The teachable moments of parenting fails

DSC_1871“I’m hungry.”

It’s not WHAT she said that drove me crazy, it’s WHEN she said it.

It was midnight.

Bedtime had been stretched out insanely long for months now, something I hoped to remedy soon, and my last straw was being asked to get a snack at midnight.

By a 3-year old.

By my 3-year old.

Right then I acted like a very mature, 40-year old woman and flounced out of the room and told her if she wanted a snack she could go get one BY HERSELF!!!

I was done with dealing with hungry toddlers whining at me in the middle of the night. I was done with 11-year olds staying awake way past when they were supposed to be and being grumpy the next morning. And for that moment I was done with never seeming to have a break and dare I say it? With being Mom.

I shut the bathroom door and pouted in the dark for maybe two minutes before she opened the door and I remembered we still hadn’t got a lock for that blasted door.

She was whimpering at me in the dark and looking pitiful and of course I felt even more guilty about it all so I led her to my room where I knew there was one of those applesauce squeezable packs, tucked away in my purse for those days we are out somewhere and she says she’s hungry (this child is always hungry). I gave it to her, reminding myself she’s just a little girl and she can’t help it if she gets hungry at midnight. Even I get hungry at midnight sometimes.

It also wasn’t her fault that her mom hadn’t stopped her and her brother’s playing and told them it was time for bed much earlier in the evening than I had.

I took her to bed, telling her I loved her, and then I laid in the dark after she was asleep and felt guilty for yelling at her and her brother right at bedtime. I kissed her head so many times I’m surprised I didn’t wake her.

5a4c8-dsc_5772Then I tiptoed into my son’s room, where he had already fallen asleep, and kissed his head. Suddenly, in that darkened room, a sliver of light from the street leaking in, he wasn’t 11 anymore in my eyes. He was still five and innocent and little and all I wanted to do was scoop him up and hold him against me.

But he’s too long now and I knew if I attempted to scoop him up I’d fall over backwards and drop him and I on the floor, cut open his head and we would have to call an ambulance. That’s how the brain of a mom works – we take a simple idea and blow it into the most scary outcome we can imagine.

Being a parent is hard. Harder than I ever imagined. We all have tough days and boy do we blow it sometimes. Even when we blow it we love them and they love us. We all make mistakes and fall right on our faces in this parenting journey.

Maybe you feel you have failed as a parent too. We know we are not alone, yet we often feel we are alone because parents fear sharing their fails. We fill our social media feeds, and even our personal interactions, with images and tales of our children’s accomplishments and our successes. We rarely share about our blunders.

No one wants to admit when they have made a mistake and certainly not to other parents who we think have it all together. The truth is, no parent has it all together – no matter what their highlights may show. Maybe as parents we need to be a little more public with those moments we fail in, be brave and show other parents they aren’t alone in their struggle.

What makes us good parents is that we recognize we are not perfect, we apologize when we need to, and are not afraid to admit our mistakes. In fact, maybe not being afraid to make those mistakes makes us even better parents.

When our children know we can admit mistakes then they know that, yes, mistakes are always going to be made, but we can always learn how to improve from them.

And when we admit our mistakes to other parents we can learn from each other.

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The Farm

The little boy was leaning nonchalantly  against the door, with one hand on the door knob and when we jumped out of the van he said into the cold wind that whipped at our faces, sounding more like an adult than a child,“Welcome to our farm. Come on in.”

I smiled to myself at the sound of such serious, grown up words coming from someone so young and thanked him for the greeting. We stepped into a small, dark room filled almost completely by a large metal container, pipes running along the ceiling and walls, and a deep, metal sink at the back of the room. A small fluorescent light barely lit the room but a small window provided a little daylight.

I had started a personal photography project and series about small, family farms in Bradford County, Pa. and this was the first farm I had visited. The boy, wearing a winter coat and a knitted winter hat down over his ears, launched immediately into a tour of the barn, starting by showing my 11-year old son the nozzle where the milk truck driver would put the hose to siphon the farm’s milk collection from the refrigerated container into the milk truck. He motioned his hand up in the air along the path of the pipe system, showing us where the milk comes into the room and travels down into a clear sphere and then down another pipe and into the main collection vat.

Next he motioned us toward a door to our left and into the barn where he said his dad was feeding the cows. Cows were lined up in two rows, each in their own stall, ready to be fed and milked. They turned to watch us walk in and almost seemed to be listening to our young tour guide.

