Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: motherhood (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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Imperfect Parenting and the River of Goodness

One of my greatest parenting successes has been convincing my children that a trip to IKEA’s “Smaland” is barely a step down from COSI. We treat it like a museum or McDonald’s PlayPlace – an event designed around their fun. (Little do they know, mama is accumulating a cart full of garlic presses and organizational bins.)

So on the Random Friday With No School, I decided a trip would be the best use of our time. JJ was off to other productive work, so all 4 kiddos and I headed to Canton. The lady working Smaland was less than excited to see me (she tried to exclude both my youngest and my oldest, but we easily fell within the height requirements on all fronts), probably because we take up 2/3 of the available kid allotment. They had fun not jumping in the balls, and I found the necessary non-brass light fixture. The kids opted for lunch in the Ikea cafe, so we headed upstairs.

Prior to walking through the line, we had a team meeting to clarify expectations: once food was ordered and on a plate, there was no changing of the minds. Everyone executed.  The line was a tad tricky, and we made it through without tears until we sat down and the youngest discovered that french fries had not come with the meatballs he requested. Mama was going to share, but there was no convincing him of anything. Trading plates of meatballs didn’t work. I couldn’t just take the other kids’ food – I’ve learned this the hard way. You just end up with more tears. The other kids were looking at me, waiting as patiently as possible for ketchup while the baby of the family melted into a puddle on the chair. And in my arms.

It was clear there was nothing I could do to save the day. I was powerless until he actually put some food in his belly and overcame the Hangry. I couldn’t leave him to get the ketchup. I couldn’t get him to settle down.

And then, the oldest took a handful of his fries and laid them on his brother’s plate. The other two kids followed suit. They dished off food until the tears stopped. We were finally able to fetch the condiments without nasty looks.

While I had maintained most of my composure during The Episode, I know my Bigs felt the energy of my defeat and frustration. For the rest of the meal, my oldest was beyond helpful, refilling water and ketchup without being asked. He hugged me no less than 4 times.

In the midst of their mama’s powerlessness, my kids stepped up. They realized that to make the best of the situation, they would all have to come together and help one another. This is a lesson they could never learn if I were to continually make the problems go away.

I can preach to them that we belong to one another or tell them to serve and love using more than their words. These will be quotes on a printable until I give them opportunity to put on shoes and take the ideas for a run. Without the chance to do it, they may never know what it feels like to live their values, which we all know is a whole lot different than simply believing something.

I’ve never felt like a perfect parent, and I’m confident my kids are aware of my flaws, so “imperfect parenting” isn’t just about me and my shortcomings. I’ve heard other parents talk about how in our mistakes we can show our kids grace and the need for forgiveness. But I think accepting our imperfections has wider implications.

To parent imperfectly means to stop filling 100% of the holes for my kids and let them learn how to clean up a leak. I think we should give them a chance to let their heart whisper “hey, go get a towel!” and then allow them to feel the sense of goodness that comes from doing a good thing that has grown from their own place in the world.

What if kids learned to trust their ability to do what is right and good?  What if they learned they actually have the capacity to change a situation, even if it’s only in the enjoyment of a meal as a family? Isn’t that still something worth doing?

Goodness is like a stream running throughout the universe. Sometimes we’re swimming in it, and sometimes we’re not. But I’m not sure the Goodness River is something that you can toss your kids into; they have to learn to jump. As a parent, the best thing I can do is to dive in as often as I can, and assure them that they’ll float when I see them standing on the banks, contemplating a swim. And, as they come up from under the waters, greet them with a smile that shows them how proud you are that they’ve decided to take the plunge.

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