The other day someone asked me if I had ever tried paddle boarding. I laughed to myself as I pictured what it would be like to try to stand my uncoordinated, clumsy self upright on a board while floating on the ocean with only my balance and a paddle to prevent me from being tossed into the water by a large wave. No, I have never tried paddle boarding. But, as I woke the next morning and quickly ran through the ever growing to-do list in my mind, I started to wonder if maybe I have been paddle boarding but just didn't realize it.
Perhaps the act of trying to balance parenting, wifeing (let's pretend it's a real word), friending (another real word), working, homeowning and all the other responsibilities that come with adulting, is a bit like balancing on a paddle board. As I carried the image of myself paddle boarding through my day, I became more convinced that paddle boarding is the perfect metaphor for how I approach my life.
Some days I can barely even stand up on my paddle board, no matter how calm or still the water is that day and no matter how strong my paddle is at the time. Sometimes there is just too much weight on my shoulders and all I can do is plunk myself down on my board, legs criss-crossed-applesauce and sit there. On those days, days when my 7 year old throws himself to the floor in a full-fledged tantrum because it is time to put his shoes on or days when I get into the car already late for work and realize that my low-tire pressure light is on, all I can do is float and let the waves and ocean guide me. I just hold onto the board for dear life, hoping that tomorrow will be a better day or that I might bump into a fellow paddle boarder along the way who can help me stand up.
Some days I find the strength to stand with ease and I am suddenly an expert paddle boarder. On those days I glide over the ocean's surface, making dinner, folding laundry, paying bills and shuttling my children to and from events on time like a pro. This paddle boarding thing sure feels like second nature on those days.
Sometimes I even find myself sitting comfortably on the board, legs dangling playfully over the edge without a care. My children are happy and polite, my work responsibilities are up to date, my house is clean and my financial stress is low. These are the days when I wish I could freeze time and soak up all the laughter, love, light and pure joy I see around me.
But then, inevitably, the water changes, as it always does, without warning. Flat tires. Sick children. Work emergencies. Sick pets. Health concerns. Broken washing machines. Suddenly I am sea sick and just want to angrily cast aside my stupid paddle and board and give up. It's too much. It's too hard. I'm not built for paddle boarding. What was I thinking? Why is everyone else out there balancing so beautifully on their boards today? What is wrong with me?
Always eager to learn more, I decided to conduct a brief bit of research on paddle boarding to see if this metaphor could really hold water (pun intended). In my research, I stumbled upon a very informative website for beginning paddle boarders. Here, Green Water Sports provides new paddle boarders with 10 tips to help them become successful at their new craft. After reviewing these tips in detail, it turns out that they could easily be applied to many of life's overwhelming aspects of adulting. Below I have included all 10 tips and their applicability to the ever challenging task of parenting or, as I may refer to it from now on, paddle board parenting:
1. Use a leash
No, not the literal leash. Although I have certainly met some children who, in some settings, could benefit from being on a physical leash, I am not referring to that kind of leash. I'm talking more along the lines of the type of leash that is a safety leash - just to make sure you don't lose your board when a wave tosses you into the water or you lose your balance. Who and what are your lifelines that you can turn to when you get knocked off your paddle board? Who can you tether yourself to for safety? Who do you want to make sure you don't lose along the way?
2. Make sure your paddle is the right way
While there is no wrong way to eat a Reese's, it seems that there is a wrong way to use your paddle. Sometimes our guts steer us the right way as we paddle board our way through parenting but sometimes our instincts are just wrong and if we truly reflect on it, we are using our paddle incorrectly. Sometimes we could benefit from checking with someone else to be sure that our paddle is the right way. It is ok to ask for advice and help. Who will let you know if your paddle is not the right way? Who can you turn to when you need to double check your paddle?
3. Face the right way
Initially this tip seemed rather silly and simple but as I reflected on how it could be applied to parenting, I realized that as parents it is sometimes easy to face the wrong way. We all have had moments where we look backwards, focused on the mistakes we've made behind us, or we look forward but only at the scary possibilities. Sometimes we need a reminder as parents to face the right way, face forward towards hope and the future, face towards the here and now, leave the past in the past. What is the right way for you to face in your parenting now?
4. Paddle with your core
Apparently, many new paddle boarders believe they should paddle with their arms. Doing so, however, uses more energy and results in quicker fatigue. Green Water Sports suggests that we should be using our core, the strongest muscles of our body, to do the work. What are your strongest muscles as parents? What is at the core of your parenting? How can you utilize that inner strength to help you steer your paddle board in a more energy efficient manner?
