To my daughter, on her ninth birthday

We’ve had a big week for Cari this week. On Saturday, I got Cari all dolled up for her dance recital pictures (much easier this time than the four times before). I sat at the studio for a couple of hours while Cari posed for pictures for her two routines, then practiced her routines in costume. By the end if the day, we were exhausted and cranky, so the perfect solution was a nap.

Then on Sunday, we dressed up pretty for a Mommy and Me photo shoot in honor of Mother’s Day with our friend Stephanie Beaty of Lifeography. It was one of those experiences that caused me to have a glimpse of the future before me. I stood in the bathroom, behind my blond baby, who isn’t a baby at all anymore, and I saw us on her wedding day. We both wore white, and I just had a flash of her shiny blond hair spilling over the shoulders of her wedding gown. I didn’t see her face, or even mine, in that moment.  But I realized that I needed to be present. So I put on my makeup with extra care, because I didn’t want to waste any of that precious day worrying if I wasn’t pretty enough.  So Cari and I joined Stephanie at a treasure of a little park, called James E. Grey Preserve, a place I have lived minutes away from for years but never knew existed.  We drove down the little dirt road to the entrance, and Cari was a little moody.  She wouldn’t talk or give me a smile in the rearview mirror.  I realized that my girl isn’t so little anymore; she’s entered the pre-teen years with gusto.  Where she would happily preen for pictures a year ago, now she gives goofy grins that don’t capture what her real happiness looks like.  So we made a deal: when the pictures were over. we would stop at Dairy Queen on the way home for smoothies (obviously. I’m not above bribery).

Stephanie has never photographed us before, but I knew from seeing her work online that I trusted her vision, so I allowed her to direct us, even though it is in my nature to seek to control.  We had a number of model-moments, where we supposed to look moody and serious, but neither Cari nor I could manage it.  Cari gave her awkward little half smile, as if to say, “My mom wants us to be doing this, but I’m not entirely sure I care to be here.” Or, “Miss Stephanie wants me to laugh, but I don’t see how anything about this situation is funny.” Or, “Can’t we be done already? I want my smoothie.” My favorite moments were the ones that were real; when Cari would throw her arms around my neck, or when she sat on my lap like she has for the past 7 years, from when she wasn’t snuggled anymore in my arms, but when she would climb into my lap, belly to belly, with her legs dangling behind me. Stephanie captured some truly silly, but still perfectly US moments. I looked like I was in love with my kid. So pretty much they came out perfectly.

Then Cari celebrated her ninth birthday on Wednesday. In a flash of inspiration that any Pinterest parent would approve of, I decided to ask Cari some questions about her preferences today to commemorate the occasion.

  1. What is your favorite color? Blue
  2. What is your favorite toy? Woofie, of course
  3. What is your favorite fruit? Watermelon
  4. What is your favorite tv show? Liv and Maddie
  5. What is your favorite movie? Frozen
  6. What is your favorite thing to wear? Dresses
  7. What is your favorite animal? Bunnies
  8. What is your favorite song? Let It Go, or Problem from Arianna Grande
  9. What is your favorite book? Judy Moody
  10. Who is your best friend? Mommy
  11. What is your favorite snack? Cheese Its
  12. What is your favorite drink? Water
  13. What is your favorite breakfast? Waffles
  14. What is your favorite lunch? Macaroni and Cheese
  15. What is your favorite dinner? Chicken and Broccoli
  16. What is your favorite game? The Subway Surfers
  17. What is your favorite thing to play outside? Play in the playground
  18. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas
  19. What do you sleep with at night? Woofie and Bear Bear
  20. What do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t know, a teacher?

Cari is the best thing I have ever done in my life. She is sweet and silly; she loves to snuggle with either Stu or I, and she would eat chicken and broccoli as every meal if we let her. She is incredibly comfortable at Hudson, since she’s with us ALL THE TIME. For Take Your Child to Work Day, she left my classroom, and I assumed she was going to my husband’s classroom. But when I saw him 30 minutes later and he didn’t have Cari, I got a little concerned. Well, she went to the front office to hang out in our assistant principal’s office. Yeah, that’s my kid: fearless in social situations. Cari is like her mommy; when she’s tired, she doesn’t always know to rest. Instead, she gets really cranky until someone convinces her that she won’t miss anything if she takes a nap. She sings and talks to herself (technically, she speaks for her animals). She has a stuffed dog named Woofie that she loves to pieces. Literally pieces. Woofie has had more than one reconstruction surgery by my mom. Cari is tall and has big feet, like grown-up feet. She has her daddy’s blue eyes, and the most enviable hair EVER. Her least favorite chore/job: drying her hair. That’s a fight every night. She knows how to use the word ironically correctly. She doesn’t ask for a little brother or sister because I think she knows that we won’t have as much time for her. She keeps her room neater than we keep ours. She cleans the toilet and the sink for fun.

