Lessons Learned From Park Day

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Today is the last park day of summer 2018. The local public school started last week, but we homeschool moms like to pretend that we are free for a week or two longer. (Ha! We’re never free.) My sister and I (she’s the one that is actually a good teacher and knows what she’s doing) have been doing park day for a LONG time. I think we started when our 21-year-olds were probably 3? You learn a lot by watching moms at the park.

I’m what you would call a “free-range mom.” I’ve been this way for about as long as I’ve had kids. It’s just easier and more natural for me to be hands-off and low-stress. I can’t imagine the energy it takes to be a helicopter parent, and the kids don’t seem to be happier. Less is more is a win-win, right there. Still, I vaguely remember what it was like to be a young mom with ideals, schedules and clean laundry. My sister-in-law occasionally reminds me how I used to keep a journal of when, what and how much my oldest ate, slept and pooped. I honestly didn’t remember this.

Contrast that with one of our first park days last summer. We live in a tiny, rural town with a podunk city park. The bathrooms are abysmal, and they don’t always have them open right when our summer break starts. That’s always fun considering that we tend to stay all afternoon. Last summer, my youngest was about 3 1/2, and we were still new to potty training. (I bought my oldest a potty chair for his second birthday. That was dumb, and once I finally got him to stop peeing his pants well past 4, I never attempted it again. Changing diapers is vastly superior to dancing that jig for 2+years, but I digress.) He had to pee and rather than load up the kids and drive 5 miles home to the potty, I sent him to the bushes to do his business. Being 3, he dribbled a bit on the front of his pants. I spent maybe 15 seconds debating whether I would be a totally crappy mom if I didn’t go home and change him, ultimately deciding that maybe, yes, but it just wasn’t worth the hassle. It would dry in 15 minutes, and there was no reason to ruin our outing for appearances. I sent him back to his friends, and we had a lovely afternoon.

Moms judge. It’s a mark of insecurity to want to hold up our choices and ways as superior to others because, heaven knows, we feel anything but better most of the time. It’s natural, but it’s not nice. Parenting isn’t us against them. As a pretty experienced mom, though, it’s always interesting to watch this play out on the playground. I can always tell the moms that haven’t learned this lesson yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not laughing at or mocking them in my head. It’s mostly a quiet and gentle acknowledgement that the lessons will come, and they will come out kinder and more understanding of the mess of motherhood.

I don’t remember getting any sly looks the day that I let my kid play in slightly peed pants, but we’re always checking for the disapproval, aren’t we? While I’m aware, it doesn’t offend me anymore. There’s a luxury to gaining confidence and owning your own personal magic. It allows me to make space for those mothers that are awakening to the fact that we’re all imperfect and we can ultimately control pretty much nothing that our kids do or say. I know you’re doing your best. That you’ve painstakingly brushed their hair and found their shoes and picked matching clothes. So, when you mentally decide to say “screw it” when your kid pees his pants and just stay and play, there’s room on my bench for you. I’ve been there, done that and have a stash of tee-shirts that I freely share. Consider yourself initiated, just watch out for that wet spot.

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I Was Just Having a Bad Day…

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I’ve been a writer for a long time and a parent for even longer, but I didn’t intend to start a blog about either today, really. In fact, today started out as just another day. I had to take my 17-year-old daughter to see her foot surgeon for a follow up of her ankle surgery and go to the post office because my 21-year-old son’s college textbook was stuck in the post office lock box that wouldn’t open. When I got home, I figured I could have my 15-year-son try and determine how far behind he was on last year’s math so that he could maybe be ready to start a new book next week. (Yes, there’s a lot of kids. That’s not even quite half of them. They range from 21 to 5. And, we homeschool. Don’t worry. I’m pretty bad at it.) That’s when things went south.

My 15-year-old is my challenging child. He always has been. Okay, fine. I remember him being a very sweet baby and pleasant if determined toddler. But, by the time he hit Kindy, he was, uh, difficult? Spirited? I don’t even know. I’m trying to be positive here. That was also around the time that his little brother, number five, joined our family. I have no idea if these things are related or not. Anyways, there’s a lot of conflict that involves this particular child of mine, and he communicates poorly, so things frequently get tense and frustrating. Like today, with his math lesson. After my attempt to communicate where his progress stood and whether or not we might be ready for school next week didn’t go well, I spontaneously posted the following on my Facebook page:

I know it’s not a Pinterest-worthy sentiment, but I don’t “enjoy” motherhood. I have a particular child that I’m in active conflict with pretty much daily, and it’s been like that for probably a decade. I’m exhausted and feel like I’m doing a crappy job almost all the time. Not going to lie, some days I find it the ultimate cosmic cruelty to put people in dynamics where they’re socially and morally responsible for another person’s behavior when the actual truth is you can’t control anyone else. Feel free to leave your own confession. I clearly won’t judge. #notpinterestworthy

I’m all about being real. In fact, it’s kind of my MO, you could say. Years ago, when I still kind of felt like I knew what I was doing, I stumbled across a little book called “Confessions of a Slacker Mom,” and that book became my mothering mascot, in a way. My permission to be okay with not always being okay in this gig. So, I don’t sugar coat things, really. I feel like we don’t do each other any favors by pretending that the pristine and polished online world is where we all live. Because, I don’t. Still, even I was surprised at what a response this spur-of-the-moment post generated.

This Facebook post went live at 6:45 on a Tuesday afternoon, and I had over 50 replies by the time I went to bed at 10:00. All from moms with their own stories of living in the real world. Women that thanked me for saying out loud what they all felt and were too afraid to admit. Parenting can feel like an island of isolation and loneliness where the perfectly portrayed world around looks nothing like the life you live everyday. The real truth is that we’re all in this together. I find beauty in the mess in so many ways, and I find sisterhood in knowing that I have a tribe that lives right there with me. I don’t know all the directions I might take this blog, but I hope that the journey we walk will make you feel like someone understands and that you’re not alone. Because, you’re not. Either way, it will be therapeutic for me to write about my crazy, messy, wonderful life. It’s #notpinterestworthy, but I still love it.

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