5. Look at the horizon
When you are trying to paddle board, looking down and constantly checking your foot position can actually make you lose balance and wind up in the water. Looking at the horizon helps paddle boarders to stay afloat. Looking at the horizon has also been known to help reduce seasickness. I'm going to try to remember this tip next time I find myself nauseous on my paddle board. As parents paddle boarding through life we should stand tall, look ahead and trust our feet. Let the horizon steady us. What is your horizon as a parent? What steadies you?
6. Stay out of the way
There are lots of other paddle boarders out there! Let's try to avoid cramming into the same space, sending each other toppling into the water. Respect each other's paddling and give each other room and space to fall. Some of us are having good days, filled with balance, strong cores and steady feet. Others are clinging to their boards in sheer panic. Respect each other's differences. Who do you want near you when you are paddling? Who do you need to stay away from?
7. Fall the right way
Even professional paddle boarders fall sometimes. No one is perfect. The same holds true for parenting. We all will fail and make mistakes along the way. How we fall and climb back on the board is what matters - both in parenting and paddle boarding. What is your plan for how you will get back on the board the next time you fall off? What is your plan to make sure you fall the right way?
8. Ride waves you can handle
Green Water Sports says, "Be smart and ride waves in the right conditions for your skill level." Ah, if life could be sure to only give me problems that match my skill level! However, life sends us giant waves and winds for which we are not prepared and while we can't suddenly develop the appropriate skills, we can find places to turn for help. Where can you turn when the waves get too big for you to handle?
9. Watch the wind
Know the forecast. Spend some time talking to others. Prepare yourself and notice the signs of changing conditions. But when all of the advanced planning fails (as it inevitable does!), Green Water Sports details a concept called "paddling prone" that paddle boarders utilize when the wind and waves get too strong. Sometimes all we can do is drop to our bellies, let go of the paddle and use our hands to steer us through the rough parts. How do you know when you need to paddle prone? Do you beat yourself up over needing to paddle prone sometimes?
10. Look after your board and your paddle
Someone once told me that self care is not selfish. Just as paddle boarders need to take care of their board and paddles, checking for cracks, dents and needed repairs, so too do we need to constantly take care of ourselves as parents. We can't paddle board our way through parenting if we are broken. How can you look after your own board and paddle?
"Unless you paddle for the wave, you'll never know if you could catch it. But once you do... Ride it as long as you can. Love as long as you can." - Abigail Spencer
Like many other parents, I read all the baby books, bought all the baby products and prepared as best I could for parenthood before my oldest child was born almost 11 years ago. As we struggled through sleepless nights, terrible 2's and horrible 3's, I looked forward to that sweet spot; the place where childhood would become easier for the entire family. I can't completely say where it happened, when it happened or how it happened. But, it happened. Parenting became comfortable and even when things were not easy, they were at least familiar.
Recently, though, things began changing. Clouds started to fill my usually bright skies. Then came the rain. At first, it started with big fat single raindrops that would be scattered throughout my days and weeks; just a few little drops of rain, here and there. The rain drops were so few and far between that I could almost completely ignore them. Then came the occasional rain storms; brief but harder to ignore. Finally, the full-on hurricane rolled ashore. Clearly I had missed out on the warnings. I realized quickly that I probably should have planned more, prepared more or at least looked into umbrella options. But, it's here now and I can't ignore it anymore.
My baby is growing up and things don't look that familiar anymore.
I watched my baby at bat a few weeks ago. The lights were bright and the crowd was cheering as he stepped up to the plate, the lead-off batter for his team in the bottom of the sixth inning in a semi-finals game. As he tapped his bat around home plate in his ritual motion, I realized that this would likely be the last time I would see the 10 year old version of him at bat. Gone was my shy 5 year old who would stand at the plate, too terrified to swing. Totally unprepared for such emotion, I quickly fought back the tears and swallowed away the lump that had formed in my throat. A few days later, we met some families at a local water park and my visions of us exploring the park together as a family were quickly dashed. He was delighted to spend the day with his friends, only joining us, his family, when we forced him to eat, hydrate and sunblock. Gone was the timid child who needed to hold my hand and needed reassurance about ride safety. And then, just a few days ago, I watched him take the football field with his new team, a team that only last year had seemed to be filled with almost-teenagers; kids so much bigger than him. Gone is his need for me to be present at each and every single practice. Gone is the little boy who feared making a tackle. Let's not forget the ever increasing worries about things like boyfriends/girlfriends in his peer group, social media accounts to learn about and monitor and constant requests for a cell phone. The hurricane has arrived and it is time to figure out how to survive it.
