A Magical Childhood

storyland

A few years ago I heard an actress describe her childhood as “magical” and something clicked in me.  I had been searching for that word, a word, to describe my desire for my children.  And that phrase “magical childhood” is something I’ve become a bit fixated on.  Before I had a hard time knowing and understanding what kind of childhood I wanted my kids to experience.  We lived in the heart of NYC at the time, with tons of sights, sounds, friends, encounters bombarding us everyday.  It is a glorious, and extremely fun place to raise a child.  It kinda blew my mind that riding the subway was completely normal to my kids.  But I was raised on a small farm, with space to roam free, unencumbered by rules and supervision.  As a fairly new parent I struggled: did I want my kids to experience the city with all its diversity and bustling life or did I want them to have that freedom I experienced as a child?  Both had their pros and cons, I realized it really depended, ultimately, on what my husband and I wanted.  So, when I heard that television actress relate her childhood as magical I knew that’s exactly what I wanted for my kids; and that was, potentially, attainable just about anywhere.

But, what exactly is a “magical childhood”?  What does that mean?  Is it possible?  Does it just happen?  Or are there conditions that I needed to create in order for a magical childhood to develop?

storyland

I began to ask around.  I talked and discussed with family members and friends what they thought a magical childhood meant.  Or if they had any memories of magical moments in their childhood.  Here are a summary of their responses:

My husband:  He remembered many magical moments when his dad would spend time with him.  His dad worked a lot, but when he was home his dad focused on the kids.  And he remembers some of those times very vividly and holds those memories dear to his heart.

My dad:  His most magical moments of his childhood were also with his dad.  His dad, my grandfather, was a dairy farmer.  My dad fondly remembers times when his dad would spend one-on-one time with him, often in the form of teaching him something new.

My sister:  She shared an experience she had as a mother, with her two kids.  She said it was a simple time, just the three of them were sitting on her bed and she was reading stories out loud to them.  And she felt there was a feeling of happiness, goodness, and openness.  She felt that moment was very magical and thinks her kids felt that too.

My good friend:  She had a completely different perspective on it (and that’s why I love her so).  She said she didn’t really think children felt like their childhood is magical; but as an adult, when you look back, you can see and feel the magic in selective memories.  When kids are in the thick of it, life it hard: feeling left out of friendships, not understanding homework, pushing against parents, etc.  It’s only maturity, and growing up, that makes childhood magical.

Although I see my friend’s perspective, I don’t completely agree.  I do agree childhood can be stressful–the bulk of mine was, but one of the most lovely things about childhood is there are long stretches of time (such as summer breaks) when a child has nothing to do, except be a child.  I think parents and adults often put too much pressure on children to perform well, not be lazy, or just be a good kid.  And a lot of childhood stress can stem from adult pressures.

I thought it was interesting and enlightening to hear my family members’ perspectives; they all had magical memories involving a parent, a simple loving interaction with that parent.  Which is, surprisingly, quite the opposite, from my most magical childhood memories.

I am smack dab in the middle of a large family of seven kids and, in hindsight, my parents were going through a very rough time while I was young.  Both parents were gone almost always, working, getting multiple graduate degrees.  Doing their best do avoid each other and the struggles at home.  By the time I was 10 my dad no longer lived at home.  I do have a nice memory of my dad putting me to bed a couple of times and telling me bedtime stories.  But the most magical times were when I was playing outside; usually in the spring and summer.  We lived on open land, with a few farm animals and space to roam and get lost.

I love looking back and feeling the warmth of the California sunshine on my back.  Remembering touching the round, smooth leaves of the locust tree between my fingers as I gathered them into my bag, like a robber, before my brother–the cop–captured me and put me in jail.  (Did you know…if you pinch your fingers tight around the top of a locust tree twig and pull down all the way to the end, the leaves break off in the form of a rose between your fingertips.)

The dogs’ incessant barking, the roosters crowing, the tall tree limbs swaying and creaking in the winds; these are what my magical memories are made of.  And so much more.  Much, much more.

I’m excited and curious to look through the lenses of my children’s lives.  Every so often one of them will mention a memory that sounds perfectly magical.  Note to self: write those down!!!

My 8 year old just woke up and is sitting here next to me in my cozy bed, as I finish this post.  I asked her, “Do you have any magical memories?”

“Going to Storyland or Santa’s Village.  Everything seems perfect when we go there; everyone is happy, it’s summer, nothing bad happens.  It feels good.”

Magic!  The magic happens when we feel good.  But most especially when we feel good with the ones we love.

What do you think makes a childhood magical?  What magical memory do you have from your childhood?

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A Mother’s Redemption

Sun Salutations

Jealousy is a vicious thing.  It not only robs you of good, healthy relationships but satisfaction and enjoyment of all the wonderful things around you.  I was raised with a jealous mother.  She despised my dad for having female friendships.  I was raised to believe he was the one who completely ruined their marriage; my dad had “girlfriends” their entire 23 years of marriage (according to my mom), Janet and then Martha were his accomplices in finally destroying their marriage.  I was only 10 years old when they split, I only know the stories my parents tell me.   My mom spoon fed me a daily dose of poisoned dad hate.  My dad told me once his side of the story.  The events of the stories basically matched–my dad was not completely in the wrong, but he has moved on.  My mom has filled much of her life with underlying levels of jealous rage.

