When I was growing up, I had one of those milestone journals, chronicling all of my life's happenings as I moved through elementary school. Every year, it asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and every year, in addition to new interests like dentistry and horse wrangling, I would write that I wanted to also be a mother. Clearly, my own mother had made it look good.
While I never did become a dentist or a horse wrangler, I did become a mom. In many ways -- the good ways -- I'm turning into my mother, especially in how I'm raising my twin toddlers. When my mom was my age, she herself had two toddlers, 14 months apart; I think it's fair to say that her hands were once just as full as mine are now.
So who better to be my wise and honest guide, helping me navigate this new motherhood thing? When it gets hard, she's there to help, whether it's watching the boys or just pulling me out of the quicksand. She listens to me ramble on and on... and on and on... and on. She also gives me the "snap out of it" tough love that I often deserve. I think I'm actually a pretty good mom, if I do say so myself. It's 'cause I learned from the best. The biggies:
I learned to be brave.
As a kid, I was fearless -- climbing trees and doing high dives and swimming far out in the ocean, past the waves. It was inherent in me, this craving for adrenaline, and no one tried to discourage it. I don't remember my mother ever saying, "Come back here" or "Not so high." She didn't seem afraid, so I wasn't. As a result, I grew more and more confident in what I could do, and knew how to be safe.
I've always wanted that for my kids, and I think they come by it naturally. They'll climb ladders and rock walls, and scream, "Higher, higher," when I'm pushing them on the swing. Just last week, I put them on a zip line at a kids' gym and sent them both flying across the room, where they dropped into a foam block pit, squealing with delight. They did it over and over. My friends will tell you that I was terrified, but I don't think my boys had any idea. I knew, as my mom did, that you can't keep a brave kid down. I know that their curiosity and bravery will be an asset to them, even if it gives me heart palpitations for years to come.
I learned to embrace this chapter.
When my brother was born, my mom decided to stay home and raise her two under 2. She had never intended to be a SAHM, not with her brains and UC Berkeley degree. Still, she "dropped out" of the workforce and didn't return to it until we were about 8 or 9, and my parents had separated. She was active in our school, president of the parents' association, so she was technically "working." She just didn't have a career.
I work from home, part-time, but I'm essentially a SAHM. I struggle with this decision a lot, and wonder if I should be back at work, more focused on my career, doing more with my writing. I try to keep in mind, though, what my mom has told me, and what her own life path has taught me. It's that this time is short, and will be over in the blink of an eye. THIS, right now, is the best work I can be doing. When I'm ready to have a career again, it will be there, maybe in some unforeseen shape or form. When my mom ultimately went back to work, it was in a new field, one she has excelled at for the last 25 years. Since having grandkids, though, she's dialed it back a bit -- as a grandma, she wants to be able to embrace this chapter as well.
I learned to cut myself some slack.
Yes, my mom has encouraged me to enjoy this time, but she's also very honest about how freaking hard it is to be home with your kids every day. Whenever I'm exhausted or at the end of my rope or wondering why it's so hard sometimes, she tells me that it's OK, that it's normal, that most moms feel this way.
Did she feel this way? Apparently, yes, although I don't have any memory of that. It's good news, because I worry if my kids will remember that Mommy yelled, that Mommy cried, or that Mommy didn't want to play with Lincoln Logs right now. All I remember from my own childhood is total love and devotion and Mama Bear protection, so I'm hoping my boys will feel the same way.
She once described stay-at-home motherhood like this: Everyone starts the day with a full glass of water, ready to face what's ahead. At a job, that cup might start to run low, but then there's some word of praise, some small success or victory that fills you back up again. When you're home with young kids, you don't usually get that. It's not like your toddlers will tell you, "Hey, Mom, this PB&J is rocking. You're the bestest. Oh, and I'm sorry I didn't nap. Let me make it up to you with a foot rub." That glass of water gets depleted, and by the end of the day, you're tapped out. It helps me to know that it's less about my inability to handle it all, and more that mothering young kids just wears you out.
I learned to respect my kids.
My boys like to "do it all by myself" when it comes to pretty much everything. They want to put on their own shoes and pour their own water and buckle themselves into their car seats. If I've encouraged my boys to try things on their own, it's because it felt natural to me. They wanted to and so, at an early age, I let them. If they then ask for help, I give it to them. Now that they're older, I will ask them questions about their day, even it's just, "Hey, what did you have at snack?" I can tell that my boys feel like I really listen to them, and want to hear all -- OK, most -- of what they have to say.
When a teacher at their school mentioned my boys' "can-do" attitude, I bragged about it to my mom. She told me that she's always believed that children are little people, that you should ask them questions and allow them to do things themselves when they ask. She feels when you give kids respect, they will feel more confident, and respect you in return. She had raised us the same way. So that's where I got it from.
I learned to hug and kiss and love in excess.
To this day, I will say that there are few things I love more than a big hug from my mom. Even though I'm a couple of inches taller than she is, even though I'm in my mid-30s, she will reach up to wrap her arms around me, and breathe in deeply, smelling my hair the way she has since I was a kid. She has her own clean smell, like body lotion and face soap. And when she pulls me in and takes a deep breath, I take a deep breath, too. And let it all out.
We were always an affectionate family, I married an affectionate man, and now my kids are constantly smothered in affection. They sit on my lap when they're watching one of their shows or we're reading books and, while I have them hostage, I rub their arms and kiss their curly heads and hold their chubby little feet in my hands. I know it won't be long until I have to beg them for a hug or a kiss before bedtime. It won't be long until I'm getting, "Uch, Mom, no." So for right now, I'll take all the snuggles I can get, and give them with gusto. I want my children to always know, as I do, how much they are loved.
I learned that sometimes, the best thing you can do for your children is let go.
When I was 18, my mom dropped me off at college, on the other side of the country. Before she left, she hugged me tight, and smelled my hair, knowing it would be months before she would be able to do this again. I made her promise not to cry, and she didn't. I'm not sure how she kept it together, but she did. After she left, I found a letter on my bed from her. She told me that she was proud of me and that she knew that I could do this. She had given me all of the tools to live a brave, confident and happy life. She knew I would be OK, and so she let me go. That doesn't mean I've ever stopped needing my mom, though.
I will never have a daughter whom I can teach to be a good mother, and, yes, sometimes it makes me sad. Still, I have my incredible little boys whom I will help shape into incredible men. I will give them roots and wings, and the tools to live a brave, confident and happy life. It's what my mom did for me, and by doing the same for my sons, I know that I have made her proud. She taught me well.
This post is part of HuffPost Parents' Mother's Day series, exploring the lessons our moms taught us about parenting.
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