Monday, December 18, 2017

My Best Gift

Every year I tell myself that come December, I am not going to get all bananas about the holidays. I tell myself I’m not going to stress about every little thing, and that I’m going to enjoy the little moments. Yet every year when I look in the mirror on any given day in December all I see is a big old bunch of bananas.

I see someone stressed about Christmas cards, decorating the house, getting everyone on my list the perfect gift, shopping among all the other bananas during Christmas week for all the food that I just have to bake and cook, because if I don’t will Christmas even happen? Spoiler alert, yes, Christmas will in fact happen whether or not I find the time to make my peppermint bark. Yes, Christmas will happen no matter what we do or don’t accomplish, but the bigger question is, how do we find the simplicity in the season?

I’m not going to claim to know the answer, but I will say, there is something about knowing another year is coming to a close that makes us all feel nostalgic. The years seems to fly by especially fast when you become a parent. The more I thought about it the more I realized that Christmas is actually the time to celebrate all the gifts we have already received throughout the year. When we receive gifts we want to offer our gratitude.

Dear Friends, Family, and all of those who have impacted my year,

Thank you. Thank you never feels like enough, but it still feels important to say.
Thank you to my friends and family, new and old, who showed up for every small moment. Thank you for picking up the phone when I needed to cry, or I wanted to vent, or shout to you with excitement that I was able to finally figure out how to stop having all my important emails go into my spam folder. Thank you for loving my children like they are your own.

Thank you for making me laugh, and for laughing with me. Thank you for understanding when I need to cry, and for crying with me. Thank you for trusting me with things you wouldn’t share with the entire world. Thank you for allowing me to share the things you would.

Thank you for showing up for the big moments. Thank you for cheering me on when I wasn’t sure if I could do it. Thank you for routing for me during the times I doubted myself the most. Thank you not only for accepting me at my worst, but loving me anyway. Thank you for the Mexican, Chinese, Tai, Italian, and Polish food that we used as our focal point for our gatherings. 

Thank you for never allowing my wine glass to be empty or my coffee to be cold. Thank you for never allowing me to quit, even when I told you I was going to do just that. Thank you for sharing my words, not because you felt like you had to, but because you wanted to. Thank you for listening to my endless stories about my grandmother and seeming entertained throughout each and every one. 

Thank you for showing up at my front door when I said I was okay, but you knew that was a lie.

For every laugh, every tear, every accomplishment, and every moment of defeat, I needed you all. Every gathering around a table, in a kitchen, or on a porch taught me something. Every time we got to talk, really talk, was a time I appreciated. 

Every small smile. Every brief hug. Every kind word. Every ounce of love and support. It was all a gift. So this Christmas I hope you all know that my biggest gift is you. You see Christmas is one day.

 Most of the gifts we open are packed away for when we need them, but you? You are a gift that will keep giving day after day, and year after year. One day when all the boxes are put away and all I have are my memories, it won’t be the gifts I unwrapped that I will remember. It will be the people I had in my life. 

You are the gift that I am so very happy to have. The best part about this gift is that I get to enjoy it every day for the entire year. Thank you for being my best gift!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Beautiful Mess

My youngest son is in first grade this year. The other day his teacher told me she had something she wanted to share with me. Immediately I thought, oh boy let’s hope it’s not too embarrassing. He’s a good kid, but he’s six years old so you know how that can go. She went on to tell me that they had been discussing heroes in class that morning. She decided to go around the room and ask each child who their hero is. Many of the kids named their firefighter father, police mom, nurse mom, veteran grandpa, and even some superheroes. When she got to my son she expected him to say my husband- after all, he is a firefighter. Instead he quickly replied, “My mom is my hero because she makes me feel safe and happy.” There I stood crying in front of my son’s teacher not because it made me sad, but because my son expressed what I have always hoped my children know. At the end of every day no matter how long or difficult the day was, I hope that my children feel loved. I hope they feel safe and I most certainly hope they feel happy.

