A Milestone Moment

Last night this blog hit a milestone moment: I got my first thoroughly negative, personally insulting comment. It was yesterday’s post that brought it in, and I’m looking at it as a good thing — first, because it means that people other than my relatives and friends are reading what I wrote, and also because it means that I’m touching nerves and writing about important things.

My comment was from a person who called himself Cliff, and this is what he wrote*:

“Thankyou for nothing, I am a grandfather, I do watch kids at the park, have even picked them up when they have fallen from the play aminities. Big deal, if you think that every grand father is a sick sod well thats your life, but dont taint us all with your warped mind. just because I enjoyu watching kids have fun, should not open me up to your tirad. not all men are out to harm children. as for your icecream man, poor sods wondering if a complaint from you will end his job.
Do your self a favour, go back to the doc and tell him your sick of the meds you have been buying on the street and you need help.” 

I am going to ignore his unkind personal remarks about me and respond to what I think is his point — that he is offended by the idea that, as a perfectly innocent grandfather who enjoys being around children, he might be stereotyped as a pedophile. Fair enough. I can see where he is coming from — people tend to consider pedophiles to be the scum of the earth and I can’t imagine that anyone who isn’t one would want to feel as though he or she is being classed as one.

To clarify my own point, however, I don’t think that all older gentlemen who find joy in watching children play are pedophiles or weirdos. In fact, I generally welcome kind words from men (and women) young and old when they compliment or show benevolent interest in my children. It wasn’t my intention in yesterday’s post to suggest that I feel otherwise.

Still, “Cliff” has a point, which, though I don’t think he realized it, highlights the sort of internal conflict that I was trying to convey. I don’t want to stereotype people. I don’t want to think that all old men are untrustworthy and I don’t want my children to think that either.

But I am my children’s one and only mother and it is my job — my most vitally important job — to keep them safe. And I won’t apologize for the times when I become overly cautious because someone, man or woman, young or old, black, brown, or white, human or non-human, makes me feel uncomfortable.

From the other comments I have received, both here and on my Facebook page, I can see that most other parents feel as challenged as I do when it comes to developing both confidence and caution in our children. But I have also seen that, as these very wise people have pointed out, the most important thing is that we foster communication about these issues with our kids. There is no single path to follow. We will always be challenged with the task of keeping our kids safe. I’m 35, and I can tell that my own father has been worried about me ever since I posted about the shady contractor trying to take advantage of me and my husband. I suppose we won’t ever have all the answers, but, thanks to those of you who have shared your insights with me, I now understand two of the most important things we can do for our children: constant — and compassionate — vigilance paired with constant, and two-sided, communication.

 

* I copied his comment directly. You won’t find it with the other comments on my earlier post because he wrote it on my Contact Me page.

 

Flaunting Failure: My Messy Beautiful

Like most people, I don’t really enjoy bragging about my failures. I recognize them, and feel what is probably an excessive amount of guilt for having them (I’m not Catholic for nothing), but I prefer to keep them on the down low. They are not my favorite topic of conversation.

So it was as astounding to me as it would be to anyone else when, a few weeks ago, I found myself emphatically, almost eagerly, telling my daughter that I make bad choices and really big mistakes every single day of my life.

“Mommy is, like, a huge failure, sweetie!” I told her brightly. “I mean, I told Daddy to shut up this morning! That was really bad! And I yelled at the dog because he ate grass and puked on the new carpet, and then I yelled at Daddy again because I had to clean it up! And I forgot to pack your lunch that one time — remember?! I forgot it and I didn’t bring it until lunchtime was almost over and when I got there, you were crying in the cafeteria line? That was a really bad choice that mommy made.”

There was that time when my house looked like this.

There was that time when my house looked like this.

I stopped there, because the flow of my thought process was moving toward previous boyfriends and hangovers and tattoos obtained in foreign countries, and that whole lunch incident really was blemish enough on our mother-daughter relationship. We have plenty of time for all of mommy’s more spectacular failures to make themselves known.

This overflow of honesty might have been excessive, but it was not without purpose. Because it was in response to my baby girl sitting in the bathtub sobbing, wailing that she “wanted to be good ALL DAY and not just SOME of the day because you, Mommy, ALWAYS make good choices and NEVER make bad choices.”

How else could I answer her? I don’t always make good choices. I do make really big mistakes. I am never, ever perfect ALL DAY.

My daughter is on the Autism Spectrum. For the most part, her differences manifest as odd but charming quirks. However, there are times when the world becomes too much for her.  She has a certain rigidity to her expectations from life, and when life doesn’t conform to those expectations, she becomes overwhelmed. When she becomes overwhelmed, she becomes defiant and angry. And when she becomes defiant and angry, she begins to feel guilty, which leads to more defiance and anger until it all comes crashing down and she is empty but also somehow devastated by what she sees as her failure to be good.

