The first parent-teacher conferences of the year happened this week and man did I get schooled.
As a mother of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, I’ve been to more parent-teacher conferences than I can easily count. But, as each one approaches, the part of myself that I consider a recovering perfectionist starts to creep to the surface.
Fears of being judged as a parent and as a person float to the forefront of my brain. MY ANXIETY decides that it’s a great time to show up, sending negative self thoughts into hyperdrive.
Per usual, I respond to these desires to present myself perfectly by attempting to control as much as I possibly can.
My anxious self prepared for this year’s video parent-teacher conferences by checking and double checking our appointment times, testing the software, making sure my background was tidy and presentable, and gathering a pen and some paper for notes.
I was as ready as I could be.
Then I sat, nervously tapping my pen against my notepad as I waited for THE FIRST TEACHER to pop on my screen. I waited for judgement. Are they going to think I’m a bad mom? Are they going to judge my son?
Teacher after teacher said the same thing.
“He’s a great student.”
“He does all his work.”
“He’s super smart.”
“He’s respectful, polite, and participates.”
These are all the things a parent wants to hear — especially this year when more than half of my son’s school hours are being done remotely from his bedroom.
Then each teacher ended with a similar message about him.
“But I can’t read him.”
“He’s a mystery to me.”
“I can’t figure him out.”
Each conference ended with an almost exasperated sigh from the teacher “I hope I get to know the real him.”
I couldn’t help but laugh each time, thinking to myself “You probably won’t.”
These teachers can’t read him because my youngest doesn’t give a flying f*ck about what anyone thinks of him.
He will show up, do his work, and be polite but he will never be phony. He will never try to impress you or make you like him. He will never strike up casual conversation. He simply doesn’t care what you think of him. He doesn’t need anyone’s approval.
And boy, do I wish I could be like him.
As I logged off my computer, I shook my head at myself.
Once again, I had fallen into the trap I set all too often for myself — the trap where I think I need to care what others think of me.
If my 12-year-old were sitting beside me he would have rolled his eyes and said, “Mom, why do you care what they think of you? That’s a waste of time.”
At the end of the day, my 12-year-old’s view on the world is right and mine is wrong.
PEOPLE’S OPINIONS OF ME DON’T REALLY MATTER.
They don’t dictate who I actually am as a human, a parent, a community member, or a professional. I know who I am. I know how to let the right people see the real me. If people don’t like me, that’s on them.
It turns out my biggest takeaway from this week’s parent-teacher conference has nothing to do with my son’s performance in school but everything to do with what I can learn from him.
(Originally published 12/1/2020 by Filter Free Parents HERE)
When I was 4 years old, my preschool class took a field trip to go hiking in the woods at a local state park - and we got lost.
I don’t really remember the details of that day - but I do remember the feelings.
It turns out that parenting is a lot like that field trip to the woods.
Sometimes it can leave me feeling lost.
Sometimes it can feel dangerous and scary.
But sometimes it can also be full of beauty and wonder.
When my babies were little, I could carry them on my hip as I traversed the trails of parenting. Together we could look at all the beauty around us.
As they got older, my babies wanted to walk as they held my hand. Together we wandered through life’s many trails. Back then I could guide them down the most beautiful trails but could also let them show me the woods through their own eyes.
When things felt safe, I could send them ahead of me, their laughter and giggles filling the air around us.
Those days of parenting were a beautiful adventure.
But once they reached their teenage years, they needed me to slow my pace and leave more space between us.
They wanted more room to explore on their own.
And now parenting feels a lot like that day I was lost in the woods.
It’s scary in here more often than not.
Some of the paths in these woods are ones that I have walked many times and they are ones I don’t want my children to have to walk.
Most of those paths are barely visible anymore.
Their entrances are blocked by thick thorny branches and tall grass has filled in their once well-worn paths.
Danger signs have been posted to warn anyone who attempts to tread those paths.
Those of us who have walked those paths know where they lead - to dead ends, scary mazes, and sudden cliff drops.