After all that is what family is right? Family is both our armor and our cocoon from the rest of the world. Family is never perfect. Not ever. Family is messy, but it’s a beautiful kind of mess. Family is a big old mess of a morning. It is a one kid can’t find a shoe, dad ran over the garbage pail on his rush off to work, the dog stepped in the only mud puddle in the yard, and the other kid let him back in the house kind of morning. Family is mom getting her kids onto the school bus and coming back into the house to cry into her coffee about the morning she wishes she could do over. Family is the kids running off the bus in the afternoon with big smiles and hugs as if the morning is but only a blip in time on their memory, because it is.

Family is the ups and the downs. Family is dedicated to celebrating the ups and finding our way out from the downs. Family is full of surprises. Some are good and some are not. Family is sitting in a waiting room for six hours while your husband undergoes open heart surgery and praying to God that if this all works out you will most certainly be a better person, because you just can’t even begin to imagine your life without that man. Family is holding the hand of your dying Grandmother because she has done it for you from the time you were a little girl in pigtails until the day you had your very own child. Family is jumping for joy when your sister tells you she’s having a baby. It is crying when you hold that baby for the first time because somewhere in your memory bank you remember the day your parents brought her home as if it was yesterday. Family is looking at your children and feeling ever so grateful for your own parents because you realize that without them you wouldn’t be the mom you are today.

Family is sitting around the dinner table and listening to two little boys talk and talk and talk. It is catching a glimpse of my husband and promising him with my smile that we will catch up at some point. We will have time to talk to one another even if it’s as we start to fall asleep. It is listening to the stories that these little boys are telling us in the hopes that they will never stop talking to us. Family is a hug in the kitchen to remind us how important we are to each other and that talking isn’t always necessary, it’s the listening that counts. 

Family settles into the night with a story. It’s a tired mom trying to stay awake while her six-year-old reads the book because he’s so very proud. It might take longer but she knows it’s worth it. It’s a dad stressed about his day at work tomorrow but hiding it so that his nine-year-old can tell him all about the game he played at recess. Family is those two tired parents making time for one glass of wine and a five minute adult conversation. It’s a wife telling her husband not to stress and a husband telling her he’s sorry he has been so busy lately. 

Family is honest.Family shows up even when you tell them not to. Family drops everything. Family is all in. Always. With no questions asked. We figure it out, together. We fight loud but we love big. We get on each other’s nerves. We say sorry. We say I love you. We laugh. We cry. We celebrate. We grieve. We embrace the mess because somewhere within that mess lies the beauty of life. And at the end of the day no matter how good or bad it was we feel safe and happy because of the love of family. So jump in and embrace the beautiful mess. We will catch you if you fall. 

This piece was featured on the TODAY Parenting Team

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

We Are The Helpers

It was rainy and colder than normal today for August in New Jersey. The boys and I piled in the car and headed to the grocery store with a very specific list. They helped me get the items and fill the cart. When we got home they helped me unpack all the items and line them up in the kitchen. My boys are helpful when asked, but today they did everything without being told to do it. Today I could see a change in their motivation.

While we were away on vacation last week I received a group email asking for help for a family we know. The mom underwent unexpected, emergency surgery and the email was asking for volunteers to provide dinner for their family during her recovery. I chose today. I bought all the ingredients to make chicken pot pie and I explained to the boys why we were going to the store, and why I was cooking in the middle of the day. They were eager to help. I remember people doing the same for me seven years ago when my husband underwent emergency open heart surgery. Our oldest son was only 18 months and everything is such a blur, but the one thing I can’t forget is the help. I remember the meals that were delivered and the people who offered to take my son to the park. It was a hard time, but I mostly just remember the helpers.

The devastation in Texas right now is vast and hard to even comprehend from far distances. Friends of one of my closest friends went through an awful ordeal that echoes many others. They were stranded on their roof with no help in sight and as each minute turned to an hour and each hour turned to hours the situation seemed to be hopeless.

 Only it wasn’t hopeless because my friend decided that instead of doing nothing from states away she was going to step up and be a helper. Nikki and her husband Brian took to social media doing everything they could to get as many people involved in hopes of getting their friends, Kris, Mary, Matt and their pups rescued from the rising flood waters. People from all over began calling the police, and fire departments as well as the Red Cross. They were able to provide help with the necessary GPS coordinates because all street signs were of no use. After hours of not knowing if they were going to make it, they were rescued via helicopter. According to Mary, “We saw helicopters. We saw boats. We wondered. Our anxiety grew. When will ours come? It will get dark soon. 