That’s a lot of feeling for a five-year-old.

My heart breaks for her when she starts to fall down the Autism rabbit hole, and when I found her crying in the bathtub that night it was shattering to see that, this time, she was tumbling down because she was comparing herself — negatively! — to me. And it made me think.

I don’t like to broadcast my mistakes to the world at large, and I really don’t like to broadcast my mistakes to my children. As parents, we feel compelled to serve as an example of the kind of people we want our children to become. We want to be their heroes. And I think a lot of times, we strive to hide our faults from our children in order to meet the expectations we set for ourselves.

But the thing is, I don’t want, or expect,  my children to be perfect, or even almost perfect. And I don’t want them to grow up to become the kind of person who feels that perfection is expected from her. I want my girls to try new things, to succeed sometimes and to fail sometimes. I want them to know how to own up to their mistakes and to try to make things right. I want them to be able to forgive themselves for not being what it is impossible to be. Above all, I want them to know that they are both messy and beautiful, and wholly — overwhelmingly — loved. And they will never learn any of those things if I don’t teach them.

* * *

I have written before about losing my mother at a young age. It was hard to lose her. It is still hard to not have her. These things are true for anyone who has lost a parent. But one of the things that makes losing a parent when you are young especially difficult is the fact that you never get to know her.  She is always as she was to you when you were a child: perfection, and everything.

My mom would have been a hard act to follow, no matter what. One summer, she spent 6-hour days at the pool with a portable chemo pump delivering toxins directly into her bloodstream so my brother and I could enjoy our summer. She once fell and broke her neck in the morning one day, and that evening she showed up, neck brace and all, at a fashion show where I was modeling First Communion dresses. I have to bite my tongue on the F-word when I stub a toe, but breast-turned-bone cancer never even elicited a “damn my life” from my mother.

As far as I can remember, my mom was as close to perfection as a person can be. She never had the chance to prove otherwise.  I have spent much of my life feeling as though I will never, ever measure up to her — and now that I am a mother, I know that’s not what she wanted for me. It isn’t what I want for my own children.

* * *

So many of my parenting decisions have been made based on my desire to have the mother-daughter relationship with my girls that cancer stole from me and my own mother. Mostly, these decisions have had to do with being together — just existing in the world with them —  as they go through life’s big and small moments.

But behind all that is also my desire to be real for them. For us to grow together as a family, and to know that we love each other always, unconditionally.

And that night with my daughter, when her world was crashing down around her because she wasn’t good all day long, reminded me that sometimes, showing your children your failures also means that you are teaching them how to love themselves and others.

* * *

 This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

messy-beautiful-700b

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Country Western Kind of Day

Today has been a country-western song kind of day, but the stay-at-home mom version. It goes a little somethin’ like this:

“It’s Friday night and I’m home alone with my kids. They’re havin’ a screaming contest in the bathroom. (I’m hidin’ in the closet.)

I stepped on my brand-new glasses and I broke ’em. Super glued my fingers together when I tried to fix ’em. (I lost some skin on that one boys.)

I went to the store for eggs and milk. I forgot the milk. (And now the kids are cryin’)

I let the dog out and he ate some grass. It came back up and now it’s all over my carpet. (I’m savin’ that mess for my ole man! Ain’t that right, ladies?!) ”

That’s it. I know, it’s a work in progress. And I never said it would be a good country-western song. I didn’t even say that it would be a not-horrible country-western song. All I’m saying, is that as I was going through my litany of woes in my head tonight, they  were accompanied by a banjo and they came to me in a Toby Keith kind of voice. And yes, my inner thoughts are frequently voiced by celebrities with musical scores in the background. Aren’t yours?

On that note, let me finish my masterpiece with the following photo series:

I put a coat on my girl, and she pouted.

I put a coat on my girl, and she pouted.

She took it off and laughed in my face!

She took it off and laughed in my face!

 

I strapped her in her car seat and won the battle.

I strapped her in her car seat and won the battle.

And now it’s bedtime! TGIF, Folks!

Hi, I’m Krista. I Break Minds.

One night last week, during our most recent spate of winter storms and school closures, my five-year-old told me that I was “cracking her heart into pieces” so badly that “even her mind was breaking.”

I earned this opprobrium when I responded to her request for paint so she could make “an angel with brown skin, a white dress, and beautiful gold hair” by saying, “No. Seriously. No. Go watch TV.” She was crestfallen —  heartbroken —  her mind had been shattered. If ever there were a pathetic creature, it was my child that night. I was unmoved.

I am heartless, I know. But before you judge me, wait for the context.