I hate my mom because of it.  She’s in her early 70’s now, showing signs of dementia, and there are beginning to be moments of redemption.  I feel guilt for not calling her frequently, she always mentions how lonely she is.  When I look past the guilt I mostly feel apathy.  In her intense effort to destroy my dad and his happiness with his children, she has destroyed herself.  She spent years of her life pining away at her misery rather than seeking the good.  Her heart was buried in hate and pity and she wallowed in it constantly.

But, there are glimmers of redemption in our story!  Sometimes when I call her she will listen and engage in our conversation, more than just ramble on and on about her challenges.  For Christmas a new sewing machine showed up on my doorstep.  From my mom!!!  It was a huge surprise; completely unexpected.  Somehow she shook off her self-pity, listened to something I said, spent some money on me, and just did it.  I was so touched.  She put me before herself.  She gave a good gift!  That is progress!

I haven’t always hated my mom and I won’t always hate her.  This is only a small blip in the emotional healing of my relationship with her.  I’ve been exploring and allowing all the pain of my childhood to come up from deep inside me.  It’s extremely painful, but I’m ready to let it go.  I’m tired of the anger I frequently feel.  My hope is if I let myself acknowledge all the anger and hurt that I felt as a child because of her than maybe I will find the peace deep inside.  I don’t want the negativity I was so familiar with to become my normal.

My heart does go out to her on a number of levels.  I can’t imagine feeling like I couldn’t trust my husband.  I can’t imagine trying to raise seven children in a home where love between my spouse and I fluctuated so profusely.  I can’t imagine thinking I needed a second Master’s degree or to work 3 jobs when I had little kids at home who needed me emotionally.  I can’t imagine requiring my little children to care for themselves and each other constantly.  She was desperate at so many points along the way.  She was so successful at working hard.  She knew how to work hard and she did it well.

We were very poor many times.  By poor I mean no heat in our mouse infested house.  There was only one period of time where she accepted financial help (as far as I know).  And it was not the time we lived in the cold, mouse house.  We ate nasty canned food from the Bishop’s Storehouse and my aunts and uncles helped pay the bills.  She is a prideful woman who repeatedly confuses self-pity for humility.  Friends, family, strangers would frequently tell her what an amazing mom she was or praised her on her hard work.  Every time her response would be, “No I’m not amazing, I guess I’m just lucky.”  “I just don’t know how my kids turned well.”  “I haven’t done anything to deserve this.”  If someone told her she was beautiful she’d correct them.  She is in a constant state of belittling herself.  But she thinks she’s being humble.

And the worst part: she ran away.  That’s why I hate her so.  She ran away.  Yes, she slept in her own bed every night, so we weren’t abandoned completely.  But I never saw her.  Now that I’m a mom I realize she didn’t have to get that second Master’s degree when she had 7 kids, her marriage was falling apart, and she was working full-time.  She didn’t have to work 3 jobs when she had teenagers at home trying to keep the house together for her.  She ran away from the hard stuff.  She ran away from being a mother, but yet, kept having children.  She may work hard, but wise she was not.

I too have struggled with being jealous.  I see my own daughter struggle with jealousy.  I’m pretty certain it is in our genetic code.  But I know I don’t have to give into it–I can leave it and move beyond it.  Just as my mom was intensely jealous of my dad’s friends or others financial successes, I have a tendency to feel intensely jealous of my friends’ mothers.  Ironic, isn’t it?The friends whose moms come visit them frequently, or help them, or simply mother them (even as adults–I didn’t even know that was possible).  I envy them, their relationships, and how that has prepared them to be more amazing mothers than I am.  It’s hard for me to see that and not feel cheated.  My friends have something I want but can’t have; it feels so wrong and unfair.

But there is redemption.  You see, I am a mother.  Yes, I have some pretty fierce issues to overcome.  But I AM A MOTHER!!!  I have this unique opportunity to rise above my challenging past and become the most amazing mom to my children.  I want to be that mom other kids envy.  I make so many mistakes and it is so stinking hard to be a good mom.  But I won’t leave my children to raise themselves.  I won’t ask my 8 year old daughter to babysit her 2 year old little brothers at night with no one to call for help.  I won’t abandon them for Master’s degrees.  I will hold them tight.  I will hold my tongue.  I will overfill their buckets with love and tenderness.  I am becoming the mother I always wanted.  And that is the healing redemption of motherhood.

Too soon

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I knew the time would come when my daughter would be bringing home garbage from school.  But at 7 years old it all seems too soon.  We work hard, and are very fortunate, to be able to live in an area with an excellent school.  (The property taxes in this town are roughly $20,000/year and most of that goes to the schools.  Crazy, right?!  We rent!)  I guess the problem is I expect more out of these parents I associate with because they are educated and wealthy.  I wrongly make the assumption that wealth=morality or at the very least good manners.  The problem is I hold these parents (and the caregivers they hire) to a high standard, because I know what they do in their home, with their kids, will in many ways influence my children.  And that kinda scares me.

