Surviving Sending Them Off (To Kindergarten, at Least)

Tonight an extremely dear friend of mine texted me, overwhelmed with the emotion she was experiencing at her firstborn’s impending first day of kindergarten. I remember, quite clearly, having experienced my own meltdown(s). Definitely plural. MY firstborn, my beautiful, smart, hilarious and sweet boy, just completed HIS first year of kindergarten. Knowing now that I’m not the only mommy who felt the way I did – and BOY did I let Mommy Guilt think I was alone –  I thought I’d share some of my thoughts, both leading up to and from the other side of the big event.

Once he graduated from preschool (yes, it’s a thing, and yes, it’s cute), I suddenly felt unprepared. My sweet little guy who had up until now lived pretty wholly in clothes from Children’s Place or consignment stores, was now going to be wearing uniforms. Polos. He was going from elastic-waist shorts to flat front khakis. The school wanted him to dress like a dad or a car salesman. For three months before the big First Day, I scoured the internet like a mad woman. I was determined to discover the trends among 5-year-olds and deck my boy out in the coolest duds. Because of the uniforms, the shoes, backpack, and lunchbox REALLY had to pop. I’m embarassed to admit that I even asked a few friends what their kids thought was cool. I came THISCLOSE to buying my 5-year-old son a $45 lunch box. Seriously. I was convinced that if he sat down at the lunch table with this lunch box (it was EPIC), he would have all the confidence in the world that he was the coolest kid alive. Other children would flock to him like the cafeteria style guru he obviously was. They would decide right then and there to vote him prom king, and the salutatorian would mention this lunchbox in his or her graduation speech when referring to the valedictorian, my son. Heck this thing was going to get a quarter page on his college applications. Fortunately, my husband is much more grounded than I. He thinks realistically and reels me in, reminds me of the true size of our bank account. God bless him. So then I was filled with guilt. Guilt that I could not afford $45 for a life-altering lunchbox. That I couldn’t buy him the coolest things ever to give him kindergarten swagger. That his uniform polos wouldn’t be Tommy Hilfiger or Big Dog. Then I got REALLY sad when I realized that not only are Tommy Hilfiger and Big Dog polos NOT super cool anymore, he doesn’t even know what they are. So I moped about, poor and old, completely caught up in comparing my son to the imagined desiger-clad kiddos he would be sitting amongst all too soon.

Then one night, while texting this same dear friend now that I think about it, I was standing in a grocery store at midnight, and it hit me. Or rather, the voice of God spoke to my spirit. All this energy that I was putting into making sure he fit in, and I had yet to even pray about him standing apart. Sure, no one wants weinie kids who get teased and bullied. But I had been so focused on his future popularity that I had completely neglected his future influence. Now I REALLY felt guilty.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed, drowning in the wave of Mommy Guilt that washed over me and refused to let me come up for air. I had wasted the last 5 years and 10 months that I’d had with him. This amazing gift from God, who by scientific accounts shouldn’t even be here, and I had just squandered away my precious few years with him. I cried and moped even MORE. I beat myself up day in and day out. When he inevitably bugged me, I went to bed in hot tears at how I could possibly be annoyed by my priceless angel and how I could have wasted these moments with him doing anything other than snuggling. One night, in a rare moment of driving completely alone, I really let it out. Big, ugly, nasty, snotty, loud cries. “But God!” I yelled. “I’m sending him out into the WORLD!”

And, clear as a bell, God replied, “But that’s what I created him for.”

My tiny little preemie was no more. He was now tall and skinny and funny and smart and he ran like he was being electrocuted at the same time. He had opinions, likes, dislikes, hopes, fears, talents. More than anything, he had, he HAS, a purpose. And his first day of kindergarten was only going to be the beginning.

So now that we’ve made it through that day, throught he first year, allow me to share my survivor’s knowledge.