Although those paths might sometimes let in some brief glimpses of a blue sky and let you feel the warmth of the sun, they are paths filled mostly with darkness.
But I can’t stop my teen from going down those paths.
Even if I beg and plead or throw myself at a path’s entrance, some of these paths are ones he must walk on his own.
He needs to see for himself what the path is really like.
And so we have to let him go.
We’ve helped him fill his backpack with all the necessary supplies. We’ve armed him with maps and compasses and emergency flares. He knows we’ll be there to rescue him whenever he needs an emergency airlift from the path. He knows he can always turn around and follow the path back to the clearing.
Back to us.
But he also knows in his heart that he must make the trek.
And I know in my heart that I must let him.
And just like that day I was lost in the woods, he will find his way too.
“Kids are too soft these days.”
I rolled my eyes and tuned out the parent next to me at the youth baseball game when he started on a tirade about “today’s kids.”
The truth is, I’m tired of hearing people say that we are raising a generation of soft kids.
When did we all agree that we wanted to raise tough kids anyways?
Why should our goal be to raise kids who slough off danger like it’s no big deal?
Why should our goal be to raise kids who tolerate being bullied by their parents?
Why should our goal be to raise kids who don’t know how to express any feelings other than anger?
I know the answer that parents like the one next me will give.
“We can’t raise soft kids because life isn’t fair.”
“People are going to be mean to our children when they are adults.”
“Kids need to develop thick skin to make it in this cruel world.”
I just don’t buy it.
What if we all tried to raise soft kids?
Kids who aren’t afraid to express their feelings and emotions and will likely be better partners and parents for it.
Kids who notice other people hurting in the world and want to help create change, rather than place blame.
Kids who let their heart, rather than their pride or arrogance, guide them in life.
If having soft kids means having kids who know the power behind their words and choose kindness over hate, then let me have soft kids.
If raising soft kids means that they don’t have to listen to me shouting criticisms at them in front of their teammates, coaches, and opponents, then I hope they turn out soft.
If raising soft kids means that I have kids who don’t tolerate racism, prejudice, and hate, then I hope I raise soft kids.
Maybe all these soft kids can help make the world a better place. Isn’t that a better option than throwing our hands up and conceding that the world sucks?
Maybe I’m just too soft myself but I have hope that we can do better.
We have to do better.
A few weeks ago I ran away and I brought my family with me.
It’s become my favorite thing to do for my birthday week.
Nestled neatly between the end of the school year and the beginning of the longest stretch of summer, for years that week has provided my family and I with the perfect freedom to get away.
There are 4 simple rules for this escape from our normal lives and they are always the same. Our location must:
This year as I floated in the vacation pool with my champagne-margarita in hand, I realized that although those 4 rules are constant, we never travel with the same 4 people.
In fact, two of the guests on this trip are completely different each year.
This year we traveled with an almost 17 year old, complete with his driver’s license, and a 5’11” 13 year old with long flowing hair that would leave even the 1969 version of Paul McCartney completely jealous.
A few years ago, we traveled with a soon to be high school freshman and a soon to be first year middle schooler, both eager and nervous to start the next stage of their educational and social adventures.
And it wasn’t that long ago that we traveled with a real life 7 year old pirate and his 10 year old transformers-obsessed brother.
Somehow it really feels like just yesterday that we were traveling with two tiny children - pull ups, blankies, and pool swimmies jammed into our suitcases as we lugged strollers and car seats through airports.
But this year instead of little voices shouting “mommy watch this!”, the pool was filled with the manly voices of my teenagers and my husband playing one of their many games of intensely physical pool basketball.
While they played, I sipped my cocktail and smiled at the sounds of their booming voices shouting out to each other.
And every once in a while, I closed my eyes and could almost hear the echoes of the small boys that used to travel with us.
Because those little versions were still there too.
The truth is that if I look closely enough I can always see those versions everywhere.
They are in the dimples on their faces
They are in their sweet expressions when they fall asleep.
They are in the way they throw their heads back when they find something truly funny.
