap age wise between them and as my little one hits phases and/or ages that my big one has already grown through, I sometimes have already forgotten how it went with the big one.  Other times, my little one’s behavior is so similar to my big boy it hits me like a bolt of lightning. We have recently hit one of those lightning bolt phases and it leaves me pondering if it is really my boys’ behavior or my reaction to the behavior that prolongs the issues.

My little one is eight years old.  When his brother was this age, our grief was still very fresh.  Their dad had only been dead a year and a half or so. Many years have passed, so I don’t expect some of the behaviors that I now see in my little one as he walks through this phase of his life.  I wonder many times if it is grief, normal eight year old behavior, or my responses to the similar behavior in my second child.  When his brother was eight, I was struggling so much. There was so much change in our lives.  We had switched schools, I was still crying all the time, I was still in the fog of the unknown and the sadness of what had happened.  My sweet little one was just a toddler.  We spent most of our days together while his brother was at school.  With the exception of school obligations with his brother or visiting cousins at my mom and dad’s, we really didn’t get out much.  I sat many days lost in sadness.  I often wonder how this will affect his sweet little soul.  He and his brother were my only sources of joy.  He was the sweet little toddler who helped me survive.  His brother was pretty sad at the time too…really lost without his dad who had been with him so much.  For my big boy, his life had changed so radically.  He and Dave had all their afternoons and weekends together for so many years.  Dave always pulled the afternoon shift with him.  I worked midday into evening and Dave worked early morning until afternoon.  We worked hard to avoid too much daycare/preschool for my big boy.  When my husband died…so did my big boy’s regular routine.

As my little one walks through the same age, I witness much of the same behaviors that my big boy went through at his age.  There is anger, disappointment, and conflict when he is asked to tend to his responsibilities.  He seems unhappy much of the time we are together and it makes me sad.  I’m not sure if this is an eight year old thing, just my kids’ thing, or me.  As a parent, I often wonder how my behavior steers my children’s behavior.  Once again, we are trudging through big life changes.  This time, the changes are not tragic, but they are altering our lives nonetheless.

Back then, I would reach out to one of my friends (who was a MSW, educator, children’s and women’s advocate) for help gauging my behavior, keeping my grief in check, and basically making sure I wasn’t going crazy.  She patiently guided me through parenting while living with great loss. She would often remind me of the parent I wanted to be and the goals I had prior to losing my husband.  She would help me with language when I spoke to my children about my own grief.  I always wanted to be honest with them, but never leave them with fear or insecurity of their own safety and to make sure that they knew that I would be able to care for them even if their dad was gone.

For my little one, this school year started with many unknowns, much like the beginning of his brother’s third grade year.  Although the circumstances are different, the changes for my sweet boy were many.  I would no longer be on campus with him.  We no longer ride to and from school together and most afternoons, my kids get home before me.  Evenings go by so quickly and my workload has increased.  We are all a tad bit more tired as we move from the laid back summer schedule to the regular schedule of the school year.  We also didn’t have our abundant, summer time together because I worked most of the time. He is feeling the impact of all these things.  I am sure about that.

As we settle in more (his words), I had hoped to see him drop some of the behaviors that were concerning me.  He has…a bit…but now a few others are rearing their ugly heads.   I am very aware of them now though.  I know that when he wanders into my room every night to sleep, he is missing me more during the days.  I know that when he refuses his homework, he might just need me in the same room while he works.  I know that when his anger erupts, he is most likely feeling like his life is out of control.

Will I be the same mom to him as I was to his brother all those years ago?  No, of course not.  I can’t be that same mom.  I’m not the same woman.  He is not the same child as his brother.  Although, behaviors may echo his brothers they are two very different souls.  Even if it is the similarities of how grief may affect an eight year old, my little one’s grief is his only.  This lesson I have learned because of my own journey…everyone has their own grief journey.  Will I alter how I deal with him? Will my actions be different with him than with his brother? Most likely…yes. Will the big ideals change? Nope.