 Then at 3:56 the text came from Nikki saying, “rescue is coming they are 2 miles away.” They lost everything, but they have been nothing but positive and grateful for their lives and the help of others. I have never met Mary, Kris or Matt but it doesn't matter. My good friend asked for help for people she loved and without hesitation I jumped and I was not alone, not by a long shot. 

You may be asking yourself why I am sharing these two stories with you. It’s simple. We are still good. We are still in this thing we call life together. Everything has felt like a big old mess recently, but in the end we are human. We still love. We still want to help. Sure helping makes you feel good and that’s fine. I told my boys today that helping others is rewarding and it’s meant to be that way. When we feel needed we feel useful and that in and of itself is rewarding. When things feel messy, clean them up. When people need, provide. When you are in need reach out and ask for help. When it feels like everything is falling down around us, pick up the pieces and start to rebuild.

You see in the end it doesn’t matter who you voted for, or if we are the same religion, or if we route for the Yankees or the Red Sox. It doesn’t matter if our parents are first generation Americans or if our relatives were here since the Founding Fathers. It doesn’t matter if you like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. It doesn’t matter if you prefer the city or the country or if you’re a night person or a morning person, none of it matters. In the end all that matters is our ability to be human. All that matters is our ability to step up to help our fellow human in a time of need. We all have more in common than we realize and it shines through during times like this. We are all mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends, daughters and sons. We all have the fight in us to try to safely land on our feet during times of distress and we all have the instinct to step up and help when we are on the other side of the disaster. I have been watching the coverage in Texas and I will say that our ability to come together in a time of need is still strong. We are not as much of a country divided as we thought we were in the past couple of weeks. We are stepping up. We are not just looking for the helpers. We are the helpers.

Here are some links for places to help as well as uplifting stories about those who are stepping up and helping. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Teach Your Kids That Words Are Powerful

Choose kind words. Lead, don’t follow. If you see someone being picked on, say something. Make us proud with your actions. Don’t say something behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face. People are different. Our differences are what make us awesome.  We say these things in our house often. We are not however, naïve enough to think that our words are always being absorbed. After all I have told my kids approximately 3,786 times that toothpaste only belongs in their mouths or the sink and I can tell you that 3,656 times it has not ended up that way. I don’t stop telling them though because kids need to hear things. They need to hear them often in order for them to eventually take hold in their brains. You have to plant the seed, but you still need to water the plant in order for it to grow.

Bully. It’s a word thrown around in schools and said by parents and kids often these days. Some people will argue that it is unnecessary to discuss bullying issues so much, but stories on the news beg to differ. This week a young girl in a neighboring town reportedly took her own life due to constant bullying. She was twelve years old. Let that sink in for a minute.  It’s awful. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the grief and devastation her parents are dealing with right now. Sadly I’m fairly certain that her story here in New Jersey is echoed across the country for other devastated families who experienced something all too similar.
I’ve been trying to figure out why kids as young as ten and twelve have such anger and aggression towards their peers. I don’t have an answer. People often blame the parents of the bully and while yes in a lot of cases apples do in fact come from apple trees, I don’t think that is always the case.  I’m going to be 41. I have the gift of perspective at this point about what a small blip of time middle school and high school really are in the story of our lives. I also know though that those years play a vital part in shaping who we become as adults.

When I was a kid our middle school started in seventh grade. That meant that all the elementary school kids I had spent all those years with were suddenly thrown into a big pool of kids from all the other elementary schools. Taking a bunch of kids out of their comfort zone when they are chock in the middle of puberty can be tricky. Suddenly the friends who you were comfortable being yourself around are running with a different group. It’s a confusing time. Our school sent us all on a camping trip in the beginning of the year. We stayed in cabins and worked on team building. My guess is if you were able to look in from the outside, the kids on that trip would have looked like a bunch of lost sheep desperately trying to figure out which herd they belonged to. It was a new world for us and none of us had a clue as to what we were doing. I definitely didn’t have a clue. I had just gotten braces. All the other girls seemed to be developing at a much faster rate than I did and I was uncomfortable in my own skin. Back then we tried to mask our insecurities with hairspray and blue mascara. One look at my hair and it was obvious just how much I was trying to mask.