Before I could ask the boy his name or how old he was, he had a handful of the cow’s feed in his hand and began telling us it was made up of ground corn and hay and other nutrients. A man with salt and pepper hair and mustache, wearing a pair of faded blue overalls, pushed a wheelbarrow full of feed toward us and smiled at the boy and us. “He’s giving you the tour, huh?” He asked.

I said he was and doing a good job.

I finally was able to slip in between his explaining how the farm works to ask him how old he was and his name. His name was Parker, he said, and was six. When I asked how he knew all about the feed and the barn and the cows and milk, he said “I just do.”

Of course I know why he knows all he does. He is the son and grandson of farmers. Each day he watches the men who have shaped who he is and who he will become work hard for the life they want and they life they need. They work not only to survive, but to thrive.

His grandfather and dad milk the cows, care for the cows, feed the cows and they run the tractors, cut the hay, grind the corn and clean the barn. He is a boy being taught that to get what you want in life, whether that be a peaceful life on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania, or a life full of adventure and thrill, there must be some blood, sweat and tears shed. To reach a goal you work and you work hard.

It’s something his dad Mark knows a lot about. He thought he’d find his dream at college, but it was there he realized he had been living his dream all along on his family’s farm, right where he grew up. After he earned a degree he returned to the farm, the quiet, the tough life but the rewarding one that maybe he thought he never needed or wanted. Isn’t that how it is for a lot of us? We think we want something different from where we are and what we have when really, all we ever needed could be found right where we’d always been and among what we’d always had.

And sometimes we realize that what we want to do in life isn’t what will bring us monetary riches, but will bring us riches of the soul.

“Honestly, it is a labor of love,” Mark Bradley said. “I love working with the cows, and I love working the land.  It is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. There are always bad days, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

It’s not a job.

It’s a lifestyle.

It’s a labor love.

So much of what we do that really matters is just that – a labor of love – work that might not light up our pocketbook but will light a spark in our spirit. And from that spark will come a fire that will burn through all the distractions of life and leave for us a clear picture of what is good and right and perfect about this thing we call living.

Mom guilt is the best

I totally pulled the grandma-wouldn’t-want-you-to-do that card this week.

Totally.

Little Miss is in a mean phase.

At least I hope it’s a phase.

When she wants to sit somewhere her brother is sitting she shoves him until he moves. When she wants what her brother has she takes it.  When she wants to play with his Legos she tries to shove him out of the way so she can stand at his Lego table.

She doesn’t do this with other children. Only her brother. 

He’s eight years older than her. She doesn’t care. The age gap doesn’t intimidate her.

She is a bully.

I’ve been reading articles and wracking my brain how to teach her not to be mean. So far it’s been time outs and long talks asking her how she’d feel if her brother was mean to her instead.

But the other night I changed my strategy, one my own mother has been grooming me for since I was born.

I used mother guilt.

I knew it would all be worth it one day.

My son was hugging me at bedtime, laying across me, and his sister didn’t want him to hug me so she stuck her toes in his armpits and pushed hard with her foot, trying to dislodge him.

That’s when brilliance struck. I felt very proud of myself when I said:  “Oh my, this would make Grandma so sad. She thinks you are just the sweetest little girl and if she saw you being mean to your brother she would be so disappointed and so sad.”

She continued to push but was watching me and I could tell she was thinking.

 “She would. She says you’re so sweet and your brother loves you…she’d just be upset.”

 “Grandma? She’d be upset?” She asked. Her legs weren’t pushing as hard now. “With me?”

 “Sad, yes,” I said. “Not mad, but very disappointed and sad.”

She took her toes out of his armpits and lowered her legs.

“Oh my! Grandma would be upset at me! She’d be sad!”

She turned to her brother.

“Grandma is upset at me! She sad!”

The mother guilt was getting a little out of hand so I reassured her Grandma would be happy now because she had stopped being mean to her brother.

“Oh. Okay.”  She said, hesitantly relieved. 

I’m quite pleased my tactic worked.

For now.

I may not be as happy when the therapy bills start coming in though.

However, none of my therapy bills were related to my mom’s superior mom guilt so I think it will be okay.

The days are long

Lightstock photo by Lisa R. Howeler Lightstock photo by Lisa R. Howeler

It’s the end of a very long day and all I can think is:

Did I pay attention to them enough today?

Did I listen to them?

Do they know I love them?

Was I too distracted?

Too strict?

Too overwhelmed with other things that were not important?