After reflecting on my feelings over the past few weeks, I have come to realize that although the initial emotions hit me like a hurricane for which I did not prepare, I'm learning to see this point in time as something far different than a storm. Rather, most days it feels like we are standing on a very long bridge. On one side of the bridge is his childhood - filled with transformers, his raspy baby voice, his baby blankie, him needing to hold my hand and his belief that Disney characters are real. On the other side of the bridge is his adolescence and all the things that will come along with it; things that I can't even fully comprehend yet.
Some days we are closer to the childhood side of the bridge, especially at night when he asks me to tuck him in, talk about our day and whisper some good things to look forward to the next day. On those days, I can barely see the other side of the bridge. All I see is the child version of him: sweet, innocent, small, safe. Other days, though, we are closer to the adolescent side of the bridge and the childhood side of the bridge is completely out of my line of sight. On those days, I see a young man when I look at him and I can envision the possibilities for his future: high school sports, driving, college prep.
No one ever told me about this bridge. At least, I don't think I remember hearing about it in all my pre-parenting preparation. This place, this bridge, is completely foreign to me. Some parts of the bridge are beautiful and well-crafted with great big reinforced railings. Those parts feel safe and sort of exciting and I want to linger there a bit longer, soaking in the final pieces of his childhood. Other parts of the bridge, however, are worn-down and if you aren't careful, you can fall off the edge. Those are the parts that scare me and keep me awake some nights; the parts that have me asking other parents for their advice. What will happen once we get to the other side? What will life be like then? What will our relationship with each other be like then?
This is usually the part of my blog where I offer up some tips, advice from researchers or insights of my own. If you've read this far hoping to find some, I have to apologize. I've got none to offer today. I have never been on this bridge before and clearly didn't prepare for it. All I can do is name where we are because I know some of you are on similar bridges. It's scary, exciting, terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. Completely bittersweet. While most times I want to take him firmly by the hand, turn around and head back to the childhood side of the bridge, the side I know really well, I also find myself sometimes looking with anticipation toward the adolescent side of the bridge.Maybe it's not so bad?
While I do not know the best way to spend my time on the bridge, I do know that I want to try to learn as many lessons as I can from this bridge. I want to find a balance between giving my baby his independence and holding onto our precious family time. I want to continue to let him hold onto little pieces of his childhood, like that baby blankie that he still keeps on his bed, while providing him space to make his own mistakes and figure out who he will be. I'm sure I will tumble off the bridge at one point or another but I think I can climb back on and keep moving forward.
So, for now, I am going to enjoy our time on the bridge; our time between childhood and adolescence. And maybe, just maybe, we will see that this is another sweet spot in our family's journey.
The Mom Squad
Recently a friend from high school invited me out and I found myself having to decline: "It's July. I'm pretty much at the baseball field all month."
If you had told the high school version of me that this would be my life in 2016, I would have laughed at you. (Let's be real, the 2012 version of me would have laughed at you too.) But, it is my life and the baseball field is where I spend most of my free time during July. It's also where I spent a lot of my time during March, April, May and June. That is, of course, except when I was at the flag football fields. Once August rolls around, my new hang out becomes the football field until November. During the winter months, it all slows down and our schedule is free. Just kidding. It's basketball season.
Many parents of school age children can probably relate to my schedule. When my boys were younger I looked ahead to these years with dread and felt sorry for the parents who seemed to spend all their free time watching their children play sports. I'd drive by the football field and think, "Those poor parents!" I was wrong. I feel lucky, blessed and deeply appreciative to be able to spend so much time on the sidelines watching my babies grow and develop into young men; young men with goals, drive, confidence and true, lasting friendships.
My boys get a lot out of their busy sports schedules but so do I. Being a sports mom continues to teach me new lessons every day, many of which are applicable to all other aspects of life: things like learning how and when to bite my tongue (because no one wants to get ejected from their child's game by an ump), how to pack a bag that is prepared for anything, how to clean grass stains from white baseball pants, how to deodorize football pads and how to cram an insane amount of sports equipment and coolers into a tiny Toyota Prius. You know what else I get? A Mom Squad.
