Enough

I’ve said it before, but seriously, you couldn’t pay me enough to re-live high school. Oh, there were great things that happened to me, so many amazing experiences. But holy wow, the stress, the pressure, the hormones, the emotions, the jerks and queen b’s. It was really hard – trying to live up to expectations, real or imagined, while trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be, while trying to  make sure I did what I had to do to get into college, while dealing with friends and classmates going through the exact same process. I remember crying a lot. I remember dealing with ulcers and other stress-induced illness by the time I was fifteen. I remember pushing myself harder than anyone else – the drive to be “perfect”.  And this was all in the time where rumors were spread via those folded up notes a-la 80’s, and during lunch or at post-game dances.

I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for teenage girls these days. It was hard enough to get through each day before there were phones and cameras around 24/7. Social media has been around most of my kids’ lives. They live their lives on blast. Remember when you had a bad hair day in high school? There weren’t any cameras around to capture it. Or if you fell walking across Senior Court, people would talk about it, but there wouldn’t be video evidence to spread the humiliation even further.  You would likely have to see that boy you really liked walk his newest girlfriend down the hallway, but you didn’t have photos of everything else they did in your face every day. I can’t imagine the pressure girls (and likely boys too) these days have to always look perfect, be perfect, not let things get to them in public. I think they’ve had to grow up much more quickly than we did.

With that all in mind, I want my babies to know they are enough for me. Just them, just as they are.

You are enough…

You are not what you wear. You are not what uniform you might put on for whatever sport you choose. You are not your success on the field. You are not how many honors or AP classes you take. You are not even the grades you get or the test scores you earn. You are not how many friends you have. You are not whether you date anyone before you’re sixteen. You are not whether you ever date. You are not whether you take someone or get asked to Homecoming or the Prom. You are not how many pictures there are of you in the yearbook. You are not what college you might get into. You are not how clean your room is, or if you finish all your chores without being told. You are not whether you finish that half marathon at a faster pace than last year. You are not your golf ranking. You are not whatever role you get for recital or Nutcracker. You are not the IEP meetings we go to annually. You are not the papers you write, the projects you finish, the number of books you read, the car you drive. You are not the money you earn, the house you live in, the career you decide upon. You are not the Facebook posts, the Snapchats, the Instagram photos, the re-tweets.

You, just you, you are enough. You are loved, you are cherished, you are wanted, just as you are. Remember that……There’s going to be so much pressure in your life to do, to be, to look everything “perfect”. But none of that makes you more. They are just what you do, how you look. They are accessories. You – you are enough.

It Just Seems to Happen

I was talking with my sister (mom of two girls, age 19 and 17) last night about our beautiful teenage daughters, and our own high school/teenage years. I’ve not hidden the fact my beauty has been going through it in recent months. My sister and I compared our high school, and pre-high school, experiences, which were very different as far as friendships were concerned. Even though we had those different experiences – I had a bff from 7th grade all the way through high school, while my sister did not, but rather bounced each year from group to group, never quite finding her tribe – we both suffered massively from horribly low self-esteem and very poor self-image. We both had issues with food. We both struggled severely with our own sense of worth and value.  Now I know the source we both point to, but I found it interesting that even with those different friend experiences from an early age, we both ended up in the same insecure boat.

When I found out I was going to have a baby girl, I was immediately determined she would never, ever for one minute question her worth, her value, how much she’s loved. I didn’t want her to ever suffer insecurity, self-doubt, or unhealthy self-esteem/self-image. I for sure never wanted her to deal with an eating/exercise disorder, or any of a host of  stress-induced illnesses. I’ve tried to tell her every day (sometimes I wondered if it wasn’t too much) how very loved she is, how much she’s needed, how proud of her we are, reinforcing all her strengths, encouraging her. I saw her, until a couple years ago, as a strong, independent, courageous, brave, outgoing girl who always stood up for others as well as herself. She’s incredibly smart, goofily funny, amazingly talented, and also happens to be beautiful.

But it just seems to happen to teenage girls, no matter how they’re brought up, no matter who they’re friends with, no matter what activities they’re engaged in. Teenage girls all seem to suffer insecurity – often debilitating – they doubt their worth and value, particularly amongst their peers. If there are any struggles with friendships, they find the fault within themselves all too often. They are struggling to figure out who they are, and where they fit  in, at the same time hormones are ruling their bodies and minds. Add to that anyone who may be threatened by them, and boom, perfect storm.

I thought I could keep her from going through this – I well and truly did. I’m finding you really can’t shield them entirely. Each girl has to face it – find her worth within herself, learn to accept herself, learn to be okay with who she is, find a peace with herself within herself, learn to be happy with herself. We just have to love them through it, and pray the effects aren’t long-lasting. Lord knows it took me YEARS to recover, same for my sister. I wish I could minimize and fast-forward the process, because when your child struggles in any way, you struggle.

