via Dana Spaeth Photography
Related: Please Come Home
via Dana Spaeth Photography
Related: Please Come Home
I saw you the other day.
Gritting your teeth.
When you were pregnant, before your baby was born, you may have envisioned your son being a star baseball player.
Your daughter dancing in one of those adorable dance recitals.
And here you sit, at your wit’s end, with in inconsolable child who is so petrified he is clinging to you for dear life.
You have tried every single thing you can think of to get your kid to release the death grip he’s got on your leg and just give it a try.
But he won’t.
You look at all the other children who are happily participating.
What the hell is wrong with your kid?
Why the hell won’t she just fucking do it???
You start creating scenarios in your head.
Of your kid riding the bench for every single basketball game in high school.
Or not making the team at all.
The last kid to be picked for the kickball team.
The insane conversations with yourself begin.
If she doesn’t get in that pool for swim lessons now, there is no way she will be a great swimmer. Or even a good one. Ever!
Where did I go wrong?
She will forever be behind all of her peers!
He needs to participate!
I mean, he’s already…
The more your kid refuses, the more anxious and angry you get.
What is wrong with you? Can you just puuhleeeeease try???
And now this “fun” activity you have signed your kid up for has become torture.
For both of you.
I’ve been there.
When Number 3 was three years old, I signed him up for this toddler basketball program at the Y.
It would be the perfect jump start to his basketball career.
The guy running the class was young and super cool, and he would be just right for Number 3.
Unfortunately, Number 3 didn’t realize that.
There were four other little boys in the class.
On the first day, they ran right over to the super cool instructor.
Number 3 ran right to me.
For eight weeks.
He never once participated.
And I literally lost sleep over this stupid class, worried that my three-year-old was going to somehow suffer in the long run.
Perhaps I should have focused more on how I was making him suffer in that moment.
He just wasn’t ready.
I just wasn’t able to see that.
So rather than listen to my kid, I listened to my inner psycho.
Basketball was too scary for him.
I should force him to do something less anxiety inducing.
Lace him into shoes with really sharp blades on them and stick him on a big ass sheet of ice!
The obvious and much less scary solution.
And I signed him up for ice skating lessons.
Because, clearly, if he was going to be a great ice hockey player, he would need to learn how to ice skate at a young age.
I have no idea why I did this.
I hate the cold.
And I’ve never even seen an ice hockey game.
Not surprisingly, he was terrified.
He had a white knuckled grasp on my arm that would require the Jaws of Life to remove as I dragged him to the side of the rink.
I pretty much put my foot on his ass and shoved him through the narrow opening onto the ice.
He was crying and screaming and pleading.
But I was determined to force my petrified four-year-old to learn how to ice skate.
His ice hockey career depended on it.
Each week I would give him a day to recover from the trauma of Saturday’s lesson, and then I would start the Aren’t you excited for skating lessons on Saturday? conversation on Tuesday or Wednesday.
I bribed him with candy and superhero costumes and DVDs and all sorts of crap.
I could try to force it all I wanted.
He just wasn’t ready.
And he never actually participated in one of those ice skating lessons either.
So all of this came back to me as I watched you the other day.
I know what it feels like.
And here’s what I want you to know.
It will happen.
He will get there someday.
How do I know?
Well, that panic-stricken three and four-year-old that I tried to force onto the court and the ice is now nine years old.
He’s one of the best baseball players on his team.
He’s a great swimmer.
He’s a talented basketball player who, as I’m told by his coach, has a great free throw.
And do you know what he said to me just last week?
“Hey Mom? Can I take skating lessons some time?”
So don’t sweat it.
I know it’s hard to be patient and it’s easy to worry.
But one day he will be ready.
It may be in five minutes.
Or it may be in five years.
Either way, sit back and relax.
Your kid won’t miss out.
And when he is ready, he will be sure to let you know.
Related post: Saying Goodbye to the Sideline
Before I became a parent, I was assured I would never know such love as I have for my children. “Holding your baby is the most amazing experience of all!” I was told by parents, relatives, friends and random strangers in the check-out aisle of the grocery store who saw that I was great with child.
Imagine my surprise, when I first held my daughter and felt absolutely nothing but fear. Was I going to drop her? Would I raise her correctly? Had we chosen the right name? What had I done, thinking I could raise a human child?
My fear of course made me feel even more fearful. I was afraid, so did that automatically mean I was a bad mother? Where was that overflow of love I was promised? Was I broken? I was probably broken.
The overflow of love didn’t beat out the fear until two weeks later, when one night, as she screamed at two in the morning and I had exhausted all means of stopping her, I started crying. “Please,” I said, “I’m doing my best, just stop crying.”