I know that every parent is crazy about their kid. I’m crazy about mine. She’s not perfect, and I’m so glad. I couldn’t bear it. But she’s a wonderful human being and I can’t wait to see what the next nine years will look like.

(Yikes. In another nine years, she’ll be 18 and going off to college. How’s that for a wakeup call?)

Fear. A four-letter word.

Fear is a funny thing. It protects us from doing stupid things, like jumping from rooftops into tiny backyard pools. It makes overcoming an obstacle, like delivering a speech in front of a class, so much more of an accomplishment. But it also prevents us from doing things that might grow us, might teach us something, might make us feel brilliantly happy and alive. I hate fear, and unfortunately, I spend a lot of time avoiding the sensation. I guess it’s not a bad thing that I fear heights, because that’ll keep me from jumping off rooftops, but some of my other fears have held me back. And my fears seem to be rubbing off on Cari.

Yearly, the local Catholic church and school puts on a massive carnival, complete with colorful, cheerful rides, ridiculously unhealthy food, and the prerequisite carnival games in which winners can take home a sad little goldfish, at least for one night anyways.  The carnival always looks way more fun than it actually is; the spiraling lights tempt, even me, to come and spend more money than I should, and I always come home feeling a little dirty; physically, because I always wear flip flops and the carnival grounds are all sand, and emotionally, because the carnival is like one big glut of food, rides, and games.

This year, Cari caught a glimpse of the carnival one day on our drive home from school and must have read the sign declaring the dates of when the carnival would be open, because on Saturday night, when Stu, Cari, and I drove home from a late dinner, she perked up at the pretty lights and declared that she wanted to go.  She was certain that Sunday would be the last night.  Stu, of course, said that he was interested in taking her.  True to form, I said I didn’t want to go, but an interest in photographing the spectacle encouraged enough enthusiasm for me to agree to go for an hour and a half.

A word about Cari: we don’t often like to share with her what our plans are.  She is very much her mother’s daughter, because once she knows that some event is tentatively planned, she will insist upon knowing all of the details.

“What are we doing this weekend?” she’ll ask.

“Well, on Saturday, I thought we could go to the Spring Fling at Mrs. Lynn’s church.  Then on Sunday, we’ll go to church.”

“What are we doing after Spring Fling?”

“Well, I’m not sure.  We should probably clean the house and do some laundry.”

“Are you working at church this week?”

“No, baby, not this week.”

“Who are we having lunch with after church?”

“I don’t know, Cari, we haven’t made plans yet.”

“What about after lunch?  What are we doing then?”

It’s hard to deal with a child who insists upon knowing details when I don’t always have the details.  On the weekends, I relish my peace.  I recharge all the energy I’ve spent during the week dealing with my high maintenance students and don’t always have the brain space to deal with my own high maintenance child.  So Stu and I are VERY vague about our plans, often hiding plans from her until we’re literally on our way.

So when we let it be known on Saturday night that we would consider going to the carnival, that’s all she wanted to talk about.

“I can’t wait to go on the Ferris wheel, Mommy!”

Well, the carnival didn’t turn out quite as we expected. After making a deliberate pass through, to get an idea of what was available, we bought Cari a $20 armband so she could ride all the rides she wanted. But my baby–my eight year-old, nearly as tall as some grown-ups baby–only wanted to ride baby rides. And she wasn’t allowed… She was too tall. What rides were left were big kid rides, rides like the Hurricane, a super fast, dizzying Dumbo-style ride that had Stu calling out for it to be over, bumper cars, the classic favorite, and of course, the Ferris wheel.

After riding a few rides and eating a slice of pizza in the shadow of the Ferris wheel, Cari decided that she was too scared to ride the Ferris wheel

Ugh. The science fair.

Earlier this year, Cari came home with a packet from school and a note that explained that since she’s in third grade, she would need to complete a required science fair project.  At first, I was really excited.  Cari showed early interest in magnets, so I jumped on the chance to help her with something she was actually into.  But in the months that followed, I (as mom) went through a ridiculous range of emotions.  Thankfully, this story ends well, because if it didn’t… well, I might not be sharing it here.


