parenting

Making A Move

My daughter’s worried little face reflected in the rearview mirror of my car. She had just voiced her concern that she had come across as foolish to the parents and other spectators who sat on the sideline of the previous week’s basketball game. She was worried that she had fouled too many times, played too aggressively, or unintentionally committed another one of the million little errors that anyone who is learning the technical sport of basketball is liable to commit. She wondered if she should tone it down a bit on the court in order to avoid criticism.

I did not hesitate to dole out a heaping dish of advice that took the better part of our twenty-five mile drive.

“Don’t hold yourself back from playing your hardest. It’s worth putting everything you have into any endeavor that you truly care about,” I said, nodding authoritatively. “Even if you stumble along the way, you’ll feel much better about yourself if you know you gave it your best shot.” I heard the words come out of my mouth, and along with them an unsettling hum that I couldn’t quite place began to buzz in my ear.

Having finally reached our destination, I sat on the sideline and watched my daughter take my advice. She was a fearless little warrior on the court, throwing her heart and soul into the game. A sense of pride filled me as I watched her play. No, it was more than pride that I felt; it was a sense of satisfaction that took root within me. Pride in watching my child give her best effort was understandable, but deep rooted satisfaction was something else. I was living vicariously through my child in that moment, as if watching her push herself to play her hardest and achieve her goals, somehow fulfilled my own long abandoned hopes and dreams.

The nagging little hum that had started on our drive, turned into a full-fledged ringing note of hypocrisy. How easy it was for me to dish out advice to my daughter from the sideline, judging from afar the level of rigor with which she should tackle her goals and dreams, while I sat safely, comfortably by waiting for some distant day in the future to make a move toward my own goals and dreams. The realization of the disconnection between what I so assuredly preached to my daughter and what I actually practiced in my own life was unsettling.

In fact, it probably would have been far more appropriate if our roles had been reversed and my daughter sat in the driver’s seat on the drive to her game that morning giving me advice on how I should go about giving it my best shot. After all, she had put herself out on the line to achieve goals that she set for herself repeatedly over the past several months alone. She ran her heart out at her school’s annual Turkey Trot last fall and came in an admirable third place. This winter, she had devoted herself to practicing chess during her lunch recesses in preparation for her school’s chess tournament. The afternoon of the tournament, she had greeted me at the door with a mile-wide grin holding the giant Hershey bar she’d won for coming in first place at the tournament. Now here it was basketball season, and the degree to which she had thrown herself into the sport was turning out to be no exception to the pattern that she had set for herself.

She had accomplished all of this only months after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Her diagnosis hadn’t stopped her from living. In fact, it hadn’t even slowed her down. And here I sat, waiting in the recesses for a time when my words would come out perfectly articulate and my performance would be impossible to negatively critique. Here I sat, playing it safe in the shadows, instructing my daughter from afar to push herself without fear of what others might think.

Much like my daughter, I used to be the kind of kid who was adamant that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to. I put myself out on the line to tackle the goals that I had set. I fearlessly tried out for drama productions, sometimes alongside adults. I could stand up in front of an audience of people without letting my nerves rule me. My confidence outweighed my fears and reservations. My desire to achieve my dreams ruled over fears of how I might appear to others. I had confidence that my voice mattered. I literally and figuratively threw myself onto the stage of life.

As I transitioned into adulthood, my apprehensions and fears claimed superiority over my confidence. I became the master of daydreaming about a time when I would start working on accomplishing my dreams. I went from a little girl who said I will accomplish this, to a woman who said one day when point a and point b align perfectly in my life, I will start working on that goal I want to achieve. I became a woman who dreamed from afar, a woman who counted down the days for a better time in the future to begin working on that distant goal.

From my position of safety on the sideline, I watched my daughter set an example for me by truly living in the present and making a move toward a goal that she cared about achieving. She worked through her fear of what the people on the sideline thought of her performance. In that moment, I realized she didn’t need my advice; my advice was just words. She needed a true-life, living example of an adult, a woman, a mother (her mother) who carried her dreams and goals into adulthood and continued to make a move toward achieving them regardless of what life circumstances got thrown in her way.

That afternoon when we arrived home from the game, I turned the advice that I had unleashed upon my daughter earlier that morning into an internal dialogue directed at the one who really needed the advice:

Life is too short to be paralyzed by fear and insecurity. I need to reclaim my ability to take chances and put myself on the spot, even if is means risking criticism. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to stumble. It’s not okay to clam up and keep yourself from trying for risk of failure or others’ criticism.

Then I turned my computer on and I began typing.

My daughter’s worried little face reflected in the rearview mirror of my car…

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Today They Are Still Little

The rush and flow of millions of gallons of river intermingles with high pitched kid laughter. The river slaps, pushes, and forces its way over the tops and sides of rocks that have been worn smooth, compliant, and accepting of the inevitable nature of their fate, as they are positioned in the path of the river’s relentless downstream pursuit of the Pacific Ocean.

Unaware of the river’s loudly proclaimed domination of the silent, subordinate rocks and similar other little battles and harmonies that take place in the natural world that surrounds them, My daughter, J. and her friend R., pretend the day away.

Today they are still little enough to stand atop a giant sailing vessel (a large river rock) harpooning a killer squid (a shadow in the depths of the water) as giant bubbling rapids (small undertows in the current) threaten to overtake their vessel. Today they are not worried if what they pretend appears as silly to anyone else. They are not out to impress or to make a statement. Today they still know how to play and how to live completely in the moment.

They are on the cusp of adolescence, but today they still hold onto days of pretend worlds and magic.

