She Used to Be Mine…I think

Please forgive this totally selfish, self-indulgent post.  I’m sitting on my couch feeling sorry for myself right now, and I totally shouldn’t be…

At church on Easter Sunday, our pastor referenced the What to Expect When You’re Expecting book.  I hadn’t thought of that book in years.  It was, in essence, like a Bible for me during my early years as a parent…a daily devotional if you will.  I read it cover to cover at least twice, maybe more as we hit rough patches and went back to it as a reference. 

At some point, I gained confidence as a parent and no longer needed the books in the series.  Unfortunately, there is not a book called What to Expect When Your Kids Grow Up or What to Expect When Your Kids Go To College.  I have to say I need that book right now.  There is a reason those books don’t exist, at least not as a catchy bestseller.  Those books are not full of hope, excitement, and thrills for the future.

I actually know what to expect when a kid goes to college.  It’s brutally sad at first and then it becomes the new normal and you realize that life will never be as it was before.  You will never be as important in your child’s life as you were before.  I was talking to Will earlier and realizing that although he’s coming home in a couple of weeks for the summer, he is wishing it was just for a weekend and not for the summer.  It’s his time now, I realized.  He is truly beginning his own story where John and I are just supporting characters and no longer protagonists in his tale.

I think that is why I’m struggling right now.  When Claire leaves for college, as she finds her own path as Will has already, she will need me less and less.  It’s tangibly painful and extremely joyful at the same time.  This independence, of course, has been the goal of parenting.  It is what we have worked so hard to help them achieve, yet where does that leave us moms. 

I can’t remember who I was before being a mom.  Last summer, Claire and I spent a weekend in New York and we saw Waitress on Broadway, which we both loved.  Near the end of Act II, Jessie Mueller as Jenna delivered the amazing song “She Used to Be Mine.”  Claire and I both cried.  The story follows a very unhappily married waitress who is trying to accept her pregnancy as she is married to an abusive man.  Although the situation in the story is so different than mine right now, I couldn’t help but relate to what I was hearing – a woman trying to remember who she was before.  The thing is for me, I don’t want to remember that person.  I wanted to be a mom, I think, more than any other dream I had. I was the girl who played with dolls until I was ridiculously old.  Every other accomplishment of mine truly pales in comparison to my children.  It just seems so unfair that the time we have with our children passes like a fleeting glance. 

This transition now is marked by big milestones and a lot of lasts:  last prom, last dance competition, last recital, last day of school, graduation.  Milestones come throughout parenting.  I don’t remember mourning the last day in diapers as the end of an era — jeez, that couldn’t come soon enough.  I wish someone had told me to remember that day, to shed a tear when bottles/pacifiers/sippy cups are through, to mentally note the last time they ask Santa for toys.

It’s selfish.  There are friends who would give anything to be crying the silly tears I am just to have the chance to see their kids reach these milestones.  I feel guilty when I think of them, and very, very selfish.  Yet for today, I’m going to be a little sad about this era coming to an end.  I’m going to remember these milestones that I have left while she still lives at home and still needs me day to day.  Sometime, next fall, when she’s at school with her brother, I’ll try to remember who I used to be.  Maybe I’ll discover what the song says, “”She’s imperfect but she tries / She is good but she lies / She is hard on herself / She is broken and won’t ask for help / She is messy but she’s kind / She is lonely most of the time / She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie / She is gone but she used to be mine.”

Helping Them Deal…

I saw a post on Facebook today, and it was the headline for an article,”Please Keep Doing Things That Your Children Can Do For Themselves.”  It’s a lovely article , and the gist is that kids grow up too fast so parents should cherish when they can do things for them. 

I love the sentiment behind this article, and there are plenty of things I do for my kids occasionally that they can do for themselves.  I sometimes fold and put away their clothes or clean their room.  I’ve done Claire’s hair.  I do these things for my kids as a treat and they in no way expect them. 

However, my kids started doing their own things as soon as they could.   Admittedly, some of this is because there are things I hate doing.   My best example is laundry.  They were eight and five when I started requiring them to do their laundry.  Of course, I helped at first, but both of my kids have been able to do that task for years.  It’s one of the many, non-material gifts that I have given them. 

As a seventh grade teacher, I know that I impact kids.  Yet the best part of me being older and wiser than I was in my youthful teaching days is that I have now been in the shoes of the seventh grade parent and I can see potential mistakes.  I can also offer advice, and I think that is my best impact as a teacher — its on the parents.  This is essential, I believe, because over my 25 year teaching career, I have seen kids become more and more dependent on their parents, for even the smallest tasks.

My big “catch phrase” of late to parents is that they need to let their kids figure things out.  More specifically, I’m talking about grades and my speech goes something like this:  absolutely no one but you cares about your child’s grades in seventh grade, so this is the time to focus on the skills he needs to develop to be successful when his grades do matter and you aren’t there to help. 

The same is true socially.  There is a fine line between effective parenting, supporting your child, and interfering/enabling.  First of all, I won’t claim to be perfect on this.  I’m not.  But over the years, I think I’ve gotten better.  I try to be very involved in my kids’ lives while letting them forge their own paths. 

Over the past couple of years, the high school social scene has presented both trying and joyous times for my daughter.  It was so different for my son — in this way, boys are easy.  So as Claire has navigated the rough waters of changing friendships and “girl drama,” I’ve supported her.  I’ve asked questions.  I’ve tried to help her see other perspectives.  I’ve given her advice.  There have been times when she has been left out by a group, or even uninvited to an event [yes, UN-invited].  While part of me wanted to call the moms of the “offenders,” I refrained; this was something my daughter and her friends needed to handle.  Instead, I coached my daughter on how to work through it.  I reminded her that people aren’t perfect and oversights can be made.  When you can, give the benefit of doubt.  I taught her the difference between being civil to people and being friends with them, which is a huge lesson in being an adult.   In less than two years I will be sending her to college where she will have to navigate these waters by herself.  Now, she has practice in comporting herself with dignity. 

Learning to face disappointment with grace is, I think, the best gift I could give either of my children.  Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to go.  Still, it’s hard watching my kids when they suffer.  It’s hard not to step in and make it better.  But sometimes, doing what is hard means doing what is right.