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Report cards came home a few weeks ago. I always look forward to report card time—seeing how my kids are progressing, where they’re excelling, where they’re struggling and so on. Report cards give me a glimpse into what they’re doing for six hours each day when they’re not with me.
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Each marking period as I glance over their grades, I am reminded of just how much boys are learning and growing every day. Their little minds are constantly being infused with new and exciting nuggets of information. And it got me to thinking: What about me? What about my report card? What have I learned and how have I grown? What nuggets of information have I gathered in my own adult-sized noggin?
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As I sit here just weeks after my 40th birthday, I find myself in a place of reflection. I’m looking back on my life in attempt to generate my own progress report. And in doing so, it occurred to me that so much of what I’ve learned over the course of my adult life has come in the way of motherhood.
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I’m not talking about the overt skills I’ve learned like how to change a diaper, how to nurse a sick kid back to health or how to adjust a palate expander. I’m talking about the intangibles—the more profound lessons that motherhood has to offer.
Sometimes we break, but we also heal. Last year, my son broke his thumb—in two spots. And oh how upsetting it was. His hand was purple, swollen and throbbing. He had to wear a splint for a month. He had to sit out of gym class, basketball and TaekwonDo for a month. He couldn’t rough house with his brother or jump off his top bunk for a month. He was an unhappy camper… for a month. But of course his body’s natural healing mechanisms kicked into gear and before he knew it, his thumb was good as new. His bone fused and he was back to living his active life once again.
Isn’t that true of our emotions, too? We sometimes break into what feels like irreparable pieces. But our minds, like our bones, have a wondrous capacity to heal. Life ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re at the top of our game while other times we’re sniffing rock bottom. But the whole of who we are at our core wants to heal. Our healing powers that reside deep within are always working and fighting to keep us going—be it a broken thumb or a broken spirit. Sometimes we break, but we also heal.
Mess is unavoidable. Roll with it. I hate disorder; it stresses me out. But as a parent of two nutty boys, living in chaos is the norm. On any given day, my home looks like a scene from animal house, my car looks like a locker room and my purse looks like a trash compactor.
After years of fighting the uphill battle—working tirelessly to bring order to the overwhelming disorder—I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that, as a mother, mess simply surrounds me. Rather than working myself to the bone trying to keep everything in line, I’ve learned to let go and just roll it. So the sink is full of dishes. So what? Is it gonna kill me to let those dishes sit while I play with my kids or watch an episode of Modern Family? Will I just crumble and die if I walk past the overflowing hamper of dirty laundry on my way out to lunch with a friend? Na. I’ve come to accept the fact that there will always be some mess somewhere calling out for my attention. But who cares? Why not enjoy life more and clean less?
Flexibility is essential. I’ve always had somewhat of a rigid personality; when things don’t go as planned, I become uneasy. Uncomfortable. Antsy. Flexibility has never been my strong suit. (Just ask my husband.) But life with kids requires flexibility—no ifs, ands or buts about it. Children are such unpredictable little things; they’ll throw a wrench into the best laid plans. Think of that fever that delayed the much anticipated summer vacation or the temper tantrum that cut the shopping trip short. We had to be flexible in those instances—there was simply no other choice.
Motherhood has trained me to take on a more flexible attitude. I have learned to harness the more adaptive side of myself and look at those unexpected situations with a let’s-make-the-most-of-it perspective rather than a why-oh-why-did-it-have-to-go-this-way? perspective. The end result: a happier, less rigid me.
Let go of control. I am a control freak—which is no doubt largely related to my aforementioned flexibility issues. When my kids were first born, I was in my glory; I had complete control over the little buggers. I was in charge of what they ate, what they watched and who they played with. I controlled their bedtimes, their bath times and their outfits. I, and I alone, was the decision maker of everything having to do with them. Sure my husband was right there beside me, but he knew better than to get in my way.
As my kids have grown, I’ve had to give up so much of the control I enjoyed during their early years. At 9 and 11, my boys have learned to think for themselves. Do I love every single friend they have or article of clothing they don? No, but I do respect their choices. Do I worry about them when they’re not in my care? Sure do! But at the end of the day, I have to let go and, to some degree at least, have faith in the decisions they make. This has been a tough lesson to internalize—but it is one that I now challenge myself to apply to all aspects of my life. I can’t control all that surrounds me—or even most of what surrounds me. I can only control my reactions. Being a mom has helped me to accept this fact.
Accept disappointment as a part of life. Last week, my son found out he didn’t make the “A” travel baseball team for Spring. It was a massive disappointment, given all the time and effort he’d put into his training. He had been feeling pretty confident he’d make the team and was devastated when he learned he did not. But once the knee-jerk reaction of disappointment subsided, I reminded my son (and myself, for that matter) that disappointment is an inescapable aspect of life. Nobody likes it, but everybody experiences it. I urged him to use this disappointment to push him harder towards his ultimate goal: playing competitive baseball.
I have this conversation with my kids often, as there’s always something that pops up in their lives that lets the wind out of their sails—be it a team they didn’t make, a grade they weren’t expecting to get or a birthday party they thought they’d be invited to. And each time I do, the conversation serves as a reminder to myself as well. I have been passed over many times for a myriad of different opportunities. But now, rather than hiding my head in shame, I remember that we are all human; we all feel deflated at times. With each disappointment, I remind my kids and myself that there is a reason for it. The disappointments of life are mere stepping stones on our journey to that something greater. This is true for each and every one of us.
Life is one big classroom. I will continue to keep my eyes open to the lessons this life of mine has to teach me.