In many, many ways my boys have similarities.  They look very much alike.  They both have their daddy’s beautiful smile and his mischievous eyes. They are hard workers, love to play silly, boy games, and both have great senses of humor. Even their behaviors mirror each other at times. As with anyone that crosses my path though, I must always remember that they are two wonderfully individual souls. As that sentence hits the page, I realize how lucky and really blessed I am to be their mom. I realize that no matter how hard parenting can be at times, it is an amazing gift.  No matter how much I worry, no matter how much I struggle with my own proficiency at parenting, and no matter how frustrated I may get along the way, I will always cherish these moments…and will always, always hope that their dad is close by and not missing how wonderful these boys he created with me are.  They are so much like him in so many ways…yet so themselves in so many ways.

Even though behaviors and time feel like they’re repeating, it is truly new every day.  The best I can hope for myself is that I’ve learned a few things along the way and my compassion and love for them shines through the most…even on those days when it feels like we’ve been here before…

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Whoomp…there it is

I have been feeling pretty good lately, pretty normal…as relative as normal is. I have going through the days happily, enjoying my work, enjoying my kiddos and even added some extra things that I enjoy outside the responsibilities.  Simply stated…life is good.  One phrase I thought I’d never utter again.

So this week, my big boy had a milestone.  He is starting a new phase of his life, a wonderful phase of his life.  He asked a sweet, young lady out on a date.  This is so wonderful.  This is so fabulous! He mustered up the courage, asked, and she accepted.  It is a big deal for him.  Of course, he is totally nonchalant about it.  He came to me and asked me about my schedule for the weekend, told me his plan, and was completely thoughtful about the whole thing.  He shared the whole process with me…and for those of you who know how much I love the process…this was such a gift!

The day came.  We all went our ways for the day.  He asked.  She said yes! When we got home after school, he told me about it.  I am so thrilled for him.  I am a tad nervous about it, but thrilled about it at the same time.

A few hours later, I was back in bedroom alone and WHOOMP!   There it was…my grief swooped in, buckled my knees, and blurred my eyes.  I stood looking out the window as all those widowy feelings consumed me.  I was sad for him, because his dad is not here to guide him through this moment of his life.  I was sad that his dad wasn’t here to hug him and tell him what good kid he is.  I was sad that Dave didn’t get to see his boy turning into a man.  I was sad for me.   I was sad for me because that familiar feeling snuck in and whispered that no one else in the world cares for my boys like I do…and I don’t have him here to share this stuff with anymore.  I miss the joking, the smiles, those parent moments…I just felt so alone again.

My eyes welled up with tears, but no crying came.  My body felt the tension that my sadness can bring, but it did not overwhelm me.  My heart ached, but it felt strong at the same time.  As much as my grief can surprise me, I can withstand it now.  It is like standing in the ocean and letting the large wave come over you and not losing your stance.  It came. I felt it. It hurt, but I am not broken this time.  I held my ground. I let all the thoughts fill my head and then let them exit my mind.  I can let myself miss him like I did in those first moments when he took his last breath and still lead a happy life.  The two have come to some type of odd balance…at least this time.

I reached out to several friends to share my part of my boy’s new dating exploration.  They may not have known that it was one of my survival techniques when my heart is recovering, but maybe they do.  They were open and let me share.  Although it may not be the same as having his dad here to share it with, it was nice.  Being able to have these friends out there that let me process my life, my experiences and see those experiences reflected back to me through our conversations makes a valuable difference for me.  I have to be vulnerable and believe that they care enough to listen and also courageous enough to reach out to them.  It has taken me years to build the courage to reach out to others.  It has taken loving, patient friends who will let me contact them with the mundane…and then just listen and chat about it.  They are kind and let me interrupt their lives with my routine endeavors…that many times seem like daily things, but are big transitions for me.

I love them for that!

So, my big boy will have his date.  I will hold my breath until he gets home to tell me how it went.  Nearly like normal…we will balance our missing Dave with how life is now…and hopefully move toward tomorrow with more love and fortitude in our hearts than we had today.

Parenting at Light Speed

When my big boy was born, I was fortunate to be surrounded by many lovely women who were ahead of me on their journey as parents.  Shortly after he was born, I took on a new, full time ministry position.  In my supervisor’s infinite wisdom, she allowed me to bring my infant son to work when I was not in direct ministry.  So, my small, shared office was filled with a playpen and baby supplies.  There were all elements of my young mothering in that office.  Everything from pacies to my breast pump sat under and around my desk.  These women held my son while they worked every day.  They held my spirit and guided me through that challenging first year of parenting with compassion and care.  They always were available to listen, help me balance my new work/family life and love on my sweet boy.  This first year of ministry and parenting seemed to fly by so quickly.  Soon my sweet infant was a busy toddler and our time of being in the office together was finished as he went off to care in other places daily.  He left our small village and we moved into a new phase of his life.

