This past year I've had some extraordinary moments with my children.
To me, raising my children is perpetually complex. It's a learn as you go process with each wrong move having an impact not so much on me, but on the future of my child.
I do not aspire to be a perfect mother.
Because that doesn't exist.
Because my children are different.
Because I have to live my life while being a mom and my children have to live their lives while being my child.
When my son was born and the first time we were alone and I was just holding him I looked lovingly into his eyes and said... I kid you not..
"I hope you know I don't know what the fuck I'm doing... oh shit I probably shouldn't swear.. dammit... did it again...
Here's the thing, I really don't have a clue what I'm doing but I promise that I won't drop you on your head."
At that moment, I remembered a guy I had dated years earlier named Louie. I made a joke about his mom dropping him on his head. She thought it was hilarious because she HAD actually dropped him on his head when he was a few weeks old. The had phone rung, it startled her and oops- the baby fell to the floor... and she was a good mother.
So I amended my promise.
"You know what, I can't actually even promise you that. But what I will promise you is that I won't ever drop you on your head on purpose. How does that sound?"
I swear I think I heard him sigh and roll his eyes.
But that, my friends, has been my bar for parenting. Not intentionally dropping my children on their heads.
With that, I can say I have been an extraordinary mother and surpassed my own expectations.
In fact, one of my favorite compliments was from my grandmother who did not hand them out often. She said "You're a really good mother."
I replied, "Wow, thanks, Grandma."
"No seriously, you are. I wouldn't have expected that."
And we laughed because quite frankly, it was the truth.
So here I am more than 14 years after crapping out my first child and they seem to be going quite well.
And it's getting harder, not easier.
Because each mistake that one of us makes has consequences.
Or as I like to say "They remember shit now. This is the stuff for the therapist...."
As babies, let's face it, they are more forgiving. Teens and tweens... it stings. For all of us.
But my biggest challenge has been how hard to push.
Because I just don't know.
What is the fine line being a pushy stage mom/sports mom who is living vicariously through their child and the coddling mother who doesn't let their child suffer any pain or discomfort?
This past year my daughter had the opportunity to introduce Michelle Kwan, Olympic medalist, world champion skater at a women's event.
I had been scheduled to attend the event and my amazing friend and activist Astrid texted me and asked if Zoey (my blog name for my daughter in case you've forgotten) would like to introduce Michelle.
I was all over it. My daughter is fairly audacious. Or was. At that point in time, she had actually become a little shy. She had switched schools when we moved and honestly, her little spicy fire had been dampened.
I told Astrid that I would love for her to do it but I needed to check with her.
So I asked Zoey. Her eyes got HUGE and she said no way.
I asked if she was sure and she said no.
I was crushed because I wanted to meet Michelle Kwan. I told her "You could have the chance to meet an Olympic medalist- a champion-- are you sure?"
So I texted Astrid no.
Then she texted back that that was too bad. They wanted someone sporty and spunky and Zoey was the first person that came to mind.
And then it hit me-- Astrid didn't ask her because she was MY daughter- she asked her because she knows Zoey and she thought of Zoey.
In fact, Astrid didn't even know I was going to be at the event.
So I went back to Zoey and I said "You know, you didn't get asked because you're my daughter. You were asked because you're you. " and I showed her the text.
She sorta hemmed and hawed.
Parenting moment: Was I pushing her because I wanted to meet Michelle Kwan or because I wanted her to have this opportunity? Did I want MY daughter to introduce her or did I want my DAUGHTER to introduce her?
Whose opportunity was it?
So I asked- "Do you really not want to do this or are you scared to do it? Because I can understand if you're scared. It would be weird if you weren't. But we can work through scared. If you don't want to do it, that's a different thing. If you're scared to do it, I think you should do it."
And then she said she was scared.
So we talked through the event. It wasn't a huge stadium event. It would be small. She would only have to say 1-2 sentences.
Then we talked about Astrid. How Astrid risks her life doing what she's doing. How Astrid really has to fight her fear of public speaking to do what she feels is right.
She loves Astrid. She fully understands how important her work is and the impact her work has had.
But she was still nervous.
So then I told her about why I wanted to meet Michelle Kwan and why she is one of my heroes.
I told her about how everyone thought she was going to win the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics. How she had gotten silver the last time and everyone knew she would win gold this time.
I told her how she tripped and then she fell. And how I watched and thought "No... not possible...that poor girl." But then, amid the gasps, knowing she had lost the gold, she got up and finished. I remember crying and I told my daughter "Because THAT is what a champion is, Zoey. It's somebody who stands back up and fights off their tears, frustration, anger-- all that- and they do what they need to do. Not because they are going to win, but because that's what champions do- they push through it- win or lose. And that could not have been fun. But she did it. Because she's a champion. Just like Astrid. And I think you would regret the opportunity to meet her and be part of this because you're scared. Because I know you're a champion, too." And I told her how some jerk reporter had commented on how she had lost the gold and she told him "No, I won the bronze" and I remembered thinking "Go you" because she had 2 Olympic medals and that guy didn't have any.
