When They Are Them Instead of You

Much of parenthood is spent seeing yourself or your spouse in your children. There is something satisfying (or sometimes terrifying) about recognizing your idiosyncrasies in your progeny.

Well, of course they loves to read. We love to read. We’ve led by example and promoted a love of books their whole life.

The boy can’t find things to save his life! It’s like he’s blind. So much like his dad.

She’d argue with a brick wall. She gets that from you!

We often analyze our children and their behaviors by dissecting which aspects come from which one of us and what that means.

“Well, she’s driven to perfection like you are but then she’s got a healthy dose of me in her so she doesn’t quite apply herself as doggedly as you always did,” my husband once said of our daughter.

But sometimes – and these are the most fascinating and rewarding moments – sometimes they are all them. It’s one thing to do something with your child that you love too, indeed something that they probably love because you loved it first and instilled the same love in them. It’s a completely different thing to engage with your child in a love that was born and fostered completely within them.

I wonder sometimes if every parent gets to experience this or not. I did recently and I just sat there in awe as my 16 year old daughter did her thing. And what was this thing?

Makeup.

You might be rolling your eyes right now, but this isn’t trivial.

I basically don’t wear makeup. I haven’t worn foundation since I was a pimply teenager desperately trying to cover up my flaws. I wear mascara and a touch of blush. No eye shadow, no eye liner. I don’t pencil my eyebrows or really make any kind of effort at all. And I’m perfectly happy.

I never taught her anything concerning makeup. And truthfully, she often goes days without it as well. She doesn’t find it necessary. She just enjoys it – like makeup artist kind of enjoyment.

She follows various makeup artists on social media, reads articles, watches technique videos, and has stockpiled quite the collection of supplies, including many things I didn’t know existed. One evening, she looked at a dark blue eye shadow she had and – just for fun, she wasn’t going anywhere – turned her face into a credible impersonation of Mystique from X-Men. Just to see how it’d go.

She’s not afraid to try something. Just to see what happens. I was never like that. I had to know how it would go first. I know she gets this willingness to experiment from her dad, but the makeup interest – that’s all her. And it’s wonderful.

My husband recently planned a date night for us. As I got out of the shower, I thought of my daughter and her makeup. “Will you do my makeup for me?” I asked.

Her face lit up. “You want me to do your makeup?”

“Yes, I think that’d be fun.”

She soon took over my bathroom with more makeup than I’ve ever owned in my life. And she started talking about the various items and techniques she could use. She talked about something she could use instead of foundation that would fill the pores and give a smoother look without the heaviness of foundation.

She asked my preference on a couple of different highlighters that had different degrees of sparkle to them. When I looked at her blankly, she rubbed her finger in each and then smeared a streak on her inner forearm to demonstrate how they’d look. She talked about why she liked certain ones better than others and when was a good time for each.

She asked if there was anything I wanted covered up. (The dark bags under my old eyes please…). She talked about contour and highlight and what they do and where they go. Talked about sponges versus brushes. She gave me a double-ended mascara stick and explained that I was to brush the white stuff on first – which would elongate and separate my lashes, and then I could use the black end to cover the white. She explained why she was going to skip eyeliner. She filled in the thin parts of my eyebrows as we laughed about the change.

The whole time she talked and worked, I sat there and took it all in. This was not me. This was not her dad. This was her. All her. 100% her. And it was beautiful. Glorious. She found this, she loved this, she learned it and excels in it.

It didn’t matter one bit that I have no interest in makeup. That it will likely be years – if ever – before I sit again for 20 minutes while I or someone else does my makeup. I didn’t have to love it. She loved it and I loved that she loved it. I enjoyed it because I was spending time with my daughter in her element.

I truly can’t describe the incredible feeling that welled up inside me that evening. If you’ve never experienced the wonder that’s tinged with a bit of “where did this love come from?”, then I fear you’ve missed out on one of the best parts of parenthood.

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Goodbye Mommy. I love you…

Summer is over and school has begun. Everyone in the house is now up early each morning instead of just me*. So our patterns will change again and I’ll lose one small endearing moment.

When I am leaving the house before my children, which really only happens when they aren’t in school, Hal has a very sweet ritual.

“Goodbye Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at work.”

I get this every morning, often multiple times. Always the same.

You might claim this is just perfunctory and he’s not even thinking about it, but you’d be wrong.

