Saturday, May 24, 2014

10 Things I Wish I Knew 16 Years Ago

A former co-worker and someone whom I admire just became a father for the first time. The father of a son.

As I read his posts and viewed the amazing first-life photos of his tiny bundle of joy via this oh so impersonal window into our personal lives called Facebook, I felt a sense of protection. Not for this tiny human being - no, I knew he'd be well taken care of. The protectiveness I felt was for his father and mother.

So I use this outlet to share with them not pearls of wisdom, not nuggets of my two cents worth per se, but perhaps just some maternal musings of  a stubborn, close-minded woman who has stumbled and staggered through the last 16 years attempting to raise one of two of the greatest gifts God has ever bestowed upon me: a son.

As with any "unsolicited advice," take what you need and leave the rest. But here are a few things I wish I had been more acutely aware of over the past decade and a half, and what I am trying to better incorporate as I "try to do better" with Boy #2.

So for what it's worth, here goes.

1. You may know this, but it will still hit you at times. Your life will never be the same. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, of course, at times you'll find yourself waxing nostalgic for those moments when you weren't thinking about an extension of yourself for whom you are 100% responsible. It can be overwhelming when you're thinking you'll "go out for the night just like old times." It won't be. Don't expect it to be. Just enjoy the moment for what it is now and trust that he is in good hands and this is your time to reconnect with your spouse, your friends, or family.

2. Along those same lines, don't forget about yourself. Don't worry, my next line isn't going to be "sleep when the baby sleeps." That's bullshit. However, doing things for you that don't involve your little anklebiter is critical to your emotional and physical well being. It's not easy. You'll feel selfish. But you'll be a better parent, trust me. There is no medal at the end of the day for being that martyr parent who thinks that they have to spend every waking (and sleeping) moment with their innocent and completely vulnerable child. There's only complete and utter exhaustion and maybe, just maybe, a tiny bit of resentment.

3. Don't forget about the other half of your dynamic duo. I say this because I did forget, even though on the eve of my wedding day, two years before my son was born, my mother wrote me a letter and told me point blank to put my husband before my children. "Sure, OK," I thought. After my son was born, I scoffed, "Was she serious? He can take care of himself!" He sure can - and he is, because now we're divorced. I became a mom and ceased to become a wife. Treat each other kindly and thoughtfully, and when you're standing there with your poopy progeny screaming at your wife to grab another box of wipes, take a moment and look at yourselves. And laugh. Because you're not only parents, you're partners. And you're in this together, for better or for worse.

4. I know I don't have to tell the new dad to whom I'm writing, because he's light years ahead of me on this one. And for those of you who are "spiritual, not religious" or don't hold the same beliefs, don't think this is me pushing my stuff on you. Again, this is me spouting what I personally wish I would have done better. That said, Proverbs 22:6. "Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old he will not depart from it." Now, you can trust that, but there's no guarantee. The best you can do is integrate your Christian ways into his life from an early age and make it as important and vital part of him as breathing and eating. I didn't have the capacity to do this, and I wish I could have. I tried, but I often felt like a first-time runner at a marathon: struggling along at the back of the pack and very spiritually out of shape. What I will share with you is what I shared with both my boys, and that is, "I want you to know how to talk to God, because one day you will feel very, very alone. It is at that time and all the other times I want you to know in your heart that you are NOT alone, and that you always have Him, even in your darkest hours."

5. Remember at the beginning of this where I said, "take what you need and leave the rest"? The same goes for your parenting handbook, aka "how my parents did it." Regardless of whether you consider them the most awesome parents in the world you want to emulate or the most horrible and you'll do anything not to be like them, don't expect to raise your son like you were raised. First of all, these are different times. Initially I thought that was a lame excuse, but it's not. Even my mother said she recognizes that parenting is tougher than it used to be. And it was tough back then. Second, your child is not you. You can't parent a child the way you were parented, because he is not you. That may not make much sense now, but you'll see it later. I promise. Again, take pieces/parts that are already ingrained in you - the whole morals/values thing. But the rest? You may have to do that on the fly.

6. Speaking of doing things on the fly, remember every time before children when you had to make a difficult decision? It was tough, sure. But deep down in your gut or your heart or the pit of your stomach you kind of knew that answer, didn't you? Guess what. For the first time, situations will arise where all your organs will fail you. There will be no "right answer." For the first time, you will absolutely, positively not know what the "right thing to do" is. That, I suspect, is where faith comes in. Did I mention you'll need a lot of it? And down the line, you'll look back and think, "Why did I make that decision?" The only answer is, "I did what I thought was the right thing at that time." And leave it at that.