At some point during that trip I decided to start a rumor about one of the girls I had gone with to elementary school. When she found out it was me she confronted me head on. She asked me why I would do that to her and there I stood with no answer. The honest answer was that my actions had nothing to do with her. They had everything to do with me. I took my insecurities and tried to bring her down with me. I apologized and I meant it. She forgave me and we moved on, but I never forgot that feeling I had when she looked me in the face with sadness and disappointment because of my actions. I never wanted to feel that low again. I was the mean girl and I hated myself. My parents had taught me better than that. My parents were never anything but kind to everyone they ever met and I knew that I was not being the person they expected me to be.

I dealt with my own fair share of mean girls in High School but I eventually learned that you are in fact able to choose your friends and when you find them you hold on tight. I didn’t need people in my life that made me feel bad about myself. I think it’s important to teach our kids about not being bullies, but it is equally as important to teach them that they are not defined by someone else’s opinions. They will find their people. It may take longer than they want it to, but they are out there. Of course this is easier to say as an adult than it is as a struggling preteen or teenager.

At the risk of sounding like my grandmother I can honestly say that preteens and teenagers are ill-equipped to deal with social media. They are not ready to be armed with such a weapon. Kids can’t get behind the wheel of a car before the age of sixteen or seventeen in most states, they can’t vote until 18, and they legally cannot drink until 21 yet here they are roaming the Internet when they are just not prepared yet in how to do it. Most adults, sadly not all adults, know that once you throw your words out on the internet they are there forever. If you regret something you write, and you delete it, chances are someone already took a screen shot of that regrettable statement. It’s like that toothpaste. Once you squeeze the tube you cannot shove the toothpaste back in. It’s out there.

As a writer I have seen the worst of the worst when it comes to internet trolls. There is something about being able to hide behind a keyboard that brings people to an all new level of low. When I first started writing for larger outlets I was not prepared to deal with the cruelty and judgment that was thrown my way over what I thought were simple articles about my love for my children. Oh and don’t even try to make a joke because people get all butt hurt and take everything way too seriously. There were many times I thought about stopping, but I knew that only meant evil wins. I could write an entire article about puppies and someone would have something awful to say about me. Words are bigger than we realize. Words can move people. Words make us laugh. Words make us cry. Words motivate us. Words separate us from all the other species. We choose how we use them and when we knowingly use them to hurt someone we have altered them. We have essentially turned them into a weapon. The thing our kids need to realize is that being the bully feels awful. I still remember how bad I felt for making someone else that sad. I can’t even imagine how a kid would feel when they realize that they are the reason a peer took their own life. That is unthinkable, but it’s happening.

Our kids need to know that words should not be used as weapons. Our kids need to know that when they choose to use them as a weapon they will inevitably hurt someone. Our kids need to know that their actions have consequences. They need to know that starting rumors or attacking someone on social media for how they look is a sure fire way to be known as a bad person. Kids need to know that their words can be the reason that one of their peers sits in their room and cries every single night. Their words can be keeping parents up at night with worry and fear about their child’s depression. Their words can be the reason the girl in their class has started starving herself. Their words can be the reason the boy in their class is starting to steal his mom’s pain pills. Words need to be chosen wisely. While they are trying to navigate a world that feels too big for their still small frames, their words are larger than life.  Tell them. Tell them often because their brains are still developing and eventually they may just keep that toothpaste in the sink.

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

Rest in peace Mallory. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sometimes I Forget The Milk

You caught me staring. I quickly looked away. Moments later I couldn’t help but look again and immediately you saw me. I smiled. I could sense your stress. I could sense your urgency to move along as quickly as you could. I could sense that you felt you were on the clock. You fumbled in your bag for a couple of minutes and finally pulled out some crackers to hand to him while you moved along to select a couple of peppers.

