Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: babies (page 1 of 6)

Halfway to Launch

Nine.

Not four or five, the way he is forever etched into my memory (as my early parenting years seem to be sticking like  a case of PTSD and I’m perpetually believing that my children are 4, 3, 2, and newborn). Now my biggest is nine.

In case you’ve not done that math before, the average age of a student at graduation from high school is 18. This means I’m at the halfway mark. Half over; gone. Half to go. We’ve accomplished so much, come so far, and yet we have that distance again – and this next half will be even tougher. We have the exhaustion of this first leg coupled with brand new terrain. For the oldest kid, that’s always the toughest part – learning to roll with the new conditions. Figuring out how to navigate new things; social relationships change, what he believes to be true about himself changes.

It’s in this second leg that he will begin to unwrap what it means to love someone outside his familial tribe. He will switch gears, not just learning how to learn, but absorbing the ways of the world and synthesizing it into his own unique viewpoint as the basis of his operating mode. He will press into the boundaries of independence, and it’s his job to begin to explore. The expanding nature of the universe requires that he will go places and take steps that I never did. I can translate my wisdom and experiences, but they will not be the same.

In many ways, it would be easier if he would just do the same as me. I could tell him exactly how to step; his feet could fall into stride with my own footprints. I could ensure his safety this way, falling into any holes first. My head says this is the safest way to go about getting through this second half of childhood. But I know this isn’t the existence I want for him.

My heart says to teach him how to spot a hole, how to step mindfully, and send him in his own direction. I love my life, but do I really think that repeating it is the best thing this world has to offer him? I’ll welcome him to trail along, if that’s what he wants; a life of small-town living and tending to home-things is on the menu from which he can order. But if he’s feeling like a big city dream, then I want to give him the tools to take that route. If he yearns to be an adventurer, literally sailing or exploring, then I want to teach him the baseline skills to make it happen.

My job isn’t to pull him along on a leash. Of course, that’s the easiest way. And a little bit of the first half of childhood is exactly that; keeping them close so they can learn the ropes. They get familiar with the routes and explore from a governed distance.  Then we remove the leash but bring it along, giving a bit more distance. Our voice is always near and they circle back often. Finally, someday, we open the door and send them out; they return when they want a break or are hungry or tired or lonely. They know how to return home.

launchThis second half of childhood will be a lot less leash, yet still taking the trek with him. Honestly, this is harder on me than him, feeling the weight of this useless leash in my pocket, watching with worry, wondering how far is too far? can he hear me from here? does he have his eyes out for this turn?  

The analogy isn’t perfect; I’m raising a human, not training a puppy. The ultimate goal of training a puppy is to have an obedient dog, one that stays with you forever. That’s not the description of a grown man, able to contribute to society both in meaningful work and in living a life that radiates peace, joy, and love to his family, community and greater world. This will take far more nuance than running familiar routes and giving firm commands.

We were intentional about the methods we engaged for parenting our children for the first half. Now that he’s able to tie his shoes and pack his lunch and do his laundry and walk to the park by himself, I find myself having to think critically again about how to engage this second half.

This half has much more to do with trust: trusting myself (and JJ), that we’ve laid a good foundation of love and acceptance. Trusting him, that he’s in tune with the goodness of his birthright and living from that place more often than not. Trusting the world, that we can gracefully allow others to make mistakes when it’s safe to fail. Trusting my community to love him and accept him, even when he’s not perfect.

So here we go. Staying close, walking free, in this year of nine.

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Leaving the Homeland

Remember when I wrote about how we need to live and work not just according to our strengths, because those other places will eventually need strengthened? Well, this is why: Soccer season.

This year the biggest 3 decided to play, which many people would celebrate and I at least pretend to. But now the reality has set in, and I’m delivering children to a soccer field every night of the week during the prime of Jr. High football season, rendering JJ useful only to other people’s children.

I know this is no new news to most people with a child over the age of 5. This is the way the world of big kids works. You shuttle, you shuffle, you keep lawn chairs in your trunk and you beg your mother-in-law to help ferry children about in exchange of promises of the best nursing home someday. (A long time away, someday.)

And I know most people can roll with this climate. They do not understand why I would have an existential crisis over knowing when to feed my children dinner. Ah, but they are not raised in the Wingfield Way: Making simple decisions challenging, since, forever.

If I ask three Why’s (which continues to be one of the best bits of wisdom for getting to the actual issue), it’s not about dinner or time in the car, or even the pace at which our August and September is charting. I’m staring down at newness, and a little bit of grief.

After a million years of experience having a thousand little ones in my home, day after day, my life is shifting significantly this year. While I dance in celebration of a few days of peace to get actual work done, this new land of bigger kids is foreign. You’re asking a mom with top notch sippy-cup filling experience to know how to consistently arrive on time for pick ups and drop offs, which is the equivalent of asking a music teacher to take over the phys ed program. Of course it can be done, but not without practice and patience and instruction and a bit more patience.

