Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 23, 2011 ~ Day 104
Speaking Truth

My sister just raised a really excellent point about this 365 blog... asked me about something I have actually thought about at length during the past few months.

She pointed out that since my children and husband are essentially the featured characters whose lives play out on these pages, the kids may not appreciate it very much when they are sixteen, fourteen and twelve years old to read about their rougher moments-tantrums-conflicts-etc.

I really appreciated her honest concern, especially since she is such a great mother to four teenagers herself. She's made it a lot further than I have on this road of parenting and is kindly giving me a preview for potential pitfalls ahead. "What? You told them that I threw a rock at his head when I was five? Man, now everyone I know is going to think I'm a bully! Thanks, MOM!"

I would be lying if I said that this didn't worry me, because the whole point of this project is to leave my children with something substantive that they will be able to read and have all throughout their lives.

Still, I have really dug deep over this issue and have made my peace with the issue of potential future hurt feelings.

I adore my children. They are the flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. They are basically my sun-moon-stars and rainbows... and also my thunderclouds and mudslides.

I am writing keeping this blog every day to give them an intimate view of the meaning I find in life... the meaning I find in all of its wonders and all of its most heinous moments.

If I write to them only about the best moments we share as a family, my blog will be two dimensional like a photo album where every person is smiling in every photo. Pretty, but not true to life. I won't be giving them a gift of substance; just a gift of surface beauty where everything looks perfect - but deep down we all know that nothing in life is perfect. Least of all me, their mother.

My friend and I were talking the other day about how films do a disservice to couples, making you feel like the hardest part of a relationship is just the time when you are actually getting together - or up until you actually get married. As the couples go riding off into the sunset, we look at them and think, "If only I could find my Prince or Princess Charming, everything would be amazing in my life forever after."

Yet, the reality is that for most couples the hard work starts after you get married and that staying married and keeping love alive is a mixture of art-faith-chemistry and devotion.

The same thing goes for having a baby. Just three days ago I was waiting in front of my eldest son's classroom to pick him up from school and struck up a conversation with another mother there to pick up her five year old daughter. She was tending to a small baby in an infant seat and I asked her how old her baby was.

"Three months."

"Oh wow. Are you sleeping at all?"
(This is the kind of question that anyone who has had kids or been around kids much knows is a big deal for at *least* the first three months of a child's life.)

Her face crumpled, just a tad. "Hardly at all. She keeps tricking me. One night she sleeps through the night and I think we've passed through the hardest part, and then the next night she wakes up every hour."

"Ugh. I feel for you, I've been there," I said. "It's rough in the beginning."

"Tell me about it!"
she sighed - and smiled. "If anyone really understood how tough this job was before taking it on, NO-ONE would have children."

"But once they're here, they're just about the most amazing things in the universe," I added.

"Exactly. You wouldn't have it any other way." She smiled adoringly at her baby.

So this is another great example of reality vs. perception. In reality, bearing and raising children is not an easy job - even for "natural mothers" (and I am not one of those). When teens watch movies or MTV television shows glorifying pregnancy and motherhood, they might be likely to think that it's fun or easy to be a mom or dad... that there is no reason to wait, go to college, see the world, get a job.

I'm sure not every parent would agree with me, but I believe it is more fair to my kids to be honest with them about how tough this job of parenting can be - and then make clear to them that I wouldn't trade it for a second, even when I feel like I am failing them as a mother.

My own parents raised me in a very sheltered way ~ and I love the way they tried to protect my naivete. I love how much they loved me. Still, in retrospect their rose-colored advice to "Only sleep with someone whose child you would be willing to have..." was probably not as useful to me in the long run as "I'm here for you if you ever want to ask questions about contraception" might have been.

Here is the raw truth:

My parents spent a lot of time building me up and telling me what a great person I was from the age five through seventeen. This set up a real incongruity: at school other children would objectively notice things about me that honestly *weren't* perfect - like how sensitive and overly emotional I was; my lack of confidence; my tendency to retreat into books; my anguished desire to have a 'real best friend'. They saw my neediness and self-doubt. It wasn't attractive.

I would come home asking, "What is wrong with me?" and my parents would tell me, "Nothing honey. You're just fine the way you are." This happened from a young age all the way until I left for college.

It was only when I hit the real world away from the buffer of my family that I was able to squarely face some of my worst flaws; and thus, finally grow up. College friends and roommates, boyfriends, and especially my dearest childhood pals... all of them gently and truthfully helped me to look in the mirror and evaluate all the good and bad together.

Finally I was able to see myself from the outside - at least to a greater extent - and actually choose which personal traits I wanted to let go of (and which ones I wanted to celebrate).

I love my parents to excess. I adore my entire family. I know they have always done the best they could with me, and they are still devoted to me and supporting me every single day. All they've ever wanted is for me to be happy, and they have sacrificed so much to give me happiness. They've all seen me at my absolute worst and they still love me. I am so grateful.

However, I want to be a different kind of parent. If any of my three children ever comes to me and asks, "What is wrong with me? Why don't the other kids want to play with me?" I don't want to brush of his or her question ~ especially if there is any way that I can actually be of help. I strive to be the mother that says, "Well, what do YOU think is going on?" and then tries to support them as they grapple with the bigger picture of how they personally fit into the world.

If my kid tells me that he or she is having trouble with the other kids at school, I'll take it seriously and encourage them to be honest with me about their inner world and 'real-time' experiences, even if they think I might disapprove. I think there is an important role for authenticity and candor in a parent-child relationship. Without unvarnished truth, it's hard to develop or maintain real trust.

This is why, despite the extremely valid point that my sister makes about the potential effects of this blog on our family's future... I'm sticking with gut instinct about what to write here, and how to write it. My legacy will be 365 days of emotional honesty coupled with vast, heartfelt love.

Bug, Bean and Bee -

I love each of you with every ounce of me for being EXACTLY who you are: Sometimes delightful; sometimes exhausting; sometimes heartbreaking; ALL of the time amazing and adorable. Your dad and I know you three kids better than anyone else in the world does (at least for now!) and we accept and treasure you 100%. Whatever and whomever you decide to be, we are proud of you... and we'll always tell you the truth as we see it (in a compassionate way).

Inevitably as years pass, there will be times when our 'truth' about how the world works will differ from your own. This is probably how it is meant to be, with parents and children. We have so much to learn from each other. You are our teachers too.

The three of you are the most important people in the world to us. Your father and I are doing our best... and we hope that someday you'll forgive us for learning on the job. XOXO

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