Our seven-year-old- came downstairs this morning looking disgruntled. I looked up, and as our eyes greeted each other, I noticed the water sitting at the edge of his lids.
“Good morning, love. What’s wrong?”
He looked at me, eyes full, “I do not want to go back to school.” He melted into my outstretched arms, skin still warm from his sheets. I carried him to the couch and snuggled him for a moment- his body reminding me that the days of being carried to the couch in the morning, were fading away.
Today marks the beginning of our first full week of school. After 165 days at home together, I admit that this routine- the early morning, mask wearing, homework doing, lunch packing routine- is both exhausting, and totally glorious. His body still cradled in my arms, I lifted my chin from his head and asked, “What is bothering you? Why don’t you want to go back to school?”
His expression questioned my intentions, as he answered, protesting, “I just want to stay home with you. ”
I pulled him closer, and reminded him that these days are the ones we prayed for. The days that school would reopen, and we would see friends, be healthy and things would feel normal. And while all of those prayers weren’t answered exactly as we envisioned, we were living part of what we prayed for, and for that we should be thankful. Deep down, my mothers heart also loved the fact that my not-so-little-boy, wanted to be home with his loving, attentive, fun, mother. I was obviously better than school. I didn’t blame him for wanting to stay home.
As soon as I finished my explanation of why he should be so thankful for the days we have at school, and allowed my mother ego to swell, he looked up, exasperated by my explanation and replied, “You don’t understand! I want to stay home with you and just take it easy like you do all day while we are at school.” End scene. He did not just say that.
I am confident that I did not even take a breath or allow my patient, attentive, fun, loving, mother heart take a single beat, before the defensive, unappreciated, ignored, mother heart stepped in, to correct this clearly misinformed child.
“I’m sorry. WHAT? I do NOT lay around and take it easy all day. Do you think I lay around and take it easy all day? Is this because I read a book outside yesterday? That was one day. I am reading these books for a class I am teaching. And it was SUNDAY. It was a day of rest. I do not rest on all the other days. I barely even rest on Sundays.”
I’m sure I went on. And probably one more “on” after that. But his eyes had already dried. And his body had already uncoiled. And his attention was turning toward the TV, and not about my explanation and justification about why I took some time to rest on a Sunday, and how obviously productive and full or work the rest of my life was. I lost my audience.
I was not ready to let this go. I strolled into the kitchen to finish making the kid’s lunches, and my husband caught my “look”. I said, “Can you believe what he just said?” He looked back at me with the look all seasoned husbands do- the one that says, whatever the right answer is, is the one I want to say. He replied, “I didn’t hear him. What did he say?” Well played.
My answer exploded out of me. “He just said that he’s crying because he doesn’t want go to school and would rather sit around here and TAKE IT EASY ALL DAY LIKE I DO! Like I TAKE IT EASY? ALL day? Can you believe he said that? It’s because I read that book yesterday. I don’t just sit around here reading books all day. I am reading to prepare for my class.” Again, I am certain I went “on”.
He was quiet long enough for me to look at him. He smirked, knowingly, “Oh you mean you just don’t sit around here all day and take it easy?” He obviously loves me enough, to make this interaction lighthearted and hope that my ego can handle this exchange with a little boy who just wants a longer time in his bed or a few more minutes on the couch to see what will happen in this episode of whatever series the Disney Channel is playing. He smiled, gave me a little love tap, and went upstairs to shower.
“Ugh. So annoying!” I forced a laugh. And the morning rolled on.
I resigned from my four years ago. Well, it was really three, but this is the start of the fourth school year that I will be home with my kids. I can reflect and see the humor of some of the contrasting emotions I had about myself then, and now. As proud as I was of the work I was doing and as much as I absolutely loved my profession as an educator and a principal, I was so ready to shed the weight that came with that role. The expectations and demands of the job were so high, or at least that’s how I felt as I lived it, that I couldn’t wait to shed the title- not necessarily the work. Now, sometimes I feel desperate for a title that exists outside of my family. One that will give me a clue or reminder of who I am outside of my roles as mom and wife. Sometimes I long for a title that would force me to pick a well-defined direction, and help me avoid the searching, coasting, and avoiding- the unknown that comes with self-discovery. All of that, while still knowing that the deepest parts of my heart half mom and wife are the most sacred titles I hold.