Take heart, or so I’ve been told

I want to preface this post by saying I love my daughter deeply and dearly. I love who she is, how she is, what she is. I’m proud of how hard she works at whatever she sets her mind to. I love that she’s an entirely different person than me, as it gives me a chance to watch her experience life in a way I never did. I love that she’s tougher, stronger, more outspoken, more outgoing, and way less prissy than me. I love her sense of humor, her ability to laugh at herself, her intelligent mind, her curiosity with life. I’m thankful God saw fit to give me a daughter. Now, onto the task at hand….

If you have a daughter in high school, or going into high school, you’re going to need some thick skin. It’s going to be a rough ride I’m finding. Your ego is going to take some serious hits. You may find yourself questioning yourself in a way you haven’t since you first brought your precious newborn home. I found myself scrambling like a fiend, trying to find some parental footing. I’ve cried. I’ve been angry. I’ve whined. I’ve gone silent. I’ve said some bad words in my head. I’ve retreated, and I’ve gone to battle. Then I made a choice to get off the rollercoaster. It’s her circus, her monkeys, I’m just here, being the mom.

I’m me. I’m not the one going through a huge transitionary period in life. I’m the parent. I’m the adult. I’m not going to change just because that might be easier.  I’m still engaged, still overseeing, still enforcing all our mean rules. I know she’s going through what she must in order to separate, become independent, become her own person. That doesn’t make it hurt any less sometimes. Oh the days when the looks of disdain, the talking to me as if I’m the dumbest person in the world, the eyeball rolling – those hurt no matter how much I understand the reason behind them. But I do understand the reason behind them, so I, like all the other moms before me, soldier on. She is still an amazing, incredible, good, smart, talented kid. I know, because I hear it from other adults.

I have friends with daughters who have already gone through this and reached the other side. “Take heart,” they continually tell me, “Your daughter will come back to you.” That’s what I keep reminding myself. We will get through this. Our relationship will survive. I’ll have some bruises on my ego. I might cry. We’re going to have days we don’t like each other a whole lot. That’s family, though, isn’t it? This too shall pass. So take heart, moms of daughters, we can do this.

Muddy Princess

 

No, I don’t always have their backs

My oldest two are at a stage they’re really figuring out who they are, what they are, how they want to go about life. It’s an interesting, frustrating, gut-wrenching, beautiful time. Some days are amazing. Some days completely suck.  I’ve said it a lot lately – I equate the difficulty level of parenting teens to that of parenting three toddlers at the same time. Yes, I’m still wearing that dazed/glazed look of a mother overwhelmed and disoriented.

Here’s the deal – because they are figuring out who they are, because much of their days are outside our realm of control, because we want them to learn about life and how to do life as much as they can while still under our roof and under our guidance/protection, we let them make as many decisions and choices as possible. There are times we make decisions for them – when we have to, when the choice has more long-lasting repercussions, or when it’s a safety issue. They aren’t always popular decisions. We just hope and pray they appreciate our intervention somewhere down the road.

But yes, we do allow them a bit of leeway. But no, I don’t always have their backs. I think that’s an important distinction. I don’t think we do our kids any favors if we calmly turn our heads the other direction when we don’t agree with their choices. My children are not perfect. I know their faults as well as I know their strengths. I feel a responsibility to offer my opinion when I don’t agree, and make them come up with arguments to support their choices. I don’t always have to agree with their decisions. I don’t always have to have their backs, particularly when decisions might hurt them, hurt someone else, or have results they aren’t considering. I let them know I love them no matter what, and support them always, but that I don’t have to roll with their flow at all times. I’ve gotten some backlash for that, which I totally don’t get.

We do our kids a disservice when we blindly back them in all things, at all times. I am their safety net. It’s my responsibility to help them learn to be compassionate, caring, productive, happy adults. That’s a fraught journey. If we don’t help them understand other perspectives, if we never make them think deep enough to be able to defend their decisions, if we always tell them they’re right but not telling them when they’re wrong, we are failing them. We have to allow them to make choices that matter, because they need to learn how to win gracefully, and how to recover from mistakes and missteps. I need them to learn how to fail, and how to get back up from failing while I’m close by to keep an eye on the process.

I don’t presume to be a perfect mom. I don’t always know the best, right answer. Lord knows I’ve made plenty of parental mistakes in the last 16.5 years. But I come at life with quite a few spins around the sun. My perspective is broader, I can see the bigger picture as opposed to just the decision at hand. I can see the gray, where they tend to see black and white. I realize one of the last things teens want to do is listen to their dumb parents, but hey, we kinda know what we’re doing most of the time.

