Tag Archives: parenting

Nine Years Old

5504996471Dear 9-Year-Old,

I’ve always railed against my children growing older. But none more than you. You may be a big sister and a school kid and a joke-teller and a rider of three-wheeled bikes… but you are still my baby.

You’ve gotten so tall lately. Objectively, I know that’s not true, since you aren’t even on the growth chart for your age and only hit 5th percentile on the Down Syndrome version. But each night when you climb into my lap and we sing our made-just-for-you-that-moment lullaby, you are all lanky arms and legs. When you dance with arms akimbo, they seem to stretch so far and so wide. When you “stir” the salad for dinner, you don’t even need a stool anymore. You are still my baby, but you are getting big.

Not just physically either. You are becoming more independent. You like to play on your own in your room, then tell us the story about your latest pretend, or that dream you had last night. You occasionally tidy up without being asked. You prefer to read at school with your teachers and bask in the familiar routine of listening to Mommy at home, but you’ve begun to interject a word here and there when we read Caps For Sale and Dr. Suess. When we can bribe you to read a book on your own, it is always a masterpiece in my ears – especially your silly favourite, No, David, where each page brings a new gale of uproarious laughter.

You are someone who loves to laugh. What your jokes may lack in intelligibility you more than make up for in sheer enthusiasm. I may not understand every word of the build up, but when you shout “MEATBALL!” then crumple into a fit of giggles… I can’t help but join in.

You are a gentle soul, the first of my children to pet me when I’m sick and reassure me when I’m sad. No matter how spitting mad you might get (literally spitting over and over again), it doesn’t occur to you to hurt someone. You are sensitive and have a great capacity for kindness. You are the cheerleader of the entire world – you say “Good job!” to everyone: the lady who waited on our table, the man painting the walls at school, your sister for opening the door… every classmate for every accomplishment. You offer applause at every turn. We clap a lot at our house.

In a world of pretenders, you live without masks or defenses. This isn’t always socially acceptable, but it’s often refreshing. We don’t wonder how you feel or what you want.

You are easy to love. Not always easy to parent, with your iron will and refusal to be rushed through life. But effortlessly and entirely loveable!

I don’t care if you are nine-year-old or ninety, you are still my baby.

I love you!

Happy Birthday!

Mom

And now, from Daddy…

Dear B,

How can my baby girl be 9 already? It hardly seems possible. And yet I can hardly deny it. Wherever I look, I see signs that you are growing up.

This was a year when some things that you’ve been working very hard on for a very long time really started to snap into place for you. You’re a stubborn little girl, and that comes with some challenges to be sure, but it also comes with a tenacious drive to accomplish whatever you set your mind to.

We were so excited when you brought a book home from school and read it to us for the very first time. Your favourite teacher, “Ms. Smelling” spent time with you every day at school, helping you learn how to read. We were amazed at how quickly you learned, and the proud beam on your face as you read to us showed that you knew just how big an accomplishment it was.

And then there’s potty training. We’ve been working on that for six years, and sometimes it seems like it’s never going to end! But this summer, you made up your mind: this is going to happen! We’re not done yet, but we can see that day coming… and when it comes, boy are we going to celebrate!

And that’s what’s wonderful about being your daddy. You celebrate harder than anyone I know, putting your whole body into it: singing, dancing, laughing, jumping. You are absolutely infectious; the grumpiest person in the world can’t help but smile when you’re excited. And you make your daddy so proud when you belt out Airborne songs at the top of your lungs as we drive around in the blue van!

I think Ms. Smelling said it best. She wrote a paper about you, and she expressed how we all feel about B:

“You have been and will continue to be a source of joy, humour, inspiration, and learning. You have been the greatest gift and teacher I have ever known; unknowingly you have led me to a greater understanding of what is truly important in life.”

There’s nothing more important in my life than being your daddy. I love you Becca. Happy birthday!

Love,
Daddy


What is this “Teenager” You Speak Of?

It’s a made up thing. Adolescence. Teenage-hood.

It’s a modern phenomenon. In other times and places, there is no unique life-stage between childhood and adult responsibility.