You see, every morning of the summer when I would leave for work while the children were still in bed, I’d walk in and say goodbye to each of them. Jane would typically not respond much and if she did, she was usually irritated that I was waking her up. Daryl, now entering the teenage stage of life himself, never stirred. He never acknowledged my presence, never said goodbye, never even woke up as far as I know. So much for the mamma’s boy.

But Hal? No matter how deep asleep my youngest child was, no matter whether I spoke or just delivered a soft kiss to the cheek, Hal always stirred and said his goodbye phrase and hugged me tightly. Even if he wasn’t ready to open his eyes.

One time, he got his phrase swapped with his bedtime phrase and said, “Goodnight Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at…{pause}… Goodbye Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at work.” We both smiled and hugged. It was sweet.

Ok, so you might look at that and say, “See? It’s perfunctory. He’s not even thinking as he says it.”

But remember when I said “often multiple times”? Yeah, it wasn’t multiple times while he lay in bed. The other times came as I opened the door to leave, as I got to the car, or if I walked back into the house.

That little boy, with no personal need to rise from bed, would climb out of his top bunk and run (run!) down the hall calling out, “WAIT MOMMY! I need another hug!” He’d embrace me by the door and then say, “Goodbye Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at work.” Sometimes he’d even get out of bed and lay on the couch waiting for that opportunity to get another hug and send me off properly. And I’d say I had a 50/50 shot at him opening the door and running down the sidewalk barefoot to do it all yet again.

No, he’s not robotic. It’s just very important to him that I get sent off properly every single day. Of course, now school is back in session. Everyone rises early and struggles to get ready to leave the house. People get crosswise with each other. Hal gets frustrated and whiny and yells at everyone. And I try to calm him down and tell him to have a good day at school. I don’t get my sending off. I don’t get my “Goodbye Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at work.” I wonder if he’s even aware I’m going to work.

I’ll still get my “Goodnight Mommy. I love you.” every night. But all those “Goodbye Mommy”‘s from the summer will have to hold me over until the next summer. Maybe I’ll get a little recharge over Christmas break. We shall see.

Goodbye little buddy. I love you. Have a good day at school.

 

*Jane will point out that with band camp every day of August, I wasn’t the only one up early. I find that a superfluous detail to this tale. That’s just August and it still wasn’t the entire family, but she would be right. Her school year, in a way, started August 1st.

My Year Lurking on the Sidelines

I currently have 30 unpublished drafts in my WordPress repertoire. The most recent is less than two weeks old; the oldest is approaching three years. Some of them are unfinished, and at this point likely never will be. Others are just waiting for me to hit “Publish”. Not even I can articulate why the delay.

There’s one that’s been haunting me though. You see, well over a year ago, a blogger followed me. I got an email from WordPress telling me so and I took its advice and followed the link to one of her posts, which I subsequently really liked. It stuck with me and I ultimately wrote a response post.

But I never published it. See, it was a list kind of thing. Her list had been short and succinct and funny and entertaining and insightful to her personality. My list was, I think, funny and entertaining and definitely insightful to my personality. But it had not been short and succinct. It was bloated and overstated. This in and of itself was insightful to who I am, but it bothered me. So I planned to revisit it and edit it down to something better. That was early April 2014. I edited it some more a month later but was still unsatisfied.

Then something unexpected happened. She started talking about legal troubles, her fight coming to an end, she’d be going to jail. This floored me. This beautiful soul? Going to jail? How can that be? She’s so open, so full of light. This is wrong.

You don’t actually know her, I reminded myself. You don’t know anything about her. Maybe she did do this thing or maybe she didn’t. You just don’t know.

My emotions were in a strange state. Here was a person I didn’t know but still, oddly, had come to care about. I wasn’t interacting with her on her blog – just reading her posts. She wasn’t interacting on mine. We had no relationship, yet I was distressed.

And it clearly seemed like the wrong time to publish my list response to her list. She had bigger problems than things she “irrationally” hated. So I sat on it. And continued to read about her troubles.

Eventually, she went to jail. Her husband posted on her blog periodically about how she was doing. He gave an address for people to write to. So many people were supportive and loved her. It was heart-warming.

I should mail her a print-out of my blog post, I thought. That might brighten her day a bit. Maybe. To know that even a stranger cares. But life is often busy and selfish. I never mailed the post. I thought about her often, but the kind thoughts of strangers does a person zero good if they are unaware of the thoughts.

