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A Letter To My Daughter On Her 4th Birthday

11 Mar

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To my sweet Zoe girl,

Today you turned four years old. For months you’ve been talking about your birthday. You’ve been telling everyone everywhere we go that it’s your birthday soon; at the store, at the library, at my gym, and even while crossing the street you happily exclaimed to the cross-walk attendant, “March 7th is my birthday, I’ll be four years old!” He and I both laughed at your exuberance. Your excitement about your big day was pretty charming.

The night before your birthday, after you and your brother were sleeping soundly in your beds, and after your dad finally came home from his long day of class, he and I decorated the dining room.We hung up pink and purple streamers, dangled blue and yellow balloons from the ceiling, placed a big “Happy Birthday” sign on the wall and put a special festive table-cloth on our table, all for you, our birthday girl.

In the morning when you woke up, your daddy said with a big smile, “happy birthday, Zoe!” To which you replied, “not yet, Daddy! It’s not my birthday yet…” You were so used to hearing that from us that you couldn’t believe it when the actual day arrived.

Your dad led you to the dining room and showed you all the decorations and your face lit up into a million little flecks of fire. “It’s my birthday,” you said! And so it was – your fourth birthday.

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You’ve done a lot of growing up this year. You’re leaving the shell of your toddler years behind and you’re headed straight into kid territory. It’s kind of terrifying and exciting all at once.

As a mom, there’s this small side of me tangled up in emotions about the reality that most of your life lived so far you’ll never remember when you’re my age. And that’s kind of sad when I think about it. All the cuddles we’ve shared and giggles we’ve delighted in, you won’t remember when you’re older. Some of the best moments of my life shared with you, won’t really be a part of your memories.

On the other hand, a few moments when I’ve really blown it, you may not remember those either. Like the time you ripped a hole in my favorite childhood stuffed animal, Tigey. You shook out all his itty-bitty styrofoam balls all over your room when you were supposed to be sleeping. I walked in to ask you to get back in bed (I could hear you jumping around), and I was shocked to see that it looked like someone opened up the largest snow-globe in the world and used it like a salt-shaker in your room.

I should’ve laughed and grabbed a camera for one unforgettable picture, but instead I was frustrated and ticked-off. It was such a huge mess and those styrofoam balls were sticking to everything: the walls, the ceiling, your clothes, your hair, the dog, your bed sheets, the curtains (the list goes on). Truly, that was not one of my finer moments in parenting: vacuuming up the room while you cried your eyes out. I’ve found comfort in thinking and hoping that maybe you’ll never remember that moment.

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But now you’re four, and you’re bound to remember things. After all, I remember a lot of things when I was four: a cup of scalding hot coffee getting tipped over and spilling down my body. My mom and grandfather bathing me with cool water, while I cried through the entire bath.

I remember a snowy Christmas evening, pressing my face against the sliding glass doors, staring out at the moonlit drenched snow in our back yard, asking why it was all so sparkly, and hearing my dad tell me the ground was full of diamonds.

I remember our neighbor, an older man who loved to fish in the Arkansas River brought us a large white paint bucket full of fish for the second time that week. I answered the door and told him our family didn’t like fish because well, we didn’t. (I overheard my parents talking about how they didn’t know what to do with all of this fish and I thought I was doing us all a favor.) I’ll never forget the look of hurt and disappointment on his face, his shoulders immediately slumped down. He turned away from me, looking defeated and lonely, and walked home carrying his bucket of fish with him. Immediately, I knew I did something terribly wrong.

I remember playing in the yard with my sister, she and I found a seedling. We dug a hole in the ground with our fingers and planted the tiny seed in the wet black Oklahoma soil one late afternoon. We imagined together, out-loud, that the most beautiful tree would grow in that very spot and we would build a swing on its strongest branch.

I remember my mom and I walking to the shopping center across the street from our house. She was probably around my age right now, 35, she told me that she didn’t feel she was being a very good mommy lately. I was confused. I had never thought anything but perfection about my mom, and now suddenly her doubts creeped into my own little heart – that was the first time I started to view my mom as someone who could make mistakes.

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Which makes me think, Zoe, that you’re about to do the same. At four years old, you’re going to remember some of these memories that we’re making right now – you’ll be able to recall details, like what you were wearing when you took a fall, or if your dad told you the snow was made out of diamonds or if I responded in a way that made you feel loved and cared for.

Of course, there are memories that you and I have shared that are already impacting your world view, and they will continue to do so for the rest of your life, but it is unlikely that you’ll be able to recall the tiny details of those memories. Instead, like small candles, they cast a glow over your view of self and the world.