But here and now, we put a lot of emphasis on it. We paint pictures of wild rebellion and terrible angst and exhilarating adventures. A lot of things happen during the teenage years. A lot of things change. It seems like a really big deal.

Today you are 13. Today you are a teenager. And it kind of is a big deal.

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Ideally, you will gain independence as you gain the ability to handle it over the next few years. You will begin to see us, your parents, not as your foundation, but your support. The picture of who you are and who you want to be, something we have carefully nurtured for many years, will guide your decisions – and not the tide of conformity, with its pseudo-wisdom and sexy marketing. Your beliefs will become your own – God, relationships, values, priorities… It’s your life, not ours. We’re just here to point the way and cheer you on.

I see all this happening already. The woman you will be is taking shape. And she’s cool. I really like her. What’s even better, I respect her.

At your very core, you are kind, patient and gentle. Your littlest siblings think of you as another parent. We try not to expect too much of you, but you jump in to help out without being asked. You can coax a smile and occasionally co-operation out of them, far better than we can.

You are responsible, disciplined and a hard worker. When we realized that Dance Camp was too expensive for our budget, you didn’t whine or feel sorry for yourself, though many would have… you got yourself a paper route, and paid for it yourself. We don’t even have to keep track of the funds, because you are so diligent in making sure you pay us back for exactly the right amount.

Although you are by nature a quiet person and an introvert, you are a lot of fun too! You love to play games and are fiercely competitive. You dance and perform, not to show off, but because you truly appreciate the art. You are interesting, and interested in others and the world around you. I am SO looking forward to our big trip together this fall. There’s no one else I’d rather see New York City with!

(Long ago we decided that to celebrate 13th birthdays we would plan a one-on-one road trip with a parent. In this case, a judicious use of air miles, staying with family and birthday/Christmas funds has allowed us to plan an amazing Mother-Daughter trip in October, complete with a Broadway show and a side trip to Boston to visit my sisters families AND visiting NEPHEWS!!!)

You’re not perfect. You need to remember that being accurate is not always the same thing as being right, that the sister your share a room with is a human being too, that “she’s SO annoying” is NOT a good enough excuse, and that it’s okay not to have everything figured out, all the time. But you’re definitely on the right track.

Most parents dread the teen years. I know I’ve felt twinges of terror. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to watch you make mistakes (and FYI you WILL make mistakes). It’s hard to remember all the angst-y and hurtful and stupid in my own teenage-dom that you might have to face. It’s hard to remember all the thrilling and wonderful and safe in my own teenage-dom that you might not.

But, it’s your life, not mine. You’re doing a great job so far. I am SO proud of you! Enjoy 13!
Happy Birthday!
Love
Mom

Sometimes we let Dad get a word in too…

Dear L,

It occurs to me that the last time I wrote a letter to a teenage girl, I was writing your mom (instead of paying attention in high school social studies). How did we all get so old, so fast?

I was thinking the other day how easy life was back when it was just you, me and mom. You were such a content, easy-going baby. We could take you anywhere. Thanks for taking it easy on us.

Now, as far as teenagers go, you’re still content and easy-going. Let’s face it: our life is a three-ring circus. Somehow, even with only two little kids, it still feels like we’ve got kids running in every direction all the time. And yet, through it all, there’s steady L: unflustered, unflappable, and (almost) always ready to lend a helping hand.

The world is noticing the remarkable young woman you’re becoming. When you dance, people marvel at your beauty and your grace. When we spend time with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, the adults are quick to marvel at your sense of responsibility, your patience with the little ones, and your obvious caring heart. When you’re in school, your teachers tell us what a pleasure you are to teach, how well you get along with others, and what a strong student you are.

I’m noticing, too. I’m noticing how you’ve got your mother’s beautiful face, and your father’s winsome personality (ha ha). I’m noticing that I can trust you with important things. I’m noticing that you’re willing to work hard for what you want, like when you took on a paper route to pay for summer dance camp. I’m noticing… and I’m proud.

One day a long time ago, I came up with the brilliant idea of having each of our girls take a trip with their mom when they turned 13. I never imagined that you would be going to New York. But most of all, I never imagined that day would come so quickly. I hope you have a fabulous time together and make memories that the two of you will share for a lifetime. I love you! Happy Birthday!