7. Validate, validate, validate. I say this as a parent of a strong-willed child, but I also say it because I neglected to do it. Again, this goes back to "I'm doing this like my parents did it because it seemed to work just fine because I'm OK, right?" When your child is sad, don't have the first thing come out of your mouth be to tell him not to be sad. When he's angry, don't tell him to stop being angry. When he's frustrated, again, don't try to take that away from him right away. Respect him. Yes, respect your child. Respect him enough to validate how he's feeling instead of telling him NOT to feel. That may seem too touchy-feely for some. Our sons are supposed to suck it up, right? I can tell you with confidence that this tactic will backfire for you and for them later in life, somewhere down the line. Validating emotions first lets your child know, "Hey, I hear you. I empathize." And there's nothing wrong with that. Now, how does this translate to a full-blown tantrum in the grocery store? Well, telling him to "knock it off" probably isn't going to work. But I'm not talking about how you get that behavior to stop. I'm talking big picture - the practice of validating his feelings will be remembered long after the conniption in the checkout line is over.

8. This is perhaps the hardest to stomach and the most difficult to implement. Let him struggle. Let him be disappointed. Let him fail. I can't stress this enough, but let me tell you this, and it will make sense. Scientists studied caterpillars as they emerged from their cocoons. One group left the caterpillars their own instinctive devices; the other group they assisted in shedding their chrysalis. What they found was that those they helped were unable to fly. Let that sit for a minute, and realize that every time you "fix" something for your son, you are impeding his ability to fly. And trust me - he is going to need to know how to fly.

9. Recently, someone whom I greatly respect gave me some advice. I took it very much to heart, and now I'm passing it along. And I'm putting it in quotes because I can't take credit for it. "Ask yourself what you can do to make God love you more (or less, for that matter.) If you don't know, the answer is NOTHING. Then ask yourself what your child can do to make you love him more (or less). Make sure you tell your son that there is NOTHING he can do to make you love him any more or less. Let him know that you understand that this concept may not make sense to him until he loves someone (spouse, child) more than himself, but that the time will come when your words will become crystal clear to him. TELL HIM that whether his life is good, bad, productive, unproductive ... there is NOTHING he can or cannot do, say, think to make God or you love him any more or less. Period." And that's all I have to say about that.

10. This last nugget is something I'm still working on, and that is: give yourself a break.  There will come a time when your son will do something or make a choice that will make you think, "What the hell did I do wrong?" This may keep you up at night, and you could obsess over it to the point where it overshadows all the good parenting you've done. At some point, you'll have to separate what he does as a reflection of your parenting and what he does as a reflection of himself. Because he is and will always be - NOT YOU. He will be HIM, making his own decisions and choices, sometimes using all those morals and values and blood, sweat and tears you put into him, and sometimes not. And if the latter happens, you may realize that you don't necessarily have to forgive HIM for that. You have to forgive YOURSELF. Because (reference above,) you'll always love him. Unconditionally. But you may not always feel that way about yourself. 

Maybe you don't get all these now. Maybe they won't apply to you. Maybe it's too early to talk to a new parent about forgiveness and validation of feelings and letting your child struggle. But someday, maybe, you'll be in one of these situations and you'll hear me in your ear, whispering, "Number Three. Number Seven. Number Ten." And if that happens and you can shift your thinking a bit to the benefit of your relationship with your precious child, then it was worth it for me to write it. 

Blessings to you and your new son. You have entered a journey in which there is no end, and I can assure you that you'll never want it any other way. I can say with definitiveness that my two sons are unequivocally my greatest accomplishment in life, and an ongoing lesson in what unconditional love means. Welcome to the Club.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Missing Mom

Mother's Day is just another Hallmark holiday.
Mother's Day is just another Hallmark holiday.

I try to just repeat that to myself this year, but it's hard amidst all the cute commercials showing happy dads and kids bringing Mom breakfast in bed or touching scenes with three generations of moms sharing a hug.

As a mom, I don't really expect anything on Mother's Day. Again, I feel like it's one of those made-up holidays that pushes people into buying gifts with money they don't have, or acknowledging a day originated by a company that needed to make money in the month of May.

But it exists, and it's a hard day to get through nonetheless. Especially this year.

Regardless about how you feel about Mother's Day, you can't get through the day without either thinking about your own mother or the time you have spent as a mother. This year, I have the dubious distinction to be able to do both, as I spend my first Mother's Day without a mom as well as without one of my children.

I was unfortunate enough to lose my mother to cancer just over two months ago. However, at times I felt I lost her way before that - in June of 2013, after she had her first aneurysm and brain surgery. She wasn't herself; the surgery had damaged arteries in her brain that contributed to who she was. After a subsequent aneurysm and surgery not six weeks later, the surgeon had to sacrifice a major artery that he "wasn't sure what it controlled," and it was his "hope" that the other arteries would come through and compensate. But that would take time. Time we didn't know she didn't have, because while she was recovering from brain surgery, the cancer that we thought was lying dormant was unbeknownst to us ravaging her inside.