I hope I’ve been a good steward of your heart, so far, little one. I hope I’ve lit good candles in your life. It’s my prayer. I breathe it out with a sigh every time I see you sleeping soundly in your bed. The remnants of the tiny cherub-baby I held in my arms for the first time when I gave birth to you, me – overcome with love and crying uncontrollably till someone asked me if I was okay. That baby is still there in my arms. I see her in the corners of your mouth, in the tips of your fingers, in the way your arms fold around your face when you sleep.

The other night, when I was pondering all of this: the memories I’m leaving on the hearts of my children. I was absent mindedly bathing your brother, and thinking about this coming of age that you’re in, I was thinking about how much I hope to do you both right. Exactly as I was thinking those thoughts, Noah leaned over to me, put his hand over my heart and said, “I know. I know.”

I gasped audibly and looked at him like a ghost had just spoken.

Leave it to your spirited little brother to speak to me like a prophet about my own mothering.

Someday, when you’re a mother, you’ll know this to be true: the child is the prophet and the mother is the disciple.

I promise you, it is true.

But you’re not a mother just yet. At four years old, you’re in the cradle of childhood, I hope you enjoy it all. I hope I can help you gather up each carefree lesson of the day, and that you’ll enjoy the innocent happiness of your youth. I hope I will help fill your years with insightful and beautiful memories.

I pray I’m a good steward of your love, of your childhood, of your innocence. I pray this for you, I pray this for myself, on your fourth birthday, sweet Zoe girl.

With all the love a heart can hold,

Momma.

A letter to Zoe on her third birthday

A letter to Zoe on her second birthday

A letter to Zoe on her first birthday

Photos by Lena Marie Photography

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Parenting Tips Shared on Facebook and The Implosion of a Million Emotions

7 Feb

Tips for Talking to Children

On Wednesday evening I shared the above infographic* that I created on my Facebook page, The Joy of This. Within a few hours it was quickly shared over 600 times.  A lot of people seemed to really love the tips, but also, not surprisingly, a lot of parents were outraged by the tips. Tips which I gleaned and compiled from two different books, Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer for Toddlers, and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

But some people just didn’t care that these tips came from recognized experts in the field. Some folks were down right angry – at me – for suggesting these tips.

In fact, I even had one mother attack me personally for posting it on my page, making mean-spirited claims about me and my children. I chose not to respond to her comment, but rather ban her from my page (along with a few other miserable beings who had really uncouth things to say). Mean parents who don’t know how to express a differing opinion without using verbal attacks get banned – that’s just how it goes!

Joking aside …

There was one comment that really soured my milk, it was this:

fits are unacceptable

“Number four is out of the question in my house. Fits are unaccepbtle [sic] under any and all circumstances and will not be rewarded with a hug.” 

Yowzers,“any and all circumstances” you say? How very authoritarian of you. That’ll teach ’em!

Last I checked it was “liked” 18  times, and that just seriously bummed me out. But, got me thinking…

On further reflection, and seeing that a lot of people just weren’t getting it, I came to the conclusion that the infographic did a poor job explaining the reasonings behind the tips and the importance of using these tips with our children; unless you are already aware of the concepts behind this advice you may not understand the value of these suggestions.

So I wrote a lengthy and heartfelt response and shared it as a status update on my Facebook page in hopes to shed light on the issue. That “status” has now been shared over 180 times from my page, gained more than 1200 likes, and has been viewed by more than 10,000 people. Holy smokes! This tells me something I need to remember: when we open up and share our parenting failures and victories with authenticity and vulnerability, it impacts our hearts in a way that an idealized infograpic just isn’t able to.  (Another lesson learned by yours truly.)

I’ve included here below the status update I shared on my Facebook page:

My Parenting Lesson

I learned a valuable lesson when I weaned my two-year-old daughter from her pacifier. The first nap time without her pacifier she cried hard at not having her (life-long) established comfort method, but I felt like she would just have to learn the hard way, and without thinking I shut the door and walked away from Zoe because I thought there was nothing {else} I could do – just rip the Band-Aid off and get it over with.

As I stood alone in the kitchen trying to wash dishes, I could hear my daughter screaming painfully through her confused tears.  That moment, lightning struck my heart, and I thought to myself, “What am I doing? I would never walk away from a friend, or my spouse if they were miserably crying like that alone in a room! Why do I think it’s okay to do this to my own child?”