Kindergarten is not the end. Of anything. Regardless of the laws of logic, the beginning of one journey does not signify the end of another. In the weeks leading up to his first day, I mourned the loss of him. I looked back during my time with him as though it were pearls before swine, wasted, squandered, unappreciated. The saying is that hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t believe that. Because I was looking back in sadness, when I should have been looking back in pride. Pride at how far he’d come, from an incubator to a booster seat. He learned so much – to walk, to run, to speak, to use the potty, to FINALLY wipe himself, to tie his shoes, to eat with utensils, his alphabet, his numbers…. He was not the same boy I was first handed 5 years and 10 months ago. I should have been looking back with joy. Joy at the memories we’d made, the laughs we’d shared, the inside jokes we had, the places we’d been, the pictures we’d taken. I should have been looking back in amazement. I should have been looking back with satisfaction, an emotion no mother ever allows herself to feel when evaluating her job. When he came home from that first day of kindergarten, do you know what changed? Nothing. He was still the same boy. Still silly. Still sweet. Still so almost-alarmingly skinny. He was still MINE. Starting kindergarten did not put an end to our snuggles, or our jokes, or our memories, or HIM.  I dwelt on every time I’d lost my temper or allowed myself to get annoyed by a preschooler, but in all of his About Me projects, he never listed one of those memories.

Kindergarten is HARD. Not necessarily academically, but physically.  My precious angel kept coming home as a GRUMPUS. He was exhausted! A sweet friend commented that it wasn’t him acting that way, it was kindergarten wearing him out that was acting that way. It took a few weeks to adjust, but his little body was soon able to handle the full day of fun and memories and learning and friends and normal-lunchbox lunches. Be prepared for tears and attitudes and extend some grace. You’re emotional, your kiddo is tired… just rest with each other until you’re used to it. Remember, you’ve been through kindergarten, but she hasn’t. Err on the side of patience and you’ll all be happier for it.

You probably won’t love their teacher. At least, not at first. Who was this woman who spent more hours in a day with my child than I did?! How DARE she know things about him? The NERVE to have him sign the Sad Book for talking when he wasn’t supposed to! I cannot believe he hasn’t been given chemistry assignments already to stimulate his obviously-advanced brain! Yeah. Okay, Jen. By the end of the year, I realized that his teacher was actually wonderful, quite nice, and funny. I couldn’t imagine anyone being worthy of my son’s time and intellect, but she proved to me that she was. I salute all kindergarten teachers who experience this year after year, first-year parents so unsure of your abilities, jealous of your time. I imagine it’s how a mother feels when her son wants to marry – how could SHE possibly compare to ME?! Well, she doesn’t. She’s his teacher, and she’s wonderful, and she cared about my boy and taught him so VERY much more than I could have. But he still comes to me when he’s sad, or hurt, or sick, or hungry, or scared, or just wants some Mommy time. I’ll always be Mommy, whether he’s walking down the halls of school or the aisle of a church. That never ends.

Read “The Kissing Hand”. And let it JACK. YOU. UP.

Other kindergarteners attend kindergarten. I don’t know why, but I had convinced myself (and we all know how logically I think at this point) that the children my son would be attending class with would have the personalities of teenagers. They’d be judgemental and snarky and sexually active and rich. I thought my son was going to be in an episode of Gossip Girl, apparently. But you know what? There were – gasp! – 5-year-olds in there! A whole room full! They picked their noses and couldn’t tie their shoes and spoke with speech impediments and drank out of juice boxes. They had food smeared on their faces and couldn’t figure out their belts in the bathroom. A few hadn’t yet mastered wiping themselves. I know a few wet themselves at some point in the year. And from speaking with my sister-in-law, a kindergarten teacher, this is NORMAL. Kindergarten is a melting pot of developmental milestones. Some kids know their ABC’s, but not all. Some kids went to pre-k, but not all. Some have legible handwriting, but not all. Some kids wear velcro shoes, but not all. They’re KIDS. All of my fears at my son being bullied for being tall and skinny or not watching certain TV shows or being interested in engineering and architecture were completely unfounded. He made friends. They talked about Legos and ninjas and farts. There were no scandals, no betrayals, no broken hearts. No comparisons of abilities. They were KIDS, and all of the fears I had over perceived “faults” in my child were absolutely unfounded. They were all at kindergarten for their first day, too.

