4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I ran over my daughter’s boot this morning. Thankfully, her foot was not in it. We were two minutes late for school, two minutes for which my oldest son was furious.
She climbed out of the car after her brothers and her sister not wearing her winter coat even though the dashboard read 14°. She was not wearing her coat because she left it in the car overnight so when she came out this morning it was stiff with cold and she refused to put it on. She also left her wet snow pants in the front seat which had frozen overnight.
“Don’t you remember yesterday when I said, if you leave your coat in the car it’s going to be freezing cold tomorrow?” I harped.
“You never said that!” she cried.
My oldest son caught my eye in the rearview mirror and shrugged. It sounded like something I would say.
All morning her twin brother had insisted that he couldn’t find his coat anywhere as they jostled and shoved each other in the mud room, which was likely a major contributing factor in the two minutes of lateness. Is it hanging on the hook? Did you leave it in the car like your sister? Did you leave it at school?
After much Sturm und Drang, and having already pulled out his sister’s old pink winter coat and forced it onto him, I opened his backpack where I found… his winter coat. It had been there all along.
When they were little I would line up their things in the mudroom in the morning. Winter coat, snow pants, hat, mittens, snack bags, water bottle, extra shoes. I would put each pile separate from the next to give them space to get into everything, and then I would come around and help them each with snaps, buttons, snow pants suspenders and so on. I could dress them all in seven minutes flat. But now they are big, and their stuff is all over the place, and it has slipped through my fingers, as it should.
It is a fine line between what is my responsibility these days, and what is theirs.
My fourth grade son has an organizer that is supposed to be signed every night by a parent. For him this is perhaps redundant as he is generally very organized and usually finishing all his homework on Monday night. All the homework for the entire week. Finished on Monday, can you imagine?
But signing his homework folder is not something he generally remembers to ask me to do. And so is it my job to ask him?
The twins have folders that say homework on the front and on one side it says ‘to stay at home’ and on the other side it says ‘to go back to school’. It seems like something I should be checking on each night, but on most days we have at least five iterations of this folder at home belonging to the two children in third grade. This is because every time they lose this folder they grab the ‘extra’ folders for the classroom.
And then there’s my youngest. I think she has a folder? Maybe she has a folder. I don’t know. I likely knew when her siblings were in second grade but now I’ve lost sight of it.
We are at that place transitioning between what is mine and what is theirs. I feel it with piano practice where a few of them often rail against me at the mere mention of the word practice. I feel it less so when it comes to soccer or lacrosse, as they all tend to head out the door pretty willingly. But water bottles? Cups, of the protecting your junk variety? Shin guards? Mouth guards? Without my constant vigilance these important pieces of plastic would float away into the great ocean that is our home, hidden under beds, jammed in closets, buried in the bottom of the dirty clothes basket. Constant vigilance.
Right after my oldest was born I remember opening a gift from one of my mother’s friends. It was a snuggle, a small blue stuffed dog head rattle attached to an extremely small, soft square of blanket. I remember turning to my mom and asking, “Who would give a new mother just one of these?! What do I do if this becomes his favorite thing?! What do I do when he loses this?!”
My mother went shopping that week and found two stuffed blue teddy bear head snuggles that weren’t exactly the same, but were pretty darn close. She continued to search stores all over South Jersey until she found the exact Carters stuffed dog head and bought me two more. So yes, five soft blue snuggles for my oldest son. Also, one of my husband’s aunts sent us a single green frog head snuggle with no rattle at all. Somehow this became his one favorite comfort object. The frog who has no backup.
My son has only slept without that green frog snuggle for two nights his entire life, a weekend when we escaped to Maine and realized halfway there that we didn’t have his frog. I made my husband pull over at the Walmart and bought another light blue stuffed teddy bear head with a rattle inside and a square blue blanket attached. I couldn’t stand the fact that he would be without it.
When do we stop organizing the lives of our children? Is there a point when we are no longer responsible as parents? Or less responsible? Even then will I ever really feel less responsible?
I can almost guarantee that if I called my mother right now and told her I couldn’t find a pair of replacement Frye boots, the original Veronica slouch, not the new ones with the weird wrinkled leather up top, I can almost guarantee that she would go out shopping to every Frye-carrying store -Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom Rack- within driving distance of her home in Virginia in search of those boots. And she doesn’t even know how to spell the brand Frye.
She still sometimes calls my younger brother in the morning to wake him up for important meetings or so he can catch a flight. And he is over 40. Sometimes they call that enabling. Sometimes they call that helping. Either way, I guess it’s parenting.
I had to pull away after running over my daughter’s boot once I ascertained that her foot was not in it. But I pulled into the school parking lot, parked the car, walked into the school and found her. In tears, she blamed me for rushing her, blamed me for forcing her to bring all those homework folders back, for throwing her snow pants at her at the last minute. I pointed out that these are all her things, her snow pants, her homework folders, her coat, her responsibility. She should organize them the night before. Or she should’ve done it this morning rather than sitting in the car complaining about her cold coat. Which of course made her angrier.
So I forced her stiff, angry little body into a hug and held her for the full six seconds that a psychologist I once heard on NPR said it takes a hug to truly stick, right there in the lobby of her school. This it seems is the one thing that is definitely my responsibility, loving her stiff, angry, gorgeously disheveled person no matter the age or the place or the run over boot and frozen snow pants.
By the end of the hug she’d begun to soften, although barely. And then I sent her off, snow pants trailing out of her backpack, to face her school day alone, homework folder or not. It’s the best we both can do.