The answer to some of those questions are ‘no’ and some are ‘yes’ and my heart aches as I scroll in my mind back through the day, recalling moments of failure, playing it all back like an old movie reel.

It’s summer and bedtime seems to be later and later each night. It also makes days longer and breaks of quit time for me non-existent. No stolen moments to recharge leaves me mentally depleted, drained, overwhelmed.

I want to try to embrace these long days as a gift – more time with them – instead of resenting the loss of free time. Some days I do but often I fail.

She’s laying next to me in a diaper, finally asleep after begging to hold a flashlight at bedtime that she kept shining in me eyes, asking to turn a light on, lay on one side of the bed instead of the other, anything to not have to actually lay down. There is red and green and blue streaks of marker on her legs and belly from when she drew on herself earlier in the day.

I mentally chide myself for not giving her a bath to scrub off all the mess but then I smile as I look at it with the light of the phone and think about her wild spirit, her determination, her laughter when she found me to ask “how do I look?” after she’d drawn on her skin.

Her stubbornness often has my emotions knotted up in frustration. She insists she no longer needs naps but without one she bristles like a bear at the smallest provoking.

Today she refused a nap, yet I knew if we left the house to do something she’d cry and cling and it would be clear she had needed the nap.

“I just can’t do this anymore!” I told her, finally at the end of my rope.

“Yes you can!” She declared, leaning in close. “Be brave.”

The irony was not lost on me that I’ve been listening to a series of sermons imploring us to “be brave.”

Be brave when we are anxious.

Be brave when we doubt.

Be brave when we don’t understand.

Be brave when nothing seems to be going right.

Be brave when dreams are lost.

Be brave when inadequacy rules your feelings.

Be brave and embrace the moments that don’t fit where you thought they should.

Embrace the unexpected, the changes, the winding trails through motherhood and life.

The saying is true – the days are long but the years are short.

It wasn’t long ago he was two instead of ten. He was stubborn and tough and full of energy.

He and I survived those long days when I embraced our time together, accepting some days would be long, some days too short.

Maybe instead of seeing a day as long I need to see it as full.

Full is good.

Full is positive.

Full is life.

Even long is good.

Long is more.

Long is more time for hugs.

Long is more time for learning.

Long is more laughter.

Long is more moments, more smiles, more touches, more life lived fully alive.

Summer playing, sad pet stories and art

So far this summer there has been too much playing and not enough cleaning. 

The laundry has taken over the laundry room; there are dirty dishes trying to crawl out of our sink; the neighbors invited us to swim but Little Miss just fell asleep on my lap, covered in paint; Legos are strewn across the living room floor, the aftermath of a battle between me and the adventuresome, trouble maker cat named Pixel; and there is still salt on the floor, gritty like sand, after Little Miss dumped the salt shaker when I wasn’t watching.

If all that wasn’t enough our 18 year old cat Smokey is slowly dying under the dining room table and probably won’t make it through the week. 

This has been a year marred by pet loss after losing our 13-year old Chihuahua Jack Russell mix, Copper, in February. We knew Smokey would be next and actually we thought she’d pass before Copper because of her advanced age.

We are a family of old animals. Two years ago our 19 year old all black cat passed away a couple of months after Little Miss was born. At my parents the cat I had from junior high until long after I was married wandered off and disappeared at the age of 16. 

The cat I rescued from a relatives house shortly before marrying was at least 17 years old when she died, while living with my parents who ended up with her since we couldn’t have pets at our apartment in that first year of marriage.

And yet another cat – Leonardo – died just a couple of years ago at around 13 or 14.

Ah, Leonardo. 

The cat I named after watching Romeo and Juliet (the one starring Leonardo DiCaprio) the week he arrived on my parents deck after being dropped off and after Mom said “don’t name that cat! If you name him you’ll think we’re keeping him and we are not keeping him.” I was home from college for the weekend and I said “hey, there, Leonardo. You look like a Leonardo.”

Mom said, “I will not stand out there and call Leonardo for him to come for dinner.”

But she did. 

For the next 13 years.

“Leonardo!” I still giggle at the thought of her out there yelling that name she said she would never yell out over the valley and fields below their house on the hill. 

For many of those years, until she passed away at 93, my grandmother was the only one Leonardo would let pet him. 

He never did let me pet him.

Smokey has tolerated me for years, mainly accepting me only when I started leaving her my leftover milk from my morning cereal. She’s a milk addict. Her affection became even more pronounced when I was pregnant with my son. I was in my phone the day she rubbed her head all over me and I asked Mom what she thought that was about. 

