Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mama Bear

My kids get on my nerves.

There, see?  I'm the first one to admit it.  I'm sarcastic and dismissive and blunt, and I don't go running every time someone cries.  I don't jump up to console, and more often than not my response to injury or whining or sibling rivalry is... Get over it.  Suck it up.  You're gonna be fine.  
There is an argument to be made that I'm perhaps a little too dispassionate.  My outlook, though, harkens back to the babyhood days, when something would happen and they would look to me as a frame of reference for their feelings.  If I gasped and said, Oh, no!, they would decide that it was time to cry and be upset.  If I smiled and said brightly, You're okay!, they would calm down and it would become a non-issue.

That doesn't make me cold, it just makes me a mom that wants her kids to shrug off the small stuff and bounce back from the minor slights and injuries of life.  Look, I know you fell and got a bruise, but you don't need me to kiss it and make it better.  You're not bleeding.  Okay, maybe you're bleeding a little, but we'll deal with it, you'll get a bandage, whatever.  You want to play and have fun? You're gonna get some scrapes and bruises every now and then.  Acceptable risk, kiddo.  If I took the time to worry about all of your scrapes and bruises, you'd end up living in a bubble like John Travolta in that movie or walking around in a padded suit and headgear.  

Of course, I won't say this attitude has never lead me astray.  When The Boy was in preschool, he complained of a sore foot.  He never complained to me, though.  Complaints were made where maximum reaction would be gained: Grandma.  She relayed said complaints to me, I shrugged them off, and he continued to complain only to her.  This went on for a few weeks, at which point I said with exasperation, There's nothing wrong with his foot!  He's walking, running, playing, and he never says a word to me about it!  So, he started telling me about it.  With resignation, I took him to the foot doctor.  He had a stress fracture in his foot.  He was in a boot for several weeks and then, when the boot didn't help, a full on cast for 6 weeks after that.  (I'll leave to your imagination what a cast on a 5 year old boy smells like after 6 weeks.  I still shudder at the memory.)

Now, every time something happens, I'm reminded:  Remember when my foot was broken and you didn't believe me??  Oy.

We took that little walk down the garden path of my mothering philosophy so that you will know that I'm not one of those mamas.  I don't mollycoddle.  (Isn't that a fun word?  Mollycoddle.)  It's fine if you are one of them.  No worries; I will only judge you silently.

Every mama has her limit though, even those of us that can be seemingly harsh and unsympathetic.  Mine is reached when my kids are ostracized, excluded, or ridiculed.  I go from zero to show-me-which-one-he-is-so-I-can-punch-him-in-the-throat in 0.27 seconds.

Maybe it's that those painful days of childhood are never too far below the surface for me.  I remember what it feels like to wonder where I belonged, to feel unsure of myself and left out.  My response to those feelings was to try to be invisible.  I didn't raise my hand in class, I wasn't involved in many school activities, and I spent most of my time hoping no one would notice me at all.  Better to be overlooked than to be judged and found to be lacking in some essential way, at least that's how I felt.  It took me a long time and more than a little therapy to realize that what other people think of me is none of my business.  Most days I still need to remind myself.

But these kids of mine... They are so brave.  They are so confident and genuine, and they put themselves out there all the time.  They go out of their way to make friends, to interact, and to be inclusive.  I find myself watching them and wishing that I had had the courage to be myself so authentically when I was their ages.

When The Boy was younger, he would refer to kids he just met as my new friend before he ever learned their names.  The Girl is a little bit more reserved, but only out of mild shyness.  At a recent party where there was only one other child present, a little girl a bit younger, The Girl whispered in my ear, Do you think she would want to play with me?  Should I go ask?  I said it was a great idea, she did, and a few minutes later they were on a porch swing, swinging and chattering away like old friends.

Wouldn't it be nice if all kids were so eager to befriend each other?

The Boy went out to play last week.  He came home upset because he went to a "friend's" house where some neighborhood boys his age were hanging out, and when they saw him coming they said, Uh oh, better hide, here comes Fat Boy!  Then, they ran off and hid from him.  He came home crestfallen and fighting back tears.  I could tell he didn't want to tell me, but I managed to get it out of him.  I could see the hurt and shame on his face.

He just wants some friends.  He just wants to fit in and be included.  It's so hard to offer him advice on how to make friends; how do you say, Just be yourself, when that's what he's been doing all along?

Little girls are mean in a different way.  They'll be friends, and everything will be fine until one day, for no reason at all, they just decide they're not going to be friends.  I don't want play with you today.  I play with you all the time.  And with that, they walk away and leave their "friend" sitting on a curb wondering what she did wrong and why she's sitting all alone at recess.  Then, the very same day, one of them shows up at her door, asking if she can play.  My Girl doesn't hold a grudge, either.  Never mind that she was hurt by her friend that day; she welcomed her into her room and was so excited to see her.  I wanted to say, Wait a minute, be mad at her!  Don't just let her get away with making you feel that way.  But I don't want to teach hostility and resentment; forgiveness comes naturally to her, and I'm not going to take that away.  So, I hold my tongue and let her be who she is.

I try to explain to them that when people say hurtful things, it's because they're hurting on the inside and don't know what to do with it.  

The Girl was in cheerleading last fall, and another little girl on her squad was blatantly mean to her.  She would say, I don't like you, to her all the time.  It was really bothering my poor sensitive Girl that just wants to be friends with everyone.  I told her that the little girl was probably just really worried that no one wanted to be friends with her, and so she was saying that to hide her feelings.  I told her that the next time she said that, she should say, That's okay, you don't have to like me, but I like you.  And then smile and walk away.  She did it, and within 2 days the little girl told her they were friends.  Sometimes it doesn't hurt to kill them with kindness.  

The Boy brought home his school photo yesterday.  I looked at it and proclaimed that it was a very handsome likeness.  He said, Really? They said I looked gay.  This filled me with rage on so many levels.  Who said that?  He said, On the bus, they said that when I showed them.  

He doesn't know how to "be cool," this son of mine.  He wants to be cool, make no mistake... He wants it desperately.  He's too busy being himself, though.  He got his pictures back, and he wanted to show them off.  It didn't occur to him that the other middle schoolers now considered themselves above such things as showing off photos.  He does not even begin to grasp the level of aloofness and standoffishness that would make him a "cool" middle schooler.  And here's the part that breaks my heart: If I teach him what it takes to fit in, I'm telling him to be someone else entirely, and I'm telling him it's okay to lose a piece of himself for the sake of conformity.  If I tell him to just be himself, he's going to be a lonely kid for several more years until the kids around him grow out of the strange affectations of adolescence.

What's a Mama Bear to do?

And so, I tell them that I'm proud of them.  I talk about their strengths and weaknesses frankly and in a way that makes them understand that I see them, with all of their blessings and their fascinating quirks, and I love who they are.  I try to teach them to value themselves, because no one can love you when you don't love yourself, right?

And of course, I resist the urge to knock on the doors of all the other parents that appear to have heir heads in their asses when it comes to seeing how their children are treating other kids, and I don't say, Hey, your kid's an asshole, try to teach him how to be a real person before he grows up, m'kay? because maybe they're just like me, and they're still just trying to figure it all out.

This adolescence thing...?  It sucks.


  1. Well said, wonderful writing. You are blessed with 2 loving, caring, wonderful children. Love you. Mom