You didn’t miss your chance. I don’t know why, but the most persistent thought I kept having in the days leading up to my boy’s big day was that I’d missed my chance. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that something was ending. I still get to teach him values and morals and the lyrics to awesome 90’s songs. He still comes home every day. I’m still in the process of helping to mold him and guide him and encourage. My job is NOT over. As guilty as I felt at how annoyed I would get on some days, I still get annoyed. Not because I don’t love him, but because I’m tired. I go to bed nearly every night wishing I’d done the day differently with my kids. But, God willing, I get another day. And another. I get several chances at days and several chances to get it right. I can go to the class parties, go on the field trips, engage in the projects. I can pick him up from school and really listen as he tells me all about his day. I can write little notes and draw little doodles on his lunch napkin. I can surprise him with book fair money. I can bring him his favorite meal and eat with him in the cafeteria. I can get involved in reading programs and art contests and special event nights and PTO. I am still allowed to be a part of my child’s life! Kindergarten did not nullify that privilege. I have a feeling puberty will try to, but I’m pretty stubborn and prepared to put up a good fight.

You don’t get points for Mommy Guilt. Really. Also, there’s no point system. If you can’t make it to the field trips, you’re still a great mom. If someone else picks up your kids after school, you’re still a great mom. If you’re working and can’t attend the Valentine’s Day party, it will be okay… and you’re still a great mom. If you buy Roseart supplies and your kid buys their lunch, if someone else’s mom hand-made personalized gifts for the teacher and you forgot to turn in a project, if you get a phone call from the school, if your kid needs help, you are still a great mom. Your child will graduate school without ever needing you to compare yourself to another parent, so don’t get into the trap of starting it now.

 

I love my firstborn. I marvel at his eyelashes, his smile, his almost cartoonish proportions (Seriously, he’s super tall and skinny), his thoughts, his creativity, the way his brain works. He looks just like me, just like my dad. He has so many of my personality traits, but he’s incredibly also his own person, completely unique, never to be created again. I remember what the NICU smelled like when I rocked him, and what it felt like when they wouldn’t let me. I remember him turning in my belly. I remember how excited I was to see my first stretch mark (about that hindsight not being 20/20 remark….). He blows me away with the Lego creations he constructs. He amazes me at his ability to pick almost anything up in just a few moments’ time. He is a blessing and a miracle and an incredible gift. And even after sending that huge piece of my heart off to school, I survived. I still have those memories. And I get to make new ones. I’ll always remember his green polo shirt, how he sat down at his desk and just started working, then asked me why I was still there. In just a few weeks, I’ll get to make the memory of his first day of first grade. We can only make more memories from here on. I’m in no rush to get there, but I know I’ll make it. I know I didn’t waste the 5 years and 10 months I had with him, because I’ve had so much more than that. I know I didn’t completely blow it, didn’t waste it. I know he’s a big boy, but not too big. I know he’s coming home with me, and he knows I’ll be there to pick him up. He’ll be at school, making friends and memories and projects, learning from a caring and capable teacher. And no one will ever know that he doesn’t have the world’s most epic lunchbox. I did a good job.

No Mom Is An Island

“No man is an island.”   John Donne, 1624

We’ve heard this iconic phrase for centuries. I had to Google who actually said it, but I’ve heard it for years. Islands are, of course, completely separate from the mainland, surrounded by water, connected to nothing. They may be rich with natural resources or devoid of life, but they are alone, unable to share, unable to glean. John Donne’s sentiments were clear in his writings: we are all connected to one another, each an integral part of society. In Googling this guy, I read a few brief biographies on him: His wife passed away giving birth to their 12th child, a stillborn infant. Only 7 of his 12 children survived. He faced numerous financial difficulties and struggled with depression, serious illnesses, imprisonment, a disapproving father-in-law, imposed religion, and life as a minister (that’s tough enough). In short, homeboy had it rough. If anyone had a cause to want to disconnect, hibernate in a tunnel, and just plain be a hermit, it was this guy. And yet he felt strongly enough about the importance of community to include this phrase, this poem, in his many writings. No man is an island.

Why, then, are so many MOMS an island?

We isolate ourselves from the mommy mainland, silently separate ourselves and allow ourselves to be surrounded by the choppy waters. There are days where we literally feel like we are drowning. If you’re living on a tropical paradise, perfectly sustained, then share the wealth with your neighbors, give them wisdom, encouragement, peace, snack ideas. No mom should be an island.