Love,
Dad


The Magic and The Misery of Turning 11

2956539243I sent my 10-year-old to spend a few nights with her cousins.

Tomorrow I’ll get an 11-year-old back.

Nothing has really changed in the course of a day. You’ll be pretty much the same kid you were before. This growing up thing is so slow we barely see it. Over the course of this day and the next and the one after that… and pretty soon 365 days of barely noticeable changes leave their mark. This year, more than any other before, you will grow up.

Ten was a great year! You were still young enough to enjoy silliness, and insist your Dad piggyback you downstairs to bed each night, and draw pictures for me to put on my mirror, and tell me every detail of every thing that happened and how you felt about it and what you thought. You were old enough to watch interesting shows on TV I actually want to see too (like “Get Out Alive” and “Top Chef”), and make us laugh with your sly wit, and talk about things like the evils of marketing and consumerism and fair trade (or at least pipe in with a few thoughts before rolling your eyes). I’ve always thought of myself as a baby-person, but I think I enjoyed you as a 10-year-old, more than any other age!

I hate to say it, but… it gets complicated from here on out.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another “beautiful-changes-your-body-is-going-to-experience” talks (I know how much you enjoy those). That’s definitely part of it, but there’s more. Over the next few years your relationships – with friends, with your family and, yes, with boys *shudder* – will get more and more complex. Your choices and opportunities and temptations will get bigger and more important. Your feeeeeeeeelings…. oh, all the feelings… will get stronger and louder and more confusing and more exciting and more all-consuming. It’s horrible and wonderful all at once.

You’ll probably think I don’t understand and couldn’t possibly know how you feel and am so out of touch I don’t have any good advice left under my belt. Sometimes, you’ll be right.

But no matter what…
No matter how frustrated we are with each other
No matter how long we’ve talked circles around each other
No matter how busy, and distracted, and overwhelmed I am by all the other things in life

YOU are important to me!
One of the MOST important people.
One of my FAVOURITE people in the whole world.
And that’ll never change.
Because
nothing and no one can love you like I do!

So bring on 11. We’re ready for you.

Bring on the emotional intensity – because that’s something we already have in common. It’s exuberance, which makes us fun to be around… aaaaand it’s temper and overreaction, which is slightly less fun. Bite your tongue. Take a deep breath. Respond, don’t react. I’ll try to do the same.

Bring on the laughs and the silliness (because the best people never outgrow that entirely) and the subtle wit that comes with age (and all-around general awesomeness). Of all the qualities you have, your sense of humour is one I’m most proud of. It’s more than just fun – it’s an instant connection to other people and it’s an important coping mechanism when life inevitably gets hard. I’d just as soon send my children out into the world naked, than have them tackle adulthood without a decent sense of humour. One piece of advice about our favourite form of humour: sarcasm is like a strong seasoning; apply lightly and skillfully and it works, but too much, in the wrong time and place, leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. You are the Queen of Snark; wield it well.

Finally, bring on the social butterfly. You are already the only extrovert in a house full of introverts (since the 3-year-old doesn’t really count yet). I’ll admit, this isn’t something I understand or relate to. Much like you don’t “get” why we all like to stay home, or sit quietly, or be alone. On the other hand, you’re ALWAYS looking for a party. I’ll try to remember that you NEED a lot of people time and a lot of talking time… and a lot of me-listening-to-you time. At 11, I’ll enjoy the fact that you’re still happy to party here, at home, with us.

Bring on 11, with all the feelings and all the fun. You’re going to love it!
Happy Birthday!
Love Mom

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And now… a letter from Dad:

Dear C,

I’m writing this letter the night before your birthday, but you’re not going to receive it on your birthday. That’s because, for the first time ever, we’re not going to see you on August 20.

You’ve been away a lot this summer: camping with P… a week at summer camp… staying at Lake Okanagan for five extra days… and now a couple nights at Opa and Oma’s as you take on the role of Junior Leader for the second time this summer.