❤️❤️❤️❤️Love, as usual :))))
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Look at you! So responsible commenting the quickest. 😉 Thank you!
I am not a mother but your insight into parenting grows my heart. xo
We’re all children though to someone, so we’re somewhere in that parenting flow either way. And thank you for stopping by. It’s like right now you and I are on opposite sides of the human experience, spirits finding their bodies and spirits leaving their bodies. But we’re all spirits and bodies just the same, I suppose. xo
Yes! We are all spirits and bodies and it is common and miraculous to me.
I continue to think about this and believe it is such a fine line between the helicoptering and the encouraging of independence. I was you. Absolutely. Cannot tell you the amount of times I sent an upset child toddling into school because of last minute “organizational calamities” at home. Fast forward 15 years and I think it was the wisest course. My daughter didn’t need me to help her find second year campus accommodation at college and my son just completed a thesis on a topic that I do not understand. Some friends are horrified at that. However, it’s not that I don’t care, I do! I just have a fierce need for my two to be able to make a decision. I value that ability highly.
Take heart – Today we laugh over the improbable situations that occurred with me as their mom. Like the time I embarrassed them at an impromtu singalong by inexplicably announcing that their favorite group was The Black Eyed Peas (!) while the “good” parents declared options such as Billy Joel and Dolly Parton …
I smiled as I read about your mother and the Frye boots concept. As my daughter turns 24 tomorrow, I am spending today (after my visit to dentist) scouring the city for her favorite cleanser and skincare products …
I worry that I’m helicoptering too much sometimes. I mean, I went back for the boot. (It was a new kids’ Frye boot she’d gotten for Christmas by the way, so perhaps I went back because I felt like the Frye-god was going to strike me with Frye-lightning…) But it’s so good to hear from people who have come out the other side mostly sane 😉 with amazing kids.
And our kids would so prefer that I say their favorite group was Jay-Z, Cardi B or Taylor Swift. So we bought them a record player and records like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Billy Joel and Joan Baez for Christmas. Ha!
I am laughing out loud at your comment above, Jen. If it’s any consolation, my 27-year old daughter LOVES old music (like my mother’s music which I was taught to love as a child, as well as the music of my generation) and OLD movies. We have plenty of new Christmas movies, but her favorites are the classics.
As to your post: as the mother of an “only.” I guarantee that I did my fair share of helicopter parenting. I also did my fair share of tough love and holding her accountable. It is a fine line, indeed. That said, she marched into kindergarten NOT clinging to my leg as so many others did, but turned,waved and said, “‘Bye Mom!” I waited for her to turn the corner before I wept.
Four days after Kate graduated from college in another state, she left our home in the Idaho panhandle for an internship in D.C.; FOUR DAYS–that were mostly storing four years of collected belongings and washing and packing clothes for the “six-weeks” that were ahead. The first internship turned into three separate D.C. internships. and the third one hired her after only six weeks when they got wind of third-round interviews with two different prospective employers. That was January of 2013. She is still there–thriving in a job she loves, making more money than I’ve ever made, and astonishing me every day.
This past Sunday, my daughter phoned me at 10pm PST — 1am EST — which always has me on alert. Kate had a tough weekend on suicide watch with a roommate, She called to thank me for always being there for her; for helping her traverse the craggy ground of her own bout with depression (sigh); for loving her fiercely and holding on when she was at her worst.
You’re doing just fine, Jen. ❤
P.S. TWO posts in a week! I told you I'd always read if you wrote.
I love this story; so moving! With my daughter 7,000 miles away, across a very wide sea and several countries, I can so relate to it. We let them fly, and while it’s nice to have the nest to myself most days, oh I miss them (all 3 gone now). Beautiful.
BTW: Simply adore the photo of your mom and son. Your mom sounds like a jewel.
Oh the power of the six second hug! It’s so much easier (and much more tidy) to do all the prep and pick up ourselves, but better for the kids in the long run to turn things over to them slowly. I love that picture of you reading to your lineup of babies, and also enjoyed the appearance of the green frog snuggle! Blessings for a beautiful year.
Oh my goodness. Once again, you have me welling up. I just had this (almost) exact same experience with my daughter this morning. Snow pants, umbrella (because we also have freezing rain – even though it is now 10 degrees, that’s about 50 for you guys, but dropping to -17 this afternoon, which is I don’t know what for you guys, but cold in any measurement), right down to the hug in front of her classroom that I hoped would erase her ‘sour kangeroo’ face. I’ll see if it worked at lunch time. Thank you for reminding me I’m not alone and helping me reflect.
It’s such a painful balance – keeping them close while teaching them to move away. I’m dealing with the very beginnings of it now that my daughter has started kindergarten and every day have to deal with these questions. Do I make her do her homework? Do I force her to brush her hair? Or do I let her learn now, when it doesn’t matter quite so much, what the results will be if she doesn’t bother to keep herself organized and we’ll-groomed? I feel like they should all get an extra decade of freebies, of no one making fun if they stink because they didn’t want to take a bath, or getting as many good work stickers as they like whether they do the work or not. But I also know all too well (and all too soon!) that the real parenting isn’t always in the nice, free, fun moments. Thank you for always piecing it apart so beautifully!
Yet another great and poignant post, Jen. Thank you.
Realized I commented on your FB post, but not here. I love this; I love you and the way you love these babies, and then share it with you. I’m going to remember the 6 second rule. xo