And she did. The whole moment was so improbable, so ridiculous, that I laughed. I looked at that mewling little baby who half-resembled her father, and half-resembled Mikhail Gorbachev and I realized, she didn’t have a clue about anything either. The fear abated.
I thought about that moment again, when a well-meaning relative assured me that this time with my baby and three-year-old was a golden stage. “You will miss it when it’s gone,” she said. “It was the happiest time of my life.”
My days are full, meaningful, frustrating and involve a lot of poop, but happiest time of my life? I’m not so sure. But even admitting that makes me feel afraid that I am failing, I must be doing it wrong if I’m not overjoyed to scrub poop out of my 3 year-olds carpet.
A dearth of parenting books, manuals and how-to websites, assure parents that if there is a problem that you can fix it. That if something is wrong or frustrating or if your kid insists on biting your arm flab, that you can overcome this with firmness, patience and a few other products that can readily be purchased online. Bottom line: if you aren’t happy, it’s your fault and you are broken.
No parent who has ever lain on the floor crying because everyone else is crying around them, is broken. No mom who has ever looked at her child with eyes of sheer terror needs to be fixed. No mom who’s wished themselves away from the living room floor that’s always sticky and smells of poop, is doing it wrong. I wish instead of parenting books that showed you how to be better, we had books that just taught you how to accept what is before us, with all the grace, joy, frustrating, anxiety and fear that comes with the territory.
Because I’m done with happy.
Related post: At Least 70% Of Being A Parent Sucks
My elder daughter came into this world, ironically, over Labor Day weekend nearly 20 years ago. You might call it an early delivery… 3 1⁄2 months early. Two people who had faced four years of infertility, countless tests, near bankruptcy and multiple miscarriages. A final pregnancy that included everything from nearly daily sonograms to an undiscovered and almost fatal ectopic pregnancy to a cervical stitch at 17 weeks and hospitalization from 20 weeks on.
But we finally had a child. She just was small. Okay, itsy bitsy, teenie weenie small. 715 grams at 24 1⁄2 weeks. Joy and fear, guilt and hope were the emotional baggage that haunted us from the moment she arrived.
After emergency heart surgery at two weeks old (and only two pounds), and more scares than a Wes Craven movie, it was finally October. It looked like our little pumpkin was finally ready to face the frosty days of autumn… though only to experience it from the confines of her isolette.
To rally our spirits, our amazing nurses had a plan.
“Halloween is coming up. We need to get a costume for Samantha.”
Groggy eyed from a long night in the NICU, we didn’t comprehend at first.
“Did you say a costume? Can we do that?”
“Of course you can. It’s Samantha’s first Halloween. She needs a beautiful costume. Maybe a princess or cute little kitty cat.”
We stared at the nurses. Should we make a costume though neither one of us was crafty? Where we would buy such a thing? I mean, I don’t think they make costumes in Thumbelina sizes.
Someone suggested a toy store in a neighboring county, which sold a specific line of doll clothes. We were encouraged to take the drive.
The nurses knew what we needed. We needed to feel like regular parents and celebrate the holidays all parents dream about. That road trip was just what the doctors and nurses ordered.
So off we drove on a Sunday morning to this store. As we walked around the store, we seemed to lose our way, and our belief in what we were doing.
“May I help you?”
We stammered. “We’re looking for a costume for our daughter. She’s very premature and still in the hospital. We heard you may have something for her to wear.”
“I have just the thing. Come with me. We’ll find something really special for her. It is her first Halloween?”
The all-knowing store owner guided us toward an area with doll clothes of every style and shape. There were so many choices. So, so many choices. What was right? What was wrong? Did we know the difference?
Seeing us hesitate, the owner took the time to go through the selections. We limited ourselves to the smallest sizes as those would fit best. We also needed something that would work with all the wires and tubes that were a daily part of Samantha’s life.
And then I saw it. A white tennis dress with a head band, small racquet and tiny can of balls. A tennis player myself, I could see my daughter standing beside me in that outfit.
My wife, more intuitive than I could ever be, sensed what the moment meant to me. “We’ll take this. This is the perfect.”
Driving home from the store in a state of unaccustomed euphoria, we hurried to the NICU to show Samantha and the nurses what we had purchased. My wife huddled with the nurses as I placed the tennis gear in front of Samantha.
“Look Samantha, you’re going to be a tennis player for Halloween. Maybe you’ll play at Wimbledon one day. Wouldn’t that be great?”
Two weeks later, the moment arrived. Isolette glistening with Halloween decorations created by the nurses, we arrived to see Samantha dressed for her first tennis match.
Yes, the outfit was too big, but with her pleated white dress, she looked like she could easily win any set she set out to play.
That Halloween, there were no tricks, only the treat of seeing our daughter ready to take on the world, and win.