Friday, September 7, 2012

On Knocking Parenting Out of The Park

My oldest child, Emma, just started the third grade, and the thought of her aging, of her entering this particular grade, has bothered me for awhile now. But I could never figure out why. When you homeschool, different grades can seem to come and go without much fanfare, but not this year. This year, third grade just wasn't sitting well with me. But today, as I was driving away after dropping my girls off for their first day of HELP classes, it hit me like a ton of bricks and I had to pull over. (Thankfully, this brick hitting happened conveniently near a Wendy's. God must have known that diet Coke consuming would be in order.)

It's never fun when the past sneaks up behind you and taps you on the shoulder, but that is exactly what happened to me today. I was visited by third grade me, right there in the parking lot of Wendy's, and I would be lying if I told you that it wasn't painful. Because for me, third grade was the first year of my life where I remember feeling pain. Third grade was the first year where I experienced being made fun of, where little boys started singling out little girls to 'go out with' (and I was never singled out). Third grade was the first year that I ever hated my teacher and started dreading having to attend school each day. I was absent a lot that year. Third grade was the very first time in my life where I decided that I just might not like being me. That perhaps God really could make mistakes after all.

For me, third grade is the year where my memories begin. I truthfully don't really remember a whole lot about my life before that particular year. I know that my first Christmas tree ever was a felt tree on the wall of a trailer home in Saudi Arabia, but I only know that because my mother told me. And she showed me pictures. But I don't remember that tree. I know that I used to love swimming at the community pool and eating pizza at the snack bar when I was small, but again, I only know this because that is what I have been told. I can't close my eyes and picture what either place looked like, because I don't have any real memories of them. I know that when I was in Kindergarten I had wallpaper with rainbows on it in my bedroom, and I have the pictures to prove it. But I don't actually remember the rainbows, or the first seven years of my life that we spent over seas, or traveling the world before we moved back to the States during first grade. For me, my memory picks up somewhere between the second and third grades. In the exact same place where my oldest daughter now finds herself. And after thinking about it today (while still chugging my diet Coke), I realized that this bothers me for two reasons.

The first reason is because I never, ever, ever want any of my children to feel pain. Silly, I know, because it is going to happen, but it doesn't mean that my heart doesn't begin to break at the mere thought of one of my children hurting. And I also know, right or wrong, that that is one of the many (tiny) reasons that we chose to homeschool. Because kids are cruel, and mean, and they have no idea how the words they spew can impact another human being, sometimes for a lifetime. And so for as long as I can, I want to protect my children from the harshness that is sometimes others. I want to guard their hearts. I want to allow them to be happy and carefree for as long as they possibly can be. It is not a perfect plan, as my Em has already endured cruel remarks and the teasing of others (on the church playground, no less), but it is a plan based around love. And possibly fear, if I am being completely honest. And so it bothers me greatly that we now find ourselves in this place. This place where my third grader' s memory kicks in. This place in her life where everything that she says and does, and everything that is done to her, has the power to shape the person that she is becoming. And that scares me more than a little. Because now, it's like we're playing for real. The make believe house game is over, the children are growing up into people, and the reality is that every moment has the power to make or break. Every single moment matters.

Which bring me to reason number two on why third grade has been bothering my heart so very much. Because if my daughter is now going to remember these days, this year of her life and all of the years after, then I have to step up my game. Big time. Too many mornings I lie in bed while my third grader pours her own cereal. I tell myself that it is teaching her independence, but the truth is I am just being lazy. Too many nights I kiss my children goodnight and then escape to the bathtub with a good book to 'relax', while my husband takes care of the back tickling and bedtime cuddles. I tell myself not to feel bad. The children adore cuddle time with Boss. It is their favorite time of day! But that doesn't change the fact that my children should have (and deserve to have) memories of their mama tucking them in at night. Too many nights I fall asleep feeling like a failure as a mother. And that is so not how I want my oldest daughter, or any of my children for that matter, to remember me when they are grown. I used to think that it wouldn't matter too much. That I could always try again tomorrow, but tomorrow always turned into the tomorrow after that, and now my oldest child is in the third grade, and now she will remember. So now there is no tomorrow. Tomorrow has become today, and today matters. Today it is imperative that I make the most of being my children's mama.

Boss often tells me that I am too hard on myself. My friends tell me that I am a good mother. But I don't just want to be good. I want to knock this parenting thing out of the park! Whereas most days I feel like I strike out, or simply sit on the bench, I now feel the importance of connecting bat with ball each time I step up to the plate. I know there won't always be home runs, but I would like for the hits to outnumber the strikes. Because every play matters, every inning counts. And every single game counts as a win or a loss. And when it comes to raising, loving, and leading these little people that God has blessed me with, I MUST win. Loosing is not even an option.

I finished two large diet Cokes before I was able to drive on, and my heart still feels heavy as I sit here tonight. I just carried my third grader to bed, her growing body heavier each day in my arms, her long legs almost dragging the floor. There is no denying how quickly these days are passing, how much she is changing before my very eyes. I didn't solve any world problems today in the parking lot of Wendy's. Diet Coke did not wash away the pain of my own third grade year, nor does it have the power to magically make me in to the mama that I want to be (though if it did, I would be so  rockin'!). But I did drive away from there today with a new resolve. With a fresh reminder that the time to be the best mama that I can be is NOW. And I left with a knowing in my heart that every single moment matters. And hopefully that knowing will effect my days, the choices I make. Hopefully the next time I am tired, or lazy, instead of sitting the bench, I will bravely approach the plate. And perhaps that will be the one play that I knock out of the park!

So good luck to you friends. This game of parenting is hard. It is often overwhelming, and exhausting, and sometimes it feels as though we can't take another step forward. Please know that I am cheering you on (I will be the one in the stands gulping a large diet Coke and clapping like crazy!). And I hope that you will cheer me on, as well. Because our little people are worth it.

And here on Fieldcrest Lane, we are going to knock third grade out of the park.

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