First of all, I was eating dinner. There is a beast that lives within me, and when she gets hungry, we feed her. My husband learned this lesson very early in our relationship. My kids seem to face a much steeper learning curve, or maybe they just don’t care about the consequences of interrupting a hungry beast at feeding time. Whatever the case may be, they think it is totally appropriate to do stuff like try to kill each other, or pee on the couch, or ask for art supplies while I am eating.

Secondly, it’s been a long winter of snow days. And most of them haven’t been the fun, “you wanna build a snowman” kind of snow day. Many were so bitterly cold that my thin-blooded girls were crying after 5 minutes of being outside. Then there was the storm that dropped so much snow on us that their short little legs couldn’t navigate through it. And even on the snow days when they could play outside, the outdoor fun never lasted more than 2 hours.

It was deep.

I’m not kidding, it really was deep.

We just don't get snow like this in Maryland!

We just don’t get snow like this in my part of the world!

The rest of the time, we were inside — crafting.

We drew, we glued, we painted, we cut (oh, the paper we cut!), we stamped, we beaded. We marker-ed our markers dry and the Lorax wept for all the paper we used. We mixed media, and we built things, and we littered our kitchen with art supplies.

I cleaned green paint off of brushes, clothing, fingers, faces, and furniture. I negotiated peace after an epic battle over glitter glue. I have peeled countless stickers off of every accessible surface of our home and I am still finding them in random places, like on the side of the toilet bowl and in my shoes. So after a winter of making stuff, when a snowstorm in March kept my girls home from school for two additional days, I felt no guilt over breaking my baby girl’s mind by denying her evening request for paint.

I didn't think we'd make a dent in these. We did.

I didn’t think we’d make a dent in these. We did.

People tell me that the girls will remember these days and the time we spent together fondly. I’m sure they will. My daughter seems to have recovered the use of her mind, without any permanent damage to its faculties. Certainly, her gift for hyperbole hasn’t suffered. She will be ok.

Meanwhile, it is March 13 and currently 30 degrees outside, with the “feels like” temperature at 21 degrees. A fierce and bitter wind is blowing. I just read a headline suggesting the possibility for snow on St. Patrick’s Day. And in my cabinet, I have a Ziplock bag, and in that bag are shamrock shapes and stickers, and green glitter glue, and a rainbow paint set, all just waiting for little fingers to craft with them.

Hi, my name is Krista, and my mind is breaking.

The World Belongs to Such as These

Last Sunday, my five-year-old and I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon together, just the two of us, at a local indoor pool. With a younger sibling at home and a full day at school, time spent one-on-one has been rare this year. I’ve missed her.

My girl has a prolific imagination and spends most of her unoccupied time making up or enacting stories. As she has been learning so many new things this year, I have had the gratifying pleasure to observe how she weaves the new facts and ideas percolating in her brain into her stories and play.

So when we packed up go to the pool, I was interested to see her stash three princess figurines, three plastic cupcakes and a baby doll into her toy bag. I never really know where she will go with things.

When we got to the swim center, she headed straight for the baby pool, where she began setting up a scene. First, she brought out the three princesses and lined them up along the side of the pool. She placed a plastic cupcake in front of each. Then she went to her bag and brought out her baby. She carefully cradled it in her arm and carried it into the pool.

And then she baptized that baby, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen, using water consecrated with chlorine and the contents of a half-dozen swim diapers.

When I asked her about it, she explained to me that she had learned about baptism in her religious education class that morning. She told me that baptism is how we become a part of God’s family. And because she loves her baby doll, she wants her to become a part of our family. Therefore, a baptism was clearly in order.

photo (8)

It was an achingly sweet moment, the kind that reminds parents that bringing their child into the world really was the best thing they have ever done. It made me proud of her. It also made me reflect on and appreciate the best thing children do for us — allowing us grown ups to witness the fertility of their minds and the largess of their imaginations.

Most of us recognize the story from the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus urges his disciples to bring the children to him, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” It is a story that tends to be linked to the idea that what is most valuable in children is their innocence and unworldliness. It seems to imply that children, in their dearth of experience, are better able to absorb the teachings of faith, and indeed of the world around them. I don’t believe that this is a strictly religious way of thinking. There is a common tendency to think of children as blank slates waiting to be written upon.

Children are certainly unworldly. There is necessarily an innocence to the way they approach their world. They have no basis of comparison. They have no prejudice. Their minds are open. They are open, but I don’t think they are waiting, passively, for us to shape them. 

If I have learned anything about children and the way they approach life, it is that they do so through constant questioning and experimenting. They are endlessly pushing the boundaries of their universe. And these attributes apply equally to the way they understand faith and the way they process new facts.

