You First

My mom recently moved out of the home she’s been in since I was just out of high school. In the process of the move, she gave me a bunch of my old things, including a box that held some of my older journals from high school. Might I just say, “wow”. Wow, did I worry a whole heck of a lot what other people thought of me, but then isn’t that the way of teenagers, particularly teenage girls? I can’t believe how much I allowed my vision of my self-worth to be wrapped up in who liked, or didn’t like me.

Learning to be okay with and like yourself is one of life’s hardest and greatest achievements. I didn’t quite figure out I wouldn’t be too attractive to others until I was attractive to myself until later. I think I was in my mid-twenties, ditching yet another failed relationship, stuck in a hotel room by myself on a business trip before I sat down and faced it all. I needed to like and accept myself first before I could expect anyone else to really like and accept me. I had to be fine alone before I could truly be in anyone else’s life, much less truly let anyone else fully inside my life.  Make sense? That was an intense week of self-reflection and self-revelation. It was painful at times – I had to clearly see and accept all my faults. I also had to clearly see and accept all my strengths, something I actually found much more difficult.

Back in high school, and even early college, I felt my value came through having someone want me, just me. I’m not talking about friends – I was lucky enough to have some really incredible friends who loved and accepted me more than I did myself. I’m still grateful to them for keeping me afloat. But as I read the words I’d written from freshman year through my high school graduation, I realized my days were preoccupied with whomever I had a crush on at the time. If he didn’t talk to me on a particular day, I must’ve looked bad or sounded stupid. If he didn’t acknowledge me, it was because I was an ugly, annoying little girl. If he didn’t smile at me, it was because I was wearing the wrong clothes. If I didn’t get asked to the prom, or homecoming, or the winter dance, I was worthless and a failure. I didn’t have a boyfriend until mid-way through my senior year of high school. Looking back, I can see that was mostly because of the way I viewed myself. Once I gained a little bit of confidence, things started to change. But if I’d spent less time obsessing about who liked me, or didn’t like me, whether I had a boyfriend or not, which group I was part of or not part of, and spent more time learning to like me for me, maybe I would have found a peace with myself much earlier in life.

Watching my older two navigate high school, I’m reminded why you couldn’t pay me enough to relive those four years (well, most of them anyways – it wasn’t all entirely awful). If I could go back and tell my sixteen-year-old self anything it would be to love, care for, and accept myself first. I’d tell myself not to send my “representative self” to school each day, but to just be me, and be good enough with who I really was to put that person out there every day. If I wasn’t good enough as myself, my representative certainly wouldn’t be good enough either as she was a shell, a front, a wall between me and the world around me.

I guess my point is this – love you, first. Once you learn to love you, others will find it easier to love you too.

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

 

Re-Learning Them

Something no one told me to expect parenting high-schoolers is how much they might change. I felt I had a good grasp on who my kids were – their personalities, strengths, weaknesses. I knew they would grow into their own people, but I had no idea they could innately change so much. I have to look deeply to see the things I used to see. I don’t know why that is…maybe it’s such a time of self-discovery, so impacted by people other than family that insecurity and lack of surety overwhelm those solid traits you used to be able to count on.

Big Man has been a little easier through this process. Oh, he’s seriously given us a run. I know I’ve looked at him with that dazed, WTH look on my face fairly frequently the last year or so, but I don’t have to look too hard or too far to see that loving, empathetic, quirky, witty, intelligent boy he’s always been. His hugs are still the same. But we did have to tap into a new vein for what drives him. Spouse called him a honey-badger….you know, honey badgers don’t care. Big Man is easy, accepting, open. He may seem shy on the surface, but he’s well-liked, because he’s easy, doesn’t judge, seems to want everyone around him to be happy and will go out of his way to make it so. He still seems to have the ability to walk into a room expecting everyone to like him, and finding that they do.