They are there in their still favorite blankets.
They are there every time they choose to sit down beside us on the sofa to play music or watch a movie.
They are always there - no matter how old their current versions get or how many inches they tower over me now.
And what a gift it is to watch the sweet merging of all those versions of my babies.
I wonder who will join us next year.
I’ve been here before.
This space between elementary school and middle school is familiar to me for I have walked this road before with my oldest son. This road is a place where childhood really starts to feel finite and the pull of adolescence finds its way into our lives. It’s a short road but one that feels endless at times and is often uncomfortable and scary.
I’ve been here before.
I’m no stranger to closed doors. Once again these closed doors fill the hallways of my home, a home that used to be filled with the sounds of two little boys giggling and their little feet pitter-pattering everywhere. Sometimes I pause outside these closed doors, hoping to hear some piece of the little boy version that once existed. Sometimes I hear it — the childish giggle. But mostly, I hear a deep voice I still haven’t quite gotten used to hearing.
I’ve been here before.
I know the importance of noticing my tone of voice and being mindful of how I say something.
Asking a simple question like “How was your day?” now takes a certain kind of finessing as hormones are starting to surge and just a wrong look can result in eye-rolling and dramatic sighs.
I’ve been here before.
The sting of not being the most important people in his life is familiar as invitations from his friends now take precedence for him and are preferred over family dinners at restaurants, family trips to the beach, or lazy family days at home. I know eventually the pendulum swings back the other way, and he will start again to enjoy time with the family. This time is only temporary.
I’ve been here before.
My nights and weekends are no longer my own as I now must leave space for my tween to have his own plans. My car has once again become a personal Lyft, available at a moment’s notice to transport tweens to their last-minute, poorly planned activities.
I’ve been here before.
I know to take a deep breath before entering his room as it usually is a total science experiment in there. Frequent conversations about why showering is important and why cereal bowls can’t be left on bureaus now fill my days. I know the time is coming where he will care about the state of his room but that time is not now.
I’ve been here before . . . but not quite like this.
I used to think that my final time down this road from childhood to adolescence would be exciting. After all, I know what’s on the other side of this road, and it’s quite amazing.
I assumed that once I reached this road with my youngest son, I would be relieved to almost be on the other side.
I was wrong.
Although it’s an exhausting, smelly, challenging road, there is beauty on this road, especially when you have an awareness that it is the last time you will help a child transition from the wonder and innocence of childhood to the independence and difficulties of adolescence.
This is a truly special process.
There is something really wonderful that happens when my tween son lays next to me on the couch while watching TV and lets me play with his hair, just like he used to when he was a toddler watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
In moments like this, there is a synchrony between the little boy he once was and the young man he is becoming.
There are wonder and amazement in watching my little boy become a young man, one with his own political views, interests, and thoughts of the world—a young man I find myself admiring more deeply than I ever thought I could.
There is something truly heartwarming to be able to bear witness to the transition taking place right before my eyes.
I’ve been here before . . . but this time I’m going to enjoy it and revel in its beauty for it will be gone for good all too soon.
This piece was originally published 08/17/20 on Her View From Home.
Can you feel it?
I know I can.
The tide has come in and the storm is raging again.
Life has returned to the pre-quarantine pace - and I can’t catch my breath.
Every day feels like I’m running a 5k and the finish line keeps moving. On this race route there’s no one handing out free cups of water. There’s no one cheering me on and offering me encouragement. There are no breaks. If I slow to a walk, I’ll surely be run over by the herd of runners around me.
Life is back to how it was and here we are - racing full steam ahead and this week proved that my family and I are very much out of practice for this pace of life.
Bat bags left in wrong cars.
Sports water bottles left on car roofs.
Evenings were spent scrubbing grass stains out of white baseball pants, washing uniforms, and being reminded that our dog has an affinity for athletic cups.
There are no more family dinners. We now eat at 4pm or 9pm or in the car.
