Monday, August 17, 2015

Bittersweet

Dear Elle,

Today is bittersweet. Do you know what that word means, baby girl? It's kind of a funny word, but it's the perfect choice for your first day of kindergarten.

Bittersweet means that parts of today are bitter like a lemon - a little bit yucky and hard to swallow - and other parts are sweet like candy - sugary and delicious and something we want to have again and again. It was so hard to let you go this morning. I know that you have grown up a lot, but you are still my little girl. Today everything changes and that makes me sad because part of me wants things to stay the same. 

Today was also very sweet - watching you go out into a slightly bigger part of this very big world makes me so proud. I know you are ready for kindergarten and capable of anything. Today everything changes and that makes me happy because part of me can't wait to watch you continue to grow.

This morning you walked into the same building that mama did exactly 30 years ago - I remember being as nervous and excited to start kindergarten as you were today. It is so incredibly surreal to share such an indelible experience with you. 

So alike, yet so different. 

Bittersweet. 

Things that mean the most in life are charged with uncertainty and mixed emotion. There is nothing worth having in this world that isn't a combination of both good and bad. When we put our full hearts and souls into matters of the heart - when we believe in something completely and profoundly - it is always bittersweet. When we are lucky enough to be filled with joy and fervor and love, we simply have more to lose.

Baby, you must understand that family, friends, school, work, play - it is all a combination of good and bad, happy and sad, up and down, right and wrong. And when you grow up to be old like me, and if you choose to become a mommy yourself, you will find that watching your children grow is the most bittersweet thing of all. Which is why today is so powerfully exciting and sorrowful at the same time.

It's why mommy smiled the biggest smile through the biggest tears. When you are five years old, bittersweet can be confusing. But, just know it is the absolute best of both worlds. That watching you walk into your new school this morning was one of the proudest moments of my life.

On the day that you were born, you shot into the world with a purpose. It only took three pushes and 15 minutes - daddy said you looked like a dolphin twirling out of the sea. You knew who you were and what you wanted from the moment you arrived. So alert and insistent you were - fiercely independent and curious, you always kept us on our toes. I realized when you were 16-months old that your intelligence would far succeed mine. 

You are strong-willed and determined and have an insatiable need to be heard. You remind me of myself in many ways. We both enjoy the spoken word and love to make up stories and pretend. We like to act crazy and sing and dance, although I sometimes fear that I have lost my spark in this high-stress job of parenting. I sometimes wonder if you will remember the times I was my true, silly self or simply resent the moments I was a frazzled caricature of a yelling mother.  

Either way, your spirit moves me, sweet girl. Even when I am at my worst, I can still see the best in you. You evoke the uninhibited girl I once was and the carefree adult I can still be. 

We share a lot of fun traits, baby girl, but there are so many ways we are different, too. How can I possibly explain this to you? Honey, you are the kindest, most compassionate child in the world. How do you - at the young age of five - so uncannily and honestly understand the concepts of generosity and tenderness? I spend a lot of time worrying that you've seen and heard too much. I know that your little brother's leukemia touched you in ways that neither of us fully understand and gave you a perspective on illness, life and death that is far too broad for an adult - much less a young child - to comprehend. But it sank into your bones and your soul, baby girl. It gave you the intuition and sensitivity that you wear proudly like a medallion. It also gave you the uncertainty and worry that hides beneath your satiny nightgown and floral blanket each night. 

Bittersweet, baby. Life is all so bittersweet.

I have taught you to question everything - even me. I have never spoken to you like a child - I don't avoid most topics and I use big words. Sometimes it's only when you say, "what does that mean?" that I remember you are only five. Maybe I expect too much from you, but when I see the potential behind those gray-blue eyes, I can't help but push you to be all that I know you are. Do I push too much? Am I pushing you away? I agonize about those things at night, wrapped in my own blanket of worry and fear. 

Every day you inquire about life. You ask questions from the moment you wake up to the moment you (finally) fall asleep. Some of them kill me. "Mama, why do I have to do this and Reid doesn't?" "Why do we always do what Reid wants to do?" 