I happen to love my precious children – I love them enough to not always agree with them, and still come out the other side with an intact familial relationship. I don’t just show them approval. I don’t just show them disapproval. I show them love, constantly. I show them the pride I have in them. I encourage and support, but no, I don’t always have their backs. Hopefully in the end that results in well-rounded, thoughtful, successful adults.

In which I noticed something strange

When I was in high school, I didn’t know one kid who couldn’t wait to get her driver’s license. We all took driver’s ed at school, got our learner’s permits as soon as we could, and did our best to schedule our license appointments as close to our sixteenth birthdays as possible. It was just a thing….that freedom….we all couldn’t wait for it. Even if a kid didn’t have immediate access to a vehicle, he’d still get his license as soon as it was allowed by law. I grew up in a small town – a license allowed one to cruise, to actually even escape to the next, larger town, and if you were of a mind, it allowed you to get out to the “far out country” to party in the gravel pits (I wasn’t a partier in high school, so never experienced those infamous gravel pits).

Something seems to have changed over the years, because I know a ton of kids at my kids’ high school who have seemingly zero interest in getting their licenses.  Seriously, wth? It makes  no sense to me. You’d think they’d all be like we were – so ready for that freedom of being able to drive themselves where they need and want to go. But no….

Big Man turned sixteen nearly six months ago. He will finally take his license test at the end of February. Now his is a different circumstance – we held getting his permit over his head to push him to get his grades up. Doesn’t seem it was much incentive. I finally caved, knowing I was punishing myself more than I was punishing him. I know boys older than him who don’t have their permits yet, and some just now getting their licenses. One of my friends has a daughter who’s a Senior – she doesn’t have her license, and doesn’t want it.

I’ve been trying to figure this out. Why don’t they seem to care about this typical teenage milestone? Is it the parents, or the kids? Is it because we’ve just gotten into the habit of doing so much for our kids, it doesn’t seem to matter? Are we part of the entitlement problem, enabling our kids to disregard learning how to drive because we simply take them everywhere? Are they so used to, and fond of, us having total control? Or is that one on us as parents?

Like I said, Big Man will test for his license the end of this month. Am I nervous about him taking the wheel by himself? Of course I’m nervous, but you know what? I can’t wait…I can’t wait to not have to drop three kids off at school at three different times. I can’t wait to not have to pick him up from school, take him to the golf course, and then wait for his text they’re on the last hole to go pick him up. I can’t wait to have one more driver in the house to help with errands and getting his siblings where they need to go, when they need to get there, without  me losing my mind.

Do you have kids old enough to get their driver’s licenses? Do they have them? Do they care? What’s your take on this situation?

The Hand We’ve Been Dealt

Some might say we’ve been handed a less-than-stellar parenting hand. Trust me, before we got pregnant with our oldest, I didn’t intentionally sign up to have a micro-preemie nor an autistic child. And I know well too many parents who live a much more difficult parenting road, some too painful to even think about. So I don’t complain, much. Are our lives easy? Nope, but there’s never a promise of easy when you start down your life path.  You deal with the hand you’re dealt. That’s my take anyways.

I suppose we did have a choice. We could have told the doctors to not take any extraordinary  measures to save Big Man.  We could have quietly let him pass, fears of what his future might  hold taking precedent over his chance of survival. We could have walked away. We could have chosen not to fight. But I knew him – I knew his fight, even before I saw him face-to-face. I’d felt him within me, I’d heard his strong, fast heartbeat. I’d seen his tiny arms and legs on the ultrasound screen so many times. I knew long before he took his first breath we would fight as long as he had fight within him. We didn’t  know, even when we brought him home from the NICU, what his future might hold, but honestly, do you ever know what your child’s life is going to be? Life holds no guarantees. We took him as he came. We loved him, we watched him, we cried, prayed, laughed. We continue to advocate for him, raise him, fight with him and beside him.

The day (and admittedly for a few days afterwards) we found out we were pregnant with the Princess, I cried, so not ready to face pregnancy again so soon after Big Man’s birth. He was 3.5 months old. Our babies would be just a year apart, if I made it to full-term this time. I fretted, I worried, spent days full of anxiety, so sure we were going to end up back in the NICU again. I eventually reached a place of knowing our family was going to look a bit different than I’d planned, but we were blessed. And oh  how I fell in love with that little girl.

I recall so clearly the drive home from the psychiatrist’s office the day Little Man was diagnosed autistic. I called my friends. How would I do this? Why was this happening to him, to our family? What had I done wrong? Why did my baby have to suffer? A wise friend reminded me my baby was still my baby – a diagnosis did not change who he was. I would have to fight for him at times, I would have to find the strength inside to deal with the hard parts. I would go to the deepest depths when my nine-year-old told me this was too hard and he didn’t want to live anymore. I’d have to remind myself all the amazing things he’s capable of when it seemed all I was hearing was what he couldn’t do.