This job we have is a tough one. Between the June Cleavers of our past and the Pinterest posts of our present, we have a lot of unrealistic examples of parenting. Peggy Bundy and Roseanne were a lot closer to life as we know it, but their whole characters were based on telling us they were BAD moms. Every morning we wake up ready for a new day, and almost every evening we go to bed convinced we’ve blown it. Social media provides an excellent platform for sharing the best of our lives, the highlight reel, the best-of moments. When comparing ourselves to the mom who finds the time for the gym, who homeschools her 8 kids with a smile, who bakes her own bread from scratch and gardens and crafts and sews and never gets speeding tickets and always has clean hair and maintains a tan all year long and doesn’t have to lie down to zip her pants up and has bottomless babysitting help from family and hosts a women’s Bible study in her immaculately clean home… we’re going to come up short.

And so we paddle out to our islands. We keep our struggles secret. The bad days, self-doubt, the horrible admissions that our kids drive us nuts sometimes – we tuck them away and put on a brave face.

One of the best things that has ever happened to me as a mother was being added to a Facebook group. I know, it’s cheesy and sounds like I’m in 10th grade. But a small community of women who are there to support, encourage, advise, bless, celebrate, console, share, and laugh at almost any hour through almost any life event has been just what my struggling mommy heart needed. Mommies need friends. Get yourself to a playgroup, a MOPS group, a Bible study group, or even just a kid-free dinner with a friend however you can. I found a great friend in my son’s preschool teacher. The days are long, but the years are short. But MAN, the days get long sometimes. Especially over the summer. Especially today. And while the long days are still long days, having friends makes the end of the day so much better. I’m one of the most stubborn people you’ll ever meet. My husband will attest to that. I have a hard time asking for help. I built myself an island. But thanks to the women in my life, some of whom are spread across the country, some of whom are just a few miles away, I’m now somewhat of a peninsula. Connected. Supported. Sharing. There are still those choppy waves beating against me, but not from all sides anymore.

Fellow mommies, I cannot encourage you enough to make mommy friends. They have bad days, too, I promise. They have questions and struggles and frustrations and poop on their shirts. The sooner we can all be honest with each other, the sooner we can start helping each other. Someone else thinking you’re a perfect mom doesn’t make you a perfect mom, so why keep up the charade? Be REAL. Be the mom that you are! Be supportive, be supported, just put yourself out there and find friends to help you through it.

Besides, once the kids are grown and gone, you’ll need someone to have lunch with.

 

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

– John Domme

Soggy Granola

In between welcoming our first and third children, a lot changed. Car seat recommendations changed. (Seriously, people! Rear-facing until at LEAST two!) The colors of Dr. Brown’s bottles changed. Hyland’s teething tablets changed, then changed again. (And by the way, they’re perfectly safe.) New research is forever coming to light, making what was once commonplace, taboo. Opinions and styles are changing, approaches, gear, trends… But mostly, we changed. In the 5+ years between our oldest boy and our only girl, we matured. Learned to become well-versed ourselves, rather than just trust what commercials or the free issues of Parents magazines say. Having a baby with dozens of unanticipated allergies has made us researchers, made us flexible, made us healthier. I, personally, have reached a place as a parent where I trust myself, my judgement, my abilities, even my body to produce what my baby needs. So many new moms that I speak with are terrified to trust their bodies… but that’s another topic for another time.
Anyways, along this journey I have met countless other parents. Our ideals, opinions, and methods all differ as wildly as the stars in the sky – from far away you really can’t tell a difference, but up close, they’re light years apart. For the last several months, I’ve been in a bit of a funk. Since we do some “granola” (read: hippie) things in raising our children, I get funny looks from most parents I meet. Most of my friends don’t understand, but several are very supportive. In learning more about these granola “hippie” practices, I’ve met a whole new world of parents: the crunchy moms. Some of these women have become my closest friends. But some are pretty intense. They howl at the moon and don’t brush their teeth… stuff you’d see on Wife Swap. The problem is, I’m somewhere in the middle, what my friend dubbed “the soggy end of crunchy”. In anything there are extremes. Hot-cold, tall-short, rich-poor, Backstreet Boys-N*Sync. I’m the lukewarm hippie, the soggy granola. MAN I wish I’d named my blog that now… I’ve been feeling a little isolated. I feel the stares of the mainstream parents who don’t know what the heck I’m doing, why my baby is on my back, or why I don’t eat Taco Bell. I feel the wrath of the hardcore crunchy parents when I say I’m looking to start weaning my baby (toddler). It’s been pretty lonely out here in the middle, dodging bullets from both sides. I’ve kept the fact that I’m still nursing my nearly-18-month-old largely a secret because of the comments and looks. I’ve kept the stress of immunization day to myself because of the judgements of the hippies.