Some of you may think that a Mom Squad is a group of 40-something moms driving around town in mini-vans looking for children to scold. While this isn't something I would put past my Mom Squad, it's not an accurate description. A Mom Squad is the group of moms (and Dads too!) that sit at your child's games day after day, night after night, weekend after weekend. You can find them in their fold up chairs along the ball field, beside their child's dugout, under portable pop-up tents and seated on back-protecting fold up cushion seats on the basketball court bleachers. They almost always have large tote bags with them; filled with everything from snacks to extra cups (not the kind you drink out of - the other kind) to medicine to ice packs to cooling towels to extra clothes to a bowl that was left at the last team get-together. They can coordinate a team meal in a matter of minutes and can re-hydrate and cool off 12 children like a team of professionals.
Clearly the Mom Squad comes in handy, right? Isn't that cute? Yes. It really is. But, a Mom Squad is so much more than handy and cute, my various Mom Squads over the past few years have taught me some pretty invaluable life lessons. Before I get to the list, let me first acknowledge the rampant sexism and gender bias contained within this post. I mean no offense by any of it and am deeply grateful to the sideline Dads and the sports moms who know far more than I do about the world of sports. Onto the list:
1. THE VALUE OF SUPPORT
Moms in the Mom Squad don't cheer only for their child. They cheer for everyone's child - even children on the opposing team. They know what to say to encourage my child behind the plate, in the field, on the mound, on the line of scrimmage and at the foul line. They know when he is down and needs support. They know when he needs to hear silence. They get him. They are my surrogates when I am not at games, texting me scores and play updates and providing color detail like "he's smiling soo big after that hit!" Their support is not just for my son but for my entire family and I had no idea how important it would be to have such support in my family's life.
2. THERE IS CRYING IN BASEBALL (and football and basketball...)
Despite what Tom Hanks may say, there IS crying in baseball. Sometimes there is lots of crying - both from the kids and the parents. The Mom Squad is there to hand out tissues, give hugs, provide words of encouragement and, if needed, whisk you away behind a car so you can cry without your child seeing it.
3. LAUGHTER MAKES IT BETTER
Let's face it, some of these games can be long. Sometimes there are double-headers. Sometimes we travel long distances. Sometimes our boys get very very smelly. Sometimes our team just can't catch a break and we have a win-less season. The Mom Squad can find a way to laugh together and make everything a little easier.
4. SOMETIMES SILENCE IS GOLDEN
Sometimes we just don't feel like crying, laughing or talking. Sometimes we just want to show up at the game in our ugly sweats, hair in a messy bun and not talk to anyone. You know what? It's ok. The Mom Squad is there to give you space without judgement or pressure. They get it. They've been there.
5. BEST PLACES FOR POST-GAME DINNERS
If you want to know the restaurant with the cheapest kid's meal options, shortest wait times or most flexible check-splitting policies, ask your nearest Mom Squad. They know it all!
6. HOW TO GIVE SOME KICK ASS CHEERS
A few years ago the only way I knew how to cheer from the sidelines was to meekly clap and yell "Yay!" and "Go!" Now I've got a whole slew of cheers and phrases to yell. I also know how and when to institute things like the wave and changing seats to help our boys rally. I've also learned when NOT to yell (maybe I learned that from the coaches...).
7. THE RULES OF SPORTS
The Mom Squad is where you can go to ask the ever important sideline questions like "What's that mean?" "Why is he out?" "Why is the game over?" Together you try to crack the signals from the coaches and learn the signs from the umps and refs. Watching each other learn a rule or sports concept that is new to us is exciting! You know what's even more exciting? Figuring out the score without a score board and being correct!
8. THE BEAUTY OF TOURNAMENT VACATIONS
Summer baseball means weekends of baseball tournaments. Mom Squads know how to find and suggest destination tournaments which will require a weekend away with other baseball families. The coaches LOVE it! (<---insert sarcasm there)
9. FAMILY ISN'T ALWAYS BLOOD
So many of the women I have met at the ball field have become my family. My sisters. Aunts to my children. Their children have become brothers and sisters to my children. They are the people that we invite to our house even when our house is a messy disaster. They are the people that we let see the real us. They are our family.
10. HOW TO EMBRACE THE NOW
Someone recently told me that children are gifts that we can only keep for 18 years and after 9 years, we are halfway through our time with them. She was right. Childhood is short. So so short. Someday my sons will beg me to avoid their practices, not sit so close to their game and not cheer so loudly for him. So, for now, me and the rest of the Mom Squads out there will continue to spend our free time watching our babies grow into young men before our eyes. All of the rest of the stuff can wait. We are going to embrace the now.
Parenting is one of life's greatest challenges and greatest rewards. Here we explore all aspects of parenting from pregnancy onward, highlighting both the struggles and the triumphs.