And then we joked about the worst things that could happen- she could fart or burp-- her pants could fall down--
But I knew at that moment it wasn't because I wanted to meet Michelle Kwan and it wasn't even because I wanted my daughter to meet her.
It was because I wanted my daughter to know that if she fell down, with the world watching, she could stand back up, brush herself off and get on with it. That the only expectations that should matter are the ones you have about yourself. And she DID want to do this.
If she backed out at 10 years old, she would back out at 11. And then she wouldn't run for student council. Or speak up in class. Or speak up in college. Or push herself. Or put herself out there. And her life would be one of woulda, coulda, shoulda and I wasn't going to let that happen.
So she did the intro. And she was hilarious- wrote her own thing- she made some kind of comment about how Michelle was an Olympic medalist in skating and that's really impressive because she can't even stand up on skates. And the crowd laughed and my daughter smiled.
And she was back. Her confidence. Her zest. It was like watching the pilot light come back on.
(And... I got to meet Michelle Kwan, too. Who, I have to say, was better than I could have imagined. I actually avoid meeting celebrities and athletes because I'm usually disappointed. She kicks ass and radiates a level of confidence and intelligence that I wish every young woman had.)
And tonight, with my son, we had a similar experience. He is trying to select a high school. It's a lottery system for the magnet programs so there's no guarantees, but he can pick three options or possibilities.
The school I wanted him to pick for his first choice is challenging. I help with admissions for my university, so I know the Ivies and the other top schools like this high school. The curriculum is rigorous.
He is torn between staying with his friends or another school that will not be as academically grueling.
I'm okay with him wanting to stay with his friends. He has GREAT friends. But they were also applying to other programs.
Something in my gut told me there was something else.
This school checked everything off his list- a Calc 3 class (one of 2 schools in the district with it), a great band program, a swim team, ROTC- everything he likes.
He was ambivalent. "Naw..." Typical teen stuff.
Except my son isn't typical.
It was something else.
So I pushed.
He was afraid of the work load. He had heard there were hours and hours of homework.
He does his homework in about 10 minutes in the morning.
He was afraid he couldn't do it. That he couldn't compete with the other kids that went to the feeder middle school (also by lottery selection- don't get me started).
He was scared.
So we talked about it. We talked about where he wants to go to college- a top school. This is him, not me.
We talked about what colleges look for- a B in Calc 3 is better than an A in Pre-Calc. It shows you push yourself.
And I gave my "If You Want to Aspire to Mediocrity I Will Not Stand in Your Way But Don't You Dare Blame Me" speech.
But I said if he was scared, that was the worst reason not to do it because he would regret it. If he's there for a year and hates it, he can go to his zone school.
We talked about how great the teachers at the open house were- how engaged and inspired they seemed. How you can't really change that.
And he decided it was worth it to make it his #1 choice.
His decision. That I helped him make.
But I didn't manipulate him.
I helped him identify what the real issues were and then assess those.
Get over the fear part- brush it to the side- and analyze the facts.
What's the worst thing that could happen? He would have a few hours of homework which is what his job is- to be a student. He may not be the smartest kid in the class- which actually might be a good thing.
But as he went through the process of deciding what to do- I saw a spark. A twinkle of excitement. The thrill of pushing himself. The realization that anything was possible- and he held the keys.
He may not get into the program but I'm happy that fear didn't force him to take the road most traveled or the safe route.
He opted for change and took a risk and pushed himself.
THAT was what I wanted.
Neither of my children are perfect. They are a reflection of me, no doubt- but my role as a mom isn't to make them do things. It's to encourage them to do the right things. To give them a foundation on which to think and be rational. To not be guided by fear.
I read a parenting article that had the greatest line- my job as a parent isn't to prepare the path for my child, but to prepare my child for the path.
I will not run to the school to take my children a lunch left on the counter. But they know what to do if that happens and they won't starve.
Their rooms are messy because they clean them themselves. They sort their laundry. They can't survive in the wild, but by the time they are off to college, they will know how to manage because they will be confident.
Because they know they can stand in front of 100 people and introduce someone or go to a school where none of their friends are going because it's a challenge.
Because they will know how to identify when they are scared and when they need to take a risk.
Because 14 1/2 years ago as I held a brand new baby, I was scared. And every day we move forward.
And every day we make mistakes.
And we stand up, brush it off and finish the program.
Medal or not.