My Playroom Blues

Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Where do YOU keep it all, parents?

That cache of objects and artifacts from your children’s baby years and toddlerhoods that you can’t bear to part with?

I have a room full of it in my basement. It’s a separate room down there that we call “the playroom.” When my sons, now 14 and 17, were small, they spent hours together in that room, playing with Legos, Playmobil, Matchbox and Imaginext toys …. I could hear them playing together and laughing uproariously while I was upstairs making dinner or cleaning.

Parents of small children, PAY ATTENTION TO THIS… You have no idea how fast things will change. It’s inevitable.

There was a subtle shift when my older son turned 13ish… the increased self-consciousness and onset of pubescence was almost imperceivable when he was 12 and still had a 9-year old sibling. They still laughed together, and the older brother still enjoyed playing and being silly with the younger one. He probably welcomed respite from the increasingly challenging and rapidly-maturing social culture he was encountering at school.

But when our younger one crossed that same threshold, we had already somehow crossed a seismic shift in their relationship.

There are miles of distance in the divide between the worlds of boys in 8th grade and 11th grade. Eighth grade is still silly boy-child goofiness and memes about unfortunately timed farts and Super Smash Bros Brawl Nintendo game characters. 11th grade is (holy heck, how did we get here?!) college tour season. Mini-adulthood. At the threshold of grown-up-ness. One freaking foot out the door, people. It’s hard. (Have you watched the scene in the movie “Boyhood” where the mom, played so authentically by Rosanna Arquette, says to her just-turned-adult son, “I just thought there’d be…. more.” Shit gets real.)

The house is a lot quieter these days. My sons are not mean to one another, they simply co-exist in their own spheres. On their separate screens. For their father and me, it’s hard to watch. We know this is another developmental phase along a continuum. We both remember times when we experienced similar separateness from our own siblings — it’s perfectly normal development. It’s still hard to watch.

My husband decided to clean up the basement last week, to get rid of the “stuff” we no longer use or need in it, and he targeted the playroom first. He seemed mystified that I’d let all that stuff sit in there for so long, gathering dust. I looked at him squarely in the eyes and said, “Good luck with that.” He looked at me, confused by the answer. I said, “You’ll see.”

“The playroom” has been the bane of my existence for the past several years. I gather up my strength, determined that I’ll make headway and clear it all out into boxes headed to Goodwill. Within an hour, I’m wallowing in nostalgic melancholy about the years when they were small.

I can’t bear to put into the Goodwill boxes the Imaginext castle set with the knights and the dragon they used to fly around the house, the Wall-E movie plastic “Eve” with the little compartment in her belly to hold the little plastic shoe-plant she protected, or the R2-D2 robot they learned how to make dance to the cantina scene song by telling it in their little-boy voices, “R2! Dance time!”… it feels too much like closing the door on their childhood. It’s too hard to acknowledge that their “little selves” are both gone. I know they’re turning into wonderful young adults, but it still feels like loss. And you grieve losses.

Would it help to hire someone to cart it all away while I cover my eyes and pretend it’s not happening? Absolutely. But I can’t bring myself to do that, either.

My husband emerged upstairs from the playroom after two hours of his attempted clearing. Seated at my desk, I paused my work, and turned to look at him. His expression looked more like someone who’s just been told his dog is dying than a man who triumphantly cleared a roomful of clutter. He said, “Oh, my goodness…That room.” I nodded my head slowly. “Yep,” I said.

Now he understands. Will there come a day when we can muster the strength? The option of hiring someone to do the job for us is looking better and better.

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Our Kids Are Not In a Race

race

[This piece was originally published by Parent.co on March 30, 2016.]

The call came from my son’s math teacher (I’ll call her “Ms. W”). She wanted to discuss her recommendation for his freshman math class placement next year in high school.

I could hear the nervousness in her voice as she described her perception of his performance in her honors-level math class this year.

“He’s smart and very capable, and his test scores put him just above the line for a recommendation for Honors Geometry next year.” This was not news to me. My son had transitioned from elementary school to middle school fairly seamlessly, and was placed in honors-level math and language arts classes in 7th and 8th grade. He was earning all A’s in his classes every marking period. Maybe an occasional B+ in science or math.

Math is the only subject my son has always described as the one he “hates.”

Although he’s capable of learning every concept taught, it doesn’t come naturally for him. He has to work hard in math to get A’s and B’s. It’s the only subject that has, on many occasions, brought him to angry tears of frustration. He’s told me that math simply makes him feel stupid.

He is, by nature, a “creative.” He draws, he cartoons, he makes videos and he writes amazingly well. He will not be a doctor, a scientist or an engineer. Those professions, and others that require heavy hard science and math, just don’t appeal to him.

