Almost exactly twenty years ago to the hour I went into labor for the first time. I had just eaten a delicious and gigantic Christmas meal (hint: try to avoid overeating just before labor and delivery...it isn't pretty!) and we set off into the foggy night, wishing for Rudolph to guide us, on a 40 minute drive to the hospital. John was so nervous he never even turned on the headlights of the car -- we drove with our running lights on! I was so preoccupied with the changes in my body that I never noticed. :)
At 6:57am on December 26th, 1992, at 8 lbs. 8 oz. our little bundle arrived, John William Foraker -- forever known to us as Jack. He was named after my dad who had suffered a very serious heart attack while I was pregnant. Today, Papa is alive and well and one terrific grandpa.
Jack was an easy baby, a curious toddler, an easy going grade schooler, a thoughtful and funny middle schooler and a willing high schooler. He tried all sorts of things in high school, including a new sport, and grew and thrived in high school. Today he is a sophomore in college -- a 6'4" big guy loving college and all of the adventures offered there. All phases of his childhood have been relatively drama-free and he has been pretty much a cake walk to parent. Jack is what we like to call an "old soul".
I take no credit for this.
I can see myself twenty years ago (how is that possible??) holding my tiny newborn in our mint green rocking chair singing Christmas carols to him and marveling at his beauty.
Here is the cheat sheet I wish I had.
Secret #1: Children come out of the womb hard-wired as they are. Their personalities and temperaments are their own. You can try to nudge them in the direction you wish they were but it is not very likely you will shift them in any significant direction.
You must learn to love them as they are.
The sooner you can do this, the happier you will all be.
Jack showed us his way of viewing the world at about 18 months. I would tell him no and he would say, "Maybe tomorno?" in a questioning, sweet way. He was able to adjust to limits and change. He is intrinsically optimistic and so he just hoped that tomorrow things might be different.
Life is pretty easy when you view setbacks in this way.
Secret #2: Whatever stage they are in is fleeting. I remember thinking that I would be nursing for.ev.er. In actuality I only nursed Jack about six months. 1/40 of his entire lifespan so far and shrinking. If someone had told me that then, maybe I would have nursed a little longer. The terrible twos...sassy teens...it all goes away.
Believe it or not, the plastic toy phase will go away too. Eventually they will stop sucking their thumb or using a binkie. They will potty train. They will read and write and yes, even figure out how to borrow from the ten and subtract. All the legos on the ground that you step on and curse in the middle of the night, will finally get packed up and put away. All the backpacks strewn everywhere. All the clothes, the messes, the bizarre handprints will find a way out of your house. The crazy ride of day to day
parenthood does morph into another alternate universe.
Secret #3: Enjoy the time you have with them. Love them.
It really is that simple.
Just love them as they are. Accept them. Guide them.
Most importantly, be there.
You will never regret the time you spend with your child, ever. If you feel in your heart a strong need to switch jobs, quit a job, take a lesser paid position and have time with your child instead...do it.
They really like you. For awhile there, they crave you and your attention.
Give it to them freely -- without reservation. You cannot spoil them in this area.
If they feel your precious presence, if they feel that you are really listening, that is all they need.
Secret #4: You really can't mess them up. (Aside from the obvious things like neglect, abuse and insane over protection.) They are crazy resilient. Crazy. All parents blow it and get queasy when they look back and think they could have handled a situation better. Turns out that's how we learn...all of us. It's OK to blow it. The real test is getting back in the game for another round. How you handle adversity is the way your children will think to tackle their own problems.
Messing up is part of life. Losing your cool. Royally wishing for a do-over...it's all messy when you live day in and day out together. It's OK. Be nice to yourself. If your kids see that you forgive yourself, they might actually believe that you will forgive them when they mess up...which they will, guaranteed.
Secret #5: They are your teacher and your free access to the divine. That quote from Dickens at the top is on my fridge. The wisdom our children show us day in and day out is stunning.
We just have to stop rushing enough to notice.
Throw away your agenda and your time frame. Let them lead. Let their wonder and joy in our world show you the way. Children know how to love without limits. Children are honest. They see the world in a profound yet simple way. Listen to them and respect them. If they are full, they really are. If they aren't hungry, don't make them eat. They know their bodies. It's the adults who overeat and over-indulge. If they are afraid of something, listen to them. Don't push them into trying to get over it. Offer them a chance to be afraid in a safe place.
Secret #6: Chex Mix. As Jack was getting bigger, in the middle of high school, I asked him what his favorite family memory was so far. He thought about it for a minute and then got a gleam in his eye. He said wistfully, "Oh mom, it was the Chex Mix. Do you remember when the Saunders were over and we were all just hanging around in the den having fun for a long long time and you came in and gave us Chex Mix?"
(I'll admit right now that I did not remember that at all...I was still reviewing in my mind our many vacations, family traditions, favorite books or family dinners and thinking he was going to mention some of those memories so I was taken off guard.)
I responded, "Really? The Chex Mix?"
"Yes," he said "you came right in and poured a whole entire bag of Chex Mix onto the table without a bowl or anything! We were so hungry we just all ate it together from the pile. It was great!"
Maybe he loved the fact that they finally were allowed to reveal their inner piggy-at-the-trough selves. Or maybe he just loved being so free with friends. Or maybe he just couldn't get over that I didn't have napkins and bowls and proper etiquette...trust me, I have no formal dining room, I'm not that proper so that idea is kind of funny.
I have no idea why he glommed onto that memory but it was a wake up call for me.
The memories we hold dear are not necessarily the memories they will hold dear.
For them, it might just be all about the Chex Mix.
Which leads me to...Secret #7: Loosen Up!!! Right now, this very minute, stop taking it so seriously. Have some fun.
Dance. Sing. Be silly. Tell them stories about yourself.
This is where John comes in. You see, I really, really wanted to do this right. I was committed to being a "good parent". For whatever reason, although John was too, he has always been able to see the lighter side. The guy is ready to laugh. That helps so much. Nothing is that big of a deal. Laugh at the weirdness. Enjoy the goofiness of kids. Relish in knowing their idiosyncrasies.
That is the good stuff, trust me. If a teacher is mean, don't freak out on the teacher, just reward your child with an honorary sundae. It's not so serious.
Secret #8: It Gets Better Believe it or not, this twenty year old kid I have is even better than that tiny infant...way better. He's interesting and funny; passionate and curious. He's kind and thoughtful; gentle and daring. I am so so grateful I have gotten to be on this journey with him. I love seeing the person he is becoming and listening to what interests him or what makes him laugh or what music he likes. I can't wait to see where his life leads. Better yet, I can't wait to visit him there or cheer him on in whatever he chooses.
Being a parent is a blessing. You are so so lucky!
Count your lucky stars that you get to be along for the ride.
Hold on and let go...if you learn how to do that, you must have a twenty year old!
|Happy Birthday Jack -- we love you!|