Reframing My Perspective On Failure

Is there hope for those of us who have to work against our natural dispositions in order to see the beauty in every day? My natural disposition is to gravitate toward the negative. A naturally negative attitude coupled with an all or nothing personality is a bad combination, and that is exactly what I have. I cringe at the way that sounds, and it’s not easy to admit that’s who I am. The people in my professional life would likely be surprised by my self assessment, and that’s because I put up a pretty good front and shield who I am with a smile and positive words. I internalize the negativity. The people who are closest to me are the ones who bear the brunt of its impact. It’s difficult to admit that what is going wrong in my life weighs more heavily on me than the good and the beautiful that is all around me, but it’s something I have to be honest about in order to take steps toward reframing my thinking.

Most of January and for a large part of February, I was doing a pretty good job focusing my energy on the positive aspects of life. I was trying to live in the present and spend time doing little things with the people I love. My son wanted to go running on the beach, and instead of telling him maybe later, I decided to forget the dirty laundry and the sink full of dishes. It felt incredible to be alive, breathing in the open air, spending time with my kiddo—time which feels like an hourglass of precious minutes sifting by as he gets ready to transition into high school.

My daughter loves chess and she wanted to play night after night, a request which I obliged. She encouraged me with words like, “Mom, you’re actually really good at this!” She and I both know that games of strategy which require thinking several steps ahead are not my strongpoint. But what she was really trying to communicate to me was that she appreciated spending time with me, having my undivided attention, and it didn’t matter that I was no competition for her. She could see my effort. I was spending some of the precious, limited time that we have in this universe doing things that really matter—the only things that will have any significance once my time runs short and I am left to assess whether or not I accomplished what I really wanted to in this life.

After a long, gratifying run of balancing my time well and finding the positive attitude and energy to spend my time on efforts that really matter, I fell into a funk. The messy house demanded too much of my attention. More planning and preparation than I anticipated went into getting ready for upcoming lessons that I had to teach. I spent too much time trying to manage personal writing goals that I had set for myself. I fell into a squabbling disharmony with my husband that left us alienated and distant. Suddenly, I found myself sitting behind an empty computer screen, uninspired and lacking clarity of vision. My daughter wanted me to bake something with her in the kitchen, and my son wanted me to take him to the library. I was too busy, however, staring at my empty computer, alienated from those I love, trapped in my own hazy-headed mind. That’s when I realized that within a handful of days, I had fallen completely off course. My energies and efforts were once again lacking focus and my priorities were skewed. I was ruled by negativity and doubt.

I think one of the hardest things for me is working to get myself out of a funk. It takes so much mental energy in the first place to psyche myself up to start working toward the goals I have set for myself: being happy, nurturing good relationships, balancing my time well, and being mentally and physically healthy. And it’s so easy to fall out of the habits that I have spent so much time working to foster. I can spend weeks and months looking for the beauty and the positive aspects of each day but inevitably I will slip, and there will be times when life feels like a total dumping ground. Each time this happens, I feel a tremendous sense of frustration and failure; it makes me hesitate to jump back into the saddle again because I’m afraid that I will fail like I have so many times before.

This is where I think a reframed perspective on failure for me, and those like me, needs to step in. Instead of spending energy agonizing over times when my priorities get tangled up and I slip into negative thinking or I get lost in my own head and alienate my loved ones, I need to expect that sometimes I will slip. Instead of harshly reprimanding myself and spending an unreasonable amount of time devoted to regret, I need to come up with a plan for what I will do when I fail so that I can jump back into making an effort to see the beauty in each day as immediately as possible.

I am still working on what this plan will consist of. Any suggestions, ideas, and opinions on this topic are greatly welcomed.

Letting My Daughter Define Who She Is

Letting My Daughter Define Who She Is

Mamalode posted a piece that I wrote about my experience watching my daughter balance type 1 diabetes and sports.

A Daily Moment of Clarity

The sun starts to rise, a fiery marmalade pink just perceivable behind a cracked cloud curtain in the eastern sky.  I talk myself through what I need to accomplish for the day as my brain fights to slip back to a numb bouncing board of unfiltered thought.  My drive to work is twenty-five miles one way. My fourteen-year-old son and I traverse much of the distance in silence, he contending with his thoughts and me with mine. The thick coastal fog envelopes the dense forest of trees on either side of the highway, and a sheet of moisture gathers on my windshield, creating an otherworldly feel.  It’s during these early morning drives when my mind wanders at will between thoughts of teaching, parenting, and writing.  All of my options are spread out before me, and anything seems possible.  It’s the moment before I enter the chaos and uncertainty of the day when my vision is the clearest.

I have moments of certainty as to how I will inspire my students to become lifelong readers and writers.  I set lofty personal writing goals to accomplish as inspiration flows freely, and the resonating themes of pieces I’ve been working on connect with such clarity.  I think about the uninterrupted quality moments that I will spend with my husband and children when we all get home for the evening, and everything seems possible in that single moment.

By the time my little Honda pulls into the parking lot of the middle school where I teach, the daylight has taken on a dull grayish hue, and the magic spell of the in-between hours wanes.  I am left with a dizzy, overwhelmed feeling as to the scope and magnitude of what I must accomplish, and fuzziness clouds my head.  The rest of the day is a mad dash to the finish line, a million goals, obligations, meetings, and duties to follow through with.  But still, I hold on to those initial moments of clarity (even when I can’t quite recall what they were) with ferocity because I know that everything in life is a process, and my morning moments of clarity are seeds of future aspiration germinating in my mind.