During this first year, one of the ongoing themes of their sage advice was that time would go by so quickly.  They all had children and were in many different stages of parenting. This advice deeply touched my heart and I was careful to pay close attention to not just my son, but my speedy journey as a new mom.  I treasured each moment, whether it was momentous or not.  Each day, each smile, the moments spent comforting him, the late nights, the colds, singing to him, playing with him and all the little pieces that make up a lifetime were taken into my heart carefully and etched into my soul.

My busy toddler grew.  Our lives took turns that made me so grateful that I had taken great care with our journey.  As our lives changed together, as his brother joined our family, as our family was rocked to its core, time moved steadily forward.  He is now in his first year of high school.  Although, he may not be aware of it, I still heed the sage advice of the women who surrounded me that first year of his life.  I watch and am amazed every day by who he is becoming and am filled with pride as I watch him navigate the world without his dad.  What I didn’t expect was that the speed would pick up so much.  It feels like my parenting journey with him has jumped into light speed.  Over the summer, as I investigated the role of parenting a high schooler with those around me, they warned me about the time going by like a blink of an eye.  I readied myself for this increase in speed, but I didn’t anticipate the jump into hyper drive!

It feels like each day is filled with new successes and challenges.  I feel him becoming his own man and feel my parenting changing to accommodate this.  My heart leaps each day as he comes home with a smile.  My heart sinks as our conflicts in ideologies and perspectives rise.  He has always had different ideas, but now they are life shaping ideas.  I know all this is normal, but part of me misses my little boy.  I am filled with excitement watching him carve his path, but this excitement is followed by concern as he will face the struggles of life.  I know I can’t protect him from all this, but I want to be able to protect him.  So much of him is like me, I long to save him from all the stupid mistakes I made…but, I know that he must make all his own mistakes and his successes will be his.  All this happening at such a fast pace, I am just hoping to keep up and be able to continue to etch the moments into my heart.

I also hope that through this high speed journey of his teenage years he will know how much I love him.  I hope he knows how proud I am of him each day, each moment, each breath.  I hope he feels my love and it gives him courage to move from one exciting step to the next.  I hope he doesn’t misunderstand my discipline for disappointment.  I hope he doesn’t mistake my caring for him as wanting to control him.

All those years ago, one of my wise friends gave me a framed poem about parenting. Written by another wise woman, it used to hang in my big boy’s room in those infant, toddler and little boys years.  I have taken it to heart and know that my job is parent is only to guide and prepare, not control…

Children are like kites.

You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground.

You run with them until you’re breathless,

They crash,

You add a longer tail,

They hit the rooftops,

You pluck them out of the spout,

You patch and comfort, adjust and teach.

You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they’ll fly!

Finally, they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out

And with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy

Because the kite becomes more distant and somehow

You know that it won’t be long before

That beautiful creature will snap the lifeline

That bound you together

And soar as it was meant to soar~

Free and alone.

~Erma Bombeck

…even when life is moving at light speed.

Looking forward, glancing back

We all say goodbyes.  We all have moments when one part of our lives seems to close and another area is new and fresh.  Change is inevitable and ongoing.  I know this.  I know this well.  I am also pretty sure that things will work out ok.  They may not always work out the way I prefer them, but they usually work out for the better.

This week has been a week of endings for my family.  With those endings comes the new beginnings too.  Each time I hit an achievement or my kiddos do, I can’t help but glance back at how I’ve done.  I’m just one of those folks who always looks back to see how can I do better next time.  I try not to beat myself up, but I do at times…only to do better the next time…right?

Being the only parent in the house has been very hard for me over the years.  There is the full responsibility of guiding these precious souls toward their purposes, their joys, their challenges and their dreams.  For any parent, this is a huge responsibility.  There is also the part as a sole parent that there is no one to share this with every day.  I’m not sure which of these aspects is more difficult for me.