When I think of my daughter, who is at that perfectly ripe age when the concepts of faith and fact are just coming within her intellectual grasp, I see nothing passive about her approach to the world. All I see is activity – a dynamic, unrestrained pursuit for more knowledge, a constant pushing and stretching of the limits of her understanding.

I hear her asking why, and no matter how thorough an answer I give, I hear her asking why again. I see her acting out, and re-enacting, what she is learning so that, through interpretation and experience, it becomes a part of who she is.

When I think of the idea that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” I don’t see it as a calling to submissiveness or innocence. I see it as a calling for us to approach faith — and reason — like children do – with flexibility, enthusiasm, ceaseless questioning, and a mind with ever-expanding boundaries. Those are the best things that children have to offer the world, and we adults should not forget that.

After my daughter finished her charming baptism by pool water, as I was thinking about the profundity of what her mind, and the minds of all children like her, will bring to our future, she reminded me of something else.

She tossed her baby to the side of the pool and, splashing, shouted, “Mommy, that boy FARTED! He made BUBBLES in the WATER!” While I blushed and suppressed my silent laughter, I reflected on the next best thing children have to offer the world: their uninhibited appreciation for bathroom humor.

Life is best lived with curiosity, questioning, a mind without boundaries, and the ability to laugh at our bodily functions.

Impossible Cuteness

There are many days when my two-year-old is impossible. I mean, she is two. And she is tiny and feisty and stubborn and smart and really, really good at getting her own way. She can be exhausting.

But then there are days when she is just impossibly cute. So cute that I want to squish her up into a little blond meatball and gobble her up. (Hey, I was raised with an Italian grandma and a Polish grandma in my life. We love our babies through food imagery.) Today was one of those days.

She was mad at me (surprise!), so she sat down on a kitchen chair and said, “Well, I jus’ gonna sit hewe and be fwustwated! Hmph!

Hmph!

Hmph!

And since today is Wednesday, and my friend Julie at These Walls has introduced me to the Moxie Wife’s Five Favorites series, and this little turkey kielbasa really is pretty cute, I will add a few more of my favorite photos. I will call this series the Silly Time Spectacular! 

I was supposed to be the "easy" one.

I was supposed to be the calm one.

We can’t leave out the classic naked spaghetti picture.

I'm naked. I'm eating spaghetti. Life is good.

I’m naked. I’m eating spaghetti. Life is good.

And then there’s the one where she puts together an outfit.

Caption THIS!

Caption THIS!

And the one where she tries to take all of her clothes off but they get stuck around her little heiny.

Meatballs, amiright?!

Meatballs, amiright?!

And now I am signing off. I have some meatballs to make!

fivefavorites

When It Snows Below the Mason Dixon Line

My plans for this week were simple: 1. To clean. 2. To wrap Christmas presents. I find that if I keep my goals pathetically easy, I can be an incredibly efficient person. It’s amazing how that works.

But it turns out that Mother Nature has had other plans for me. She brought us Marylanders an unseasonably early set of snowstorms, which have cancelled school for two days.

Yesterday, it was wet and icy, so we had a full day stuck inside. It’s all a blur to me; the only part of the day that I really remember was my trip to my doctor’s office where I learned that I still have strep throat, despite having undergone a full course of antibiotics two weeks ago.

Today, after my new antibiotic regimen has kicked in with unusual force, I am a little more aware of my surroundings. Which is good, because a second snow day with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old who are both crushed that they couldn’t go to school requires a LOT of energy.

By 9:30, I was questioning my life choices. It’s now 4:42 pm, and this is the run down of how my day has gone:

Rooms cleaned: 0
Rooms made even messier: Every single one.
Gifts wrapped: 0
Time outs: 12. At least.
Labor-intensive Christmas crafts: 4.
Craft-related meltdowns: 4.
Sibling fights: I stopped counting.
Tears: Seriously, who can count that high?
Shattered glasses: 1.
TV shows: Um, 8?
Princess movies: 1.
Snowmen: 1.
Walks through the wintery woods: 1.
Rocks thrown in the stream: lots.
Faceplants into the stream: 1.
Children carried home crying: 1.
Wet, muddy children: 2.
Soaked items of clothing: 10.
Epic meltdowns related to the usage of stickers: 1.
Cups of cocoa thrown on the floor: 1.
Number of times a kid told me she was sooo happy: 4.
Worth it? Yes.
The number of prayers I will say tonight begging God that schools be open tomorrow: I’m going to start now and never stop.

It’s been a long day. Luckily, the roads are cleared enough for my husband to go out for pizza. Which he will be doing. Even if he has to walk. Seriously, I mean it.

There were also some precious moments, and I was fortunate to be able to catch many of them on camera for all the world (or the 5-ish people who read this blog) to see.

IMG_3324

IMG_3328

IMG_3330

IMG_3344

IMG_3357

IMG_3363

IMG_3364