Mail gets stacked anywhere there is an open space in my house and the dogs are angry that they have to actually be alone in the house for longer than 30 minutes again.
Last night we even had to have a family meeting to figure out how we all can manage all our necessary commitments next week - (hint: we can’t do it without a clone or two).
It feels like too much and I thought we swore we wouldn’t be here again.
But as I watched my oldest laughing at first base the other night, watched my youngest warming up with his team this afternoon, and watched my husband coaching with his friends again, I realized that while this fast paced life is exhausting, leaves me breathless, and makes me feel completely unprepared most days, it also is a crucial part of my family’s existence.
This pace of life leaves my boys standing together in our kitchen late at night swapping stories of their practices and games.
This pace of life creates connection for all of us.
This pace of life creates opportunities for growth for all of us.
So tonight as I watch yet another game from the outfield, I’ll remind myself that every frantic second of this stage of life right now is worth it because this pace of life is where my family is most happy.
Can you feel it?
I know I can.
Just a few short years ago, I found myself somewhere in the middle of a long bridge between childhood and adolescence. I was longingly looking back towards the childhood side yet hopeful as I moved apprehensively towards the adolescence side.
Well, it appears my bridge was an express bridge.
Here I am; on the other side.
You know what’s here? Cell phones, mustaches, adam’s apples, deep booming voices, attitudes, challenges to limits, and boys who suddenly stand at eye level to me.
You know what else is here?
Meaningful conversations, random tight hugs, trust, and young men who are mostly kind and learn from their mistakes. Surprisingly, it’s sort of nice over here; albeit a bit smelly and messy. On this side of the bridge, I am the parent of a young man, not a young boy, and I get to start taking a step back to let him take some risks on his own.
One of the first big events on this side of the bridge has happened over the past few months without me really being able to comprehend it’s weight. My son is already heading towards the end of his first year of middle school and lately the words of his new principal echo in my head – there are only 540 days of middle school.
In some areas of our life, 540 seems like a lot.
But, when we are talking about time in middle school, 540 days is nothing. It’s half the length of time he spent from Kindergarten through 5th grade (1080 school days for math dorks like myself). That period of time went by in the blink of an eye. Surely this chunk of 540 days are going to fly by even quicker!
So, how do we, as new middle school parents, survive these 540 days?
Well, I know how I spent the days leading up to Day 1 — letting the middle school version of me find her way to the surface. I color coded binders, folders and schedules, circled rooms on maps, plotted out the best way to organize a backpack, role played some scenarios, and had a nightmare that I was him and I couldn’t find my math class on Day 1. I just wanted his middle school experience to not be awful like my own.
But, then I stopped myself. (Because, seriously, a nightmare??)
Adolescence is messy and painful. It’s supposed to be awkward. It’s supposed to be emotional. It’s supposed to be challenging. Some days are supposed to feel awful. And, aren’t middle school and adolescence synonymous?
Like most challenging, uncomfortable, and unpleasant things in life, when we look back on them later, we can see the good they brought to our lives. They are the catalytic events and change agents that shape our lives. Although I would never want to relive my own 540 days, I do see how they helped to shape me into who I am today. I see how some of the people I still care deeply for today are friends I made during those 540 days. I can see that in those 540 days were where many of my interests were born. My 540 days were certainly not filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies, but maybe I should be thankful that they weren’t.
When my middle schooler faces the typical struggles of middle school, I have to tell the middle school version of myself to settle down. I know many of his 540 days will be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons, and uncomfortable moments. I know there will be lots of times where he feels just as I did during my 540 days. His 540 days will not be filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies.
So, how am I going to navigate my own 540 day journey as a parent? I am going to realize that in many ways the parental journey of 540 days mirrors the student’s journey. These 540 days will be challenging for me as a parent. If adolescence is awkward and painful, so too is parenting an adolescent. For parents, many of our 540 days will also be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons, and uncomfortable moments.
It has been suggested that the most influential people in a teen’s life are not his teachers, coaches, parents, or professional athletes. It turns out that for many teens, their peers are the most influential presence. Middle schoolers need each other. I suspect that this holds true for middle school parents as well.