Yesterday I was working in the kitchen, the mixer kneading the bread dough.  Ivy, from across the living room asked, “What does shit mean?”

The mixer was loud, “What?”

“Shit.  What is it?”

“What?”   “Oh, wait…Did you say…?”   “Wait.  Come in here and talk to me.”

So we had a discussion about ‘shit’.  I, honestly, wasn’t prepared.  Which is how I feel with 95% of the issues that come up with my oldest child.  Poor child, she’s like an experiment in parenting techniques.  With a large dose of trial and error.

The kids at school had introduced her to the word when she said “friendship” and another kid laughed and thought she had said “friendshit”.  According to Ivy, all the kids in her group talked about for several minutes.  When Ivy asked the kids what it meant one kid told her it was a grownup word and only adults can use it.

We had a calm discussion; I thought I did a pretty decent job explaining why we don’t use that word.  And Ivy seemed to get it and respect that.  But inside, I was appalled.  Not because she was exposed to the word while in a safe setting.  (I’m sure she’s heard the word plenty of times–walking down the streets of NYC).  I knew she would be exposed to vulgar words by her peers sooner, rather than later (sadly), but 7 years old still seems too soon.  She’s one of the youngest kids in her class, so she’s getting exposed to things younger than some of her classmates.  And, I admit, and I am proud to say, I keep her sheltered.  Because 7 year olds should be sheltered.  But the thing that bothered me the most was that other kids consider the word a “grownup word”.  Which makes it even more appealing to them.  If it’s a grownup word, why do they know it?  Honestly, why do the little ones have to deal with such foul language?

But this is a strong trend in Ivy’s classroom this year.  Perhaps not all the girls, but the popular girls, the ones Ivy really looks up to.  Ivy wants to be their best friends, she wants to emulate them.  But these girls are already doing a lot of grownup stuff?!  These kids are barely 8 years old and some of them wear makeup to school every.single.day!  It’s just a little eyeshadow and lipgloss, but seriously?!  Seriously!  They are intensely into One Direction, wear their shirts off their shoulders, tall skinny boots, dressing up like skimpy rockstars on Halloween, et cetera.  They have been alive for 8 years, but have about 70 more years to go; why rush these things?

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I’m a huge advocate for letting kids just be kids.  Ivy frequently asks to wear makeup, get her ears pierced, wear high heel shoes, and the like.  She’s been asking since she could talk.  And she gets to do all those things (wear clip on earrings–not pierced yet) during her playtime.  I understand it is fun and exciting.  I want her to be a kid.  She’s only a kid for a few years and then she can be the grownup she wants to be the rest of her life.  But while she’s a kid I feel pretty lucky I get to guide and direct her.  And I feel that one of my most important responsibilities as a parent is to encourage my kids to be kids.  They grow up so fast no matter; let’s not make them deal with the grownup stuff just yet.   Just let them be kids.  Cause pretty soon they won’t be.

The Anti-Yelling Challenge

Mississippi

About a month ago I was talking to Bradley, my husband, about my mommy-guilt. Bedtime at my house can be atrocious sometimes almost always. I’ve been at this for over 7 years, but most nights feel like an alien invasion: complete chaos and confusion. No matter how many times these kids go to bed. I digress. Bradley and I were talking about ways I could overcome my mommy-guilt. And, I really, REALLY wanted to stop yelling. Yelling didn’t do any good, it scared my kids, it made them cry, they often got ready slower, and I felt terribly guilty every.single.night. It felt like Groundhog Day. Why couldn’t I figure it out? How impossible is it to get it right?

So Bradley and I talked about what would motivate me to stop yelling. I knew I should stop, but I needed something big to help get me motivated. After brainstorming a few ideas I decided to reward myself with money toward a trip I wanted to take to visit some friends in Europe. The deal was every 5 days of not yelling I could put $100 toward the trip. But I had to make it 5 days straight to get the $100. That was the beginning of February. It has been a month.

I have had many ups and downs. But the ups are longer and the downs are getting shorter. It is slowly improving. My kids seem happier. I know I’m happier.

One day, early on, my kids were pushing my buttons and I felt myself starting to boil inside. I stopped what we were doing and I told them I was working really hard to not yell. We talked about how we all feel when I yell at them. I explained that I don’t like yelling and I am learning and working really hard to stop.

Now when I feel the anger brewing inside I stop and get their attention. I tell them I feel very frustrated and I feel like I am going to yell at them. We talk about what we can do to defuse the situation. Or sometimes I ask one child to take a break in another room (or all of them :)). It’s been amazing how much it helps to have their support. My 7 year old daughter will work really hard to help her younger brothers make good choices too. It’s not perfect, but I was surprised how much it helps having them on my team. They want me to succeed at this too!