It feels like yesterday that I was you. Today I move at a slower pace throughout the store than I did back then. Today I calmly choose my selections. I stop to look up a recipe on my phone and make sure I am getting all the necessary ingredients. You however, stand in front of the bagels and ask him which one he wants. He points at the blueberry and you place it in a bag for him. You lean over and kiss him gently on the forehead and he giggles. It is in that moment that I am flooded with memories. I know all too well how annoying it is to be stared at with what can only be described as the “enjoy it mama because it goes way too fast” stare. Yet here I am staring at you and thinking that exact thought.

I have no idea how I got here. As I walk down the aisles with no one to entertain with each stop of the shopping cart, I wonder where the time actually went. When I was in it I felt like I was never going to go the grocery store and remember everything I needed because someone was always crying. Luckily it was rarely me, but shopping with a baby and a toddler is pretty much the equivalent of taking the Bar exam while running a half marathon, IMPOSSIBLE. I never came home with everything I had intended to buy. I was just thankful that I came home with both of my children and that I remembered the milk.  

I remember smiling nervously at people behind me on line as my tired child began to melt down. I remember feeling like the checkout belt had to move faster than it was moving. I remember feeling like I should not be sweating so much from a simple trip to the grocery store. I remember loading groceries into the back of my SUV in the pouring rain, and strapping my youngest into his car seat all while hoping and praying that he would not in fact fall asleep on the short car ride home because I really needed him to nap. I needed him to nap so that I could unpack all the groceries and cry about the fact that I had forgotten to buy the flipping milk.

It’s not easy to be where you are. If someone tries to tell you it is they are lying, but I want you to know that despite the difficulty it is a sweet spot in time. You don’t need me to tell you that this time will pass because you know how time works, but if you will allow me just for a moment I want to tell you to get the bagel, kiss his forehead, and take a deep breath. The world will keep moving despite the fact that you forgot the milk, again. The people on line behind you will forget about the fact that your child was whining and crying the entire time you were checking out. You will look for a fast forward button more times than you can count on what seems like a simple grocery store trip. I promise you though that one day in the future you will look into your organized cart, full of food and milk, and you will miss that bagel eating buddy.

I have always known that times moves fast. Nothing proves this more though than having children. The ironic part of parenthood is that most of the time you don’t realize how much you loved a stage until that stage has passed. I have yet to encounter a stage of parenthood that I would describe as easy. They all come with challenges, but I have yet to look back upon a stage that has passed and not missed it. Sometimes it’s from a distance that we realize just how perfect that horrible, difficult stage of parenthood was. Sometimes I forget the milk just so I can go back with one of the kids after school. We might happen to stop for a bagel on those occasions. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Teachers Move Mountains

You know that feeling you get at the end of the day when you just aren’t sure you have an ounce of energy left to give? Your children have brushed their teeth, finished their baths, been read to and tucked in nicely, but they still need one more cup of water. They need one more story. They need you to tuck the blankets under their legs. Just as you say goodnight and whisper one last I love you they ask for a tissue. When you finally turn off the lights and close the door you debate watching one episode of your favorite show on Netflix or simply falling into a sleep coma in your bed, and 9 out of 10 times the sleep coma wins. You know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the end of the day parent burn out. It’s that time of day when we are completely depleted of our energy and our ability to be the best version of ourselves.

I have two children and I experience parent burnout on the regular. I’m not exactly a morning person either, but after my first cup of coffee I’m ready to tackle the day. Coffee helps me cope with the spilled orange juice that somehow landed on the dog during breakfast, the fact that the eight year old can only find one of his shoes when the school bus will be arriving in less than five minutes, and the ability to Google whether crocodiles get married before the bus arrives or the five year old just won’t be able to go on with the day. Now take all of this and multiply the amount of kids by more than double. That’s right, take my two kids and just add in another thirteen to fifteen kids. You have a headache just thinking about it don’t you? I know I do.

After locating that lost shoe, toweling the dog off, and learning that crocodiles don’t believe in wedding ceremonies, I send my two boys off on the school bus to school for the day. Every day they are greeted by these amazing humans who as far as I can tell are always the best versions of themselves. I am going to have to find out what kind of coffee they drink. They are teachers and I trust them with the two people I love the most in this entire world for over six hours, five days a week. Not only do I trust them, but I depend on them to teach my children reading, writing, math, science, art, music, technology, health, and history. I depend on them to enhance any development we have started at home. I depend on them to take these tiny humans and help them learn how to interact well with other tiny humans. I depend on them more than they know.