You’ve been reminding me all week that you only have a few more days of having to order off the kids menu at White Spot. But the truth is, you don’t have to remind me. I can see the evidence all around me: you are not a little kid anymore.

I see it in the way you care for the little ones – S and B, yes, but also your younger cousins, and the kids that you’re helping with at all these summer camps.

I see it in the jokes you tell – no longer silly kids’ jokes that I have to pretend are funny, but the kind of dry, sarcastic wit that I actually find hilarious (and that I like to think you got from me).

I see it in the books that you read, and in the movies and TV shows that we love watching together. I see it in the clothes you wear, and the wild colours in your hair.

I see it in the pictures that you draw – already easily the best artwork produced by any member of the family. I see it in your hip hop moves, and your courage in enrolling in the dance class that you don’t want to take, so you can take the one that you do.

I see it in the hours you spend texting your friend on your iPod – already.

When I see the young lady you have become and are becoming, I see my pride and joy. I see passion, I see persistence, and I see love. I couldn’t be happier with what I see.

Happy Birthday C!

Love,
Dad


My First Memory

I could feel the grit of sand beneath my toes, the heat pushing down on my head and the icy tickle of the incoming tide.

I could hear the roar of the surf and the gentle buzz of adult conversation.

I could smell the salt and tang of ocean.

6977659104Perhaps my mind has simply filled in those details, like an artist shading and highlighting to give the picture more depth. What I DO know is that as I stood at the edge of the ocean, an enormous wave knocked me down and dragged me under the water.

shock

cold

choke

terror

Until my Dad reached down, pulled me out of the water and held me tight in his arms.

safe

It was a split second in time, so heavy with sensation and emotion that it imprinted permanently on my young mind.

It’s easy to overlook children’s earliest experiences, especially when they are too young to form lasting memories. But those first three years shape our understanding of ourselves and the entire world. In a way, those traumas and triumphs, however small, are the most important memories of all. Even if we can’t quite recall them. Even if they are hazy or incomplete. Even if they are only a feeling. They become the scripts in our psyche – how we interpret events, what we expect from life and, ultimately, who we are.

At a very young age I learned that the world can be a scary place.

That waves are stronger than me.

And my Dad is stronger than the waves.

safe

So here’s me, at age 2. I am convinced that this memory, and countless others like it, are the foundation if my confidence, resiliency, intimacy, trust… and faith. A good reminder that the endless menial tasks of parenthood – keeping babies safe, fed, warm and comforted – have lifelong effects.


My Son

Of all the things that surprise me, a whole year after our adoption, the biggest is the undiminished pride I feel when I slip the words “My Son” into a conversation.

Capital letters: MY. SON.

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And I might… possibly… slip them in more often than is strictly necessary.

Perhaps it is those years when all those typically “boy” things (which my girls disliked no matter how enlightened and gender neutral we tried to be) – the dinosaurs and matchbox cars and hockey gear and train sets – sent a little ping of grief across my heart. All the things I never got to have or do or be with the baby boys I lost.

Perhaps it is the length of time we had to wait for you. Wondering. Imagining. Making plans that ended with “… if we have a new baby by then.”

Perhaps it is the way I feel we earned you. Not like a possession or a prize… but coming home at the end of a hard fought, life changing journey.

And perhaps this is how adoption, and every other scenario where kids don’t come the easy way, is different. Most of the time, having a child requires only a small amount of planning, if any. Two of mine came without any planning at all (surprise!). They are not any less (or more) precious for it, but I took being their Mom for granted.

It just happened. It didn’t require much thought or soul searching. I never felt the need to prove it or defend it. I didn’t have to work hard to get there. Those maternal instincts came pre-assembled.

But you, My Son, we made this Mother-Son thing together. We built it ourselves.

So when I talk about you, I puff up my chest and emphasize the words: MY Son.

So here’s me, an obnoxiously proud Mama. Even more than usual (and I was already pretty obnoxious, according to the oldest kids).


The Worst Feeling in the World

Most people who’ve spent time as the Responsible-Adult-in-Charge-of Keeping-Beloved-Child-Alive-and-Accounted-For will eventually feel this feeling, even if only for a few seconds. Of all the ups and downs of childcare, this is the worst.