I guess I could have walked away, said this was too hard, too much, could have chosen not to fight for him and his needs. But I  never saw that as an option. I’m not amazing. I’m not extraordinary. We aren’t special because we continue to parent him. We deal with the hand we’re dealt. Our hand  may not look like yours, but you take what you’re given and you deal, or you don’t.  We just never imagined there was a choice for us, never considered any other option than loving our babies.

Is this the next shoe?

I spent the first five or six years of Big Man’s life waiting for the next shoe to drop. When you have a micro-preemie, there are lots of shoes involved. Because I felt like we’d escaped his early birth and subsequent NICU stay relatively unscathed (physically and developmentally), I was certain there would be plenty of shoes falling from the sky. We couldn’t be that lucky, right?

He was diagnosed with high muscle tone on his left side when he’d been home just a few months. High muscle tone can be an indicator of cerebral palsy, often a result of very premature birth. We used massage and physical therapy, and within a few months, the high tone was gone. He had a speech delay at 15 months. We used sign language, sang and read to him constantly, incorporated some speech therapy, and by 2.5 years, we were begging him to stop talking. At four, he was diagnosed with reactive airway disease, which became full-blown asthma at 5 years old.This wasn’t unexpected – there was damage to his lung tissue from the oxygen he needed to survive. It was still a big speed bump for us. He would go from zero-to-pneumonia within a matter of hours every time he got a cold, an allergy flare, or the flu.  But then daily maintenance meds, and extreme vigilance became the norm. We tossed aside that shoe. At eight, he was diagnosed ADHD, and we learned he had something of a visual processing disorder. He got meds, and he got glasses. He became much more successful in the classroom, much more confident in himself. He was at 80% higher risk of ADHD just by fact of his prematurity. Genetics also played into that hand.

He’s a small guy. When he fell off his own growth curve a couple of years ago, we started with x-rays, bloodwork, a trip to the endocrinologist, protein shakes, diet changes, etc. Turns out he’s just dealing with delayed puberty. Again, fabulous genetics, from both parents. But it was a process. And I couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t another shoe. You know that growth chart doctors parade in front of parents at every visit? Yeah, that. Well, he wasn’t even on that chart for height or weight until he was well past three years old, and even then, he hovered below 3%. He still hangs out down on the lower end. His BMI isn’t close to being on the chart. That teeny, tiny, 2 -pound, 15 inches long baby is still a long, skinny young man. Another shoe….a handle-able shoe, but it still feels like a shoe.

With some consistently funky bloodwork, we were sent to a specialist at Children’s who put him in a study. Part of that study was a body scan, including bone density. I thought nothing of it. The initial purpose of the scan was to compare muscle mass, bone mass, and fat mass in his body to determine if he were at healthy levels. Do you see another shoe? I didn’t, until the results from the study came back. He has severely impaired bone density. I didn’t know what to do with that. I was calm about it for a couple of days, then kind of started to process what that might mean. Impaired bone density = easily broken, right? He’s an active kid. And he’s a normal kid. Rough-housing, falls, trips when he’s racing – they’re all normal parts of his day. So now we have supplements, and a trip back to endocrinology.

I thought  I was doing okay with this. It’s just another bump in the road, right? But then my preemie-mom-mind went there….Could this be another shoe? He’s a 16 year old, former 26 weeker. He’s kind of on the front end of micro-preemies being considered viable, and fought for. The medical community is still learning the long-term outcomes of saving these littles. Trust me, in NO WAY am I saying not to save them, give them a fighting chance. I’m just saying, when your baby is born at 24, 25, 26 weeks, they can’t tell you how that’s going to look when he’s 15 years old, 20  years old, 50 years old. Of course, not any one of us, preemie or no, knows what our lives are going to be like long term. So there’s that. But I couldn’t help but ask, could this new thing, this impaired bone density, be a result of  his premature birth? Is this some outcome they didn’t know could happen?

I wouldn’t change a thing done to save him way back then. Oxygen, steroids, lipids, caffeine, blood transfusions, vitamins, and antibiotics were a way of life for 93 days. Those are the things that saved him. But did one of those things do this? We’ll never know. And in all honesty, it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t undo it. I have my baby. He came home, and he’s a thriving, normal teenager.

I do see that shoe hovering over my head. I keep looking up at it, waiting for it to fall. I don’t know if this new wrinkle is a shoe, but when you have a micro-preemie, pretty much everything the rest of your son’s life will look rather shoe-like.