Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lessons From an Almost Grown-Up

A few months ago a friend encouraged me to enter an essay contest in a magazine, with the topic being "When Did You First Realize You Were a Grown-Up?" Well, I entered, but didn't win (thanks for the vote of confidence, though, Missy!)... So here is the essay I wrote (I've changed it just a little bit to bring it up to date):

When I was 19 years old, Jeremy and I were faced with the daunting task of informing our respective parents that I was pregnant. My future mother in law was kind enough to inform me, “You’ll have to grow up in a hurry now!”
There was a scary thought. Growing up. Oh sure, I was about to be married, but that was just playing house. Having to take care of a baby? This was something completely foreign to me. I spent my entire pregnancy in mortal terror of this concept of “growing up”. Like Wendy Moira Angela Darling, I wanted to stay young, and the inevitability of motherhood was as horrifying as Mr. Darling’s dire edict banishing his daughter from the nursery (although in my case, I was being banished TO the nursery). If Peter Pan had come knocking on my window that night, I would gladly have flown out after him without a backward glance.
Still, I braved my way through it, shaking in my proverbial boots every step of the way (or rather, my comfortable walking shoes and support hose). Perhaps a part of me thought that when they laid that little whimpering bundle in my tired arms, I would feel the grown up effect starting to work. On the contrary, I felt smaller, younger, and “scareder” than I’d ever felt.
It’s been over six years and two more kids since that life-altering occasion, and I’m still waiting for this momentous evidence of “growing up”. As a mother of three, I feel like I’ve got the part down fairly well. I feed my kids when they’re hungry, bathe them when they’re dirty, kiss boo-boos, and cuddle them at bedtime. I give them the “No cookies for breakfast speech”, and Lord knows I’ve got the “because I’m the mom and I said so” speech down.
Before I had kids, I thought I had it all together; I thought I was a full-blown adult, ready to take on the world and all it’s problems. Now I realize I can barely handle my own problems, much less the problems of a universe tilting out of control. Every morning I wake up, feeling like that scared 19-year-old girl starting all over again. There are so many things that can happen in a day to bring back that feeling of complete bewilderment, of total helplessness. A flat tire while my husband was out of town, and which I had no clue how to change. A mouse in my pantry (also while my husband was out of town; why does it always work that way?), and I couldn’t for the life of me get that trap set. A terrifying moment in Target when I couldn’t find my 3-year-old daughter: she had had a potty accident and hidden in the clothes rack because she was embarrassed. All these things add up to a huge deficit in my feelings of “grown up-edness”.
I’ve tried to pinpoint a moment when I thought maybe the growing up had begun: Was it the first time I paid car insurance? The first time I looked at my youngest brother and realized he was almost a foot taller than me? Or the time my 5 year old son asked me how old I was, and when I responded, “25”, he said, “Oh. Ouch!” Or when he started kindergarten and I realized my family of late sleepers would have to wake up at 6:30 in the morning every day for what seems like the rest of our lives (There was a responsible grown up moment at it’s very worst). Maybe the first time I really started to feel grown up was when I went to the ABC store all by myself and bought my first bottle of liquor all for myself (You may laugh, but this was actually very recent). Sometimes I watch the little teenage girls in the mall, and marvel at their youngness. I always feel like I’m stuck at perpetual 17, until I see those girls. Then my age hits me with the force of a 50-ton tub of anti-wrinkle cream. I remember being 17; thinking I was so grown up and I owned the world. It’s a scary day when the 17 year olds look young. Really though, all this is relating getting older to growing up. And we all know that age does not equal maturity. I really believe that growing up happens in a different way entirely than simply growing older.
I feel grown up when I make cookies with my kids. I feel grown up when I see my son teaching my baby girl how to play peek-a-boo. I feel grown up when my daughter grabs my hand and asks me to help her twirl. I feel grown up when I sense that deep love stir in my heart, warm my stomach, and claw its way up to tighten my throat with emotion every time I look at my kids (Okay, let's be honest: maybe not every time). I feel grown up every time I manage not to have a temper tantrum when I walk in the house and it looks like a toy store has thrown up all over it. And I feel grown up when my parents tell me they’re proud of the job I’m doing as a mother, when most days I feel as though it will only take one more mini-crisis for me to crack under the pressure.
These may seem like boring, insignificant, every day life occurrences to some. But I believe that that’s where the real growing up takes place. When we can sit through twenty-seven games of Candyland; when we can let go of a ten year old grudge just so we can teach our kids about the true power of forgiveness; and when we finally realize that growing up really isn’t all about the when but the how. I suppose that when I embraced that simple truth, the growing up really began.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Raising Grace-challenged Daughters

Clumsiness is a rather aggressive gene in my family. It runs rampant in the women on my mother’s side.

It’s unfortunate that I seem to have passed this gene on to my girls. Ashton can navigate a cluttered room, jump over a basket of laundry, do a kick-flip off the side of the couch and land it without a scratch. Poor Chloe, however, cannot so much as walk across a flat surface without tripping over her own pigeon-toed feet (which also runs in my family).

I myself, cannot walk through a room without getting injured somehow. Most of the time I realize I have bruises with no memory of how they got there. Growing up I was always gangly and knobbly-knee’d. Unfortunately I haven’t outgrown the “gorilla arms” of my adolescence, inviting even more accidents- my elbows and hands are my most commonly injured appendages. I like to think that I’m “endearingly clumsy”. True, Jeremy does often call me a klutz, but it seems to be said more out of exasperation than affection.

And now it seems as though Atleigh has inherited the Klutz Gene just as strongly. At first, I attributed it to her young age, her “toddlerhood”. Then, I thought maybe she had a cold, affecting her balance. But after having witnessed her fall out of a shopping cart, off the couch, out of the SAME folding chair four times, slam the toilet lid on her fingers, drop a toolbox full of Matchbox cars on her foot, poke herself in the eye with a hairbrush, step on HER OWN fingers, and pull a shelf-full of books down on herself, all within the last 24 hours, I have been forced to accept that she too, will live life with the ability to find an injury-inducing corner in a round room.

I guess the only thing I can do is prepare her for a lifetime of bruised shins and tingling funny bones, and teach her the proper way to hiss “SHhhhhh-OOT” under her breath when there are children around.