But the most important part, the part that, when I remind myself to look for it, makes it less boring, less dull, more significant, is truth that my children need more than words from me. They need more than a hug, kiss, and whispered “I love you” when they run out the door to the school bus or when I tuck them in at night. They need me to show “I love you.” Buying things and giving in to their relentless requests might be easy, but it isn’t genuine and it doesn’t have their best interests in mind. I have to give them my time and my focus. I have to close the laptop, set the phone aside, do my work during down time, and listen to their stories, play their games, observe their lessons, and cuddle on the couch even when every cell in my body is screaming about other, better, more productive uses of my time
I’ve seen older kids babied within an inch of their lives, headed off to higher learning with no clue on how to be resourceful, how to figure it out, how to handle life’s knocks and bruises. Over-protection has its place for, say, kindergarteners, but at some point we need to put down the bumpers on the bowling lane.
Much of the interaction remains the same, but the technology surrounding it has changed dramatically. Instead of prank-calling on a rotary dial phone, our kids chat over wi-fi. It’s our responsibility as parents to understand that technology and monitor its usage. Were Cody Saltzman’s parents following him on Instagram? Have Michael Nodianos’ parents watched his video? Do any of those boys’ parents check their kids’ Twitter feeds and Facebook profiles? Same goes for the girls involved, including Makenzie Santoro (the “friend” of the victim) whose Facebook account is still active.
The splendor of human experience is its ever-changing movement. Some parts move too fast. Some parts move at their own pace. Time is just one of those things manipulated or manipulating us by of our point of view. The road looks longer when we consider that we are small. Time slips by through the death of our attention. So, let’s consider this time with our kids, though it may be long, much shorter so we can have ample clock-ticks to stand at the side of the road skipping rocks together.
And when we pulled up and parked in front of the home, cream siding and embedded in suburbia, I had to silently repeat more affirmations, conjure up more courage. I was afraid of one thing, that I would see my children in their faces. These girls, I were afraid, were my own. That’s another thing motherhood has done to me: adapted a feeling of universal motherhood, all children have a place in my heart.
Even the ones who hurt beyond connection.
She points to research that indicates how woefully ill-prepared teenagers are for a high-stress situation like high school: their perception is skewed, their ability to self-regulate under-developed. And yet they’re “thrown into a big box” with hundreds or thousands of their peers, left to figure things out for themselves under the influence of a bunch of equally-clueless kids, rather than adult mentors. In other words, American kids learn how to be grown-ups in an unnatural, hostile and even torturous environment that skews the way they feel about themselves and the rest of the world, for the rest of their lives.
But something lovely has started to happen over the last year. Slowly, without thinking about it, I am becoming friends with my children. I suspect it began when I realized it was none of my business how long my son waited to start looking for an apartment when he was about to begin a new school year in Manhattan. And when I understood that some personal decisions my daughter made, which I may or may not have loved, had nothing to do with me. I try not to offer advice where it isn’t invited, and I find myself asking for their advice more and more often.
Whether the corollary to these modern practices or the result of other forces, an epidemic of anxiety and depression among all age groups, including young children; rising rates of aggressive behavior and delinquency in young children; and decreasing empathy, the backbone of compassionate, moral behavior, among college students, are shown in research.
How often do you see fathers, un-showered, sweaty, covered in spit-up, folding laundry whilst trying to ward off the frisky advances of their wife during the baby’s nap time? NEVER, because mothers don’t have sex “no matter what the cost.” Tempted to accuse us of making sweeping generalizations and gender stereotyping? Well, think again, because we have proof.
Instead, through juggling the act of writing during naptime and school, and coloring and carpooling during the hours in between, I came to believe that what I’d heard all along was true: finding a way to do what I loved, while caring for my kids, made me a much better (read: more patient) mom. Having the opportunity to carve time out of my day to focus solely on a job that I love makes me feel like I didn’t sacrifice my entire life for motherhood. When my work ends for the day and I turn myself over to my kids completely, I can breathe easier, especially on those days when getting through bath and bedtime without a meltdown is as much as we can manage.
With this miscarriage, I felt that admonishment creeping up. “Maile, it was a dream, a thought, not a baby.” But my soul couldn’t consent. Inside it felt like such a loss that I knew out of respect for myself, I had to acknowledge this event as “major” even if no one else did. So I held tight to that conviction. I talked openly about my sadness, gave myself permission to cry in front of others, to lose it, to sob uncontrollably in the shower, in bed, in the car, at the table.