 

Blogging is eminently more satisfying than what I should be doing… that is, helping my daughter with her first ever Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fair project.  For real.  I have so many feelings.  First, I have all of these uncomfortable flashbacks to elementary school, sitting at this very table, finishing some project or another while my mom gripes at me because I procrastinated.  Ugh.  That might be the worst part… the feelings that this project is bringing up in me.  Dread.  Angst.  Anxiety.  Reluctance.  Laziness.

Then there are the feelings of frustration with myself and with Cari.  I should have started this sooner.  I should have found a better way to get my kid engaged.  I should be kinder to my daughter when she gets bored and frustrated to keep her from shutting down.  I should be tougher on my kid when she gets bored and frustrated to build her stamina.  How will she ever become some important innovator without these skills?  How will she ever be successful in school if I don’t instill the desire to discover, to learn in her?

Finally, there are the feelings I have as a teacher.  I know that Cari should be doing this work by herself.  She should be learning the scientific process.  She should be engaged in inquiry.  She should be doing this work.  She should WANT to do this work.   But she’s in third grade, and much of the content we’re working through together, the nature of magnets, how they work–that in itself is pretty complicated, involving atomic level activity that I don’t really understand myself–and questions of scientific inquiry that I don’t know how to answer.  For example, the project requires that students construct a hypothesis:

The purpose of creating your hypothesis is to identify what you think will happen based on research that was collected.  The hypothesis needs to be worded as an “if… then… because…” statement explaining the cause and effect relationship that is being investigated.  Evidence from your research needs to be used to support and justify your thinking.

Cari wrote the following:

“If a magnet is heated, then it will be stronger because they will become warmer.”

Now, I realize there is some circular reasoning present here.  I’ve worked on that with Cari.  But to explain why she thinks a magnet will be stronger when it is heated requires some very complex research.  In fact, the research doesn’t support that conclusion.  There is no reason why a heated magnet should be stronger than a cooled magnet.  But this is what my daughter wanted to study.  So we studied it.  

I’m not opposed to this project.  Lord, I hope it helps Cari get interested in STEM, because as it stands, she’s very much her mother’s daughter, loving stories and the arts.  At least she’ll have a job if she loves and excels in STEM.  I’m not opposed to the time it has taken.  I am opposed to the implication that my third grader could independently complete a STEM project like the one she’s been assigned with any real scientific accuracy.  She doesn’t know how to effectively research scientific concepts, nor does she know how to construct a research plan.  She doesn’t know how to write a hypothesis or an abstract.  And I don’t know how to teach her.


 

We finished Cari’s project two days before it was due.  I’m ashamed to admit that there were tears, not only from Cari but from me.  I can only hope that Cari doesn’t remember her mother’s freak out, but the joy and pride she felt when she went to the school science fair.  Because that was all her.  For as much drama as the backboard caused, Cari was the one to present the information, explain the experiment to the judges, and communicate all she learned.  We must have done something right.

Sometimes motherhood is messy

This post might be a little gross.  I’m warning you now.

I think mothers have some uncanny awareness of the overall wellbeing of our kids.  We can tell when our kids are complaining of tummy aches to avoid finishing their dinners and we can tell when a tummy ache is about to become a big mess.  Imminently.  I surprised myself this week reading this sickness in my daughter.  The whole family had spent much of our Sunday watching UVA win the ACC tournament (spoiler alert: I’m loading some blogs into the hopper ahead of my launch… sorry if that seems disingenuous) and my girl tells me she isn’t feeling well.  Complains of a tummy ache but not in the way of a whiny eight year old hoping to get out of eating salad.  She seems genuinely uncomfortable, so I warn her to go run into the bathroom if she feels like she needs to be sick.  Don’t think I’m cruel, but cleaning up vomit is one of my least favorite jobs of motherhood.  Well, within the hour, I find Cari curled over the toilet, losing everything she’s had to eat all day.  My poor baby.  Over the next six hours, I’m putting her into the shower to clean her up after multiple episodes, cleaning the floors and sterilizing the toilet, washing clothes, and in general comforting my sweet, sweet girl, who, despite her sickness, apologized to ME for making a mess.  I could have wept.

I said that I surprised myself.  It wasn’t the fact that I had gotten it right, that I had guessed my kid was really sick, that had me surprised.  What had me surprised was the selflessness I managed in the hours that followed.  Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to say that I deserve some mother-of-the-year award because I took care of my baby in her sickness.  In fact, my mothering is one of my greatest vulnerabilities, one of the areas in my life where I am most self-conscious.  I see awesome moms everywhere and I resent how “together” they have it: I’ve never been the kind of mom to make handmade valentines, to pack cute individual snacks for soccer, to write cute notes for Secret Santa gifts at dance.  In fact, I’m pretty selfish: I value my time reading, writing, working, and as a result I experience pretty epic mom guilt at not being the kind of moms I see at work or at church.  But when it came down to it, on this particular Sunday night, my baby had my undivided attention.  She had my every thought.  I found myself laying on the couch at 1:45 AM watching Veronica Mars so I could be awake and be available to her.  When I finally decided Cari had gotten through the worst of her bug, I moved into the bed with Stu where I tossed and turned until 3, waiting to hear if she needed me again.  I’ve spent much of today with her, mostly cuddling, because a fever has her pretty listless.  But I haven’t wanted to do anything else but be with her.