And then tragedy struck again. Her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly. I don’t recall how the story got out. By then, I had become friendly with folks who all seemed to love this blogger very much. The pain I felt at her husband’s death was real. It didn’t feel like the abstract pain you feel when you hear news of distant death. I felt like a beautiful bird was being weighted down and it simply wasn’t right.

Still, I didn’t mail the post. To mail it then in the midst of all that grief seemed shallow and insensitive. Who wants to talk jovially about irrational hates at a time like that. Besides, who was I to her?

Then, all those mutual friends began to spread the word.

Rarasaur had a release date.

An internet parade of celebration began.

I smiled.

I didn’t feel like I had a right to be part of the celebration. That might seem strange to some, but I had happened upon her too late to develop a relationship before. I wasn’t her friend, virtual or otherwise. She wasn’t mine. She had simply been someone I admired, or whose writing I’d admired, or both. She was someone I had sensed a special spark in, someone I had hoped to get to know better.

And now she was out.

And I was glad.

Not because I could now attempt a relationship, but because she deserved to be out. She deserved for something to go right. She deserved to heal and to return to those people who loved her. And I’ve been enjoying all the grace and beauty I’ve seen from her since.

So here I was today, trying to remember all the blog posts I’d composed in my head over the last week or two, and the only one I could remember even an inkling of was this. To welcome Rara home. And finally share my list. As my silly, inconsequential way of welcoming her back and telling her that she meant something even to people she didn’t know were watching.

The list needs some touch-up. It’s nearly a year and a half old, after all. But I’ll share it soon. Not tacked onto this long post though. It already has its own long-winded intro and doesn’t need another. I’ll add the link here when it’s up though.

Welcome home Rara.

The Middle Child

My kids may have all come from the same parents but they are certainly not cut from the same cloth. Some of this, I know, has to do with birth order, but not all. For example, Jane and Hal have quite a few similarities. They talk more in general than Daryl (although he’s not quiet by any means). They are also more expressive and show their love in more obvious and physical ways. They are also Daddy’s Kids.

Daryl is my Momma’s Boy. He’s also the most reserved. He’s more likely to keep his feelings and thoughts to himself. His hugs tend to be brief and almost embarrassed. He’s less likely to ask for help. He “needs” us less and, quite frankly, thinks about us less. As an example, when we dropped Daryl and Jane off to ride the bus to Tennessee for Destination Imagination Global Finals, Daryl took off. I mean, out of the car, onto the bus, out of site, no farewell, gotta go… I heard there’s wifi and plug-ins on there…

Jane, on the other hand, sought us out after claiming her seat and gave us long, endearing hugs, as if storing up all the mom-and-dad energy she’d need to get through the next few days. I had to hunt Daryl down on the bus and make him stop his video game prep long enough for me to mockingly scold him for not saying good-bye and then extract a hug from across the seat between us.

Throughout the week, he might look pleased to see me when our paths crossed, but usually he was just taking in the experience. There’d be time enough for mom later. When I’d ask him about stuff, he’d shrug and make non-committal kinds of responses. I couldn’t tell how excited he was about any of it. He just had a cool and confident air about him.

By the time we got to the last day, Jane was asking to spend time with us. Daryl was still blowing and going. The top ten finishes (usually more than ten teams because of ties) get recognized at the award ceremony. Daryl’s team made the top ten in their category. I was elated and tearful and I could barely wait to see my young man.

I stood eagerly at the top of the stairs to his section and watched his team wait for a chance to exit. When he made it to the top, I was rewarded with a true understanding of the depth of his emotions during that moment. I pulled him into a bear hug and he hugged me back fully. None of this single-arm, distracted stuff I normally get, but a full, heavy-body, can’t-get-enough body wrap. I thought I could hold him forever and he’d hold me back. Nothing existed in that moment but the two of us.

I get these hugs from Jane all the time. And fairly frequently from Hal too. I don’t want to belittle those experiences at all because they are incredibly special to me and I need them desperately. But Daryl so rarely lets us in. I know he cares but he rarely surrenders to the moment; he rarely lets it show. Yes, I was crying by the time I reluctantly released him so he could join his team who was now exiting the building.