The Princess……this hasn’t been as easy a process. I’ve been watching her dance competition videos from last year the last few days, tears forming as I see the joy on her face, the fierceness in her eyes. I see a brave, bold, strong girl with the most amazing smile, and such beautiful skill. I ache, because she seems to have lost her mojo. I don’t know what drives her. I feel she’s seeing all her own weaknesses, but isn’t giving herself any credit at all for her unique strengths. It seems she sees how and what she lacks, rather than all she’s capable of. She seems to be comparing herself, and finding herself lacking or falling behind, not good enough. This is killing me to watch. But if I look back on high school, I recall facing many of the same issues. Watching her, I’m reminded why you couldn’t pay me enough money to go back and do high school all over again. I used to know what she wanted, what her goals were, who she was. Now, those seem to change on a weekly basis. I know I have a blank look much of the time, sit here silently trying to figure her out all over again, re-learn who she is. I want my brave, bold girl back.

I logically know this is part of the process of growing up. No one told me I would feel their growing pains just as much as they do. I’m doing my best to gently guide, while accepting their choices. I’ll keep looking for those glimpses of the children I used to know, while I figure out who they are becoming, and just keep loving them.

Soon Enough

I’m faced daily with the fact our time with our kids is running short. Soon enough, too soon, the oldest will be starting college visits, will begin making choices for his future, will graduate and head off to college. The year after, the middle will do the same, and then we’ll just have two years left with the little at home. It’s completely cliche, but these years are going to fly by.

When your kids are little, you count up….you count up the years, you count up each milestone reached, each phase, each stage. They start school, and you count up the grades. Our script has been flipped. I’m now counting down. Each milestone is one step closer to our house being empty. We’re weeks away from Big Man getting his driver’s license. Soon, I won’t be driving him to and from school anymore, won’t be driving him to and from practices. I’m counting down the number of times I will walk out the door to the car to take him to school. I’m counting down the number of times I’ll need to sit outside the high school waiting to pick him up. I’m counting down the number of times I’ll wait for his text they’re on the last hole at the golf course so I know when to go pick him up. While there’s some joy and excitement in the freedom it will give both of us, it’s a step away for him…one more move towards adulthood and independence.

We count down the sports seasons. He has two more cross country seasons, three more golf seasons. I remember how long four years used to seem. It’s not that way anymore. I didn’t even get to see him race this year but once. I feel a push to take advantage of every opportunity to witness his achievements.

Same goes for the Princess. I’m counting down the number of recitals and Nutcrackers she has left before she’s off to college. I’m counting down the number of games she will cheer, trying to be there as much as possible. I don’t want to miss a thing. She’s started her online driver’s ed. She will take her permit test in April, her license test in October. She’s spending more time with her friends. She’s charting her own territory. Before I know it, 6am cheer will no longer be my problem – she’ll be taking herself. The nights driving to and from the studio, or sitting there for hours while she’s in class will be history for me. I can’t really begin to wrap my brain around that. What am I going to do with myself?

Every first is another notch in the countdown of them growing up. I feel myself counting down, nearly every day. We only have so many spring breaks, so many summers, so many first days of school left. I’m trying to process that. I’m trying to hold onto each moment I have with them, make them all count, but not go completely off the rails so much I hold them back. I actually asked the Princess permission to watch her cheer tonight at a wrestling match. Yeah, that.

When they were little, the days did last forever. I struggled to reach bedtime every single day. I counted hours from waking to bed, wishing days away because they were hard. My toddlers got the best of me. My littles exhausted me. I couldn’t wait for sports seasons to be over so I could breath. I longed for the end of each school year so I could be done with the homework battles and endless projects, as well as the morning hurricane process of getting them out the door. The saying, “The days are long but the years are short” is truth.  I wish I’d realized that in those early days, because now I’m counting down, and I’m very aware how short the next few years will be.

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?

If she could see what I see

Navigating the  path of raising a daughter is fraught with many perils. When the Princess was born, I was determined she would always know her worth, never suffer from self-esteem issues or lack of confidence. I’m learning no matter  how you raise your girl, no matter how often you tell her she’s loved, you’re proud of her, no matter how many A’s she earns, how many times she’s successful onstage, on the field, in the pool, in whatever contest, she’s still likely to suffer from a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. PS – if you know the secret to overcoming this, please share.