I turned on my heels, and rushed into her room. I got in bed with her, and held her close to me. I told her first that I was sorry, and then I told her that I could see how hard it must be to have to nap without her pacifier, but that I was there to hug her and hold her until she felt good enough to go to sleep without it. With great relief she quieted and sank into my arms and fell tenderly asleep.

After that nap, she NEVER asked for her pacifier again.

That day I learned that a mother’s compassion will lead her child to acceptance far easier than a mother’s silence.

Make no mistake, I am a momma bear with my kids, but I’m one mamma bear that always strives (often imperfectly) to consider the feelings of my children in the moment of their learning.

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Please be gentle with me and this personal experience I just shared with you. This is my story, and my learning experience, shared with vulnerability and honesty. Please do not attack my parenting skills, and feel this is your opportunity to use *MY EXPERIENCE* as a platform to teach *YOUR LESSON.*

There was a lot of gentle weaning that happened prior to weaning from naps. I did approach other ideas, (giving her paci away, etc.) and I did speak to my daughter over the course of a few weeks and months about how we would say good-bye to her paci at nap-times.

*A line of the “Tips for Talking To Our Children” infographic was edited  based on a Facebook commenter’s suggestion to say, “When you’re done eating…” instead of “Once you finish eating…”  Thanks for the tip, smart momma!

A Painful Childhood Memory Casts Light on My Quest As a Mother

6 Sep

Do you remember the first time you felt less than perfect? I remember it well. It was the summer between fourth and fifth grade. The apartment complex where we lived had a pool and I was there splashing around in the cool water on that blazing hot day in Oklahoma.

Another two girls were there enjoying the pool, as well. I had seen them here and there at the apartment’s playground. However these girls never spoke to me. They were tied together at the hips and seemed only interested in boys and each other. They both reeked of lofty pre-teen coolness. Their confidence matched their long, lean, and tanned frames.

I had no idea what it really meant to be jealous. All I knew was that they were not like me and that’s what made them so fascinating. They looked like sisters with their honey blond hair, green eyes, and matching black, yellow and pink suits with holes cut out in the middle showing off their flat bellies. (Nod if you remember those hideous suits from the 80s.)

I was standing on the edge of the pool, plugging my nose with my fingers, trying to work up the nerve to jump in the deep end. They were there jumping in and out like Greek Olympians. At one point they were playing just a few feet away from me. I couldn’t help it, I was blatantly and wistfully staring at them.

They ran over to their mothers, who were larger more developed cut-outs of the girls. Both moms were smeared in baby oil, reading cheap drug store novels, drinking soda and adjusting their tiny, string bikinis to avoid tan lines. How strange to have mothers who wore bikinis and read paperback books with bare-chested men pictured on the covers, I thought to myself.

I wasn’t allowed to wear a bikini and my mother would certainly never wear one, either. My mother, after all, wore long denim skirts, read the Bible and played guitar. This other version of a ‘mother’ was confusing to my 10-year-old brain.

That was the first moment I felt it – the painful awareness of being less than perfect. In a flash it washed over me, and my fascination with these girls turned into my own self-loathing.

Just then the young girls seemed to notice me staring at them. One nudged the other and walked over to me. She scrunched up her nose, puffed her stomach full of air until it rounded out just like mine. Then she lowered her chin to her chest, bowed her legs and mockingly plugged her nose. The other girl pointed her finger in my direction and through her laughter said, “Now you look just like her.” Her friend responded with, “I just need an ugly swim suit!” Squeals of laughter ensued at my expense.

That was the first moment I felt it – the painful awareness of being less than perfect. In a flash it washed over me, and my fascination with these girls turned into my own self-loathing. I looked down at my stomach, pooching out like a little melon underneath my light pink, butterfly printed suit. My short white legs were framed at the hips with the pink ruffles that were sown into the lower half of the suit.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to immediately go home and throw my suit away. This bathing suit was meant for babies. Why can’t my stomach be flat? Why can’t I get tan and tall? Why can’t I swim without plugging my nose? I held back the tears and felt humiliation creeping up through my stiffened body. I walked over to the other side of the pool and never looked their way again.

As an adult standing back surveying this childhood memory, I can see the painful value of that particular experience. I now understand the dynamics of what occurred on that summer day in Tulsa by the pool. However, as a child experiencing that moment, all I felt was inadequate and desperately hurt.

In reflection, I understand those girls were not children, not in the way that I was. My body, unlike theirs, still reflected that I was a child –  with its distended belly, chubby thighs, and flat chest. Unlike these girls, I hadn’t started puberty and I wouldn’t for at least another few years. I had no idea what puberty even was.