Sometime after that, I saw some pictures the coaches had captured in the moments after they saw their team name on the JumboTron. One showed Daryl holding his head with both hands, overcome with excitement. In another, he’s facing the camera and his face is so full of unreserved joy that my heart burst when I saw it. No filter, no protection, no desire to look cool. Just raw, honest, open Daryl. Such a beautiful sight.

When I showed the picture to his big sister the next morning, I was rewarded with something else I rarely see: her deep love for him. Just looking at his smile in that picture made her break into her own unprotected, genuine smile of joy. She got it. She saw how precious that moment was for him and how rare it was for him to let it show. Any rough edges in their relationship were temporarily gone. She loved him and she loved that he had had that moment.

I am truly a blessed woman.

TBT: An Ugly Car and Cloud Gazing

I’ve told a couple of stories from my past recently, one verbally to some friends and one in a blog comment.  Both times, I received such a positive response that I thought I should write them up as blog posts.  And that made me think that surely I have more stories from my past that would be entertaining to at least a few souls.

So I’m embarking on my first ever “feature” on this blog.  We’ll see how long it lasts.  Taking a page from Instagram and Facebook, each Thursday, I hope to post a story from an earlier time period in my life for “Throwback Thursday.”  As they are stories I remember well, I suppose they very definitely qualify as “bright spots” in my life if their memory is still shining bright after all these years.


My husband and I were High School Sweethearts.  We met somewhere around the start of our Junior year.  His best friend had a crush on me that summer and talked about me in such a way that my future husband was fascinated and interested in meeting me.  The start of the school year saw me dating his best friend and he dating mine.

One day, my best friend and I met up with him to go to a party.  He had spent the day polishing his not-yet-operational-again ’57 Chevy with a bottle of Windex to show it off.  We drove up.  He stood proudly by his car and asked what we thought.  I was doing my best snotty teenage girl imitation and told him I thought it was ugly.  He was crestfallen.

Within a couple of years, I’d be using a manual to rebuild the master cylinder of that “ugly” car in the band room after school.  I’d ride in it to prom.  I’d later retrieve him from it when it threw a rod through the oil pan on our wedding night.  I’d chastise him for driving it in a torrential rain storm that swept it off the road while we were in college.  I’d willingly have it towed to Texas when we moved.  It’s still sitting in the backyard now, waiting for our time, money, and interest to revive it.

Anyway, the car was not operational at the time and he was not 16.  My best friend was to drive us to the party.  I very snottily told him that I was riding in the front; he could sit in the back.  We stopped at an ATM and my friend and I went in to get some cash.

When I came out, he was sitting in the backseat with his head leaned all the way back so he could gaze out the back window.

“What are you doing?!” I asked.

“Looking at the clouds…” he said in a drawn-out, dreamy voice.  I remember very distinctly thinking that he wasn’t a very good match for my friend and that he would be a better match for me.

There was no motivation to steal him.  There was no emotion, no burning heart thumping in my chest, no desire.  Just an observation of fact.  I remember nothing of the party or anything else we did that day.  But I remember that young man gazing out the back of that window and making that comment like it was yesterday.

Within a couple of months, she had dumped him and his best friend had dumped me.  He had migrated through another girlfriend (who he confided to me he thought he could marry – I still don’t let him forget that remark).  While he was with that girl, I was growing to realize just how much I liked him.  Again, clear as day, I can remember my reaction to his writing that he wanted to marry her in the note we were passing back and forth at a Latin Club event.  This time, I felt the burning feeling in my chest and a profound sense of disappointment.  That feeling of loss was followed immediately by a firm decision that I wasn’t going to react.  That I really liked this guy and if I couldn’t be his girlfriend, I certainly wanted to be his friend.

She dumped him a week later.  And we began to date a month or two after that – after a drawn-out note-passing courtship that we were enjoying but was driving my friends batty.  And I became the first girl in his life to not dump him.  I never have and I never will.


Interestingly, this wasn’t the story I set out to tell.  I set out to tell the story that got my friends smiling last night.  I was just trying to set the stage when this story fell out instead.  Funny how that works.  Well, maybe the other one will come next week.

 

Mommy Kisses, Revisited

Hal has a thing about kisses.  He’s kind of particular about them. And leery of them.  I first blogged about it in Mommy Kisses – Cheek or Crown way back in October 2012, just before he turned four years old.