I suffered severe shyness growing up. It was so painful, and resulted in so much daily anxiety over even the tiniest of things. I had no confidence, and zero self-esteem. Nada. Zero. Zip. I never liked what I saw in the mirror, never felt I was ever good enough or worthy. It took leaving for college far from home, and the opportunity to reinvent myself, be who I WANTED to be, to overcome most of that. It still resurfaces more than I’d like.

I wanted so much for my girl to never experience that. We put her in various sports, groups, and activities. I tell her – probably more than I should – how proud of her I am in all that she does and who she is. I wanted her to look in the mirror each day and be content with what she sees. I wanted her to know her value comes from within. But lately, things she says seem to show her confidence in herself isn’t there, her self-esteem is failing. She seems to feel she is less, scared, not-as-good-as, not good enough, not cute enough, not-as-smart-as. Fear and insecurity seem to be the winners lately. Does every teenager feel the same? Are some just better actors, hide it better?

I wish she could see what I see when I look at her – a beauty that flows from inside of her, her precious, infectious smile/laugh. I wish she could understand how proud we are of her hard work at school, in dance, in cheer; how we treasure the fact she deeply cares about her friends and makes sure everyone is treated fairly. I love her compassion, her physical and mental strength. I wish she understood that no matter how many times I see her dance, every time feels like the first, most-amazing time, and I am in awe. I wish she understood that just because math takes her longer doesn’t mean she isn’t good at it. I wish she knew that everything she does to help with her brothers and around the house is recognized and truly appreciated.

I wish she could see the witty, funny, adorable, beautiful, smart, hard-working, well-loved, well-liked, inspiring girl we see when she looks in the mirror.  She isn’t less. She is worthy. She is blessed and she is a blessing, not just to her family, but to everyone who cares about her.

This fierce, fearless girl is who I see…..My wish is she would see the same, all the time.

What do I tell her?

The Princess will be 15 in a few months, starting high school just before. We are entering the world of boys, dating, parties…..high school social life. I’m a bit terrified. Such a minefield. So here’s my question – how much of your life experience do you share with your teens? Does it make a difference or change their behavior? Do they even listen, or just nod their heads while rolling their eyes?

Do I tell her my mistakes? Do I tell her about the time I cheated on my boyfriend because the guy I’d had a crush on years before finally took a moment to notice me? Do I tell her the potentially really bad situations I put myself in? Do I tell her about the relationships I sabotaged or ended before the guy could have a chance to leave me, or prove himself? Do I tell her about the boys I treated badly, using the excuse of recovering from how the last boy treated me? Do I warn her off controlling boyfriends? Do I tell her the things I really regret doing or not doing?

I went from not being noticed at all, to getting a decent amount attention from boys. It was pretty heady, and overwhelming. It took me years to figure out how to handle myself, handle them. I needed, oh how I needed. I made so many mistakes, so many errors in judgement. Sometimes I just shake my head, realizing how lucky I am to be where I am. On the flip side, I had some amazingly wonderful experiences, met some incredible people, and grew because of choices, right and wrong.

I try to think back to when I was her age. Did my mom try to talk to me? Did I just tune her out, unable to imagine her as a teenager facing what I did each day? Would it have made any difference if she did tell me, and I did listen? Do we all just have to walk that path on our own?

We were driving home from the studio last night, and I felt this driving need to tell her everything, really talk to her about boys, dating, sex, relationships. But I didn’t know where to start, what to tell her, what to hold back. So I didn’t say anything. It haunted me through the night – memories dredged up, old hurts revisited, heartbreaks re-lived, some of my darker, most regretful moments brought back to life.

I wasn’t promiscuous, nor considered a “bad girl” by any means, and yet there are still many things I would have changed, avoided. But what, really, does she need to know, if anything at all, of my past? All I’ve told her to date is that I kissed my share of boys, and dated/hung out with more.

What do you tell your kids when you reach this stage?