Parents need other parents.
My plan for surviving these 540 school days is simple: lean on my peers, be kind when mistakes are made, learn lessons where they can be learned and remember that this time is going to fly by. While I am not in any rush, I look forward to seeing who we all are on Day 540.
The first parent-teacher conferences of the year happened this week and man did I get schooled.
As a mother of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, I’ve been to more parent-teacher conferences than I can easily count.
But, as each one approaches, the part of myself that I consider a recovering perfectionist starts to creep to the surface.
Originally published on Filter Free Parents. Click HERE for full article.
Dear Mamas, You’ve Got This
It’s that time of year again — the time when summer days begin to shorten, summer nights require a sweater, and back to school sales fill the stores.
But, this year, everything feels completely different.
This year, mothers everywhere are facing the beginning of the school year with a growing sense of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.
I know I am.
Each day I wake up still uncertain about the back to school plan. Each day finds me second guessing my family’s decision to allow our sons to return to school in a hybrid model versus a fully remote option. Each day finds the dread and sadness building in me. Each day finds the lightness of summer fading.
This is not how this was supposed to go.
Right now, my head is filled with a million racing thoughts:
- How can I help my children learn remotely this year?
- What is the best physical space for them?
- How are they going to stay engaged all day?
- How can I make sure they learn something?
- How are they going to feel emotionally with this new school plan?
- How can I balance their schooling and all of the other things I have to do?
- How can I possibly do everything that is required of me.
- What if I fail at this?
- What if I can’t do this?
- Are they going to be ok?
- Am I going to be ok?
What is being asked of us as mothers right now is almost impossible to understand and has created one of the most pressure-filled moments of motherhood I can remember.
I am overwhelmed and sad that this is our reality.
But, I am trying desperately to hold two key thoughts close to my heart. These thoughts have become mantras for me lately and are what I say to myself when the anxiety gets too loud:
This is not forever. This is not our new long-term normal. This will not define our children and it will not define us as mothers.
We are not in this alone. There are lots of other mothers out there facing similar struggles.
We need to lean on each other. We need to commit to calling, texting, and FaceTiming each other regularly to give each other space to vent, complain, and cry and to build each other up.
This will be hard. There is no doubt about it. There will be days when we cry, days when we scream into pillows, and days when we just can’t get motivated.
There will also be days where it feels not quite as impossible. There will be days where the smiles outnumber the frustrated sighs.
It will be ok.
We will get to the other side of this challenging time.
This time in our lives will serve to remind us that there are so many things outside of our control, that the uncomfortable and hard times are always temporary, and that we are not alone.
Right now, mamas, we need to breathe in and breathe out, taking this challenge before us one single day at a time while cutting ourselves an amazing sense of grace.
You’ve got this, Mama, and we’ve all got each other.
Recently my family drove north to stay at a hotel for one last getaway before summer ends.
Life on the other side of our shared hotel room wall was very different than life on our side.
The family on the other side of the wall was the same as my family - just a version of us from 12 years ago.
On the other side of the wall were high pitched squeaky voices that shouted “mommy look!” over and over again.
On our side of the wall were tall manly teenage boys with deep and sometimes moody voices.
On the other side of the wall were toy train whistles and giggles.
On our side of the wall were xboxes and conversations about politics.
On the other side of the wall they were silent by 8pm and awake by 6am.
On our side of the wall we stayed up past midnight and slept in late.
On the other side of the wall the parents were the last to fall asleep.
On our side of the wall I was the first to fall asleep.
On the other side of the wall were bedtime stories, sweet lap cuddles, raspy early morning voices, and sippy cups of milk.
On our side of the wall were requests for coffee, sarcastic quips, and eye rolls.
Both sides of the wall were filled with love and families just trying to find joy with each other as summer comes to a close.
No matter which side of the wall you are on right now, enjoy your time there.
There is peace and magic and beauty on both sides of the wall.
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.