“You’re probably lactating.”

And once again her love for me came back to some form of milk.

In the back yard there is a newly amputated stump of a bush that refused to bloom this spring, for the first time in 14 years. It’s the same bush our puppy once hid his toys under. My melancholy side thinks of its’ death as simply another sign of sadness, another ending. 

My hopeful side, which often cowers under the melancholy pessimism, tries its’ best to see it as closing of one chapter and the start of a new, exciting one.

So even as sadness looms in our midst with the impending passing of our octogenarian kitty, we have been playing and squeezing every last bit out of summer, almost forgetting we have two and a half months left of it.

We’ve been at parks and pools and apparently I’ve been embracing the idea of letting children learn by doing because I’ve had to wash a lot of paint off my children in the last two weeks.

My art friend Maria came one day, carrying with her a painting she is working on for her sister. She set her easel and paints up on our front porch, igniting an artistic interest in the 2-year old and then that spread to the 10 year old and before we knew it we had an impromptu summer art class happening on the front porch. 

The painting continued even after Maria packed up her art and her son (I am picturing him being slide into an art case, but really he’s ten so she just ushered him away from his best friend, my son, and into her car) and headed home. 

Most of the night consisted of “stop that! That’s my paint!” Until finally I carried the 2-year old inside and away from her older brother so he had the space to create how he wanted to for once. I know siblings should share but even 10-year olds need a little quiet time to think and process.

That impromptu paint party progressed to the purchase of more canvases and paint and even a field easel. 

I’m hoping it inspires more art instead of fading into the background, but even if it does, at least the supplies will be there when the creative flame sparks again. 

The Garden

Rain fell steady just like the weather app said it would and I felt a twinge of disappointment. I knew it would mean a couple more days of waiting to plant the garden my son and I have wanted for a couple of years now.

I had always dismissed the idea of a garden because we live in town on a busy, noisy street and somehow, for this country girl, gardens are meant for quiet, out of the way yards where they can be admired on a warm summer evening in golden hour light. 

I had wanted to wait until we actually moved to the country to create a garden but since that doesn’t seem to be remotely close to reality at the moment, we started planning what we wanted to plant and where, early in the spring.

Pumpkins, squash and various herbs for him.

Cucumbers, carrots, green beans, peas, and potatoes for me.

Strawberries and watermelon for her.

What makes this year different is that for the first time in 13 years we don’t have a dog to consider and worry about digging up the plants. This lack of a puppy has me fairly heartbroken and I sat next to the garden space one day this week and cried from the grief of missing our Copper.

My dad brought his rototiller up to “the big city” and made the space for our garden. My son helped to break up the dirt and smooth it out and his sister worked next to him, most likely negating all the work he had already done.

Dad was only supposed to drop the rototiller off but instead he broke the ground for us. He then gave advice on what to plant and where.

There are days that living in town has its advantages, like when an old friend is driving to her daughter’s band concert at the school across the street and sees you standing outside. The friend, who I have barely seen in several years walked across the lawn with a sun-infused smile (or some might say Son-infused), her hair as blond now at 39 as I remember it at 19. Looking at her has always made me think of the “got milk” commercials, partly because of her sparkling white teeth and smooth skin but also because her family are diary farmers about ten miles from us.

Standing out with the sun pouring across the lawn and the kids, and Dad and potential, catching up on our families made a busy week seem less busy and more manageable. 

It was dark by the time the garden was done and Dad reminded my son that when the dirt crumbles in your hand it’s the best time to plant.

The kids had dirt in their finger nails like I had at their age. My legs and arms were bit up by mosquitoes because apparently they love my blood. My head was full of ideas but also of thoughts the Father, Son and Holy Spirit after Dad brought me a file of thoughts he had gathered about healing, Christ, and souls on fire.

He stood there as the sun set and pondered people who have prophetic dreams and people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, but don’t understand it. Pondering God and  how He works and why He works the way he does is something he’s done all my life. Though not a big reader of fiction, he’d often sit at his desk (now his computer) and pour over books on theology, blessing, curses, and God’s role in our lives.

I called Mom when he pulled out, a tradition, and told her he was on his way home, since he often is out late helping others, or if not, wandering aimlessly in Lowe’s admiring planks of wood and nuts and bolts to add to his collection, and forgets to update her on where he is.

Baths were late.

Bedtime was late.

But lungs were filled with fresh air, bonding time was spent, hard work was done, and deep, well earned slumber followed.