Worse than answering the same question, breaking up the same fight or issuing the same clear direction for the 9,837th time. That day.

Worse than labour and delivery.

Worse than endless government paperwork.

Worse even than cleaning up after a violent stomach flu, one that explodes on both ends.

2219056224It is that moment of sheer, undiluted panic, when you turn around and your child is Gone. Out of sight. Missing.

Your entire body is on high alert. Stomach in your throat. Heart pounding. Adrenaline pumping. Your brain instantly replays every single missing child crime show you’ve ever watched. For a moment you look around and call their name and try to stay calm. Then any sense of dignity or propriety is discarded as you frantically search and come up empty. Your entire being narrows to this single task… Find. My Baby. Now.

Usually, this dissipates quickly. You turn around and there they are… right behind you. Around the corner. Under the bench. Playing with a friend. You heave a sigh of relief, chuckle at your overreaction and carry on.

But we all know, not every story has a happy ending. So the panic is genuine. Every time.

Today at soccer camp my son’s coach turned around to help the other kids. Just 30 seconds to untangle the parachute. And when she glanced up, he was gone.

One of my favourite things about our church’s soccer camp is the huge number of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers who run it. Practically everyone between the ages of 11 and 85 pitches in, in some way or another. There are hundreds of kids at camp, but there are hundreds of leaders too. It’s well-organized and safety conscious.

Everyone in the area dropped what they were doing when S went missing. Instant search party, right in the middle of camp. With so many adults all around, it seemed amazing that anyone could slip through. How did such a little guy get past everyone unnoticed?

Just last week I met with our social worker and filled out a Needs Assessment for our boy. We put an extremely high mark for “Safety Concerns.” He is fast, agile, impulsive and has absolutely no sense of danger.

The week before that, I met with his new preschool teachers to discuss his needs for the fall. He is bright and engaging and loves a group setting, but he needs CONSTANT supervision. I must have said it a dozen times, “You can’t take your eyes off him, not even for 30 seconds.”

This is our biggest worry: That our rough and tumble explorer will come to harm. Child-proofing can only do so much. He has super-human determination and a flair for creative problem-solving.

We have child locks on the doors. A fenced and double latched yard. A puppy “backpack” that is actually a leash. A one-on-one helper for Sunday School. “Watch the boy” is on the task list for any family outing.

“CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” is our motto.

Today… I was his coach at soccer camp.

So here’s me, still a little shaken after a heart stopping 10 minutes of drama. He had ducked down in the ditch right beside us to play in the rocks. He was close by and safe all along. But it’s a 10 minutes I’ll never forget.


Imagine

Five Minutes, the word is:

IMAGINE

GO

imagine picTrailing behind her like little ducks, a row of sweet, sticky, unbearably cute grandchildren for me to love. A man who looks at her with a smile, a twinkle of humor and just a little bit of awe. A home that is calm, but full of life. Books and dance and shades of purple, things that are all her own, beyond family. She is happy.

Artsy fashion choices and some unusual job which suits her unique character. Friends who laugh with her and appreciate her wit. Adventure and travel and maybe someone to share it with her. Purpose. A great over-riding passion which she can spend her life on. Maybe more than one. She is happy.

A smile that lights up the room. She has carved out her own place in the world. A place where she is safe and appreciated. Work that is meaningful and rewarding. A community that embraces her beauty and accepts her quirks. True friendship with someone just like her. Travelling with us, but living independently. Close enough to check in, but far enough that her life is her own. She is happy.

He is an athlete in some cool, extreme sport that gives me heart palpitations, but makes him feel like the king of the world. School wasn’t easy, but he found his groove and that bright mind shone for everyone to see. He keeps himself away from the worst excesses of his generation, because he knows what sad endings look like. He shares his adoption story with people who are interested, but in that matter-of-fact way that makes it clear it’s not a big deal to him. There isn’t anyone he can’t charm with his huge toothy grin, but he’s got his eye out for a very special girl. He’s a romantic like his dad. He is happy.