Today, as a mother of a daughter, I look back at that memory and ask what it can teach me. What sits inside those recollections that will help me empower my own daughter with the tools she needs to thrive as a young girl?

Today, as a mother of a daughter, I look back at that memory and ask what it can teach me. What sits inside those recollections that will help me empower my own daughter with the tools she needs to thrive as a young girl? What can I teach her to prevent the power of negative objectification from shaping her emotions about herself? What can I teach my daughter to prevent her from mistreating others who look differently than her. (I remind myself not to cling too tightly to my own childhood memories. I don’t want to project my experiences of being the underdog on to my daughter.)

I have another memory that also shapes me. Several of us high school girls were getting dressed in the locker room after gym. Beth was standing near the mirror, enjoying her reflection. With a sweet smile on her face, she said out loud to all of us, “I love how I look! I’ve always been happy with myself. I don’t know why, but I dont’ really struggle with being insecure.”

I practically had to pick up my jaw from the floor. Who says that out loud? What would give her the right to say such a thing? How cocky! How annoying. I literally rolled my eyes to the back of my head when she said that. Of course, she felt that way, I thought to myself. Look at her, she’s gorgeous! If I were that pretty, I would probably feel that way too. For some reason, I still felt like that ten-year-old at the pool with the round belly and chubby thighs. How would I ever break out of that insecurity?

Personally, it took time. It took claiming my body as my own through my long fitness/health journey that began 8 years ago. It takes practice, it takes training my mind in the same way that one trains their body. I will not give space to dark thoughts of myself. This is not who I am. I am loved, I am cherished. I am valuable just as I am.

Today, I see Beth’s statement differently. What a victory to be in that stage of life and feel so loving towards yourself! What can I do so that I can encourage my daughter to love herself and be confident in her own skin?

In light of these questions I’m reading a book called 101 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body, by Brenda Lane Richardson and Elane Rehr. I’m really enjoying this book. Not only is it insightful for me in my own quest to love my body, but there’s a lot of great tips in there that I hope to put into practice for Zoe.

Put a Nice Mirror in Your Daughter’s Room

One simple tip is to buy your daughter, at the appropriate age, a nice full-length mirror. Put the mirror in her room, and make sure that the lighting is gentle and soft. (Who doesn’t love a well-lit mirror! Imagine the lighting in a high-end dressing room!) This will allow her the space to explore her new, changing body in the privacy of her own room, and it will also give her the chance to see her outfits in the morning before school under a more flattering perspective.(Rather than a hard to see bathroom mirror that’s usually under harsh lighting.)

Send Your Daughter to School With a Blush Bag

Another tip Richardson and Rehr offer is to send your daughter to school with a “blush bag.” This bag is a small, cute pouch filled with emergency items that your daughter can keep in her locker that could save the day. In it you might place pads or tampons, travel size deodorant, a tube of concealer, a small bottle of gel or hair spray, a comb, q-tips, safety pins, breath mints, needle and thread, spot remover, and a roll of quarters. (I’m sure the idea here is to adapt the blush bag to fit your child’s needs.) I like those suggestions. I think I would have loved a sweet little bag like that for my locker.

Some of the Chapters in the Book Focus on the Following Topics:

  • Give her permission to love her body.
  • Model a healthy body image.
  • Don’t make aging sound like a curse.
  • Come to terms with any envy you may feel about other women’s bodies.
  • Understand where your body ends and hers begins.
  • Strengthen her against the power of advertising.
  • Take time to learn and teach on early puberty.

This book has certainly got me thinking. It’s never too young to consider how to approach this with our children. (Boys need to learn how to value themselves as well. Another book I’m reading is Raising Cain, Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.) What practices have you adpopted to help your children learn to love their bodies?

A Letter to My Daughter on the First Day of Preschool and Her First Interview

4 Sep


Dear Zoe,

It was big day for you, today! This morning you and I walked hand-in-hand around the block to a small stone church nearby. Not for Sunday school, which you would have been equally excited about, especially since the one time you went there you played with lots of Apple Jacks, the name you call all My Little Ponies, no we didn’t go for Sunday school. This time, we went for your first day of class as a preschooler.

Sometime last spring we signed you up for Kiddie Kollege at the local recreation center, which was an hour and 15 minutes twice a week. But that was not preschool, and Mommy felt much differently about your attendance there on that first day than I did this morning.

Today marked your first day going to school. Your first day with electricity in your chest and butterflies penballing through your belly. Your first day to think about who you’ll meet and what new outfit you’ll wear. The first day to think about what classes you’ll be taking and which boys might be sitting next to you.

Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself! You’re only three and a half (in a few days), not thirteen. Which means thankfully all you were thinking about was squishing playdough between your delicate peach fingers, and singing songs off-key while you spin around with your arms stretched wide till you’re dizzy.

You were thinking about all the belly laughs you’ll share with your new friends and the amazing secret games you’ll make up together.

You were thinking about the yummy snacks you might enjoy, wondering if real gold-fish eat Goldfish Crackers and if you’ll turn into a gold-fish if you eat them, too.

I’m proud of you, Zoe girl. You can count really well now (not just knowing the numbers but you understand the concept of counting), and you can identify all your letters, and you can spell your name and mommy’s name (which is not “M-O-M” it’s “J-O-Y”- you’ve let me know this more than once). You can spell “P-A-R-K” and “Z-O-O” two of your favorite places to visit. You can sit still and listen to all sorts of books being read to you. You can recite your favorite books by heart and you can even let me know when I missed words.

Not only are you smart, little peanut, you’re so pretty, too. You’ve got long fingers and a petite frame. Your hair is very thick and hangs down to your shoulder blades. I like to put your blonde strands into two braids – that seems to keep your fly aways in place for most of the day. Your eyes are large expressive puddles of cornflower blue framed perfectly with light brown eyebrows which you like to arch up when you’re being very serious with me.

This always happens to be when you say, “Not yet, Mommy.” in an exact echo of my own voice when I’ve asked you if you’ve finished washing your hands.

Besides for being the only mom who showed up at your orientation today with my hair piled into a messy pony-tail and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, (It seems khaki pants and polo shirts were the unspoken uniform. I miss the casualness of Austin, kiddo.) I really enjoyed this morning and all that it entailed for you!

I enjoyed watching you slowly explore your new classroom. First looking around at everything – not touching anything just yet. Until you saw the reading nook. You went straight for that sunlit corner. And while the other kids played with trucks and dolls (which is perfect, too) you sat quietly and immersed yourself in new books to read. Your love of books makes me think you’re going to excel in school.

Either way, I know you’ll make me proud. You already have, Zozo. Reach for the stars, sweet one!

Love, Momma.

ps. You still call “Caterpillars” “Patakillers” and I love it!

Zoe’s First Interview: 

(some questions are repeated on purpose)

What’s your favorite color? “Blue!”

What do you want to be when you grow up? “A vet. Mommy, I don’t want to grow up, and I want to be a vet.”

What’s your favorite food? “My favorite food is … suckers.”

What’s your favorite animal? “Um, my favorite animal … duck!”

What’s your favorite toy? “Um, my favorite toy, is um, my favorite toy, is uuuuuuum … (looks around the room) wagon! Wagons are my favorite toys.”

What’s your favorite instrument? “A violin. Mommy, violins are my favorite instruments!”

What’s your favorite book? “Mmmmmm, my favorite book is um (long pause) my favorite book is a Clifford one. It’s all my Clifford ones, Mommy.”

What’s your favorite movie: “My favorite movie is Baby Einstein.”

What’s your favorite thing to do: “I like to color.”

What’s your favorite place to go: “To Walmart.” (Her answer cracks me up! I have to say it’s because she gets a cookie from the bakery on the rare occasions when we do go.)

What do you dream about? “I don’t want to dream.”

What’s your favorite song? “Deep and Wide. That’s my favorite song.”

What rhymes with flower? “Power!”

How old is Mommy? “45!” (Need to work on that one.)

How old is Daddy? “How old is he?”

How old is Auntie A? “I don’t know how old she is. Timber-four. She is timber-four.”

How old is Noah? “He is timber-four.”

What does Mommy do? “Writes some things.”

What does daddy do? “He works.”

Where does he work? “At school. He works at school.”

Do you like your brother, Noah? “Mmmmm, I don’t.” (He was reaching for her crayons right then.)

What’s your favorite lunch? “Grilled cheese sandwich and soup.”

What’s your favorite animal? “Mommy, my favorite animal is a giraffe.”

Do you love Mommy? “Yeah. (long pause) I love Daddy. I love Mommy and Daddy.”

Do you like preschool? “Yeah.”

What do you like about preschool? “Playdough.”

What else do you like? “I like crayons.”

What’s your favorite time of the day? “Zoo.”

What’s your favorite color? “Mmmmm, my favorite color is yellow.”

Anything else I should know? “Mommy I want some lotion, that will help me feel better.”

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