Ms. W continued on, “In 9th grade, the intensity really ramps up in honors math. I know he doesn’t like math, although he works really hard at it. I would love to see him in a situation where he’s comfortably performing well and he feels really good about himself.”

Bingo. It was a no brainer for me to agree with her recommendation that he be placed in the “academic” level geometry class next year.

When I instantly agreed with her recommendation, her sigh of relief was audible. The tension in her voice evaporated. She had prepared herself for the inevitable parent pushback. The pushback that comes instinctively from a parent who fears their child is falling behind in the race. About my decision, she said, “That’s so refreshing. Parents just don’t do that in this town.”

The following week, I told a group of my mom friends about my decision over coffee. One friend with a daughter in her junior year at our high school had an expression of shock on her face, and looked at me like I’d sprouted a second nose. She asked, “But aren’t you worried he’ll be a year behind?”

I smiled as kindly as I could and said, “Behind what? It’s not a race.” She’s still not convinced. She thinks I’m closing a door of opportunity for my son.

What is this fear that is driving parents to crack the whip behind their kids and push them until they crumble?

How many news headlines about teens being exhausted, depressed and suicidal do we have to read before we get it?

This isn’t a race.

Parenting is an opportunity to raise happy, self-confident, well-adjusted human beings who understand they have strengths and gifts to offer the world, but that not everyone excels at everything. That’s just life. Our job is to help them find their strengths and gifts, and to nurture those. To support them when they put effort into mastering areas in which they naturally excel.

I talked with my son about the discussion I had with Ms. W and the decision I made. He feels really good (and relieved!) about it. He’ll take honors-level English and Science and he’ll audition for the a capella choir (he’s a talented singer and it’s something he really enjoys).

He’s looking forward to his freshman year. Many of his classmates are already nervous and worried that the academic pressure in high school will be too great.

Sadly, for many of them, it will be.

Shifting Gears to Fully Appreciate the Gift

IMG_3184Smack in the middle of editing a piece that’s due to a client by noon tomorrow, I get the school district robocall to my cell phone telling me my boys are being released early from school due to the snow storm that is becoming heavier than expected.

Drat. Just as I was getting into my writing groove.

I begin the mental shifting of gears that every part-time work-from-home mom knows so well. Did I seriously expect to finish what I’d started? Time to put my “Mom” hat back on.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it sometimes makes me angry and irritable to have to shift gears from work to family. It’s frustrating to have my progress interrupted and to reset my expectations about how the rest of my day will be spent.

This is how I shift those gears:

I sit for a few minutes before they walk in the door from their buses, I close my eyes, and I focus. I focus on the way their little faces looked when they were just two and five years old. I focus on how my younger son’s lisp used to sound and how he replaced the phrase “what happens if” with his own unique “whunsif”. I remember how my older son used to sing the chorus to “Leaving on a Jetplane” whenever we were headed on a trip to visit his grandfather in Florida.

I think about my younger boy’s classmate, now in 5th grade, still courageously fighting an inoperable brain cancer she’s had since she was just five years old. I think about a former coworker who lost her son when he was just 21, two weeks before his college graduation, when he was in the back seat of a car that was struck by a drunk driver.

In just four short years, my older son will leave for college. Four years?! That’s the blink of an eye. My younger son still snuggles with his two favorite blankets (his “cozies”) when we watch TV. I tell myself, “Momma, stop being such an idiot. These days are numbered, and your babies are leaving you.”

Gear shifting now fully completed, I hear my boys clambering in through the front door, dropping their backpacks on the floor, shaking the snow off their jackets, kicking their wet boots off and laughing about something someone said to one of them on the bus ride home.

I walk to them, grinning from ear to ear at their bemused faces, and I tell them we need to grab a quick bite and then head out to the nearby golf course to go sledding. They agree it’s an excellent idea.

The goal of parenthood is to raise independent humans. Simple, really. Tweet: The goal of parenthood is to raise independent humans. Simple, really. http://ctt.ec/fmBaf+

Teach them how to negotiate their paths through life, how to make good decisions and be kind to others. And to pick up after themselves and make their own food.

You’re teaching them how to leave you. That’s why I find parenting so difficult. You’re teaching these little creatures that you love more than life itself how to be so independent, they will not only be able to leave you, they will want to leave you. Pure and utter heartbreak, isn’t it?

As the years pass, if things go as planned (I know, they sometimes don’t), you watch your kids make these astounding leaps forward. They’re growing. They’re maturing. They’re getting it right. They’re cutting the strings loose, one by one. And it’s happening much, much too fast.

I’m now fully able to recognize that this unexpected shortened school day and interruption of my work progress is nothing less than a sparkling, glorious gift from the universe. I’m determined to gratefully soak up every single second of it.


Originally published by Parent.co: http://www.parent.co/shifting-gears-to-fully-appreciate-the-gift/