STOP

So here’s my dreams for my kids, maybe I’ll laugh someday about how off base I was. I know that “happy” isn’t a goal, just an occasional by-product of a life well lived. But what can I say, I’m a Mom. Of course I want life to be easy and smooth and effortless, but when it’s not, I hope they have imagination enough to envision a happy ending.

I’m sure God feels the same way about me.

5minutefridayFive Minute Friday with Lisa-Jo Baker

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

2. Link back here and invite others to join in.

3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..


The Crazy Days

There are times
When my heart explodes in a supernova of adoration
When I am overwhelmed with fierce protective instinct
When I drown in the bliss of your presence.
It is Too Much and Not Enough all at once.

There are times
When I explode in a flash storm of frustration
When I am overwhelmed by the urge to hide, to escape
When I drown in the demands.
I am Too Much and Not Enough all at once.

There are times
When feelings overlap and I can scarcely find my footing
When I wonder if I’ll ever get my life back
When I wonder if I’ll be entirely lost when I do.
You are Too Much and Not Enough all at once.

These times
Overtake
Overwhelm
Over too soon
Too Much and Not Enough all at once.
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So here’s me, in the crazy days, when the best answer to “How-are-you?” is “It’s complicated.”

I am wonderful. I am terrible. Sometimes both at the same time. So I’ll just say… “I’m fine.”

Because you are SO worth it!


The View From Over There

I shamelessly eavesdropped accidently overheard a conversation at the park this morning. It was between mother and daughter as they watched the kids play. The daughter (who was also the mother of the kids – clear?) was unloading about her son’s social problems, dealing with teachers at school and the struggle to incorporate speech therapy into his life. Grandma “hmmm-ed” and “uh-huh-ed” throughout. At the end she suggested that it would be a good idea to carve out just 15 minutes a day to play speech therapy games with the son. Nothing too strenuous, just a chance to spend some time together and improve his communication skills.

“What a difference that could make in the rest of his life!”

“It’s only 15 minutes.”

That one there. That’s what got my blood boiling. I mean, does she realize how HARD it is to carve out 15 minutes EVERY day. Does she have any idea how tired this poor woman is? Overwhelmed? Discouraged? It sure is easy for someone else to suggest adding this or that to an already over-packed schedule. Does this mom really need ONE more person adding to that burden of guilt and obligation? What she really needs is a hug. And a hi-five. And an assurance that she’s already doing everything exactly right and shouldn’t change a thing.

I could be projecting.

Because that woman said “Good idea Mom. I’ll give it some thought.”

Here I was ready to have her back (and who doesn’t need some creepy, eavesdropping stranger leap to their defense?). The truth is, Grandma is probably right. She wasn’t unsympathetic or demanding or guilt-trippy (cause then I WOULD have jumped into all that with a vengeance). She just saw something important that might make life easier in the long run. She’s on the other side, beyond late nights and concerned teachers and feeling like it’s all too much for one person to handle; where needs and problems loom large, because they are close up, all the time.

She sees what’s important. She sees what she regrets and what she doesn’t. She sees the big picture. She’s outside the eye of the storm.

Maybe the view from over there is worth considering.

viewpointSo here’s me, in the midst of it all, where it is so much easier to react and survive. We could use a little more strategic parenting up in our neck of the woods. Now to try and figure out what my new 15 minute habit should be…

5minutefridayFive Minute Friday with Lisa-Jo Baker

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

2. Link back here and invite others to join in.

3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..


The WORST Best Lesson in Life

It’s a game we play, and replay, a lot at our house.

“But it isn’t FAAAIIIIR!” they whine.

I act Alarmed. Affronted. Confused. “Who told you life was fair? How dare they!”

It’s not entirely an act. I happen to think that teaching our kids they are entitled to a life of ease and comfort is irresponsible, possibly cruel. Someday the real world will come calling. If they haven’t had an opportunity to build important coping skills, they will likely to fall to pieces. The small, everyday disappointments of life are an important curriculum.

stuff happensYou won’t be able to watch that movie tonight, because Dad is watching his team lose the Stanley Cup.

There’s a hole in your favourite hoodie (the only thing worse than this is my suggestion of sewing on a patch, apparently).

Your sister has a sleepover tonight and you don’t. You’ll have to hang out with your mom instead.