You are simultaneously oblivious to the constant effort of raising your brother and utterly cognizant of the fact that he is our unique and beloved gift. You are the best big sister and sometimes I foolishly worry that you may feel lonely in our home. At times I become preoccupied with my thoughts and long for the two of you to be more like other five and almost-three year olds - able to build towers and engage in imaginative play together. I know it will come in due time, but I sometimes imprudently and briefly wish that the two of you could communicate like "normal" siblings. It's usually right at that moment that I hear two little trills of laughter coming from another room. I quietly go to find that you have accommodated one another and found your own way to play. You have your own games and your own language, which is equal parts words, sign language, wrestling and kissing. Once again, your gentleness and perception come shining through. You love your brother fiercely and in a world that so desperately needs it, I know your love will convey into kindness, compassion and humanity - at school and beyond. 

High expectations and underestimations are peppered into constant feelings of pride, love and devotion for you kids. But as I watched you today, I realized that despite my fears and worries, despite the things I may have gotten wrong, there must be a whole lot we got right. Today, you walked into a room full of strangers and smiled. You were nervous but you were eager. You were shy, friendly, apprehensive and certain all at the same time

You were brave.

You held my hand, but you also let it go. Today I watched you have enormous courage and with one lionhearted smile, you gave me the power to do the same. 

Life is complicated and full of conflicting thoughts and feelings and today that is truer than ever. I remind myself that the hard parts must exist because life simply can't be easy all the time. 

It's bittersweet.

Elle, thank you for making me a mother. I will always be there to hold your hand and I will always be there to let it go. My love for you will never waver because it's a scary, exciting, heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, all-encompassing, completely unconditional love. It's a love I never knew existed until you came soaring into this world like a dolphin. 

Never stop soaring, baby girl. 

I love you,
Mama
























  












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Monday, March 9, 2015

True Grit


"Be yourself.
Everyone else is already taken."
-Oscar Wilde


One of the things I admire most about my children is their tenacity. They both have a spirit for life and a thirst for learning that melds beautifully with their innate curiosity and shared stubborn streak. 

Last year, Elle came to us determined to learn how to snap and whistle - two talents that are split evenly between our parental skill set. I can snap, Patrick can whistle - neither of us can do both. She asked how it was done and after our mostly crappy demonstrations, I told her it would take a lot of hard work and practice, and that it may take months - if not forever - to become adept at two such tricky techniques. I didn't want to squelch her spirit, but figured it was best she knew up front that she may never become a duel snapper-whistler. Besides, I hear they are very rare and hide in trees and only come out at night.

Undeterred, she watched our exhibitions closely and asked us to repeat our lackluster skills over and over. Thanks to two years of non-stop therapy with Reid, we knew that four-year olds (and apparently some 34-year olds) don't possess the fine-motor skills it takes to snap. It involves strength, dexterity and coordination, and it's probably also best to have The Addams Family theme song playing in the background.

Nevertheless, we taught her what we knew. Afterward, we would often find her practicing her whistle in the mirror - running to show us if she made even the slightest wheeze of air. On the way to school, for days at a time, she would sit in her carseat and press her thumb and middle finger together with the opposing hand, trying to create enough pressure to make noise. 

The weeks went on and we forgot all about it until she ran into the kitchen with glee one morning. 

"Mama! Watch this! Watch me!"

She pursed her little lips and out came a loud, slick, perfect whistle. 

"Baby, that's AMAZ…"

"No, no, no. I'm not done yet!," she cried. "Watch THIS!"

And she pressed her fingers together and snapped a loud, clear snap. The grin on her face was made up of joy, pride and grit. 

She whistled and she snapped and she snapped and she whistled. She was officially a Snapper-Whistler - the first one in our family to earn such a prestigious title. 

"See? I told you I could do it," she beamed.

"You did, baby girl. You absolutely did."

My kids have yet to buy into the fact that they are limited, and I absolutely adore them for it. In fact, I hope they never buy into it because it is a complete and total lie. Each of us have limitations, but we are never truly limited. 

It was stupid of me to tell Elle she may never learn to snap or whistle. What the hell do I know? Just because I can't doesn't mean that she can't. She is so beautifully and courageously her, and I'm just glad she was smart enough to keep me from getting in her way.

It could be that she ignored my skepticism because I usually tell her that she CAN do things. Hopefully my past encouragements sunk into her subconscious somewhere along the way. Typically, I try to remind both Elle and Reid that anything is possible - if they can dream it, they can do it. I'm their biggest cheerleader and I rarely question their potential, but there are certainly moments when I underestimate their drive. (How I underestimate their drive, I'll never know because their ability to repeat the word mama over 750 million times each day certainly proves their unflappable determination.)