There is some pretty dangerous mom dialogue out there.  On the one hand, TV depicts all kinds of moms…  moms who scream at one another over leaked gossip, moms who manage to make three spectacular meals a day and blog about them, moms who drink so heavily they need their kids to look after them, moms who give up themselves in the interest of their children.  On the other hand, real life shows us all kinds of moms, too…  moms on Facebook who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with green pancakes and green smoothies (organic, of course) or moms at work who schedule play dates at the park complete with picnic lunches.  I’m guilty, too, of boasting on Facebook of how proud I am of Cari and her accomplishments.  And I am proud!  So very proud of my beautiful, sweet, smart, silly girl.  But I wish there was more realness in the world of motherhood: I wish I heard more of the struggles other mothers face, not because I would revel in anyone’s struggle, but because I see that I’m not alone.  Maybe then I could be more honest with my own issues.

At the end of the day, I’m snuggled in the bed with my little girl snuggled beside me, and she knows she’s loved and cared for.  I know that I’ve given her every bit of love and care I have inside me.  She has had a bad day, and even though it has been messy, we’re both content.  And I didn’t need any special show of motherhood to reveal how much I love my kid.

A few months ago, my church did a sermon series on this issue.  I’ve got this podcast loaded into my iPad for another listen, because I obviously need to hear it again.  Have a listen if you need the same encouragement I needed today.

Throwing up at Carrabba’s

I hadn’t been feeling all that great for days.  Weird stuff was happening.  I couldn’t brush my teeth in the morning without gagging.  My sense of smell was nuts.  I mean, NUTS.  I couldn’t figure out why I was so uncomfortable in my bras.  To most women, these symptoms are pretty obvious, but to a young woman whose closest friends hadn’t started having kids yet, well…  even I knew that I should maybe take a pregnancy test.

Stu and I went to Carrabba’s for dinner on the night we found out I was pregnant with Cari.  The Bruschette Scotty Thompson was delicious for almost 15 minutes before I started feeling sick.  I excused myself, leaving a concerned Stu at the table, and went to the bathroom where I threw up.  I’ll go pretty far to make sure I never throw up–it is THE worst sensation in the world–so I knew something was up.  But I didn’t tell Stu my suspicions right away; instead, I was quiet and thoughtful for the rest of the meal.  We left Carrabba’s to drive up to Hudson Beach for a peak at the water.  Sometime between Carrabba’s and Hudson Beach, I finally gathered the courage to tell Stu I thought I needed to take a pregnancy test.  That changed the trajectory of the night significantly.  Stu wasn’t impressed by my lack of urgency, especially considering my many, many symptoms.  I remember telling him, “But we just got here,” at his insistence that we leave Hudson Beach for home, as if I was crushed to leave that place.  I really think I was avoiding the inevitable, thinking that a confirmation could wait until I was one of those women on I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.  

Stu and I had only just gotten engaged on my birthday that July, and we certainly would have liked to be married before getting pregnant.  Plus, there was the added complication that we were in the middle of classes for membership in a local church.  Couples have babies out of wedlock all the time, but this pregnancy wasn’t at all what we had planned for ourselves.

Stu drove me to my apartment at about 70 miles per hour, stopping at a 24-hour CVS.  I should add here that I didn’t step foot into that CVS again for years.  Literally years.  It was as if I was attempting to pay CVS back for being the bearer of such scary news.  We bought a digital read test, convinced that we needed the clearest result possible, even though the digital read test took much longer, according to the box, for a result.  It turns out that a digital read test doesn’t take that long after all.  I had the result before I was finished washing my hands.

I was eight weeks pregnant, a doctor confirmed the following Monday.  Cari was born in May of the following year.

It’s hard to believe now how much drama Stu and I had when we discovered we were pregnant with her.  Now I can’t imagine my life without her.  That seems cliche to type, too cliche to communicate the complexity of how motherhood has shaped my identity.  I don’t even remember who I was before I had Cari.  It’s as if I wasn’t fully ME until I became her mom.  But I’m so blessed to help shape the person she’s becoming.Cari