I even created a little visual to show how I fall in between the two camps:

granola

 

Now, of COURSE there are plenty of delightful parents out there. Not every crunchy mom will judge you and not every mainstream parent is scared of you.

When I say I’ve felt isolated, I really mean it. For God knows what reason, I lost several friends when we found out that our third baby was a girl. Most of my crunchy granola friends don’t live nearby, and most of the moms nearby look at me funny. So here I’ve sat, petting my pretty cloth diapers and going about my psuedo-natural living, feeling ashamed and embarassed and lonesome.

But no more.

Because you know what? Every choice my husband and I have made for our family was made with love, with thought, with intention and research. I’m PROUD of the family we have. I’m PROUD of the way we raise our kids. Is it the way you raise yours? Probably not. Do I expect you to raise yours the same way? Of COURSE not! Parents can be such bullies once they make up their mind on an issue and make parents who don’t agree feel pretty small. But we’re raising individuals, PEOPLE. There is no one right way to do it. There are plenty of ways to screw it up, but we, as parents, stumble upon those nearly daily. We don’t need “help” from others who would make us feel like we’re running head- first into disaster. (Exception: CAR SEAT SAFETY)

Advice is healthy. Far too many parents get offended by advice. If someone points out that the chest clip on your child’s car seat should be at armpit level (NOT at their belly button), they are not suggesting you’re a terrible parent. They’re saying something because they care enough not to keep it to themselves. Unsolicited advice is uncomfortable. Judgements are just bad. You know the type. You ask for advice on where to get the best pizza, and That Person comments “We don’t eat pizza – it has far too many chemicals and additives and uses child slavery to stretch the dough.” That’s one of those extreme-ends-of-the-spectrum people. Rather than saying “You’re doing it wrong”, why can’t we all say “Hey, great job! Have you looked at doing it this way?” Or, better yet, “Hey, great job!” When did parenting become so bipartisan? When did ANYONE discover the one single key to parenting that opens the ONLY door to healthy, well-adjusted kids?

So here I am, announcing once and for all, that I like the way we raise our kids. I am not so egotistical or narrow-minded that I think it’s the only way to raise children, but it’s the best way to raise OUR kids. The best ways to raise yours differ WILDLY, and that’s awesome.

We all vote differently, eat differently, enjoy different kinds of tv shows, if any. We attend different churches, schools, enjoy different kinds of foods, have our favorite soft drinks (or “Devil Juice”, to the hippies), our favorite sports, our favorite colors, scents, times of day. Our names and birthdays and sizes and shapes and colors all vary. So who on EARTH told us we couldn’t hang out because I vaccinate and you don’t? Where did the idea that my cloth diapers make me unwelcome take root? When did your kale bedding make you a better parent than me? We’re adults, by golly! Let’s sit together at the park and talk about the Kardashians! Let’s celebrate these little people we’re given the extreme privilege to raise and the fact that they are breathing and thriving. Let’s celebrate the miraculous ways they came to us, be it pregnancy, science, or adoption. Let’s encourage each other, learn from one another, be NICE to each other.

Breastfeeding is hard work, good job! Formula is expensive and there are SO many kinds to work through, great job! Your baby’s poop is being caught somehow, great job! We’re all after the same end result, so let’s link arms and get there together. Don’t play dirty and push other moms off the path. Don’t give the stink eye to the mom who is on a completely different path. Own your choices as a parent, I’ll own mine, and we will have some rockstar kids.

And I DARE you to say something else to me about my C-sections.