In a million ways, I love Big Kid Land. The oldest two are a whole lot of fun right now; I love seeing their personalities and interests and the way they see and experience the world. I love that they want to try new things. I don’t bemoan the next stage. It’s not bad, it’s different. The newness is still so shiny, I can barely look at it directly.

But there’s something about the place where you began, in little kid world. I see mamas nursing babies and think, awww, me too! only to realize it’s been four years since I’ve had to unsnap at the sound of a whimper. I’m not actually in that place anymore.

I’ve been shipped to a new land, and I only speak small phrases of the language, and “donde esta el bano” is “which field are we going to?” My native tongue is only useful in small neighborhoods around me. Now I must learn a new language, new customs and ways of interacting with society. I get messages from coaches saying, “this is a travel team. We have home and away games, as far as Arcadia,” and I feel like I need a translator.

Growing up is terribly hard, and I think it only gets more challenging as we get older. Growing up as an adult is simply the worst. We’re not as flexible as we used to be, we have our habits and our ways which can be helpful but also can slow us down. But if we’re living, we’re growing. Sameness shouldn’t be our goal, for we will be sorely disappointed and miss out on new beauty with our narrow direction.

Here’s to us, mamas (and daddy’s), learning and growing beside those we’re raising. May we have grace with ourselves. May we have an openness to the new and unknown. May we receive the blessings of a new stage and a new land with gratitude and joy.

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The blessing of the youngest

The youngest’s birthday passed without much remark due to circumstance; we spent the day like the previous 4 and the following 2, at the beach and in the pool with the family. We had celebratory (GF) brownies and he managed to get everything he asked for throughout the day. The following morning he attempted to extort something from his papa, and he was informed that it was no longer his birthday, so he couldn’t have everything he wanted.

This didn’t compute for the little guy, mainly because most of his life he gets what he wants.

These babies of the family . They’re something else. And I argue there’s a mathematical equation that relates the number of children in a family to the yountest-ness of the youngest. The baby of two simply doesn’t bear as much youngest-ness as does the baby of nine. I’m sure someone has written a thesis about this. And while someone with a Ph.D. can argue that the trend exists, I’ll pontificate on why it tends to be, at least as it has grown from my own experience.

As parents continue to have more children, we have to open up our hands (and our hearts) a bit more to make it all fit. So, naturally, we let go. Those firsts, we hold tightly.  The voice of our duty to love and protect rings in our ear. We want the best; we strive for it. We take in everything we can as we learn along the road of parenthood. We see things sitting along the side of the road and we put it in the garage “in case we need that someday” because we just don’t know what is coming along next. It’s likely we’ll parent our firsts all the way through in this manner.

As our youngests grow, we get more familiar with the terrain. We learn what we might need and what just gets too heavy to carry along. It’s like comparing our first trip to Disney last week, our backpack filled with all the “essentials” to my cousin, who makes multiple trips per year, and walks through the gate empty handed. He knows exactly what he’ll need in a day, and where to find it so that he doesn’t have to carry it along.

So in the experience of parenting our youngests, things get lighter. We still have the same desires to make things right and good for our children, to offer them the most opportunity and help them become the best humans they were created to be. Yet we also recognize that lugging along a spare of everything “just in case” won’t be what makes it happen. The day won’t be ruined because we didn’t bring a second tube of sunscreen, it will be ruined when we loose sight of the fun that exists without trying damn so hard.

And so goes parenthood. We won’t ruin our children because we didn’t do X, Y, and Z. I think our chances are much higher that their childhood becomes a negative experience when we carry the baggage of the shoulds, the musts, and the if-we-don’ts.

So, the baby of this family gets more of what he wants. (And let’s be honest. The little guy deserves to get a few privileges to make up for the the massive amounts of hand-me-downs he has had to, and will continue to, endure.) Now it matters less what he believes to be true when he gets to pick his own spoon rather than use the one I’ve given him. That’s a power struggle I no longer need to win, because I don’t carry the fear of being “wrapped around his finger.”  I’m making space to carry the parenting essentials for all of these children and the if-we-don’ts won’t fit in my pocket anymore.

Essentially, I fear less with the youngests. Fear is tiresome, and it has robbed me of too many beautiful moments with my firsts, and I don’t want it to get the best of my youngests.

I read an unattributed quote the other day that said, you can do things out of love or you can do things out of fear; but you cannot serve two masters. My parenting approach has shifted with more babies and much of this is because what I mistook for love was actually fear. And honestly, as I keep parenting my oldests, it continues to be the case. These unknown trails of raising humans are wrought with fearful moments and places. With every new developmental stage and age, I remember, once again, that I have no idea what I’m doing. (And I’m getting better of remembering that no one else does, either.)

As a human being, I’m wired for fear, to protect myself and my species, so there’s no shame in that. The gift of these youngests lies in familiarity, remembering that I need not to be afraid all of the time. Now I get to live – and parent – from a different place.  Instead of traveling with constant concern of what lies behind the bushes, I now get to walk the path of raising children with a bit more reverential beholding of the beauty of it all.

 

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