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Friday, April 26, 2013

Meeting My Younger Self at the Park

First one, and then a second, and then a third girl darted across the sidewalk, down the hill past the park bench, and into the playground. They ran exactly in order counter-consecutive to age. (Yes, I just made up that term. It means youngest to oldest.)

I was planning to go play with them, just taking my time a little bit on the way down. But as I passed her, she spoke to me. “Three girls, huh?”

She looked just a little bit like me, but taller, lighter hair (strawberry blonde), probably ten years younger. She was nursing a tiny but plump red-headed infant. She looked tired.

I looked back at the playground, and then at her. Something told me the kids would be OK if I didn’t join them on the slide this time. I sat down next to her. “Four, actually,” I said. “One is with a friend tonight.”

“FOUR? All girls?” (I get this a lot.) “Wow,” she said thoughtfully, slowly. And then it all came out. “Is it hard? I mean, motherhood? Is it hard to be a mom? I think it’s hard, is it?”

I didn’t hesitate too long, while I watched those three beautiful creatures laughing, leaping, owning that playground with pure delight. My heart almost breaks with love when I actually take the effort to see them. But is it hard, being a mom? I cast quickly back to just the events of the last 24 hours. Joy and sorrow mingled. Repercussions of choices impacting their lives. Very tough decisions ahead. Tears and also moments of sheer delight. I looked her directly in the eye.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, it is hard. Don’t ever doubt it.”

She looked relieved even as she said, “I’m really scared. I don’t know what I’m doing.” The baby was three months old, and down near the sandpit, her three year old was playing near another toddler. “Nothing’s right. I say no all the time. I’m afraid I’m doing it all wrong.”

She switched the baby to the other breast, then whispered gently, “Oh, the sun’s in your eyes, isn’t it?” She moved the blanket. “Now are you going to go to sleep on me? Won’t you eat?” The baby’s arm fell outward, straight at the elbow, away from her body. Clearly the pose of that instant infant sleep fully set in already. I looked at the absolute security of that infant in her arms. Satisfied. Comforted. Safe.

“You’re not doing it wrong,” I said gently. And then my own friend’s advice came back to me. “I never thought I could do anything right either. I second-guessed myself all the time. There are so many opinions out there, and each one is so strong. If you can, learn to recognize which ones encourage you. Listen to those voices. And the ones that make you fear, criticize you, lack compassion, those are the voices of despair. Filter them out.”

She repeated the word. “Despair, yes. That’s what it feels like. There’s so much at stake.”

“There is,” I agreed. “But it’s OK. You’re loving them. Love covers over so much. Love them, and it will be OK.” I told her then how I tried so hard to be strict in the early years, following that “parent not friend” model, and the “be consistent” model, and the “because I said so” model. But all the while, I confessed, I was craving the day when I could let them begin making their own decisions. Trusting them to choose wisely. Not having to say no all the time. By age five, all were moving in that direction. We’re there now.

“If it’s not unsafe and it’s not immoral, I try to say ‘yes’ whenever I can,” I said. “But don’t just say, ‘oh, OK, I guess so.’ When you can say ‘yes,’ really make the most of your ‘YES!’ Tell her it’s a good idea. Tell her you can really get behind her on that one. Make it enthusiastic so that when you do have to say ‘no,’ she’ll remember that not every answer is no. She’ll remember the past ‘yes’ and look forward to the next. She’ll know you’re not just grudgingly giving in, but truly affirming her, being ‘for her’ in her choices.”

“YES! I can do that,” she said, smiling for the first time.

I wanted to offer to hold the baby while she wiggled into the front pack carrier with only one arm, but it seemed too soon. I wanted to hug her and tell her she was really, really on the right track. It wasn’t the right time for that either. So I told her my name. She shook my hand firmly and told me hers. “I hope I see you again here this summer some time,” she said. And I do too.

Then she went her way and I went mine, little girls dancing all around us.



suismoi said...

Thank you, Rebecca. Oh my, your words always, always get me! ~Christine

--Rebecca said...

Thank you, Christine. I'm so glad you keep coming back to read! And you're so encouraging to me.

Anonymous said...

Well written indeed. :D

--Rebecca said...

Thanks, Jer.

Stephanie Bierman said...

I read your blog often...but sadly never commented before. Sitting here with my busted ankle and not much mobility, totally frustrated and feeling like things are very difficult....this was just so spot on and beautiful. LOVED!

Yes, parenting is often difficult...it has to be because it's the most important job. And it's such a blessing that the challenges of it make us appreciate the blessing so much more. If it was easy all the time, wouldn't we take it for granted? I think so. The easy, simple, special, wonderful moments help us keep going when it's difficult...and the hardest moments help us appreciate how lucky we are to be blessed with children...and that makes us smile, take a deep breath, relax, and move forward, knowing it's so worth it...and in the end, ALL GOOD!

XO, Steph

--Rebecca said...

Great to hear from you, Stephy!
I'm sorry you're all laid up at home. I know that's hard for you, Go-Girl that you are. I wish we were closer. I'd come hang out while you recuperate.
Thanks for commenting. You know I always love to hear what you think, as much as I love that Stephy-style of yours. Hugs and kisses to those precious two. Love you much!