Perhaps I sold her short because I can't whistle and thought she might suffer the same fate. Maybe it's simply because I wear a different coat of persistence than she does. Both colorful and vibrant - full of energy and good intentions - but mine is not sewn as thoroughly and frays a bit at the seams. 

Unlike Elle, I'm the type of person that prefers starting things to finishing them. Not in the sense that I can't get the job done, but in the sense that I tend to get more excited about the planning and implementing stages than the finished product. This is certainly why sports never appealed to me - practicing and hanging out with friends on the field was fun, but I could never manage to get invested in the win. 

I like to research and learn and explore, but it doesn't necessarily have to have an end result. I'll read five books about how rocketships are made, but it would never interest me to try and build one. Alternatively, I'll try anything once without worring whether or not I look like a fool doing it. 

Patrick is quite the opposite and I admire him for it. He is driven and determined and unfailingly interested in the outcome. He is goal-oriented and always strives to be the best that he can be. He will practice until he gets there - often surpassing his objective. Don't ever tell him that he can't, because you will soon find out that he most certainly CAN. All of that said, he's a bit more resistant to trying new things because he wants to ensure that he'll succeed before he puts himself out there.

I don't think either of us could ever be accused of being slackers, but we certainly have our own approach. On the issue of perseverance, Elle tends to follow in her daddy's footsteps. But, wild man Reid tends to take after his mama. 

Reid is just like me. He doesn't care for the word no (unless he's the one saying it) and does what he wants to do when he wants to do it. He loves books and watches his Signing Time videos like a hawk - he sits in his little Pottery Barn chair repeating the words and practicing the signs over and over. He is no puppet, though. Ask him what he knows, and he may resist. But, if he feels like showing you, he will perform for days.

He - like his sister - is full of grit and determination. But Reid likes to do things on his own time and doesn't get too bogged down in the world's expectations for him. (Although if you ever doubt him, he'll quickly and effortlessly prove you wrong and take joy in doing so.)

Reid's cognition is incredible. He is alert and smart and funny and very, very aware. He understands his needs and wants and will spare nothing to get them. He can sign and speak and uses both languages to communicate. He has many words and is starting to use two-word sentences. He can count to three, knows the lyrics to several songs, is awesome at animal and automobile noises, and is starting to understand colors. However, his words tend to be garbled and there are times I have to have my mama-ears on full blast to understand what he's saying. This is what gets us into the type of argument I spoke about in my last post. 

Reid tries to tell me something and gets frustrated that I'm not understanding him. He starts wildly signing and speaking and I say, "Baby, I'm sorry but I don't understand!" and he looks at me all like, "I cannot be anymore clear, woman!" and I say, "USE YOUR WORDS," and he's all like, "Lord, have mercy, what language do you think I'm speaking?" And I still don't understand so he basically says screw it and starts yelling and pointing and by then I'm super-frustrated and I have to yell at him to stop yelling and we just sit there a pair of stubborn, determined, not-interested-in-the-end-result-yellers, and then we have to send ourselves to our respective rooms and take a breather before we come back together and simultaneously say, "Now what was it we were talking about?"

It's exhausting. And Pat and Elle just kind of look at us like, If you had a clear goal, you wouldn't be in this situation. 

We end up finding out, of course, that they are right, because once Reid settles down and really speaks instead of grunting, and once I slow down and really listen instead of hearing, his words become miraculously more clear. And we're both happy. 

Great end-result. Everybody wins.

I am so proud of both of my children and their unique ability to find their own way. I love that they each have a distinctive, unrelenting spirit and jump at the chance to prove their naysayers wrong - even when the naysayer is me. Elle and Reid have taught me so much about drive and determination and remind me each day to be true to myself. To never underestimate the ones we love and never give up when we're not being heard. They show me that nothing is impossible and that life is full, in fact, of infinite possibility. 

There are thousands of different ways to maneuver this great big world, and they are all worthy. Some of us may loudly butt heads along the way and others may coast along in a quiet state of determination. But, as long as the goal is to stay true to ourselves - whatever that might mean - then the end-result will always be worth it. 


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