This week, my big boy finished elementary school.  He was promoted from eighth grade and will go to high school next year.  He has officially survived middle school! He is turning into such a wonderful young man.  Every day I watch as he changes physically, emotionally, spiritually.  It is an amazing and awesome process. I am so proud of him.  I am so proud that amidst his struggles he continues to find something everyday to be happy about, grateful about…

My little one will be in second grade next year.  We have many wonderful years of elementary school left.  We will remain in a school we have loved and he will be nurtured by people I trust and am continually grateful.  He has mastered reading.  He is skilled at making new friends.  He doesn’t always hit people who upset him anymore! Such large strides for such a little fella! I am so proud of him.  It is an amazing and awesome process.  He has turned from little kiddo to school kiddo before my very eyes!  I remember thinking when his dad died that if I could make it until he went to school…that would be amazing…well, it is.

Each boy has made strides, had joys, had challenges and they continue to plug on…just like I do everyday.  I am grateful.

Glancing back at the beginning of the school year, things were different for all of us.  We have each grown.  As I watched my big boy’s promotion and looked at the end of year video for my little one, I started my process of looking back.  As I watched the 1st grade video at home yesterday, I began to cry.  I don’t cry that much anymore…but I did.  I felt guilty, I felt sad, I felt, well, I felt yet another step further away from the life I wanted.  I really miss Dave still.  Sadness still overcomes me when we have a family event and he’s not here.  I miss that we had great end of the school year day, but I came home to no one.  I hate that the boys had a great year of growth and have such bright futures to look forward to and he is not here to celebrate that with them.  I hate that he is not here to do his Foghorn Leghorn impression…”son, I said, I said, son, I’m proud of you”.  Every day we succeed, I know it is what he wanted.  Every day we succeed, I know it is what is meant to be…that said…it doesn’t make it any easier.  There is still a hole.  There are still those wandering thoughts…how would life be if he was still here?  I think it’s even stronger when we transition, when change is evident, when we move closer to the people we are to become.

So, as I look back…maybe the better word is “feel” back…I know that I will continue forward also.  I know we will face our new challenges as we’ve faced challenges in the past.  I know we will continue to grow and become, we will still feel the vacancy of his laugh, his hugs, his smile…but, we will still keep going.

As I glance back at the school year, I am so grateful for all the “newness” in our lives.  It has really been a remarkable year of growth…for me especially.  I will face tomorrow, as I always have…with hope.  I will say goodbye again with tears, but know that they are tears of growth…no matter how hard that is.  I choose hope.  I choose growth. I will hold my love very closely in my heart.  I will miss him.  I will, hopefully, make him proud.  Glancing back, remembering, it’s all a part of it…all a part of this life…not the life chosen, but the life lived intentionally.

So tired of being the bad cop…

As a sole parent, I am always the bad cop.  Not a day goes by when I don’t have to play the role. Even on a beautiful Sunday after a nice trip to the park, within minutes of being home out comes the bad cop.  Boys will be boys, but when push comes to shove…and punching…and just altogether rottenness…bad cop/mom has to step in and remind them of the expectations.

Now add into the mix a teenager who’s beginning to feel his oats and mom is on the losing end of the conversation every time.  Now, not only does discipline come into play, but I have to listen to the teenage rebuttal.  The rude expression of opinion is given and I am repeatedly told that I don’t know anything and am hated.  I know that this is the true sign that I am doing my job as a parent…but it gets old when you’re the only parent around to take it.

Day in and day out, the work never ceases for any parent.  For me as a sole parent, some days the responsibilities are so heavy I’m not sure I’ll make it through hour, let alone the entire day.  Breaks are far and few between and my time away from my kids is most often spent working…this mommy needs a break!

I remind myself that I am blessed to have two healthy, happy children.  I remind myself that all moms go through things like this.  I remind myself that “this too shall pass” and it does, but most days it seems to be followed by another issue.  I have tried the last few years to infuse more fun, more joy, more hope into our lives.  I knew that the boys took their mood cues from me when they were little…now they can just be all moody all by themselves…it doesn’t matter if I’m in a good mood, their moods can just be rotten.  Some days I wish we could just be on the same page for a few moments.

Oh well, I will try to appreciate the short moments of good behavior around me and savor the fact that when they are around others they are good boys. I know that it is only their deep security with me that allows for the expressions of their negative emotions toward me or at least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself!  They know I love them.  They know I will set the boundaries.  They know I will be the bad cop.  I will be grateful that they know they are loved and that I am here with them.  I will be grateful that they’re really good boys…down deep.  What more could a mom want?