Last night I sat with my kindergartner to read a book before bed. He asked if he could read it to me instead of me reading it to him. I excitedly agreed. With each word that he read and each page that he turned I couldn’t help but think back to September. As most parents who are faced with sending their baby off for the very first time on the school bus, that first day was met with a mix of emotions. We were excited, but nervous. We felt confident though that he would return that day just as excited as he was when he left us, and he was. I remember feeling like he was so small. I remember worrying that he would get tired and miss us. If he did he certainly never expressed it. Instead he came home every day excited to tell us all about what he had done and learned that day.

In September I sent a little five year old off to school and now he seems so much older to me. He’s confident. He’s reading. He tells me all about his friends in his class. He tells me how much he loves his teacher. I tell him that we love her too because the truth is, we do. How could we not. In less than a year she has taught our five year old how to navigate a great big exciting new world and he’s doing it. He’s doing it well.

Our third grader has grown and learned so much this year that there are times I am convinced he could out do me on any math test. (Sshh he probably could) His teacher does not seem to have that burn out thing I talked about. Whenever I see her, email her, or speak with her she is just as enthusiastic as she was on that very first day. I can say with full confidence that she gets truly excited when she sees children learning. It’s a gift. It really is. When my husband and I went to parent teacher conferences this year she looked at us and told us that our son had written his first journal entry that day. She had not read it yet and was excited to read it aloud in front of us so that we could all “experience his amazing imagination” together. I left that day knowing my son was going to learn and grow more than we had ever imagined possible in a year and he has.

I remember when they were toddlers and I was their only teacher. We experienced the world together. We read and practiced numbers and letters. We played in the yard and I taught them their colors. I did what I could to give them a small foundation into the world of learning they had ahead of them. Their teachers however have taken that small foundation and built upon it in such tremendous ways.

As parents we do our best to love our children. We nurture them, discipline them, and protect them. We carry them until they can walk on their own. We hold their hands until they let go and we hope with all that we have that we are doing our best to prepare them to succeed on their own. There is no question or doubt about what we will do for our children. After all we are their parents. Teachers do all of this and more. They do this year in and year out for every child that comes into their classroom. It takes a special person to love and nurture all these children. We all know teachers don’t go into teaching for the money (don’t even get me started on that.) Teachers go into teaching to move mountains. Their passion and love of learning is something that our children will carry with them for years. I want my boys’ teachers, both past and present, to know that we are forever grateful for the foundations they have poured and the mountains they have moved. They have helped us navigate the waters. They have given my boys a lifetime love of learning and for that we are forever grateful. 
"Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops."
Henry Brooks Adams

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Let Them Feel

When I was a kid I thought my parents knew everything. By the time I was a teenager I thought they knew nothing. Now that I’m a parent I realize I was right, both times. I think knowing everything while knowing nothing is pretty much the reality of parenthood. Parenthood is basically getting thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggling to make it to the ladder.  When you feel confident and you master swimming in the deep end of the pool someone throws you into the ocean.  Parenthood is a constant struggle of convincing your kids that you do in fact know what you are doing all while doubting yourself every single day.

If you don’t doubt yourself are you really a parent?  Don’t ask me. I spend most days flying by the seat of my pants. I tuck my kids in at night and I hope that I did an OK job. That’s right an OK job. When I had my first son, the idea of being an “OK parent” was out of the question for me. I was going to be a phenomenal parent. Sure. I was swimming in the pool and I was good at it, only the pool was calm and no one else was in it. Once I had my son I realized that the pool was full of tons of other swimmers and all of those swimmers had opinions on my swimming abilities.