As we went on with our morning, I wondered why this conversation with our son bothered me so much. While I would have loved to have this interaction have meaning by making it something that he needed to work on- seeing outside of himself, knowing me on another level, recognizing all I do for our family- I knew that all of this was really about ME. It was not about the book reading, or him seeing me relax on one summer Sunday, this was about my realization that our son didn’t recognize a purpose I had outside of serving his needs, or his brothers or their dads. What bothered me was that our son didn’t know the other parts of me that existed while he was away. Our son didn’t know the other parts of the individual ME.
Some of my child’s feelings have to do with his age- developmentally appropriate for a little person who is still learning how to meet his own basic needs and feel his own not-so-basic feelings. Some of this is a simply manipulation- a desperate attempt to not have to do something he doesn’t want to do. But this also called to action something in me that I have thought about as our kids have finally (finally!) gone back to school. I don’t think that our kids know that as an individual, I still have my very own dreams. What bothered me about this situation was not only that our son not know these parts of me, but that I had not done a good job of showing him.
Over the last four summers that I have been a stay-at-home mom, the beginning of the school year leaves me anxious. Summer break has meant time together- dedicated to making sure that the days, minutes and hours we spend together count. That the kids remember their childhood summers as somewhat enchanted, and their mother as dedicated, fun and loving. And while I’m sure that’s not exactly how I execute things, and not exactly what they will remember, the expectations I set for the kind of mother I need to be during the summer, often leaves me a bit fried and depleted. It also makes the quiet of the kids going back to school, deafening. And it is deafening, because the kids are gone and I am left with myself. All of me-that I spent the summer ignoring- is there waiting.
When the kids go back to school, I will have to face myself and decide if I will continue to avoid the things that are calling me, or listen to them and get to work.￼ I will need to put aside the comfort of “doing” to be busy, and start the “doing” of thing that may bring me discomfort, but will promise growth.
￼￼￼Today awakens me to a realization that I need to do a better job talking to my kids about my purpose. So often we spend time talking to them about their purpose, interests and dreams- accidentally reinforcing the selfish behaviors and thoughts that are part of their time in development- and forget that it is also our job to help them think outside of themselves, not only globally or in the community, but also in our family. I want our kids to know the other things that I dream about doing. They see their dad working tirelessly to support our family and build a business that he is proud of. We talk about their dad’s projects and dreams, and work ethic. But because I have been busy trying to define what my new dreams look like, we rarely discuss mine. And that is not on them. That, is on me.
Tonight, as my kids get in the car, I will ask them about their day and focus on what is important to them. We will talk through their events and the feelings and their excitement and the disappointment. And, in answer to my call to action, I will also ask them to listen to things about my day. I want them to know that I have interests and dreams outside of my role as their mother- not because I don’t care about theirs, but because I know I can best support their dreams, their needs, and their ability to know what it looks like to raise yourself through adulthood, by doing things for myself. I want them to know that listening to this voice, will lead me toward happiness and fulfillment. And a happy and fulfilled mother will be the best one for them. Honestly, I am still working on seeing these feelings as essential, and not selfish.
When looking for a partner, or people to spend our life with, we can’t help but pull from our experiences in our family of origin. I want our children to choose a partner in life that shares their values, but I also want them to choose someone who has as much interest in being fully themselves and following their dreams as they do. Because if they choose to live life with a partner, it will only be in that type of partnership that will my boys grow into the men that they were meant to be. Only in that partnership where both people dream and grow and desire things for themselves and as a couple, will they evolve in their partnership as people and as a team beyond their wildest dreams. I want them to know that that is possible, so that they search for that for themselves, and have a model of what the work looks like. I want to work harder to be that model.
If the last two years of our lives have taught me anything, it’s that life can go 1,000,000 miles an hour and as slow as a snail. We can feel like some things will last forever, and at the end of it realize how quickly it flew by- left wondering if we did enough with the time that we were given.
If you are a parent that has their child going back to school, or crave the ability to see yourself outside of the roles that you exist in- do not be afraid to look at what is lurking beneath the surface and asking you to pay attention. That is where the dreams hide, waiting to be given permission to crawl to the surface. If you are brave enough to let them out, they will shine in the daylight, begging to be seen for what they are- for you to try them on to see who you are, or who you are becoming.
I don’t know about you, but I have waited long enough to see what is just below the surface. Below the titles, and the obligations and the responsibilities. I also know that the time I have to examine them may feel like a thousand hours, or the blink of an eye.
Today, is for dreaming. For knowing. For the unveiling of my other self. I can’t wait to see what my dreams look like in the light of day.
And to tell my kids all about them after school. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼
Let’s get to work raising ourselves.
Mother, Wife, Teacher and Believer.