Back then, he’d let me kiss him on the lips but not the cheeks. To be honest, until I reread that post, I had forgotten that I was allowed lip kisses. I thought that the situation now was the same as the situation had been then. It’s been interesting to read what I wrote then and compare it to what’s happening now.

For several months now, Hal has refused to kiss me on the lips. Actually, he has refused to kiss me at all and will only let me kiss him on the cheeks. If I move in for the lip kiss, he turns his head to the side.

We’ve been talking about it. I’ve asked him why. He doesn’t know. Daddy has tried to tell him to kiss me. For the most part, I’ve discouraged that approach. On the one hand, it hurts that he won’t kiss me. On the other hand, I don’t want him to feel compelled. But I’d ask every once in awhile. And cajole. Once I did grab his face and plant a big (dry!) kiss on his lips.

One day, he said, “Ok, ok, here we go” and headed in for a kiss. At the last minute, he diverted to my forehead. And giggled. “Ok, ok, I’m going to try again” and then headed in and… turned quickly to my cheek.

Since then, he’s been gradually working on it without me even bringing it up. He’ll announce he’s going to kiss me, then grab my face and kiss first one cheek, then the other, then my forehead, and then… just when I think he’s not going to… my lips.

It’s turned into a rather fun game. And I am, for the first time in nearly four and a half years, completely relaxed about it. I usually just hug him. And then he does his “sign of the cross” kissing routine on my face. And we laugh. And each time, it gets a little easier and a little more fun.

So I’ll keep my strange little kid and his strange little kissing aversion. Who knows what it will be in another couple of years?

For the Love of God and Music

We go to church. A lot. I say that not to be pompous or self-righteous. I say it not to make you or the religious right assume I am one of them. I say it because it’s true and sets the stage for this post.

We even go to church for Maundy Thursday. This service, for some denominations, is when Christians remember the Last Supper and Jesus’s washing of his disciples feet. I’ve had some powerful experiences at Maundy Thursday services in the past.

Back when we were going to dance lessons at a nearby club on Thursday nights, we would joke come Holy Week that we couldn’t go dancing at the bar with our Baptist friends because we were going to church. That always made us laugh.

So, anyway. Hal got excited when I picked him up from school and said we were going to church. I clarified that we were going to a worship service, that he wouldn’t be watching movies and hanging out with Ms. Rita like he does on Wednesdays.

He dutifully sat with his worship notebook and drew contentedly for a few minutes, then began to fidget and try to sit on the floor. I told him to sit up. He asked for some gum. I said I didn’t have any. He fidgeted and sat on the floor. I told him to sit on the pew. Eventually he stage whispered, “Can I play a game on your phone?” I said no. His hands went to his eyes, head to the pew (still sitting on the floor), and his quiet sobs could be heard by anyone nearby.

He looked up at me and said plaintively, “But I want to do something fun!”

“We aren’t here to have fun,” I said, already starting to feel there was something wrong in my words. “We are here to… to worship God and take Communion and… and… be quiet.”

What are we doing? I thought to myself.

There were 31 people from two congregations there. And that included the choir and the two pastors. Maundy Thursday is not attended by many. In fact, with the exception of the almost-13 year old friend of Jane’s present, my boys were the only people under 35 present. Even Jane had gone to watch a college volleyball game with her team.

What are we doing? I asked myself as I watched my young son cry because he was at church. What kind of damage are we inflicting?

These thoughts persisted after we left the church – the service was a very brief 30 minutes. From there, we headed to a professional symphony orchestra performance. One that started about 30 minutes before the boys’ bed time. But enriching your children’s lives is important. Infecting them with a love of music and all that, right?

Hal squirmed the entire time. Daryl complained that he was tired and did not want to be there.

What are we doing? I thought to myself.

Taking your kids to church is the right thing to do, right? Taking them to cultural events like high-quality symphony performances is the right thing to do, right?

So why aren’t they reveling in the awesome job we are doing at child rearing? Why aren’t they jumping up and down with excitement? Why aren’t they thanking us and begging for more?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that some experiences are valuable even if they aren’t fun. That children might learn to appreciate experiences later. That we have to set the stage for patience and respect and proper behavior. That we have to widen their horizons beyond video games and tee ball.

I’m just wondering at what age some of these experiences should begin. And whether our kids are typical or not. We are a music family. We are a church family. But are we driving the love for either or both out of our children?

I’m honestly not sure.