She still had a grip. Not surprising.
However, during the period of June, 2013 until March of 2014, I spent a lot of time with my mom. A LOT. Like every day. Sometimes there was silence as she slept. Sometimes I'd just hold her hand and we'd watch HGTV. But we also had some good talks, especially when it was just the two of us. And even though she wasn't always in the present day, she always knew who I was and understood what I was talking about, especially when it came to my kids.

From her hospital bed, she would respond as I somewhat guiltily told her of my parenting struggles. She had them, too. She understood. She still offered her advice and I was amazed that through the fog that was her surgeon-manipulated brain that she was able to share the pearls of wisdom that I had come to rely on from her. She was still Mom.

When we were told January that the time for hospice had arrived, I was gently reminded by friends that it would be now that I would have these special moments and tell her everything I needed to tell her. To let her know how much I loved her and what a good mom she had been.

Every night she read to me. 

But what those people didn't realize is that I already had. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I already had. I had matured enough from the rebellious teen and the apathetic, selfish 20-something year old into the 40-something mom with two kids who now GOT IT. Wow, Mom. You did good. You were an amazing mother. Knowing the struggles I have had raising my two boys, I am beside myself with awe in how you raised the four of us. And you did it right. You did it the right way.

My mom and me, 2011.
I never felt as if I was not  loved. I may have had the balls to talk back to you a few times, but I always respected you. And after I had kids of my own, I admired you. I relied on you. I trusted you. And you never, ever disappointed me, even as you lay in that hospital bed with tubes in your arms and medications running through your body and a brain that had been through the wringer. You never, ever disappointed me. In fact, you amazed me every single day with your strength, your resilience and your acceptance, and I believe my love and respect for you grew more in those last few months than ever.

You're not here now, Mom, and I so need you to be. I miss you so incredibly much. I still find myself thinking, "I need to call Mom about this" or "Wait until I tell Mom," then like a sucker punch I realize the harsh reality that I can only do it in my prayers. It sucks going through uncharted parenting waters without a captain at the helm. You were my captain.

I know you're up there looking down on me, Mom. I know you're watching me and guiding me as I go through some very difficult parenting challenges, and that is the only comfort I gain when I wake up every morning and "remember" that you're no longer on this earth.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. You know I love you, and you know I think that you were the most wonderful mom. My world is truly not the same without you.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Relay for Life, Remember for Love

Today marks two months since my mom passed away.

I wonder if I'll do this on the first of every month. Six months from now. A year from now. Five years from now.


At the end of this month, though, two very important events will happen.

The first one is that some of my family and I will be participating in the Relay for Life - Morton on Saturday, May 31.

Mom's 79th birthday; Dec. 29, 2013

If you're not familiar with Relay For Life (if you're like me, you may not have had a clue unless someone you loved or knew was touched by cancer) it's a walk/run/day to honor cancer survivors, remember loved ones who fought and lost their battle, and to try to raise funds to help stop a disease that continues to ravage those for whom we care.

My mom died of fallopian tube cancer (a rare form of ovarian cancer) on March 1, 2014. She had no family history of cancer. She had two rounds of chemo but the disease overtook her - too soon and without regard for her healthy, active lifestyle. The fact that she is no longer here leaves a huge void in all of us who loved her.

Mom loved to walk. She used to be a runner, but told me once, "I just miss so much when I run. I walk so I can enjoy the world around me."

May 31, 1958
This is when I come to the second important event that will happen in May.  My parents would have celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary on Saturday, May 31, the same day as the Relay for Life.This will be the first May 31 in 56 years that my mom and dad will not be together. Dad will be with us, and I know Mom will be with us in spirit. We will celebrate her life, walking as if she was right beside us, and try to do our tiny little part to help find a cure.

That's why we formed Team Talcott. We'll be there all day  - as many of us as we can get. New to the Relay this year is a GLOW 5K Family Run & Walk. I'm going to shoot for running that as best I can - for Mom. 

Join Team Talcott and walk with us - for 15 minutes, an hour, or all day (it's from 3 to 10 pm.) Or throw in that $20 that's been eating a hole in your pocket so we can reach our $1000 goal. Or dedicate a luminary in honor of or in memory of one of your loved ones who survived or succumbed to cancer.  We'll walk for all of them, I promise. 

Thanks in advance - it means a lot to our family.

If you want to sign up for the GLOW 5K Family Run & Walk - it's at 7 pm at the Apostolic Christian Church in Morton. You can also find them on Facebook here.

You can read Team Talcott's story on our Relay for Life page, but I'll reiterate the end of it here:

"We will walk in memory of our mom, our warrior. We will walk in honor of our dad, our hero, and her primary caregiver. We will walk as a family because that is what she would have wanted. We would be humbled if you would donate to our team in order to help us contribute to the fight against cancer. We would also be honored if you would join Team Talcott and walk with us on May 31."