To be honest now that my boys are out of the baby stage I find myself wondering more than I thought I ever would if I am going to be able to navigate each new unchartered territory of water we enter. The hopeful answer is yes, but the honest answer is, I’m not always so sure. Facebook has been kind enough to remind me on the regular with my “Facebook Memories” that the baby years are long gone. Gone are the days of napping, snuggling, snacking, and giggling within our own little bubble. We are in the elementary school days now and I have to tell you, they are going faster than I could have ever imagined they would. I’m not naïve; I know middle school and high school will be here in a hot second. That’s how this parenting thing works. The days are long but the years…well the years move fast.

Lately I’ve noticed that our family is so busy that the days are flying by and the months are moving at warp speed. My oldest son is eight and my youngest is five. There is something about my eight year old that has changed in the last year. I can see that a big change is upon us. I can see that I am about to get thrown from the pool into the ocean and I’m terrified.

He’s almost nine years old. Nine. Yet somehow I can close my eyes and remember the nurse putting him on my chest like it was yesterday. I can remember his little hand wrapping around my finger. I can remember whispering to him that I would never let anything or anyone hurt him, and I meant it. There is a change in the way both my husband and I treat him now. He has shifted from being a little kid to a boy. We expect more of him. He has responsibilities around the house. He is expected to get his homework done or baseball practice will just have to go on without him. He is expected to clear his plate after dinner. We remind him about doing his best and making us proud. We tell him not to cry when he is fighting with his brother about basketball.  We tell him to toughen up. We tell him to be the big brother and give his brother a turn. We tell him not to get angry at his brother. We tell him not to cry. We flail around in the ocean making mistakes and hoping that we will be given another chance to learn how to swim.

Today I read yet another article about a heartbroken mother who lost her son to the epidemic of heroin. When I tell you it scares me I don’t really think that it accurately portrays how I worry about it. I know that no matter how much we try to protect our kids this is the one thing that can reach out and grab them without discriminating. Drugs don’t care that you took your child to toddler music classes. Drugs don’t care that your child was gifted in reading. Drugs don’t care that your child was a soccer, baseball, hockey, dancing, fill in the blank star. They don’t care. Drugs don’t care that in elementary school your child had everything going for them. Drugs don’t care that they were in the school play. Drugs don’t care that you used to be able to talk to them about anything and everything. Drugs don’t care that at one point you thought your ears were actually going to fall off from how much your child went on and on and on about anything and everything. Drugs literally don’t care about your Facebook memories.

Today when my son came home from school I talked to him for a while about his day. I took the time to listen. I really listened because if the OK parent in me is being honest, I don’t always listen. I often multitask. I look through their folders and empty their lunch boxes all while nodding along to the stories of the day.  I give my kids a snack and have them do homework. I break up fights and tell them to stop crying.

I’ve been thinking about something a lot lately. Why are we telling our kids not to feel? Maybe you’re not guilty of this. I am though. I am so guilty of this, only I didn’t even realize it. It hit me like a ton of bricks that every time we tell our kids to stop crying, to toughen up, and to stop flipping out over what my husband and I perceive to be silly, we are in fact telling them to stop feeling. We are telling them that their emotions are not worthy. Every time they tell us they are bored we try to fix it. Maybe this is some of the problem. Maybe. I say this because obviously as I walk slowly into the water from the beach I can’t possibly already know what the parents out in the deep are dealing with.

I can’t help but think that kids need to feel boredom. They need to feel still. They need to feel the difference between being busy and being relaxed.  Our kids need to feel sad. How can they ever appreciate being happy if we don’t allow them to embrace being sad? We all need a good cry every now and then. We need it. We are humans. We are meant to feel. Kids are anxious for a reason. We are telling them to stop. We are telling them to sit still, to be quiet, and to do their best. Their best? Their best is to be a kid. Their best is to be curious, anxious, sad, happy, angry, overwhelmed, silly, loud, and quiet. Their best is to be comfortable with who they are and know that we, as their parents will embrace them for it.  Drugs allow people not to feel, the question is why are so many people afraid to feel? Let’s allow our kids to feel. Let’s embrace them for it. I’m not suggesting we allow kids to cry and punch, shout or laugh through their entire day. I’m suggesting that we allow them to navigate the baby pool in the best way they know how. I am suggesting that we allow them to feel scared, that we allow them to admit they don’t know if they are ready for the deep end and when they do, it may help to tell them that we didn’t always know how to swim.