I’m sorry, but your sister ate your homework (true story).

All valuable lessons, if handled correctly. Somewhere between “Vlad the Insensitive, Destroyer of Dreams” and “Schmoopy the Rescuer, Enabler of Dysfunction” lies good parenting.

My parents certainly didn’t subscribe to the “protect-at-all-costs” parenting philosophy. In their mind, suffering builds character, even for kids. They didn’t push us down the stairs or pinch us when we smiled too wide. But they didn’t apologize for the reasonable disappointments life brought our way – doing more chores than any of my friends, wearing second-hand clothes, bypassing the candy aisle, bringing lunch instead of buying… a whole lot of making do with what we had, without complaining.

This wasn’t easy to swallow as a child. And if I’m being honest, it’s still a struggle. Although I wasn’t raised to believe my life SHOULD be easy, I still feel somewhat surprised and ripped off when it isn’t. “But God, it’s not FAAAAIIIIR!”

Because it’s really not. Life isn’t fair.

Lessons I’ve learned from Disappointment:

Perspective: As I write this, on my personal laptop, in a warm house, dressed in a new (second-hand, but still newly bought) shirt, after eating a filling lunch, while my healthy son naps and my well supported children attend a well equipped school nearby, I realize that whining about life being unfair is pretty, well, unfair, to the billions of people who could only dream about a life as good as mine. Nevertheless, my small disappointments gave me a taste of suffering and dose of reality. Life is like this. Bad stuff happens (the slightly less poetic, but much more child-friendly truism). There’s not always someone to blame. No one is entitled to a trouble-free existence.

Health: How many of the worst patterns/habits/addictions we hold are attempts to escape or numb the pain life brings our way? I can personally attest to the tranquilizing effects of too much food, which I begin to crave whenever things start going wrong. One of my children asked if it’s true that ice cream is medicine? Ummm… A healthy person is learning to accept this discomfort and process it in a healthy way. Cry. Pray. Laugh. Create. Throw socks at the wall (really, it works).

Selflessness: Selflessness is learned in the hard places. After we process the disappointment, we have a choice. Where will my focus be? Will I wallow in my misery? Or will I think beyond me and what I want? Without a doubt, the instruction most often handed out, but not always followed by myself is: “It’s okay to be upset, but it’s not okay to make everyone around you miserable just because you are.”

Gratitude: What comes easy is often taken for granted. When I’m familiar with disappointment, then getting what I want/need/hope for is a gift and I will truly appreciate it. Our daughter B was born the year after we buried her brother Simon. Although her diagnosis with Down Syndrome threw us somewhat for a loop, it paled in comparison to the glorious fact that she was ALIVE and healthy.

Compassion: Disappointment is very real to the person feeling it. Whether anyone else understands or not, there it is. Someone who has faced their own disappointments may not be any better equipped to understand a unique sorrow, but we are open to the experience. Where it would be more convenient and comfortable to stuff our own pain beyond conscious reach and whitewash over the pain of others, the student of disappointment is not afraid to go there.

How to Grieve: My small disappointments have prepared me for the devastations in life. Not entirely. Nothing can. But it’s a start: the basic skill to face the hurt, work through it, find the joy in the midst of it and reach out to others regardless.

Disappointment isn’t lethal.

Disappointment is a natural part of life.

Disappointment is a good teacher.

I believe it and I want to live it… but doling it out as a parent is a lot harder than I expected. Perhaps it is my generation. Perhaps I’m just a pathetic softie. It’s hard to say no. It’s hard to watch those sad little faces. It’s hard not to jump in and make everything fair and smooth out the rough edges and bribe them back to happy.

So, I’m thankful for the times we really can’t afford it. Or there isn’t enough time. Or enough energy. Or it just really grosses me out (see: pet snake argument).

There is nothing wrong with WANTING to give your children everything. There IS something wrong with actually giving it to them. Unless you’re hoping to raise spoiled, greedy, miserable brats. If so, then by all means, appease and rescue and avoid disappointment at all costs. You’re on the right track.

So here’s me, hoping we’re all disappointed just enough to build strong character and no more.


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